The rest of the Seattle pictures are coming, I promise! With wordpress’s new layout, it takes forever to upload them. They added a couple of steps in the process, for some reason. A picture may be worth a thousand words, so in the future I will probably use one or two pictures and lots of words to tell about vacations! In any case, the pictures have been waiting since August, they can wait a little longer!
Tonight I want to address faith. In this post, not too long ago, I made an offhand comment about how as Catholics, “we baptize the babies before they are old enough to choose for themselves.” I promised to come back to this topic. It might sound like I was criticizing our Catholic traditions, but I’m really not, and let me tell you why.
In Protestant circles, it is common to tell one’s conversion story, how one became a Christian, how one decided to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. I’m going to start a new trend and make it a good thing to do in Catholic circles..at least my own Catholic circle! The thing is, as Catholics many people seem to be adverse to the idea of “leaving the Church.” To parents and grandparents, it seems like the end of the world when an offspring decides to go in a different direction. As though between staying in a faith-less state in the Church of our birth, or growing in a faith-filled relationship with God in another church, the faith-less life would be preferable.
Even if you never “leave the Church,” I can’t imagine going through life without some form of conversion here and there. You can’t possibly have the understanding at the age of 5 that you would at the age of 15, and 25, and 85. If you are pursuing a relationship with anyone, be it God or a earthly person, that relationship changes as you grow as a person. So I am going to share the highlights of my conversion, thus far.
When I was a child, my faith was rock solid, but incomplete. God was real, and He loved me, there was no doubt about it. He was in me, and all around me. It was not uncommon for me to be outside, singing church songs at the top of my lungs, because I knew in the sunshine and the great expanse of air and land and sky, God could hear me there. But it was incomplete because I was a child, and I was not always the most accepting of truths I couldn’t understand. “Jesus died for our sins…” I thought that meant Jesus died on the cross to make us feel guilty for all the bad things we do. Or to show us the horrible things that will happen to us if we are bad. It didn’t fit with the God that I knew and sang to, who lived inside of me.
By high school, I had accepted that there are truths of God that we can’t understand, and I let it go and focused on the parts that I could understand. I went to a Catholic high school, and my child-like singing had turned into a constant dialogue with God throughout the day. We prayed in the morning and afternoon, and in many of our classes, and they all ran together, interspersed with little comments of my own. “God, please help me, this test is really hard!” “God, what should I do about this situation with my friends, or this boy I like, or this teacher?” “Okay, God, I have a ton of homework and I have to be at work at 5:00, but my friend wants me to go get ice cream and hang out at her house…what should I do?” Anything and everything was brought to Him.
In college…it wasn’t so easy. I didn’t go to church very consistently at all, which isn’t a big deal in itself, but the constant dialogue with God turned into silence. I would not consider myself wild or anything, but I made some choices that I now wish I had known better. To be more accurate, I wish I had asked God what He thought I should do more often, instead of asking my friends! God was still real to me, and a couple of my sweetest memories from the college years are going to church with Tara and Amy on campus, going to church and praying before meals with Julie and her family, and praying around Becky’s parents’ kitchen table before a meal. Actually, the first time I went to visit Julie’s parents, her dad was praying before dinner, and he thanked God for my presence in their lives. I forgot about that until just now. I remember it felt so…loving. I had never heard anyone pray for me aloud before. But between me and God, personally, there was only silence.
I’ve told you that I think God waits for me in the library… When I was a senior, I stumbled upon the book Boy Meets Girl, by Joshua Harris. I took it home for two reasons. One, I felt like I had heard of it, or heard of the author, and I was curious. Two, it was a book about relationships, and my number one life goal at that time was to get married. But God wanted me to read that book for a completely different reason. While reading Mr. Harris’ chapter about dealing with your past, I finally understood why Jesus died on the cross–to pay for my sins. To take the punishment. For me, personally. Because God loves me so much that he doesn’t want to punish me. After that moment, (and if I looked hard enough, I could tell you the exact date because of what I wrote in my journal that day), during the rare times when I did go to church, suddenly every part of the Mass reflected that truth! To this day, I am amazed that I heard it so many times for the first 22 years of my life but I couldn’t understand. I am amazed that, during a time in my life when there was basically silence between me and God, He took it upon himself to intrude into that silence with such a truth.
