Often when I think back on my life I am struck by how utterly unlikely, how completely surprising it is that I ended up becoming a Christian. Before I received the Eucharist for the first time that was the most prescient thought in my mind: how terrifyingly close I came to not being there that day. How only a few seemingly coincidental events, a couple of lucky breaks, led me to spend that cold April evening in the warmth of a church, instead of passing yet another night in a world without God.
I’ve gone over and over the events that led me there. I was quite content as an atheist. I was surrounded by worldly pleasures. I was happy with myself and my life. I felt confident in my beliefs. I was hostile and cynical about the idea of religion in general, and thanks to some bad experiences growing up I was particularly scornful of Christianity. I never once thought that God might actually exist, not even as a child. I wasn’t searching for answers because I thought I already had them. I wasn’t looking for objective truth because I didn’t think it existed.
Looking back, I was kind of a worst case scenario in terms of potential for conversion. It seems so unlikely that I would ever become religious at all, let alone a Christian.
The series of lucky breaks that led me to have a change of heart and mind, that ultimately led me to God, are too numerous to detail here. One of the reasons I haven’t yet written a conversion story is simply because it would require thousands and thousands of words to explain. But, to consider it all in total, one of the things that strikes me when I look back on it all is how clearly I see the hand of God in my life. I see now that even when I was most lost, when I’d fallen so far away and was so consumed with sin and selfishness that it would seem impossible that a person could ever come back, God was there. It was like there was some small magnet within me that was leading me to a home I didn’t know existed.
I was pondering all this earlier this week as I looked through a dresser drawer, and I came across a thin, worn box. I think that finding it was an answer to my question of how on earth I got here: it contained my baptism candle.
Because it was never discussed in my family, I often forget that I was baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant. My mother’s parents were Catholic and it was part of their culture to do so, so they had me baptized. (That was the first and last time I was in a church with both of my parents for a religious event until my conversion this past Easter.)
I know from my research that Catholics believe that you receive grace through baptism, even if you’re an infant and are not conscious of the event. My understanding of it has always been purely intellectual, from what I know of reading the Catechism and Catholic apologists. Other than a cursory review of the theory to make sure it sounded reasonable, I never gave that doctrine much thought since there were bigger issues to figure out. But as I held my baptism candle in my hands and thought back on the almost miraculous series of events that led me to where I am today, I believed. Not just in my head, but in my heart. As I thought back on my life and all those unlikely events that gradually, gently steered me away from the destructive path I seemed determined to follow, I felt the hand of God. I could see and feel God’s grace working in my life despite my best efforts to resist it. And I believe it had something to do with my baptism.
What I was looking for in that drawer when I came across the candle was something to wear to our church this Saturday, when my oldest child will finally be baptized. They say that by pouring holy water over his head he will be born into the Holy Spirit; that he won’t be guaranteed salvation but he will be helped by God’s grace; and that his soul will be sealed with an indelible mark of his belonging to Christ, a mark that nothing, not any amount of sin, can ever take away. Based on my experience, I think there’s something to those claims. And I pray that my son experiences the same.
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