Born in Los Angeles in 1945, I grew up in LA in the 50s. Overall, my family life was good; most of the time, I was happy. My parents and grandparents, all Angelenos, were atheists, socialists, and Jewish. I knew we were Jews and saw no contradiction with atheism, Judaism, and complete materialism: heaven, hell, angels, and demons were not real. Science was real — and many of the best scientists were Jews.
Enlightened people no longer believed religious superstitions about an all-knowing, all-powerful God: we trusted human intelligence and progress. We knew that the pie in the sky promised by religion, was not real.
My view of empirical science did not include absolute truth: everything was subject to change. Progress — given priority — and new scientific discoveries would always change the models, paradigms, and scientific laws.
I didn’t ask, what is real? Empirical science told me. Sometimes I wondered where I came from, and who was thinking my thoughts? A human soul was immaterial, and obviously not real. Any biology textbook told me what is human; and we believed all humans should be treated with equal respect. Human person was a legal — and biological — term, especially important for abolishing slavery and defending racial equality.
In 1965 — during Vietnam and the social chaos of the 60s, I took LSD and began asking, what is real? I was still completely ignorant of philosophy and religion. I still had no idea who I was, or where I came from.
In 1967, I was a senior at UCLA; another student from an atheistic Jewish family gave me some LSD and we sat up all night. The sunrise was incredibly beautiful and I asked for an explanation: he said, “Jesus Christ did all this.” He gave me a Bible. “It’s all in here,” he said. I could not relate to what he said and didn’t read the book.
My journey to discover who I am had begun, but I was still unaware of any goal. I had believed in human progress, and the only goal was a better material society where humans lived in material comfort — free from want — in peace and human brotherhood, or comradeship. Suddenly, I questioned the goal of human progress.
By the end of the 60s, I was still looking for some vague enlightenment with no foundation to recognize or measure it. Still immature and without thinking of long-term consequences of these ideas, I embraced the idea that Jesus and Buddha were two humans — in a very small group — who attained enlightenment in this life. By the grace of God, someone explained to me that there is all the difference in the world between Jesus Christ and Buddha because Jesus came to suffer and gave meaning to suffering. It made sense to me. I read about a suffering servant in the book of Isaiah, a prophecy of Jesus.
In 1974, I was taking instructions at the parish in LA where I had grown up. At a Mass for Padre Pio in East LA, the priest said that Padre Pio’s message was summarized in three words. Padre Pio often repeated: “It’s the Mass.”
At a Good Friday Mass in downtown LA, I watched Catholic school children in their uniforms kissing the Cross. Tears flowed down my face; I knew I was witnessing something Good, True, and Beautiful. At that moment on Good Friday, with no rational human explanation, I knew that I wanted to be baptized.
Today, I see that I was given gifts of hope and faith. I was given the hope of redemption and eternal life—the true goal of every human person. I believed in the immaterial human soul, angels, demons, Heaven, Hell, creation out of nothing, and everything we profess in the Creed.
This year, 2022, marks 48 years since my baptism in the Catholic Church, and 53 years since my wedding to my beautiful wife. I am the father of twelve children — all baptized in the Catholic Church, fifty grandchildren, and (now) seven great-grandchildren; each one has a unique, immortal soul given to them by God along with their own personal Guardian Angel.
When Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of the “dictatorship of relativism,” I thought he was describing the philosophical world of my childhood.
Today, I know what is real.
The source, center, and summit of my life is the Mass.
The Gospel is good news and true.
The Eucharist is real.
I thank God every day. His mercy endures forever.
– Mark Drogin
The above is an honorable mention winner in the California Catholic Daily writing contest, Late have I loved Thee.
The remaining winners will be published Thurs. – Fri. this week.