Shortly after that, I moved to Omaha to begin student teaching. I went to church almost every weekend with Brian and Jenna, the married couple that I was staying with, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I started reading my Bible once in awhile. When my Grandma was recovering from surgery, I prayed the rosary every night before I went to sleep, because I knew she loves to pray the rosary, and I had this thought that if she was too tired or in too much pain, maybe God would appreciate one from me on her behalf, maybe my prayer could somehow help her through the process of healing. (I actually don’t think I ever told her that…so if you’re reading this, Grandma, I love you and I hope it helped!) I read more and more books by Christian authors, anything I could get my hands on. I moved out of Brian and Jenna’s house, and into an apartment with Tara and Chad. Tara and I eventually found the church that I am involved with now, and many weekend she and I went to Mass together. Tara and Chad got married, and I moved into an apartment by myself, and continued to attend that church.
And as my faith grew, and my relationship with God grew, I began to wonder if the Catholic church was not the right place for me.
I was looking for people who were as passionate about their faith as my Grandma, and these authors that I was reading, and I didn’t think I was finding any. I especially wanted to meet people my age with this passion. I didn’t want to leave my traditions, but I was reminded almost daily of the verse about “he who leaves mother and father and sister and brother, and picks up his cross and follows me…” So I ventured out, and tried two evangelical churches. I loved every minute of it. The preachers were passionate, everyone I met seemed to be passionate. I met people who understood my situation, they had also grown up Catholic. But in those months, I never reached out and got involved, or formed any lasting relationships with the people I met. Looking back, I realize that I never felt at home, I found what I was looking for but I sacraficed a lot for it. Catholicism, the sacraments, the traditions, those are the heart and soul of my faith. Those are the places I can go when I’m looking for God. I was looking for fellowship, relationships with other passionate believers, and I found a place that I could have that fellowship…And I found God, too, in other ways. But I missed my home. I found myself going to the Catholic church that Tara and I attended about every other week. I was just waiting, looking for God to tell me what I should do next. And I saw in the bulletin at the Catholic church that there would be a young adult Bible study starting up.
What! Catholic young adults studying the Bible together! I’ve gotta be a part of this! It was like the fellowship I was looking for was right at home. That was a little more than a year ago. Over the past year, I feel like I have grown more in my faith than in the previous four years combined! I want to bridge the gap between what I have learned from the Christian authors and pastors, and Catholicism. I truly think we are more similar than any of us tend to realize. We debate about things that, in my perspective, we actually agree on! But mostly I want to be a Christian woman who loves her God, pursues her faith, reads her Bible…and is also Catholic. I did not lose all parts of me affected by Catholicism when I “left the Church,” nor did I lose all parts of myself affected by other Christians when I came back. All those influences live, peacefully, together in this one person, and there is so much of the journey yet to be experienced! I have that same hunger now, except it’s directed toward Catholicism. I want to learn as much as I can about this faith we share! I no longer have the rebellious, I’m not going to follow this statement from the Church until I believe it’s right! attitude. Now it’s more, I assume the Church is right, I trust that it’s right, but I need to understand why. Don’t think I’m a dork…or do, I guess I don’t care…but I bought the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, which is the book the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote as a U.S. version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and is the book used by my church for adult formation classes. It’s a comprehensive presentation of what the Church believes and teaches, and my thought is that I will go through it and really study anything I don’t understand or anything I have a hard time believing to be true. It’s not like I think when I finish this book, my faith will be perfect. I understand that it’s a journey you make your entire life, but I think this is the place for me to start, a direction God is leading me right now. I am embracing my Catholicism! (However, the thing is 637 pages, so I expect I will learn quite a lot over the next…year? Five years? How long is this going to take me??? It’s not like I’ll stop going to the library in the mean time…)
I have no doubt that if there are more people willing to step out and experience something they didn’t grow up with, even if it’s only temporary, we can open ourselves to the unity that Jesus wanted for his Church. It’s such a long road, with so many misunderstandings and prejudices to be corrected. But it’s because of this road, because of this need, that I have no regrets about any of this journey. I really don’t think I was meant to do great things with this new wisdom. But if I bring a bit of understanding to my Catholic friends…if I brought a bit of understanding to any of the other Christian people I met…if I encourage a single person on his or her journey with God, wherever that journey leads…maybe I can have a tiny effect on this one great need, to unify the Christian church for our one God.