My First Encounter with God
My first encounter with God was in the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation, which I received simultaneously when I was two months old. It wasn’t until years later that I would receive communion once again, this time in the Catholic Church. But more importantly, it was in my twenties when I truly encountered God and acknowledged His existence for the first time. You see, the graces I received in the second month of my life left a mark on my soul, and despite them being dormant for most of my life, those graces stirred my soul to seek Him out.I grew up in a household that did not adhere to any faith. Even though most of my family members were initiated into the Orthodox Church, none of them were educated on the tenants of the faith and never attended church. My first memory of attending a church was in Canada, after my family immigrated. My mom wanted me to keep learning my first language, so she placed me in a school in downtown Toronto which was associated with an Orthodox Church. I remember the teacher bringing us upstairs into the nave of the Church. There was a choir that was singing so beautifully and I kept looking around trying to find out where this majestic sound was coming from. I did not see any people singing, so I assumed that it was the angels singing in Heaven whose voices echoed into the Church. I do not know how I knew about angels, but I just knew that I experienced something otherworldly. When I told this to my parents, they smiled and laughed at my seven year old imagination, but did not correct me.Reflecting back on my childhood now, it is interesting to see how beautifully God worked to bring me to the faith. He provided my mother with several paths to lead me to Him, despite her not truly believing in His existence. My first encounter of Catholicism was in the sixth grade, when my mother placed me in a Catholic school that was located close to her job. She thought that I should learn about religion and faith, and it did not matter which one. I started school, and shortly after, attended Mass for the first time. It was confusing! I couldn’t follow along and quickly realized that I was a complete outsider. After I finished elementary school, I went to a Catholic high school. At this point of my life, I had a very basic concept of God and Catholicism. I said I believed in God because everyone around me seemed to believe in Him and because I wanted to feel included. However, when I was in the eleventh grade I began to reject God. The more I thought about Catholic beliefs, the less sense it made to me. The more conversations I had, the more I realized that the number of nonbelievers amongst my circle of friends was rising. I attended monthly Mass with my school because it was compulsory, but tuned everything out and I began to identify myself as an atheist. I swung between agnosticism and atheism for the next few years because it just didn’t make sense that God existed; there were too many bad people and horrible events that happened daily to believe in a loving God. I never had discussions about this topic with my parents because we simply never had conversations about God or faith. Our encounter with faith and religion in general was limited to pretty churches that we would drive by and comment on and images of Orthodox Churches when we watched news from our country.
All of the beliefs I had about God, Catholicism, and religion changed when I met someone who is close to my heart. He loved God so authentically and desired nothing more than to serve Him and the Church. After several extensive conversations, I decided that I want to go to Mass. This was the defining moment of my decision to convert to Catholicism. I went to a weekday Mass at the same Church that I attended throughout high school, but this time I willingly chose to go. I sat in the back pew and paid attention for the first time in years. And what I witnessed was beautiful and moving, particularly the consecration of the Eucharist. I left the Church and walked home with a single thought in my mind: “I’m going to convert to Catholicism.” For about two weeks I attended Sunday Mass secretly, lying to my parents about hanging out with a friend. I quickly realized that I could not keep lying to them since I was determined to go every week and they would grow suspicious. When I did tell them my intention to convert, they were not pleased. It seems like a strange reaction considering how adamant my mother was for me to learn about religion, but things were different now that I actually wanted to become Catholic. We had several arguments about my reasons for wanting to convert. Ultimately, my parents were worried that I was being pressured to convert, but then decided that this was just a phase that I was going through and I would drop it eventually. I kept attending Sunday Mass, and by the end of the summer I was certain that God was calling me to become a Catholic. There were many hindrances to entering the RCIA program, but God opened up a path for me and I began classes in the fall. About halfway through the program, my parents realized that I was taking this very seriously. They did not try to discourage me, but we did not have any further discussions about my decision. When Easter finally came, my mother attended the vigil and saw me enter the Catholic Church. I think it really touched her to see me so happy and joyful to finally be Catholic.
Although the moment I became Catholic brought me great joy, it was difficult to let go of my support group in the RCIA program and I started to feel very lonely and discouraged knowing that I was the only Catholic in my family. I wanted to pray with my family, to talk to them about God and to go to Church together, but this seemed impossible. Although I had the light of faith, given to me by God, I wanted to hide it. But upon prayer and steadfast determination to keep my faith strong, I realized that God did not expect me to perform miracles for my parents. All I needed to do was to present myself as an example of the wonders of God’s grace and live my life with a joy that can only come from God. I recently celebrated my third year anniversary of entering the Church. In that time, my parents have not converted. However, my mother has attended Mass with me several times and we have had great conversations that allowed me to talk to her about Catholicism and my beliefs. And while my father is more of the strong, silent type, I remain hopeful for both of their encounters with God, in whatever manner it happens.
Upon writing this reflection, I realize how instrumental my mother is to my conversion, and I am so grateful that she was able to encounter God and decided to enter the Orthodox Church, because I would not have received the sacraments otherwise. I truly believe this moment was instrumental in my journey to Catholicism. God’s will was for me to experience the isolation of being the only Catholic in my family because I needed to realize that He is the provider of strength and hope. It would have been so easy to give up when my family was against my conversion, and even more so, to reject my faith in the loneliness that came after I converted. But just as God provided me graces in the second month of my life through the sacraments, and gave me glimpses of His splendor throughout my life, He continues to support me with his steadfast love. With Him, truly everything is possible. With Him there are no obstacles too great to overcome.