I’m just finishing up Rediscover Catholicism. This book has changed my life. I am so encouraged and inspired to live a better life today; to be the person God created me to be today; to really try to eliminate bad habits and replace them with good habits today; to nourish my soul today.In the last section of the book, Matthew Kelly talks about evangelization and how we should be excited to share our faith. Most of us shy away from sharing our faith, because let’s face it, religion is not everyone’s favorite topic. Kelly writes: “Tell your story. Stories change peoples’ lives.” I am finally going to tell mine.
I was born and raised in Switzerland by my American father and Swiss mother. My mother grew up Catholic, but she says she was “sacramentalized, not catechized”. She was the oldest of seven, and at the young age of 15, started working in an apprenticeship. By the time she met my father, at the age of 24, she hadn’t been a practicing Catholic for years. My father practiced no faith in particular until he became a born-again-Christian, shortly before he met my mother. My parents were practicing Evangelical Protestants, taking us children to church and Sunday school every week. I grew up with a love for Jesus. I knew all the Bible stories and always believed that they were true. I grew up talking to Jesus, like I would talk to my friends.
When I was 11 years old, we moved to the United States. My grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer’s and the best nursing home in town was failing at caring for her properly, so my parents gave up everything to move to the States to take care of her. My mother, who is a Swiss registered nurse, spent two challenging years caring for my grandmother, who often screamed and shouted in her confused mental state. I didn’t know my grandmother, but I am forever grateful that we moved from Switzerland to take care of her. My parents showed me that the greatest thing in life is love. When it comes down to it, you love. One hot summer day, my grandmother died peacefully in our home, two years after we moved to Nebraska to take care of her.
In Omaha, my parents sent us to a non-denominational private school for the elementary years. We attended an Assembly of God church. I was very involved in the church, volunteering on Sundays in addition to the church service, going to prayer and worship services on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. As I got older, I served on the leadership team for the youth group. By the time I attended the public high school, I was strong and confident in my faith. In high school I was never tempted to do the stupid things that high school students try out. I never smoked a cigarette in my life and I couldn’t tell you what marijuana tastes like, much less smells like. And boys? I didn’t want to have anything to do with those “immature losers” that went to my school.
Because I had gone to a private grade school, my best friends in high school turned out to be girls who also went to private grade schools. My best friends were Catholic, Catholic, Catholic, and Lutheran. This was the first encounter I had ever had with Catholics who actually practiced their faith. I don’t know where it came from, but I was very anti-Catholic. I was sure that Catholics were not even Christians and that they were all going to hell because they worshiped statues at their churches. I was very arrogant about my faith and I evangelized daily to my friends, hoping to entice them to come to my church and be “saved”. I had no idea, at the time, that the forceful and close-minded way that I was speaking to my friends, was the worst way to evangelize. I was not being Jesus to my friends. I wasn’t mean or anything…well, I did make my friend Mary cry at least once, accusing her of worshiping a Mary statue at her local parish, because I saw her genuflect. So, yes, I think I was very mean at times in the way I spoke, even though I never said a bad word.
In reality, I had no idea what Catholics believed. I only assumed. I had never studied Catholicism. My own mother had never mentioned anything Catholic to me, ever. I didn’t even know what or who the Pope was. I didn’t know what the Mass was. I had never heard of the Eucharist. All I believed was that the Bible was the one truth, the only truth and that if it wasn’t in the Bible it isn’t true and you were going to hell. It seems ridiculous now, to look back and see how arrogant and ignorant I was; how I thought that a little church, that just celebrated its 75th birthday, could be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Boy was I wrong. And I found out too.
I was 17 years old, a junior in high school, when I came home one day to my mother who was sitting at the kitchen table quietly, thinking about something. She had me sit down and proceeded to tell me that she was becoming Catholic. I did a double take. “Catholic? What on earth would possess a person to become a Catholic?”, I thought to myself. My mother searched my face for a shocked reaction, but she did not find one. Instead of being angry and appalled, like the rest of my family was, I remember thinking quietly about what my mother had said. The only thing I wanted to know was: “Why?”
I don’t even remember exactly what my mother said. It turns out her best and longest friend at the protestant church was becoming Catholic. Not just the friend, but the entire family. Remembering her childhood, she was drawn to learn more. Her friend shared a Scott Hahn book with her, Rome Sweet Home, and the next thing you knew, she was asking my Dad for permission to get their marriage blessed. I’m sure her re-version (as she calls it) process was longer and deeper than this, but she kept so quiet about it, that it really seemed like it happened this fast.
My mother gave me a few books, one of which was Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, and I began to realize that there were Catholics out there who knew exactly what they believed, who had it all written down in thousands of books and documents, who could prove their church history went back 2000 years to Jesus Himself, who founded it. I was amazed. I began to think. Everything I read made sense. When I first learned about the Holy Eucharist, and Who it really was, I was convinced that I had to become Catholic.
I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I had to be a part of this church, that so clearly followed exactly what Jesus began at the Last Supper, a passage I knew so well, but had never really understood, while sitting in protestant church, eating the cracker and sipping the grape juice. Now I understood the words that Jesus spoke in Matthew 26:26:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
John 6 came alive to me. It made so much sense to me. It was all there, in the Bible. How did I, a protestant who took the Bible literally, ignore this very important part? The words jumped out at me, clear as day:
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. (v. 35)
I am the bread of life. (v. 48)
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. (v. 51)
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. (v. 53)
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (v. 54)
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. (v. 55)
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (v. 56)
Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. (v. 57)
This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. (v. 58)
I believed wholeheartedly and I could not wait to become Catholic. I practically said: “Where do I sign up?”, only to find out, I’d have to wait nine months. I began the Right of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) in September of 2000. Longest nine months of my life. I kept reading and thinking. I read everything I could get my hands on about Catholicism and I learned so much. You might think it would have been difficult for me to join the church after I was so anti-Catholic, to go to the same churches with the same statues that I was sure my friend was worshiping. But it was so easy.
I knew, deep in my heart, that God was calling me to become Roman Catholic, and because I already loved Jesus, and had many times before told Him that I would do anything He asked me to do, I embraced the whole Roman Catholic church and all of its teachings. I knew there were some things I didn’t understand yet, but I also knew and trusted that God would reveal them to me in time. I entered into the Roman Catholic Church on Easter Vigil in May of 2001, my mother as my sponsor. It was the happiest day of my life.
This is my conversion story. I am still learning so much. I am amazed at the richness of our Catholic faith. I could spend every day of my life reading and never truly understand the wonder at God and how much He loves us.