April 18, 2014

Coming back to the Church fills a void in man’s life

Nick Barth distributes Communion during a recent Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in New Albany. (Submitted photo)

Nick Barth distributes Communion during a recent Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in New Albany. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: This story is one in a series about people who have left the Church and/or lost their faith in God, only to rediscover later the meaning that God and the Church have in their lives.)

By John Shaughnessy

When it came to faith, Nick Barth had a certain, absolute belief about Catholics:

“All Catholics were doomed to hell.”

A non-denominational Christian at the time, Barth held that belief even as he made the concession to his Catholic wife to go to Mass with her every Christmas and Easter.

Barth’s disdain for Catholics was so overwhelming that he relished attending a religious conference in Kentucky partly because “there would be a Catholic speaker there, and we would send his pitiful Catholic rear end all the way back to Rome.”

Yet, everything began to change for Barth when he heard Father Al Fritz speak on the subject of “why Jesus had no brothers or sisters.” Barth even approached the priest after the talk, and reluctantly complimented him.

During their conversation, Father Al asked Barth, “You are a Catholic, aren’t you?” Barth replied, “Used to be,” and shared the details of how he had attended a Catholic elementary school, high school and college before turning his back on the faith for what he simply describes as apathy and boredom.

“Father Al then made a statement which many priests disagree with, but it got my attention,” Barth recalls. “He said, ‘Son, once a Catholic, always a Catholic.’ Then he asked if I would do him a favor and read a book. ‘Of course, I will,’ I lied.”

The priest gave Barth a copy of Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism by Scott and Kimberly Hahn.

The book’s publisher describes it as the married couple’s “incredible spiritual journey that led them to embrace Catholicism.” The publisher’s description also noted how “Scott Hahn was a Presbyterian minister, the top student in his seminary class, a brilliant Scripture scholar, and militantly anti-Catholic until he reluctantly began to discover that his ‘enemy’ had all the right answers.”

At home, Barth placed the book over the fireplace.

“I told my wife about it, and she asked me if I was going to read it,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Of course not.’ Lezlie then said, ‘So you lied to a priest on purpose?’ I said, “OK, OK, I will read the bleeping Catholic book.’ Once I started, I could not put it down.”

He woke his wife at three in the morning to talk about the book. It was the beginning of what he calls “a trip of education, discernment and downright confusion for me”—a journey that led him to finally approach Father Al about returning to the Catholic faith.

The year was 2001—23 years after Barth had left the Church.

“Father Al told me all I had to do was to make a great sacrament of reconciliation,” Barth notes. “He asked how long it had been, and I said, ‘Probably 1970.’ Father Al then rubs his hands together and says, ‘Oh! This ought to be good!’ I stood there with my mouth open, and Father laughing his tail off.

“After confession, Father held out his arms and said, ‘Welcome home.’ With a giant bear hug from him, I cried my eyes out for what seemed forever.”

The priest later asked Barth to do two things: “Stay true to the Church, and get involved.”

Barth has followed those directions as a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany. He is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and a member of the parish’s liturgy team. He also leads the parish’s Mass coordinator team.

“Father Al has left us now for his reward with our Lord, and I thank him each and every day,” Barth says.

“I feel closer to the Holy Trinity and Our Lady more than ever. I also have a daily direction for my life. Coming back to the Church has filled a void in my life.”

(Have you returned to the Church after being away from it for some time? If so, The Criterion would like to share your story of what led you to come back to the Church, and what it has meant to you. Please send your story to assistant editor John Shaughnessy by e-mail at jshaughnessy@archindy.org or by mail in care of The Criterion, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202. Please include a daytime phone number where you can be reached.)

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