Have you ever watched a television program that changed your life? Well, that’s what happened to me – but it took more than five months for the full impact to hit me. It began on July 16, 2004. I caught the tail-end of a Journey Home program (EWTN), and I was immediately drawn to that night’s guest. On a whim, I wrote Mary Beth Kremski and attempted to explain something that I didn’t completely understand myself – my growing desire to enter the Catholic Church.
I had been fascinated by Mrs. Kremski because she was a Third Order Carmelite – or at least that’s what the tag line at the bottom of the television screen said. I didn’t know what Third Order meant, but I knew that the authors of the books I had recently read were Carmelites. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila – only they lived in the 1500s. I had no idea that there were Carmelites living and breathing today! What luck! I had to write her. I had so many questions.
We exchanged just one set of letters in August, and then the communication ended. I turned my attention to the local Catholic Church and decided to try RCIA class and see what would happen from there.
In December of 2004, the RCIA leader at my parish introduced the class to the Church’s teaching on the Immaculate Conception. I’ve come to the conclusion that our Blessed Mother was gently guiding me through this part of my journey, but at that moment in time, she seemed to be nothing more than one major stumbling block for me.
I announced to the entire class that I couldn’t accept that Mary was conceived without sin. I was willing to admit that Protestants had let the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction, relegating Mary to a minor role in the Christmas story, but I felt that was in response to excessive Catholic Mariology. I explained that, while I believed the Lord could do that for Mary, I was convinced it was highly unlikely that he did do it. At that moment, I didn’t even have enough faith to say, I believe, Lord help my unbelief.
The terrible thought hit me then. Where does one go when she believes in Apostolic Succession, the Papacy, Purgatory, the Communion of Saints, and all Catholic Teaching, except the Immaculate Conception? What was the name of that denomination? I felt like Peter when he said, where else can we go? This is a difficult teaching, Lord, but I’ve nowhere else to turn.
After many attempts to help me understand, my RCIA instructor mentioned that I had the option of placing a petition before the Blessed Mother. If I had sincerely given myself to the task of understanding and I still couldn’t embrace this teaching, he told me that I could always ask Mary to show me the Truth.
As an Evangelical, I had placed many petitions before the Lord. That was not a new concept. And I didn’t have a problem with asking Mary to answer my petition. I just didn’t think she would do it.
I knew a lot was riding on this petition. The Immaculate Conception was the one obstacle that stood between my father (a Presbyterian minister) and the Catholic Church. In fact, if he could have resolved this issue, I’m convinced he would have converted to the Catholic Church thirty years ago. Before I made my petition to Mary, I prayed, “Lord, I will follow you wherever you lead, even if it is down a road my father could not take. I just want to get this right. And so, I beg You NOT to answer the petition I place before Your Mother if this teaching shouldn’t be embraced.” Then I turned my heart to Mary and laid it on the line:
If you are as the Catholic Church says and if you love me, please answer this petition. I want someone to communicate with me by your inspiration. I need the communication to encourage me in the faith, and I don’t want it to be from Catholic friends at the school where I used to teach or my Catholic in-laws. I don’t want it to be from anyone in my parish. All of them—well, I have shared this struggle with some of them, and they may know through earthly tongues that I need to be propped up. Mary, I want the message to come from you to the ears of one who could know no other way. Please choose someone who, for me, would represent the Universal Catholic Church. Then I will know I am right where I am supposed to be and that the Church’s Teachings are ALL correct, terra firma, especially the Teachings about you. Please answer my petition before the end of the year—I know, that’s just two weeks.
This petition is rewritten word-for-word from my journal entry for December 12, 2004, the day I said the prayer. I knew it was unlikely I would receive a response. Almost as unlikely as the Immaculate Conception, I thought.
I had been ready to abandon the journey. I knew it would drive me crazy to teeter on the fence for very long. That’s why I had put a time restriction on the Blessed Virgin. That letter sealed everything for me. Like Thomas when he touched the wounds of Our Lord, all my doubts were gone instantly.