It was quite the journey, but only Jesus could have melted my heart of stone.
I grew up as a Church of Christ Protestant. We went to church fairly often and sometimes we went to other Protestant churches for various reasons. I always desired to learn more about God and to be close to Him, even from a young age. By my early teens, I began to ask major questions about why we believed what we believed in our specific church. It seemed so strange that there were so many different ways to worship and follow Christ. Why was the Church of Christ the “right” way?
I never got solid answers, but some of them were fairly satisfying and kept me going. There was one thing I was certain of: I absolutely believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and in the stories, prophecies, and fulfillment of them by Jesus in the Bible. Nothing in this world pierced my soul more than the love of Jesus. I figured that if Protestants expressed their love for Jesus differently, it wasn’t too big of a deal. However, the Catholics were waaaaay off target. In fact, I truly believed that they were like a cult because of things I had heard. They worshipped the Pope, Mary, and statues. They were crazy enough to believe they were actually eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood at their services. It was terrifying! Plus, they used Confession as a way to commit sins as much as they liked. All they had to do was tell the priest, get forgiven, and go do something sinful again. My list of angst against the Catholics went on and on.
Did I do any research of my own? Nope. I only was relying on what others told me…but then, I was invited to a Mass.
My family had moved to a new town my junior year of high school and couldn’t find a church to attend that we loved. There was always some sort of awkward road block. It was a sad two years without a faith community.
Then, right before high school graduation the Catholic youth group leader heard about my winning of a scholarship to college. She asked my grandparents (who had been Catholic for 20 years) if I would like to come to a “Senior Sunday” Mass. There it was: the invitation.
My family decided to say yes. I was happy to spend the morning with my grandparents and I was also dating a Catholic boy. It seemed innocent enough for me. We met the youth group leader and loved her. She was genuinely kind and loving. It helped us get through the door to the old Parish.
During Mass, I remember being intrigued by all the Catholic “calisthenics,” the readings, the homily and the Eucharist. Of course I did not know any of these words/terms, nor did I understand much. However, I was surprised to hear the prayers of the congregation. There was no worship of the Pope or Mary, but genuine love for God in full recognition of the Trinity. I had hardly ever heard of the Holy Spirit growing up. I did not feel overwhelmingly offended and neither did my family, especially my Mom. Her curiosity was officially peaked (even more so than mine)! Then began the moment where our hearts were ready to finally ask a Catholic our questions and truly listen to the answers.
I was still only 17 when I graduated high school and had a lot on my mind. God knew that I would need the large influence of my mother to open my mind and heart to truth, because it was going to be a little scary for me. She and I were, and still are, so close. I was too immature to consider and ask questions largely on my own initiative. And because of my personality, I didn’t know where to begin and was content with leaving things alone. I have come to realize over my Catholic journey that it is often much easier to be content with fitting Scripture, tradition, or other beliefs to what is convenient and comfortable. I was comfortable in my bubble and wasn’t interested in popping it to see what else was out there. That is why God so graciously used my mother to help me!
My mom was the LAST person I would ever consider to become Catholic. Now, her heart was more open to hearing the answers to major questions, but she was more interested in trying to prove the Catholics wrong than be proved wrong herself. She went to RCIA classes to do just that. Along the way, she felt like St. Paul, where the scales fell from her eyes. As she got more answers, she realized her house had been built on sand. Naturally, she told me everything that she was learning because it was so logical and quite exciting (don’t forget that it was still scary!). I remember asking some questions about basic things like purgatory or Baptism. I remember being astounded on the other side of the phone because the answers were so logical, Biblical, and historical. Especially when compared to what I thought I knew on the subjects. Once again, I wasn’t offended. God knew that by using my mother He could especially help me to listen more openly and with greater respect.
Once we had covered most of the basic areas of angst I had against the Catholic Church, then came the moment of great turmoil. They had been able to answer everything, even their great love for Mary. But what about Jesus being physically present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in bread and wine? How could this be? How could they possibly begin to explain this belief? I was introduced to the early Christian writings, early Church fathers, foreshadowing Scripture in the Old Testament, and Jesus’ own words and events in John chapter six. I’ll never forget reading that chapter and feeling a little shocked. I began to read it over and over and over. How had I missed that disciples were leaving Jesus because his words were “hard”? How had I missed that Jesus didn’t try to explain himself with a metaphor, but repeated over and over how we would have to eat and drink his body and blood? How had I missed Jesus’ overwhelming love and humility to do such a thing? How had I missed the fulfillment of the Old Testament manna? It was hard for me to read. Then, I pondered.
I pondered at least six months while watching my mom, dad, and two brothers enter the Catholic Church. I wasn’t offended and was happy that they were happy; I was even a bit jealous! I don’t remember feeling pressured to enter the Church, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
I’ll never forget the moment I truly believed without any more doubts. It was now summertime. The Eucharist was on my mind and I went to my little brothers baseball game. I was sitting in the bleachers and decided to do some internet research on Eucharistic miracles and experiences to see if anything peaked my curiosity or if it was all hocus-pocus. I read a story about how a host turned to flesh and scientists studied the specimen to see what it was. They determined that it was heart muscle, and that it had come from a fresh heart that had endured extreme physical stress and pain. My heart was pierced in a way I cannot explain. “How much more do you need to believe?” The Holy Spirit whispered to my heart. I remember thinking, “My Lord and my God, how you have done this for me out of love for me! There is Jesus on Earth, Heaven on Earth! He has not abandoned me! This isn’t “hard,” it is incredible!! I have to join the Catholic Church as fast as possible!”
I immediately contacted a Parish in my college town and began RCIA classes that fall. In the meantime, I engulfed myself in continuous research and study of the faith. I was continuously amazed and overwhelmed with love from Jesus. I officially became Catholic during Easter 2015 and it has been the best decision of my entire life!
It has truly been a journey and I look forward to sharing more of my own stories. Jesus has never ceased to work on my heart, as many changes don’t usually happen overnight. And I look forward to connecting better with you! Blessings.