But… Why Catholic?

Nature landscape of sunset light above asphalt road

“But… Why Catholic?”  This was one of the first questions my friend asked me when I told her that I was converting to a new denomination.  I had just finished explaining why I felt compelled to leave the Episcopal Church, a community I had been happy in (but not connected to) for several years.  I was prepared for many different questions or debates as we sat and discussed our spiritual health.

She could have asked me about my concerns about my denomination, how my husband would respond to the changes, or what impact it would have on my children and I would have had a pre-rehearsed answer ready.  This question, just two words, threw me off guard.  Not because I didn’t know, I knew perfectly well, but because I was afraid she wouldn’t believe me if I told her… and, perhaps, more afraid that she might.  God had been calling me to the Catholic Church for over 15 years, and I hadn’t been listening.

I first went to a Catholic Church when I was a teenager, probably somewhere around 16 or 17.  My best friend was raised Catholic, and she wanted to go back to church.  I was raised Southern Baptist and was angry at the world.  I was curious about the Catholic Church, but in all my angsty teenage glory, was unable (and unwilling) to ask for more information.  I attended church for a while, even after she stopped coming with me.  I found a lot of peace in the church, but I didn’t understand the meaning behind a lot of the tradition.  Unfortunately, I was too scared to ask.  Because I didn’t ask, nobody told me.  And because nobody told me, I was left to fill in the blanks myself.  I convinced myself that “I was smarter than this” and stopped going.  It was unfortunate on many levels, because that was about the time I began suffering from severe depression.  It would have been nice to have known God was with me.

I was not what you would call a star high school student.  I was mediocre at best, and totally by design.  I didn’t want to stand out or be noticed, so I did what any self-respecting slacker would do… I slept through my senior year of high school.  But hey, I graduated, and that’s all that mattered, right?  My favorite subject was English and I was a huge fan of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (who, I found out later in life, is actually a Catholic saint).  My copy of that novel was highlighted and worn so much that I marveled that it stayed together at all.  By coincidence (or divine intervention, as I later believed) I got a flyer from University of Dallas (a private, Catholic, liberal arts school) to apply to their school.  They were advertising, among other things, a program to study Sir Thomas More in England during summers.  My boyfriend and a couple of my former English teachers convinced me to apply, and I got accepted.  One of only two universities I applied to.  I wanted to go, but, I was afraid.  I was afraid that I couldn’t afford tuition.  I didn’t have support from my family to go to school so far from home, and I was afraid to go alone.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have faith that God was with me, and I firmly believed I was alone.

Life goes on (queue the montage music): I married my boyfriend (who was raised Catholic, and no, I still didn’t get the hint), went to college, got a degree, got a job, and got a second degree (because I, apparently, sub-consciously hate sleeping more than 4 hours a night).  Spiritually, I attended a Jewish Hillel for a while, was secular for a bit, gave up on organized religion, and finally toyed with atheism.  In short, I was searching.  I didn’t know I was searching, I just felt empty.  I became addicted to the next “gain”: the next promotion, the next pay-raise, the next graduation ceremony (yes, really).

My views towards religion changed after my oldest daughter turned two.  Suddenly, like a bad sci-fi show, all those little memories of Christian stories from my childhood kept flooding my mind.  If we didn’t belong to a religion, how would she ever know those stories?  If we never stepped foot in a church, how would she know that’s where she could go when she needs moral support?  That’s when a very important revelation was imparted on me by God:

Emotionally, it’s hard for someone who has not attended Church in a long time to return, and they know how comforting and uplifting the Church can be.  What would it be like for someone who has never in their life stepped foot inside a church?  Would they know how comforting and accepting it would be?  Would they understand the traditions are meant to help, or would they be scared away?  Would they even take the first step, or would they be afraid like I was all those years ago?

With that revelation in mind, I asked as my Mother’s Day present, that we attend service at a local Episcopal Church.  It was the first time in over 15 years that I stepped foot in a church for Sunday service.

Woah… wait, isn’t this the Millennial Catholic Covert blog?

Yep, you guessed it, I was afraid again.  This time, I was afraid of the seemly strict rules of the Catholic Church.  Most of the information regarding the Catholic Churches traditions, I received from the media and internet searches.  While both venues provided me with the answers to the questions I asked (i.e. can Catholics use birth control?), it never answered why the Church has the mandates it does.  Turns out that three letter word was really important.

The two years I attended the Episcopal Church, I listened to the Catholic Channel on XM Radio.  Why?  I wanted to learn more about faith, and frankly there wasn’t an Episcopal Channel.  Every day on my commute home from work I would listen to The Catholic Guy and Busted Halo.  These radio shows helped change two deep rooted misconceptions I had:

  • Perception: Catholics are religious extremists obsessed with the death of Jesus Christ (yep, that was really what my view on Catholicism had evolved into over the years). Reality: They are normal everyday people who love God and everyone around them.  They are people just like me who struggle to pay their bills, sit in traffic, and have families.  They laugh at the world like I do, and lament the detachment we perceive in our society.  The death of Jesus is the cornerstone of the Catholic faith, but He will come again, and the Holy Spirit is with us always!  That is cause for immense joy!
  • Perception: The clergy are all angry and quick to guilt (think Hollywood’s views of Catholic Schools). Reality: The clergy in the church are full of joy, because loving God causes joy!  Laughter is abundant.  Everyone acknowledges being guilty of sin.  Everyone… even the clergy.  That acknowledgement and reconciliation releases the burden of guilt and gives the freedom to be happy.

As my faith in God matured, so did my appreciation for the laws God gave us in the Scripture.  When I was attending the Episcopal Church, I enjoyed going, and the clergy were truly the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, but I never felt at home.  I was always nervous and uneasy, and nothing I could do would make that feeling go away.  So when I decided to leave the Episcopal Church, I wasn’t really surprised.  What surprised me more, was how I found the Catholic Church again.

I was attending a funeral for a co-worker’s spouse at a Catholic Church.  In the 15 years I had been away things had changed a bit: different responses at different times of mass, and the addition of a Responsorial.  The Responsorial is a portion of the mass where an individual sings a Psalm, and the members of the service respond.  It’s breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly moving.  The Psalm during the mass was 23, and it was both haunting and inspiring at the same time.  I spent the entire song praying to God for guidance… and praying to not be afraid anymore.  By the time I left the mass, I had decided to give the Catholic Church a try.

I found my church the way any good Millennial finds anything, I Googled it.  The church was only a year old and right up the street from my house.  I opted to go to mass by myself the first time, and not bring my husband and two kids along in tow.  This allowed me to sneak into mass quietly and unassumingly, because neither can occur with a 4 year old and a 9 month old.  While I should have felt afraid to attend mass, and I did have my fair share of irrational fears in the days leading up to mass, actually being there was calming and enjoyable!  The music was uplifting, the people were kind, and the priest was personable!  As I was walking out of mass, I was still indecisive and was pondering whether to return the following week when an usher handed me the weekly bulletin.  I stopped in the hallway and opened it to a random page.  The first thing my eyes landed on?  An announcement for new conversion classes for anyone interested in joining the Catholic Church.  I literally stared at the page for a full minute before laughing out loud (literally, not just an LOL), looking upward, and praying:

I got the message God, I might be thick, but I finally got the message.