Why would a 56-year-old Protestant decide to become a Roman Catholic?
The answer is simple: I finally heeded God’s call.
I was not raised a Catholic but always jumped at the chance of attending the Catholic Church. I loved the candles and the saints and the stained glass windows. I loved the altar and the priests and the prayers. Most of all, I loved the fact that the Catholic Church was so different from the churches that my parents attended.
At two, I was baptized into the Methodist church, and I remember attending a few Methodist churches over the years. We also went to the Presbyterian Church and for awhile were even Unitarians. I thought that it strange that as a Unitarian, God could be whatever I wanted Him to be. To each his own, I guess.
As an adult we attended mostly nondenominational churches and a couple of Baptist churches. At first I enjoyed the nondenominational church. They taught solo scriptura (the Bible only, word by word, line by line). But, over time, I learned that the nondenominationals definitely had their own biases, even though they claimed not to.
Something hurtful happened to us that tainted my nondenominational Christian experience. We had a very sick child that we couldn’t leave in the nursery at church so that we could attend the service together. He had an extremely compromised airway, and every time he was around small children, he would catch a cold and end up in the ICU at the hospital. So we made an appointment with our pastor and asked if we could bring our infant with us into the church service. We promised that we would sit in the back row, and if he got fussy, we would leave immediately.
But our request was denied because “The Word” was being taught there, and they had a “no tolerance” policy on distractions. Children were forbidden to attend the church service with their parents. So we alternated going to church alone. But it was never quite the same. Over time we stopped attending church altogether.
Two years ago one of our sons deployed to Iraq with the Army. It was then that I began to renew my spiritual life. I felt a bit hypocritical asking God to keep our son safe because I had been ignoring God for years. But I decided that God would take me in any condition, hypocritical or not. So I began praying. Then I decided to attend the Episcopal Church of a friend. I loved the liturgy, but the church was dying out, literally. At 55, I was the youngest attendee. All that was left was a little rag tag group of elderly Episcopalians and lots of empty pews. I kept attending, but my heart just wasn’t in it.
One day I went to the morning mass at the Catholic Church near our house, and my faith came alive! The chapel was standing room only and the mass was like a living thing, pulsating with life and energy. Many of the Protestant churches that I had previously attended had taught negative things about the Catholic Church. They had preached that the Catholic Church was dead. At that first morning mass, nothing could have been further from the truth.
One Sunday shortly thereafter, the homily was about the “hidden Christ,” and that if you “do it unto the least of them,” you are really doing it unto Christ. The priest described the hidden Christ as the old, the poor, the addicted, the homeless, and the sick. It was then that I realized that when the pastor at our old church had forbidden us to bring our son into the Sunday service, he had missed out on a beautiful opportunity to minister to the Hidden Christ: Our baby boy.
Now I am almost done with the RCIA process and will be receiving my first Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, which is only seven weeks away! I love my parish and everything about it. Yesterday at mass, our oldest priest (he’s probably around 70) called all the children up to the front and taught them a little lesson on Lent. There were over a hundred children up front, participating in the lesson. Father was ministering unto the “least” of them: the children.
Now our older son has returned from Iraq (in one piece, thank God), and that same sick baby who’d been denied access to the Sunday service has grown up, is engaged to be married, and is deploying to Afghanistan with the Navy. Now I have a living faith to lean on in the difficult times, and I believe that God is big enough to keep our loved ones from harm. Most of all, though, I pray that the will of God is played out in the lives of our children. Because whatever the future brings, our loving God will give us the grace to accept it.
After a long and circuitous journey through many churches, this Catholic in exile has finally come home.
[This article was written in 2009. Both of our boys served two tours in the Middle East and came home safe and sound.]