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A Love of History Led Me Home

Alan Truong
May 4, 2020 No Comments

Introduction to God

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in the existence of God. I suppose I got this from my mother. As a little boy, whenever I asked her about how the world works such as “Why is it raining?” or “Why do flowers get bigger?” she would always answer that it was God who caused these things to happen. I accepted her answers without question and therefore accepted that God is real and that God is responsible for the mechanisms of the universe. This was my first introduction to God.

Outside of these Q&As that I had with my mother, God and religion were not a part of our family life. My mother had been part of a Baptist church community, and I vaguely recall attending Sunday school a few times, but this didn’t last very long.  My father had no interest in religion, and my mother had since fallen away from church life. By the time I was five or six years old, there was no religion in our family.

Things began to change when my mother decided to leave my abusive father and took the kids with her. I was around seven or eight years old when this happened.  We moved from Leicester to Birmingham, England to start a new life. Since she believed it to be the best school in the neighborhood, my mother enrolled us in the Rosary Catholic Primary School. It was at this school where I was introduced to Christianity.    

There were two notable events that occurred during my time at Rosary. In class, our teacher asked each of the students to draw a picture of what we thought God looked like. Most of the students drew the stereotypical old man in the clouds. However, my friend and I did something different. At this point in my life (I was maybe nine or ten years old), my view of God was something that could not be seen. God didn’t have a face or a body. He transcended the physical universe. Therefore, I decided to draw a ball of light to emphasize that even if a person looks at this light, they won’t be able to see what God looks like. To me, God was the light that was unapproachable and unknowable. After I finished my drawing, I looked at my friend Anthony’s picture. It appeared to be a picture of a heart — a simple, pink cartoon heart. I asked him why he drew a picture of a heart. I said to him, “That’s not God.  That’s an organ.” Anthony replied, “Well, God is love.” This statement seemed very strange to me. It was the first time that I felt my view of God being challenged, but it would not be the last.

About a year later, our teacher asked each of us in class to write a letter to God. There was a boy who read his letter in front of everyone. His letter was as follows (I paraphrase): “Dear God, I hope that I can become as big and strong as you someday. Amen.”  That was it.  The teacher was not happy with this letter. He walked up to the boy and shouted in his face, “GOD IS NOT STRONG BECAUSE OF HIS PHYSICAL STRENGTH. HE IS STRONG BECAUSE OF THE POWER OF HIS WORDS.” I probably only remember this scene because of the yelling (and crying that occurred shortly after) but again, I felt that I was being challenged in what I believed God was. Perhaps there was more to power than having the ability to create or destroy the universe. What are God’s words that are so powerful?    

I learned about some of these words in religious education (R.E.) class. R.E. class may have been my favorite class during this time because I got to learn about the Bible stories. After listening to an audio of the Cain and Abel story, I was shocked that the innocent Abel was murdered by the wicked Cain. At the end of the story, Abel does not come back to life, and Cain lives on. The bad guy wins. This was different from the fairy tales and Disney movies that I had seen in which the heroes always seem to live happily ever after. Stories with sad or ambiguous endings seemed more real to me, and I would continue to see more of this throughout the Bible. 

By reading the New Testament in R.E. class, I learned about the life and teachings of Jesus. I saw the brutality and violence in Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan and in Jesus’ own torture and death at the hands of the Romans. Perhaps it was the cruelty and the blood that drew my attention towards these stories. However, upon reflection, I now believe that I was attracted to these stories because they did not gloss over the ugliness (while giving us moral lessons and hope) and therefore appeared more genuine to me.  

By the time I was eleven years old, I had been in Catholic school for about three years. Even though I had gained an interest in the Bible and attended Mass with my classmates, I did not believe in the divinity of Christ, and I did not understand the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross. I was just focused on doing well in school. I had a good life.  I was at the top of my class. I had good friends. Everything seemed to be going my way, but this was about to change.    

My Grandmother’s House

In 1999, my mother broke the news to us that we were moving to the United States. I was devastated. She had been planning this since we left my father in order to be closer to the rest of her family, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. I knew that it was a possibility in the distant future, but I didn’t expect it to actually happen.  

