Thursday, July 15, 2010

On Becoming Catholic, Part Two: Things That Make You Go Hmmm...

Last week I published part one of my faith journey. Here is Part 2.

Every journey has its twists and turns, and my journey of faith is certainly no exception. After I was baptized at age ten, I continued to go to church and Sunday School; and even when I turned my back on God, which I often did, He always brought me back. I had some fantastic mentors during my high school years, and I think I grew more in my Christian faith during that time than I ever had. I could write pages and pages about some of the fabulous people God put in my life and helped me grow in my faith. We had a wonderful spiritual leader, Sunday School teacher, and mentor who happened to be our family's physician, who taught us teenagers about challenges we would face in college and into our adulthood. He didn't just teach Sunday School; on Sunday nights he invited all of the high school seniors to his house to play games and talk about issues that we were facing and would face in the future. Then there were Brenda's parents, who taught Sunday School together, and were fantastic examples to me (and still are!) about what it means to love and serve Christ by loving and serving others.

College was not the holiest time of my life; even though I was involved off-and-on with the campus Baptist Student Union, I pretty much slept in on Sundays and stayed away from church. I occasionally went to my home church with my parents (my college was only about a half hour drive from my hometown), but most of the time I was absent. I think that was pretty much due to laziness on my part, not rebellion. My senior year found me living in an apartment only a block from the Baptist church in my college town, and I began attending services there some weeks, and even joined a Sunday School class for college students; but again, there was many a Sunday when I stayed in bed. (When I started babysitting the minister's daughter regularly, though, I tried to make more of an effort to show up.) After college, I began attending church regularly again, right where I grew up. It was wonderful to be a part of that congregation again after several years as a sporadic attendant. I joined a Sunday School class for adult singles, began singing in the choir again, and for a short time I taught Sunday School for elementary kids.

One of the most moving experiences I had during this time was helping to
chaperone the church youth group on a mission trip. It was the year after Hurricane Andrew had slammed South Florida, and we spent a week working with Habitat for Humanity building a home for a displaced family. It was great to see the kids come together as a group, and as we worked together during the day (in oppressive heat and humidity) and studied the Bible and prayed together at night, everyone grew closer to the Lord and to each other. I think it might have been the first time that I really could feel the Holy Spirit move through people to touch the lives of others.

It was also during this time that I met and began dating my husband. I knew he was Catholic, and at the time I knew very little about the Catholic faith. I knew that Mary and the Saints were important to Catholics, and they had this thing called a Rosary which was a chain of beads they would hold while they said the Hail Mary over and over. I remember playing at my friend Mary's house as a child, and she would sometimes get out her Rosary and try and teach me the prayers. (I also remember being bewildered by this strange behavior.) I knew Catholics called their church services "mass," and the people "had communion" every Sunday. (Plus, they used *gasp* real wine.) I thought it was pretty strict of the Church to require people to attend every Sunday; as a Baptist, we were certainly encouraged to (and as a child and a teenager, I was required to by my parents, for which I am grateful), and for some odd reason Catholics had to go to confession if they wanted God to forgive their sins. There were very few "anti-Catholics" in my Baptist church, thankfully; even though I knew Catholicism was vastly different from my own Baptist faith, I was never taught that Catholics weren't Christian. I remember my mother telling me once that even though different denominations, including Catholics, had different ways of worshipping God, we were all Christians. We just had different ways of expressing our love for Jesus.

I began asking questions about the Catholic faith to both my then-boyfriend, now husband, and my friend Lesley, who is also Catholic. I remember talking to Lesley on the phone one night about the Eucharist, and when she told me that Catholics believe that the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Jesus, I just about dropped the receiver. "Are you SERIOUS??" No, no, I kept saying; you don't believe it REALLY becomes the ACTUAL body and blood of Jesus, do you? Yes, we do, she assured me, and this is the most important teaching of the Catholic Church. I thought this was by far the most bizarre and outrageous thing I'd ever heard in my life. Surprisingly, I didn't all-out dismiss it as heresy and proof that the Catholic church was un-Christian (by this time I had started to hear anti-Catholic rhetoric from some of my Protestant friends and from the evangelical talk shows I was listening to on the radio); but instead I found it strangely intriguing. Boyfriend-now-husband and I had many lengthy discussions about Mary, too, and he was surprised to learn that Protestants DON'T believe in the Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity, and bodily assumption of Our Blessed Mother. I had never heard of these things, and I realized that in our church, we never really talked about Mary except at Christmas. It was just assumed that Mary was a sinner just like everyone else, and that she and Joseph had other children after the birth of Jesus. I guess I had always imagined that one day, when God decided it was time to send His Son into the world, he looked down from Heaven and thought, "Hmmm...I need someone to be the Mother of the Messiah. That girl Mary over in Nazareth would be a good choice. I'll ask her." It never occurred to me that God created Mary specifically for this purpose, chose her before she was conceived, and even preserved her from original sin so that she could be a pure and perfect vessel for Our Lord.

