American Protestant Mutt
My journey to the Catholic Church followed a meandering path through the jumbled Protestant landscape of the late 20th century. Born in February, 1980 in Columbus, Ohio, I was baptized as a baby in our local Lutheran church where we attended until, for reasons I do not remember, we moved down the street to a Methodist congregation. Mom and Dad became very active in this loving flock. This is where I first remember learning to love God, the Bible, and church. It was there that I played Little League and helped minister to local homeless people. It was there that we worshipped, prayed, went on camping trips, and hung out with friends. I loved that Methodist church, and I still thank God for the crucial foundation it laid in my childhood.
Unfortunately, our Christ-like pastor had a very human moment in a committee meeting one night and blew up at my Mom in front of everyone. This was the last straw for her in a dissatisfaction with “organized religion” that had apparently been building up for some time. She and Dad stopped going to church altogether, although they allowed me to continue to attend with my cousins at their Fundamentalist Baptist congregation, where I joined them for worship off and on during my teenage years. Now I was mixing Calvinism and Evangelicalism into my “Protestant mutt” DNA along with my earlier Lutheran and Wesleyan-Arminian roots! Yet by the time I reached college, I was only nominally Christian and I became just another hormone-crazed campus hooligan.
Combat and Calling
Even though my best childhood friends had been Catholic, we rarely discussed our faith, and my perceptions of Catholicism were instead mostly formed by my high school history classes, where the Roman Church was portrayed as a corrupt, politically-minded, and divisive force for the past two millennia. Nevertheless, my “Catholic friend trend” continued into college, where both my closest comrade in Army ROTC and my girlfriend were Catholic. Once, while visiting my girlfriend in her hometown, I attended Mass with her. Just before the distribution of the Eucharist, she turned to me and asked, “Are you going to receive today?” I was surprised; I thought that I shouldn’t commune because Catholics believed it was really the Body and Blood of Jesus, while for me it was just a symbol. I thought I should respect Catholic teaching by not receiving. But here was a confirmed Catholic whom I totally trusted. She wouldn’t invite me if it wasn’t okay, I reasoned, so I went ahead and received. Although I later regretted having done it, God eventually redeemed my grave sin for His greater good.
Brokenhearted when that relationship ended in my junior year, I later met a beautiful freshman named Addie Church on a Habitat for Humanity trip during spring break in March 2001. I could tell that Addie was special, but for the next 15 months, we were just friends who talked occasionally; I was too busy partying to grow up and court this godly woman. The week of my graduation and commissioning ceremony, Addie asked me out on a lunch date, and we had a fantastic time together. It hit me that this incredible lady had a quiet grace and deep love for Jesus that set her apart from the typical college girl. After many phone conversations that summer, we began dating seriously while I was at Fort Benning, Georgia in the fall of 2002. The Iraq invasion loomed, and suddenly I realized that if I truly wanted to be a godly husband and father someday, I needed to really “walk the walk” as a man who wanted to follow God and no longer just “talk the talk” like a poser. So I spent time with a great Army chaplain who helped me reset my course towards God. The following spring, after an arduous few months in Ranger School, I proposed to Addie. She said yes, not fully knowing what a crazy adventure we would have together in the coming years! Just a month later, in June 2003, I was already in Iraq, where I served as a rifle platoon leader in Sinjar and Mosul, including patrols around the ruins of ancient Nineveh, where Jonah had walked.
I returned safely in early 2004, and after Addie graduated from college in June, we married, and she joined me at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. As I trained for another deployment to Iraq, we found a lovely little “Church of God, Anderson, Indiana” congregation, where we made many dear friends and where families of all ages lavished great love on us as a newlywed couple. Twice on Sundays and again on Wednesday nights, we all happily recited, “The Bible alone is our rule of faith, and Christ alone is Lord!” along with a litany of other well-intentioned Protestant notions. It wasn’t all roses, but we truly loved it there.
