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My Cross, My Pain, My Decision

April 1, 2013

Part of living the Catholic life includes making difficult decisions for our faith.  This week marks two years since I’ve made the most difficult decision of my life.  It was two years ago that I broke up my longtime girlfriend in order to preserve my Catholic life.

I first want to apologize for a personal story to which the wider audience may not be able to relate.  The purpose of this blog is to relay the life of one lay Catholic.  We all have turning points in our life.  This is the shorter version of the story of what put me on the track to a more devout life.  This is a personal story of my Catholic reversion.  I have experienced pain in my life.  Along with the death of my father this is a story of one of the two, and possibly most, painful eras of my life.  Again I apologize for a long personal story, but it is my story and it is the story of how I became the person that I am today.

You may be reading this thinking that this I may sound shallow or think to yourself “I’ve broke up with people before, get over it”.  Before you judge me as some lovelorn guy in his twenties I want you to know that I too have been in other committed relationships, some longer, and one have occurred since the one that this story is about.    This is the woman that I would have been with forever.  This is the woman that has crossed my mind every day since the one that I met her.  Although we have now been apart longer than we were together; there hasn’t been a day since I ended our relationship that I haven’t, at least for a few moments, felt remorse over my decision.

I was in grad school at the time, it was a January.  We met a conference for an organization that we both volunteer for.  The two of us hit it off almost immediately.  I’ve never felt as exciting of a connection with another person.  I’d describe myself as someone who is hard to get to know; this wasn’t the case with her.   By the end of the weekend we exchange numbers and social network contacts.  Over two hundred miles separated us, but we spent almost every night together online.  During the next few weeks we spent countless hours instant messaging.  Eventually we found ourselves attending more conferences, just so we could run into each other.  By the end of spring we finally admitted to each other that we were “dating”.  The only problem was that she would be leaving the country for the summer.  We exchanges our first kiss (and second), then off she went.  Down the long highway home, and eventually off to a foreign land.

During the summer I’m sure my studies suffered (although I did maintain a 4.0) because we spent countless hours video chatting on Skype.  Looking back over records I see that there were at least two days where we chatted for at least ten hours in a twenty-four hour period.  When she got back we picked up right where we left off.  We traveled to visit each other almost every other weekend.  I can’t begin to calculate the hours I spent driving or miles I traveled by car and train.  Every trip was paradise.  Never had I “clicked” with someone so easily.  I loved her bubbly attitude and she apparently loved my dry humor.   I can rarely remember a moment when we weren’t moving (another trait we shared).  We completely integrated ourselves into each other’s lives.  We easily fell together with each other’s friends and together we explored every inch of each other’s hometowns.  Her family was amazingly encouraging; making me feel as one of their own from the very first moment.

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Our happiness, unfortunately, was not to be.  We had one difference; our religion.  She was a member of a mainline protestant denomination and I was Catholic.  This wasn’t, on the surface, a big issue.  At the time I attended mass every week and believed in the real presence, but I was really more going through the motions.  As minimal as my Catholic faith was, it was still too much for her.  When we went to mass together I could tell that she was uncomfortable.  I don’t know what exactly turned her off to Catholicism, I have my theories, but it will remain a mystery.

It was probably sometime around the January after we met that she first voiced her problems with Catholicism to me.  She suggested that when we should attend the same church once we lived in the same city; this was opposed to our previous discussion over religion where we agreed to go to services in both of our traditions once married.   I wrote off the suggestion as a short term problem.  Unfortunately the request came up again a few days later.   It was at this point that I realized that I had to make a decision:  I would have to choose between the woman that I loved and the faith that I had been raised in.

It was at this point in time that I began to study.  I remember first googleing for essays on Catholic rules for marriage.  I picked up an essay or article by Kimberly Hahn, she was writing about the difficulty she was going through when her husband Scott was converting to Catholicism and leaving her behind in the fundamentalist church.  I decided that if I was going to leave Catholicism behind I’d better figure out what exactly I was leaving.  Over the next few months I started studying Catholicism seriously for the first time in my life.

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The next major religious battle happened the next time I visited her.  We went to her denomination’s worship service with her mother.  Really it was a great morning.  The problem occurred after the fact.  I had recently purchased a prayer book; the ‘Manual of Prayers’.  A book that is issued to every seminarian at North American College (America’s pontifical seminary in Rome).  I forgot the book in her vehicle.  Later in the week the subject came up.  I documented in my journal that we had a five hour conversation that day (with lunch break).  The conversation centered on her fears from the book.  She said that the prayers weren’t “normal” and that she had Catholic friends check the book out.  She was convinced that it was a book for priests.  She accused me of wanting to be a priest or thinking I was a priest.   I felt a pain like never before that day.  After hours of trying to convince her that we were okay I began to doubt it for the first time.  My world was literally crashing down around me.  Countless tears were shed over the following two months.

As the snow of winter melted things started getting worse for us.  We had a fight over premarital relations.  I had always been opposed while she now wanted to pursue the prospect.  I was told that we needed to make sure we were compatible.  As our graduation dates approached, my masters and her bachelors, we began discussing the prospect of marriage and moving to the same city.  More serious talk of marriage led to the next disagreement which was cohabitation.  She said that we should think about living together before getting married.  This had always been a big no-no in my family.  While I should have been happy over my impending graduation I was now feeling as if I was being persecuted.  I felt as if I was under constant attack.

