Keith: My wife and I came home to the Catholic Church in different but deeply entwined ways. She was a cradle Catholic from the Philippines, and I was a relatively un-churched Episcopalian in the U.S. Jo explored New Age philosophies and Eastern spiritual traditions including Transcendental Meditation (TM)—our one common experience. My journey took me into the heart of the TM movement for 25 years. By grace, both of us came to find the truth that we hungered for in the Catholic Church.
Jo: I never thought I’d ever leave the Church, and yet I did. I was away for seven long, painful years. I’ve heard many revert baby-boomer Catholics say about our generation: "We were sacramentalized, but not catechized." I was, to some extent, catechized, but not prepared to have my faith tested by the relativism, subjectivism, and individualism that pervaded a westernized Philippine culture. These philosophies, as well as those of the New Age and of Eastern religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, became almost the air that I breathed. And like many of my contemporaries who were not deeply rooted in Sacred Scripture, the Catechism, and Church history, I became a seeker without a compass and ended up in the most unexpected places.
Keith: Towards the end of my sophomore year in college, I was jarred by the events of the 60s: Vietnam, demonstrations in Berkeley, Woodstock, the drug culture, free love. I was searching for something that would bring peace and meaning to my life, but I didn’t know where to turn.
Like many, I questioned the values, institutions, and power structures in our culture. In my mind, the various Christian churches were a part of the institutional structure that had failed us. I ended up grabbing on to the many promises that TM made—enlightenment, freedom from suffering, and world peace—and was swallowed up by New Age ideas that either issued from TM founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, or got packed onto his teaching.
My entry into TM in 1971 changed the course of my life. I became a TM teacher, learned the Sidhis (advanced techniques to develop supernatural abilities like levitation and telepathy) and in 1981 joined Purusha, a special men’s group within TM devoted to the single-minded practice of TM. There I spent the next 10 years of my life. Fortunately, towards the end of that period, the mark that had been left on my soul from infant baptism began to move me in an unexpected direction.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was suffering deeply. The novelty of what I had first experienced in TM had worn off, and I was not getting anywhere with the Sidhis. I felt estranged from my family members, who had found their way into Fundamentalist Christianity. I was increasingly lonely. The desire for the intimacy of marriage dislodged me from Purusha, but after two failed engagements, I found myself on the verge of despair. Only grace saved me. In 1991, I met Jo. Our relationship developed slowly, but in August 1993, the wedding bells rang. Since Jo had ceased practicing her Catholic faith, we were married outside of the Church.
Jo: By the time I met Keith, I had attended every Protestant church, synagogue, Buddhist temple, and yoga center that caught my fancy while I lived in Paris and New York City. Catholicism had become, for me, a thing of the past. Instead of praying, I meditated for hours daily using a mantra that, to my knowledge, was a meaningless sound. (I was shocked to discover that it actually was an invocation to a Hindu deity.) I no longer had any deep moral grounding to speak of—there was no talk of sin in the New Age—and I continued to sin gravely without much thought of accountability to God and neighbor. The practice of TM was, after all, supposed to burn the "bad karma" I had accumulated from misdeeds. But instead I left behind me a trail of fractured relationships and felt profoundly separated from my own family. I fell into depression. Amidst this darkness, I asked, "What has become of me and my life?" "Where is the joy and the innocence I used to have?"
Keith: The first three years of our marriage were stormy. We caused each other to suffer out of selfishness—the product of years of focus on the self. We saw the same problem eroding many of the marriages in our midst. Witnessing one marriage after another go up in flames deeply saddened us. Sensing that our own marriage was on shaky ground, Jo sought refuge and began attending Mass after many years of absence.
I felt left out when Jo took off for Mass. Not wanting to push me into the Church, she suggested that we go church-hopping for a while to see where I might feel comfortable worshiping and said she would follow. But after visiting many churches, I realized that there was no place where I felt more comfortable than in the Catholic Church. I loved the natural humility of the people there. They loved Jesus and their faith, but they were not out to beat me over the head with it.
