My wife and I returned from a mini-vacation in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area. Going back to my old Navy stomping grounds is almost like a pilgrimage for me. This was where I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle to work and I realized that was no longer an atheist. Though believing that there is some sort of God and knowing what to do about that took quite a while longer.
It was also the place where I resorted to listening to Protestant radio stations before Christmas just to hear more traditional Christmas Carols. My love of singing Christmas Carols was one of the pathways to respond to grace that God used in my case. What I heard on the Protestant radio stations between this carols put me into the active phase of my conversion when I seriously began to look into Christianity and ripping through everything I could get at the local library.
It was also the place where I first attempted to first go to confession. I say attempted since it turned out that the first two times I went to confession it was not valid. I have written before that growing up that religion was something never talked about at all in our household. In later years my Mother, Aunt, and my Grandmother attended a Catholic Church and I knew I was baptized. What I didn’t know at that time was that they were all converts from Methodism and that I had been baptized in a Methodist church as an infant. So I had assumed I had been baptized as a Catholic and that they had always been Catholic.
At the time though thinking I was baptized Catholic I knew that as a Catholic to get right with God you had to go to confession. This I had of course learned from Hollywood. So I picked a Catholic Church in my area and went to confession not knowing anything about the formula for confession or how to say the act of contrition. Needless to say I had a lot to confess, but of course later I had to redo it when I found out I wasn’t Catholic. That happened at my second confession some months later after moving to Jacksonville when I was told that I had to reconcile the relationships with my parents who I had drifted apart from. That night I talked to my mother for the first time in several years and found out that I indeed was not a Catholic. That was quite a grace because within two years of that she had died of cancer. Though finding out I was not Catholic was a bit shocking to me since at the time I had just started to go to Mass and was receiving the Eucharist. I enrolled into RCIA and then later finally was able to make my first real sacramental confession.
While we were in Norfolk I wanted to go to Mass at the church where I first attempted confession. Even if not valid it was an important step on my path to conversion. We went to the Vigil Mass and to be frank I was expecting the Mass to be standard fare for what is found in the U.S. Boy was I wrong. The parish is Saint Pius X and the Filipino priest said Mass quite beautifully and the hymns were all carols and quite well done with organ accompaniment. They had a choir loft and they actually used it. The architecture of the church I would not rank as beautiful. Concrete churches rarely all, but the grooved cement pattern made it as nice as it could be. But a church with a large central crucifix and a tabernacle in the sanctuary deserves some leeway in criticism. Regardless the Mass was a beautiful experience.
I must admit though a moment during the Mass when the name of the church made me wonder if I might have gone into an SSPX chapel. This was only a momentary doubt as I remember the church was listed as part of the diocese and I don’t think an SSPX chapel would be having the newer rite of Mass in the first place.