Every devout Catholic over the age of twenty is, in some way, a convert. -Joseph Wood
At my first confession upon returning home to the Catholic Church, I nervously introduced myself to my priest by explaining that I became a Christian at the age of sixteen. He was quick to correct me, for I was a Christian long before then. At my baptism twenty four years earlier, I became a Christian as a newborn and not a moment later [Matt 12:13; CCC 1267]. It is with my baptism that my story begins, for through my baptism I was given grace from God to follow where He led. In November of 1986 I was baptized into the Catholic Church and received the “indelible spiritual mark” of my belonging to Christ [CCC 1266, 1273]. How blessed I was to receive the graces of Holy Baptism so early in my life. How evident His graces would become.
I grew up in a loving home with wonderful parents who made great sacrifices to provide me with a Catholic education. I attended a Catholic school for most of my elementary years and received religious formation classes right alongside all my other academic subjects. My classmates and I attended mass twice a week during school hours at a tiny white church located across the street from the school. My teachers often picked me to do mass readings and in fourth grade I was one of the preferred altar servers too. I had some very good teachers, earned good grades, and formed close friendships with the other girls in my class. It was a very happy time in my life.
Despite all the wonderful aspects of my childhood, I kept a secret: deep down, I did not believe in God. It was not due to any rebellion I could identify; to the contrary, I wanted to believe. My secret was a terrible burden to bear. However, I simply…couldn’t. I prayed occasionally to the God I was unable to accept: “If you’re there God, please prove it to me.” It simply seemed far too likely to me that God was just a ploy to get people to behave a certain way, almost like a Santa Claus but on a larger scale. I vividly recall the tremendous guilt I felt within me on the day of my First Communion. A beautiful dress, a wonderful party, family there to celebrate…and I was a fraud. At eight years old, I really was a true atheist.
Matters had not improved in eighth grade when it was time for Confirmation preparation. I was still a self-proclaimed atheist and now I was also a rebellious adolescent. I fought with my parents constantly and begged them outright to let me skip my faith formation classes. On the night of my Confirmation, I threw a fit so outrageous that I was actually screaming, swearing, and throwing things in rage. At the last minute I pulled myself together and went through the ceremony. No sense in repeating my religious ed classes, I reasoned. I cringe to recall that night.
In May of 2003, my parents made the decision to leave the Catholic Church. At the time, I was unaware of the reasons behind their decision. I also didn’t care. To me it made no difference where I “wasted” my Sunday mornings. We began attending an Assemblies of God church in our hometown and my parents, brother, and sister loved it immediately. But after just two weekends of attending services, I’d had enough. Under no circumstances was I, a sixteen year-old adult for heaven’s sake, going to spent two hours in church on Sunday morning! Wasn’t the forty-seven minute mass at our former church unbearable enough?! It got worse: our new church offered a Wednesday evening Bible study (also two hours) and I would be required to attend with the family. Needless to say, I reigned terror upon our home at least twice a week. When I realized that I was not getting out of attending church services or Bible study, I instead focused my efforts on being rebellious in other ways. I purposefully dressed inappropriately and spent the majority of the service being as rude as possible by texting, doodling, and otherwise making it abundantly clear that I wasn’t paying a bit of attention. My parents simply looked the other way. (Great will be their reward in heaven, I just know it.)
By September we’d been attending the Assemblies of God church for a few months. School was back in session and I was still rebelling hard against the Wednesday night Bible studies. I refused to attend the youth services down the hall and instead opted to continue my pouting alongside my parents in the main auditorium. The next part of my story is always the most difficult to retell because it is indeed the most dramatic. On September 10, 2003, I trudged into the church behind my parents for Bible study. And at some point during that service, I received the gift of faith. One moment I sat in the seat an angry teenager; the next I was a believer in the Lord and would have readily laid down my life to prove it. The change was as substantial as night and day and downright startling. My eyes could see, my ears could hear, my mind could accept. I have spent many years reflecting on this moment in my life. Was it the pastor’s words? A powerful sermon? A new take on a passage of Scripture? While our pastor was a fantastic speaker and full of fervor for the Lord, I honestly cannot remember the sermon or the topic of the Bible study that particular night. I eventually concluded that this must have been the moment that I was “saved” or in other words, the beginning of my Christian journey. Today I regard that moment as “the hour I first believed,” a movement of my heart by the Holy Spirit [Matt 16:17; CCC 153]. Not many people are blessed to experience such definitive, palpable grace. I’ll never forget that night as long as I live.
