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Catholic Church, Here’s My List

Jennifer Southers
May 19, 2022 No Comments

Let’s Be Friends

I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior and was baptized in the spring of 1980. I attended Protestant churches my entire life, being a member of a Friends church for over thirty years prior to my conversion to Catholicism. The last year that I was at the Friends church, it felt like God was telling me it was time to go deeper, to look outside of where I was.

That church was full of memories. My husband, Denny, and I were married there, and his funeral was also in that church. The kneeling benches at the front of the altar were built and installed with the memorial funds from my husband’s funeral. My best friend went to that church, and we sat together every Sunday. This was my church family. What was God asking of me in saying I should go deeper, in leading me to look beyond this place?

That Friends church was a small country church full of kind, caring, Christian people. They were very strong in Bible knowledge, and they showed us the love of God. It was difficult for us that their theology had no room for baptism or communion. George Fox, who founded the Friends (Quaker) Church in England, believed that the Church of England emphasized tradition and rituals rather than providing healing and listening to the Holy Spirit. I was raised in the Methodist Church, not in the Friends Church. My faith formation instilled in me the importance of Baptism and Holy Communion. The Friends Church had many wonderful aspects, even though they didn’t practice a sacramental life.

Every week, the pastor would say, “Think that Jesus is sitting next to you and think about what He would say to you.” When you think about that, it impacts how you pray. This prayer of quiet contemplation is a very Catholic idea, although I didn’t know it back then. I just knew the Friends Church had a deep prayer life. I was also involved with the business of the church and aware of their support for missions. We understood the importance of both local, domestic and international missions. I went on some of our mission trips.

When our home was robbed, my husband worked second shift, and each evening someone from our Friends church would call to make sure I was okay. Again, when our son was three years old, I had to have back surgery. The church members brought us meals and helped with house cleaning. Years later, my first husband and I divorced, and my family became the missionary focus for our congregation. They cared for me and my boys and helped us to move forward. In February of 2006, I remarried, and my husband Denny passed away nine years later. I remain a widow to this day.

Let’s Go Back in Time

In March of 2019, I went with a church group on a pilgrimage to Israel. This was a life changing trip, and my Bible came alive. There were many experiences that resonated with me and many things that I understand better since coming into the Catholic Church. Our first stop was Joppa, where Jonah tried to run from the Lord and, having boarded a ship that encountered a severe storm, was thrown overboard and was swallowed up into the belly of a whale. In the same city, we saw the house where Peter was staying when a Roman centurion named Cornelius sent to him for him to come and instruct him in the faith. I was in awe that the house is still there after 2,000 years and occupied by a family. Above the door frame is writing that says, “House of Simon, the Tanner” (Matthew 9:43). The importance of history struck me at every turn.

The day we were at the Mount of Olives and walked down the path Jesus traveled as He entered the city of Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, it was misting rain. The hill was steep and slick. I wondered if such a condition had anything to do with the reason people laid down their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Christ. But the overarching impression was that I was on holy ground, that my Lord and Savior had come down that road and stepped on that very ground. I had that thought over and over as I toured the many sites in Jerusalem.

We walked the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus walked while carrying the cross. The Stations of the Cross are marked along this route, and people pray at each location. I did not understand the Stations of the Cross because I wasn’t Catholic then. Today, they would have a much greater impact on me.

Now, when I listen to the homilies and there are places referenced in Israel, I can picture those locations and place myself there. I can visualize the caves that David hid in, because I have been there. I have walked where St. Peter and St. Paul walked, where Jesus Himself walked!

