By the 8th grade, we studied world religions, and suddenly I became infatuated by Buddhism and Islam. At least in the way it was presented, I believed that there were many people of deep conviction out there, while my Church lacked deep conviction. I would soon find this overly ambitious as my high school classmates in public school who were Buddhists and still superficial. This only left me feeling more isolated, and there did not appear to be a single person on the face of the planet that I could talk about my spiritual intuitions. I think I felt guilty for even having them, and tried to be another reckless drug and sex obsessed teenager. Nowadays, kids cut themselves, and I often wonder if I would have too. Over the years, I found that stoners could speculate on everything, and I fit right in. I had an outlet for my spirituality for once, giving me the confidence to acknowledge what was in my heart. I also felt free to speculate on the person of Jesus, although he was almost exclusively a moral or political philosopher and revolutionary.
I had consistently opted out of going to confirmation at fifteen like everyone else. I actually believed at 16 that I would be brainwashed. I also thought the introduction of youth group at my parish would have been more lame. I always thought of youth group as a bunch of old people trying to make Jesus look hip. I cannot exactly figure out why at the time, that I thought a ‘cool’ Jesus was problematic. A few months afterward, confronted by the death of biology lab partner to a drug overdose as well as my grandfather to natural causes, I stood over the vast chasm of despair of my mortality upon the cracking foundation of a meaningless life.
Hip Hop Rapper and Singer Lauryn Hill received a Grammy. In her brief acceptance speech she said that she could not find herself until she found God. That moment still displays vivid in my memory. Several months later I would be motivated to sign up for confirmation, if at least to learn for myself in the Church as opposed to continuing to speculate with stoners. I actually thought that this would be something I would move through, onto the next religion, perhaps Buddhism.
At that time, I took up my bible, I think I started backwards from Revelations. The Apocalypse of John was always so sensational, and it was what everyone I knew seemed to be talking about at that time. I read the side notes that put the book in historical context, and it lost its mystery and vitality. I swiftly went to the Gospels, and read forward from Matthew, paying attention to the notes. I had been under the supposition that for years that the Gospels were deceptive fabrications, however, the New American Bible analysis sections made a decent case for the historicity of the texts.
My approach to the person of Jesus had been opening up in various ways. Since I was convinced that the Scriptures need not be either a literal word for word historical fact or fabricated allegorical myth, it left me some room for human and religious interpretations. I was also fascinated with the religious focus of the person of Jesus, whereas previously I assumed he had a purely moral or political mission. If I were to describe it now, the unity of the person and message of Jesus made both the person and message of Jesus more compelling than ever. Jesus claims to divinity, as well as actions of equating himself to God were more numerous than I expected. I think I had heard that Jesus was God, but I never gave it much thought. The consequence of reflecting on the Incarnation would turn my world upside down.
I was convinced that a Church youth group retreat was going to mean being brainwashed. I think seeing people returning so happy was more terrifying then anything that I had known. So despite my inhibitions, I reluctantly went. It was strange, but I was surprised to find everyone in the youth group to not be full of hypocrisy, and they were genuinely good people. Since I went to the retreat, it did mean that I was open to whatever might happen, otherwise I would not have gone. Then we had Eucharistic Adoration.
The host in the monstrance there before me, in the context of the Scriptures that I had been reading, and the reflections of the retreat invigorated me with a deep conviction: God entered into history to be in solidarity with humanity was evidence that God loved us passionately. God loved me passionately. Until then, I had accepted that there was a distant impersonal sort of God, that transcended everything, who vaguely and disinterestedly wanted us to be good to each other. The Creator of the universe was like a rationalist disinterested scientist. There was something more exciting about a passionate lover God who manifests Godself in the human person of Jesus Christ. There was also something troubling about it all. If God entered into history, God entered into my personal life. If God loved me directly, and came all this way for me, I could no longer be the hypocrite that I was. I could no longer have a disunity between what I knew deep down in my heart was right, God’s will for humanity, and the life I had lived.
I had grown comfortable with Jesus as another moral teacher. I had also been comfortable with a God that ‘accepted us unconditionally,’ which really meant that we did not have to be responsible, and that God was really not interested in our lives. Now everything mattered. I mattered. Jesus mattered. God mattered. God’s will mattered. Every other person on the planet mattered. Morals mattered. Love mattered. Heartbreak mattered. Every time I had been hurt mattered. Every time I hurt someone mattered. And this was troubling, because I had seriously wondered if nothing mattered. This new understanding was exciting, and distressing. I was horrified being handed a mission that I accepted. I do not know what got into me. What was even stranger was that I wanted all of this.
I struggled at times, even resisted this movement of grace. For the scope of four months, from May through August, nothing was certain. I seriously could not take satisfaction in things, but I desperately wanted to. It was a psychosis or something. I just could not take satisfaction in drugs or sex, and my awareness of the emptiness was immensely acute. Near the end of summer, I attended another youth gathering. In my next experience of Eucharistic Adoration, I knew it was time to commit. God’s interaction with humankind, through the Incarnation of Jesus, had consequence for this life.