A few months later, we moved to Ogden, Utah, and stayed with my grandparents. I would live in my grandparents’ house for the entirety of my teenage years. They were both Buddhist, but neither of them discussed their faith or religion much with me. My grandmother was devout, and I often noticed her placing offerings at her Butsudan (a Buddhist shrine) and abstaining from meat on certain days of the month. I admired her religious devotion, and I would soon develop a routine of my own.             

In school, I was placed in 6th grade in Roosevelt Elementary, which was a public school. Though most of the students appeared to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, religion rarely came up in the classroom. Therefore, I lost access to religious education and any semblance of formal church life. Occasionally, some of my classmates would invite me to go to church with them, but I always declined. At that time, I wasn’t interested in making friends. I was angry that I had been forced to leave my friends in England and the structure that had provided me with discipline and curiosity about God and the stories of the ancient world. To fill this void, I began creating my own structure, including a physical workout routine, prioritization of homework, and a daily reading of the Bible.             

Fortunately, we had copies of the Bible in our home that my mother had brought from England. I noticed the Children’s Bible on our bookshelf and decided to read it first because I thought it would give me a quick summary of the entire Bible. Once again, I was captivated by the stories of the Old Testament. The New Testament was less exciting, but there was one passage that had a lasting influence on me.  

After reading the story where Jesus teaches the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, I decided to memorize that prayer and said it that same night. It was my first time praying without anyone asking me to. I’m not sure why I did it. I guess I took Jesus’ words literally when He said, “This is how you are to pray” (Matt 6:9). In any case, I said the Lord’s Prayer every night before going to bed (without exception) from 8th grade all the way up to college. It was my first spiritual discipline.

Immediately after finishing the Children’s Bible, I moved on to the actual Bible. I decided to read one page every morning before school, and I continued this routine until I finished it in my junior year of high school. Yes, I started from Genesis and got all the way through Revelation without skipping a single word. I can’t say that I got much out of reading the Bible this way. I had gained knowledge of the characters and the structure of the Bible, but I felt somewhat disappointed after finishing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had read the entire Bible without any historical or cultural context. I was expecting some kind of enlightenment or transformation that would occur within me, but I didn’t feel anything, so I decided to explore other religions.  

Discovery in College

During my high school and early college years, I spent a large part of my free time reading about world history and religions. I was fascinated by the diversity of so many faiths that all claimed to worship God in some way. However, the more I learned about these different religions, the more confused I became and the more paralyzed I became about making a choice about which one was correct. An example of this state of indecision was displayed in my freshman year of college when I was asked by another student whether I was a Christian. I responded, “I don’t know.”  He then asked me whether I believed that Jesus rose from the dead. Again, I told him that I didn’t know. I thought that it was possible for the Resurrection to have happened but there was no reason for me to believe in it. I couldn’t say that I was agnostic either though. I knew that I believed in God. I just didn’t know what to believe about God.    I was convinced that not all religions can be true since many of their beliefs about God contradict each other. Therefore, I knew that it was possible for me to make the wrong choice Share on X

I was convinced that not all religions can be true since many of their beliefs about God contradict each other. Therefore, I knew that it was possible for me to make the wrong choice and this thought made me reluctant to make a decision about which set of beliefs to subscribe to. I also considered the possibility that no religion was true. Perhaps it was fine to just be a good person and believe in God without religion. I wasn’t sure what to believe so I did nothing.  

This stalemate began to break during my sophomore year of college. That year, all three of my roommates were practicing Christians — two Catholics and one Evangelical. We became friends and the topics of religion and politics frequently came up during our conversations. Oftentimes, these conversations turned into arguments. One day, my Evangelical friend Theodore and I were arguing about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. He argued that Muslims worship a distorted God because their God doesn’t include Jesus. My view was that God the Father and Allah were the same God. I asked him why Jesus even matters. He answered my question with another question, “Have you ever committed a sin?” I responded, “Of course I have.” He then explained to me that this is why Jesus matters. Since I am a sinner, I am destined for damnation and an existence without God. Jesus died on the cross so that sinners like me could be forgiven and saved from an eternity away from God. It all made sense to me now. Through one question, Theodore was able to reach me in a way that years of religious education and independent study had failed to. At that moment, I decided to believe in Christ, and I began to consider myself a Christian.

