I was raised in a God-fearing home, and this story is not meant to criticize any other faith. I realize that my father’s antipathy toward the Catholic faith was rooted in his childhood, for one reason or another. When I met and fell in love with a Catholic Marine, I didn’t understand how this could happen. My mother asked why I was dating him, and I said, “I’m not going to marry him, Mom.”
When I went away to college, I wrote my Marine a Dear John letter as soon as I’d joined the Protestant church in that small town. We didn’t communicate for several months, but when we both went home to see our parents for Christmas, we got back together.
Denny asked me to attend the six one-hour pre-marital classes with the campus priest when I went back to school. We loved each other, but he wanted to know if I could marry him without serious trauma.
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I contacted Father Lynch, an Irishman with a brogue, and he agreed to start the classes with me. Whenever I had a session, I rode my bicycle to church at night. My primary goal was not only to gather information to convert my Marine but the priest as well.
At our first meeting, I told Father that I had a lot of questions, but I wanted answers from the St. James Bible, not the Catholic Bible. He said, “That’s fine.”
My first question was, “Why do you Catholics worship Mary and statues?”
He smiled and said, “It would be wrong if we did, but we don’t. Do you love and respect your mother?”
I sat back. “Of course.”
“Don’t you think Jesus loved and respected his mother? He even addressed her from the cross and made sure John would take care of her.” He went on. “Some non-Catholics treat Mary with the utmost disdain and even hate her. How would you feel if someone treated your mother that way?”
“I wouldn’t like it.”
“Neither does Jesus. Not only does he love her very much, but they went through a lot together. Shouldn’t we, at the very least, show her respect?”
“OK,” I said, conceding that point. “What about the reverence you show statues?”
He took a sip of water and folded his hands. “Do you keep photos of your loved ones?”
“That’s what statues are, enduring reminders of important figures in our faith. We don’t worship inanimate objects, but use them to focus on what’s important, the spiritual.”
I needed more. “What about the Eucharist? How can you say it’s the actual body and blood of Jesus?”
“Jesus doesn’t lie.”
“What do you mean?”
“He said, ‘Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall not have life in you.’ Many of his followers left that day. He didn’t call them back and say, ‘Wait! I was just kidding. It’s just crackers and grape juice.’ He turned to his apostles and said, ‘Will you also go away?’ No apologies, no changing his words, simply the facts of his real presence.”
I was stunned. No, Jesus hadn’t called them back but stood by his truth. And Father Lynch was reading from my Protestant Bible.
“You don’t have to understand this mystery to accept it, just take Jesus at his word.”
I nodded numbly, as everything my parents had taught me flowed through my mind. How could they be so wrong? I wasn’t ready to accept that.
Drawn in by reverence
Then one Sunday, I attended Mass with a friend. The church was so silent when we entered, as if waiting in anticipation of what was coming. In our Protestant church, visiting was a big part of the service, and the church was never silent.
My friend quietly tried to explain what was going on, but as soon as the priest entered, he too was silent. So much reverence, and everyone knew what to do. I just watched and listened in awe. After going to Mass, I wanted to know more.
“What about purgatory? It’s not in the Bible.”
Father said, “Not the word ‘purgatory,’ but the concept is.”
“In Revelation 21:27, it reads, ‘But nothing unclean shall enter heaven.’ Yes, Jesus died for our sins, and he forgives them, but he never said there weren’t consequences.” He leaned forward. “Most of us will be in need of purification. Purgatory is a place for people who are already going to heaven.”
Our hour was over, and others were waiting, so I wrote down several Scripture passages he gave me to read later. My mind was in turmoil.
Instead of six classes, I wanted to keep going, and ended up with 24 classes with Father Lynch. My thirst for answers was unquenchable. I told my parents what I was doing, and my father began writing letters to me. I could see how much pain I was causing him. He said that the pope was the anti-Christ and that I’d be in danger of hell if I continued along this path.
I began to hunger for the quiet stillness of the Mass and started to attend regularly. Father explained holy water, the Sign of the Cross, genuflecting before entering the pew. “These are all outward signs of inner graces, actions that help us to focus on what we’re about to witness, the reenactment of Christ’s passion.”
I prayed, finally, “Thy will be done, Lord.” I was willing to accept whatever he chose for me.
Choosing to be Catholic
A friend I met at college was also attending Catholic faith classes. She gushed, “I love that Catholics write down their prayers.”
I had to think about that for a minute. They do, and what a wonderful blessing that is. There’s always a prayer you can turn to when you’re too troubled to come up with the words, and always one to fit your needs. Many have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
When the school year was over, I went home to my parents. It happened to be on a Wednesday, and I was expected to go to prayer meeting and choir practice that night. I told them I was converting to the Catholic faith and wouldn’t be attending their services anymore.
My father said, “Either you go to our church or get out.” I moved out that night while they were at the prayer meeting.
I did not want to break their hearts, but I was clearly led to the Catholic faith. My love for my Marine led me to the classes, but it was for love of the Faith, and a clearer understanding of God’s will in my life, that I converted. I was brought into full communion with the Church the night before our wedding.
My parents chose not to attend the wedding, but when our sons were born, they attended each child’s baptism. My parents were good people, who were acting upon their own upbringing, and I understood where they were coming from. They eventually grew to appreciate my husband, knowing he was someone they could always count on, especially as they grew older.
I deeply love and revere my Catholic faith. I understand now what it means that anything worth having is worth fighting for. It was a painful battle, but the rewards are great.