Michael Gearing, a convert to the Catholic Church and a FOCUS missionary, is pictured with his fiance Julia Arntsen. Courtesy photo
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This week, The Pilot begins a new series, "Coming home to the Faith" that will run every week this Lent about converts to the Catholic Church and their experiences in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
Michael Gearing is a campus minister at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but his first impressions of the Catholic Church and faith generally were not positive.
Gearing had been baptized in the Lutheran faith as an infant, but his family stopped attending services when he was still very young. He said that early foundation was weak and slipped away as he grew older. By the time he was a freshman in high school, he considered himself an atheist and only reluctantly attended Mass because his girlfriend at the time, Julia Arntsen, invited him.
"She communicated to me that she needed to date someone who was willing to ask deeper questions and was open to coming to Mass with her," he said. "It was important to her."
After graduation, she went to college in Connecticut, and he attended Endicott College in Beverly. Away from home and living what he called the "college lifestyle," Gearing said he was not making good choices.
"It was hard for me to recognize my brokenness, especially without much groundwork in faith," he said.
His girlfriend, Arntsen, got involved in campus ministry, run by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), but he felt "indifferent" about faith. He had placed his identity in what others thought of him rather than the person God made him, he said.
Then, during his senior year, he began to see through the cracks of college culture. He turned toward the Mass and started worshipping weekly at St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Beverly, he said.
"I'm not sure what was drawing me there, but I found some peace," he said. "I think God was working on my heart for quite a while."
Not long after, he decided to join the RCIA so that he could receive first Communion and confirmation. For the following week, he felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a "very powerful" way. Over the course of the RCIA, he began to pray daily. Then, he started attending adoration every day after work, which was a turning point in his faith. He could sense Christ's presence in the Eucharist. "It was an intimacy with Christ that I had never experienced before," he said.
He was fully received into the Church at the Easter Vigil in 2013.
Through a growing friendship with the FOCUS missionaries at Arntsen's college, Gearing discerned that God was calling him to the same work. He decided to quit his full-time, paid job in May 2014 to become a FOCUS missionary and raise 100 percent of his own salary. He started serving the Catholic community at MIT in September 2014. He said he loves ministering to college students and can feel the Holy Spirit working through him every day.
"They're in a point in life where they're trying to figure out who they are," he said.
Gearing proposed to Arntsen last year. Their wedding is scheduled for this May, and two of the FOCUS missionaries from Arntsen's college are groomsmen.
He encouraged everyone considering RCIA to sign up. The decision to join does not mean that a person has everything figured out; part of the process is discernment, he said.
"Take a small step toward Christ, and he'll reward your faithfulness, and he'll reveal to you why he wants you there in the first place," he said. "It was in moments of vulnerability when I took a small step that Christ revealed himself to me."