A couple of weeks before Patrick died, he visited me in Dallas. One evening, we were driving to what is now one of my favorite restaurants, Mariano’s, and on the way we happened to stop at a red light. Out of the blue, Patrick asked me, “Who was St. Thomas Aquinas?” I thought that was really odd until he pointed out a sign at the corner for St. Thomas Aquinas School. I dug up some vague memories from undergrad philosophy and religion classes as we drove on; I was really thinking only about Mexican food. And that was that.
Or so I thought.
A couple weeks later, I was zombified by grief. Shock insulated me inside a still, quiet, numb cocoon. No tears, no cries, nothing. I don’t remember much about the funeral proceedings. My dad came to be with me. We drove to Galveston, which until then had been so full of happy and pretty memories. Patrick and I had gone there for our first date and many times after. I remember that there were services officiated by some priests from St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica. I remember the gunmetal grey casket. It seemed like just an object. I couldn’t–and really still can’t–grasp that it contained the body of that man I’d been so in love with, the man I’d planned to spend a long life with. I remember that the day of the funeral was bright, and the sky was so clear and blue. I remember that as we were leaving the cemetery, I saw a small plane flying overhead and thought it must be a message from Patrick: “Don’t be sad. I’m still alive.”
In the following week, after the funeral and condolences, life and the world around me started returning to normal. People began to recede back into their own lives, and I began to feel abandoned, desolate, desperate. The beautiful spring twilight when I had encountered God so close to me seemed eons past. An impenetrable darkness began to close in around me and smother me.
I had to do something. I had to go somewhere. I had to have help from somebody. I couldn’t cope on my own. And that’s when I remembered St. Thomas Aquinas School. I thought there must have also been a church there, as well. I knew that church might be my only hope. But I was also scared and ashamed. Days passed and I went back and forth about whether I should go to the church. Meanwhile the darkness and the agony kept growing stronger. At last, I just dropped everything and went to that church!
Naturally, it was the best thing I could have done. I got more help and more care than I’d even imagined possible. Everybody I talked to was so kind and generous. Nobody cared how sordid my past was–actually, they didn’t even ask. They just wanted me back, they wanted me to find peace and comfort. I learned that there was a grief counselor who provided free counseling, and the next day, she contacted me and we began having weekly meetings. Meanwhile, I learned that the only thing I needed to do in order to be restored as a Catholic in good standing was to go to Confession.
Honestly, I was terrified! But I knew I wasn’t going to be any less terrified if I put it off. So that very evening, I went. I had to wait in line. It was excruciating. The adrenaline in my body kept building and building. By the time it was my turn, I felt like I was about to burst open! I thought that kneeling behind a screen would actually freak me out a bit, so I went to the other side, where you can talk to the priest face to face. I marched up and barged in so urgently that I think I startled the priest, and I just started talking. I can’t remember what all was said, but I do remember the calmness and patience of the priest, and his complete lack of shock, abhorrence, or anger at my life of dissolution and apostasy. Rather, I remember him saying a prayer of thanksgiving for my return and calling down God’s grace and protection upon me. I truly felt like I was in the presence of Christ Himself! Before I knew it, the priest had given me a penance, absolved me of my sins, and sent me on my way in peace!
I was so light-headed and weak-kneed with relief and joy that I just felt like falling flat on the floor, in the middle of the aisle, in front of everybody! But I made it into a pew and knelt and prayed, although my whole body was trembling. I’m pretty sure I wept. I thanked God over and over and over again for taking me back and bringing me to that place. And I remembered that Patrick had first shown me that place; I had never realized it was there before.
After Confession, I stayed and attended the evening Mass. I received Communion for the first time in so many years. I was a Catholic again. That was Thursday, 12 May 2005.
But if I had expected that the darkness would be permanently dispelled from my life, I was in for a sore awakening. The fact was that I had stepped onto a raging spiritual battlefield, without fully realizing it–a most perilous situation. I had a LOT to learn. I was not fully myself, broken as I was by my recent loss and the all-consuming work of grieving. I was earnest in becoming close to God and practicing my faith again… but the devil was even more earnest in snatching me back away. Nothing outrages the devil more than a soul turning away from him. My conversion had barely just begun, and it was not going to be easy.
Not much to say, except that I still thank God all the time for bringing me to my parish, and I’m also still convinced that Patrick really chose my parish for me! It has truly been my second home. Whenever I am in the church, I feel God’s presence and His peace. It is a true refuge, a true haven. It is still my beacon in the dark, my anchor, my safe harbor.