Anyone who has had any kind of experience with Mormons would probably say they are kind, sincere, wholesome people, and very sure that they are right.
I was one of those people.
I was raised in Alberta, Canada in the early 1980s in a devout family whose Mormon roots went all the way back to the church’s founding in the 1830s.
I came from a traditional world of big families and hard-working fathers who sacrificed much in order to raise their families on one income. There were loving, capable mothers who knew how to do everything from cutting hair to canning. And, to be sure, there were many children!
It was a loud, happy, messy life of hand-me-downs and sharing beds, of morning and evening prayers, family Scripture study, and of course, church on Sunday.
My world had an active, supportive community life, with lots of service projects, church activities, and fun seasonal events. If you were laid up, someone would come over to shovel your walk or mow your lawn. If you had just given birth, someone would be by with a casserole for dinner.
My childhood felt safe, stable, and happy, especially compared with the chaos, confusion, and upheaval that one saw everywhere else in the world.
From my perspective, we were good, hard-working, God-fearing people. However, I did notice from a young age that there was something different about us. I became aware of a certain coolness when I would tell a friend’s parent that I was Mormon. For some reason, people didn’t seem to like us much.
I eventually decided that it was because we claimed to be the one, true Church.
As a child, I was taught that, after Christ founded His Church, it very quickly fell into apostasy, and that the true religion had been removed from the earth because of wickedness. For 1,800 years, God’s authority was nowhere to be found, and mankind stumbled along as best as they could in darkness. Then, in the “latter days,” God, in His wisdom, chose to re-establish His true religion.
God, I was told, chose a young, uneducated farm boy named Joseph Smith. He bestowed on him the holy priesthood and teaching authority and led him to an ancient record, written on gold plates, that contained an account of the peoples of the American continent. By the power of God, Joseph Smith was able to translate these records and discovered that the ancient American people were of Jewish descent, and that they also looked forward to the coming Messiah. Jesus Christ Himself had appeared to them in the New World after He had bidden farewell to His Apostles in the Old World.
Since God had restored His Church and had given the world a different, completely independent account of Jesus Christ, it was a Mormon’s solemn duty to proclaim it to the world. One need only look at the state of Christendom to understand why Mormons felt justified in their viewpoint. With no teaching authority, mankind is free to interpret Scripture any way they please. This, though, leads to endless fracturing and confusion. Therefore a restoration of the original Church ought to be instituted by God Himself.
If there is one thing Mormons understand and respect, it’s authority and priestly succession, and since no Protestant denomination claims to have either, from a Mormon viewpoint, Protestants are nice people, but their religion is illegitimate.
But what about the Catholic Church?
As a Mormon, I fully understood that Catholics were the only other church that also claimed authority given to them directly by Jesus Christ. I knew that Catholics had an uninterrupted line of priesthood coming directly from the Apostle Peter. And I knew that, within Christianity, the only two legitimate choices would be the Mormons or the Catholics. May I be forgiven for believing that it must definitely be the Mormons!
Everything I had heard about the Catholic Church, however, was negative and frightening. It was corruption, abuse, and scandal. The outside world, too, seemed to feed on a diet of horror stories about Catholic practices.
So if my choice for God’s authority on earth was between the squeaky clean, ultra-wholesome Mormon church and that — to me, the choice was clear.
But as time went on, I began to have unsettling questions about my religion. I wondered: “Why isn’t the rest of the Christian world thrilled about the Book of Mormon? Why are they so against it? Why isn’t the Book of Mormon taken seriously by scholars and historians? Even if they weren’t at all religious, wouldn’t such an ancient record documenting the history of the first American people be of tremendous value and interest for its own sake?”
Another big area of concern was the Mormon Temple. Mormons attend church on Sunday in a regular building. But they also have much more elaborate buildings called Temples in many major cities. To attend these services, you must be a devout, tithe-paying Mormon in good standing. You must be found to be fully orthodox and worthy to attend the Temple. Those who qualify are given an admission card called a “Temple Recommend.”
One of the strictest rules of Mormonism is that you are never to discuss what happens inside of the Temple because of the very sacred nature of the ceremonies.
As a Mormon girl, I knew about “eternal marriage” in the temple, where you are married to your spouse “for time and eternity,” not just “until death do you part.” I also knew about something called “baptisms for the dead,” where Mormons are baptized “in proxy,” in place of others who have already died, so that they, too, would be members of the “true Church of God.” These and other ceremonies made me uncomfortable. They sounded strange, especially “baptisms for the dead.” It seemed presumptuous to be baptised for dead people without their permission.
