By Bryan Faulkner
From my first breath as an infant (and before all-of-time began), I was meant to be Catholic. After being born three months prematurely in December of 1993, the only hospital in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio area that could effectively care for my medical needs was Good Samaritan Hospital; a Catholic Hospital founded by the Sisters of Charity. After receiving an emergency baptism, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I was freed from the stain of original sin, and reborn as a son of God, and became a member of Christ as a Lutheran. However, for the next 15 years of my life, I was “Lutheran” in name only.
As I grew up in the mountains of rural Appalachia, where everyone knows everyone, there were many opportunities to attend church. There is a thriving Baptist church, a newly built Presbyterian church, and, though I didn’t know it at the time, a wonderful Roman Catholic missionary parish on the top of the hill at the quiet end of town. However, a Lutheran Church has never been built in the town; the closest one was a 90-minute drive away. Since my mom and dad were both confirmed Lutheran, and I was technically Lutheran, we would make-do with what was available and occasionally attend a Protestant service on Sunday at the Methodist church, or watch a sermon from home on the local Christian television network channel. All through my childhood, and into my early teenage years, I found myself incredibly bored by the services and messages. I didn’t care about what they were preaching. I didn’t care to grow in fellowship with any of my young brothers and sisters at the church. I didn’t care about my relationship with Christ.
I believed that Jesus was God, but I simply didn’t care about someone who I thought was in some place called “Heaven,” very far away from where I was currently at in life. After all, I thought, why would God care about some kid who kept to himself and his textbooks, in a town of barely 1700 people? All throughout my childhood- at the Sunday services, at school, at home- I was searching for something. I was always trying to fill up a deep void in my heart with either things of this world, or self-validate myself and my worth by trying to get the highest grade on a test out of pride and arrogance. All those years, I wasn’t searching for the latest material object to play with or show off, or A+ earned on a test to brag about. As I later discovered, I was searching for Jesus, fully present in the Holy Eucharist.
My active pursuit of Christ began as I entered high school. Instead of attending the local, rural, public high school, I attended Bishop McGuinness High School outside of the city of Greensboro, NC (a college prep, Catholic high school in the Diocese of Charlotte, NC). Every student at the school was required to study theology, in addition to mathematics, the classics, and the various sciences. In my mind, at the beginning of my high school education, I was going to focus solely on the engineering-focused academics, and have to sit through what I had imagined to be “boring” and “weird” Catholic religious education classes; nothing could be further from the truth.
After a few months of studying at the Catholic school, with every passing day, I began to be more and more intrigued about the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth. I started to intentionally study the Bible since it was taking on a greater meaning to me, and I began to realize that it was more significant than just another regular textbook. I would eat my lunch in the youth ministry room, surrounded by awesome, young, passionate Catholics. Finally, and most importantly, I went to Adoration Tuesday’s to earnestly pray for the first time in my life. As an aside, I must have been the most irreverent young fellow in front of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar ( I used to think that the kneelers were foot rest’s… whoops 🙂 ). I firmly do believe that the Lord began to intentionally and lovingly, touch my heart while I was sitting in front of His true presence, even though I was completely oblivious to His beautiful Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity right in front of me.
Towards the end of the year, I read Matthew 26:26-30 (The Lord’s Supper) for the first time;
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.” Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
By the Lord’s infinite Grace and Mercy, and all those moments during Adoration Tuesday’s, I wholeheartedly believed in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, after reading this passage for the first time. After this, my life completely changed – I began to deeply pursue an intimate relationship with God. I desired to understand how the Eucharist truly is “the source and summit of the Christian life [CCC 1324].”
For the remainder of my freshman year of high school, into my sophomore year, I began to question everything – thankfully the Lord blessed me with many kind and thoughtful theologians who didn’t mind answering my seemingly endless questions. I asked many times about the role and significance of our Blessed Mother Mary, how a Saint could be incorruptible, and the difference between the Lord’s grace and His infinite mercy. I sought to deeper understand the significance and meaning of the Holy Mass. I tried to truly understand what it meant to be a Christian, specifically, a Catholic.
In the fall of my senior year of high school, after moving to Virginia, and many prayers later, on September 18, 2011, I converted to the Catholic faith by receiving First Holy Communion, and was being Confirmed at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish. The void in my heart that I had been trying to fill with things of this world for so long during my early adolescence, was now overflowing with Jesus’ beautiful and perfect Divine Mercy.
As I entered college, I didn’t really know what to expect as to how my new-found faith would play a role in my studies and relationships as a Hokie – I certainly never expected to become an active leader in the community. However, God, in his own loving way, simply smiled at me and my thoughts about my future, and kindly chuckled. After serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion my freshman year of college in 2012, the Lord called me to serve in unexpected roles – first as Communications Minister in 2014, and then as Student Campus Minister (SCM) in 2015. Serving the Catholic population of Virginia Tech through Newman, walking with my brothers and sisters in their journey with Jesus, has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. Aside from coordinating the 10AM Mass every Sunday, one of the greatest joys about serving as SCM was meeting my fellow Hokies where they were currently at in life, and being able to relate to them in some way. I would always try to be intentional and present in my conversations with my fellow brothers and sisters – either by asking how Newman could better serve them spiritually, catching up with someone over coffee, or by simply asking them how their day was. I also really enjoyed giving talks at retreats, even though as in introvert was always nervous about speaking in front of a large group of people, and helping to lead groups of people at special events.
The blessing that has impacted my life more than serving Newman, aside from receiving Christ in the Holy Eucharist, was meeting and falling in love with my beautiful fiancée, Abby. As an engineering student myself, and with her being a business student, we never would have met if not for our deep love of our shared Catholic faith and active ministerial roles at Newman.
Our shared beliefs challenge us to practice chastity and overcome the non-committal and confusing dating culture that surrounds us. By letting Christ be the foundation of our relationship, we learn daily (and struggle with, as humans) the meaning of love, patience, commitment, service, hope, kindness, and trust…just to name a few! I can honestly say (and I know Abby agrees) that we help each other to be better people, even when it isn’t always easy.
After almost 3 years of being together, Abby and I will be married by Father David next month, May 26th (please keep us in your prayers!). We are both very excited about entering into the Sacrament of Matrimony together with Christ, and are looking forward to continuing to serve our Lord as we make our new home across the country in Seattle, Washington, as active members of the Archdiocese.
Bryan Faulkner is a fifth-year senior studying Electrical Engineering and has served Newman in many roles, including as Student Campus Minister in 2015. When he is not spending time with his fiancée, or working in the lab, he’ll likely be found in a coffeeshop watching videos of airplanes or rockets.