The biggest surprise came when we visited the cathedrals. There was peace, and it washed over me. I would sit and relax, pray. Sometimes it was overwhelming. One place that stood out was the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, Jerusalem, recalling the episode when Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. This church is dedicated, therefore, to all of us who deny Christ, then repent and are redeemed. Like many churches, there is a cross on the roof, and atop that cross is a gold rooster. When I got back to Indiana, I noticed there are lots of rooster vanes atop barns and buildings. I felt as though St. Peter was nudging me closer to something. I just had not figured it out yet.The biggest surprise came when we visited the cathedrals. There was peace, and it washed over me. I would sit and relax, pray. Sometimes it was overwhelming. Click To Tweet

Let’s Go Deeper

In May 2019, I had been widowed for over four years. I was introduced to a widowed gentleman, Bruce. He is Catholic, and after a few months of knowing him, I asked if I could go to Mass with him. When I first entered the church, the wonderful peace and calmness I had experienced in the Holy Land came over me again. I loved the liturgy of the Mass. I went when I could, but since I was also still involved and attending my Friends church on a weekly basis, I felt like I had one foot in my Protestant church while the other foot was trying to step into the Catholic Church. The entire time, I felt God was nudging me to keep thinking and praying.

On August 11, 2019, my friend Bruce asked me where I was going to church on Sunday. I told him I was going to pray about it, and I would let him know. Sunday, August 12, I told him I was going with him. I call this “decision Sunday,” because as we drove into the parking lot of St. Patrick’s, a feeling washed over me from the top of my head to the toes of my feet. I didn’t say anything to anyone, but I knew I was where I belonged. I had made my decision. I finally told Bruce about that experience some two weeks later. He already knew when I had made the decision because, according to him, the change in me was visible.

I spoke with my pastor and shared that I wanted to explore the Catholic Church and its teachings. He told me he was not surprised. During the time that we were in Israel, he knew I was struggling. I called my best friend and told her that I wanted to come and talk to her and her husband. When I told them about my decision, they were not pleased. I am happy to say our friendship is back on track. Sadly though, we never speak of church and rarely of our faith.

Here’s My List

I started RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, on September 1, 2019. Bruce was my sponsor and attended every class with me. I met with the priest, Fr. Brian, early in the process. I took him a list of questions that I had. He said that they would be answered through my classes, and if not, he would specifically make sure to answer them for me. He was patient and very encouraging. The classes helped me to put many things in place, things that had bothered me for years. I learned about Peter and how Jesus singled him out when He said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). I learned about the liturgy. I had no idea that the liturgy and the readings were the same all over the world, in every Catholic Church. We covered my questions and many more things.

Some of the questions I had for Fr. Brian were:

  • Why do I need to confess to a priest? I thought that when I asked forgiveness of God and shared my heart, I was forgiven right then.
  • How can an earthly human being act in Jesus’ place for confession or anything else?
  • I do not understand the praying to saints or to Mary. I pray directly to God through the Holy Spirit. Is this not enough?
  • Why does Mary have such power in the Catholic Church? Jesus is our Lord and Savior.
  • Purgatory? Jesus came so that we could spend eternity with him in heaven. Why do we need purgatory?
  • In the Rosary, why am I praying to Mary?
  • Why can I not receive Communion? Why do I have to wait in my pew?

Our class was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There were delays, but on July 22, 2020, I came into the Catholic Church and received my first Holy Communion. My family said I glowed with happiness during the Mass. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was home.I was very nervous for my first Confession, but afterwards, I was more at peace with things of my past than I had ever been. Click To Tweet

I reflect on my questions of that first RCIA class and how I was able to put the pieces together during those weeks. I was very nervous for my first Confession, but afterwards, I was more at peace with things of my past than I had ever been. I learned that the priest is an agent of God and that each priest could track his priestly lineage to Jesus and those first Apostles. In John 20:19–23, we read:

Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you!” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The power to forgive sin, which Jesus gave to his Apostles on that occasion, was not to die with them. What would be the point of entrusting it to them when He was about to ascend if it would die with them? It was passed from one generation to the next through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

In Matthew 22:31–32, it says: “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not God of the dead but of the living.”

I had interpreted that to mean that God is the God of us on earth, the living. I now understand that St. Matthew is telling us that the saints in heaven are alive, not dead; they are living in eternity. Truly, they are more alive than we humans here on earth. I fully believe that St. Peter was the one that just kept pulling me along and gently helping me get to the point that I was ready to say, “I am home!”

In Revelation 5:8, St. John wrote: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and with golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Those prayers are the prayers that we lift to the saints.