The final major issue I can remember discussing was contraception.  I had reached a point in my Catholic study where I rejected the use of contraception.  We were at her college sitting in her SUV, keeping out of the cold before a dance; she asked me my opinion on the issue.  When I answered I was bombarded with reasons that the use of contraception would be a good idea.  She didn’t want many (or any) children; this had always been fine with me.  Now that I was discovering the deeper meaning of marriage my opinions were changing.  For some reason that cold night stands out in my mind.  We didn’t have a long fight.  Instead of the sound of us arguing the SUV was full of the sound of silence.   It still seems to me like it lasted forever, but it was only a few seconds.  We then went to the dance and had fun.  Walking out we looked awkwardly at each other.  I broke the tension with a snowball fight, but the underlying problem was still present.

As winter became spring, and the more she pushed me, the more I studied the faith.  I truly fell in love with being Catholic for the first time in my life.  I realized that I was making my decision; I was making the unthinkable decision of choosing Catholicism over her.  I loved her more than anything on the face of the Earth, but it wasn’t enough for her.  Over the final month and a half or so of our relationship I cried daily over the discovery I was making.

The weekend we broke up was not the weekend that I planned to do the deed.  She was visiting St. Louis with her family.  We had Blues and Cardinals tickets.  It was the weekend of a volunteer conference in which I would be running for a prominent position.  It was a less than ideal weekend to have a break up.  I had already decided that I would do the deed two weeks later when I visited her.  This way she would not have to make the long lonely two-hundred-plus mile drive home alone.  No, I would be the one to make that drive.  I loved her too much than to cause her any pain.  I had promised that I would never hurt her and I intended to hold a close to that promise as I could.

We met at the Scottrade Center for a Blues game with her parents.  It went as well as could be expected.  The Blues won.  Although her parents would be staying in town she would be staying with me in my college house for the conference.   I remember every moment of that evening.  We went to her parent hotel to pick up her things.  We kissed for the last time.  I don’t know why, but I didn’t reciprocate during the gesture.  I couldn’t.  I knew that I was soon going to cause this beautiful woman whom I loved so deeply pain.

game

That night we went out to eat and had a late night as we always did.  When we got home we cuddled a little.  I remember the last time we embraced.  We were lying together and she squeezed me.  She put her head on my chest.  It seemed like it lasted forever, but like the silence in the SUV before I know that it lasted no more than a minute.  I know that she knew something was up.  I couldn’t bring myself to squeeze back.  I just lied there.  A thousand thoughts swarmed through my head.  I felt sorrow.

The next day was busy.  I presented workshops and won my election.  There was a bit of down time before the evening’s formal banquet and dance.  We went to my house to freshen up and get changed.  As we got settled in my room I began gathering my things, she sat down on my bed and said those words: “What’s going on with us?”.  I said that I was noticing the differences in our religion.  I remember her voice like a wiper said “why can’t we focus on what’s the same?”.  I remember her weak voice because she is one of the strongest people I know.  I had broken my promise.  I hurt her.

The details of the rest of the night went as you might expect.  Friends asking me where she was and me explaining why she was seated at another table instead of the table of honor with me.  When I drove her to her parent’s hotel I brought a friend to act as a buffer.  She said that she still wanted to go to the Cardinals game the following day, I later got a text that they were leaving town early.   I haven’t seen or heard her since.  After a few months I received a text asking for prayers.  I of course alleged.  I later won a raffle for a large party at a bar in her hometown which I gave to her for her birthday; we only corresponded through email.

She moved on quickly.  Within the year she had another relationship and was engaged, shortly after she moved away to live with him, something that I couldn’t have abridged her with.  Now she lives thousands of miles away with another man and we haven’t spoken in two years.  She was my entire world and I gave up my world for the faith.  There was no joy on my graduation day because she wasn’t there.   Everyday wish that I look at my iPhone and see her name on the screen.  I was angry at God for a long time.   I still get angry with Him every now and again.  We’ve even had shouting matched because I couldn’t have her.

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Now it is two years later.  I have been devouring books on the faith.  I have a far richer faith life than I ever could have had if I remained with her.  I eventually started attending Latin mass, I pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and I have actually touched a bible (something I really hadn’t done before my faith experience).   Still there has not been a single day that I haven’t thought of her.  Every time she posts about adventures with her fiancé on Facebook it is like a dagger in my side.  I’m watching another man living the life that I should have had.  It is a constant battle to remind myself why I made the decision that I did.  Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever have a successful relationship again.  Everyone I’ve seen since her falls imperishably short in my eyes.  I have to trust God.

I know that I am in the position that I’m in because I’m right where I’m supposed be.  I’m where God wants me to be.  Sometimes as Catholics we must make difficult decisions for our faith.  Sometimes our faith comes with a cost.  We have to remember that no matter what the struggle on Earth that our eternal reward lies beyond.

It was two years ago that I broke up with the woman that I loved more than life itself.  It was two years ago that I made a sacrifice for the faith.  Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions for the faith.  Sometimes we don’t entirely understand why we had to make those decisions.  What we do know is that those decisions, those sacrifices, make us better for the sake of God.  I know that I am better for having the Catholic faith in my life.    I know that I am stronger for the sake of the faith.  I know that this is only one of the trials by fire that I will have to experience in my life.  The hard part is recognizing that sometimes the Lord knows better than we do.  He knows that what we want may not be what is best for us.  The hardest part is that recognizing , even though the pain, that we are right where the Lord wants us to be.
Rosary

*Please note that none of the pictures are of us.  I choose for this blog to remain anonymous so that I can continue to share personal experiences about the faith in an honest and candid manor

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