I was born in southeast Ohio, in an area that is part of Appalachia. My parents and their parents attended the First Church of Christ, where I began my religious training and Christian experience. My parents divorced when I was five years old. After my mother remarried, she began attending a small Catholic Church named Corpus Christi—talk about being introduced to the "body of Christ." Needless to say there was a lot of family friction because of that decision. We were the first Catholics from either side of the family stretching back generations.
Catechism is Hard Work
Prior to our conversion to the Holy Church, I can distinctly remember attending the Church of Christ until about age nine. One.aspect of those memories that stuck with me was that I did not regularly attend worship services with my parents on Sundays. Instead, I went to Sunday school with other children my own age, where I colored pictures and created art projects (such as crosses with popsicle sticks) while my parents attended the service. But I didn’t learn a lot about God.
After we started attending Corpus Christi, my first experiences with catechism surprised me. It was hard work! I had to study and pray and learn. Every Sunday I went to Mass with my mother and sister and participated in every.aspect of the faith. Church of Christ Sunday school had been coloring and art projects, so to be honest, I thought, "What is this all about? You’re not supposed to study and have homework from Church. This isn’t fun at all! It’s like going to school." But that attitude soon changed.
My grandmother, Margaret Amanda McDonald, was a tough Scottish woman and a faithful member of the First Church of Christ. It was she who brought me to the children’s Mass to be baptized a Catholic—because my mother was busy giving birth to my little brother Nathan Joseph. I am certain it was the first time my grandmother had ever set foot in a Catholic Church. (Pappaw Ike wouldn’t step inside of any church, let alone a Catholic one. He waited in the car.) In typical grandma fashion, tough old Mam-maw stood next to the altar by my side, shed a few tears, gave me a hug and a kiss, and told me that she was proud of me. I can never thank her enough for that.
A Little Man Alone
As I grew in faith I was expected to do more, so I became an altar server and a choir member. I must admit that many times I dreaded serving the daily liturgies at seven a.m. (especially when the fish were biting). But those daily Masses were what really began to shape my faith in both the liturgical and contemplative sense. There was an old woman who never missed Mass—not a weekday, a holy day of obligation, or even a funeral that I can recount. Her life is best described as one continuous prayer of living devotion to God. She was one of the most kind-hearted people I ever met. I miss her example, one that has become rare in our culture. Her gentleness and resolve remind me of St. Francis of Assisi, who said "Go forth and proclaim the Gospel, even using words if you must."
The years of my youth were a struggle most of the time. My father lived overseas, and by the time I was thirteen, my Grandfather and Grandmother DeVolld had passed away, and my beloved Pappaw Ike was in a rest home after several strokes. A close family friend and neighbor later confided that she and others had given me a nickname as a boy. She told me that even though I didn’t have a father to do things with me, that never stopped me from doing them. When the neighbors would see me walking alone with my fishing rod and tackle box to a local pond in the summer or with my rifle in route to the squirrel woods in the fall, they would announce "there goes the little man." When I asked her what she meant she said, "You just did it by yourself." She meant it as a compliment, but hearing that as an adult broke my heart because it was so true. I was alone, desperately alone at times.
In college I took a path that led me away from the faith. Somewhat because of that loneliness, during those years I looked for things to complete me that were—at best—incomplete. My lifestyle was completely at odds with my convictions and those of the Church. I was relying more on my own intellect and personal abilities than on God.
The Body of Christ Beckons
I began to search for ideas that didn’t depend on the sacraments or on my family in the Church. When I once again felt the desire to fulfill my Christian calling, I drifted back into Protestantism, specifically Evangelical Protestantism. I found many faith-filled Christians trying to know and worship God. I felt a zeal that had been missing in my own spirit for years.
I devoted myself to biblical study. I soon realized, however, that theories such as sola scriptura (scripture alone) and sola fide (faith alone) were opposed to one another and self-annihilating from a theological perspective. I also recognized the foundations and tenets of the Catholic faith visible in Sacred Scripture—largely because I had devoted so much time to proving those teachings to be in error. One by one the teachings of Christ found in Scripture began to illuminate my understanding of the sacraments. It now seemed so obvious.
I tried to share these revelations with other Evangelical Christians but met with little success. I found it bewildering. Then I began to realize a startling fact. The various Protestant denominations contradicted one another on such important doctrines as infant baptism, the Real Presence, and once saved/always saved. It seemed that the only unifying doctrines in modern Protestant teaching were rejection of any unifying binding authority and that the Catholic Church was always wrong (or greatly mistaken at the very least).
The deciding factor in my return to the Church was the Holy Eucharist. Although I found loving Christians in these other assemblies, I always wanted a more personal relationship with my Lord than merely spoken words could offer. Through the Eucharist I realized I wasn’t alone. Corpus Christi Catholic Church introduced me to the faith; the body of Christ in the form of the Eucharist called me to return to the true Church.
Fruits of the Vine
Upon my return to the Church I wanted to do something to help others understand what the Church teaches in common language and where to find those teachings in Sacred Scripture. I not only had a desire to engage others and share the Truth but also to enable other Catholics to defend the teachings of the Holy Church. But what could I do? I remember thinking, "I’m just a nobody."
So, I began writing about various theological points of interest just as notes for personal reference when witnessing to others. But what began as a few simple notes grew into one chapter, then two, then three, until they combined to form In Defense of the Faithful: The Scriptural Truth of Catholicism. When I first held the finished book in my hands I realized that God does work everything to the good. All of the disappointments of my youth, the doubts and failures of my adult life, my falling away and return to the Church, and all of the searching for meaning in my life had been for a purpose, a purpose that I could have never foreseen in my wildest dreams.
Bl. Mother Teresa was quoted as saying, "Isn’t it amazing what God can do with nothing?" in reference to herself. The truth is that we can do a lot. By ourselves we are just single voices, but together we are much more. By ourselves we are easily overcome, but together we are all united in the glory, power, and strength that is the fullness of truth, the embodiment of Christ on earth: the Holy Catholic Church.