I am a cradle Catholic, born and raised in the 1960s in Los Angeles among an extended Italian family. Like everyone I knew, I went to Catholic school, but from first grade on, I cannot recall ever hearing there about the love and mercy of God. Instead, the nuns concentrated on filling us with fear: I was taught to the rules of the Church to avoid hell, rather than to please God.
No one, for example, ever explained to me the great miracle of God’s love that is the Eucharist. We knew that the Host was the Body and Blood of Christ and that we could not eat or drink anything before receiving it. We came to believe that breaking any of these rules — or the many, many others — would send us straight to hell.
Things changed when I went to a “progressive” and rather intellectual Catholic high school, where Christianity was presented in a much more positive light. Unfortunately, by then I was in the rebellious stage. I was bored with the Mass and was already drifting away.
I went on to a state university, and while there I broke away from the Church completely. I found that atheism and secularism provided a relief to the fear I had felt all my life, and I rejected Christianity as a tool of ignorance and repression.
Fortunately, God did not desert me as I had Him. And my anti-Christian ideas did not last long. God had given me a great interest in other religions, and that created a desire in me to be part of something larger than myself and to believe.
I went to graduate school in Library Science and found myself suddenly yearning to go to a church. Over the following fifteen years, through my twenties and early thirties, I moved from Presbyterian to “Christian New Age” to Lutheran congregations. My experiences at all of them were similar.
For a few months, I would be enraptured by the “show” — the preaching, the music, the various presentations, the camaraderie of the congregation. I would join the individual congregation and denomination and try to become an active member. Eventually and inevitably, however, I would realize that there wasn’t much beyond the “show.”
I found in these congregations I attended very little, if any, theological substance or clearly defined standards or codes. And always I found myself disturbed by the fact that the congregations were centered on the preacher, the choir, and keeping the congregation entertained — but not really on God. I recall, for example, how once I attended my niece’s church for a Christmas service. It had great music, beautiful videos, and cute kids, but it was fifteen minutes into the service before God was even mentioned.
One night, as I lay in bed, I was hit with what was for me a startling truth: Life is really short and moving very quickly. I realized with a shock that this life was a small part of eternity, and that it behooved me to concentrate more on that eternity. I really wanted to belong to something that I could deeply believe in, not just a place to be entertained each Sunday. This is about the time that I became acquainted with Mormons, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS).
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