We felt perfectly at home with the idea that “denominations were not what Jesus intended,” and that instead He wanted us to “reach our hands in fellowship to every blood-washed one” as a classic Church of God hymn goes. By mid-2005, I was leading Bible studies and occasionally even preaching because the church was in-between pastors and our octogenarian patriarch was worn out from being in the pulpit three times per week. Then unexpectedly, I suffered a heat stroke on a morning run in August 2005, which prevented me from deploying to Iraq again that fall. Devastated, I was left home as a Rear Detachment Commander, one of the most inglorious and undesirable positions in a wartime Army. For the next 14 months, I was still an infantry officer, but for all intents and purposes, I was already serving as a chaplain. I tended to the families of my deployed brothers, cared for our wounded, and buried our dead. It was awful to keep putting soldiers on planes to Iraq and not climb aboard with them, but eventually I learned to accept that this was where God wanted me. Simultaneously, I continued preaching frequently at our church, and many, including the new interim pastor, affirmed my calling to ministry. With the support of my commanders, my packet to reclassify as a chaplain candidate was approved, and I entered seminary in January 2007.
Confetti and Chaplaincy
Instead of attending the home seminary for the Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, we felt God call us out of our comfort zones — geographically, culturally, financially, and denominationally — at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. As a non-denominational seminary at a global crossroads in L.A., with many dozens of Christian traditions and nations represented in its student body, Fuller’s pedagogical method is not to teach its students what to think, but how to think. This proved to be a great training ground for ministry in the Army, which is a kaleidoscope of Christian denominations and many other world views. During seminary, I was also a part-time associate pastor at a sweet little Church of God congregation in Pasadena. Additionally, I served as a chaplain candidate in the California Army National Guard, so one weekend each month and two weeks each summer, I circulated to the various armories to minister to the troops. We also welcomed our firstborn son, Gavin, during the summer of 2007.
This was, then, an extremely busy and oftentimes frustrating period, especially at Fuller. It seemed that the more I learned, the more questions I had, but the less willing any of my professors were to actually take a firm position on critical issues. Their approach seemed to be more along the lines of, “Well, what do you think?” But I could only think, “Isn’t that what I came here for — for you to tell me?!” I liken my seminary education to paying someone $50,000 for a degree, but having them puree your Bible in an open blender, watching the confetti falling like snow throughout the room, and then being handed a roll of Scotch tape and being told, “Have fun putting that back together!” I found myself clinging for dear life to St. Paul’s summary of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (NABRE).
One of the most poignant moments during this phase of our journey came unexpectedly when I was scanning the pages of the Los Angeles Times in late June 2008 and did a double-take as I leafed through the obituary section: Captain Gregory T. Dalessio, an ebullient young officer whom I had befriended during his time as an Army cadet, was dead. How can this be? I thought. Greg had just emailed earlier that month to say, “Dana, although my Task Force has a chaplain, you’re my chaplain.” But a sniper outside of Baghdad had then abruptly ended his life, and now his funeral would be taking place in two days in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
By another grace of God, our budget and schedule were somehow able to support me flying to the East Coast. As I sat in a pew at Greg’s Catholic parish church, I heard an incredibly beautiful homily about the love of God and drank in the richness of the Mass. The liturgy seemed so much more intentional, reverent and deeply rooted than our Protestant “praise and worship,” which sometimes felt more like a club meeting. I watched through tears as Greg’s family and friends came forward to receive the Eucharist after lovingly brushing their hands across the white linen pall adorning his casket. I, too, went forward, out of a sense that I was part of this family. This time, I didn’t partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord, but I did receive the priest’s blessing, and felt especially loved in the gesture. Nevertheless, for the time being, Catholicism was just another denomination.
In spite of the many challenges of seminary, it was a great season of preparation for what was to come, and even in the hardest of times I had an indelible sense that my calling was sure. When the doubts and difficulties came, I went back to what so many people had affirmed about me becoming a pastor, and I took solace in the impact I seemed to be having in our church and in the National Guard.
