Introduction, Thanks, and Apologies
First of all, I want to thank Chad, Zach and Tony for inviting me into their dialogue again. It’s an honor and delight to discuss matters of Faith with three men who tread with love and charity into conversations that have a tendency to bring up fear, anger and un-productive conflict. Thank you for being willing to enter into this chat with us. Here are the link’s to the boys’ posts on this week’s topic:
Second of all, for those of you who have been wanting me to write about my Catholic Journey since it first began years ago, I’m sorry I kept you waiting so long. As with most areas in my life, I’ve been waiting on the Lord’s timing and direction so when this invitation was made to be a guest blogger on the topic of “Why I Chose my Tradition” I saw the Lord finally prompting me to speak.
Thank you for your patience with me, or for talking to me in person as you were able. I’ve really appreciated how so many of you reached out along the way to engage with, challenge, and/or try to understand my decision to become Catholic. I saw each of you doing so out of a heart of love and concern for me so even when conversations were difficult, words were harsh, judgements were made, tears were shed – I knew there was love and fear in your heart for me. And I thank you for loving me so much.
The Answer is Always Jesus
As far back as I can recall – I have loved Jesus. For those of you who have known me that long you can testify to this – for better or worse. Sometimes that love was beautiful and innocent, and sometimes it was prideful and arrogant. But whether perfect or imperfect – my love for Him has been consistent. Even in College where I went through a difficult season of Counseling and my Faith in God was challenged to my core I used to sing along with the lyrics of Relient K, “I know I’ll always love you, but right now I just don’t like you.”
And in all these now 37 years of loving Jesus I have been stubborn in my desire to follow Him, which means if He says “Go” I go and if He says “Wait” I wait. Every pivotal point in my Christian Journey and my life – Asking Him into my heart, being Baptized, committing my life to Him, going on Missions Trips, volunteering in ministry, taking jobs, moving, going to College, buying a car, changing Churches, travelling, getting my Masters, etc. – was made because the Lord opened a door, closed a door, or asked me to wait. Some of you have been annoyed by my resolve when it looked like I was unwise in waiting on the Lord only to see my patience turn out for good. Following the Lord has not always been easy, but my trust in Him continues to grow with every step of this Journey. And I approached the Catholic Church no differently, though becoming Catholic was the most stressful, beautiful, emotional, terrifying, peaceful decision of them all.
So, There Was This Guy
I became good friends with Eric when I was in my Senior year of Bible College. He was already well known on campus and was friends with nearly everyone – due to his sense of humor and ability to get along with almost anyone. Students, staff and faculty all seemed to love Eric – even if they theologically disagreed with him which was pretty common. Eric was a loyal Nazarene and would explain to everyone within earshot all about Nazarene Theology, Camp Meetings, the History of the Holiness movement, his love of Hymns, and his dream of becoming a Nazarene Pastor in a small town.
Our friendship continued after I graduated that year, and even after he graduated the following year and moved to Kansas City, Missouri to attend Seminary. During his second year in Seminary we started a long-distance relationship which ended 6 months later. We told people we were just better as friends, but the reality was that Eric was feeling a pull to not only become Catholic but become a Priest as well so there was nowhere for a romantic relationship to go.
He broke the Catholic news to me mid-way through our dating relationship, and just a little later the Priest bombshell. Despite all of that we continued to date because he was still unsure that was how the Lord was leading…but I think we both saw the writing on the wall. I could tell his love for the Catholic Church and the Priesthood was growing which meant our romantic relationship would be coming to an end. Honestly, it broke my heart. But I loved him and saw how much he loved Jesus and His Bride – the Church – so when he asked to end things I conceded.
You would think at that point the Catholic Church would be my arch-nemesis. I mean, on some level it was at first. While we were dating I would argue theology with Eric, tell him he was a heretic, that Catholics all worshiped Mary and idols, and that I was worried he was going to go to Hell. I dished it out and was always surprised that he graciously took it. When we broke up we committed to still be friends, but stopped talking for a season in order to heal and transition back to friendship. When we finally picked back up again I picked up where I left off in my Catholic interrogation, and I noticed that his graciousness with my interrogation had increased. He was still a small town pastor of a Protestant Church, but I could tell the Lord was doing much in his heart because of his desire for the Catholic Church. And as I continued to challenge his love of all things Catholic he would graciously field my rebukes. He also started to challenge me as well – especially with what I thought I knew about the Catholic Church.
We would have long conversations about Mary, the Saints, Purgatory, the Pope, Scripture, Statues, Icons, Rosaries, Crucifixes, etc. You name it, we talked about it. Some of my misconceptions about the Catholic Church were resolved after a few conversations, and others took years and, much to his chagrin, many tears.
