Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Doubt Sometimes Dissipates

I made an appointment at a nearby parish to take adult instruction in the Catholic faith so that I could be received into the Church. My husband told me that he thought it was beautiful that I was seeking spiritually. His attitude was so understanding and so kind. However, he made it clear to me that he had found his spiritual path in Self-Realization Fellowship. He didn't want me to try to convert him to Catholicism and I promised him that I would not.

On the day of my appointment with the RCIA director, I felt happy and full of anticipation. The nun who interviewed me was very friendly and approachable. I signed up to take the classes. She told me that once I started the classes, any and all of my questions would be addressed. I would learn the meaning of many Catholic terms that I might not know, like "litanies," "novenas," etc. For some reason, when she said the words, "litanies" and "novenas" it sounded so foreign to me. The words bothered me. She invited me to come to the parish any time I wanted to. But the word "parish" sounded foreign to me. It didn't feel like home. I had gone to a temple for more than twenty years. The word "parish" made me feel uncomfortable.

As the nun talked on and explained the format of the Catholic instruction classes, a feeling of sadness came over me. I knew that I was not going to be able to join the Catholic Church. It was like a light switch that was suddenly turned on in my mind, bringing me sharply back to reality. "I must have been crazy to think that I could become Catholic," I said to myself. "It doesn't feel right. I could never feel at home in the Catholic Church. I know that now." It was one thing to listen to the Catholic tapes in my office at work, but talking to a nun about Catholicism had a completely different effect on me, a negative effect. I was also beginning to realize that there were many of the Catholic teachings that I did not agree with. The next morning I called and cancelled.

But my decision did not bring me peace. I was torn in two directions. On the one hand, I wanted to become a Catholic but on the other hand I knew I could not do it. In order to convince myself to go forward with my plan of becoming Catholic, I took out a sheet of paper and wrote down all the reasons why I wanted to become a Catholic. There were many reasons and they filled almost an entire sheet of paper. On another paper, I wrote down all the reasons why I had left Self-Realization Fellowship, and there were many reasons. When I read and reread and compared the two lists, it was clear in my mind that I should become a Catholic. But the doubts I had about the Catholic theology would not go away.

Faith is a gift. Some people have the gift of faith and some do not. It became obvious to me that I did not have the gift of faith in the Catholic Church. I could not manufacture it either, although I tried. For the first time in my life, I had no church to go to, no church to call home. I had stopped attending Self-Realization Fellowship after I read the book on Padre Pio. My husband and I had gone to church together every Sunday for twenty-five years. Now, he was attending church each Sunday alone. I wanted to join the Catholic Church, but it did not seem as though it was going to be possible. I told myself it didn't matter. I could still love Padre Pio and Saint Francis of Assisi. I could study the lives of the saints. I could pray. I could believe in God. Who said I had to be part of organized religion? Even though I wanted it to be, it was no longer going to be part of my life. But in my heart and soul, I was miserable. "It is going to be this way for the rest of my life and I am going to have to get used to it," I said to myself.

Nevertheless, I kept trying to move forward. I visited another Catholic church and made an appointment to speak to the director of RCIA. This time the interview went better. I started attending the classes with about seven other adults who were seeking full communion in the Church. Although I never missed a class, for some reason I did not feel excited about what I was learning. I decided to take it one day at a time but I did not know if I would complete the program or if I would quit.

It was during this time that something happened which I would never have imagined. I woke up suddenly one night from a sound sleep to see Padre Pio beside my bed, elevated above the floor. He was wearing a dark habit and the hood of his habit was pulled up on his head in a very striking way. I had seen several photographs of Padre Pio in the biography I had read, but none of them showed the hood of his habit pulled up the way I saw it. He had a very solemn, a very grave look on his face. He was scrutinizing me with great intensity. His brows were knitted. Looking into his eyes, I felt paralyzed. I could not move.

I had never had an experience like that before and I have never had one since. I know that reading this, some people might think it was a hallucination or a dream. But it was neither. I have never had a hallucination in my life, or for that matter, any problem with my mental health. And it was not a dream for I was wide-awake and it is easy to distinguish the difference between the two states. There has never been a time when I doubted what I saw.

The morning after I saw Padre Pio beside my bed, I told my husband and children about it. They listened and they believed me but they did not know what to make of it. I didn't know what to make of it either. At that time, I had read one book and one book only on Padre Pio's life. I had never said even one prayer to him. It had never occurred to me to pray to him to help me in my spiritual crisis or to remove the doubts I had about the Catholic Church. But that is exactly what happened.

Shortly after seeing Padre Pio, I realized that all of my doubts about the Catholic Church had vanished. Suddenly everything seemed so simple, so clear. As I continued to attend RCIA classes, I didn't have a single theological question that needed an explanation. I lost the apathy I had been experiencing while attending the classes. I became enthusiastic about what I was learning and I looked forward with great anticipation to the day I would be received into the Church....

— Diane Allen, Pray, Hope, and Don't Worry: True Stories of Padre Pio, 2009, 324–327