After completing the M.Div degree in December 2009, we moved to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where I attended the Chaplain Officer Basic Course, returning to active duty in April 2010. After another move back to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, I was deployed immediately to Afghanistan. Over the next 11 months, I ministered to my 400 soldiers at a forward operating base in western Kandahar, a hornet’s nest of enemy fighters. Although I was in a logistical support battalion, and therefore spent most of my time safely “inside the wire,” I ministered to many American and Afghan casualties at our hospital. I also had the solemn duty to minister to a sister unit whose chaplain had died in an enormous homemade bomb blast. Overall, it was a very hard year, but it seemed to be a validation of all of my past training and preparation. Our second son, Grant, was born during my mid-tour leave, and shortly after returning stateside in April 2011, I received orders to move yet again, this time to Fort Benning, Georgia.
For the next 17 months, I ministered to students in the first phase of Ranger School, where I had experienced the lowest point of my life as a young officer nearly a decade before. It was a rewarding time of ministry and a welcome change to have hundreds of people attending my worship services! I instituted the practice of serving peanut butter and bread after the service. I normally didn’t hold communion; I didn’t want the starving students to receive the bread and juice only, because I knew the extra rations would add a few calories to their nutrition-deprived bodies. I now find this whole concept fascinating. I was an extremely low-church pastor who had officially affirmed that I didn’t believe in “sacraments.” Instead, I had duly affirmed the “ordinances” which Jesus had told us to practice and which He Himself had modeled for us: namely baptism, communion, and foot washing. But in the Church of God’s Anabaptist viewpoint, these biblical practices didn’t actually do anything; they were simply symbols. So, why did it matter to me that anyone ate or drank the bread and juice? I now wonder about that. Yet it bothered me somehow, especially after a hungry student refused my offer for him to consume the leftover bread one night when I had actually included communion. “Huh-uh, sir,” he said, holding up his hand, shaking his head and walking away, “I wouldn’t dare touch that.…” I remember feeling oddly ashamed.
During my time at the Ranger School, I was selected to become the chaplain for the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, also located at Fort Benning. Everything seemed to be coming together at last; from the first time I had floated the idea of becoming a chaplain in 2005, friends and colleagues would say, “Hey, maybe you can be a Ranger Battalion chaplain one day!” By all measures, this seemed to be the culmination of my past decade of experience as an infantry officer and chaplain: it was a prestigious assignment, which would allow me to minister to some of the most elite warriors in the entire Army. So I was thrilled about this incredible opportunity as I joined the battalion in June of 2013. Although our family was already tiring from the ministry and the moves, this excitement brought a second wind.
My House of Cards
Then, one summer evening before departing for Afghanistan that fall, my cousin Brian dropped a bombshell over the phone: “Our family is becoming Catholic.” Brian and I are like David and Jonathan: we were inseparable childhood friends, and even during my extended time away in the Army, our deep connection never faded. Brian was a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist who loved Scripture and Jesus more than anyone else I knew, not to mention being an incredible husband of 15 years and father to four godly children. He was my role model. So I was simply blown away by what I thought would be his claim that “man-made” religion, works-based salvation, and many other assumptions I had about Catholicism were now more important to him. Incredulous and curious, I proffered a standard Protestant laundry list of objections to Rome: the Pope, Mary, praying to saints, the celibacy of the priesthood, the Sacraments, the Crusades and Inquisitions, the “extra” books of Scripture … (insert your objection here, it was probably on my list) … etc. Frankly, I didn’t expect the responses he gave me.
