(This is the conclusion of a two-part column by Jourdan Reynolds.)
Shortly after Christmas break 10 years ago when I was in high school, my friend Mike gave me a flyer that read “Men of Christ Conference” on the front. He told me that he and his dad were attending the conference and thought my dad and I would like to attend, too.
I took the flyer home and showed it to my dad. He thought it would be a great idea to go, so I went on the website to register. I remember looking at the schedule of events and my eyes stopping on the word “confession.” “Why did there have to be confession? ‘God, are you trying to tell me something?’” I went ahead and signed up my dad and myself. I planned on attending the event, but skipping out on confession. At the time, I was trying to overcome an addiction to pornography on my own. I didn’t think I needed to go to confession. I was stubborn, and God knew this.
The conference was held in downtown Milwaukee. The arena was filled to the brim with men of all ages. Religious vendors had their displays on the sides of the arena. Bunches of chairs were set up, with a stage in the center. The event began with a message from then-Archbishop of Milwaukee, Timothy Dolan. The way he spoke and carried himself caught my attention. He seemed so joyful and happy. His demeanor was contagious, causing me to want the same. These inklings of enthusiasm and hope would continue to grow as the conference progressed. Each speaker we listened to, each video we watched, made me want to change my life and give it to God. One initial step needed to be taken, though, before I embarked on that journey — going to confession with a priest.
After the morning sessions were finished, time was available for confession. My dad got up and said, “Are you coming?” I reluctantly replied, “Yes.” I remember standing in line and feeling like I was headed for execution. My ego and pride were the criminals being sentenced to death. I was so scared; my body was shaking all over and my legs seemed as flimsy as Jell-O. My heart seemed to be pounding a thousand times per minute. And then the moment occurred. I sat down with one of the priests and told him that I was a bit rusty with confession. He was very gracious and understanding. He took me through the process step-by-step and, before I knew it, the priest was absolving me of my sins.
Walking to the lunch tables to join my dad, I remember feeling like a bunch of chains and weights had been lifted off of me. I felt free, light and joyful! I no longer felt sad and depressed. In the end I guess you could say I just felt “forgiven!” The rest of the conference went well, and my last memory of the day happened during the car ride home. I remember feeling so thankful for what God had done for me. I wanted to repay him, but didn’t know exactly how. I knew that I never wanted to return to my past self ever again. Instead, I wanted to give my life to the Lord at home, at school and at church.
St. Polycarp, a martyr during the Roman era, was executed at the age of 86 in the Coliseum for refusing to worship the Roman gods. The date was Feb. 23, the same date as my re-conversion. I pray that St. Polycarp will continue to inspire me to have the courage to do the right thing, as I did 10 years ago.
(Reynolds is the secretary and bookkeeper at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish, Ottumwa.)
(Editor’s note: Pornography awareness, protection, accountability, and addiction treatment resources are available on the diocesan website at www.davenportdiocese.org/pornography-awareness .)