Even though I was now a Christian, I was still unsure about how to worship God. The question of which church to attend was not nearly as daunting as which branch of Christianity I should adhere to. I knew that there were many options, and I didn’t know which one was correct. I briefly considered joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints because I was in Utah (where the majority of residents are members of the LDS Church) and joining this church would likely offer me social advantages. I also considered becoming Catholic because that was the church that I knew the best from my childhood. I ended up choosing to become a non-denominational Christian because I wanted to worship Christ in my own way without having to go to church or profess any specific doctrines. All I had to do was believe in Christ, and I would be set for eternity. This seemed like the simplest answer, and I accepted it for a few months.  

My contentment with being non-denominational was challenged by one of my Catholic roommates, Sam. He may have been the most exceptional person I had ever met. In addition to being a 4.0 GPA pre-med student, Sam spent many of his evenings volunteering by playing the guitar to children in the hospital and teaching English to refugees. He helped me with my homework and showed great joy in all of his undertakings. Most importantly to me, he was a devout Christian who was hungry to learn more about his Catholic Faith. During one of our meals together, I told him that I had been thinking about becoming Catholic. I had always held a deep respect for the Catholic Church because of its long history and my own experiences in Catholic school as a child. However, the thought of me becoming Catholic seemed like a distant future at best. I really had no desire to go to church, and I was already busy with being an engineering student. I didn’t think I would have any time for church life. Sam responded by giving me a book called The Essential Catholic Survival Guide: Answers to Tough Questions About the Faith written by the staff at Catholic Answers.  

With this book, I learned more about Catholicism and Christianity without committing to anything. The book addressed many of my concerns about Catholic teachings such as the roles of Mary and the Pope, contraception, and homosexuality. The most important section for me was the part about Scripture and Tradition. Before reading this book, I took for granted that the Bible was written by God and that the Bible had always been around. However, after reading this section, I realized that the Bible was written by many people, inspired by God, over a period of several centuries. Even the works of the New Testament were not all recognized as part of the canon until centuries after Christ’s death. The question I had to answer was “Who decided which books should be included in the Bible?” The simple answer would be “God.” How did God, however, reveal to man which books should be included in the Bible? The Bible itself does not answer this question since there is no complete list of books included in any of Scripture (I had already learned that the list of books at the beginning of any Bible was written by that Bible’s publisher and not considered Scripture). It became clear to me that it was people of authority within the early Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, who decided which books should be part of the canon of Scripture.

I thought more about the authority of the early Church and its role in handling Scripture. Since Bible verses can be easily misinterpreted, there are many competing views about the meanings of various passages throughout the Bible. The proof of this claim was evident to me in the fact that there are so many different denominations and divisions within Christianity today each with its own interpretation of Scripture. I saw that the Catholic Church was immune to this problem because of its reliance on the tradition and authority of previous generations to interpret Scripture.

This tradition was made visible to me during a visit I made to a local priest to inquire about the Faith. He showed me a poster that contained every pope in the history of the Catholic Church. I saw an image of the pope at that time, Benedict XVI, at the bottom of the poster, and I also saw images and descriptions of all of the pope’s predecessors going all the way back to St. Peter. As a lover of history, I appreciated looking at the dates of each pope’s reign on the timeline. This visual display of apostolic succession convinced me that the Catholic Church’s authority can be traced back directly to the early Church and to the Apostles themselves who were the original followers of Jesus. I had finally seen enough and decided to become Catholic.

Later that year, Sam volunteered to become my sponsor for RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), and he attended almost every class with me. A year later, I received the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) and was officially welcomed into the Catholic Church during the 2009 Easter Vigil.   

A Lonely Catholic 

Even though I learned many things about the Catholic Faith throughout my year of RCIA preparation, I still had a lot of questions about the faith and how to live it. As a new convert, I realized that there was so much that I didn’t know and sought to fill my gaps in knowledge about the Catholic Church and its teachings. I began by reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church to obtain more information about the Church’s doctrines. Next, I read Thomas Bokenkotter’s A Concise History of the Catholic Church to learn more about the Church’s history and to better understand why the Church is the way that it is today. These books gave me the confidence to call myself a Catholic and to be able to justify the teachings of the Catholic Church to myself and to others. This was important to me because I frequently had doubts about whether I truly belonged in the Church during my first few months as a Catholic and whether I had made the right decision.