Very quickly, to my chagrin, Brian served up a logically consistent, intellectually honest, historically accurate, and even scripturally based response for each concern. Even when I didn’t like his answers, I grudgingly admitted that he didn’t contradict himself and that the Catholic perspective was at least a theoretically valid interpretation and application of Scripture. As our conversations continued through the summer, Brian also launched an effective cross-examination with pointed questions like: “Which came first, the Scriptures or the Church?” — “Where does the Bible say that it is the only authority?” — and the real doozy (which only someone very close to a pastor’s heart could ever ask), “How do you know your ordination is valid?”
I tried to hear him out, but it was hard. His patient answers were surprisingly powerful parries to my elementary gambits. He pointed out verses that, it seemed, I had never noticed before in spite of reading the Bible my whole life — verses like 1 Timothy 3:15, where God’s Church is described as “the pillar and foundation of truth” (NABRE). I had no doubt read that passage before, but I was flummoxed because I didn’t remember it, and I had no way to answer it as a Protestant except to “spiritualize” it, just like I did everything else. The Church, after all, was an invisible, “spiritual” body of believers. My salvation was spiritual. The sacraments were actually just spiritual ordinances. There was no way any of those could be physical … or, could they?
As I began to consider these questions, I grew frustrated at how my apologetics were quickly unraveling. I realized that my arguments had been haphazardly assembled, and the inconsistencies of my logic and assumptions began to haunt me. I was increasingly faced with the extent of my exegetical gymnastics, or even outright ignoring of certain passages like James 2:24, and especially the Bread of Life discourse in John 6:22–59. As I travelled across the barren landscape of Afghanistan visiting my Rangers that fall, I kept a small metal container in the shoulder pocket of my uniform and sometimes I would feel the wafers clinking. Is that really Jesus in there? I wondered. Over time, I found myself wanting Him to really be there — really with me, physically.
I read Evangelical is Not Enough by Thomas Howard and realized how much I had apparently accepted the many a priori assumptions of the post-Reformation world without understanding how massively they had impacted me through the contemporary American Protestant landscape. After all, if we in our “protesting” assert that all we really need is the Bible and the Holy Spirit, then logically, we don’t need the Church at all! Another author I read noted how the Holy Spirit is not simply some talisman that we either have or don’t have. Because if He is, then everyone would correctly and consistently interpret and apply Scripture. But a cursory examination of the cacophonous chaos of western Protestantism instead reveals a collection of wildly disparate movements numbering in the tens of thousands, not to mention the independent congregations and the “spiritual-but-not-religious” hordes of functional agnostics. As I considered this glaring evidence of unbiblical discord that had been under my nose all along, I was horrified and discouraged to admit that the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17, and which St. Paul admonished early believers to maintain in 1 Corinthians 1:10, seemed to be nonexistent in contemporary Christendom. Like most of my friends and colleagues, I longed for unity but had somehow given up on it with a tacit, somber resignation that the metastasizing of post-Reformation denominationalism was an unavoidable reality.
Brian also methodically unpacked for me that I had a functionally Buddhist worldview: namely that divinity cannot commingle with matter. By extension, he uncovered the predominant Protestant attitude that God, in His infinite holiness, does not work through a broken human (physical) organization like the Church. He showed me how Calvinism’s emphasis on our sinfulness had so obscured the imago dei into which we were created that I was instead denying God’s ability to actually (physically) heal me. Calvinism had tragically taught us that we are really just steaming piles of dung with Jesus’ Blood covering up the stench, and there could be no true assurance of salvation in this life because every time I sinned, it was an indication that I was not actually part of God’s “elect”. As Brian described it, we internalize that we’re Esau, not Jacob. Additionally, when it came to the Sacraments, I realized that I was essentially saying that God doesn’t communicate grace through matter, but there were pesky biblical references that seemed to indicate that the opposite was the case (e.g., Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21). Combine all of this — strangely — with a Wesleyan focus on loving people and actually doing things to live out your faith, and what you get is a very well-intentioned but seriously confused young American preacher. I loved Jesus, and I believed I was trying to live for Him. But I was stuck, and I knew by the end of 2013 that I was in serious trouble as a Protestant and as a chaplain. I began to see the house of cards where I was living and sensed its immanent and permanent collapse. I also quickly realized that the only other logical options were to start my own church or follow the increasingly clear path towards a place I never thought I would go: Rome.
