The following is my personal conversion story. I'm writing it mostly because I've been asked to share it at a retreat for college students (and what better way is there to gather my thoughts?). It would be awesome if someone could relate to my story and felt inspired to dig deeper. I know that, generally, any time people speak publicly about their religious beliefs to a random audience one of two things happen: 1- people with differing views feel insulted and judged or 2- people make fun of the person who "just talks about God all the time." I'm 100% ok with being made fun of in this arena (for reasons I'll discuss later), but I would absolutely hate it if someone read this and got insulted. Please know that this is my story. I'm not writing my conversion story AT you. I'm just sharing it with you.
I grew up "Catholic". Catholic is in quotes because I'm not sure the Church would agree that what I was doing -or wasn't doing- was Catholic at all. I received the sacraments, and went to weekly mass only because we went during school. (I went to a small Catholic school in Ville Platte.) I lived my life trying to be a good person. I decided what constituted a good person. I ran decisions by my conscience (which I spent exactly zero amount of time forming in any meaningful way). My conscience said that confession was a good tool, but it wasn't NECESSARY for the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, I went to communion when I went to mass-no matter what state my soul was in. My head told me that Jesus wasn't REALLY present. My conscience also told me that mass wasn't necessary. I didn't "feel" close to God at mass and, you know, Christianity is ALL about how we "feel", right? I thought pre marital sex was only wrong if I felt it was wrong. In a committed dating relationship it didn't feel wrong to me. I didn't see how birth control could be wrong? What did the Church want us to do? Have a million babies? We all know those Catholic families who have soooo many children. That's great for them, but, ummm, no thank you. Obviously NFP doesn't work. I took a strong stance on a social issue that is close to my heart (and remains close to my heart) and shouted from the rooftop how unloving and angry Christians were to not allow everyone to do what they pleased. I don't think I ever said the word "atheist" in reference to myself, but if I really took a long, hard look in the mirror, that's EXACTLY what I was. I was fairly certain there was no God. Or, if there was, I got to decide what he was like and what he did or didn't approve of. I made up my own rules. I would loudly and passive aggressively mock how "everyone thinks THEIR religion is the right one" and "God is like Santa for adults". I was lost. I didn't know I was lost. I had a great life. I was (and am) in an extremely healthy and happy marriage. I had two children who were healthy and happy. My husband had a great job and was able to provide for our needs and all of our wants. We are surrounded by an extended family that loves us (and our kids) emphatically. There was nothing missing. Or so I thought.
Since I've been with Marvin, he's always suggested we go to mass. I've always told him I'd go if he wanted to, but that I didn't think mass was really NECESSARY, and plus, I don't feel close to God there. During Lent of this year, Marvin suggested we make it a Sunday family tradition to go to mass and then to have lunch at a restaurant. Wait, there's lunch involved? Ok! Sign me up! We began going to mass every Sunday (and to lunch after--don't forget lunch!!). Apart from showing up to mass once a week for one hour, I did exactly zero things to grow closer to Christ. I didn't spend any time thinking about Christ, actually. I lived my life normally and went to mass once a week. Then, one day after we had gone to mass for several Sundays, I realized two things were changing: 1- I had an inner peace I'd never had in my life. Things that would have previously bothered me, were no big deal. I never felt like my life was turbulent, and I'm not sure it was, but all of a sudden there was peace. Peace that I didn't even know I was lacking. And, 2-I realized just how flawed I was. And I wondered why I was so quick to judge EVER-Y-ONE if I was so flawed. I was SOOOO full of myself and had such a sanctimonious and entitled attitude. My eyes opened up and I saw my sinfulness. I literally did nothing to warrant these two changes. I didn't pray. I didn't desire to grow closer to Christ (at least not a desire that I was aware of). I did nothing. I showed up to church, sat in a pew, tried to get Elaina to whisper, tried to keep Dane from crying and then we left. The end. And yet, I realized two pretty big things had changed within me. (I now recognize this was the Holy Spirit, but at the time if someone had suggested that to me, I would've been extremely uncomfortable.) I started to think, if I could change (with zero participation and minimum effort) what would happen if I actually CARED?
I began learning about the Church from the craziest source...... the Church. I read the Catechism. Cover to cover. There was pretty much nothing in it that didn't make sense. Wait, so Catholicism isn't silly? I read alot. Wait, religion wasn't just something that dumb people do? One thing that I read during my discovery really stuck out to me (and has remained with me since): There are things that you and I cannot wrap our heads around. For example, can you LOGICALLY think of a way that your little feeble brain can wrap its head around the fact that Jesus was both God and man? I know I can't. Maybe my faith is lacking, but that's something that's pretty difficult for me to understand. But, guess what? We're not going to understand everything. I realized that expecting to understand everything is silly. I realized it was vain of me to categorize things as lies simply because I didn't understand them. It's like telling a 7 year old that the Earth is round. He can look WITH HIS OWN EYES and see that the Earth is, in fact, flat. There are probably very few 7 year olds who can conceptually grasp the fact that the Earth is round even though everything they see looks flat. We can tell them that the Earth is round, and they can take our word for it, but understand- probably not. That's how faith is. We aren't the pinnacle of intelligence. We aren't the end all be all. We are human and that means flawed. We can't expect to understand everything and we can't say something is a lie simply because we cannot understand it. It's unrealistic. I mean, Quantum Physics is a thing, and I don't get THAT.
