Why I became Catholic — A reluctant convert’s journey of faith

‘Fiat lux’ — let there be light

“For as bats eyes are to daylight so is our intellectual eye to those truths which are, in their own nature, the most obvious of all.” — Aristotle, Metaphysics

It was an autumn evening; the sunset was rich and golden blanketing the sky in a honeyed haze. It was lovely; but I was nervous. My hands were clammy as I parked on the side of the street across from a little 1930s stone parish. I didn’t know any Catholics, except through beloved authors I had met in books — giants like G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien. And although I carried some of my favorite books with me, I felt alone at that moment. This was it, the moment that had taken nearly 10 years for me to arrive at. I had researched and wrestled for years with the Catholic faith. I had felt an insistent tug, a gentle call, and finally that evening I gathered enough courage to unlock the door and walk into my first RCIA class. But to fully understand the depth and significance of that moment, you need to understand a Protestant’s dilemma — my dilemma.

Nestled throughout the foothills of North Carolina are small country churches, and my family were members of one — a quaint Southern Baptist church. It was at this country church as a little girl where I first felt Christs’ gentle nudge calling me to follow him. Years later during middle school, my family transitioned to a larger church. It was fun, entertaining and, quite frankly, what I believed to be normal. I met friends and even my husband there.

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After high school, I knew I wanted to study theology, enticed by the idea of teaching Bible classes and aspiring to one day become a professor. I packed my bags and made my way to Liberty University. I loved it. But in my second year, I met my first hurdle: Church History 101.

‘Fides et ratio’ — faith and reason

“To become a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think.” — G.K. Chesterton

There’s nothing quite like autumn in the Blue Ridge Mountains with its dark days and long nights.

Candles would burn slowly as I would read or write. Long walks on chilly mornings and nights. I remember how beautifully the leaves grew old. The mellow mess, leaf-kicking and pondering about the shocking truth I had learned in my Church history class.

It was never said in plain words, but it was glaringly obvious that the Catholic Church was indeed the first Church started by Christ himself. And if that wasn’t a big enough shock, I learned just how young Protestant churches are and how they came to be. Naturally, I had a lot of questions. But at this point, I was not considering converting to the Catholic Church. After all, I believed the Catholic Church was an evil cult, not Christian in the slightest. However, I was a Protestant in crisis questioning whether or not Protestantism was reasonable. And even though every question I had led me to a Catholic answer, I was reluctant in every way to consider the Catholic Church as an authority.

‘Mea culpa’ — through my fault

“Free will, though it makes evil possible, also makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” — C.S. Lewis

I graduated with shiny accolades, exiting with my diploma in hand and with more questions than when I had entered. I could no longer call myself a Baptist. I also couldn’t accept the name of Presbyterian, Methodist or any other Protestant denomination. And if that wasn’t frustrating enough, among all my questions, I struggled with the problem of evil: How could a benevolent God allow evil to exist?

I was incredibly frustrated, until I met C.S. Lewis — in a book, of course. “The Problem of Pain” answered my questions and catapulted me into the world of the Inklings, where I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien and later G.K. Chesterton — who were both Catholics. I couldn’t believe it at first. Curiosity got the better of me, so I read every book they penned, even their letters. Yet I was still reluctant to approach the Catholic Church, choosing instead to call myself an Anglican like C.S. Lewis. It was a nice, cushy middle ground; it felt safe.

In the end, I came to realize I had become lukewarm. I had chosen to call myself Anglican when I knew I really wasn’t. I knew God was calling me to the Catholic Church, but I didn’t want to answer his call; it was going to be messy breaking the news to my friends and family. They were going to be devastated, believing me to be crazy and abandoning the Christian faith. It was going to be sticky and uncomfortable.

Even so, I finally answered God’s call and converted.

‘Felix culpa’ — happy fault

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Throughout RCIA, I kept my decision close to my heart. In a way, it felt like an elopement. Of course, I shared my decision with a close friend and my husband. And even though he was not going to join me in converting, my husband supported me whole-heartedly, which has been one of the most beautiful joys in our marriage.

Finally, Easter arrived. April 15, 2017, was an early spring night. The little 1930s stone parish glowing in candlelight as I received Jesus in the Eucharist and wept. My husband was there and witnessed my acceptance into the Catholic Church. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

Afterward, my husband and the one friend I had confided in about my conversion went out for cocktails to celebrate. It was another moment I’ll never forget, celebrating becoming Catholic with two Protestants, who were genuinely happy for me. I won’t say that all my conversations about becoming Catholic have been that easy, but that moment with them gave me a glimpse of hope. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church.” The more conversations I have with my Protestant brothers and sisters, the more hope I have of finding some common ground, of clearing the weeds of misconceptions and airing out dusty rooms full of fear and false impressions — the same ones I once had.

Perhaps you, too, are searching. Perhaps you are wrestling with questions. He sees you. He knows and is leading you to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” as St. Paul instructed us (Phil 2:12). And friend, if you are afraid like I was, look for strength only in Christ. Trust him; he will bless you with what to say when you are asked why.

“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” ― Pope St. John Paul II

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