|The picture of Christ that hung above my bed as a child.|
Obviously, being raised Seventh-Day Adventist, I had had no previous contact with any image of Jesus other than the nicely-cleaned up Jesus that one might see in a copy of Desire of Ages or an Adventist devotional. The only one I ever liked was the one that hung above my bed as a child, a traditional and pious Protestant depiction by my reckoning. Images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, of the suffering Christ, of anything even remotely Roman Catholic, were not to be found anywhere - well, except for the antique stores. That, and the ruins of a Catholic church in Batoche, the famed site of the Riel Rebellion in Saskatchewan, where I grew up.
Though the often bloody and vivid artwork of traditional Catholic piety - the flaming hearts, flowers, blood, the imploring looks of the suffering Jesus - frightened me for many years, when the time came that my conversion to the Catholic Church had begun, I was suddenly drawn to these images like someone left in a cold winter night might run towards a warming fire. I cannot say exactly what it was that drew me all of a sudden to the images that used to terrify me, and in my anti-Christian days, cause so much rage in me, but there I was. And in like fashion, I soon purchased a picture of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts from a used bookstore, hiding it away with all my other Catholic things that were steadily growing.
Thus, my conversion process was one of isolation and relative ignorance of anything even remotely contemporary when it came to the Catholic faith. Yes, I jumped all over the pages of my copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, making notes as I went. But overall, I recoiled heavily from contemporary, recent events and writings. Instead, I retreated to the old writings of the medieval saints and mystics, the Church Fathers, the Counter-Reformation era especially. I was caught up in the direct and common-sensical theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, and had not even remotely heard of such names as Hans Urs von Balthasar, Yves Congar, or other major recent theologians.
The only Catholic parish I knew of was a giant cathedral downtown called St. Andrew's. Though smaller than the majestic Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, its impressive gothic exterior and pious, traditional Catholic interior simply blew me away. The first time I visited the cathedral was after work one day around 5 PM. I had no clue that the church had closed - in my mind, Catholic churches were always open, candles always lit, a priest always waiting for some lone prodigal son to appear at the doorstep of the church. Reality set in rather quickly (and here, I acknowledge my disconnect with reality readily) when I found that the church was locked. Blushing, I began the long walk back to my apartment.
The second attempt was a little better. I managed to get in the door to the narthex, but could not bring myself to go in any further. Years beforehand, around 2001, my mother had brought me into the church as she showed me the cathedrals about town, and the second I stepped into the church, I began to freak out. I was very nervous, fidgeting, and simply kept repeating that it was evil. My damaging Adventist upbringing showed here, combined with my growing anti-Christian sentiment. Several years later, here I was in the narthex, too nervous to go in. I looked longingly at the statue of the Blessed Virgin in the corner of the church, and took comfort in that for the time being. It all looked so inviting this time around.
As one can see, my Catholic experience initially developed in a bubble and continued to do so for quite some time. I had still not even mentioned any of it to my girlfriend and future wife. My heart began to long to come home to Christ and the Church, and I knew what I had to do.