Finding Christ’s Flock

by Ryan Both, Baylor Class of 2022

In the spring of my freshman year, I was faced with the unexpected death of a friend. He was a kind man with a heart for others, and I became fixated on this loss. I could not turn my attention from it. I lost sleep, ate less, failed tests, and was left with hundreds of questions for God. Namely, I wanted to know why He allows suffering. In some cases, the answer is obvious, but in others, it seems entirely incomprehensible. Cases such as these—and such as mine—can cause a crisis of faith.

I was angry with God, and I did not understand Him. I called out to God, but I did not hear Him. I wanted some divine revelation—some fiery sign to illuminate my mind’s darkness, or some thunderous voice to shout out to me to clarify my confusion. But God doesn’t speak through fire or thunder. The voice of God is a whisper, and we hear it when we listen intently.

God spoke to me in the silence of my morning coffee and reading. In my loneliness, God comforted me with a new friend to whom I could relate: a man from Hippo named Aurelius Augustine. As we began reading The Confessions of Saint Augustine in a great texts course, my world was forever changed. Reflecting on the death of one of his close friends, Saint Augustine wrote, “this is the root of our grief when a friend dies, and the blackness of our sorrow, and the steeping of the heart in tears for the joy that has turned to bitterness, and the feeling as though we were dead because he is dead.”

The words on that page seemed as though they were my own. Of course, they were more refined than my words, coming from a trained rhetorician. Nonetheless, they resonated with me deeply. I kept reading his book, and came to the point of his conversion. He had developed the virtues of faith and hope—two virtues I severely lacked—and turned from his past of sin, wealth, and heresy. And he did all of this during his conversion to Catholicism.

He converted to Catholicism. That was a bad word. I couldn’t get behind Mary and the Eucharist and the Pope and Purgatory! But Saint Augustine was very Catholic, and I liked him.

The next week, my friend showed me the Father Mike Schmitz Catholic Podcast, I began translating two homilies by Saint John Chrysostom with my Greek professor, and I showed up to a Latin mass and was blown away by all the beauty of the Church. And it was all so beautiful! I had questions, and the Catholic Church gave me beautiful, good, and true answers. I sought them elsewhere, but ended up with a blend of different (often bad) opinions. Envious of my Catholic friends, I lamented to a close friend that the Protestant Church needed a Catechism. We didn’t have any definitive answers in our camp. That is, unless they were from the Catholic Church, such as the Trinity and the Bible.

Inspired by my lack of findings, I began to intentionally seek out answers from the one Church that held onto the traditions passed down by the apostles, whether by word or by letter. On the way home from Texas, I read a few books and listened to several hours of Father Mike’s podcast. Of course, I photocopied these books from the library (yes, entire books) and kept my phone on airplane mode so nobody would know what I was doing. Catholicism made me feel dangerous. (It was kind of fun.)

But I couldn’t convert to Catholicism! What would my friends and family say? But then I thought back to the words of Jesus, who taught that we should abandon everything to follow Him.

I kept reading over the summer, and fell in love with the writings of G. K. Chesterton and Saint Jerome. I was amazed by the stories of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi, Saint Mary of Egypt, and Saint Nicholas of Myra. Punching a heretic and literally saving Christmas? How awesome is that!

At this point, I was no longer looking for answers to my questions about suffering; I was searching for a path to salvation.

I ended up in Roanoke, Virginia over the summer interning at a homeless shelter, helping in its addiction recovery center. I was lucky to have access to a library full of Patristic commentary on Scripture, which I devoured after I got off work each day. I mean this metaphorically. Everything I read was leading me closer and closer to the Catholic faith, but nothing led me so close as did a sunrise hike in the Blueridge Mountains.

Our eight-mile sunrise hike to McAfee Knob began at 3:00 AM. I prayed for the intercession of Saint Francis that we would not be devoured by any bears. Clearly, we were not devoured by bears. The slow illumination of my surroundings brought to mind my gradual conversion. The fullness of truth was revealed to me when I finally reached the top and saw the sun rising.

To give myself space from my hiking companions, I went off into the wilderness and found myself a small cliff to sit on. I looked out on the valley. It was once a dark valley of trials and tears, but it was now being graced by the light of the sun. When the sun swept the scene, nature seemed to come alive, singing glory to God in His Creation.

The beauty I found in the sunrise is this: the sun, in itself, is blinding. We are unable to take in its brightness, let alone stare at it, otherwise our eyes would be scarred. We can’t handle the sun, except when it is rising. When the sun rises, it retains a deep red color, and we can stare at it without any damage to our eyes! And it is beautiful!

Even more beautifully, the sunrise is an icon of Christ’s Resurrection in nature. God ordered creation to Himself, and the sunrise proclaims that our Lord is risen!

Each day, that incomprehensibly glorious Light of God becomes small and tangible for us on the Altar. Each day, we are able to receive the risen Christ in the Eucharist as He leads us toward an eternity in Heaven with Himself, where He reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

I started RCIA in the fall, which was met with some initial questioning from friends and family. They had the same objections I did before I converted, which were mainly over Marian doctrine, the Pope, and the Eucharist.

Venerable Fulton Sheen once wrote, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” For many people, myself included, simply listening to Catholics talk about Catholicism resolved many misconceptions. This isn’t to say that all of my friends and family converted to Catholicism (or even that they agreed with it), but they became significantly more comfortable with my new Faith as the year went on.

I chose Saint Augustine as my patron saint, and my friend Casey became my confirmation sponsor. On my road to Rome, our Lord blessed me with these lifelong friendships, along with many more, both on earth and in Heaven.

On September 27th, 2020, I was received into the Holy Catholic Church. I made the Profession of Faith, was anointed with the Oil of Chrism (wow, I loved the smell of that), and was able to receive Christ in the Eucharist. I knelt down, received, and went back to my pew.

Then, everything went black. This is typically what happens when someone closes their eyes, but I mean that more in the sense that everything around me faded away. Mystically, I was somewhere else. I could no longer hear the music, nor could I smell the Chrism, nor could I feel the kneeler or the pew.

In my mind, I was taken back to that mountain top in Virginia. I could feel the soft breeze on my arms, I could see the valley dancing in the sunlight, and I heard creation singing a new hymn. My feet were set upon a rock, and after years of wandering, I sat there in peace with Him, My Lord and my God.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen.

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