Life changed dramatically for me in the weeks and months that followed. I eagerly attended Sunday services with my family. I decided to join the youth group on Wednesday nights. My best friend and I experienced a deepening of our friendship as I admitted to her (in a very long letter) that I was once a secret atheist and only now had faith in Christ. My devoutly-faithful friend was so excited to read my letter that she sneaked out of her history class to find me in chemistry, drag me into the hallway, and hug me for what must have been ten minutes. She and I became even more inseparable as friends and regularly attended youth group together, formed Bible studies at school, and traveled to youth camps during the winter and summer breaks. It was at this time that I began dating the man who would eventually become my husband. He too had become a faithful Christian in recent years. Our relationship was founded on our shared faith from the start.
I graduated high school in 2005. God’s providence led my boyfriend and me to the same geographical area for college in DeKalb, Illinois. College courses, jobs, and new friends consumed much of our time but our relationship as a couple continued to grow. Together we participated in Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity, Bible studies in the dorms, and traveled on missions trips around the country. We formed close friendships with other Christians. On Sundays we attended a non-denominational church with our college “family” and grew tremendously in our faith through studying the Word and remaining in close fellowship with other church members in weekly small group settings. On Tuesday evenings we would meet at the home of one of the church elders, study the Bible, share prayer needs, and remember the Lord through communion. Usually the elements of this communion observance were bread or crackers and some juice. The moment was very meaningful for all of us. Tuesdays were always a highlight of the week.
During our sophomore year of college, my boyfriend proposed to me. We were married the following summer in August of 2007 in a beautiful ceremony at the Assemblies of God church where I had first received faith in Christ four years earlier. During the ceremony, my pastor looked at me and said “When I met your family, your parents were worried about you. They prayed that you would find faith, and we are all so full of joy to see the faith you have today.”
Our joy in the vocation of marriage was felt from the first days following our wedding. My husband and I absolutely adored married life! Though still busy college students, we adjusted to our roles as husband and wife with remarkable ease. God blessed us with continued growth in our relationship together and with the Lord. In 2008, our faith was challenged in a very particular way. Through the friendship of a woman I regarded as my spiritual mentor, I was confronted with convictions about family planning and the use of artificial contraceptives. Together, my husband and I came to realize that God wanted us to trust in Him to bless us with children in His timing instead of ours. For this type-A control freak, the idea was a terrifying leap of faith that I tried so very hard to “get out of.” With the strong support of my husband and much prayer we decided to stop looking for loopholes and follow God’s command to be open to life.
One frustrating feeling during this time was a sense of isolation in our beliefs about heeding the call to “be fruitful and multiply.” We did not know any other Christians who shared this value with us aside from my friend and mentor many states away. Our conviction on this matter was quite strong and we were shocked to learn that not a single (Protestant) church in our community held this belief in their statement of faith or even preached it from the pulpit. At best, the topic of openness to life was regarded as a private conviction that could be either accepted or disregarded from couple to couple. Despite the fact that birth control had been universally rejected by Christians until fairly recently in church history, it appeared that this value had simply “gone out of style.” We were discouraged and felt very alone.
