Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Unlikely Convert

I am the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. I am divorced and remarried. My first husband was an associate United Methodist minister. In 1996, I married a Baptist.

There is no reason for me to turn to the Catholic Church after forty years. I love my Protestant family and their fervor for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I love my parents and felt a particular closeness to my father, the preacher. I did not marry a Catholic. Only one person in all those years even attempted to convert me, and that was back in high school.

Do I chalk it all up to the Holy Spirit and the intercession of the Saints whose writings stole my heart and delivered my soul up to the Lord? Is it simply a matter of seeking with all of one’s heart for answers to questions that needle at the soul? Yes, I suppose those are the reasons why I converted, in spite of a life trajectory that should have sent me in a completely different direction.

I think there is something more, something that worked in tandem with the Holy Spirit. I suspect there are members of the church militant and the church triumphant who hunger to see the Christian world united.

I consider those prayer warriors my spiritual parents.

I was born into a fundamentalist Wesleyan family in Oskaloosa, Iowa, a town where nearly a century before my great-great grandmother had served as a Quaker minister.

Everyone I knew during my formative years was Protestant. In the early 1970s, we moved from rural Cedar Rapids to Cedar Falls. My new elementary school was across the street from a Catholic elementary. I don’t know why, but I was curious about what went on there. I wanted to go to that school, to have a nun for a teacher, to wear the uniforms, and to learn more about Jesus.

When my grandfather died, our family moved to northern Iowa. My dad stepped away from pastoral ministry for a year to help my grandmother dismantle the farm. At the end of that year, Dad accepted the invitation to pastor two Presbyterian churches. I spent the years from fifth grade through eleventh grade attending Riceville Community High School. It was during my last year at that school that a friend practiced personal apologetics on me. He wasn’t successful, but it was a start.

Years later, my first husband enrolled in seminary at the University of Dubuque. The year was 1989, and I became enamored by Mother Angelica who appeared on this new Catholic television network called EWTN. Again, a seed was planted. I completed my undergraduate degree at the Presbyterian school in Dubuque and took a position teaching Spanish at a local Catholic high school. Beckman High School in Dyersville. I did not convert even then, but it was at that school that a group of Catholic freshmen stole my heart, and the religion teacher and I developed a close, lasting friendship.

At Beckman High School, Brother Roger answered many of my questions about the school-wide Masses. He brought meaning to some of the rituals that confused me. Father Dennis Cain also touched my heart. He always had a smile and kind word. Father Gabriel Anderson captured the enthusiasm of the young people and proved that one could be young, attractive, religious, and happy. Sister Mary Clare Miller was a saint-in-the-making. At Beckman, many more seeds were planted, although they would remain dormant for years.

In December of 2003, my father passed away after a long illness. I began a quest for answers to suffering that could be answered only in Catholic teaching, explained for me through the writings of St. John of the Cross. This little spiritual plant began to grow.

In many ways, I feel like the spiritual offspring of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, whose writings broke through walls I didn’t even know existed. But I sense that I may have spiritual parents here on earth, too.

Whose prayers watered the seed? Whose prayers ensured that the seeds were not planted in vain? Whose prayers caused a fire to kindle within me that burns even now and will not permit me to remain silent on the issue of unity in Jesus Christ and the Truth I have found in the Catholic Church?

I am so grateful to that faithful group that helped to bring me joy in the midst of grief. Their prayers have helped open a door to a place I could not have found on my own, a place that holds the fullness of faith. They have silently prayed for something they would never see fulfilled this side of heaven. That is faith.

I will always be grateful to those anonymous laborers who are down on their knees. And now I join them.


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