Authority and the Incarnation
During the winter of 2014, I decided to prayerfully continue my investigation and not make any rash decisions without being fully convinced in my head and my heart. I worried that I was actually just experiencing the culmination of a mid-life crisis, something I had been aware of since my transition to seminary and the birth of our first son in 2007. Considering I had reached an early apex in my career as a chaplain, I assumed that I was making up some sort of problem to worry about — a tendency which I get honestly from my forebears, reinforced by negative life experiences that always seemed to happen when things were going well.
I was also in danger of burning out. I served in one of the fastest-paced units in the Army, so even without the Catholic dilemma, I was doubtful about the wisdom of staying on the bullet train of my Army chaplain career because it was already impacting my family. Yet all personal, pastoral, and professional considerations aside, the more I read and studied about the Catholic Church, the more I found myself increasingly captivated by her. I liken this season to falling in love with the ugly, unpopular girl at school: instead of joining in the snickering gossip, once I actually talked to her directly, I perceived that, on the inside, she was incredibly beautiful, goodhearted, and wise.
It seemed that I was standing on the tip of an iceberg, and that the deeper I looked, the more I discovered that I wanted to know. The question underlying all the others, however, was really the core issue of authority: if Rome was the only Christian tradition that actually claimed to have ultimate authority over the life of the believer, then figuring out if this is really true would answer all the other questions, from Mary to the Pope to any other belief or practice. In short order, I found that my interpretation of the classic text on this matter from Matthew 16:13-20 was merely an example of post-Enlightenment, postmodern, western, American, democratic egalitarianism: we are all Peter, so the “keys to the kingdom” represent our faith, because Jesus builds the Church on us, too. But a simple examination of the New Testament revealed that Peter was the leader of the Apostles (train wreck that he was so many times — just like me, bless his heart!). It also reveals that Jesus had given to Peter a special kind of authority to bind and loose things on earth and in heaven. Jesus then later reinstated Peter in a unique way (see John 21:15-19), and just before that He also breathed on the Apostles and gave them the authority to forgive sins (see John 20:22-23). As a Protestant, I simply had no way to deal with these logical extensions; if I am Peter and the Apostles, then in every way I also have the keys to the kingdom and I should also have the authority to bind and loose and forgive sins — not just to assure my brothers and sisters in Christ that we are forgiven.
There was an additional nagging historical issue: when did God supposedly revoke the authority He had clearly given to the Apostles and their successors? Did He really abandon His Church from roughly ad 100 to 1500, until Martin Luther and crew somehow liberated us from the problems that Rome had so nefariously created?
The Incarnation and the Eucharist
I was fascinated, too, by the Catholic understanding of the Incarnation. For Protestants, the “Incarnation” is something that took place 2,000 years ago and lasted about 33 years. For Catholics, it is instead something that is constantly taking place throughout salvation history, including today.
A related logical problem gnawed at me here: if I take John 1:14 as being literally, physically true, and I also take John 3:16 as being literally, physically true (two non-negotiable tenets of the Christian Faith), then how in the world can I spiritualize John 6:22-59, especially when Jesus responds literally to the bewildered accusations of the Jews who are offended by what He just said about eating and drinking His Flesh and Blood? It’s almost like they were saying to Jesus, “This is one of those parables, right? Like, you’re the door, or the shepherd, or some other analogy?” But instead of backpedaling, Jesus instead doubled down and told them it is literally, physically true that we have to eat and drink Him (see John 6:56). And so they left Him! How tragic it is that so many people don’t believe Jesus’ plain words in John 6!