Having concluded that no church would ever be 100% correct in all teachings, we decided to continue attending the church in our college community that we had come to call home. Though the teaching and fellowship were valuable to us, I was feeling unsatisfied with my depth of knowledge about my own faith. It was at this point that I delved into the world of theology for the first time. For whatever reason, my intellect was naturally drawn to the theologians of the sixteenth century. I became enamored with Calvinist theology and for the first time began to examine the documents, creeds, and writings of the Reformation era. I devoured books and articles about TULIP, covenant theology, and the five solas of the Reformation. Studying this “Reformed” approach to Christianity provided me with a new lens with which to decipher my Christian journey. It wasn’t long before I began thanking God for my salvation with renewed fervor – particularly, for “saving me” from the Roman Catholic Church. As time wore on, I became increasingly appalled at my unfortunate Romanist roots and couldn’t believe that I’d come so close to such evil heresy. Popes? Worshiping Mary? Praying to dead people? Re-sacrificing Christ every Sunday on an altar? That certainly wasn’t in my Bible! In my mind, the cult of Catholicism was positively not a Christian religion. As a “survivor” of the Catholic Church, I made it my special mission to educate my misguided Catholic friends and lead them to the true gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel free of works-salvation and idolatry. I was re-baptized and distinctly remember testifying from the baptismal font that God had saved me from the clutch of Catholicism, oh praise the Lord.
As the book of Proverbs tells us, pride comes before a fall. Such was the case for me in the midst of my preoccupation with Reformed theology. Out of nowhere, on an otherwise normal weekday, a startling thought occurred to me: It is unreasonable to believe that the Bible is the sole comprehensive authority for our faith. I almost heard Calvin turn in his grave! But I couldn’t shake the questions: Why do I believe this Bible is an exhaustive volume of divine revelation? How did this “book of books” become my sole source of authority on the things of God? This text, and nothing else? How do we know? Though once an enthusiastic cheerleader for sola scriptura, I had never stopped to ponder these questions before. I did some research about the history of the bible, focusing especially on how the canon was determined. I found no evidence to suggest that the bible was ever intended to become our sole source of revelation. Surely my intelligent Christian friends would have a sensible explanation. They did not. The most satisfying answer I received was that it was just “a matter of faith.” Most of my friends couldn’t understand why I was so bothered by this issue to begin with. The Bible is inspired because…it is! To me, this was a terribly weak argument for a doctrine with such vast implications. Suddenly I felt relief – I had a very learned friend who attended a Reformed seminary! Surely he could help me with these silly questions of mine. I poured out my struggles to him and he kindly sent me two books written by one of the most respected thinkers in Reformed theology, Dr. James White. I was familiar with Dr. White and admired him tremendously. I was so confident he could satisfy my queries that I almost didn’t even bother reading the books when they arrived, as if the existence of the titles alone was proof that I had agonized for nothing. When I finally read the books, I knew my faith was in serious trouble: even Dr. White couldn’t dispel my concerns. His defense of sola scriptura was interesting but very clearly just a long-winded attempt to justify a thoroughly unbiblical concept. I was crushed. My longtime acceptance of “self-attesting scripture” was indeed a fallacy that could not be defended by even the most intelligent of modern theologians. Sola scriptura, a foundational tenet of my faith, simply didn’t make logical sense anymore. The brick wall in front of me caused great distress in the weeks that followed. I lost countless hours of sleep. How could faith so real be founded on a doctrine so untenable? And why did I feel like the only Christian on earth who struggled with this matter? I continued to read the Scriptures and hold them in high regard as the inspired word of God, but I knew something was missing. I pressed on in my faith comforted only in the desperate hope that I was doing my best with “the bible alone.” Years later, I would recognize this crisis of faith as my first step in the direction of the Catholic Church.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, my crisis of faith was only beginning. My dear friend, my spiritual mentor whom I deeply admired, the woman who inspired me in every possible way with her faith, her motherhood, her example, had been doing some studying too. Her convictions on openness to life, discoveries about church history, careful studies of the early church patristic writings (Oh no please don’t say it…), apostolic authority, and Eucharistic theology (Oh my goodness no!…) was leading her directly to the Roman Catholic Church. She was converting. My discerning, logical, sane friend was actually going to take RCIA classes and join the Roman Catholic Church! After receiving this news, I reacted with shock. I cried, I panicked, I prayed. My husband thought there was something wrong with me, and indeed there was. I was losing my closest sister in Christ to outright apostacy! When I calmed down, I consoled my hurting heart by vowing to God that I would set her straight. I would never let this happen. After all, I used to be a Catholic before becoming a Christian. Didn’t she know that? I knew what Catholics believed and surely she did not understand the kind of dangerous territory she had gotten herself into. As the months toward Easter dragged on, I was devastated to realize that my friend did not find my arguments against Catholicism to be particularly convincing. I was also disturbed to learn that a vast majority of my arguments were faulty and my understanding of Catholic teaching was far less impressive than I’d originally thought. I gave up my mission and was forced to accept that my friend was really going to do this. I shed many tears on Easter Saturday knowing full well that she and her husband would be initiated into the Church that very night. I’d have never in a million years admitted it at the time, but my grief was part of a bigger picture. Deep down, I knew that I was going to have to reevaluate the Catholic Church for myself. It wouldn’t be anytime soon, but someday I would…just to be absolutely sure. To witness a serious Christian so firm in her faith convert to Catholicism shook me to my very core.
