I registered to attend a session of Vincentian University, being held today at St. Gabriel's Church in Fayetteville GA. I had to leave very early in the morning, so the sun was just coming up on a beautiful Spring day when I left home.
As I was driving down South Fulton Parkway, my mind unexpectedly turned to the astonishing fact that here I am--70 years old now--and I am a Catholic! What I wanted so much when I was a child, finally, thanks to the grace of God, did happen! And no matter what else I have done in life, or will do, the essential fact about me--the most important thing to know about me--is that I am a Catholic. It is my core identity.
I confess that I started to weep, as I recalled with overwhelming gratitude all the ways in which God kept calling me until I finally answered Him. I have written about these events in this blog before, so I won't repeat them, but I am continually in awe when I think how totally loved I am--and I can't understand why He kept waiting for me through all those long, miserable years.
As I drove along, I suddenly realized that the GPS on my phone was leading me on a route I had not traveled in over 30 years: straight through Fairburn, where stood the church in which I had been Confirmed and received my First Holy Communion: St. Matthew's, a parish which has since relocated to a new and larger building in Tyrone GA. At that moment, I was hurrying to get to St. Gabriel's on time, but I was very excited to see, as I passed through town, that it is still there. I knew that on the way home that day, I had to stop and see it once again.
It is now some kind of Black Protestant church in a denomination I've never heard of, but I drove into the lot behind the building (which was a funeral home before it became St. Matthew's), to see if I could get in. From the pickup trucks I saw, I knew there were workmen around, but I didn't see anyone, so I brazenly walked right in the unlocked back door... a door to which, thanks to Father Flaherty, I once had a key, and entered often. Sadly, I could see evidence that people had tried several times to break into the building: it's not quite as safe and serene in Fairburn as it was when I was last there, 31 years ago.
The inside seemed familiar, and yet not familiar--there have been some renovations --but I knew the direction in which I needed to go in order to reach the Nave and Sanctuary, and I finally got there.
Except for our altar and beautiful crucifix being gone, it looks much as I remembered it. Next is a picture of the spot where I used to kneel to pray at the back of the church. I always stayed back there, because Father Flaherty was often praying in the tiny Blessed Sacrament chapel to the left of the altar, and I did not want to intrude on his privacy (in those days, the Tabernacle could not be kept behind the altar as it is in the church I attend now).
I then walked to the front and up the 2 steps to where our altar used to be, and stopped in the same place where I stood on that beautiful Saturday morning, December 5, 1981, when Father received me into the Church. I remember everything about it--exactly what I was wearing: a cream-colored wool skirt with a brown velvet jacket and a cream-colored satin blouse with ruffles in the front--but especially how nervous and excited I was, to finally be receiving what I had been longing for: the Holy Eucharist!
I stayed in that sacred spot for a few minutes, to say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for His incredible gift... and then I left, greeting one of the workmen, who did not question who I was or why I was there. I think he would have been very surprised, had he known how much meaning that humble little building has for me!