The Long Road Home
Likely his CCD teacher had no ill intent. The man probably didn't know any better. But shortly after Matthew Tucker received his First Holy Communion, nothing seemed a bigger drag upon his good spirits than the God worshipped by the Catholic Church.
He was taught this:
• Nothing a sinful human could do could ever make him/her worthy in the eyes of God;
• there was nothing about you that deserved God's love; and
• if you were lucky enough to make it to Heaven — which you probably wouldn't because of your sins — it would only be because of God's mercy and supreme greatness, and not because you fought to love Him with all your being.
"This teacher was very frank about how unworthy we were of God's love," says Matthew, "and he's talking to second graders! It had enough of an impact on me that I started to question my faith. God put conditions on love? The emphasis was on how flawed we are rather than on how loved we are."
Eventually, when Matthew was given the choice to attend Mass or sleep in on Sunday mornings, he opted for snoozeville.
In a manner of speaking, he snoozed for another 20 years, Rip Van Winkle style, waking up, through the grace of God, to a Church he hardly recognized. The Divine Mercy revelations of St. Faustina had spread throughout the world by then, radically reverting our understanding of God back to the Gospel truth that His greatest attribute is mercy.
"And I had a lot of catching up to do" says Matthew, 30, a television production technician from North Adams, Mass.
He now finds himself deeply in love with the Church. He's a lector at his local parish. He shares his faith with an online Catholic community. He produces evangelization videos. He dusted off and donned his brown scapular. He regularly prays the Rosary and reads scripture. He's considering pursuing the diaconate.
However, Matthew reckons his faith would never have achieved such fullness if not for the zigzag line of inquiry that had precariously underlain his faith journey from childhood till now. Indeed, in between being the young second grader in the starched white shirt and being the father of two who dutifully, happily ensures his children receive proper spiritual formation, Matthew "experimented."
In high school, he became a self-initiated Wiccan, which involved casting spells, deifying nature, and embracing a loose moral structure defined by the Wiccan code that "if it harm none, do as you will." This continued into college.
But eventually something wasn't right. But what?
He hard-charged into science, which he always loved, but he fell in with a tough crowd. They not only believed that the study of the physical world could explain everything, but they also held in contempt those who believed in God.
"For them, not only was God not there," says Matthew, "but to believe [in God] is childish, a fairy tale that people tell themselves so they can sleep at night and not worry about dying."
Matthew attempted to deny God's existence. He wasn't successful in these efforts.
"I compare it to trying to pretend someone you love isn't in the same room as you, even when you can hear them talking to you," he says. "You can pretend all you want, but it doesn't make it true. There were too many things I couldn't explain and that point back to say 'God is there.' I guess I always knew that there was something higher, that God was there."
He endeavored to find Him. He drifted through a few Protestant denominations. He spent a short stint giving Quakerism a try — and Pantheism, too.
He knew something wasn't quite right with all of them. "They certainly had parts of the truth," he says.
Meanwhile, he had married a Catholic woman. They had agreed to baptize their children Catholic, spurred on by the encouragement of her family. Then, something extraordinary happened. When it came time to baptize their children about two years ago, something clicked. It was that door he had closed as a boy, the door to the Catholic faith. Through God's grace, the latch clicked open.
"It was like coming home, like walking in the door and looking around and thinking, 'This is where I'm supposed to be,'" he says.
"I spoke with family and friends who are Catholics. They explained that I hadn't been taught what I was supposed to have been taught about God," he says. As a child, he says, the story of salvation was explained "more as story of the fear of hell than of the love of God."
But as Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, points out, the good news revealed through Jesus Christ "is that God's love for each person knows no bounds, and no sin or infidelity — no matter how horrible — will separate us from God and His love when we turn to Him in confidence, and seek his mercy."
Matthew would soon come to realize that the Church itself is the dispenser of mercy, the Eucharist is the Presence of Mercy, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the tribunal of mercy.
He went to confession and afterwards felt the weight of the world lifting off his shoulders.
But all those years of searching were not in vain, he insists. "I needed to find out what I didn't need in order to find out what I needed. ... I could not have known if [Catholicism] is right or true if I hadn't run off."
He adds, "Isn't it wonderful that no matter how far you wander, when you come back Jesus is waiting? Right now I just feel like, 'Where did we leave off?'"
Listen to Matthew in his own words: