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THE WAY HOME: Bible faith leads to a yearning for a ‘Jesus with skin’

The following story appeared in the December 3 Idaho Catholic Register.

By Jody Gallegos

For the Idaho Catholic Register

My parents made sure our home was a Christian one. I am the last of their six children. We were all raised to love and serve Jesus. The influence of the congregants in the Bible church we attended reinforced what our parents exemplified at home.

Dean and Ethel Jessup raised us on a cattle ranch in Midvale. More than once, mother told me the story about her conversation with God when she was pregnant with me. She was thinking to herself that the five older children had all come to faith in Jesus. She supposed that the baby she was carrying would do the same. The Lord spoke to her heart and said, “Only if you teach her.” Mother saw to it that I was exposed to the gospel at every opportunity. Christian radio was a daily part of home life. My father was unwavering in his faithfulness to bring his family to church. He was diligent to pray for us, and I knew it.

When I was 3, I distinctly recall a winter evening when my sister, Jill, and I were home alone. The rest of the family had gone to another town to fetch my oldest sister, Jeanne, who was riding home with friends from Multnomah School of the Bible for Christmas break. Jill is nine years older than I. I asked her if I should become a Christian. She replied that yes I should if I wanted to spend eternity in heaven. That was a good enough reason for me. She sat with me on the flowered couch in our 1970s living room and helped me pray to receive Jesus into my heart as my Savior. This memory is so clear to me. The moment we finished praying we heard the door open as the rest of the family returned. I ran to my father. He caught me in his arms. As he held me, I told him that I had become a Christian. I expected an announcement to be made and that I would be congratulated. Alas, I was only 3, and, thus, easily dismissed. Nevertheless, I did not forget.

AT THE BIBLE CHURCH we attended a communion service was conducted on the first Sunday of the month by the pastor and the elders. Watching the men of the congregation demonstrate their reverence for the Lord’s Supper influenced my attitude toward receiving Communion. Even before I was school age, I asked my mother if I could take Communion. (Part of the reason was I wanted to eat the piecrust my friend’s mother made as the Communion bread.) My mother’s reply was that I needed to be baptized first.

The topic came up again after I had attended a summer church camp where the Bible teacher taught about baptism. I came home from camp, adamant that I wanted to be baptized. I remember thinking if Jesus wanted us to be baptized, then why hadn’t I been told? My parents wanted me to wait until the next summer, but by winter I was still agitating to be baptized. So, during December of my third-grade year in school, my parents made arrangements for me to baptized at a nearby Baptist church since our Bible church didn’t have a baptismal font. The event was recorded on a brand new cassette recorder my parents bought for the family that Christmas.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, I was continually taught the Scripture by instruction and by example. I attended everything from Vacation Bible School and Snow Camp at the Bible Church in Donnelly to Youth Jamboree in Ellensburg, Wash., and the Youth for Christ Congress in Washington, D.C.

Adolescence did take a toll on my attitude, however. While I listened and even took notes at these teen events, I was nevertheless looking for excitement from the world and found it. At the same time, I was pressing the adults for something deeper than Sunday School stories. I wanted to be taught the Minor Prophets or something else that I didn’t know. I wanted to be challenged in my faith.

Sounding like an angry teenager, adults mainly ignored my belligerence. They knew my family and so figured that I would keep the faith and grow out of my caustic attitude. Obviously, they were right. The prayers of my parents and the grace of the Lord brought me through those years.

IN THE LATE 1990s, I moved home to Midvale to live with my parents and work in the area. After working in the Northwest caring for the elderly as an in-home caregiver, I decided to spend time with my parents before their health started to decline. I wanted to have some good times with them after the grief I caused them during my adolescence.

It worked. We had a great time.

Also, during this time I joined a small group of ladies – two Pentecostals, one Baptist, one Catholic and me, an evangelical – to meet together to sing praise songs and hymns. It was determined before I joined the group that there would be little to no sharing to keep harmony in the group. Only occasionally would someone share briefly a meaningful encounter with the Holy Spirit.

