As an adult, the two things I have struggled with are my faith and my multiple sclerosis. As my physical condition deteriorated, my belief in God also languished. I wasn’t angry, as is often the case when people experience an unexplained loss—I just stopped believing. My prayers weren’t being answered. There wasn’t really any hope and it was kind of fantastical to believe that after I died, things would be a lot better. It just seemed like wishful thinking.
I always envied those with unquestioned faith, a faith so formidable that it will not be supplanted by even the harshest trials of the human condition. There are those who just know, who have always known, that God exists. I am more of a skeptic. I need proof.
I guess my pendulum began to swing back a few years ago when I decided to go looking for some empirical evidence of God’s existence. To my surprise, I found some. C.S. Lewis’s argument that Jesus must have either been crazy, a liar, or the real thing is kind of irrefutable. Something else I did not think about was the fact that most of the Apostles died proclaiming the Word of Christ. They died alone and under extreme physical torture. Anyone faced with that kind of duress, if he is a liar, is going to backpedal, “Hold on, now, you’re right, just kidding!” I wanted so badly to believe I decided to live by the adage “act as if ye have faith, and faith will be giving ye.”
To my surprise, it worked. Slowly, very slowly, I began my return to Catholicism. These were just baby steps. I started going to mass occasionally and even got up the courage to go to confession. I received such a resounding “welcome back” from the priest who gave me absolution I was encouraged to reach out a little farther. As I became re-immersed in the patterns and routines of going to church on Sunday, saying grace before dinner, saying a quick prayer at night I realized I wanted more. It didn’t make much sense to me to believe in something so amazing and not try to know as much about it as I possibly could. Christ died that I might have eternal life. Wow, if this is true, or, at least if I am going to act as if this were true, it begs the question why shouldn’t I be as invested in Him as possible? Christianity doesn’t really seem like a faith that lends itself well to insipidness.
So I plunged ahead. I’ve come this far and I’m certainly no worse and maybe just a little bit better, why not? I signed up for a Bible class. I was a little apprehensive; I wasn’t much of a vocal evangelical. Like many Catholics, I preferred to keep my Christianity private. But the call to learn was stronger than the potential for embarrassment and I went anyway. To my surprise and delight, I learned… A lot.. I expected to leave the class sated; instead I found my appetite growing. I wanted more. Problem was, I didn’t know where to look. I had the Bible as a tool, but I did not have a guide. I was smart enough to know that I needed one.
When my church opened registration for Discovering Christ, I signed up. At first, I thought it was going to be just a “refresher course.” I was, after all, a lifelong Catholic, confirmed and everything, I didn’t really need the basics, maybe just a tune-up. What a surprise I had waiting for me. Not only did I find my faith ( is this where it had been hiding all along?) I found myself, I found my purpose, I found everything that had been missing since even before I was diagnosed with MS.
I was amazed to learn I was not the only one who has feelings of doubt, serious doubt, who struggled with making sense of life, who felt like it was all too big for me to handle alone. I was even more astonished that this isn’t the way it has to be. I don’t have to settle. Life doesn’t have to be something I merely need to get through. I’m not supposed to just close my eyes and hope that it passes painlessly. Discovering Christ invited me to open my heart to the Lord, to let the Holy Spirit work through me. When I welcomed God into my heart, I was opening myself up to the world, not closing myself off from it. When I gave my will over to Him, I was no longer a slave to worldly capriciousness. It no longer controlled me. I could be in the world but not of the world. I no longer fear what is waiting for me around every corner, what physical helplessness lies in my future, I have given those worries to God. They are his privilege to deal with. My privilege is to do what He wants. After attending Discovering Christ, and then Following Christ, I think I am a lot closer to knowing what that is.
Do not mistake me. This program did not provide me with every answer for which I was looking. It gave me an outline, a roadmap, if you will. God helps those who help themselves, correct? Well, in Discovering Christ I found the means to help myself. I learned how to turn to God, not just in my times of trial or when I remembered, but all the time. He is no longer an afterthought, he is the reason for existing. Which makes sense, he is after all I AM, he is existence. And all that is, is good.
With the help of the Discovering Christ program, I discovered my place in the world. I am now an editor for the Department of Graduate Studies for Religious Education at Fordham University. I help priests, many of them international, with their dissertations, presentations and theses. It’s not much, but it’s for the Lord, to further His message. These are individuals who hope, by furthering their education, they may be better equipped to return to their countries to lead their people in Christ. I try not to wallow in my physical limitations, choosing instead to focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t. To that end, I go to the hospital every week to visit people truly in need of comfort or just an ear to bend. I try every day to smile at every single person I see. I want Christ to shine through me, I want people to see how happy I am and want what I have. My wheelchair is no longer a burden. I can’t use my legs and I can barely use my arms and that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s a blessing. Yes, you heard me. It’s a blessing because this is how God speaks to others through me. He is using me to show everyone I meet how great He is. I can make a difference, I can be happy, I can be in love with life because it’s all for Him. I have the honor and privilege of serving my Lord in a unique, meaningful way.
I am still me. I have not plunged deep into the waters of divine inspiration and emerged on the other side a completely different person. I think many people feel that when they step off the precipice of what is comfortable, of what they know, they will turn into something unrecognizable. At least that’s how I felt whenever I would meet a self-proclaimed “born-again Christian.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I am me minus the myopia of life. Do I still have doubt? Most certainly, but it no longer paralyzes me. It compels me to persevere, to constantly seek the truth, to see God in everything, to love humanity, to love my suffering, to cherish life. By the grace of God, my faith is no longer a pretense. It just is.