Mine. Not a conventional one.
In 1969, my mom pulled me and my sister out of PS number 39 and enrolled us in the neighborhood Catholic school, St Andrew’s. As I began sixth grade that year, one kid befriended me the very first day. Michael, known to some friends as Mickey, was a friendly, heavy-set kid who took me under his wing.
I remember clearly my first experience of Catholic Mass. I liked the spacious, cool interior, the sound of the organ, the priest who spoke about the Bible. A bit later on, I noticed the kids close to the front lining up in the aisles. Were they leaving?
I asked Michael, “Psst. What’s going on now?”
“Can anyone go?”
“Sure. Come on.”
So I carefully mimicked the kids around me standing in line: pressing my palms together, index fingers near my lips. As I passed my sister, I may have smirked slightly, but her mouth fell open. She told her teacher, who informed the principal, who consulted the pastor, who called my mother. By the time I went home for lunch, my mom told me I did something wrong. I was so upset. I ran up the stairs, ran in the bedroom and closed the door. I went into the closet and shut the door. I thought for sure they were going to kick me out, which would have been catastrophic, because from the moment I entered the church, I knew in my mind I wanted to be Catholic.
My mother carefully explained that only Catholics could receive Communion in a Catholic Church, and she was sure the priest and school staff would understand I intended no harm.
I was saved.
My mother was a Baptist, and my dad considered himself a Presbyterian, so the possibility of asking either of them if I could become a Catholic brought a potential problem. If they said no, I would be stuck. So in my ten-year-old mind, I found a solution: I prayed to God to arrange it for me to be Catholic without risking a veto from mom or dad.
Some months later, the phone rang, and it was Father McCarthy, the pastor. He spoke with me for a few minutes, then asked to speak with my mother. I overheard her end of the conversation. “No … None of them have been baptized … Well, that’s an idea. Let me ask Todd and see what he thinks.”
Immediately I knew that God had answered my prayers. God must have told the priest to ask my mom. After several months of instruction (which was amazing enough that a busy pastor would take time to catechize two little kids) my sister, younger brother, and I were baptized on our parents’ 25th wedding anniversary.
I mention this story, not because the anniversary is near, but because of a chat with my sister last night. My friend Michael died last week, she told me. He was not my closest boyhood friend, though he also recruited me into Scouting a few years later. We drifted apart by high school, and I certainly lost track of him by the time I went to college. I will always appreciate his welcome of me into his school. He might have been ignorant of my religious background, or he might not have cared, but his unknowing response to my question may well have set wheels in motion that lassoed me into the Church sooner rather than later.
Walk with God, unknowing evangelizer, and my friend.