C.I. Curtis was the Catholic lady in the group. Imagine my surprise when I heard her share a meaningful encounter with the Holy Trinity. After a few months, I began to wonder if C.I. might actually be a Christian! One day, we went for a walk. She invited me to an Evangelization Retreat at St. Agnes Church in Weiser. At this point, all I knew about the Catholic Church could fit into a thimble, most of it coming from movies. At our Bible church, we were taught that Catholics worshiped Mary and the Pope as deities. It was possible to be a Christian in the Catholic Church, but, we were taught, God would eventually lead that Christian out of the church as he or she grew in faith.

From the witness of C.I., I decided I had better learn about the Catholic Church from the source. I attended the Evangelization Retreat. All I will say is that what happens on that retreat is to be experienced, not explained. What I can say is that the experience put me on the road to Rome.

After the retreat, I joined a small-faith group with C.I. that met near Cambridge. C.I. told me about a one-hour show, “Catholic Answers,” that aired at the time on the Protestant radio station. I was already a Christian radio listener. That hour and the subsequent programming on Salt & Light Radio were solid resources for me. Also, our small-faith group studied a curriculum that explained the meaning of each part of the Mass. I learned that what my evangelical background had taught me were “empty rituals” and “rote prayers” were in fact loaded with meaning and saturated with importance.

C.I. and another Catholic friend, Kelley Phipps, invited me to attend Mass after that Evangelization Retreat. The first time I attended Mass at Holy Rosary in Cambridge, I observed and participated in the parts that Kelley explained were appropriate for me as a non-Catholic. While sitting in the pew, I had a strong impression that our Lord was saying, “See what else I am doing?”

I STARTED ATTENDING Mass while also going to the Bible church service. Occasionally, Father Thomas Keller would leave his hermitage to celebrate Mass at Holy Rosary. I remember once when he gave me a blessing in the Communion line. I found that I had to exert myself to stay standing. It was becoming clear to me that all aspects of Christianity are present in the Catholic Church.

Still, I had to go through RCIA twice. I needed the time to learn that the Church remains constant and that everyone is included, regardless of political persuasion or other issues. What we have to hold us together that the world does not have is Jesus in the Eucharist. During Easter we hear all about Jesus as the Bread, Jesus as the Vine, and so on. I had to learn to trust the pruning to Him.

During Easter Vigil 2009, I was received into the Catholic Church. I received Reconciliation, Confirmation and Eucharist. Two years later, Tim Gallegos and I married. The Sacrament of Marriage often reminds me of the Holy Spirit candle next to the Tabernacle. God is faithful to keep the flame of love and grace burning in the midst of whatever the world brings.

I recall that in my younger evangelical years when I struggled to hold on to my faith, my heart was many times seized with longing for a “Jesus with skin.”

I learned after becoming Catholic that in the Mass and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our Lord is made present for us in the priest. There are times when I have to restrain myself from running into the arms of our dear priests in the same way I ran into the arms of my father when I became a Christian at age 3. My father – and our priests – show us Christ.

Our priests who represent Christ to us demonstrate the infinite layers of His character. Furthermore, the Church in her infinite wisdom gives us an opportunity to experience several dimensions of God’s character as priests are moved from one assignment to another and we witness another dimension of Christ’s character in a new priest. We can trust the Holy Spirit, regardless of the frailty of the man. We are smaller than the Sacraments.

I love my priests for being “Jesus with skin” for me in Reconciliation and for bringing Jesus to me in the Eucharist. Carrying the point of putting skin on Jesus further, I also learned that in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we “munch” on the Body of our Lord and Savior. What does a baby do when he wants to experience and understand his world? He puts everything in his mouth. To be invited by Jesus to know Him in this way is a profound and euphoric experience.

I under-utilize the sacraments to my detriment. May I, by the grace of God, be always eternally grateful to receive the Eucharist.

Jody Gallegos and her husband, Tim, attend St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Boise.

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