Coming Home to the Catholic Faith
By Ada Monica Ghilardi
Ada is a health care professional and is a member of St. David's Parish in Maple.
“The story of the prodigal son is the story of a God who goes searching for me and doesn’t rest until he has found me. He urges and he pleads. He begs me to stop clinging to the powers of death and to let myself be embraced by arms that will carry me to the place where I will find the life I most desire.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen*
I, like many Catholics who have wandered away and returned to the Catholic Church, resonate with the parable of the return of the prodigal son.
As a young girl and then a teen, after receiving the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Confirmation, I did go to Confession and attended Mass on Sundays on a semi-regular basis. Upon entering young adulthood, however, my religious practice began to wane and I fell from God’s grace. I stopped going to church, questioned many of the Catholic tenets, and began seeking other avenues and places of worship. When one is young, one thinks he/she knows everything, and sometimes makes unfavourable statements regarding his/her religion without really knowing all the truths or facts of said religion. My belief in God was steadfast; I was just curious to explore other religions and their spiritual practices. I wanted to decide for myself how I would worship God.
And so began my 20-year odyssey of investigating different cultures and their religious disciplines. My belief in Jesus Christ was unwavering, so I chose to participate in Christianity by attending different Christian churches. I began attending a Pentecostal Christian church regularly, and participated in Bible studies at the church and in the homes of other members of the congregation. During this time I was also very much involved with yoga practice. But I still felt that there was something missing. I fell into depression, had trouble in my workplace with adversarial co-workers, and did not have luck in personal relationships.
A turning point for me came when, while attending Sunday service, I suddenly began weeping uncontrollably and could feel God speaking to me. This was not an auditory experience, but one of sensation. The words I felt were: “I have always been with you. Even in your darkest despair, I have been with you.” I found the following passage in Matthew 28:20: “…And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”** Talk about an “aha moment”.
It took another 10 years of life’s trials and tribulations before surrendering and returning to a Catholic Church. The first Sunday that I attended a Catholic Mass, the Gospel was of (brace yourselves) “the lost sheep”. Does anyone have goose bumps? I felt that this was God speaking to me, and so the weeping started again. I am sure that many of you reading this account have had a similar experience of sensing that the Gospel or Homily was directed specifically to you, depending on what your life circumstance happened to be at the time. At the end of this Mass, I introduced myself to the pastor, saying, “I am the lost sheep that has returned.” And I was welcomed.
I came to understand that I was not alone, that God walked with me every step of the way, and that He was my protector. Psalm 91:4: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge.”** I decided that the relationship I needed was to be one with Him.
Now, at this point in my journey, and in order to have this relationship with Him, I realized that I had to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. This was very daunting for me, as I had not stepped into a confessional in approximately 30 years. I entered the confessional and poured my heart out confessing my sins, all the while sobbing. Father was very gentle, kind, and understanding. God and he forgave my sins, gave me my penance, and I sat in church praying and weeping. What I experienced after confession in church that day is indescribable; I felt my heart open up and a warm healing sensation fill it. I can only attribute this experience to the Holy Spirit entering my heart that day.
I have not looked back and feel that I have found peace. I now am living a Christian life, trying to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. I attend Mass, not only to hear God’s Word but to be nourished by the one thing Jesus left us, the Holy Eucharist. 1 Corinthians 11:26: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”** I am more involved in the church, and have a desire to learn more about the Catholic faith. It is quite humbling to realize that I did not know everything—how very little I did know—and that there is so much I still need to learn about Catholicism.
I believe that my 30-year quest for God has made me return with reverence for, and a thirst to learn more about, the faith into which I was born.
I, like the prodigal son, have come home. God did not give up on me. He has enveloped me in His arms.
*Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1992. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. New York: Doubleday.
**Harper Catholic Bibles. 2007. Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Anglicized Text. New York: Harper Collins.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
Than Jesus said. "There was a man who had two sons. The Younger of them said to his father, " Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me." So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of the country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating: and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, "How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you: I am no longer worthy to be called your son: treat me like one of your hired hangs." So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father say him and was filled with compassion: he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you: I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his slaves, "Quickly, bring out a robe-the best one-and put it on him: put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate: for this son of mine was dead and is alive again: he was lost and is found!" And they began to celebrate. "Now his elder son was in the field: and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied. "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound." Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, "Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command: yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fated calf for him!" Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life: he was lost and has been found."