In May of 2009, our first daughter was born. God blessed us with a perfect little girl and we were ecstatic. We decided to have her dedicated during a service at my parents’ church. It was a beautiful ceremony that we will always remember fondly. Dedicating her to God felt like the right thing to do, but my head hurt to even begin to discern whether the practice itself was the proper and biblical way to introduce our child to the Christian faith. I was burned out from my unsuccessful search for a church that held to the doctrines of justification and baptism and moral issues as we had come to accept them. The joy of new parenthood was shadowed by a feeling of despair and continued loneliness in our faith.
I now had several Catholic friends and while they were wonderful people, I was at least sure of the fact that I would never become a Roman Catholic. Oh sweet certainty! With clear points of disagreement established, I was able to cultivate friendships while practicing tolerance to the best of my ability. Open dialogue between my Catholic friends and me remained civil for the most part, though I wouldn’t hesitate to point out “heresy” when I saw it. There were times when my friends would simply disengage from these discussions rather than debate with me. I found this to be both peculiar and very frustrating. My recently-converted Catholic friend offered to send me some apologetics books about Catholicism after one of our occasional doctrinal discussions. I resisted the temptation to feel suspicious and recognized that she was probably just hoping to help me understand her new faith a bit better. After all, I’d certainly been found to be lacking in my knowledge of the Catholic faith during the time of her conversion! I accepted her offer and soon received a box on my doorstep with a note: “Hopefully these books will give you a bit of insight into why a Christian might consider the Catholic Church.” There was no pressure to read them immediately or even at all. Just some books, a casual note, and even a few small baby gifts for our daughter. I appreciated the subtlety of the exchange. All three of the books appeared to be easy reads and I chose to start with the most obnoxious title: Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David Currie. A born again Catholic? Seriously? Oh, this would be good…
I opened the book with morbid curiosity. Admittedly, the author’s writing style was engaging enough. I was hooked on the narrative after chapter one and finished the book in a single weekend. When I’d read the final page however, I felt nauseous. What I had just read about Authority and Catholic Tradition had not only made sense to me, but it had immediately resolved many of my deep-seated issues with some related Protestant doctrines. What on earth? How could the God-forsaken Catholic Church have legitimate answers to questions that had plagued me for years? Praying to God that it was a coincidence or perhaps just my falling victim to biased propaganda, I grabbed the next book: By What Authority by Mark P. Shea. It was long, it was in-depth, and it satisfied every concern about sola scriptura that I had grappled with. According to what these Catholic apologists had to say, there was a church that made consistent and logical sense with its approach to the Bible. I just didn’t like where this was going. At all. The third and final book, “A Biblical Defense of Catholicism” by Dave Armstrong, left me in sheer panic: now Catholicism was even making sense from the Scriptures themselves. This was beginning to add up. I needed to read more. Immediately. The sooner I could put this matter to rest, the better.
