The past two years I've been honored to share conversion stories in the days leading up to Easter Vigil, which is the glorious, gorgeous Mass where converts enter the Church. First Emily shared her family's story, and then last year Hafsa shared hers. Hafsa's story still brings a huge amounts of hits to the blog as people search for info on "how do I convert from Islam to Catholicism?"
This year, I am thrilled to share Holly's story. Holly is a wife, mom, photographer and Catholic Convert living in the Midwest. (Yay for Midwesterners!) In her spare time you can usually find her in the kitchen making whole food meals, or with her nose in a book. She is also a contributor at Fine Linen and Purple so be sure to take a picture of you in all your Easter, springy prettiness, post it on your blog, and link up! I want to see you and all your adorable kiddos!
And thank you, Holly, for sharing your story with us. Welcome home to Rome!
Several times over the last year I was asked about my conversion story. I was even asked to blog it on a couple of occasions, but I just couldn’t make myself sit down and write it out. It was a very special (and sometimes challenging) time in my life and I just wanted to hold it close and not share it with the world. Now, a year later, my perspective has changed. How do you draw other people close to a Faith that you love if you aren’t willing to share your experiences? And I can’t think of a place I feel more comfortable telling this story than here with Bonnie. :) So, let’s start with a question, shall we?
How many different Study Bibles do you have in your house? Not just regular NIV versions, King James versions, etc...but actual Study Bibles that are intended to walk you through Scripture and help you understand your faith in a deeper way? I cleaned out my book cases a few months back, and found many of the Bibles I had purchased and used before I converted to Catholicism. Anyone want to guess what the total was?
From the time I had gotten serious about Faith (in my late teen years) to the time I converted to the Catholic Church (last year) I had collected fourteen Bibles that were intended to help me better understand my Protestant faith.
During those years I also attended close to that many different churches. It was fairly easy, and very acceptable to just jump around to where I was happiest. If one minister started to preach views that I wasn’t comfortable with, I could find a church down the road that had teachings more in line with what I was looking for. If the people at that church weren’t as friendly or didn’t offer as many extra programs as I liked, there was a church in the next town over that did!
It was the same story with the many Bibles I bought - all the the publishers did their best to provide compelling answers and accurate interpretations of Scripture. But none of them agreed with each other on most points. Some said gay marriage is ok, some didn’t. Some said abortion is acceptable, some didn’t. Don’t get me started on the many versions of teachings on birth control. And a great many said that each person is meant to draw their own conclusions from Scripture, and work out what you believe with God.
Finally, after many years of trying to reconcile the actual meaning of the word Christian, I gave up. So many different Christian denominations believed so many different things it was like they weren’t even members of the same religion. So although I never gave up on God, I did give up on church. Many well meaning family members/friends tried to pull me back into various churches but I gently refused their invitations.
The one common denominator between every Church I attended was that they simply did not understand or support the archaic and man-made traditions of the Catholic Church.
You can imagine the surprise of these same friends/family members when my I decided to send my kids to Catholic school - one former minister that I remained close to even told me to make sure that they taught about Jesus. I didn’t start out with Catholic school in mind - we felt we weren’t getting what we needed from the public school system and needed an alternative solution. I found myself emailing the principal of our local Catholic school one day, visiting the next week, and signing papers that very day. No one was more surprised than I was, and looking back I can see that God was already leading us where we needed to be. And - in case you were wondering - they do teach about Jesus. :)
About a year after my son started attending Catholic school, we were slated to participate in a fundraiser that took place fifteen minutes before and fifteen minutes after the weekend Mass. We live a good fifteen minutes from the church/school, so my son and I would stay in the Gathering Hall during Mass and watch it on the TV screen. He, of course, attended Mass during school and was very familiar with it. I was both unfamiliar and entranced at the same time. After years of upbeat modern music and laid back worship services, the Mass was fascinating to me and I could not look away. After a few weekends of watching from the outside, we started slipping in and sitting in the back instead of watching in the Gathering Hall. As much of a pull as I felt toward Mass, I couldn’t make this beautiful service fit in with everything I “knew” about the Catholic faith - how they confessed their sin to power hungry priests instead of to God, recited unbiblical and repetitive prayers, and worshipped Mary and the Saints. (Spoiler alert - none of these things are true!)
I left the church after sitting in on Mass one evening and started searching Amazon for books that taught about the Catholic Faith - looking back I think my goal was to verify all the things that I thought that I knew so that I could walk away from this church too. At the time it was yet another Christian denomination that had it’s own beliefs and own interpretations of Scripture that were different than everyone elses. That is - until I started to read.
