Craig’s journey into the Church. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while, and it was well worth the wait. Go read it, and grab a tissue.
I promised Craig when he wrote his conversion story, I’d write mine.
Where I started: Raised Baptist, grandparents were Baptist, country church in Kansas.
My dad and mom got married and had us six kids, and they sent us to Vacation Bible School, made sure we were part of the Christmas program. They didn’t go with us, though we had plentiful aunts that would take us from time to time to revivals and regular services when they were in town. I have so many fond memories of that. They would bring in the preacher and his choir from Nicodemus, and my Uncle Bill would be shouting “praise God” and “Hallelujah.”
So my parents were nominal Baptists, but incredibly faith-filled human beings. I still say my mom is a closet Catholic because she feels closest to God when she was outside planting and tending (we were farmers, if you can’t guess), when she was nursing sick calves through the night. Her idea of faith was God in his creation and her nurturing and helping anything she could.
Anyway, we were a minority being Baptist, since we grew up in a huge German Catholic community in Kansas (Volga German territory). I wanted to be Catholic like all my friends, but I thought you were born into the Catholic faith; you couldn’t get in unless you were born in it or married in it. Well, in high school I knew that I could go as a visitor to Mass drunk on Saturday night and sit in the choir until we could go resume drinking activities — there’s a reason why I like “Bird on a Wire.”
All of my dad’s friends were Catholics, his drinking buddies, his poker buddies (you can tell from this he really didn’t follow any Baptist doctrines and prohibitions against dancing, drinking and gambling). We didn’t hear this until several years after he died, but he had talked to a friend of the family who had married a Catholic and converted, and he asked her why and how and should he convert to Catholicism. That memory stayed with her for years and years because she knew as soon as she answered him that she had answered him wrong and blown off his question. She said he told her, “I need something.” Looking back, my dad’s Catholicism (despite any formal conversion) strikes me profoundly. He loved all of God’s creation, he worked and he prayed all the time (like the Monks), he believed work was prayer. We would argue about scripture, and he was not a sola scripturist, he would tell me to have faith, that I would not find everything I was looking for in words in a book.
My dad died a little over five years ago, and I had little, if any, faith. My journey back to God began in a panic. I loved him and missed him like crazy. He was this huge personality that shadowed us all, and to have him gone from the world, his soul snuffed out forever seemed wrong. Since I had spent the previous 20 years sometimes agnostic, sometimes atheist, close to converting to Judaism, but always railing against God and all the rules that institutional religion had put on us human beings, I now felt a little silly carrying on a conversation with God instead of making fun of him and his Church and all of his rigid rules made for people that weren’t smart enough to figure out what morality suited their temperament and preferences. It really sucked to be me then.
My soul was searching for answers, but kept being met with the words my dad had uttered to his friend, now applied to me, “I need something” — the plaintive cry of the soul who knows there is more and yearns for it, but has to knock down pride to get it. I was now willing to accept that God existed and was more than just an indifferent, powerful force and might have a particular interest in me.
A wonderful friend of mine converted to Catholicism probably about three or four years ago, probably a year or so after my dad died (though her conversion started probably around the time of my dad’s death). We really didn’t talk about it much, but I happened to mention one day that the Rosary interested me, could a non-Catholic pray the Rosary if they wanted. Well, she sent me a Rosary she made and all sorts of books and pamphlets (and they say there’s no evangelical zeal in the Catholic Church!) and websites and books and recommendations for more books. Holy Mother of God, I just asked about a Rosary! (BTW, if someone wants a rosary, I need to do a good deed for Divine Mercy Sunday, just say the word, and I’ll mail a really nice one off to you)
Then I started reading all that crap she sent just because it seemed like the kind thing to do since she had gone to so much trouble. And what I read startled me — were these early Christians Catholic? I didn’t know when I thought the Church came into existence, I’d never thought about it. I started reading history and theology, and I prayed. Why didn’t I know any of this stuff? I didn’t know about the writings of the early church fathers, I didn’t know much about the reformation except it had happened (and I thought justifiably so, thinking the Catholics were just another denomination that tried to take over the world and then charge admission to heaven) I remembered then what I had said to my dad during one of our scripture arguments, “Well, good grief, it’s no wonder the Catholics put so many writings of St. Paul in the Bible, he was a Catholic!”
My stupidity knew no bounds, I just assumed all the writers of the New Testament were different denominations (don’t laugh, I really thought that.)
Confronting your own ignorance is humbling, but I’ve found it gets easier with practice, and I’ve had lots of practice the last three years.
I prayed more. See, I had been a militant feminist up to that point, I believed in the right to choose, I had been married and divorced twice, two boys, and a fairly liberal idea on sex outside of marriage. And here was history telling me the Catholic Church had been there at the beginning, was still there, proclaiming its truth, that marriage was a sacrament, that sex was meant to be between a man and woman united in that sacrament, that abortion was wrong, birth control was wrong, that a woman must let her husband be the head of the family.
If that Church was the church Jesus had founded and entrusted truth to and bound himself to protect for all time, then I was not just ignorant, but completely and profoundly wrong.
I was traveling a lot for work right then, on the road all week every other week, and I was in a hotel wrestling with this, angry, because I did NOT want to be Catholic because to do that meant I had to submit to her teachings as God’s unchanging truth for all men for all time. I could no longer pick and choose what was right and wrong for me, nor could I believe that my morality was my choice and God would grade me on a sliding scale. I had to accept absolute, objective truth that resided outside the selective morality of my head.
It was a long night with a lot of tears, and I was arguing with God, though he really wasn’t saying much back, it was just this unyielding force that took my rantings and firmly held, but with compassion for a human being who was about to surrender their pride, but not without a fight. I knew I had run smack dab into the wall of truth, and if I walked away from it, I was walking away forever from God. He wanted me to trust him and be obedient and submit to him and his Church. And I chose, and I’ve never looked back, it was the only thing I could do.
Obedience is filled with grace, at least it was for me. What I used to think was so, well, medieval and old-fashioned now was full of beauty. I accepted all of the teachings of the Church in that moment, even the ones I didn’t know about or didn’t understand completely.
Oh! Back to my dad. I finally talked to my sister about this after that moment of acceptance, and unbeknownst to both of us, we were taking a parallel path to the same Church. It was after that that we found out my dad’s inquiry into converting. There is no proof to faith, but I know absolutely that life isn’t just a series of coincidences. I believe my father found his answers when he died, and he’s done nothing since then but pray for us to find those answers before we die.