What followed was a period of intense study and learning. Ever the busy mother, I did my reading at night while everyone was asleep. I acquired several other volumes and became very interested in reading about the Catholic mass. I’d sat through hundreds upon hundreds of masses as a child but never understood much about it. Now I was obsessively analyzing the different portions of the liturgy from the sign of the cross to the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” to the final benediction prayer. The deliberate significance of each of the liturgical elements was not something I remembered learning in Catholic school. Why hadn’t we learned this? Perhaps we had? Perhaps I never cared! I literally had no idea that what I’d once called “the same old boring routine!” was actually rich in meaning and deeply rooted in early Christian history. This was how the early Christians worshiped. These were the words that were said when the disciples gathered together to “break bread” as they did in the book of Acts. (Later I would learn about the connection between the mass and the Apocolypse, or the Book of Revelation. My mind could barely contain the awe.)
Oh yes, and speaking of “breaking bread.” Not a small matter for the devout Catholic. The Catholic Church teaches the doctrine of transubstantiation, that the communion elements of bread and wine are consecrated by the priest to substantially become Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity [John 6:22-71; CCC 1322-1419]. Catholics believe that when they receive Communion, they are literally receiving Christ. Of course, my Protestant mind balked at this teaching. I had always observed communion as bread and juice to symbolize Christ’s body and blood, an act of memorial and fellowship – nothing more, nothing less. Though the Catholic Church had impressed me with her other teachings, I did not expect to be convinced that Christ intended for us to literally consume Him in the Eucharist. What a ridiculous proposition! But in the spirit of intellectual integrity, I studied the Catholic position carefully and was absolutely astounded. Christ meant what He said – “This is my body…” - and it wasn’t a metaphor. My Protestant interpretation of the sixth chapter of the book of John could not withstand the rigors of critical examination. The Catholic interpretation, on the other hand, was logical, thorough, shockingly historical, loyal to the original Greek language, and most of all – right there in the Bible as plain as day! How could I have missed this? How could anyone miss this? There was no doubt left in my mind that Christ was substantially present in the Eucharist at every Catholic mass. The Eucharist became my “pearl of great price” and I knew, then and there, that I would have to give everything I had so I could have it.
Much like the days following “the hour I first believed,” life changed. I looked up the mass times for our local Catholic parish (all the while in my head thinking “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe I’m doing this.”). I attended my first mass as a believer in October of 2009 at the Newman Center on our college campus. It was a weekday mass and I had my infant daughter in tow. I remember being terrified that someone from my former church might see me as I rushed into the building. As I entered, the flood of memories began: the smell of incense, the wooden pews, the hushed reverence, the genuflecting. Then of course was the liturgy itself (which I had managed to retain in memory in its entirety)! As I spoke the responses aloud, I considered each phrase for the first time. How strange to speak such familiar words with brand-new comprehension. In many ways it felt like I had never left the Church; in other ways, it felt like my very first mass. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist I realized that I would be unable to receive Communion. Having left the Church, crusaded against her, and committed a litany of other awful sins, I knew I’d need to go to Reconciliation before I could be in full communion once again. It was a terrible reality, but a humbling and necessary one. Though unable to fully participate I sat in the pew during the Communion Rite, sleeping infant in arms, and thought to myself, “God is literally right there.” If it took a thousand years, I was going to come home.
I was terrified for my husband to come to mass with us that Sunday. Thus far, he had listened with interest as I shared my discoveries with him. He had done some reading of his own and from what I could tell, he had an open mind to follow the truth wherever it would lead him. Though also a (somewhat disillusioned) Calvinist like me, my husband had never harbored resentment towards Catholicism the way I did. In fact, he had always admired Catholics for their deep reverence for God and a strong commitment to their moral values. He’d agreed to go to mass with me to see things for himself. I was thrilled by his openness to the idea but I also realized that this could be the end of the journey for us as well. If there was one thing I knew about mass from my childhood, it was that it was a very different experience than what he had ever witnessed as Sunday worship. What if he freaked out? What if he thought we were participating in idolatry? Did he know there were kneelers? I felt like I held my breath for the entire mass. Afterwards I didn’t even have to ask him what he thought. He wanted to go back. Like me, he still had plenty of questions but knew that what he had just experienced was worth pursuing. We started attending mass at the Newman Center on most Sundays, occasionally making an appearance at our former church every few weeks. I made efforts to attend a weekday noon mass when I was able. The Newman Center had quickly become my favorite place on earth.
