Five Giant Leaps into the Catholic Church
by Beverly J. Lebold
My life as a Protestant
In 1969, I lived with my husband and children facing Court Street Christian Church directly across the street. It was like a magnet drawing me back to memories of my childhood going to Sunday School at the Methodist church with my sister. I wanted my children to grow up with a knowledge of the Lord and to be part of a church family, as I was in those early years. After a few months of regular attendance at the church across the street, I committed my life to the Lord and joined a neighborhood Bible study, which led to four years in Bible Study Fellowship. Then I discovered Women’s Aglow Fellowship (now Aglow International) and leaped into the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Thirty years later, when our last daughter, Jessica, was in high school, she and I joined an Assemblies of God Church, which at that time was enjoying a period of revival, particularly among the youth. She, too, caught fire and set her heart toward the mission field. For me, the large AG church never quite felt like home, so after she went off to college, I settled happily into a sweet, little neighborhood Wesleyan Church. Regardless of where I attended church, Aglow was where my spiritual life was energized, where leadership skills were taught, where gifts of the spirit moved freely, and where national and international conferences kept the vision alive. I took on various positions of leadership at the local and area level, but my heart belonged to Aglow’s prison ministry, in which I served twenty years.
Giant Leap #1: Prison ministry in Nicaragua
In 2004, a group of college students were headed to an orphanage in Nicaragua and asked me to join them, specifically to do prison ministry (a ludicrous idea since I was 60 years old and didn’t speak Spanish). It became clear, however, that this was the Lord’s doing, so I naively signed on, bought a backpack, and landed in a village on the Caribbean. There I found warm, friendly Nicaraguans who opened their hearts and home to us. The prison conditions, however, brought me face to face with the darker side of Nicaragua, as did the stories from children in the orphanage and even Nicaraguans on our team — reports of poverty, rejection, abuse, molestation, and dysfunctional families. In particular, one young Nicaraguan man on our team, Wilber Javier Bucardo González, gripped my heart as I learned of the hardships and struggles of his childhood. Yet he had a faith that held him steady throughout his life. His last words to me as I left Managua with the team were, “Peace of Christ.” Wilber was Catholic.
Giant Leap #2: Praying the rosary
Back at home, revitalized physically, emotionally, and spiritually as a result of going to Nicaragua, I kept in touch with Wilber via e-mails. The winter of 2004 brought a confluence of crises in Wilber’s life from several directions and I didn’t know how to help him or even how to advise him. In the intervening months since meeting him, I had begun to watch EWTN in order to better understand his Faith. I had known many Catholics, but no one had shown me a side of Catholicism that made me want to investigate its merits.
On EWTN I learned the importance of the rosary in the life of a Catholic, so in an attempt to help him deal with these crises, I asked, “Wilber, are you praying the rosary every day?” I felt as though the Lord turned the question back at me: “So, Bev, are you praying the rosary every day?” “But I’m a Protestant, Lord, and Protestants don’t pray the rosary!” I knew arguing was futile, so I half-heartedly relented: “Okay, Lord, I’ll just see what happens.” Would I see changes in my life? Would I experience answers to prayers? I had no idea what to expect, but on a scale of one to ten, my level of expectation was probably negative three.
Aware of this new penchant for all things Catholic, my daughter Jessica had given me a copy of Catholicism for Dummies (Revs. John Trigilio Jr. and Kenneth Brighenti, Wiley Publishing, Inc.). There was a section entitled “How to Pray the Rosary.” I had no beads and no crucifix, but, providentially, the Lord had already provided ten fingers that would work until I could find the courage to show my face at the Catholic bookstore to buy rosary beads!
I continued this daily devotion for months, until one dark winter’s night when I was driving home from prison praying the rosary (now with beads in hand). After a couple of decades, an amazingly fresh, new love for Jesus washed over me. Wow, I thought, so this is what happens when you pray the rosary! I cried tears of joy the rest of the way home. When I told the nice lady at Holy Family Supply what had happened, she just smiled knowingly and said, “That’s what Mary does!” I love the fact that my experience was not even unusual — it’s simply “…what Mary does!”
Giant Leap #3: The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Before I could get too caught up in this whole Catholic business, I had to check out an important source: The Catechism of the Catholic Church. This seemed to be the bedrock of Catholic theology from which I could determine whether I was being seriously duped or if there was credibility in what Catholics teach.
As an evangelical Christian, the plumb line for discerning truth was always the question: Does it line up with Scripture? This called for another visit to Holy Family Supply to purchase my own copy of the Catechism, so I could take my red pen and underline errant passages. Arriving home, I plopped down in my favorite chair to begin my investigation of the 900-page tome, poring over page after page, chapter after chapter, pillar after pillar. Weeks later, I was halfway through the book and completely dumbfounded. I had found nothing to criticize. Nothing! How could that be? I set aside the Catechism and wondered, “What do I do now?”
Giant Leap #4: The adoration chapel
In 2005 when Wilber came to the U.S. through a work/study program, more and more of his life in Managua became clear and, again, I was overwhelmed by grief for the deep-seated traumas and family situations that continued to affect his day-to-day existence. All my declarations and prayers seemed to be having no effect on his situation. While praying the rosary had an impact on me, I did not see any changes for him.
