The story of Neil Comb’s unbroken road to the Catholic Church
is a Featured Favorite from 2014
Many faith journeys and conversion stories are filled with trials and conflict, with obstacles and hesitance. A “broken road” as they say. My road, though fairly long and winding, isn’t so broken. To me, it has been an intellectual journey, as much as anything.
I was born on Long Island in Oceanside, NY, in a Lutheran home, the faith of my father. We attended a wonderful Lutheran church there and I attended youth group with most of the people I would (and still do) call best friends. I learned to appreciate my Christian faith early in life, and was usually fairly close to the church. When I was 19, I met a girl who almost 6 years later would become my wife. Mary was, and is, a devout Catholic. While we dated we attended both churches, (sometimes going to “Mass,” and sometimes going to “church.”) As time went on, we went to St Anthony’s a bit more often, which was her church, and where we were married. Attending the two churches I noticed many similarities in the services, and didn’t give much thought to which church we attended.
When we had children, we brought them up in the Catholic faith, since we were attending the Catholic Church more regularly. I started to notice a few differences from my Lutheran faith (which I hadn’t really let go of) but not enough to make me do anything other than become more attentive. I think I had an intellectual understanding of God, but not an emotional one. I didn’t have that “personal relationship” I hear people talk about. I continued to attend Mass and “follow-the-leader”: sit – stand – kneel – sit.
By the time our children were ready for Confirmation, I was growing in my faith, reading books and scripture. I was learning more about what the church taught, not what I thought it taught. I had to admit to myself, it made a lot of sense. So I decided to go through the RCIA program at our current church, St Leo’s in Hilton, NY, and enter the Catholic Church with my kids. There were no sky-rocket or major transformations, but I had become a Catholic.
About a year later, the biggest catalyst in my faith life occurred. I went on a retreat called Cursillo. There I learned more about my faith and my role in the church as laity. I had time to really pray and talk with Jesus, and it hit me clearly: I didn’t talk to Jesus nearly enough. I didn’t have a relationship with him. Oh, I prayed, asking, not telling him what I needed, and asking for help, but I never listened for him to talk to me. When I began my relationship with my wife, I spent all kinds of time with her, sharing feelings and failures, yet I hadn’t given God that same part of me.
That began a three-year voyage to learn about and understand prayer. This ultimately led me to do something I’d never dreamed I’d do: write a book of what I learned. A Body in Prayer is really about having a deep relationship with Christ, and including him in our daily life. In a way, the writing was a big part of my conversion. As I spent more time with Christ, I was also studying more about my newfound Catholic faith and listening to CDs. The more I learned, the more sense it made. I realized the genius of Catholicism. It all made sense, and it all fit together.
I love my Lutheran roots because they taught me to love Christ, and to go out into the world to bring the message to others through my actions. I don’t really think of my journey as a conversion, but more of a progression. I believe my early faith has gotten me to the place I am. I think some people were surprised by my becoming Catholic, and maybe even felt I had made a mistake. To them I say don’t worry; it was a well thought-out, rational decision decided along my unbroken road.
(© 2014 Neil M. Combs)
Neil is a Pharmacist by profession, and author of “A Body in Prayer” published by Bezalel Books in 2012. He is a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus, and volunteers in the youth ministry program at St Leo the Great parish in Hilton, NY. He and Mary have been married more than 26 years. His website is ABodyInPrayer.com. Read a review of A Body in Prayer posted last month on JoyAlive.net.