However, if this is the way God intended things to be, I could learn to accept it. Therefore, I eagerly looked forward to my ninth grade year, when my Mormon seminary class would be studying the Old Testament. Since Mormonism was a restoration of the original Church, I expected to learn all about “eternal marriage,” and “baptisms for the dead,” all happening in the ancient temple, just as it happens in our modern-day Mormon temples.
However, that was not what I found.
All I could discover about ancient temple ceremonies was Levite priests making sacrifices to God on behalf of the people, and that God dwelt with them in the “Holy of Holies.” There were no eternal marriages or baptizing for dead people.
Another thing that really baffled me was the insistence from friends and acquaintances outside my church that I was not Christian.
Whatever did they mean by that?
Other kids would tell me that Mormons are not Christians. I’d defend myself by saying things like, “of course I’m a Christian! Our name is ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints!’ We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe He died for our sins and was resurrected. We learn about Him in church all the time. We’re Christians!” But it didn’t convince them.
There were many other little things about my religion that would niggle and bother me, but in the end, I never seriously thought about them. My family was Mormon and my best friends were Mormon. It was my entire world and support system. We had the restored gospel and the Book of Mormon. Those facts made any discomfort or puzzlement inconsequential.
The next part of my story will seem odd in light of the foregoing. I was a faithful and devout Mormon, and I knew that the Catholic Church was totally wrong and corrupt. However, from a very young age, I held a secret fascination for the Catholic Church itself. Though my common sense told me it was not good, still I considered the Catholic Church beautiful and mysterious.
I’d look with longing at pictures of cathedrals and stained glass windows and sadly compare them to the bare utility of Mormon churches.
I’d envy people who could have statues of saints in their homes or gardens and little prayer corners where they could kneel down, light a candle, and pray.
Whenever a scene in a confessional happened in a movie, I’d be riveted. I knew that what we were about to hear was going to be the complete truth and the very heart of the matter. Those booths seemed so private, cozy, and comforting! I imagined what it would be like to have such a place to go to at any time, where you could bare your soul, in complete anonymity and safety, to a man of God, kindly listening to you and then forgiving you … and you knowing you were forgiven. That seemed so inviting!
When I was about seven years old, I began making the sign of the cross, which was an absolute no-no in the Mormon world. There are no crosses of any kind in or on Mormon buildings. I must have seen someone on television making the sign of the cross and imitated it. One day, my mother caught me crossing myself. She was a faithful Mormon, but also unusually open-minded. She simply laughed and said, without a hint of irony, “just don’t do that at church.”
Around the same time, I must have seen someone handling a rosary on television. I asked my mother what that was, and she said, “that’s how Catholics pray. Each bead on the necklace is a prayer.” When I heard that, my whole heart yearned towards those beads. I literally itched to roll those beads between my fingers.
But far and away my biggest attraction to the Catholic Faith was her music.
When I was twelve, I discovered that I had a talent for singing. I was soon placed in high level choirs, where I was immersed into the world of sacred music. For the first time in my life, I finally felt like I had found my niche. I ate, slept, and drank the most beautiful music ever written, and it was almost exclusively Catholic. At the age of twelve, I sang my first setting of the Ave Maria. Latin was the most haunting, mysterious language I had ever heard. I loved how it sounded and would repeat the words over and over to myself, having no idea that it was the main prayer of the Rosary.
I sang Masses, but again, I had no idea what a Mass actually was.
I sang many settings of medieval carols, falling in love with the bright, exuberant, joyful way medieval England sang, especially about Mary.
I sang chant, polyphony, all the great music of the Western world, and I felt that there was nothing nearer to heaven than this. It filled a deep place in my soul and moved me more profoundly than anything my own religion ever had. More times than I can count, I would be so deeply moved by the beauty of the music that I could not sing for the tears of emotion that I shed.
One example of these songs was an Old English carol called Dancing Day, which particularly stood out to me because it was sung from the perspective of Jesus Christ Himself:
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing O my love, O my love, My love
This have I done for my true love.
Then was I born of a virgin pure
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing O my love, O my love, My love
This have I done for my true love.
I spent a lot of time contemplating these stunning words. To think that Jesus Christ Himself was calling me His “true love” and that He was inviting me to “His dance,” that He had taken on flesh from Mary so that He would be “knit to man’s nature.” That was just … more than I could fully take in.
The song was so bounding and joyful, so terribly intimate! It was a totally different Jesus from the one in my sterile Mormon world.
