I grew up as the third oldest of six children in a liberal Jewish home. My parents were atheists, and for most of my early life I believed (as did they) in social justice but had no belief in God. Although my life had many ups and downs, nothing could prepare me for the devastation I would feel after losing my husband, Jerry, in an accident after only three years of marriage. I believed in nothing eternal, and my shock was so profound that for nine months I was unable to see any color at all in the natural world. The trees, the sky, the flowers were all gray. Then I prayed for the first time in my life. The next morning the world burst into color. And I believed in God for the first time.
But I had received no call, and for the next 18 years God lay dormant within me, waiting. The call came in October 2002, while I was watching the movie The Song of Bernadette. I felt a personal God entering my life that has now altered it forever.
During this early stage, I had no understanding of the church’s teachings about Jesus or the sacraments. I had no understanding of the community of the church or what it meant to serve God. When I first met with the director of the adult initiation program at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, my emphasis was on Mary and the saints. I had little comprehension of Jesus or his mission.
When I began to attend the inquiry meetings in June 2003, I naïvely wondered why it should take so long to get ready to be baptized. I received my first hint of the reason when we studied the parables. The meaning of the stories about the mustard seed and the sower was beyond my grasp, but by the following month, these two parables had become my favorites. It was my first glimpse into how Jesus could change my life.
By the time the Rite of Acceptance (the ceremony by which the parish community formally welcomes catechumens into the adult initiation process) took place in August, I realized that learning about Jesus would be a life-long task and that having Jesus in my life involved much more than study. I wanted all those who knew me to know how much Jesus had touched and transformed my life. Soon, there was nothing more important in my life than becoming baptized.
But I also began to go through challenges. It was a period of stress, as my mother needed surgery and had lost significant weight. The stress was even greater because my siblings and I did not always agree about the course of her care. Before my mother’s surgery, I had begun to visit her more often after work. I discovered that with God’s help a situation that could have been fatiguing was instead marked by feelings of joy. This was probably one of the greatest changes I experienced in my journey. Throughout my life, I had performed acts of service, but never with this new complete feeling of joy.
It was not until nearly a year after the call that my feelings for the church as a community emerged. This has been a wonderful blessing. Throughout my life I had never been comfortable with groups, and suddenly I wanted to become a part of St. Paul’s in a lasting way. I began to feel that if Jesus was with me caring for me and nurturing me, I could venture out and greet people openly. I felt a new kind of love for people I knew and a developing love for people I would meet.
I owe a great debt to the sponsors, my fellow catechumens and candidates and the parishioners of St. Paul’s parish. They embraced me and touched me by their faith and inspiration. I have prayed with them and for them. I now know that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have been with me always. I still don’t know why I was called. Perhaps one day someone beginning his or her journey will feel embraced by me. And if they ask me if a person can truly be transformed, I will tell them that I was brought to new life with my baptism and that the parish community of St. Paul the Apostle has been a witness to my joy.