One very hot summer several years ago, I went on a three week vacation to visit family, and my husband Stephen stayed behind. When I returned, I asked him how his three weeks had gone.
“Great,” he said. “I went to Mass all three Sundays.” My stomach turned and formed itself into a knot. I didn’t have a response.
The next Sunday, I went to the Inquirer’s Class at our Presbyterian Church. Stephen and I had gotten into a discussion about whether or not to join our PCA church, or to begin attending the Catholic Mass and considering the RCIA program. From my actions, you can tell where I stood at that point, four years ago.
I tried to get into going to the Inquirer’s Class without Stephen, but I had a big, empty chair next to me that felt even bigger in a spiritual sense. Something isn’t right….I kept thinking. And in fact, as the meetings progressed the next couple of Sundays, I could feel myself withdrawing. Stephen and I had had too many discussions where we both ended up in tears. But more often than not, we were crying from joy at our sweet discovery and deep conviction that God was bringing us home.
As Stephen and I had discussion after heated discussion, I finally said, “Enough! I don’t want to talk to you about the issue for at least three weeks. I want to spend some time doing some reading on my own, without any discussion.” During that time of soul-searching, I read the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. I was transformed. I also read excerpts from St. Francis de Sales’ book Introduction to The Devout Life. I had grown up with a love for St. Thomas A Kempis’ book Imitation of Christ, so I kept that on my nightstand. Those and a few other books from the local Catholic parish, and a few run-ins with a few Catholic friends of mine, and serious time in prayer, and I came to be convinced that God was truly calling us to start going to Mass.
When I tell my story, I am not trying to convert anyone. Neither was Stephen, when he told his story. But, it all started because Stephen studied Great Books at St. John’s College. He likes to tell people that he read Aquinas and Augustine, and the rest is history. He was on the Catholic bandwagon long before I was. But I do want to share more of my side of the story, simply because it begs to be shared. Why would a devout Presbyterian Christian, who went to Protestant college decide to become Catholic at the age of 28 years old? That’s a valid question. I definitely became Catholic apart from my husband. I definitely had my own personal journey of conviction.
In college, I read Dante’s Divine Comedy. I had an amazing teacher, who was into something called Poetry Therapy. He went to the hospital on a regular basis to read poetry to people who were dying. He had a son who had died in a routine surgery as a young child. This large poem was my first encounter with Classic literature written from a Catholic perspective. The next semester, I had a Catholic professor who taught on the book of Job. It was the first time I understood the book of Job. I pondered suffering in a new way- in a Catholic sense. I saw suffering is part of sharing in the road of Calvary, as I learned and heard talk of the Stations of the Cross. I could see the contrast in Jesus still on the cross in the crucifix, and an empty cross such as is seen in Protestant churches. I read The Consolation of Philosophy, another Catholic book. This book was my departure from Calvinist thinking about Predestination. I started to see our free will and God’s plan very differently after reading it.
I was at a Protestant school where the Resurrection was being doubted by many of the professors in the Religious Studies department, but at the same time, I was learning about the mortal sins by reading Dante, pondering suffering in light of a Catholic response to Job, and doubting some of the major tenents of reformed doctrine through my reading of The Consolation of Philosophy. On top of all that, my closest friend Sophomore year was raised Catholic. I spent Thanksgiving with her family, and her brother – now a Catholic Priest- explained to us the Holy Presence of Christ in the Eucharist at Thanksgiving dinner! I marvelled that the word Eucharist means Thanksgiving.
If you aren’t sure about the truly spiritual nature and spiritual power of the sacraments, ask any Catholic, or read the Catholic Catechism. Truly efficacious in administering grace are Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Baptism, Confession (or, the Rite of Reconciliation), Marriage, and Last Rites. As an aside, the beauty of being Catholic is that Confession is a sacrament. You do not have to go to Catholic Confession to receive forgiveness for sins. But it gives much grace when it is viewed as, and acted upon, as a Sacrament.
If you pray about it, God shows up. For me, he showed up abundantly. He showed up in the form of a dinner party with some friends who were already Catholic and had walked the road of conversion before us. He showed up in the form of several women I became friends with in MOPS- one Catholic, one married to a Catholic. He showed up in the form of my midwife for Frances’ birth, who was a convert from a PCA church to Catholicism. He showed up in my husband’s life in the form of many close friends and a small group of guys. And he showed up abundantly all throughout our RCIA class and many, many conversations with my husband and our friends.
I started going to the little prayer chapel at St. Mary’s in Annapolis. It was a beautiful, peaceful retreat but it felt scandalous to pray there at first. Eventually, everything flipped, and it started to feel scandalous- or at least very strange- to call myself a Presbyterian. I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. In tears, I told my parents, “We’re becoming Catholic, this Easter.” While I feel that some of my traditions and beliefs from my childhood have been lost, much more often, I feel that many missing pieces of my faith have been filled out since becoming Catholic. I have heard it called ‘the fullness of the faith,’ and that is exactly what the word Catholic means- pertaining to the whole.
Soon after our conversion and Confirmation, we watched friends walk through a debilitating storm of sadness, when their 6-year-old son died in a tragic incident. The experience opened my eyes. Knowing that when I die, I will have last rites and Holy Communion – Lord willing- is also a comfort. When others die, knowing that our Mother is praying for them, is a comfort. The Rosary- a new thing for me- became a big support in my personal and community life. Through the events of walking through my own personal struggles such as depression, and our familial struggles, Christ has sustained me. The Eucharist has sustained me. I am proud to be Catholic.
Entering a Catholic church, the sight of children quietly kneeling, still leaves me flabbergasted after being Catholic for two years. Growing up in a church where nursery was provided until age 6, where they bring Communion to you as you remain seated, on a silver platter no less, made the processional of Holy Eucharist feel quite foreign for me. I feel like I’m very behind, but I also feel a sweet challenge when I think of all there is to learn.
In this Easter season, I write this five months pregnant and sick with the flu. If you’re Catholic, take a minute this Eastertide, and encourage a new Catholic sometime. It is not easy being a convert. We envy you cradle-Catholics; you don’t know how much.
Copyright 2013 Tacy Beck