This week, in honor of the holiest day of the year (a.k.a. EASTER) I thought I would share my conversion story.
I’ve always hesitated to share too much because I don’t want my parents or family or friends from my old church, many of whom I still see, to be upset or feel attacked. This is just my story. I’m just retelling things as I remember and how those events led to my eventual conversion to Catholicism.
I grew up at a Methodist church in Lancaster, PA. It was, and still is in many ways, a pretty traditional church; old hymns, everyone dressed up, and a quiet reverent manner during the service. My mother’s whole family attended this church, and many still do or at least they attend for special services. My cousins’ children are the fifth generation to attend. Family members have volunteered and worked in almost every capacity at that church.
For our family, Sundays meant attending church, visiting with friends and family there long after the service, and then often coming home and walking over to my grandparents house for dinner. At a fairly young age, I came to see church as a social outlet. Going there every week was something I did to see my friends and extended family, and have fun. I didn’t see how what I learned in Sunday school, or Children’s Church or Family Worship pertained to living my life during the week. It was just Bible stories, music, and general reminders to “Live out the Gospel message!”. We didn’t pray as a family or talk much about faith at home. I knew my mom attended her own Sunday school class and went on women’s retreats but I don’t recall that my father ever did, and he often did not attend Sunday services. I often wished I could skip the service and sit out in the church lobby with him. When we travelled, my mom would often take my sister and I to church. But I knew most of my family didn’t go to church when on vacation and I wondered why we couldn’t take Sundays off too. Church was where we saw friends and family: why go to church if we didn’t know anyone?
From listening in on conversations my parents had between each other and at extended family gatherings, I knew there were things they thought were wrong (living together before marriage, premarital sex, homosexuality) but I didn’t know why or what our church officially taught regarding those things. From the ten commandments I knew not to lie, steal, kill, or take the Lord’s name in vain but outside these guidelines, everything seemed grey and open to my interpretation. I learned about sex at school, from my friends, and I quickly absorbed whatever MTV taught me. The only lessons on dating, marriage, or sex I received at home were jokes about my dad’s gun collection. I based my morality on what my friends were doing or what I saw on TV without much thought that it might be wrong or sinful. I had a conscience, but if I felt bad about doing something, I didn’t know what to do with that guilt. If everyone around me said what I was doing was fine, why did I feel bad? In true Protestant fashion sometimes I would ask God to forgive me in a silent prayer, but did I need to ask for forgiveness every time I felt bad? Did I actually sin? Without absolutes, asking for forgiveness felt phony and pointless. And what if I did sin, and sined a lot? It still seemed to me that everyone got into heaven so what was I worried about?
As I got older and attended Christian summer camps and youth group activities, I had a lot of fun, but I didn’t feel particularly moved by faith at any point. In fact the religious components of any activity seemed to encroach on the flirting and typical teen banter that accompanied any such gathering.
During my Confirmation preparation, I asked questions of a minister who led classes and was often laughed at, and made to feel stupid. I learned to stop asking questions. For years I credited this man with single-handedly driving me away from Christianity. I didn’t want to be a part of the faith he practiced or preached. I was young and hurt and without any good formation it was easy to see now how these interactions could lead me away from believing in Christ. This pastor’s awful behavior was simply the final nail in the coffin.
By the end of high school I knew I still believed in God, but I wasn’t sure of what else. I would’ve told you I was a Christian but I questioned whether Jesus was the son of God; I didn’t see the point to all the stories I’d been told throughout my life. My childhood faith didn’t challenge me or ask anything of me. It was whatever I wanted it to be, which wound up not being much.
So I considered the alternatives. I read up on Wiccan beliefs and I was pretty sure I couldn’t believe any of that. Same for most eastern religions. It was around this time that I finally started hanging out with a fellow classmate, and my future husband Tony.
He was the first Catholic I knew. His family’s home was full of religious pictures, and he kept a rosary in his car. He obviously practiced his faith and it was important to him. As we started dating, he didn’t push his faith on me, but patiently answered all the questions I asked of him. (“What are these bead things?” “Well, who founded your church?”) If he didn’t know the answer, he looked it up, or found me a relevant book, but every question had an answer and it was never based on how he felt or his interpretation. It was rooted in scripture, tradition, and I’d soon come to see – truth.
Through the years, various people have asked to hear my conversion story, but I don’t know what to say since much of my conversion was simply based on the gut feelings I had back then that everything he told me, or that I read made sense. Initially, I wasn’t asking deep questions but as we continued to date, and I went to mass and asked more questions, the answers were still there and they all made sense. I was pretty much a blank slate I guess, but I never came across an answer that I rebelled against. Even Marian theology. I studied it a bit and was like, “Yup, perpetual virgin conceived without sin, carried the son of God in her womb, assumed into heaven. Let me get a statue of her.” There was a time when I did things I knew were wrong, but justified them by saying, “Well, I’m not a Catholic yet so those rules don’t apply to me.”, but I had to admit I accepted the theology that defined such acts as sinful.
I waited to enter RCIA until I graduated and lived on my own out-of-state. I joined the church on April 14, 2001 with Tony as my sponsor, and my parents in attendance. But that day really only marked the beginning of my conversion. Growing in my faith has been an ongoing journey; one marked with deliberate study, heartfelt conversations, and immense challenges. But even in the darkest of times, my rational mind knew the truth, even when living it joyfully seemed out of my reach.
So in case you missed it- I wasn’t converted by arguments and confrontation. Much of my journey was motivated by gut feelings and the example of various Catholics (Tony particularly and a few wonderful priests I met in college). I know that that is not a very convincing argument for people who don’t believe Catholicism is the one true faith, or are downright hostile to it. I don’t think my conversion story is a particularly radical example of God leading someone home, which is why I haven’t felt the need to share it before (in addition to the reasons listed above.) But I hope that now that I am Catholic, and a joyful one at that, God can work through my example (and maybe even this ridiculous blog??) to change hearts and open people’s eyes to Christ’s Church.
If you’ve got a conversion story, now’s the time to share it! If not, link up your posts below as usual. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes! I look forward to reading your posts! And Happy Easter!