After settling these doubts, I decided to live out my faith by volunteering to deliver lunches to homebound residents every week. This was the first time in my life that I had taken the initiative to work for free. I expected to feel extremely fulfilled by doing good deeds such as feeding the hungry since I was following Christ’s command (see Mt 25:35). However, I can only remember feeling a sense of loneliness while I was volunteering. This feeling of loneliness was also present during and after Mass. I could understand why I might feel this way for the volunteering job since I delivered the meals alone. However, I didn’t understand why I would have the same feeling for Mass since I often attended Mass with Sam. It didn’t make any sense.

This feeling seemed worse when I visited my family. Every time I had dinner with them, I felt out of place. Since I never felt this way before I entered the Church, I concluded that the loneliness that I was feeling stemmed from me being the only Catholic (and the only Christian) in the family. Perhaps I felt lonely at Mass because my family wasn’t with me (neither physically nor spiritually). Perhaps it was because I didn’t have a Catholic community to belong to (I only had a couple of Catholic friends). After all, I was a Catholic convert living in LDS-dominated Utah. What else could I expect?  

My Daily Bread

This loneliness and lack of peace convinced me to leave Utah and to attend graduate school in Indiana. I chose Purdue University because it was one of the top engineering schools in the country and also because it had a large Catholic student community. I made many Christian friends (both Catholic and Protestant) during my time here, and I finally had a community that I belonged to. I didn’t feel lonely anymore.             

When my friends began to graduate and leave Indiana, my feelings of loneliness returned. I knew that it was time for me to go back to Utah. Things would be different this time since I now had five more years of experience being Catholic. During my time in Indiana, I had developed a habit of attending Mass daily whenever I was available. I don’t remember how this habit started, but I do remember that weekday Mass was the most peaceful time of my day. I continued this practice on my return to Salt Lake City. I remembered a scene from a manga ... called Attack on Titan that I had read a few weeks earlier. In this scene, there was a king who allowed himself to be eaten by a giant monster. After the king was eaten, the monster transformed into… Share on X

After being back in Salt Lake City for about a year, I was driving home from weekday Mass when I suddenly had an epiphany about the Eucharist. This was strange because the Eucharist was not something that I appreciated or thought about very often. Even during RCIA class, I found the topic of the Eucharist and the sacraments to be quite boring. Throughout most of my years as a Catholic, I saw the sacrament of the Eucharist as merely a ritual that I participated in. The epiphany changed all of that. In it, I remembered a scene from a manga (a Japanese comic book) called Attack on Titan that I had read a few weeks earlier. In this scene, there was a king who allowed himself to be eaten by a giant monster. After the king was eaten, the monster transformed into a human resembling the king. I saw the king as Jesus and the monster as myself. When I receive the Eucharist, I am eating the King who sacrifices Himself in order to save me, the sinful monster. By consuming Him, I gain new life and His Spirit lives within me. From that moment on, I had a new love and enthusiasm for the Eucharist. I now realize that there can be no Church without the Eucharist. I also realize that with the Eucharist I am never alone. Through the Eucharist, I am also in communion with all of those who receive the Eucharist today and all of the saints who received the Eucharist throughout history.

It seems that I have finally reached the heart of the Catholic Church, which I believe to be the Eucharist. The bread is broken as Jesus’ Body was broken on the cross. The wine is poured out as Jesus’ Blood was poured out from the cross. It took me almost a decade after becoming Catholic to see this beautiful connection between the Eucharist and Jesus’ death on the cross. This is a profound mystery that I am ever grateful for, and I have faith that the Eucharist will continue to sustain me for the rest of my journey.         

Alan Truong

Alan Truong lives in Salt Lake City, Utah where he works as a software engineer.  He came to the Church in 2009 and loves to share the truth and history of the Catholic Faith.

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