I want to stop and talk about my grandfather for just a minute. My dad's dad. He was one of the most holy people I've ever known. My dad says that growing up, the pastor of their church was very anti-Catholic; saying that the Church was the Whore of Babylon, the Pope was the Antichrist, and all that. I don't know if Granddaddy agreed with those sentiments, because I don't remember him ever saying anything about Catholics, good or bad. I do remember one conversation he had with my mother, though, and looking back I realize that he, and probably many other Protestants, honored and revered Mary more than most people realized. The conversation--I think--was about why God chose a virgin, only a teenager at that, to be the mother of His Son. Mom remarked that God, if he wanted to, could have picked a middle-aged mother of five children, who was a holy and faithful Jew, and His Son would be just as holy simply because he WAS the Son of God. It wouldn't have made all that much difference whether Mary was a virgin or not, but choosing a virgin made more sense because it offered proof of Christ's divinity. Well, my grandfather's face turned beet red as he balked at this idea. The Mother of Jesus HAD to be completely pure, he insisted. Christ needed to come from a holy and unblemished vessel, and a womb that had already borne children simply would not do. The mother of the Son of God MUST be a virgin. As I began to learn more about the Church's teachings regarding Mary, I remembered what Granddaddy had said about her, and realized that if God needed a virgin, shouldn't he need someone even more pure and holy than anyone else on Earth? Why wouldn't He want the Mother of His Son to be sinless; even free from the stain of original sin?

When my husband and I started dating, we lived four hours apart, and we visited each other every other weekend. Eventually I got a job closer to where he lived, and we started attending Mass together almost every Sunday. I began to develop an appreciation for the liturgy, and before long I had all the responses and prayers memorized. When we got engaged, we started visiting Baptist churches in hopes of finding one that I could feel at home in. (We had this crazy idea that we'd have our kids baptized Catholic, but we'd take them to both Catholic and Baptist services and eventually they would choose which one they liked better. It didn't take us long to realize that this wouldn't work at all.) I had a friend and co-worker whose husband was a Baptist minister, and I went to their church a number of times; the people there and at the other churches we visited seemed nice enough, but more and more I felt most at home in the Catholic Church. When we married I decided that since we would, after all, be raising our kids to be Catholic, and that THIS was the church I would be attending, I needed to learn something about the faith. I was talking to my mother about all this in her kitchen one Thanksgiving, and she surprised me by saying she thought it would be a good idea to become Catholic, because we would have a common faith to raise our children in. Mothers know best, right? At the time I really didn't think this was something I would actually do, and I'm sure neither of us realized how important that decision would be.

In Part Three I'll tell you about how I grew to love and embrace the Catholic faith, and how my journey as a Catholic has progressed in the last fourteen years. I haven't quite finished with that part--it's difficult to put into words the beautiful ways the Church has changed my life. I'm working on it though, and I can't wait to share it with you here. Soon.

UPDATE:  Yikes, I never posted the link to that...Here it is!!


  1. How beautiful that you are sharing this! Can't wait for part 3!

  2. "The Mother of Jesus HAD to be completely pure, he insisted. Christ needed to come from a holy and unblemished vessel, and a womb that had already borne children simply would not do. The mother of the Son of God MUST be a virgin. As I began to learn more about the Church's teachings regarding Mary, I remembered what Granddaddy had said about her, and realized that if God needed a virgin, shouldn't he need someone even more pure and holy than anyone else on Earth? Why wouldn't He want the Mother of His Son to be sinless; even free from the stain of original sin?"

    I especially appreciated this argument. I knew that some Protestants had reverence of some sort for Our Lady (Martin Luther, for example), but didn't realize that any had reasoned from the need for a virgin--"a pure vessel"--to the Immaculate Conception. Very good!

  3. Thanks! I don't know if he necessarily was thinking of the Immaculate Conception; at the time I had never heard of it, and it's possible he didn't know about it either (which also doesn't mean he hadn't thought of it himself--my grandfather was an amazingly wise and insightful and holy man.) If I'd been Catholic then I'm sure I would have jumped in on the conversation and explained that teaching! :)


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