I knew there were two pretty fundamental teachings that would be challenging for me: birth control and homosexuality. We weren't ready to have another baby just yet (and adopting the Church's teaching meant changing and trusting and that's HARD) and my strong views on homosexuality made me nervous to dig too deeply into either arena. I "knew" that what the Church taught was pretty polar opposite to what my heart said, and so I avoided these two topics. I prayed that God would be patient with me. I read books about Church teaching. I started praying. I went to confession. I participated. I thought the Catholic church was just one (of many ways) to grow closer to Christ. It wasn't necessarily the "right" religion. Such a thing didn't exist, I thought. People picked the faith that worked for them--the religion that "felt" (there's that word again) right. The Catholic church was all I knew so that's where I began. And then, I read Scott Hahn's books. The way he explained the mass brought tears to my eyes. I read and read and read and read. Someone suggested I read Christoper West's "Good News About Sex & Marriage". So, I did, and I learned (for the first time, really) what sex was. Sex is a physical expression of love between a married man and woman in which the couple is open to the gift of children from God. So, sex should be unitive and open to children. I learned how man desires to separate sex from marriage and children. How man desires to have all the feel good parts of sex without the responsibility part of sex. I learned how, since the popularization of birth control, adultery -and by proxy divorce- has been on the rise. Sex, in our culture, means something that is supposed to feel good. We've made sex into something that is about US, not, as it should be, about giving fully of yourself to your spouse. I came to the realization that the Catholic Church is right. Not every church. Not whatever you want to do. Not however I choose to do it. Not wherever I "feel" I should be. There is an authority, and I'm not that authority. The Catholic Church is the authority. We have somewhere to turn when we don't understand something. There is a uniformity that is beautiful and unique to the Church. Our faith isn't case by case. You can visit a Catholic Church in Ville Platte, Louisiana and a Catholic Church in San Francisco, California and in Brazil and in France and the same thing is happening at each of these churches. Again, please remember that this is my conversion story. It's what happened to me. I do not judge you. Truly. I'm too busy being grossed out with my own sinfulness to even pay attention to yours.
Reading the Church's teachings about sex made. so. much. sense. I mean, it isn't easy to change. It was difficult, actually. But that's one thing I've learned through this process (and something I'm constantly trying to remember) that just because something is RIGHT doesn't mean it's EASY. Being a Catholic is HARD, but it's worth it. I learned through my journey (which I'm still on, and will always be on--the journey never ends) that NFP does work! God created a woman's body in a way that she is only fertile in phases. It's amazing how little I, and I'm going to assume alot of women are this way, knew about my body. Some Catholic families have a lot of kids, yes. But, I know now that, generally, that's because their view of children is different from the mainstream. A big family is not a sign that NFP doesn't work. A big family is a sign of being open to God's love and gifts.
I began saying the rosary daily. I took some meaningful time at the end of each day to examine my conscience and pray. Confession became something I scheduled in my calendar. My faith grew. When you put your time, love and energy into something that area blossoms, and my love of Christ blossomed. I hope that no one is reading this thinking I'm the pinnacle of holiness because.... just, no. I'm so, so, so flawed. I'm going to just go ahead and put myself on blast: One area that I really struggle with is gossip. I think alot of women can relate. Sometimes I am so eager to bash my neighbor it's embarrasing. Sometimes I am with a group of friends and I feel that I have to join in so I'm not silent in the conversation. Sometimes I feel like I have absolutely nothing to talk about if I don't gossip. That's sad. And, it sucks, but I'm real and I struggle. The closer you get to God the more visible your sinfulness is to you. All I have to say is: the poor Saints! I annoy myself and let myself down daily- hourly.
I learned alot about suffering-- little, small sufferings and big sufferings and how wonderful they can be. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true.
I'm going to share something personal with you. When I began on this road, I had a hard time believing that God existed. I mean, isn't that the very center of all things faith? The most central teaching upon which all other teachings are built and I wasn't even certain it was legit. So, I prayed. I generally pray with the help of a prayer journal. The prayer journal helps to keep my mind from wandering. When I would take some time to pray, I would ask that God increased my faith. Then after a while I decided that I would make a promise. I would be obedient even if my faith was lacking. I would respect and follow the Church's teaching even if it's not what I would do if left to my own devices. I prayed that prayer for a while. And then time passed and one day it was apparent to me that God had answered my prayers. I know God exists now. I doubted God was real. I prayed to God to help me believe. I believe in God now. There wasn't an explosion. The world didn't end. An angel didn't come to me while I slept. I asked God to increase my faith. I told him I would obey his Church even when I didn't understand and then one day my faith increased. I've had SO MANY experiences like this (answered prayers) throughout the past several months that it would take all day for me to list them here. I think it's so beautiful how I sometimes pray for something and then one day, randomly, I realize that God answered my prayer and I didn't even notice. If you've never had this experience, I know it's hard to understand, but it's real. I pray now that God's will be done in all situations. There was a time I was scared to resign myself to God's will. I was scared to pray "your will be done". What if his will meant my life would get hard? So instead I prayed for the strength and trust to pray that God's will be done, and then one day, I trusted! I'm rambling now.
Anyway, I've changed. Yes. It's not an insult. It doesn't hurt me if you tell me that you see "I've been getting into the holy stuff". It's a compliment. It's 100% ok if what I post on Facebook (about motherhood or God or my walk with Christ or whatever) annoys you. It's ok if you think it's silly. It's ok if you think that faith is all good and fine, but I need to keep it to myself. It's ok. Because my pride-o-meter could stand to be lowered a few million degrees. It's all ok. We're only on this world for a short time and there is forever waiting on the other end of death, and I've decided I'm not wasting my time any longer!