Eric moved back to Portland the summer of 2013 and became Catholic on April 19th, 2014. By then I found that I didn’t hate the Catholic Church as much as I used to and I’d even defend the Church and his decision to become Catholic to our friends. Because of that I recall several people asking me if I was becoming Catholic too, and I’d always reply, “Nope! That’s his thing. I’m just a supportive friend. Not interested in the least bit!” And I really wasn’t.
Getting a Yellow Light and Proceeding with Caution
But even then, the Lord was starting to show His hand in leading me towards the Church. One night as I was driving home after another emotionally charged theological debate with Eric I desperately cried out to the Lord in prayer. I was worried because I was beginning to understand and even believe what the Catholic Church taught about things, and that scared me. Man, I was so scared. So with tears rolling down my cheeks I begged the Lord to show me what He was doing.
“I’m introducing you to my family.”
I immediately stopped crying. I hadn’t heard an audible voice, but that sentence rang clear as a bell in my heart and my mind. I still had questions, but I felt at peace knowing that He was somehow involved in all of this. I knew that it was important that I keep moving forward, questioning, debating, challenging, and learning.
I reached out to a woman at Eric’s Catholic Church who told me the story about how she became Catholic so that I could get another perspective, I’d occasionally attend Mass even though I knew none of what was happening other than that we read a lot of the Bible at the beginning, and I still had late-night theology argument/debates with Eric. As a side note, I would usually go into work the next morning and vent at my fellow Protestant friend and co-worker Zach. This is noteworthy since it had an impact on his own story.
I even reached out to some Orthodox friends of mine and grilled them about what they believed since I had no beef with the Orthodox Church like I did with the Catholic Church. I assumed that they would believe differently than Catholic’s and therefore prove that the Catholic Church was wrong. I was surprised and kind of disappointed to learn that their theologies were nearly identical on many of the key matters that had been bothering me.
As I continued to dig around I felt more like a journalist trying to discover the truth, not actually believing the Catholic Church could be what it asserted – the 2000 year old Bride of Christ. I was looking to find facts that would contradict the Catholic Church’s opinion of herself…but under every stone I turned over it seemed to be true.
So of course, my Orthodox friends reading this are probably thinking, “Hey! What about us over here!?!?” which they have every reason to question. I agree that they too have been there since the beginning. The short answer of why I didn’t feel the Lord calling me East comes down to John 17. That passage – Christ’s prayer that His Church would be unified – had been on my heart since I read it in High School and in my search into the East and West Churches it was important for me to see who was attempting to bridge the gaps and divisions between the East, West and various Protestant fractions of Christianity. Deep down it seemed to me that Christ’s Bride would be looking to fulfill His prayer, and the Catholic Church actively does that very thing. So that is when my journey of discovery took a turn from East to West.
Vespers, Laughter and Conviction
On Sunday March 1st, 2015 my research journey finally started to tug at my heart. I was invited to pray Vespers with Eric and some of his Catholic friends at a Catholic Church across town. I was so nervous when I got there that evening. I had no idea what Vespers was and I’d never met any of these people before including the two Priests, Father Luan and Father Mark, that were there was well. Eric talked me through what to do but I couldn’t retain a darn thing and opted to just follow along.
To my delight and surprise I learned that praying Vespers meant praying/singing scripture! We chanted a few Psalms, read a Scripture passage, read a prayer, and sang a hymn. I was enamored with the experience and took it all in.
Amusingly, halfway through one of the Psalms we were joined by Father Luan’s cat, who decided to sing with us. The small chapel erupted in laughter and Father Mark even rolled off his pew from laughing so hard. The only one not laughing was me! I sat there in shock at the spectacle before me – not something I ever expected to see from Catholics who I assumed to be serious and stoic – heartlessly going through the motions of rote prayer.
After Vespers, Eric’s friends were all happy to meet me and invited me out to dinner at one of their homes. We ate, laughed, and even read a devotional about fasting since it was the beginning of Lent. I shared my opinions expecting them to patronize my Protestant view, only to find that they were all intrigued by my perspective and invited me to share more.
By the end of the night I felt like my old view of the Catholic Church was starting to fall apart. I had assumed that Catholics didn’t love Jesus, and I had judged them for it. However, I found myself in familiar company that evening as each of them shared about their faith and their own personal relationship with Jesus. And I felt convicted when I saw how welcoming they were to me, knowing that if one of them had shown up to a similar event with my Protestant friends we would have been courteous while harboring questions, suspicion and judgement in our hearts. At least, I know I would have welcomed them that way even if I can’t speak for the other Protestants in my life.