Throughout my preteens, teens, and early adult years, I straddled two worlds. On the one hand, I was a faithful Mormon. But my musical life, where I poured out my heart and soul, was essentially Catholic. My singing life was deeply rewarding, a glorious spiritual feast, while my religious life was becoming ever more barren and difficult to return to.
I suppose that, in my mind, the Catholic Faith was the beautiful, mysterious, wrong thing, and the Mormon church was the honest, plain, right thing. All I could do was enjoy what I was allowed to of the Catholic tradition and continue to hunker down and steadfastly endure my Mormon faith.
To be honest, I was miserable. Once I turned 18, I was expected to begin attending a “Young Adult Ward.” This is a parish where young, single Mormons attend church together, with the clear expectation of pairing up for marriage. It was a forced and unnatural setting. Without my loving family and hard-working, enthusiastic youth leaders, there was even less to hang onto than before. Mormonism without my family was drudgery. Everyone had an overwhelming number of daily obligations, and I was constantly failing to meet them. And now I was being pressured to get married, and I seemed to be failing at that, too.
But what did any of that matter? If I was in the true Church of God, then just because I was going through a difficult time in my faith, that did not give me the right to leave. My duty was to endure to the end, even if it was hard. So I continued to endure the emptiness and loneliness of my faith, because I believed that was what God wanted me to do. I might have continued like this for years if something major had not happened to shake my faith in the validity of Mormonism.
At the age of 25, I could no longer continue with my faith the way it was, so I decided to take the next step and attend the Temple for myself.
If my faith was barren, it was my fault, and I needed to go deeper. The Temple was always presented to me as the pinnacle of Mormonism, the holiest place on earth. Since Mormon church on Sundays felt like drudgery, I figured the real worship, and the real depth of my faith, must be found there. Although I had always been uncomfortable with the idea of Temples, I would face the challenge and break this stalemate.
I started by attending a “Temple Preparation Class.” My mother sewed me a white dress, because wearing all white is required. My older brother and his wife took time off work, my aunt flew from Ontario, and my dad rented a van so we could all ride together on the five hour drive to the Cardston Temple in southern Alberta.
I will not describe my temple experience, except to say that it was there, on that day, that my Mormon faith received a fatal blow.
I left the Temple that day in total shock. If that was the “House of God” — if that was “God” — then I was alone in the universe.
After that day, I went into a crisis, and there was no one I could talk to about it. I had to put on a brave face with my family, the whole time feeling betrayed by them as well. How could the people I trusted most have spoken of the Temple as “the most sacred and beautiful experience in the world”? How could I tell them that what was supposed to be one of the most sacred experiences of my life had shocked and terrified me? Everything I knew, my entire world — all of it — was called into question.
The Mormon church had revealed itself to be something utterly different from anything I ever would have imagined. Something clearly must have been wrong with me. Most Mormons really do love the Temple. Many couples attend it every week. I had friends who regularly attended and who spoke fondly of it, how much they always gained from the experience, how much peace was flowing into their lives.
My own family said this!
So what was wrong with me? Did I attend something different from everyone else? Did I see and hear something different? Was I going insane?
Clearly my entire upbringing in the Mormon church was meant to prepare me to accept and even love the Temple. But it didn’t work for me.
Put bluntly, I thought what happened in the Temple was sinister, and I could not believe that no one felt the same way about it. I am not saying that I believed that those who attended the Temple knew there was something wrong, yet continued to go. I could see that people truly thought it was good; it was no fault of their own. I just didn’t see it that way.
I wish I could say that, after that trip, I never entered a Mormon church again. I wish I could say that I had been honest with my parents about what I thought of the Temple and had my name removed from the records of the church.
But I didn’t. I was in shock. My world had been shattered, but I still hoped I could somehow rebuild it, not to how it was before — that was impossible — but perhaps to something lesser but still livable.
I tried to re-frame the Temple experience in my mind so that it hurt me as little as possible. For three years, I continued to be outwardly a Mormon.
Then I met my future husband, Christopher. Thank goodness, he was not a Mormon! With his warm and steady love and support, I finally felt strong enough to leave the Mormon church. It shocked and disappointed everyone who knew me. I couldn’t explain it to anyone without hurting them even more. At least they didn’t reject me; that is, sadly, a very common practice in the Mormon community. I felt very grateful for that kindness. But once the decision was made, a massive weight was lifted off my shoulders.
I embarked on my married life, beginning to understand how isolated I had been in my Mormon bubble, and by leaving I felt like I was only then joining the human race.
