I can hardly believe that I have been Catholic for 42 years! It is easy for me to remember when I became Catholic, because I did it just months before I was married. But to be more specific, I have become more and more Catholic through gradual and ongoing conversion.
I have always wondered if there aren’t more folks like me, who needed a continual touch of grace in their lives over a longer period of time in order to become truly Catholic. My story is a journey that I am still on today. God willing, I will continue on it until the day I die and meet my Jesus face to face.I have always wondered if there aren’t more folks like me, who needed a continual touch of grace in their lives over a longer period of time in order to become truly Catholic. Click To Tweet
I was the second child of four, born into a strongly religious United Methodist family. At one time, my father had considered becoming a minister. Instead, he skipped college for marriage and family life. My father was a telephone repairman, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. I had a good childhood until my high school years. Then my world fell apart.
My mom went to work part time at a department store. She became very disconnected with family life, even missing one of my birthdays completely — no cake or presents, not even a remembrance. We came to learn that she was interested in life outside of her marriage. My parents experienced extreme marital problems that ended in their divorce when I was a senior in high school. It wasn’t an amicable divorce; it was bitter and divisive. I can remember police knocking on our door during one of my parents’ fights. I also remember my father following my mom to see where she went after work. This seemed to me to be outside of all that was normal. Where was God? Hadn’t we gone to church every Sunday? Didn’t He love us?
I had always believed in God; I loved Jesus. I even escaped from the chaos of those years by becoming a camp counselor at a Methodist summer camp. But I could not escape the feeling of being abandoned by my parents and the deep pain of wondering why God didn’t intervene. I prayed constantly for God to fix my parents, especially my mom. It never happened. As a teen, I just couldn’t grasp that the Lord’s intervention has to be welcomed by the soul for His grace to be effective.
Growing up as a Methodist meant kind of picking and choosing what you could believe. Sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it? I didn’t want to think about the devil when my parents were feuding. I even told someone at our church that I didn’t believe in the devil at all; the reply I received was that it was no problem if I didn’t believe. Even today, you can go to a Methodist church that is highly pro-life, while a second one down the street teaches that abortion can be OK in some circumstances. That wasn’t the way that John Wesley had outlined things from the beginning. Our perverse culture has influenced many churches in this manner.
One day, during my freshman year of college, a high school friend invited me to attend a Catholic retreat called Search. It was a weekend retreat that introduced Jesus as a friend to the participants, sort of Jesus 101. I attended that weekend retreat and loved it!
Later, I worked on a Search weekend as a team member. Eventually, I was asked as a non-Catholic to join the commission that ran the program. There were many non-Catholics making the retreat, and I was supposed to be their eyes and ears, looking out for their interests. I even met my future husband there. It was a wonderful two years of serving the Lord in a new way and avoiding what was happening to my parents and siblings.
I must mention that, as good as the Search program was, the secular culture had its malicious influence there, too. It was the 1970s, after all. Drugs, open sexual activity and relativism were all on the menu at my college campus. We assimilated “Jesus as our best friend” right into our sinful life. Here I was, a non-Catholic, attending many Catholic Masses. I had lots of priest friends, and I received Jesus in the Eucharist sacrilegiously many, many times. No, I didn’t believe in the Real Presence. It was the seventies, and they just gave Jesus to me anyway.
The Lord still honored me with a great man, my husband, Dan. We were married in 1977. Just a few months before that, I had become Catholic. At the time, there was no such thing as the RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). I just met with a priest friend, skimmed through a book, and came on board. Dan was my sponsor. I was confirmed, had a first confession, and entered the Church in just a few months. The priest told me that I was more Catholic than many souls sitting in the pews. How wrong he was!
When Dan and I married, four priests attended the wedding. We only let two concelebrate the Mass because I thought my Protestant family would be overwhelmed. I was Catholic; I did not believe in the Real Presence; I did not have a relationship with Mary; I wasn’t even sure if I believed in the devil; my husband and I were practicing birth control. But … outwardly we looked like the ideal couple.
But God’s grace is amazing! After our first daughter’s birth, I had a pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage at 20 weeks. I had suffered lots of bleeding. I delivered that little stillborn boy, then had an infection that landed me in the hospital for a week with antibiotics. If they hadn’t caught the infection in time, I would have died. The nurse on duty noticed that we were Catholic and baptized our little one. I was so out of it that I didn’t even ask for the body of our son, to have him buried. But through little Nathan, God saved my life, allowing me time to make the journey all the way home to Him.
Dan became involved with a Christian businessmen’s group. They met for breakfast once a month. He would tell me that he was most interested in how these men made money! Gradually, however, they influenced Dan’s prayer and faith life.
The businessmen’s group connections also included the men reaching out to our family. We were invited as a couple to charismatic meetings. That is where the Holy Spirit is invited to take an active role with the participants. Dan loved it; he liked to pray in new ways. But I hated it. I can remember yelling at him that he could pray as he wanted on his own time, but if we were alone in our home, I forbade it.