I had access to a book that listed all the saints and what they were the saint of during my RCIA class. It was overwhelming to me to consider the thousands of saints listed and the countless ordinary things in our lives for which they are patron saints. We all have the potential to be a saint. It is what we are meant to be.As for Mary, I have fallen in love with the Blessed Mother. For years, I wondered why we only thought or talked about Mary at Christmas. Click To Tweet

As for Mary, I have fallen in love with the Blessed Mother. For years, I wondered why we only thought or talked about Mary at Christmas. Not only did she give birth to the Son of God, but she also had influence with Jesus and was with Him throughout His ministry (John 2:1–12 and John 19:26–27). More recently, the impact Mary has had on me is significant. I see her as the greatest woman of faith, strength, compassion, wisdom, and motherhood. So many misunderstand, thinking that the Catholic Church wants the laity to put the Blessed Mother above one’s relationship with her Son, Jesus Christ. This is not Catholic teaching at all. Mary holds a high place of honor because she helped mold the Church after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Had she not had the faith to hear, interpret and understand the Archangel Gabriel and the movement of the Holy Spirit, we would not have her Son. He is her Lord and Savior — and ours too. Jesus loves us so much that, from the cross, He gave her to all disciples by giving her to John, the beloved disciple (John 19:26–29). I am thankful that she is in my life and praying for me at the altar in heaven.

The Rosary has also become an important part of my daily ritual. I get up early, read my devotions and pray a Rosary. The Rosary is not praying to or worshiping Mary. The Hail Mary is one hundred percent scriptural, but because I only recalled those Scriptures at Christmas when I was Protestant, I never realized this. Someone described the Hail Mary to me as a sacred repetition of this prayer in order that I might focus on the Gospel story behind each mystery. Through the mysteries of the Rosary, I have come so much closer to Jesus. I receive a new understanding or thought regarding a specific mystery often.

Many of the mysteries are pieces of the Gospels that I learned growing up in the Protestant Churches. For example, in the Sorrowful Mysteries, we start with Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the Garden, He started taking on all our sins and experiencing the separation from God the Father that sin causes. The immense pain of that weight, the knowledge of what was coming — I cannot imagine how hard that was. For years, I never gave thought to the true impact of what was happening to Jesus in the Garden. The Sorrowful Mysteries take me deeper into all of Christ’s sufferings, from the Garden to the Crucifixion. He did all of it for me — and for you.Finally, the Eucharist. This is the greatest gift I was given when I received my first Holy Communion. Click To Tweet

Finally, the Eucharist. This is the greatest gift I was given when I received my first Holy Communion. As a Protestant, I looked at the bread and the wine as merely symbols of the Last Supper. When we studied the Sacrament of the Eucharist in RCIA, I began to understand the magnitude of Jesus’s Real Presence in the Sacrament, that He is front and center in the entire eucharistic meal, in the entire Mass. I became so much more aware of His Presence, and I now truly lay my whole self at His feet. I had to learn, to pray and to wait, and the waiting was so difficult. And yet, it is right to wait until one fully understands and appreciates Who we are receiving at every Mass. My heart breaks for my Protestant friends who have no idea that Jesus is waiting for them as well.My heart breaks for my Protestant friends who have no idea that Jesus is waiting for them as well. Click To Tweet

I continue to grow and learn. People have recommended many books to me, and since I retired on December 31, 2021, I finally have time to read those books. I am looking forward to being able to attend daily Mass and spend some time in Adoration. I just want to learn more, to get closer to Jesus and spend time with Him.

I have given prayer and thought to the next phase of my life. During my career, it was important to give back to the community where I worked. I have prayed about how I want to help people going through the grieving process and to work with children. I will now be able to do both things through my parish.

I am thankful that St. Peter kept nudging me toward the Catholic Church.

As I finish this article, I ponder the fact that we should always be making an examination of conscience. We should be mindful of where we are in our walk with Jesus Christ. Is He calling us to go deeper? Is He calling us to draw closer? The questions that remain with me day in and day out are these: Am I living a life that is pleasing to the Lord? Am I doing all that is being asked of me? Is my faith strong enough that my head and heart are completely open to what God is asking of me? Am I the woman that God created me to be? Am I becoming that saint I was meant to become?

 

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