After his return to Nicaragua in 2006, I began to hear about adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on EWTN and thought, “That’s the place to pray for Wilber!” I called St. Joseph Church. “Do you have an adoration chapel?” “Yes, we do. Here’s the number to call to sign up.” I was given a regular adoration hour, every Monday at 2 p.m. “Really?” I said with surprise, “You do remember I’m a Protestant, right?” She gave me some instructions on what to do, like making the Sign of the Cross and going down on both knees upon entering. Monday came. I anxiously opened the chapel door and entered into another life-changing adventure with the Lord. A lone wolf in sheep’s clothing had invaded a purely Catholic space of sanctity and silence.
My weekly visit quickly developed into a daily commitment. I began to journal my prayers for Wilber. I wrote down Scriptures and prayed them. I grabbed books from shelves and wrote down Catholic prayers and the prayers of old saints. I wrote and prayed and prayed and wept. I prayed the chaplet of Divine Mercy. I prayed the rosary. After each hour in adoration, I could leave Wilber there and get on with my life knowing the Lord was taking care of him. As I left the beautiful chapel, the last images I took with me were of the stained glass windows. On the right was Our Lady of Guadalupe, gazing down at the Blessed Sacrament. On the left was the Good Shepherd with a sheep on His shoulders, a sheep I named Wilber. He was in good hands.
A few months later, the earth moved: Wilber’s mother and her ex-husband were getting married again. They were receiving counseling at their little church in the barrio and going to marriage classes to prepare for their new life together again as a family. I knew this development was the Lord’s doing — I would never have thought it was possible. Throughout the next year they continued with their marriage group and even went to a retreat! Returning home, both his mother and his stepfather gave Wilber a letter begging his forgiveness for the pain they had caused him. Now his wounds could begin to heal.
So what does a stiff-necked, old Protestant learn in adoration? Catholic prayers are powerful. The prayers of the saints are powerful. Mary’s intercession is powerful. Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. Nothing is impossible with God!
Giant Leap #5: The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults
In the fall of 2007, after three years of personal study and prayer, I strode into St. Joseph’s to enter the RCIA program. To my chagrin I was sent down the hall to something called “Inquiry.” “What? I’m being sent to Inquiry? I’ve spent three years inquiring of the Lord,” I muttered to myself as I skulked down the hall to Room 3. RCIA was a two-year commitment! Perhaps that was why the Lord put me in the “School of Mary”; I desperately needed her lessons in humility to take the edge off my arrogance and impatience.
So week after week, I took my seat in class and was mesmerized by how incredibly deep the Catholic understanding of Scripture really was. It all made such profound sense! My eyes were opened to the history of the Church, the liturgy of the Word, and the communion of saints. The Gospels came to life in the typology of Old Testament events. It all fit together in perfect harmony, completely demolishing any remaining delusions that Catholicism was repetitive, ritualistic, and boring.
At the Easter Vigil of 2009, I was confirmed at St. Joseph Church. This was not, however, my “graduation,” suggesting I had “arrived” and now knew it all. After the completion of two years in RCIA, I have continued to go as a helper in class — not just to serve refreshments, but to continue the learning process. Invariably, there would be someone coming into the Church at the Easter Vigil who would need a sponsor. What a privilege to stand with another who has boldly chosen to enter the vast and fulfilling world that is the Catholic Church. In addition, the The Great Adventure Bible Timeline series by Jeff Cavins has been an eye-opening study of Scripture from a beautifully Catholic perspective.
With each “Aha!” moment in an RCIA class, during the Mass, studying the Word, or praying a rosary, I am aware of just how inexhaustible are the wonders and riches of God. And sometimes those riches are found, as Bl. Mother Teresa discovered, among the poorest of the poor.
Catholic and loving it!
No one is more astonished than I am at where a simple “Yes” to God has taken me. “Yes, I’ll go to Nicaragua to do prison ministry even though I don’t speak Spanish. Am I crazy?” “Yes, I’ll pray the rosary even though I’m not Catholic. Are you kidding me?” “Yes, the Catechism is trustworthy. What? No red pen?” “Yes, I will spend a daily hour in the adoration chapel for a young man in Managua. Why? I have a Nicaraguan ‘son’ named Wilber!”
I’m continually awestruck by…
- the richness and beauty of God’s Word, as expressed in the Catholic Church.
- suffering, as seen in the light of the Cross, a deep work of great value in God’s eyes.
- what humility actually looks like when learned at the feet of Mary.
- the Mass — every word in the liturgy, every action of the priest, every moment of consecration — the daily miracle of the Eucharist!
- wholeness and unity in my walk with the Lord — all the best parts of my Christian experience have come together within one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
- the preciseness of God’s 40-year plan to take me to the “Promised Land,” from my commitment to Christ in 1969 to my confirmation in 2009.
- living each day in a young Nicaraguan’s blessing, “Peace of Christ.”
© 4/30/2013 Beverly J. Lebold