Gallup, N.M., Jan 26, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- With their children getting older, the Aguilars wanted to find a church home for their family. They visited a few Christian churches close to home, but nothing felt right. They were surprised, the couple said, to find that Catholic Church – the Church of their youth – was the place where they realized they were at home.
Michelle and Andres Aguilar decided to reenter the Catholic Church in 2019, finishing Michelle’s confirmation process and validating their marriage in the Church.
The couple now attends St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bloomfield, New Mexico, which is pastored by Fr. Josh Mayer. Michelle, 38, owns the oilfield company Ernie’s Pilot Service, and Andres, 33, works as a parole officer.
Michelle was confirmed by Bishop James Wall of Gallup last Easter. She told CNA that the Easter Mass, where her two children also received their first communion, was one of the most beautiful experiences of her life.
“Last April, we all made our sacraments together. I tell everybody that aside from my marriage and my kids’ births, that was the best day of my life. I felt so much joy and it was at the Easter vigil. We [got] home [at] like one in the morning and I could not sleep. I was just so excited from it,” she said.
Michelle and Andres were both baptized and raised in the Church. Michelle attended Mass and catechetical classes with her aunt, but she fell away during her teenage years once her aunt became too busy to take her to Mass. Andres told CNA that he began distancing himself from the Church when he was in his 20s, after a priest who gave a disappointing homily with a judgmental and unkind attitude at his cousin’s funeral.
“The priest at the time made a comment during her funeral. It just kind of shut me out,” he said. “She was murdered … the comment he made was, had she not been living the lifestyle [she] was living, she wouldn’t have died. It was like I saw him almost condemn her in the Church.”
“I didn’t want to be a part of something group that would condemn people,” he further added.
The couple was civilly married in 2008, three years after their son Augustine was born and a few months after their daughter Cheyann was born – both of whom were baptized in the Catholic Church.
The Aguilars said the family was a major reason for their desire to return to the faith, but they had tried several other denominations before finding themselves in the Catholic Church.
“We wanted to get back into church,” she said. “So we kind of tried different religions. We tried Baptist, we tried Pentecostal, we tried a nondenominational [church]. We just never really liked any of them. It didn’t feel like church.”
“Other denominations, it is beautiful there, but they don’t have structure, and I need that. I need structure and tradition. … It is so beautiful to see even the older ladies in Mass and it just reminds me of family,” she further added.
Not having found anything that fit, the family took a break from their search. Meanwhile, Augustine started attending Mass with Michelle’s father, who would often have Augustine stay over at his house on Saturday night before Mass. She said, seeing that, she wanted to start attending Mass again as a family.
“I kind of wanted to start going as a family and I spoke to my husband about it and then we decided that we would go,” she said. “We started a friendship with a family here [Adam and Desiraye Benavidez]. They’re really devout and we liked how they put [the faith] first. So we started talking and we decided to join them.”
Andres said the Benavidezs were a big motivator for his rejoining the Church too. He said Adam is a powerful example of a good Catholic father. He said the family possessed a peace and joy he wanted for his own family.
“They have this tradition where they, after mass, all eat breakfast, and I just saw happiness in them,” he said “It just made me want that for my family as well. He owns that peace, like you can’t bring that man down. I think his faith has a lot to do with it, and being a part of the church I think really helps him be who he is as a person.”
He said, while he still disagrees with some of the things the priest said at the funeral, he has come to better understand the need to forgive and forget.
“This priest is a human and he sins just as much as I do. He made a mistake. That’s the beauty of the church and reconciliation is that you can ask for forgiveness and start fresh.”
Michelle emphasized the important role of the RCIA classes. She said the group watched videos from the Augustine Institute and analyzed scripture prior to the Sunday Mass. She expressed a love for the group, especially Deacon Pat Valdez, who heads the parish’s RCIA class.
“I miss them since I’ve made my confirmation. I really miss them because it was so fulfilling. I learned so much,” she said.
“[Deacon] would give us the scriptures for the next week and he would break that down. So it was really neat to hear it there, and then on Sunday we’d go and hear it again.”
She said her decision to reenter the Church was verified during the first RCIA class. On the first day, she said, the deacon answered most of the questions she was struggling with, namely the Sacrament of Penance and prayers to the saints.
“I struggled with those growing up. I didn’t understand why we were doing that. [During] my first RCIA class, [Deacon Pat] answered both of those without me even asking the question. That was what he talked about. And I was like, okay, this is where I’m supposed to be,” she said.
Both of them described how faith has inspired meaningful interactions with their children, especially for their son who is 15 years old. Michelle said, through the use of the Catechism, she has been able to engage the children in learning, such as looking up answers to moral questions.
“It’s been really helpful in those aspects like discipline,” she said. [My son] had messed up and he felt really bad and I could tell it was weighing heavy on him. … [so] he went to confession.”
“We went together and I could just tell when he got out, he felt a relief and I got to explain that to him that you can mess up but you need to ask for forgiveness and then try your best not to make the same mistakes.”
Andres said the faith has given him more patience. He also said that faith has improved communication with Augustine and given him a better perspective on what it means to be a parent.
“Sometimes I can [be] pretty hot-headed and I can be a little strict with the kids, but at the same time I’m learning that being a parent is important in God’s eyes,” he said.
“I feel like it’s my job now to make sure that my kids have that happiness and the peace that they can find with the Lord and through the church. I feel like I shouldn’t deprive them of that anymore.”