Churches were often locked in those early 1970s days of chaos and vandalism, but thankfully this one was open.
The immense wooden door swung open, and I entered the quiet candlelit church, grateful to find myself alone. I slid into a pew opposite the flickering red vigil light that burned perpetually before the ornate gold tabernacle and knelt, closed my eyes, and said a silent prayer.
There was always such a feeling of peace within the sanctuary walls. At nineteen years old, I no longer deemed it necessary to go to church, yet I still sought out these tranquil places where heaven seemed to reach down and touch earth.
Taking out a pen and my dog-eared notebook, I scribbled heartfelt sonnets, sketching the church interior in the margins. Treasured time to think, pray, write, and draw in the peaceful quiet.
After a while, an old woman came in, knelt in the front pew and took out her rosary, her lips silently framing the familiar words, “Hail Mary, full of grace … .” A middle-aged Asian man entered soon after. I watched as he knelt on the hard marble floor at the first Station of the Cross, bowing his head in prayer. More people drifted in. The evening Mass would be starting soon. I made my exit, walking along the busy city street filled with a sense of peace.
I didn’t understand then what attracted me to those beautiful old Catholic churches, but I was drawn to them like a magnet. Now I know that it was God’s love and his presence in the heart of the church, in the Eucharist.
Fast-forward fifteen years, and I was a young mother of two children, still seeking God, still wandering, and still far from the faith of my childhood.
My son’s preschool friends invited us to their church and we began attending. The kids loved the crafts and Bible stories, and I enjoyed some quiet time to listen to the sermon. One Sunday, a very casual communion service was held, and the pastor invited all to come forward to share in the loaf he was distributing.
I had not received communion since I was a teenager, knowing that I must first seek reconciliation. After so many years, I dreaded the idea of confessing my sins, since I understood less about God’s mercy than I did about justice.
I knew I shouldn’t receive communion until I reconciled. But this was different, and I decided to go forward to the altar. I placed the fragment of bread in my mouth and returned to my seat. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with emotion. Tears welled up in my eyes and I knelt to pray, hiding my face in my hands.
Jesus had reached out to me, drawing me back to him silently, using that moment to remind me how much he loved and missed me.
I realized then that I had to make things right -- to reconcile and return to my church. The very next Sunday, we went to the neighborhood Catholic Church, where by God’s grace, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher happened to be leading the choir. Feeling at home right away, the kids were happy to make the switch, my husband agreed, and together, our family began our journey back to the Catholic Church.
There I found the One I had long been seeking: Jesus Christ, fully present with his Church until the end of time as he promised.
Jesus waits hidden in the tabernacle where that red vigil candle burns; He is the One who brings peace and tranquility to those quiet church sanctuaries. It is Jesus who soothes the lost and wandering soul, who offers his infinite mercy, who opens heaven’s doors, reaching out to us, nourishing us with the Bread of Life.
Even if you do not yet know him, Jesus knows you and loves you. Don’t keep him waiting any longer, seek him out: you are his beloved.