At first, my wife did not tell me that I could not receive Communion since I was not Catholic and did not understand the Real Presence. When I realized, I immediately stopped receiving. But that was difficult. If I was going to come to Mass week after week, how could I sit there while everyone else was going up? Even though I didn’t know what the Eucharist was, I knew that it was something very special, and I was drawn to it like iron filings to a magnet. There was only one thing to do. One day, I shocked my wife by signing up for RCIA. She, in turn, surprised me by deciding to attend RCIA with me as a means of renewing her faith.
The following year was a whirlwind of learning about the Catholic faith. I joyfully entered the Church in 1995 and we were married, this time sacramentally, within the Catholic Church.
Jo: Making the shift from New Age to Christianity seemed to require dying a thousand deaths. From living "self-referral" lives, as the TM jargon puts it, we sought to put Christ at the center of our lives. From worshipping an unknown, impersonal god, we sought to walk with an intimately personal God, while putting the needs of others before our own. It was impossible to make this shift on our own devices. Though our selfish tendencies persisted, we persevered in attending Mass, often daily. The saving power of the sacraments, of God’s word in Scripture, and the support of truly loving people in the Church fortified our fledgling faith. To top it all, we were blessed with an opportunity to write a pictorial biography of Pope John Paul II. While working on this book, my husband and I were profoundly moved by the depth and substance of the pope’s life and work. I kept thinking, "I never, never would have left the Church had I known such a Christian."
Keith: It was a struggle to let go of some of the beliefs I had come to embrace as a TMer, such as reincarnation and the idea that suffering was foreign to life. It also took me a long time to learn humility. I remember having a hard time saying "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you . . ." My years in TM had taught me to believe that I was essentially divine and that all I had to do was to realize what I truly was and had always been—to become enlightened. Why should I consider myself to be unworthy? Another lingering difficulty was coming to grips with the effect that my 25 years in TM had on me. Even though I had stopped meditating years ago, I could not see TM and the New Age philosophies for what they were and understand why they were antithetical to Catholicism. In dealing with this difficulty, Jo and I discussed pursuing further education, perhaps an MA in theology.
Jo: Purging from my mind the idea that Jesus is not God was a crisis I had to face head-on. Like Thomas the apostle, I needed solid proof to cross the chasm between belief and faith. I prayed hard to know Jesus as he really is.
During the Easter season of 2003, something unexpected happened during Mass. As the priest was reading about the two disciples’ encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), the words, "When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him . . ." struck me like a bolt of lightning. All of a sudden, like the disciples, I experienced my heart burning, and I began to weep. I couldn’t stop weeping throughout Mass. I kept asking, "Lord, how could I have been so blind? Why only now, Lord?" For the first time in my life, I recognized the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
At the same time, memories of sins came into my mind, and I began to repent as never before. It was as if I was watching a film of my offenses, while the feeling of a great monsoon swept through my soul. As this happened, my heart overflowed with gratitude for God’s infinite love and mercy. I felt deliriously happy to be back home in the Church.
Keith: In 2001, we were blessed with our first child, Anna Maria, who has brought new graces into our life. In 2003, I immersed myself in the study of Sacred Scripture, philosophy, Church history, and theology at Mt. Angel Seminary and graduated in the spring of 2008. Today, our family is in love with Jesus and the Church. As we continue to behold what the Church is and has to offer, we never cease to be amazed at the spiritual wealth that she holds: the depth of her prayer life, the richness of her traditions and spiritual practices, and her abundance of self-giving love.
Jo: We thank the Lord and his Mother for carrying us through a difficult but grace-filled journey. From questioning reality, we have come to embrace reality for what it is, both the joys and the sufferings of each day. From saying "You have your truth, I have mine," we now confess, "Yes, there is Truth, the Person of Jesus Christ." From seeing ourselves as masters of our destiny, we now pray, "Thy will be done." The Truth, indeed, sets free.