This weekend marks my 5th…anniversary? re-birthday?…of becoming a Catholic. Also, we had seven new Catholic converts at our parish get Confirmed and take First Holy Communion today. This sounds like a perfect time to share my own conversion story 🙂
It is a bit lengthy, I suppose, because one doesn’t just make this journey overnight, so I will break it up into two posts.
I think I have always been a Catholic at heart. I love the “pomp and circumstance”, the beautiful churches and stained glass windows. I love that almost every day is a holiday (holy day = holiday) because there is a mass every day, every hour, creating unending praise to our Lord here on Earth. Everlasting Easter. I love the communion of saints. I never understood, when I was an itty bitty Baptist, why I couldn’t talk to a saint, friend or relative that went on before me and ask them to pray for me, the same way I could ask my mother, pastor or living friends to pray for me. I mean, were they not “present with the Lord?”
Then, as I did research and came to understand the meaning behind the Eucharist, purgatory, apostolic succession, papal infallibility, etc., my logic was appeased and all of those dark shadows, and frankly, lies I had been told about what Catholics believed vanished from my mind and my heart began to mend. When I found out that science and religion were not mutually exclusive in the Catholic world, I was sold. Now, before you scoff at that, I am fully aware and have read about the sordid history of the PEOPLE in the Church…but if you read further, you understand those were people, not the Church itself. It takes far more than an “act of Congress” to make something a LAW in the Catholic church. There are plenty of things the Church still ponders and considers and has not made an official proclamation into the Church doctrine about, and many wrongs its people have made in the past have been made right by official documentation later. Sometimes, unfortunately, it takes some horrible wrongs of its people before it makes an official proclamation, but I think that is because the Church values free will and personal discernment of the Holy Spirit but when the devil tries to run amok, it has to put its foot down.
My parents were Christian. They did not force church upon us, though. I mean, they certainly read Bible stories to us and talked about Jesus and whatnot, but they didn’t MAKE me go to Sunday School. I did it on my own. My sisters went when they were small, but somewhere along the line, they sort of just…stopped. They are Christians, too, but they weren’t all gung-ho into the whole church-thing like I was. I was, like, church militant for a while.
Ennnnnnnniee way…….so I was 7 years old, sitting placidly in my cold metal folding chair in my appropriate length dress, white ruffle socks and white patent leather shoes, being ever so quiet in my attempt to win the “quiet seat prize” of a candy bar, listening intently to my Bible lesson (as an aside, this I LOVE about Baptists…they sure do know their Bible stories). After the lesson, there was an altar call. My head was obediently bowed, but my eyes were disobediently open, spying the rustlings going on in front of me.
I greatly admired a lovely 17-year-old Asian girl piano player at my church. She was exotic and beautiful (and she still is) and just the nicest, most angelic looking creature (she still is) and wanted nothing more than to be noticed by her (I still love her). I noticed that when asked if anyone would like to have Jesus come into their hearts, the child would raise his or her hand this angel-girl with black hair so long she could sit on it would lead them by the hand to a corner and whisper with them and then hug them. Well, that settled it, I needed Jesus in my heart so that I could be loved by that girl. I raised my hand and stumbled over to her corner. She put her hands on my shoulders and looked in my face and asked me if I loved Jesus. Yes, I did. Did I want him in my heart? Of course. She then laced her fingers in mine and prayed with me and asked me to repeat after her. She then looked up, with her sweet smile and asked me if I felt him in my heart. I certainly felt all warm and fuzzy and deliriously happy, but I think it had less to do with Jesus in my heart than with the attention I was receiving from the person I admired most in this world. So I nodded.
Let me preface this next part by saying I love Baptists…and Presbyterians and Lutherans and Episcopalian/Anglicans and Mormons and Buddhists and Taoists and Jews and Muslims and Atheists and all kinds of people…you will get no hate from me. God calls people in different ways and I think the variety in the world is a beautiful thing. What I dislike is self-imposed crazy ignorance in people who then run their gator about which they have no knowledge. No me gusta. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens with people from all walks of life and in all faith traditions. There are fundamentalists everywhere.
Ahem. So I grew and flourished and waxed strong (you like that old school KJV talk, don’t cha? There’s more where that came from) in my new faith. So I thought. It really wasn’t too long before lots of questions popped into my inquisitive mind and spilled out of my impertinent mouth. Naturally, I had to know WHY we believed and practiced these things that we “believed”. Some things sounded like they had reasonable explanations, others not so much. I never could figure out why someone in shorts would be turned away at the front door. Or why there could never be an improvement of an English translation of the Bible…I mean, medically we have advanced over putting leaches on people, so is it not possible that the sum of human knowledge gained since 1611, along with the new discoveries of ancient texts, that we may have a better understanding of ancient lexicon?? I digress…
I distinctly remember one Sunday School class in which the teacher said it was such a shame that Whitney Houston did not use her voice for the Lord and that she obviously wasn’t a Christian, or she was a very back-slidden one. First, it intrigued me that teacher knew who Whitney Houston was and what she sounded like (I lived pretty normally by American standards at home, since I had normal parents…but these cats didn’t, usually, so that is why it intrigued me). Secondly, I wondered why we had to assume Whitney was not a Christian or was a bad Christian. We didn’t know her. And we don’t get to decide.
I remember being told time and time again that we had to keep ourselves separate from the world and not mingle with “sinners” so that we wouldn’t become “back-slidden” ourselves, but that we DID have to minister to everyone we met and make sure they knew the path to Heaven (via the Roman Road). And yet, So-and-so would judge another person for having a baby out-of-wedlock, but would then cheat on her husband. Unwed mother would then eventually want to get married, but couldn’t get married inside the church, but only outside in a garden or in a “chapel” offsite. You certainly weren’t a good Christian and voting Democrat. Motes and beams in everyone’s eyes. I am surprised they could blink at all.
I realize this happens in lots of places and probably in some Catholic parishes…but the staggering lack of love that I encountered at the particular church I attended just hurt me. I already suspected that they assumed Muslims, Jews and Buddhists were going to burn in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, but then I discovered that pretty much anyone that didn’t think like we did was doomed there, too. The final straw was when a boyfriend I had attempted to make out with me and then later scratched up every CD I owned to “save my soul”. And all of this was just the tip of the iceberg!
How did one KNOW they were saved? Like, does a murderer, who asked Jesus in his heart before committing his crime, go to heaven? Well, if he was a murderer, he probably wasn’t truly a Christian to begin with, they said. So, how do I know? Do I have to wait until I am committing some terrible act to know that I am not? What if I never do commit a terrible act, and that does nothing for me and I still go to hell? How do you explain the Book of James and his talk of faith and works? If the world was only about 6,000 years old, how to explain dinosaur bones? Why did Jesus give Peter the “keys to heaven”? Why were Genesis 1 and 2 different, or for that matter other events in the Bible from recorded history? Why do we believe in the death penalty but not abortion? I mean, I get babies are innocent and murderers are not, but isn’t the point that WE are NOT God and don’t call the shots?
So, so, so many questions and no answers suited me. I was curious about what other Christians thought, although I followed suit by knocking on doors with my tiny little Gideon’s New Testament flagged and highlighted clasped in my hands. I “led” people to the Lord while driving myself away from Him. I “re-dedicated” my life numerous times and even tried getting saved again (and again). I read the Bible cover to cover TWICE. God, if He existed, was just NOT there in my heart…and yet…something or someone was calling my name.
For part two, see here.