I became Catholic in 2013, after growing up with some Lithuanian Catholic traditions in a household with a mixed faith background. My mother was raised Catholic, and my father didn’t grow up with a faith but held to Judeo-Christian values. Throughout my childhood, I was exposed to elements of Catholicism during Easter and Christmas, which sparked my curiosity about the faith. As I got older, my desire to learn more about the faith continued to expand.
Growing up, I didn’t have any explicit belief in God but did contemplate deep philosophical questions. At first, I was attracted to the exterior beauty of the Catholic Church, but as I got older, I began to discover its interior beauty. Fortunately, I was raised with pro-life and pro-family values, which I was later on happy to discover that the Church reaffirmed. Learning from my mother about the life of Pope Saint John Paul II and his passion for those values not only influenced my view of the Church, but also convinced me that I was meant to be Catholic after all.
Both the art and music of the Church drew me in, probably because I am creative at heart, but learning more about my maternal grandfather’s spiritual life had an even greater impact on me. He was sent to a gulag for owning property and being a practicing Catholic. He was there for about 18 months and even asked one of the guards to shoot him. His life story inspired me to take an enormous step towards the Church.
In 2010, I visited Montreal with my family and stayed at the rectory of a Lithuanian parish. During that trip, I visited L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, which Saint André Bessette helped to establish. I was profoundly impacted by Saint André’s humility and the oratory’s significance in Montreal’s cultural landscape. From the crypt church to a relic of Saint André’s heart, I was deeply moved.
Fitting the First Pieces Together
Two years later, I decided to explore Catholicism more in depth while interning at Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C. It was the first time in my life that I was surrounded by practicing Christians, including traditional Catholics. After sharing my family background, the Catholic interns invited me to Mass and the Catholic Information Center to help me with the initial steps of my faith formation. That was the first time I had ever attended Mass. Since I wasn’t familiar with the liturgy and traditions of the Church at the time, I was confused about what was going on, but did marvel at the beauty of the liturgy. However, since I grew up with Judeo-Christian values, the moral teachings of the Church have always been familiar to me.
During those earlier days of my faith formation, I struggled with my belief in God, because I didn’t grow up going to church and wasn’t familiar with the church-going way of life my fellow interns led. That easily changed in August of 2012, when I was informed that a shooting had taken place in our building. My dear friend and I were on the sixth floor of the building, and the shooting took place on the ground floor. Our building manager took a bullet in his arm to spare all of us from what could have been a deadly outcome. The shooter, who is now in prison, came to our building with 50 rounds of ammunition and several Chick-fil-A sandwiches to endure a standoff because he did not approve of the non-profit’s stance on marriage.
I will never forget spending time in the prayer room at FRC after the shooting and feeling God’s presence strongly while our chaplain calmed us down with a beautiful prayer. Those calming words soothed me as I saw many police, FBI, and ATF cars through the window. That day changed my life forever.
I thought about how we were all spared and began contemplating the major life questions. In particular, I contemplated the preciousness of life and what happens to us after death. Both my basic familiarity with Catholic mores during childhood and my exposure to traditional Catholics that summer convinced me that the Catholic Church had the answers I was looking for in my life. Protestantism had always felt foreign to me, largely because I come from a family background with Eastern European roots. Overall, I found it lacked the fullness the Church has to offer through the sacraments and the communion of saints.
The Picture Begins to Emerge
My prayer life began to strengthen after the shooting. A short time later, I returned to the University of California at San Diego to start my final year of undergraduate studies — and RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) at Our Mother of Confidence Catholic Church. I was filled with gratitude that I had spent my summer with practicing Catholics to help me with my faith journey.
When I started RCIA, I didn’t know anybody at the parish and didn’t have a sponsor. I also struggled with doubts when I started the program, but happily I was able to overcome them, one class at a time. When I volunteered at a parish event, I met my sponsor, Colette. We were serving food to parishioners from the parish hall kitchen. Her humility, her commitment to putting on Christ daily, and the manner in which she grew spiritually from her tough life experiences all influenced me profoundly. She was by my side when I was received into the Church during the Easter Vigil Mass in 2013. It was a precious moment when she and the parishioners witnessed my baptism by immersion, since I felt like a brand-new person after experiencing it.
The Catholic Church’s emphasis on tradition, including championing traditional values in society, increased my desire to enter the Church. Its teachings on the sanctity of human life, marriage and family, and contraceptives made particular sense to me. I had grown up with those teachings, but only understood them from a natural law perspective. The Catholic Church had the complete answers and the supernatural perspective I was looking for in those values.
