My Reflection from Sacred Heart Catholic Church; Beginnings of Conversion

If you have read my post of July 13th, my conversion story, I made a mention of having written this article.  This was written about 9 years prior to my entering the RCIA program.  I believe our Neophyte Mass was held at this parish.  Amazingly, in the summer of 1999, this is also the same parish where I attended my first Secular Franciscan meeting of the Immaculate Conception Fraternity.   God has his ways….

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Inside Sacred Heart

 

At the age of 24 [1989], I went into my very first Catholic Church.  A young executive of my company had died suddenly.  My employer arranged to have a memorial prayer service at Sacred Hearth Catholic Church.  It was across the street from our office.  The visit to this church affected me so that I wrote a reflection afterwards.  I remember wondering how the Holy Spirit could have affected me so much in a Catholic Church.  I was still under the impression that we did not share the same salvation.  I was not anti-Catholic — just aware of a separation.  I had little understanding of the Catholic faith.  The following is the reflection I wrote:

Crucified With Christ

            As we go through life, there are people and events that make lasting impressions on our lives.  Sometimes it is just to make you stop and think about the gift of life itself.    There was one such event, for which I will forever remember the experience.  I desired to document for future reflections.

 

            Many of my coworkers walked from our office to the Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta to attend the memorial service of a young executive from our company.  A heart attack had suddenly taken his life.  I can remember looking around at the expressions of disbelief and shock on the faces of my coworkers.  No one could accept this had happened to one so young and with a promising career.  At only thirty-one, he was well liked by all and the picture of health.  I began to dwell on the uncertainty of life and how important it is always to be ready.

 

            It was summer 1989 and a very hot day.  It was welcome relief as we entered the church.  I’d never been inside a Catholic Church before and I was in awe at the beautiful architecture and adornments surrounding me.  As we were seated and waiting for the service to begin, I allowed my attention to wander and absorb my surroundings.  The many stained glass windows depicted Biblical scenes.  The windows were alive with the early afternoon sun and colors were radiantly splashed all about inside. Orange light flickered from large brass candelabras on either side of the altar.  The high vaulted ceiling sweetly echoed the pipe organ music.  There were doors leading to the back of the church through which robed men passed in and out.  The focal point of this scene was a life-size statue of Jesus on the cross.  Every time one of the men passed in front of the cross, he bowed on his knee in reverence.  Never once did they fail to do this in all the many times they passed by the cross.  I was deeply moved by this simple gesture.  Daily living in humble reverence of Christ would make such a difference in our own lives.  How could I take that simple gesture and make it part of my daily life?  I wondered.

 

            The memorial service began with prayer and Psalms recited in unison.  As the service progressed, my attention was increasingly compelled to the cross.  It was so incredibly human and real.  So lost was I in staring at this statue of Christ, I felt removed from those around me and imagined being present at the crucifixion of Christ.  Every sermon and song I’d ever heard detailing the event played through my mind.  The Son of God, who was a young man and had done no wrong, was mocked and His name cursed.  Jesus’ body was beaten by His accusers and lashed with whips.  I heard the sound of nails and the hammer striking.  A crown of thorns was pressed into the flesh of His forehead and the sword pierced a wound in His side.  I’ve always heard, if you stare at something long enough, it will seem to move.  It seemed I saw His chest rising and falling, struggling for each breath.  His family and disciples all gathered watching in stunned disbelief at this cruel death.  What was His mother Mary thinking?  He was her son.  But, He was God’s son.  The sculptor had captured both anguish and compassion of the face of Jesus.  I could hear the plea, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)  My tears came knowing Jesus had done this for me and I am unworthy of such a great gift.  So ashamed was I for knowing I had not done enough in my Christian life.  I had invited Christ into my life when I was eight years old.  I was soon Baptized and joined the church.  I thought, I am again experiencing that same feeling.  I was that child once again.   The cross of Jesus always has the power to convict our lives and open the door to our soul.  The pain I felt was enormous.  But, somewhere in my mind, the Spirit reminded me of the words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  The reality of the greatness of God’s love was a feeling that consumed me.  Silently, I thanked God for sending Jesus. 

 

Through this love, I was compelled again to look at the cross.    This time; however, I lifted my eyes even higher above the cross.  I then saw what I had not yet noticed.  Up in the great domed ceiling, directly above the cross, was a magnificent stained glass window.  It was of Christ ascending to heaven.  It was a reminder to look beyond the cross to the risen Savior.  He looked down on the cross with eyes full of love and arms stretched forth as if in an invitation to believe the work of the cross. 

[I’ve since returned to the Sacred Heart Church and participated in Mass.  I realize now the image up in the ceiling was not of the Ascension.  It is the Sacred Heart of Jesus.]

 

 

 

 

            Philippians 2:8-11 says, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore; also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  At that moment, when we will finally be in His presence, we will bow in reverence not worthy to look upon His face.  Yet, His love for us is so great, we will be lifted up to praise the name of Jesus to the glory of God our Father.

 

            I walked back to work feeling much differently than before.  What was to be a memorial of life passing, became a celebration of life eternal.  I’d experienced a renewal in my soul of the vows I’d made as a child.  This marked for me a deepening of my commitment.    “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”  Amen.

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            I submitted the above reflection as a short story to a Christian single’s magazine, which is published by a Baptist publishing company.  It was returned with a short note that read, “O.K., Pretty good, but, we already have enough ‘salvation experience’ stories.”  I was crushed.  That comment did not reflect the spirit of my experience.  I thought of terse replies such as, “Gee, we wouldn’t want too many salvations now would we?”  In retrospect, maybe it was the Catholic part they didn’t like.  

 

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5 thoughts on “My Reflection from Sacred Heart Catholic Church; Beginnings of Conversion

  1. Awesome story. I bookmarked it to re-read it later.

    The publishing company may have just had too many salvation experience stories. When people convert, they like to share their experience. I’d be more apt to believe they are overwhelmed with them all. It is nice that they responded back though. Usually you don’t even get that from publishers 😀

  2. Beautiful reflection and surely it was the Catholic part they didn’t like. It is amazing how many conversion stories start by people first entering a Catholic church.

  3. Beautiful! And it is kind of neat to read it from the perspective of someone who had never entered a Catholic church prior. God bless and I will share the link to this post with friends.

  4. Thanks Josh. I believe that God gave me many signs and experiences along the way. When I reflect on where I began, it is amazing. I will be posting many articles related to my faith journey into the Catholic Church and becoming a Secular Franciscan.

  5. Pingback: Love Has Come « For The Love Of Christ

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