The story of my conversion to the Holy Catholic Church begins, I suppose, when I decided God didn’t exist. A high school student raised in the Methodist church, I had never integrated faith into my daily existence. I generally begged off church on Sundays and wanted nothing to do with Sunday school or youth groups.
Spend enough time apart from God and church, and eventually something’s bound to give. The tales of distant and selfish gods learned in high school studies of Roman mythology, coupled with a love for science, led me to a decision that religion was a crutch for needy people. Like the gods of the Romans, the God in whom I’d been taught to believe was a fictitious character, created to give weak people the strength they lacked.
I was neither weak or needy, I decided, and thus I did not need this imaginary higher being. Of course, since I already barely attended church, prayed, or even gave thought to God, this didn’t really constitute much of a change. I did, however, develop an interest in understanding world religions, and I decided to start with the religion most opposed to the faith in which I’d been brought up: satanism. I bought a satanic bible, read a few pages, and tucked it beneath my mattress with plans to return to my studies at a later date.
Fast forward many months and a realization struck me. I wasn’t happy, and that wasn’t like me. I thought long and hard, and traced my discontent back about a year to the moment I’d determined God’s inexistence. The knowledge hit me like a ton of bricks and was the first real step to conversion. If my happiness was dependent on belief in God (even though I was neither weak nor needy, of course) mustn’t God exist? Just like that, I was catapulted back into accepting His higher being. Remembering that satanic bible tucked beneath my mattress, however, I enlisted the help of friends to get rid of it – interestingly, throwing it into the St. Joseph River where its waters join the St. Mary’s River in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.
Recognizing that God was real and vital to my wellbeing, I began to converse with Him relatively often, particularly in times of need, generally in car-drive conversations. Still, I was lucky to make it to church for Christmas and Easter. I did not read the Bible or speak Christ’s name aloud. For years, I coasted along with this shallow and lukewarm spirituality. I went to college, began a career, moved across the country, and got married (Ray and I were careful to choose the “least Christiany” wedding vows available!) I general, I allowed God into my life only as needed, while avoiding any outward display or mention of Him or His Son.
I was married and living in Colorado when my sister Suzanne called to inform me that she and her husband were going through the process of conversion to the Catholic Church.
“Those people are crazy,” I informed her. “They worship Mary, and do all sorts of weird things like kneeling and crossing themselves. What on earth are you thinking?”
She had been considering sending her kids to Catholic schools, she explained, and wanted to understand what they would learn in religion class. She bought a few books on the subject, and after reading them was convicted that the Catholic Church was the one true Church Christ had intended. She explained Christ’s words in John 6, when He gave His flesh to eat. “Many of his disciples didn’t want to hear it,” she said. “They walked away from Him. Instead of calling them back and explaining that he wasn’t really asking them to eat His flesh, Jesus doubled down. ‘My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink,'” she quoted.
Suzanne told me that Catholics did not worship Mary. They loved her, looked up to her, and, since she must be so incredibly close to her Divine Son, they asked for her intercession – along with the intercession of all the saints in Heaven. She explained that the kneeling was in respect for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and that the sign of the cross was a remembrance of baptism.
I wasn’t sold, but she was my big sister. I promised to read the two books she wanted to send me (Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn and Surprised by Truth by Patrick Madrid,) and I kept that promise. Unable to deny the reason and logic held within their pages, yet still leery of a Church I’d so long maligned, I agreed to go to a Mass with Suzanne when I was home next.
Ray and I both went to that Mass, and Ray and I both resisted. The proceedings were too foreign, too ritualistic, too uncomfortable. Plus, regardless of what scripture said about Christ’s urgent directive to eat His flesh and drink His blood, I was not prepared to actually do so. And that whole “Mary” thing remained an obstacle as well.
Two years later, Ray and I had moved back to Indiana and welcomed our first son. With any consideration of the Catholic Church firmly behind us, we’d decided we to raise our children in a church, and had shopped around at a few local churches. None were a fit, so we put the matter on hold for the time being.
A short time later, I began to notice a strange tugging every time I drove past the Catholic parish in our suburban town. I ignored it for weeks, but it grew stronger. It was as if some invisible force was pulling me toward the church building. Finally, I caved. Having left Ray happy at home watching the baby, I stepped through the doors of one of the ugliest Catholic churches in the country – and immediately knew I was home. Even before the Mass began, I felt a sense of calling within the walls of that building that I’d never felt before. Not only was God real, He had suddenly revealed that He had a will for my life. The rising and kneeling, the genuflecting, the motions, the ritual … it was all still foreign, all still strange. I knew now, however, that I was meant to partake and participate.
“For the first time in my life, I feel like God is telling me to do something,” I informed Ray when I returned home that Sunday morning and told him I was going to join the Catholic Church. “And I think I’ll go to hell if I don’t do it.”
It was, of course, a misunderstanding of God’s mercy. Yet, in many ways, my infantile understanding of responding to His call was true. For, truly, when we know what He is calling us to, yet fail to do it, are not our very souls at risk?
By the grace of God, I heard that call. By the grace of God, I responded. By the grace of God, I am a member of the Body of Christ – the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, founded on the rock of Peter and sustained by the very Blood of Christ. In His infinite love, I am called to the Supper of the Lamb. Though I am not worthy to receive Him, He has healed, is healing, and will heal my soul. And, more than anything in this life, I look forward to one day praising Him, with the angels and saints, in His heavenly kingdom.
All of that I found in the fullness and Truth of the Catholic Church. I give thanks for the sacraments she offers – especially the opportunity to partake daily of the sacrament of the Eucharist and frequently in the grace and mercy of confession. I give thanks for the Mass, the Scriptures, the prayers, the communion of saints, and the community of believers. I thank God for calling me home, and I pray that one day all will be unified in the one true Church.
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