We continued to study our faith together at home. Beyond books, I also began regularly tuning in to EWTN on cable television. I loved listening to the conversion stories on their program “The Journey Home.” Some of the converts had even come to the Church after years spent as Protestant pastors! It was through this program that I was first introduced to Dr. Scott Hahn and his wife Kimberly, former Presbyterians and converts to the Catholic faith. Their story of conversion absolutely blew me away. I read Dr. Hahn’s classic book titled Rome Sweet Home and found myself able to relate to so much of his story. Like me, Dr. Hahn struggled deeply with the idea of self-attesting Scripture. Like me, he attended his first masses in secret (and praying all the while that no one would see him). And like me, he knew he would endure strained relationships with friends and family and rejection from his peers in order to buy his “pearl of great price.” Hearing his story encouraged me in so many ways. After Rome Sweet Home I began reading his theological volumes. What inspiration! What a gift from God to the Catholic Church. Dr. Hahn remains one of my favorite defenders of the faith to this day.
In the fall of 2010, we moved to a new home in a new community. We also found out we were expecting our second child. With the stress of the move and the exhausting fatigue of early pregnancy (which affected all of us), my husband did not enroll in RCIA classes at our new parish as planned. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to other factors at play. I had come to a stage of our journey that I like to call “paralysis by analysis.” We were 99% sure that we were being called to the Catholic Church, but that leftover 1% of doubt was hindering me very much. This reality was made worse as I experienced the first wave of criticism from some of my peers. For the most part, our foray into Romanist territory was still a secret. Our families didn’t know and we planned to keep it that way for a while; no sense in rocking the boat until we were certain. My friends, however, finally heard the news. My Catholic friends rejoiced, of course. How exciting it was to share my journey with them. Many other friends both Christian and otherwise were apathetic towards Catholicism and supported us with unbiased enthusiasm. Then came the inevitable negative reactions from my Calvinist friends. A few were cordial, but others were scathing. At one point I was publicly ridiculed on a former friend’s website and called a heretic, no longer to be considered a sister in Christ. It was difficult to bear these attacks with grace but as a former anti-Catholic myself I had to constantly remember that not long ago, I too waged these battles against my Catholic friends.
In an irony only God could orchestrate, one Catholic friend in particular reached out to me with encouragement and kindness during this trying time. The irony lay in the fact that not long ago I had railed against her Catholic faith with deliberate zeal. It was a wonder I hadn’t scared her away! In time, we became very close friends despite the limitations of an “online” friendship. Eventually she even trusted me enough to travel from Pittsburgh to visit! She visited multiple times and traveled many miles to spend time with us. On one of her visits she helped calmed my fears about going to my priest for Reconciliation. It had been over a decade since I’d gone to confession as a child and well…I had a lot to confess this time. Strangely, I wanted so badly to go. On a freezing December night my online friend from Pittsburgh, a woman I once persecuted for her Catholic faith, saw me through the doors of my priest’s office and then took a ridiculous picture of me in the parking lot on the way out. (Tell me now…is there anything God can’t accomplish through the internet?!) To my wonderful friend: you are a blessing from God. And to my priest, should he ever stumble upon this blog: may God bless you too. I was in there for…a while. And I cried a lot. (Every priest’s favorite combination, I’m sure.)
Over the course of my second pregnancy, I continued to feel the “analysis paralysis.” I was too Catholic to be a Protestant any longer, this I knew beyond a doubt. But was I Catholic enough to be…Catholic? Our second daughter was born in March of 2011 and despite the joy of her arrival I struggled to adjust to the demands of mothering two young children. There were weeks when even Sunday mass attendance didn’t happen. I felt very overwhelmed and as a result I regressed into a frustrating season of stubborn avoidance. In August, my best friend from high school (the one who had hugged me in the hallway back in 2003!) got married to the man of her dreams in a beautiful Catholic wedding. As a bridesmaid I spent considerable time in the church building during the weekend of her nuptials. I could feel the presence of Jesus in every moment spent near the altar and felt grieved by the fact that I was still, at the heart of it, a Catholic outside of communion with the Church. I’d had enough of my pity party. That was it! No more stagnation. No more worrying. It was time to curb my pride and my fear and heed God’s very clear call to the Catholic Church. To whom else could we go than to Christ Himself [John 6:68]?