Stations of the Cross and a Green Light
A few days later on Friday, March 6th I attended a “Stations of the Cross” prayer service at Eric’s Catholic Church – again having no idea what I was doing. That night we knelt before the cross at 14 different stations depicting parts of Christ’s passion, each time saying, “We adore You, oh Christ, and we bless You because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.”
After the first station I had this surreal feeling, like I was stepping into a part of history. Deep down I felt like I was continuing a prayer that had been prayed since the crucifixion itself. I wished every Christian I knew could be in that Church on their knees thanking the Lord for the gift of Salvation!
Afterwards I met the new Priest at Eric’s Church, Father John Boyle, who told me the history of the Stations of the Cross. He explained that Christian’s have been walking the stations of the cross since Christ was crucified and that as Christianity spread and people weren’t able to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, churches began hanging their own versions of the stations so that the people could at least make a spiritual pilgrimage to walk through Christ’s passion. I was floored. Is that why I had that feeling? If so, how did I somehow understand the historical connection without being told beforehand? My mind reeled, but I knew the Lord was up to something.
Between Vespers on Sunday and Stations on Friday I felt like the Lord was tapping me on the shoulder and whispering, “Your turn…” I knew deep down He was calling me into the Catholic Church, but my fear of what people would think, what my future might hold, and how much my life might change shook me to the core. After all – I was about to finish my Master’s degree in Pastoral Studies with my goals set on going into ministry!
But instead of getting wrapped up in my fears I fixed my eyes on Christ – who I trusted more than anyone else in the world. I knew that if He didn’t want this for me He would close the door. In fact, there were times that was my prayer. “Lord, if this is not what You have for me I trust You to close the door and keep me from it.” But time and time again the door just seemed to swing open even wider than before, so I’d cling to Christ’s hand and cautiously take another step forward.
The Journey Continues
The next 8 months between March and the day I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church were amazing. I actually picked up a journal in May and began to document every step of the journey because so many amazing things were happening! I attended every Catholic Mass, Service, Vespers, etc. I could. I read The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux and felt like I was looking in a mirror – she talked about Jesus the way I did! (She ended up being my confirmation Saint along with Mary)
I met with a couple of Protestant professors, one of whom gave me some suggested reading that helped me go a little deeper – Catholic and Christian by Alan Schreck was the best! I would receive revelations about Catholic theologies that I hadn’t even learned yet (I’m dead serious…it was crazy) and then have them confirmed later as I continued to read and research certain things. I had conversations with Father Mark for hours about the role of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church. I read the Catholic Catechism and was surprised how much of it was similar to what I’d been raised to believe in Protestantism. And I experienced profound and miraculous answers to prayer! All of it meticulously logged in my journal. And that’s just skimming the surface! I still have in my heart a desire to write a book about that exciting journey…but like everything else I trust that to the Lord’s hands.
Those 8 months were amazing, but that’s not to say it was all sunshine and rainbows. They were also full of fear, doubt, and painful conversations with family and friends. As I referenced at the beginning of this blog – I don’t hold anything against my dear friends and family. I know they confronted me because they cared and I loved them for it. However, those conversations were still very scary and painful. One of my friends, after asking her probing questions, ended up seeing how much the Lord was doing in my life and became a great encouragement to me. I remember at one point I was talking to her about my desires and doubts and she asked what was holding me back. I remember closing my eyes and welling up with emotion. I could not deny that Jesus was leading me into this, but what was holding me back was the fear of what my friends and family would say, and how they would respond if I actually did it. And that if it was just up to me and Jesus – I’d be Catholic tomorrow. That question helped me put things into perspective and gave me the courage to continue to move forward.
The Big Day
And move forward I did. On Sunday, November 22nd, 2015 on the Feast of Christ the King I ended the Protest that I was born into and entered in to full communion with the Catholic Church. And down to the tiniest details, that day felt like a gift from the Lord. For example, as I was walking up the front steps of the Church a small flock of birds flew out of some rose bushes to my right and passed in front of me. I turned in shock and looked at my housemate who had come with me. “Did that just happen?!?! I feel like a Disney Princess!” She looked surprised at the sudden appearance of the birds as well, then smiled and said, “Lisa, you are a Disney Princess.” And I know it’s cheesy, but that’s how I felt that entire day.
But that day felt like it was much more significant than me becoming Catholic – it felt like a celebration of my relationship with the Lord. It was a culmination of the trust that I placed in Him as a little girl and that I’ve spent my life fighting to hold on to. I had passed through difficult waters of confusion, fear and doubt only to come to a place of peace. And not just a place of peace with Him! It’s like He told me over a year earlier – He was introducing me to His family! And I felt like I suddenly had a new family – complete with the Saints in heaven who I know were cheering for me that day. I had come home.