Conversion Experiences

I just finished reading Rome Sweet Home, by Scott and Kimberly Hahn.  It is the story of their journey to Catholicism, and it is moving and inspiring and truthful.  I just finished it a couple of days ago, so it’s all new and fresh.  The Hahns’ story opened some issues that have been shut tight with me for awhile, and I feel that this is the beginning of some serious soul searching.  I’ve actually been waiting a long time for this book.  I first heard about it through my friend Kathy, more than a year ago.  Since then, I have been looking for it at the used bookstore each time I go, and sometimes even looking at Borders or other bookstores.  I read a couple of chapters at the house of the family that I babysit for in the summer, but then the summer was over and I hadn’t finished it.  And finally, a couple of weeks ago, I found it at Half Price Books, and of course bought it immediately.  I think God’s timing was perfect to put this influence in my life.  I could have ordered it online or something, but I never did.  I think God knew that I would be ready to address these issues at this very time.

I told God a long time ago that I will go wherever He wants and do whatever He wants, no matter what.  The first thing He asked me to do was to leave that which was familiar and comfortable for me.  For awhile, He led me away from Catholicism and straight into a personal and intimate relationship with Himself.  Then, He led me to keep that close relationship and bring it back within the context of Catholicism.  Well, the story is much longer and more complex than that, but those are the highlights.

But recently, I’ve felt led to examine things more closely.  If I’m going to be Catholic, I need to know why.  What do I believe?  Do I believe what the Catholic church teaches?  If so, can I explain it and defend it?  If not, can I participate in a Catholic church community?  Is it offensive to those faithful Catholics if I want to participate in this tradition but disagree slightly with some of the fundamental issues?  These are the questions that have been rising in my mind.

First, the nonnegotiables for me are that God does in fact exist, that Scripture is true, that Jesus was both God and man and died for our sins, and that the Holy Spirit is real.

That’s all I’ve got.

Beyond that, I know what people have told me, but I don’t own it yet, you know?  I need to figure out where I stand on the fundamental issues of Christianity.  I would love it if Christianity were one, united faith in the world, but it is not.  Even if it were, each of us comes to faith on our own terms and in our own timeline.  As Scott Hahn was studying these issues, he kept hoping Catholicism was wrong.  I’m hoping it’s right.  But the fact remains, I need to find out.  I can’t take it blindly just because Scott Hahn says so, any more than I could take it blindly because my parents said so and my religion teachers said so.  I have to know that God says so.

Scott and Kimberly made the point in their book that Catholicism is either absolutely true, or diabolical.  I don’t like those extreme options with no middle ground, but I think they are right.  I’ve been thinking specifically about the Eucharist.  Either it’s true and wonderful, or it’s ridiculously sinful!  “I am the Lord, your God.  You shall worship no other gods besides me.”  If I say, this is the body and blood of Jesus, and it is not, I’m offending God’s very being, His very existence!  I’m looking to something other than God, calling it God, and using it to try to satisfy my longing for God.  It’s worse, in my mind, than looking to an addiction to satisfy your yearning, because if I’m using heroine, I’m calling it heroine.  It might be an idol in my life, it might be taking the place of God, but I’m certainly not calling it God or expecting God Himself to be present in it.

If it is Jesus, it’s crazy.  We should eat him???  Like, chew and swallow his flesh?  Why, exactly?

Baptism, Confirmation, these sacraments are so real and wonderful to me.  I truly believe that I was born again of water and of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and that the Holy Spirit came upon me in Confirmation.  So why is it easier to accept and recognize the real presence of the Holy Spirit than the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?

It’s not that this is the first time I’ve been facing these issues.  It’s a big spiral experience.  At each stage of life, you push to new levels of undersanding and belief.  It never ends, I hope.  You deal with a particular issue, you come to terms, you move on, and then a few years later, you find yourself dealing with that issue again, until you come to terms with a deeper and more mature faith regarding that issue.  We are not God, we are merely human, and we can’t acquire all the understanding at once that we will need for a lifetime, and we can’t acquire understanding on all matters at the same time.  The best thing we can do, I think, is just to follow where God leads, straight into those confrontations and conflicts within ourselves, and search and search until we find answers that satisfy us and bring us closer to Him.

I don’t have answers yet.  I need more information.  I look at everything from the perspective of feelings, and feelings aren’t sufficient in every situation.  I feel that I am supposed to be participating in the Catholic church, and the Eucharist, therefore I believe it, but I need more information.  I’m constantly trying to figure out what I can do at Mass to feel God’s presence, but God is either there or He’s not, whether or not I am “feeling it.”  It’s like the song “Downfall,” by Matchbox Twenty.  (Was Rob Thomas really writing about God?  Of course I have no idea!  But I feel God every time I hear it.  That’s the way music works.  It is for you what you need it to be.)  But a repeated lyric is, “Lay it down, I’ve always been with you.  Here and now, give all that’s within you.”  In my crazy interpretation of the song, at first it’s God talking to man, saying, I’m always here, whether you feel me or not.  Then at the bridge (the part of the song at the middle-end area that’s a little different), in my mind, it’s man saying to God, I’m always here, even in the middle of my struggles and doubts, I’m with You, I want to be on Your side.  “Be my Savior…”

That’s one thing that doesn’t go away, for me, by wanting to be Catholic.  I want to hear stories of conversion and salvation.  I want to tell my stories.  The stories of how God draws His people to Himself are complex, and personal, and one of the most beautiful things I can experience on this planet.  For some people, it’s one moment, one decision.  For others, it’s lots of little things over time.  And I love it.  And I’ve been noticing that Catholics have these stories, too.  They might not call them “salvation stories” or “being born again,” but it’s just different words for the same thing–God draws us to himself, and it’s hard and complicated, and we love it!

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