Additionally, God revealed Himself physically in the Garden; He also showed up physically in the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and in the Temple at Jerusalem, as well as other various Christophanies in the Old Testament. After He showed up physically in the Person of His Son, Who then physically ascended into heaven in a new Body which has physical marks in it from the cross, then why in the world would He now, in our day, choose to remain physically absent from His people? Wouldn’t it make more sense that “from the rising of the sun to its setting … incense offerings are made to my name everywhere, and a pure offering” (Malachi 1:11, NABRE) until He physically returns on the clouds to culminate salvation history and usher in the wedding feast of the Lamb, where we, in physically resurrected bodies, will be with Him forever? And doesn’t Holy Mass seem to effortlessly (and physically) connect all of this biblical typology from Genesis to Revelation? As I began attending Mass while investigating these issues, I discovered it was utterly saturated with Scripture, and I gradually discerned that it is the nuptial union of God with His people, the intersection of eternity and time, and the mysterious joining of heavenly, spiritual divinity with our worldly, fallen flesh for the purpose of physically redeeming and sanctifying it.
During a training event at Fort Knox, Kentucky on the Sunday after Easter in 2014, the Mass I attended with my Catholic Rangers at 11 a.m. was juxtaposed with my own communion service at 1 p.m., where I instinctively told my Rangers as they came forward to receive, “The Body and Blood of our Lord.” When one of them, a Catholic, made the sign of the Cross before receiving, I was convicted. Not only was I leading him away from the true Table, but I didn’t really believe that what I was giving them was Jesus’ Body and Blood. Otherwise, I would never have touched it myself or offered it to others, thereby leading all of us into the sin of sacrilege.
During my sermon that day about the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35, I also heard myself saying, “These two followers of Jesus had been with Him for a long time and knew all the Scriptures, but Jesus still had to explain the meaning to them. So apparently,” I continued, holding out my Bible, “this isn’t enough.” After a momentary blush, I clarified that the Bible is still essential, but I went on to explain how Jesus wasn’t seen for Who He really was until He reclined at the table with them and blessed and broke the bread, and that we are invited to continually meet Him and see Him at the Table. I realized that this was essentially a Catholic homily and that I was no longer protesting anything. Back home in Georgia with Addie and our boys the following Sunday, during our contemporary chapel service, the congregation passionately sang, “Holy Spirit, you are welcome here / come flood this place and fill the atmosphere / your glory, God, is what our hearts long for / to be overcome by your Presence, Lord.” The word “Presence” was capitalized on the Powerpoint slide, and I couldn’t resist leaning over and saying to Addie, “You know, if we were Catholic, we wouldn’t have to ask Jesus to come, because He would be here physically, too.” As we walked to the car after the service, I told her plainly, “I’m not home here anymore.” The very next day, I began the process of formally telling my superiors that I intended to become Catholic. It turns out that the Church of God was right: denominations are not what Christ intended. But the “one, true Church of God” did not need yet another reformation in Anderson, Indiana. It had been in Rome all along!
“Coming Out Catholic”
One of the first books Addie and I had read in our investigation of all things Catholic was Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home, which chronicles their intense marital strife and utter pastoral ostracism in the transition. So during the winter of 2014, the closer I came to being convinced that I was actually Catholic, the more I tried to brace myself and our family for the shock wave we honestly expected. Had it not been for a special dispensation of God’s grace, things could have gone much worse for us when I finally broke the news to my Army supervisors and the Church of God in early May of 2014.
