Catechumen from Lincoln finds answers as he journeys into the Catholic Church

Matt Bidwell of Lincoln (left) and his sponsor, Dan Landess, are pictured with Bishop Jenky after the Rite of Election on March 5. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

LINCOLN — Answers. Matt Bidwell looked for them for much of his 29 years.

Standing in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria last Sunday for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, he was certain he’d found what he had been seeking in the Catholic Church. He will be baptized with his son, Roman, 6, at the Easter Vigil on April 15 at Holy Family Church in Lincoln.

Bidwell also will be confirmed and receive the Eucharist for the first time that night with his sponsor, Dan Landess, by his side. The thought of his new sacramental life fills him with excitement and joy.

As he talked about his search last week, Bidwell said he always believed in God and was gifted with the grace of absolute faith. That helped as he sought answers and got him through some difficult times.

“There are no misconceptions, no unanswered questions when you find yourself coming to Catholicism,” says Matt Bidwell. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Raised in a faith tradition that was focused on the Bible, he got to know Scripture, but the things he was being taught didn’t add up.

“For me there was so much missing from it that I would never totally be fulfilled,” he told The Catholic Post.

After graduating from Lincoln Community High School, he had one semester of college and then joined the Marines and continued his search as he traveled the world. Working in intelligence at first, he received specialized training and moved into counterterrorism work.

He found himself tested by the evil he was saw and admits there was a period when he was angry with God. During this time, a friend who was Catholic and attended Mass regularly invited Bidwell to come along one day.

At first he demurred because there was so much about the Catholic Church that seemed foreign to him. Eventually he accepted the invitation.

“EVERYTHING I WAS LOOKING FOR”

“I went and there was just something about it. I needed to know more,” Bidwell said. “I’m a pretty voracious reader — I can read a lot in a short time. I just developed this hunger for it and started reading everything I could.”

That included the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which he poured over several times, and books like “Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism” by Scott and Kimberly Hahn.

“I think what really cemented it was there are no misconceptions, no unanswered questions when you find yourself coming to Catholicism,” he explained. “It was everything I was looking for. It just came together for me. My eyes were opened.”

While he had made the decision to enter the Catholic Church, a question remained: How?

Roman had been born while Bidwell was still in the Marines and he requested a discharge so he could be closer to his son. He returned to Lincoln at the end of 2012 and started looking for a job — and the next step on his spiritual journey.

It led him to another man with military experience — Father Jeffrey Laible, pastor for the Logan County parishes, including Holy Family in Lincoln. A lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Air National Guard, Father Laible has served as a military chaplain overseas.

Bidwell said that made it easy to relate to the priest and eventually confide in him. They talked for months and through those conversations he found new insights into the Bible.

He entered the RCIA process at Holy Family and enrolled Roman in Carroll Catholic School so he could be raised in the Catholic faith. There Bidwell encountered one of his favorite teachers from high school — David Welch, who is now principal at Carroll Catholic.

In addition to Landess, Welch and Father Laible, he cites Sister Mary Lou Owens, OP, coordinator of the RCIA process, for her guidance and support.

Since his discharge, Bidwell has earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He is going to Heartland Community College in Bloomington full time to complete the courses he needs to apply to medical school.

“I wanted to study something that in the end could do good for a lot of people,” he said, noting that he would like to be a physician or a surgeon.

“Right now I’m really waiting for God to show me the path I’m supposed to be taking,” Bidwell said. “I’m open to what he wants me to do.”

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