That fall of 2011 my husband enrolled in RCIA classes at our church with the intention of being initiated into the Church at the Easter Vigil in April. As a non-Catholic convert to the faith, he would undergo these formation classes on a weekly basis for several months. The situation was a little different for me. Since as a child I had been baptized, received the Eucharist, and was Confirmed, I didn’t require the classes. If not for my responsibilities at home with the girls, however, I’d have loved to go with him. Instead we discussed his studies together at home each week.
My reversion reached its “technical” conclusion in early 2012. On February 10th my husband and I had our marriage blessed by the Church in what is known as a convalidation ceremony. As we were originally married outside the Catholic Church, our marriage was considered legal but not sacramental in nature. This ceremony would serve to elevate our marital union to a full and sacramental one [CCC 1601]. The ceremony was small and beautiful. Our friends (married the August before) served as witnesses to our vows. Not only could we now experience the fullness and grace of Catholic marriage, but this occasion also marked my final step in the process of being welcomed back to full communion with the Church. After four years of unbelievable highs and lows, I was now at home in the Church where I belonged. That weekend I was able to participate fully in the mass for the first time as finally, finally, finally my heart, mind, and faith were in complete union. As a child, I received Jesus in the Eucharist several times a week and couldn’t comprehend it. Now as an adult revert to the faith, the moment couldn’t have been more significant. I count it among the best of my life. Though I’m good with words, they fail me here.
Though the process of returning to the Church was complete for me, the feeling of joyful anticipation continued through Lent as my husband approached his initiation into the Church. The season of Lent was significant for me in other ways too as I devoted considerable time to revisiting my former Protestant faith tradition through the Catholic lens. After several years of immersion in Catholic apologetics, could I defend my faith against the criticism of non-Catholics? As strange as it sounds to spend Lent reading books hostile to Catholicism, that’s exactly what I did. I purposefully gathered works by known anti-Catholic authors and read them in an attempt to test my understanding of my own faith. It was a grueling and often frustrating exercise, but the process led to one very profound conclusion: my Church has something to say. She cannot be “stumped,” she cannot be painted into a corner. “Well that’s because it’s been around for two thousand years!” counter some critics. To this I say – exactly! Praise God! I belong to the one Church founded by Christ upon which the gates of hell will not prevail [Matt 16:18]. The gates of hell will not prevail against my Church, and they will not prevail against my faith. Amen, amen, in saecula saeculorum.
As Lent came to a close, my husband and I attended the Easter Triduum masses together (a stunning Tradition we’ve vowed to observe everysingleyearnomatterwhat!). Our excitement for Saturday was palpable. My dear friend from Pittsburgh once again traveled to be with us for the Easter Vigil mass to witness my husband’s initiation. Our friends who witnessed our marriage convalidation were there with us as well. The Vigil mass was indescribably beautiful and another night I will never forget. Three hours lapsed in what felt like mere minutes. We celebrated Easter with true and overwhelming joy. Finally. Thank you Jesus.
My story does not end here, though my perspective of eternity veils my future from plain sight. When I’m tempted to wonder why God led me down the “scenic route” to the fullness of my faith, I instead stop to appreciate the value of the scenery. The path was arduous and the struggles were many, but I have a faith that is unshakeable. I have a precious relationship with Jesus that has deepened after years of trusting Him with total and earnest abandon. My Catholic church does indeed have an altar call at every single mass, and Jesus is literally waiting there for me every time. It is doubtful that I will ever approach the altar with casual indifference the way I once did. I go forth in life with a glance behind me and a sobering realization: I almost missed out on this. I will never take my Catholic faith for granted.
In my days as a Protestant, I often described myself as “a recovering Catholic.” The term is commonly used by fallen-away Catholics who have rejected their faith. Now, however, I am a fully Recovered Catholic, for any person who is truly recovered will only be so when back in the fold of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. By the grace of God, I am truly recovered today.