Colette was in the pew when I received my First Communion; she had helped me so much during my faith formation. My immediate family wasn’t able to attend because they lived on the other side of the country. It was really sweet of Colette to invite me to an Easter celebration with her family the following day to make my entrance into the Church fully complete.
After finishing RCIA and graduating from college, I moved back east to work in politics. It was hard to go to Mass by myself, without my sponsor and the faith community I had known in San Diego. I didn’t attend every Sunday; I felt like I was backsliding from the progress I had made throughout the year. I remember going to confession for the first time at a nearby parish and understanding how that sacrament transforms your life for the better. However, it wasn’t until some time later that my understanding of Sunday Mass and confession changed for the better.
Fitting the Final Pieces
Stuck in a career rut, I started going to confession and daily Mass at a D.C. parish nearby where I previously worked — an experience I hold dear to my heart to this day. I will never forget when the priest explained how Sunday Mass is comparable to Christ being the vine and we His branches (see John 15:5). Without that vital link to the vine every Sunday, we as Catholics really do suffer. Our faith lives shrivel up and become meaningless. We ultimately settle for a mediocre life that doesn’t have the strong foundation we need to live purposefully and spiritually. Since then, I have not only made Sunday Mass a priority in my life, but also my daily faith experience through prayer and readings. As a convert to the faith living in the D.C. metro area, I am very blessed to be in one of the most traditional dioceses in the nation. It’s amazing how my faith journey has taken the pieces of the puzzle from my past and brought them together to form a perfect spiritual picture.
As I look back, I am grateful for how much I have grown spiritually. I not only have a better understanding of the Mass, but I also strive to live out the main message of the homily I hear every Sunday. I now understand better the liturgy of the Eucharist and how it applies to our lives. Without experiencing it on a weekly basis, we truly miss out on an opportunity to find true and profound peace in our lives. I have learned more about the faith over the years since my baptism, especially through challenging personal and professional experiences. I have come to see God’s plan for my life more clearly. I have also found comfort and happiness in putting my trust more in God, especially when life gets tough.
I also now understand what it means to live out my faith daily. Being Catholic doesn’t mean just going to Sunday Mass and caring about the faith for an hour a week. It truly is a lifestyle, day by day, moment by moment, that you either embrace wholly or reject wholly. It is more about actions than what you preach. It is about challenging yourself to become more like Christ as you strive to share His love in all aspects of your life with whomever you meet.
The lives of Pope Saint John Paul II and Saint Therese of Lisieux have helped me to understand what it means to put on Christ daily. I began learning about Saint Therese when I worked on Capitol Hill several years ago. At the time, I was part of an informal Catholic women’s book club made up of staffers from the House of Representatives and Senate. I was a press assistant in the House and was looking for ways to strengthen my faith life. We discussed The Way of Trust and Love by Fr. Jacques Philippe, which reflects on excerpts of St. Therese’s writings, and was just what I needed to read at that time in my life. I was contemplating my career path and found comfort in Saint Therese’s simple yet profound wisdom. I even let one of my Anglican colleagues borrow this book and was happy to see that it influenced him positively.
It then became very clear to me how important it is to place our trust in God when we feel anxious and doubtful about the future. I found it a real joy to be surrounded by women of faith in an environment that often preaches a message contrary to the Gospel. Then again, our environment also presented us an opportunity to share the beauty of the Gospel with whomever we encountered — whether it was a constituent we guided on a Capitol tour, an intern who needed encouragement and career advice, or a colleague who needed our help with a difficult situation. Our meet-ups truly encouraged all of us to live out our faith courageously in our offices. I can’t thank those ladies enough for the fellowship we had then, because it was just what I needed to build on.
The Picture Is Now Complete
Nowadays, God is definitely using me to strengthen young professionalism in the Church through my involvement in the Catholic business networks in Northern Virginia and D.C. I have always been passionate about entrepreneurship and small business, but now that I am on fire with the faith as a young adult, I decided to get involved in these networks. Many young Catholic professionals in this area have told me they crave more than just social events in the Church, which is why I became motivated to find a solution. I am happy to see that many young professionals are excited about attending our upcoming events and getting involved in these networks. It fills me with joy.
I am blessed because I came home to what was really my home after all of these years. The Church was the missing piece in my life that I was searching for, and now I feel the picture is complete with the faith I have received. Looking back, I am glad I was given the courage to make the journey home to Rome.