The very first book I read on Catholicism was Waking Up Catholic by Chad Torgerson. The author says the title comes from remembering that as a kid he always dreamed about what he would be when he was grown. He thought he would wake up as a firefighter, or wake up as a policeman, but never in his wildest dreams did he think he would wake up Catholic. Like a lot of converts, Chad grew up Protestant, and was actually anti-Catholic. He was on a mission to disprove the Catholic Church and all of it’s teachings - until he researched his way right in the front door. He then took all of the things he had learned, broke them down into layman’s terms, and wrote a book.
And that book was a turning point in my life.
Among other things, it was where I first learned that Catholics do not, in fact worship Mary and the Saints. And those recited prayers - they are not only biblically sound, they actually come from Scripture. Oh, and the power hungry priests? I have been Catholic for almost exactly one year today and in that time I’ve met many priests - many of them I am honored to say are great friends. They check in on our family and are always there if we need them. They are also by far some of the most giving and selfless people I know.
Waking Up Catholic is also where I was first introduced to the Eucharist. I remember going to a small Christian church with my sister as a child and being afraid during Communion. I was very small, and when the minister read the reading of the Last Supper I was convinced that the oyster crackers and grape juice being passed around was actually real flesh and blood. After all, that’s what had just been read from the Bible! I was quickly reassured that it was only a symbol, and that Jesus certainly didn’t mean those things literally.
Fast forward 24 years and I was learning that my five year old self actually had it right - just in the wrong church! It took me a few days of thought, and much more reading to wrap my head around the Eucharist. Once I was able to understand this teaching, I knew that I had to take the next steps.
I met with our very patient priest who was always available for the thousands of questions we threw at him, and my husband and I signed up for RCIA. Everything was going well - here was a Church that could trace itself straight back to Jesus, had answers for all the questions I had over the years AND could back up those answers, we had a great priest who had already made a difference in our lives, and especially in our kids lives. Perfect. Right? But then things began to change.
Our priest, who is our kids godfather and still a great friend, announced that he was leaving - not just the church but the priesthood. That was the start of a tumultuous time for our parish - a few people turned on each other, attendance was down, and things were a bit chaotic.
As a Protestant, that would have been it for me. It would have been time to find a church that was a better fit and not so chaotic. But as a Catholic things were different. We loved our priest, but he wasn’t the reason we were there. We were sad that people were upset, but they weren’t the reason we were there either. We were there because Jesus founded the Catholic Church, and because He is there in the Eucharist. And you don’t leave Jesus because things get a little rough in the Church. Jesus is the head of the Church, but ultimately the Church is made up of fallible human beings. Sometimes we make messes and we have to clean them up, but we still stay because we love Jesus and this is his Church.
We were lucky enough to have a fabulous deacon who, along with his wife, took over RCIA, and handled the day to day operations of the Church. Some Catholics have asked if that was hard - to enter a church with no set priest, to have visiting priests every weekend, and to be in a state of uncertainty. My answer is always the same - no. It wasn’t hard. We had great leadership and support from our deacon and that helped tremendously. But we also met so many fantastic priests that made an impression on us - some came from pretty far away to assist at our parish, and they all had their own unique outlooks and teaching styles that were immensely helpful to someone still learning the faith.
As for the uncertainty, I never considered it until someone brought it up to me. We came into the Church with full faith that this is Jesus’s Church and “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” We knelt every Sunday with other parishioners that knew that God would provide for our parish in his own time. And he did - we were assigned a wonderful priest who was exactly what we needed, and has already revived our parish in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a year ago.
And this year, I have been blessed to sponsor a friend as she makes the journey into the Church. Truly, the best part of Catholicism is sharing it with others. It’s not always easy, and that’s why its important to know why you believe what you believe. Don’t believe because your parent / friend / pastor told you to. Learn your faith and take it into the world with you. Know why you believe the things you believe. The answers are there waiting for you if you seek them out. And please join me in praying for all of those being received this year at Easter Vigil!
Saint Helen, Patron Saint of Converts, pray for us!
Thank you so much, Holly, for sharing your story with us! You can find Holly online in the following places:
I'm going to start this with the ending and you can read the middle if you want: on Thursday the 11th our first born will be having open...
1 - JJ Heller and her husband wrote a new song for those of us who are trying to get our acts together. 2 - Speaking of which, thank you...
Some of you may have been wondering and some of you even guessed and now this is the announcement some of you even asked about. We are...