Tuesday, January 22, 2008
How I Came Home to Rome: My Conversion Story
My parents were both raised as Christians but in different churches. My Father, a Roman Catholic and my Mother, a Baptist. They were married in the Catholic Church in the 1960's. As a child, I attended Saturday evening mass with my Father’s family and on Sunday mornings I attended Sunday school and Baptist services with my Mother’s family. This gave me an interesting childhood knowing such different Christian churches and their ways of worshiping the same God. I was officially raised Baptist, but still attended mass with my paternal grandparents.
One of my earliest memories is attending Catholic churches with my paternal grandparents. This is when I felt ‘holy ground’. That is the only way I can explain it even today. I could walk into a dozen different Protestant churches and sometimes admire their beauty and enjoy the music and sermons, but never feeling the holiness I did in a Catholic Church.
Whenever I stepped over the threshold of a Catholic Church I FELT the holiness. It was tangible to me. It embraced me and gave me incredible peace while filling me with wonder and awe. As a child I had no idea why that happened only in the Catholic Church, I just knew what I felt was real. As an adult, I now know it was Jesus in the Eucharist. Found only in the Holy Catholic Church.
As a child I often found myself divided. I had one set of grandparents who followed sola scriptura and another who rejected it. My maternal grandmother shared all the wonderful stories of the bible with me. She lovingly would repeat them as often, as I would ask “Tell me again about Moses Grandma!” or "Jesus walking on water". I dearly loved listening to her tell me all the stories of the bible and how much Jesus loved me and how special children are to Jesus. It was because of her that I fell in love with the scriptures and pursued endless bible studies and discussion groups over the years to help quench my thirst for the scriptures. Now I can look back and know that my maternal Baptist grandmother unknowingly at the time, ultimately helped me become Catholic because of those moments.
My paternal grandparents introduced me to Tradition. Something completely foreign to my maternal side of the family. I learned that we could talk to angels and saints! That we were all part of God’s Family. I learned about holy water and to cross myself, not only in church but also when we drove by a Catholic Church or cemetery. I often played with my great grandmothers rosary beads, not knowing how to pray them, but knowing what they were for.
When I’d go to my Baptist church I had to remember not to cross myself as it wasn’t their way. And when I went to the Catholic Church I had to remember to cross myself, kneel and the subtle differences in how we said the Lord’s Prayer. I think I was the only Baptist child who wanted to grow up to be a Catholic nun!
Years went by, as I grew into adulthood as a Baptist. The more I read the scriptures the more questions I had about my faith. Some things just didn’t add up. If we were “sola scriptura” and the bible says there is church authority and bishops then where were the Baptist bishops and that authority? The authority we had, was baptized members voting and majority rules. That hardly was “sola scriptura”. There were assorted other things that I could find no good answers for either. It was like fitting square pegs into round holes. If you beat it, you could force it to fit, but you knew it wasn’t right. It wasn’t intended that way.
I had married a non-practicing Catholic and several years into our marriage he decided he wanted out. He left me with two children, a house and a mountain of debt. During all this, God and I had many one on one sessions with me asking “Why God?” and “What do you want me to do now?”. A few years after the divorce I was still not getting the answers I desired in my Baptist church. I had been an avid 700 Club watcher for years. I enjoyed hearing how God worked in peoples lives and the praying they did on television but I found I was disagreeing with their theology a bit more each year. In my frustration, I began to pray to God for two things and I repeated this prayer over and over again for months. I asked God to “Please show me the truth and give me the wisdom to know it. And that if He would do that I would following him anywhere no matter the cost”.
It wasn’t long before I knew God had heard my prayer and was answering me in assorted ways. One way was the Catholic cable channel “Eternal Word Television Network” (EWTN). I began tuning in to see what Catholics really believe and why. I fell in love with Mother Angelica and Father Corapi immediately. Those two people had a great impact on my faith journey. They taught me so much about being a Catholic Christian and what the Church was all about.
During this time, I was reading as many Catholic books as I could and I was also discussing Christianity online. There was more debating and arguing going on than discussions most days, but this was a tool God used to teach me. I met some wonderful people online, particularly Catholics who were eager to share their Faith with me. People who took time out of their lives to pray for me and my children. People who took time to answer my questions and send me information to help me find the answers to all the questions I had. One of these people has become a very dear and close friend of mine and I can’t imagine not knowing her. What a blessing she is!
In the year 2005, God began to give me dreams. I began to dream strange vivid dreams. One dream had me searching a city for a church in the rain and dark of night. I was crying and seeking with desperation a church. I found it. It had a large statue of the Pieta in front of it and I stood there in the rain staring at that imagine and crying harder. I felt the desperation rising in me and had to find a priest and talk to him right away. I entered the church and found a priest in a glass cubical. I wanted to talk to him and tell him I needed to confess to him, but he couldn’t hear me thru the glass. The dream ended but I had the same exact dream over and over again. I am no dream interpreter, but I now believe it was God calling me to the Catholic Church but showing me unless I became Catholic, the sacraments were not to be given to me.
Another thing God began to do was put saints in my life. It was so strange, when something was occurring in my life or I had something I couldn’t understand I would often come across a saint in someway. A saint card would fall out of a public library book I was reading- even when the book wasn't Catholic! Or there was a special program on television about that saint and some part of that saint's life reflected what I needed answered. Or I’d open a book to see a saint mentioned- this happened in cookbooks of all places! These things happened quite often and always about the exact saint or issue going on in my life at that time. It was really amazing.
Still, I wasn’t sure yet if I believed all the Catholic Church taught. One of those hang ups was praying to the saints. How could they hear us? Wasn’t that something only God could do? I listened to Catholic friends explain it to me. I watched more EWTN (several hours a day by this point) and I even wrote in to television shows like Marcus Grodi’s “Journey Home” and listened to him and his guests answer my questions on the air.
I continued to pray to God asking Him to “Show me the truth and give me the wisdom I needed” and promising God that if He did that I would follow Him anywhere. If He led me into the Catholic Church, I knew there would be a sacrifice. I knew it would hurt my maternal family who would not understand after worshiping with me for more than 30 years and attending bible groups with me. I knew it might break my Mother’s heart to not have me and my children sitting beside her each Sunday morning as I had my whole life from the time I was born. I knew I’d miss her presence with me during worship if I converted. I had to be sure.
The final hurdle for me came in the spring of 2006. Around Easter time, my paternal grandmother was cleaning out some things she had in storage. She found my great-grandmothers rosary beads and missal and gifted me with them. I wasn’t sure about the rosary, but I wanted it because I knew it belonged to my great grandmother. A few months later I was watching EWTN and Mother Angelica and her nun’s came on to pray the rosary. Now I had seen this before but had only watched as a curious observer.
This night, when they began to pray I grabbed my great grandmother’s rosary, dropped to my knees in overwhelming emotion, humbleness and thru streaming tears, said the rosary with Mother Angelica for the first time in my life. That night everything changed for me.
I finally knew without a doubt that God had answered my prayers and led me straight to His Holy Catholic Church and now it was my turn to make a choice. Was I going to keep my word to God about following Him where ever He led me at the sacrifice of my maternal family or would I remain where I was knowing the Truth, but not acting on it?
I knew that I had to follow God and He would take care of the rest. I put my complete trust in Him and never looked back.
Mary had lovingly taken my hand and guided me on that final step over my last hurdle. I went to my local Catholic parish, met with the priest and signed up for RCIA. Several months later, my two daughters were baptized and entered the Catholic Church with me at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2007.
I had asked God to lead me and promised to follow Him.
He kept His promise and I kept mine to Him.