By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published April 20, 2006
Bradley Buzard, 47, knelt in a shallow pool of water at St. Philip Benizi Church Saturday evening April 15 and was baptized into the Catholic faith.
Water drenched him as the baptismal prayer “in the name of the Father—and of the Son—and of the Holy Spirit” was proclaimed.
The only man among nine people baptized in the parish that night, he is a counselor who has found the thread of Catholicism woven throughout his life story, but who only now comes with awe to the sacraments he has waited patiently to receive.
The four-hour Easter Vigil liturgy, filled with Scripture readings chronicling God’s plan of salvation, and the joyous actions of cleansing at baptism, anointing at confirmation, and receiving the body and blood of Christ for the first time, were almost overwhelming.
“I am still digesting it. I will probably be digesting it for years to come. It was extremely powerful,” he reflected a few days later. “It was a very beautiful service. It is almost hard to put it into words.”
The phrase he used often was how right this step of faith is for him and how extraordinary it is to be where he is today.
“It felt like a confirmation of everything that was leading up to it,” said the husband whose interest in Catholic saints and mystics began when he was in college in California decades ago.
“To feel you are right on target with your life—that is a pretty incredible feeling.”
The son of Baptist parents, his family moved frequently due to his father’s government work and “it was very hard for them to put down roots” and become active in any church community. His folks felt it was best for him to make his own decisions about faith and never had him baptized.
“It was exactly the right decision for me,” Buzard said, with no hesitation. “I explored it on my own.”
At the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he received a bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology, he took advantage of a “very strong religious studies department” to explore many aspects of faith and theology. Among the opportunities he availed himself of was an immersion experience at a Trappist monastery in Oregon, Our Lady of Guadalupe. An aunt who became a Catholic after studying the faith “was an inspiration.”
His reading still continues of the writings of Christian mystics, particularly St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine of Genoa and Hildegard of Bingen.
His parents ended up in LaGrange. After receiving a master’s degree in psychology at the State University of West Georgia in the early 1980s he began working in mental health, first in counseling and more recently in administration in the regional Pathways Center based in Newnan offering mental health and addiction services in several counties.
There his boss, David Ashe, and he found a common interest in spiritual matters. A Catholic and a lay Carmelite, Ashe belongs to St. Philip Benizi Church.
About four years ago Buzard met and married his wife, Michelle, in a civil ceremony. Together they visited churches before coming to St. Philip Benizi where they found their spiritual home, she as a returning Catholic. With her he began coming to Mass regularly.
Then he decided to enter the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults, where he studied the faith for two years, rather than one, as the couple waited for an annulment process for her to be favorably completed.
Although the wait was difficult, “I did benefit from the extra time,” he said. “I got to explore my motives and the process itself in all that much more detail. It only made me that much surer the path was right for me. It was worth the wait.”
Just a week before the Easter Vigil their marriage was convalidated at the parish in a Liturgy of the Word celebrated by Deacon Dick Tolcher.
“She has been a tremendous support to me throughout this process,” Buzard said. Yet he feels his own “pull” toward Catholicism has been there “for a long time.”
“In high school I used to go to midnight Mass with friends in the neighborhood,” recalled the man who was born on Christmas. “It always felt very authentic to me.”
Ashe, whom he asked to serve as his godparent and sponsor, has inspired him and is encouraging him to pursue study as a lay Carmelite, a contemplative path that is deeply attractive to him.
The priests, deacons and OCIA team at St. Philip Benizi, led by Mary Mauldin, have been “awesome … I can’t think of enough superlatives for her and all of them.”
“I suppose it is in the way they live their lives,” Buzard reflected. “You sort of understand what Christ is talking about when you’re around these people. Their lives are a living example, and I want to emulate them.”
The catechumenate process, with its stages and rites, amplified what was already a profound process for him, he said.
“I am a person who kind of responds to going through the motions. I found everything they do and the way they have it structured keeps me focused. Going through the process … adds a dimension of meaning for me.”
The community that was created among the catechumens and the candidates—those already baptized, but preparing for confirmation and first Communion—was important too, Buzard said.
“You really form some bonds and friendships with people. You can just see in their eyes and feel their support. They are celebrating with me. You can’t overemphasize how important that is.”
During the Easter Vigil the applause from the congregation that greeted the new Catholics was warm and prolonged and every aspect of the liturgy reverberated with joy and welcome.
Thinking about approaching Holy Communion for the first time, Buzard had reflected, “My faith is just there. I believe in the miracle of it. I have had all this rational, scientific training. It is not a matter of reasoning. It is a matter of faith. … A lot of what attracted me is the ritual, and the beauty of the ritual, and the miracle behind the ritual.”
Looking back on the moment a few days later, he recalls thinking as he received the body of Christ, “Wow. This is … wow.”
He is grateful that the OCIA process continues with the period known as mystagogia. “There is still so much to talk about and share and understand with other people. This is almost going to be the best part of it. … I feel I need to share more what it was like for me.”
Supported by the parish community he looks forward to deeper and deeper involvement.
“The sense of community I get at Benizi is so powerful. It makes you want to participate as much as possible in the community of worship they have there,” he said.