For many Mormons who leave the church, it is common for them to become atheists and to go overboard in experiencing all of the things that were forbidden to them before. For myself, instead of seeking after such experiences, I reveled in a mental freedom that I had never known. I looked at all of the things I believed and asked myself if I only believed those things because I had been raised to believe them, or did I truly believe them for myself. Everything was on the table, except for my belief in God. I never for a moment doubted the existence of God. In fact, by leaving Mormonism, I felt closer to Him than I ever had. The problem was, I didn’t know who God was any more.
I began to drift quite easily and naturally into the New Age. I felt so traumatized and betrayed by my Mormon faith, yet I was terribly lonely for God. What New Age beliefs and practices seemed to be offering was a relationship with God with no strings attached. God could be whatever I wanted Him to be, and nothing was required of me. I could pick and choose whatever belief I wanted; the only requirement was whether it “resonated” with me. And since all spiritual paths ultimately led to God, I was off the hook for having to convince or convert anyone.
At this point in my life, that was about all I could handle. If anything seemed too structured, defined or dogmatic, I’d feel anxious and want to flee.
I believed that I had broken free of my Mormon past and was doing something truly different and authentic. In retrospect, I see that I was doing the exact same thing the Mormon church had done: I was making myself my own authority. I was interpreting Scripture any way I wanted, making my own truth, making my own religion.
I was completely unsettled during that time. I kept reading, searching, trying different philosophies and meditation practices. All of it left me feeling hollow. It never occurred to me during those years to investigate Christianity. Despite everything I had been through with Mormonism, I still never doubted that it was Christian. I did see Joseph Smith as a shady character who had invented his own religion, yet I always believed it was Christian. I had tried hard to make that religion work, but the thought of going back to it made me feel ill. Not only that, but because I had lumped Mormonism in with Christianity, it seemed foolish to move in that direction. No one would ever spend years working to escape a prison, then willingly return there after a few years of freedom.
But one day, all of this changed unexpectedly. For the fun of it, I took an online test that was supposed to determine what religion I am, or what religion I would be most suited to.
I thought it would be interesting to see, after having been free of the Mormon church and studying my own philosophies for nearly seven years, what camp this test would put me in.
It was a very in-depth test, taking a lot of thought. I was as honest as possible, really pondering each theological question concerning my current beliefs.
When I got the results, I was completely shocked!
Out of thousands of religions, Christian or otherwise, this test had the audacity to inform me that I was most suited to be a member of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” A Mormon!
At first I dismissed the test in disgust and humiliation. But the more I stewed on it, the more I realized that the online test had revealed to me something critically important: my beliefs were still Mormon!
Even after running away, rejecting Mormonism and trying all of these different, exotic philosophies … deep inside, I was still Mormon.
The shock of this revelation floored me. It’s one thing to hear someone say it, but it’s something completely different to realize it for yourself. If there was only one thing I would wish for all Mormons, and especially all former Mormons, to understand, it’s this: We were NOT Christians!
Another idea began to form, as revolutionary as the first: “if I never was a Christian to begin with, maybe I have no right to reject it. After all, I have never even tried Christianity.”
Now I was on a mission: learn what Christianity is!
And I knew exactly where to go.
When one wants the most authentic, pure, original form of Christianity, where does he go?
To the Catholic Church, of course!
I wasn’t going to spend any time dealing with the thousands of denominations that all had their start in protest of the original Church. That would be like trying to learn about a person by going to his disgruntled and estranged children for information.
Believe me, I knew all about the problems in the Catholic Church. But now, for once, I wanted to hear about it from actual Catholics. The problems didn’t worry me; what did any of that matter if Christ was the founder?
The following day, I attended my first Mass.
I had spent countless hours learning and singing Masses, yet I had never actually attended one. I knew the form, but only in the context of performance, not of worship. Now I was amazed. I didn’t understand it yet, but I sensed an incredible depth and cohesion.
I was impressed with the reverence of the people when they went forward to receive Communion. I did not yet believe it was the Body of Christ, but I could see clearly that they believed it, and I felt a longing to have what they had.
I drove home that day in total silence.
I soon discovered that they offered a class called RCIA, for adults interested in learning about the faith, and though this was January of 2017, and the class had been in session since September, I was encouraged to join in at that time. They would do their best to catch me up.
Everyone was kind and welcoming. The problem was, it was a large class, and I felt bewildered and lost. It was definitely geared towards Protestants, and sitting there quietly in this class, it came home to me just how different and “out there” Mormon doctrine really was.
