Spring of 2006 marked the end of my four years at UC Berkeley. By early May I was in the process of finishing up my remaining requirements and bidding farewell to friends and familiar surroundings. I had spent most of my final semester working at a psych lab and ignoring my classwork in favor of foosball and Futurama reruns; life was sweet.
I did, however, devote a considerable amount of time to a less conventional sort of schoolwork: planning for and co-teaching a two-unit DeCal. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “DeCal” is an acronym for Democratic Education at Cal. It’s a characteristically Berkeley sort of endeavor: undergraduates, usually in groups of two or three, are allowed to teach courses on a topic of their choosing. DeCals can be and have been on just about everything, from Taiko drumming to the Beatles to Esperanto; the long-running male and female sexuality classes are particularly popular and rather notorious for their content.
That particular semester I had chosen a far more lofty subject to expound upon: “Kaiju Cinema: An Introduction to Japanese Giant Monster Movies.” But that is neither here nor there for this story.
More important is that I had a high school friend who was concurrently teaching on George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series. Each of us team-taught with other students involved with DeCal, and after our final class meeting we all decided spontaneously to meet up for dinner along with a few of our students (an activity we had regrettably neglected during the semester).
One of my friend’s co-teachers I already knew. The other, named Sam, I met that even over dinner. In the course of our initial discussion, I quickly discovered that Sam was a devout Baptist, and he just as rapidly unearthed that I had been raised Protestant but was in the process of converting to Catholicism. Upon hearing this he made no secret of his astonishment; and, neither of us being inclined to shy away from discussions of religion, we quickly launched into a heated, albeit friendly, debate.
At this point my knowledge of Catholic apologetics was fairly limited: I had read Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David Currie and A Biblical Defense of Catholicism by Dave Armstrong and not much else. On top of this, Sam was a keen debater and challenged me on a number of doctrinal points I wasn’t ready to defend. Still, if I remember correctly, I held my own in the argument, which lasted through dinner and for another hour or so afterward. Our interaction ended on amicable terms, but we neglected to exchange contact info right then and there, unfortunately. So we parted ways; and I, for one, took with me the memory of our exchange and pondered what had been said from time to time in the succeeding weeks and months.
* * *
Flash forward almost two years: it’s Sunday evening, and I’m sitting in a small room across the hall from the main chapel at my local parish, surrounded by mostly unfamiliar (though unmistakably friendly) faces. It was my first personal encounter with Communion and Liberation; I had been aware of the Berkeley School of Community for several months but hadn’t worked up the nerve to check it out until that night.
At that particular moment, we were hanging around and waiting for one of the regulars to show up; meanwhile, I was being introduced to everyone present. When suddenly in walks the fellow who’d been holding everything up. Needing no introduction, we immediately launched into a rather amusing conversation, which went something like this:
Me: “Hey, I know you! Sam, right?”
Sam: “Oh, hey! And you’re Matt?”
Me: “It’s been awhile—what, two years?”
Sam: “Indeed. I believe we were having a theological argument when last we met.”
Me: “Yeah, that’s right! What the hell are you doing here?”
Sam: “Oh, I’m converting to Catholicism. So I guess you won.”
Now, after I had finished gathering my jaw up off the floor, I learned a bit more of the backstory for this turnaround. The tale is Sam’s to tell, not mine, of course; suffice to say that, while I hadn’t played the decisive role in his conversion by any means, we both immediately recognized the appropriateness of our prior meeting: one of a series of events which, in retrospect, were preparations for a more dramatic leap forward. For a million reasons, a man once staunchly opposed to Roman Catholicism is currently preparing to start RCIA in the fall. Laus tibi Christe.
* * *
Thinking about this incident, I am reminded anew of God’s constant presence in our lives. This notion is part and parcel of Christian faith, yet we as Christians forget its veracity more effortlessly than any other truth we claim to believe.
Perhaps this is because we are blinded by our sins and the evils of the world around us. In our defense, we see now as through a mirror dimly. We live on the silent planet.
Yet the truth remains: God loves us and cares about us and wants us to know Him, and woven into the fabric of our lives and newly visible at every turn is a path to lead us Home. We need only take notice and follow its course.