I really feel great since my conversion this summer to the Catholic faith. I had been interested in the Roman Catholic Church since 1960, when I was 10. That was the year John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States. I would see television news clips of Kennedy and his family attending Mass. I also saw news clips of priests celebrating Mass. I always felt good about what I saw. Even as a kid it seemed God was pointing me toward the Catholic Church.
I did not know anyone who I could talk to about the Catholic Church. All my friends and relatives were Protestants. And I did not know any black Catholics or white Catholics for that matter. And as far as I knew, there were not any Catholic Churches on the Southside of Memphis, TN. I lived in the “Projects” and there certainly were not any Catholic churches near me.
It was during this time I became aware of Pope John XXIII. I was impressed by how revered he was throughout the world. He died in 1963 and President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas a few months later. I felt sorrow over the loss of both men.
Then there was the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, riots and students protesting the war. Thoughts of faith were slowly driven out of my consciousness for a while. It was such a time of sorrow and unhappiness.
But subconsciously, the Catholic Church never left me. Even though the years continue to roll by, I was always interested in the activities of the Church. I was a big fan of Pope John Paul II. I also met some Catholics, not many, in Knoxville Tenn., where I chose to reside after college.
Then my conscience started to suggest that I should join the Catholic Church. About three years before I got in trouble with the Federal government, the call to join the Church became stronger. I took out my Bible and started to read and study it, both the Old and New Testaments. I began to get acquainted with the Scriptures. It took me over a year to read the Bible from cover to cover. Then I started over again, repeated the process of reading and studying it yet again. It took me over a year and-a-half.
As a result, I started to get a feeling of moving closer to God. I have always marveled at people who can quote Scripture by verse: the book in the Bible where it’s located and the chapter and verse numbers. That is impressive. I can’t do it. But I can find important verses in the Bible, given a few minutes. I usually know where the verses I am seeking are found.
Things really took off after my guilty plea to one count of Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud in Knoxville, Tenn. in June 2012. I was sentenced to 46 months on February 15, 2013. You would think I would have been at a low point but I was not; I was upbeat and looking forward to the future. God was strengthening me.
When I arrived here at the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp I started attending a non-denominational Bible Study and attending church. But something was missing. Then I heard over the public address system about a Catholic Bible Study that was held on Thursdays. I was not aware there were Catholic services here. I then found out that there was a Catholic Mass being celebrated here at 11:15 a.m. on Sundays, and I immediately made plans to attend.
Mass at the prison camp is conducted by Father John Fallon. He was also leading the Bible Study on Thursdays in the Visitation Center. Right now, though, Thursday Bible Study is on hold. Father Fallon was almost killed in a horrific car accident last summer. His doctors want him to take it easy and let his 70-year-old body heal from its injuries. You don’t heal as fast at the age of 70 as you did at the age of 30. So we get together and say the rosary on Thursday afternoons.
From the beginning, Father Fallon stressed that the Mass is not a church service or meeting. At Mass, the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, is celebrated. And we, as believers and disciples of Christ, who are marked with the seal of one Baptism for the forgiveness of our sins, share in the celebration. We share in the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ through the Holy Eucharist which Jesus instituted at the “Last Supper.” It’s described in Luke: “And he took the bread and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured for you is the New Covenant in my blood.'” (Luke 22:7-22)
Father Fallon pointed out the bread we consume and the wine (though of course we do not drink wine in this prison; we don’t drink any liquid during the Eucharist) are changed and become Christ’s Body and Blood. That really made me feel great!
I could not join the Church right away. I needed a sponsor. I found one in Alfredo, a fellow inmate. The sponsor is responsible for you and serves as your teacher, coach and guide.
I also needed to talk with Father Fallon one-on-one. Father Fallon wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing and that I knew the differences between other churches and the Catholic Church. He also gave me some books to read and I got the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well. This has been a great help in teaching me about the Catholic Church and what Catholics believe. So far I have found nothing in them that conflicts with my own beliefs.
Even though I could not take Communion because I had not been Confirmed, I started attending the Mass every Sunday and Bible Study every Thursday. About seven weeks later I gave my first Confession. It was like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I confessed things that were embarrassing to me and things that had caused me grief over the last 40 years. Things regarding my family and relatives.
Then Father Fallon completed my Confirmation in front of our small congregation. Afterwards, when Father Fallon asked me how I felt. I responded with a big smile, “I FEEL GREAT!” And I still do! I was finally where I belong. I am home. Every day is great!
I also want to give credit to a great source of help I have had over the last 15 months. I call her “Lady” Barbara Stallcup. She is a devout Catholic and a Third Order Carmelite. The Carmelites are a lay Catholic religious order. This kind, gentle and loving lady has helped me to understand the Catholic faith. She has sent me books on the Catholicism and has given me her support. That has been invaluable. Thank you!
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