Friday, February 26, 2010

My Conversion Journey: Thérèse

"There are in truth three states of the converted: the beginning, the middle, and the perfection."
-Pope Gregory

My adventure toward Catholicism began several months ago while riding in the car with my smaller sister. "Don’t laugh at me," she began.

"Huh? Why not laugh at you? What are you doing?" I replied – in general she follows these phrases with something that I can’t help laughing at; the last time we had this conversation, she informed me that she had joined her university’s Quidditch team.

"I think I want to become Catholic."

I was surprised to say the least. Not so much that my non-denominational sister would make such a decision, but because for the past several months I had been considering the same thing. The two of us had been raised in a moderate Christian family. When we attended services, it was just to whatever church was close, and we lived under the assumption that all of these churches were generally the same. And for the most part they were, we went to Sunday school at a Nazarene church for several years, but it was nearly impossible to tell the difference between those services and the ones we would later attend at the local Lutheran church. (Except of course that when I was younger they preached to us though hand puppets.) A brief foray into the Mormon Church quickly helped me realize that the Latter-day Saints were not for me. I went to an after school program held there with a friend for about a year, but after being invited to come baptize the dead, I had to withdraw.

Up until that point, the extent of my Catholic knowledge began and ended in my public school history classes. In hindsight, our lessons were almost humorously anti-Catholic. Teachers portrayed the Reformation as an advancement akin to the America Civil Rights Movement; Martin Luther was a hero, never a heretic; and we only ever read of his 95 Theses, never his anti-Semitic writings. As a student, I had always pictured the Catholic Church as a mysterious force, steeped in corruption, where people were encouraged to worship Mary and the saints under the control of some type of religious monarchy. Most prominent though was my belief the church was not accessible; that it was out of reach for the common person – especially for me.

My opinion of the church began to change a few years ago when I moved out of my parents’ home and into a small apartment closer to work. I moved into my new home with nothing but an inflatable mattress and a refrigerator, and I found that for the first time in my life, I was lonely. I craved the sense of community I had felt while growing up. I had come from a small town where I lived within walking distance of my friends, and now they we were a thirty-minute drive away. It was a depressing time while trying to find equilibrium between my newfound independence and my desire for my old community.

By stroke of luck – or maybe the influence of the Holy Spirit? – I had chosen an apartment complex that was wedged in between a large Chinese Seventh Day Adventist Church and a very small Catholic Church. Day after day I would drive by, and after a while I began to notice a marked difference in the laity of each church. I noticed that the Adventist Church was enormous - the building placed away from the street with an impressive expanse of grass to the front – but I never saw any of the people coming or going. The Catholic Church on the other hand was full of people - in the mornings, in the evenings, before and after services, there were always people swarming the small grounds, and they always seemed so happy.

I began to get interested, what was the Catholic Church anyway? What was with these saint-people? Why all these pictures of Mary? With these questions pulling at my little brain I started my research at the obvious place: Google. I read whatever I could find, "Catholicism for Dummies," "10 Steps to Becoming Catholic," "What to do at a Catholic Mass." For all that I’ve learned now, it was a pretty superficial look at a beautifully complex religion, nevertheless it was enough to pique my interest.

But I am now, and forever have been, a terrible procrastinator. I can’t help it any more than I can the color of my eyes; I cannot do something today if I can just as easily put it off for tomorrow. And so I drove by that church every single day for months on end, each time thinking, "Oh, I should stop by and talk to somebody there…." This went on and on, until I think my guardian angel just got sick to death and arranged the aforementioned powwow with my sister.

Even after we realized we had been experiencing the same desires, it would take the two of us a number of months to get our acts together and go talk to a priest. She had been attending masses at her school and wanted to talk to her priest after she returned from summer break. It turned out that her priest was just a visiting Father from another local church, and was somewhat dismissive of her request that he help her "be Catholic." I think he was more surprised that anything, not very many people seem to come to the church alone; and we had no sponsors, no godparents to guide us. All we had was each other, and a feeling that our attraction to the church was more than just a passing interest.

We attended our first mass at the church by my house on a Tuesday night. We waited in the parking lot until we could follow someone else inside, and we sat in the back… we followed everyone else as they stood up, sat down, stood up, and then kneeled. We mumbled along with prayers that we didn’t know or understand, and sat quietly and curiously while everyone else went up to take the Eucharist. Then the next week we came back again.

After a while we made an appointment with the Father, who advised us that we were just in time to catch the first week of RCIA classes. We were overjoyed and eager to enter into the church as catechumen. We approached our lessons with gusto, eating up everything we were taught. We’re now approaching our baptisms at the Easter Vigil and we look ever forward to continuing to learn and grow in our newfound faith.

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