Thankfully, however, nearly everyone offered their support for us following our hearts, even if they flatly disagreed with our theological reasons for doing so. First, our fellow chaplain families were at least polite; the chaplaincy’s professional and pastoral maxim of “collegiality without compromise” apparently helped protect us. Second, all of my superior commanders were Catholic, so their only real concern was that I didn’t leave immediately, because my battalion was set to deploy to Afghanistan again very soon. On the third front, thankfully, my Church of God chaplain endorsers were acquainted with units like mine, and they knew from experience how long it could take to find and duly assign a replacement chaplain in the Ranger Regiment. Therefore they allowed me to remain on active duty for one more year to facilitate the transition. They simply told me, “Do what you can, and don’t do what you can’t; just love people and show them Jesus.” (Their only caveat was that I shouldn’t “go out and try to make everyone become Catholic.”) Since I could still counsel, preach, teach, baptize, and even marry people, I accepted this gracious offer, even though I felt morally awkward about being Catholic in my heart while collecting a paycheck under the auspices of a Protestant church tradition’s endorsement.
Someone during this period quipped about the stigma surrounding our public revelation: “It’s like coming out gay, isn’t it?” While I’m sure that revealing a homosexual lifestyle to the world is a lot harder, it certainly felt like we were risking many relationships, and it definitely meant the end of my chaplain career. It’s hard to imagine what that transitional year would have been like without the incredible outpouring of graces described above.
Little did we know that we were in for the hardest summer of our lives anyway. Addie endured a surgery to remove an ovarian cyst 20 weeks into her pregnancy with our third son, followed by a diagnosis of preeclampsia at 28 weeks, just before I was set to deploy to Afghanistan yet again. Thankfully, my commander let me stay home. My fellow chaplains covered the deployment, so I was able to remain stateside with Addie as she delivered Garrett at 31 weeks, weighing in at just 3 pounds, 9 ounces. After 25 long hard days in NICU, we were on the point of nervous collapse from the most chaotic year of our lives and certainly the most challenging season in our marriage. We thanked God that my battalion returned home safely that fall, but as a family, we were really struggling. Then the rigors of another intense training cycle, compounded with our stress about what I would do for work after the Army, nursing our preemie into health, and generally feeling awkward about our “in-between” status — we just wanted to be done with it and to complete the transition home to Ohio at last.
It was interesting, though, to see how many conversations I had with Catholics of all ranks and ages during that transitional year without any effort whatsoever on my part. Our family’s story intrigued both cradle Catholics who had remained faithfully in communion and those who had fallen away. At the risk of violating the Church of God’s admonition about converting people, I simply encouraged Catholics to be truly Catholic. I pleaded with them to fly to the Sacraments for help: “You have access to something that I don’t! All you need to do is make a good confession and return to full communion by eating and drinking Jesus!” Meanwhile, each week we attended Mass and dutifully filed forward with our arms across our chests, bowing before the Host and receiving a priestly blessing before returning to our pew. It became agonizing to not be able to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, but we knew it was necessary that we abstain during this season as God was preparing us to become a holy family through the sacraments. God also showered blessings on us in many forms during that last year on active duty, including a private weekend with noted Catholic authors Rod Bennett and Dave Armstrong and their families, graciously facilitated by the Coming Home Network.
What joy it was to finally be received into full communion! I departed active duty in July 2015, and we had our two youngest sons baptized at our home parish in Columbus, Ohio. We spent the remainder of the summer reorienting ourselves to civilian life. At last, on September 29, 2015, the Feast of St. Michael (my chosen patron), St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael — (the three archangels mentioned in the Bible) — Addie and I were confirmed. Then we joined our firstborn son, Gavin, in receiving our First Communion. Father Stash Dailey, our parish priest, brought the precious Blood of Our Lord to us at the rail. He tilted the chalice forward for me to drink, and I saw the large fragment of Host floating inside — the Body of Christ reunited with His Blood! The burgundy and golden light faded into darkness when the chalice enveloped my face, and as the Blood finally touched my lips, I felt as though I was entering into the tomb with Jesus. Here was the Gospel — no longer simply a spiritual truth or concept, but truth itself physically embodied in the Lord, who willingly died for me, and who still offers His very Flesh and Blood to be united with me! Now, at every Mass, we join with the angels and the rest of the congregation as we joyously sing the words which will echo in eternity: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”