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I have written on religion (both my faith, and my frustration with certain elements of organized religion) in this space, but I have never gotten granular and truly spoken about my conversion to faith.

I have a wonderful example in my wife. She has an intuitive appreciation for faith, and frequently tells me the Holy Spirit has spoken with her voice. Most times, it’s to her CCD class. She prepares notes, but comes home with stories of how she has no idea how she came up with half of what she told the kids.

This post is supposed to be about me and my faith, but integral to my faith is the constant example Mary provides. The latest story is very close to my heart. She was teaching class, and as 9 year olds are wont to do do, many tangential discussions ensued. Just before the bathroom break, they were talking about oppression and one little boy said, “My dad says the Germans weren’t all bad, that if they didn’t do Nazi stuff Hitler would stab them in the eye.” “Time for the bathroom break!” Mary said.

Mary walked them down to the head, and as she did, she wondered how she would address this. She is fearless with them, but was stumped. On the walls were taped artwork of the first grade class at St John’s school. It wasn’t her inspiration; rather it was the names of the kids. One of them had signed his “Max” and right next to him was another signed “Kolbe”. No doubt pronounced Colby.

Please take a moment to read about St. Maximillian Kolbe, who was from Poland but of German descent. If you don’t have the time, I’ll sum it up: He was sent to Auschwitz for sheltering Polish Jews (like many Germans did, too). Once there, ten men were selected to starve to death in a pit in retaliation for 3 men escaping. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to die in the place of a married father. Father Kolbe (he was a Franciscan priest) lived so long that the Nazis eventually had to inject him with poison to kill him. He offered them his arm.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized him. The man he saved from the pit was present.

Thus Mary had a way to teach her students. It is because she looks for the help, and recognizes it when it comes.

Now on to my story. I won’t start at the beginning (St Mary’s Franciscan Church in Pompton Lakes). I’ll start at the end.

Tonight, I was looking something up on Google, and I noticed they replaced the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. The button read “I’m feeling Wonderful”. I am, if anything, a perpetual optimist, so I clicked it. It links to locations Google is putting in it’s World Wonders Project. The wonder it sent me to was St Brendan’s Cathedral on the Irish Island of Clonfert.

It is, to my personal faith journey, the holiest place on Earth. I have never been there, but it was built in the 12th Century on the location of St Brendan’s monastery/college. I won’t get into St. Brendan’s achievements, but I encourage you all to read his Wikipedia entry. 

I’d been having a rough work week (work month is more like it) and had turned it around a little this afternoon, but the I felt the world creeping up onto my shoulders lately. It has been wearing me down. I really needed a spark.

Here it was. Like a match, flaming up and burning away the tightness in my head. The World Wonders Project must have hundreds of entries, perhaps thousands. And yet, the random entry was my site.

When I went back later tonight to look at it again, I went to Google, and the “I’m Feeling” button has what seems to be at least a dozen iterations. I’m Feeling Hungry, Stellar, Trendy, etc. So it just got much less likely that the button would return what it did when I needed it.

I know, I must seem fatuous, seeing God in what clearly could just be a random chance. But that is the point. What I learned from my wife is that yes, it can be random chance, but it can still have meaning. What made that teacher hang up Max and Kolbe’s art right where she did? It doesn’t matter. What matters is what it meant to Mary, and what the Cathedral of Clonfert meant to me.

It meant my life. Not too long ago, I was an Atheist. Not unaligned, or agnostic. There was no God. He was a sad impossibility. 1+1=2 and there is no room in that equation for faith. I had become an Atheist when I couldn’t wrap my head around the contradictions inherent in faith in general and Christianity in particular. The evil in the world, the bizarre hatefulness of many of the faithful.

Still, I respected my wife’s faith, and raised my children in the faith. I loved the church, and the message of Christ (Jefferson Bible, anyone?). I wanted my children to have faith, I certainly didn’t want them to have the difficulties inherent in my beliefs. It’s bad enough I’ve raised them as Red Sox fans.

We didn’t talk about it, and I never laid bare how I felt, but Mary one day challenged me to test my belief. I don’t mean she threw down a gauntlet, but rather she engaged me, and I respected her faith enough to listen. She instinctively knew (was guided) in the best way to push me along.

So, much like when I decided to get my life in order via Parris Island, I decided I needed to challenge myself with a task that would push my boundaries out of my comfort zone. I committed to doing perpetual adoration on Wednesday morning from 4 to 5 AM. My church, St John’s, always has a couple of people in the chapel praying. It’s really neat.

I started, and brought along my rosary and my encyclopedia of saints. I am a former historian, so I found the stories of the saints exciting, and their faith inspiring. If I was going to be led to God, one of these men or women would do it.

I read the entire book, alternating with prayer, and then went back and re-read the entries that spoke to me. In the end, the story of Brendan the Navigator most appealed to me.

But it was still in an historical context. I even re-read the book The Brendan Voyage, the story of a modern explorer’s recreation of the Saint’s epic transatlantic journey of the 6th century.

When I finally did find God, it wasn’t in the chapel. It was at home. I was riding our stationary bike before bed, and it was storming outside. We have satellite, so I lost signal on the TV, and grabbed my rosary. Like any meditation, it can be soothing, and so I prayed through the storm in my dark living room.

I was overcome by a vision. I was no longer on my stationary bike, but rather walking down a rocky beach to the shore. There was a boat there (I’m pretty sure if it was a leather curraigh like Brendan used) and in it was a lone man in a robe, facing to sea. I asked him where he was going and he turned just his torso around to  look at me over his shoulder.

He was lean, and had what seemed to be a perpetual smile at the corners of his mouth. His eyes held the same smile, and his face lit up even brighter when our eyes met. He just motioned me aboard and turned back to face the sea. As soon as I came aboard, I was back on my stationary bike in my living room.

In the space of time of my vision, I had ridden a good amount. I can’t recall exactly how far, but I know it was more than two miles.

It would be easy to dismiss it as a delusion or an hallucination. You could easily say that I wanted it so badly that I made myself see this.

Go for it.

But I know I was visited by the holy spirit, and although I can’t bottle that feeling and let you taste it so you’d know for sure, maybe if you know me a little, you’ll draw a little faith from mine. It was no hallucination (I know what those are like) or waking dream (I can never remember my dreams).

There is no mistaking the touch of the Holy Spirit, and that’s what it was. And Brendan was telling me something.

Let it go, Terry. Just trust me. Don’t worry about the scientific impossibility of Heaven, or the contradictions that tied your brain in knots until you disavowed faith. His ways are not your ways.

Just let it go.

So I did.

And tonight he said hi again.

Hi Brendan. Thanks for the ride; it’s been wonderful.

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