In front of such a large group, I felt too embarrassed to even ask questions in class. I didn’t want to make 40 people sit there and wait while the most basic things were explained to me.
So I sat there, not knowing that Jesus Christ was God, or that there was no such thing as “pre-existence” (a Mormon doctrine that we all existed for eons in spirit form before our earthly births).
I didn’t know which of my thoughts were Mormon and which were Christian, and I was too embarrassed to find out.
Then a wonderful thing happened. I came to learn that traditional Masses were still offered in the original Latin and with a musical background corresponding to my experience and fascination with Latin. Of course, I wanted to attend there! Once I experienced the Latin Mass, I knew I was home. It was like my whole life and all of the things I had secretly loved, plus my musical background, finally made sense. It seemed to me that this was what God had been calling me to since I was a little girl, fascinated with confessionals, nuns and Latin chant.
I spoke to the priest at the Extraordinary Form parish, who was a member of the Fraternity of Saint Peter, and briefly told him my story. I asked him if there was an RCIA class at this parish. He told me that the parish was too small to have such a class, but that he would be very happy to teach me himself.
I had never dared hope that a real live priest would give so much of his precious time to teach just one person — me! In this one-on-one setting, finally I felt safe enough to ask all of my questions and to be able to explain Mormon doctrine to him so that he could understand exactly where I was coming from and exactly what I did not understand. Over the months, he gave me much reading material. I would devour it, then come back with a list of questions. Father C. would painstakingly help me to unpick the rat’s nest that was my Mormon doctrine. I saw that it actually would have been easier to have known nothing and started with a clean slate than to do what Father C. had to do with me. But the advantage was, he said I now understood many things better than many cradle Catholics, because we had to dive down to such a deep level in order to clean out all of my Mormon background.
I loved every moment I spent with Father C., loved everything I was learning. I was stunned at how beautiful and cohesive Catholic doctrine is. The deeper I went, the better it fit together and the more sense it made. It was like being invited into a very old, but vibrant, city where I kept discovering hidden pathways to beautiful gardens and delicious restaurants and gorgeous statues in orderly town squares, with ringing bells and angels all around. And I wasn’t just being invited in, I was being offered an opportunity to live there forever.
That is not to say that I had no doctrinal struggles. My main issue was believing in the Real Presence. I accepted that this was the Church’s teaching for two thousand years, and actually that NOT believing Christ, the Son of God, was truly present in the Eucharist was the innovation.
Still, it seemed like magical thinking to me.
One day that changed.
I was kneeling during the consecration during the consecration, and I thought: “what if I gave myself permission to believe? Maybe I need to stop being a skeptic.”
Indeed, why couldn’t God, who said, “let there be light,” and light was made, choose to come down and be with us in the Eucharist?
If from His mere word the entire universe was made, why could He not do this?
After all, Jesus did say He would always be with us. Maybe He literally meant that. And maybe, when He said that we must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood (Jn 6:53) in order to be saved, He meant that literally, too.
Could I allow myself to believe that God loves me so much that He actually gives Himself to me to consume, so that He can strengthen and comfort me and just be with me?
The depth of intimacy unfolding in front of me was stunning.
So I decided that day that I would stop closing my heart to this idea, stop trying to make the Catholic Church smaller than it was so that I would feel comfortable. And I was surprised how very quickly belief came.
Everything clicked into place for me after that. Truly, the Catholic Church was the clear continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament, all instituted by the Second Person of the Trinity, and there need be no “restoration,” as I had been taught as a Mormon. God’s authority had never been removed, He never left His people, and it was all there, waiting for me, full and complete.
I was baptized and confirmed at the Easter Vigil in 2018 by Father C. Then I personally received the true Body of Christ with awe and gratitude.
My husband, Christopher, was not raised with any religion whatsoever. He was not even sure if his parents had ever gone to church much growing up, and if they had, he didn’t know which denomination it would have been.
This gave my husband an almost totally neutral view on religion in general. He was not religious himself, but he had absolutely no animosity towards it, in fact his attitude was always respectful.
When I was on my journey into the Catholic Church, I asked my husband if he would be alright with me becoming Catholic. He was completely accepting and supportive and He continues to happily support me in my Catholic faith.
I still pinch myself or break into laughter at the wonderful and surprising turn of events that my life took, and that I am actually now a Catholic.
I love going to confession, receiving the Eucharist, praying the Rosary, and crossing myself. All of this has changed me, made me more the person God always wanted me to be. And it has completely filled that deep longing God placed into my heart as a little Mormon girl.
He called me “to His dance” and I gratefully cried, “Yes!”