I was both attracted and repelled by our Catholic friends who were involved in charismatic prayer. I would ask them questions like: Can you turn that prayer off and on? Do you know what you are praying? How did this start?
You see, I was truly afraid of this charismatic stuff. I had never faced or confessed a certain serious sin. I didn’t use confession to totally reveal myself and come clean with God. Even though priests are forbidden to treat anyone differently because of the sins he or she confesses, I was convinced that the priest would hate me and know too much about me. Growing up Methodist, you could decide for yourself what parts of the official faith you would believe. No one challenged you. I took this attitude into my Catholic life. The Holy Spirit seemed too powerful and pervasive to let into my life. Still, I was aching inside to find total love.
Dan and I were invited to make a Life in the Spirit retreat over a weekend. I am still not sure why we went. The couple who had invited us insisted on driving. They told me later that they were afraid I would back out. Most of the retreat was just like the Search program. I even thought that I could have given the talks. But I wasn’t used to thinking about the divine power of the Holy Spirit. Remember my fear; I really was just a sinner who appeared good on the outside.
At the end of the retreat, a deacon prayed over each of us individually. (He read my name tag wrong and called me Karen. I thought I was safe — wrong name!) Something very strange happened. I started to cry and could not stop. It was as if the emotions were not mine; I had no control over them. I remember wondering if God could somehow be crying over me. The next morning, I prayed and read my Bible. The Scripture came alive for me and I had spiritual songs in my heart. Everything seemed new and fresh.
But I am not a quick learner! So the dear Holy Spirit had to work with me over a lengthy period of time. I spent about two years on a very private retreat with Him. Finally, I began to see my sins and really repent. I began to seek forgiveness and change my ways. My husband and I found NFP (Natural Family Planning) and stopped all our contraception. Now, the Holy Spirit was always with me.
Following this preliminary conversion, two pivotal spiritual events occurred. The young daughter of a church friend gave me a book on Eucharistic miracles. I didn’t even get through the foreword before I was deeply convicted of receiving the Eucharist unworthily. I called up our parish priest and asked him to hear my confession immediately. I sobbed through that confession, and I walked out a new creation. I believed! Suddenly, I was going to Mass as often as I could. I just wanted to receive Jesus. I had been given that greatest of gifts — faith — and knew Jesus was present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the form of that small Eucharistic host. I needed Him!
The second event that happened was that, one day during prayer, the Holy Spirit introduced me to Mary. I fell in love with her. I badly needed a motherly role model. I did not want to be like my earthly mother, because of my terrible high school years and the devastating divorce. I did not want any member of my immediate family to experience that anguish. Mary became my stability, my anchor. She showed me how to love my children. I needed to learn from her so that they would not be wounded as I had been.
Those two really pivotal events occurred, aimed at how I was supposed to live my life. One day early on, the Holy Spirit showed me a brick wall during my prayer time. I was on one side of the wall, and my mother was on the other side. I told the Lord, “You know, Lord, she put those bricks up over many years and hurt me very much.” The Holy Spirit asked me if I had fingerprints on any of those bricks. “Well, yes, Lord, you know I put up just a couple of those bricks.”
I had spent my time trying to distance myself from my mother, protecting myself, as I supposed. I knew, without God telling me directly, that I had to repent of any bricks I had put up. So I invited my mom to lunch. I couldn’t even get through the whole lunch. I just felt prompted to start talking. I told my mom about the wall that was between us. I said my fingerprints were on some of the bricks. I asked her forgiveness. I wish I could say that she softened and owned up to her sins against me. That did not happen then, nor any day afterwards. She just said that she didn’t know how to love me. But I was again new and fresh. I could love her! I still work hard at my relationship with her and pray for her ongoing conversion.
My final little story was the most important one for how I was to be a wife to my husband. My parents’ divorce had left me deeply wounded. I wanted to make sure that my marriage did not end up like theirs. Consequently, I became highly manipulative of my husband. I demanded flowers and gifts, I demanded the he talk a certain way to me. I did not see this as manipulation, but more like an insurance policy. I needed to feel that I was unconditionally loved. But instead of bringing peace to our marriage, these “teaching moments” of mine usually brought fights. I started to talk to the Lord about it. In my prayer, I saw a tree. And there I was, screaming at the tree: “GROW! GROW!” It was the most ridiculous scene. The Holy Spirit eventually showed me that I was screaming at the tree, and the tree was my husband, Dan. I couldn’t make the tree grow by yelling at it. God took care of that growth. My job was to add fertilizer every once in a while. You know, like kind words of love. That was it! I learned over time to stop manipulating Dan. When his acts of love were free and unexpected, they became much more valuable to me than when I had demanded them. Doesn’t that sound more like unconditional love?
I had repeated “conversion moments”; they happened over and over! Conversion never stops. We can always go deeper and further into the heart of Jesus. Dan and I both read books on the saints and apologetics. We got involved in all kinds of service and Christian groups over the years. At last, our Catholic faith and worship became the very heart and soul of our marriage and family.
Dan and I have had such an exciting adventure with God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We have nine children, and all of them are practicing Catholics. Our son Zachary is an ordained priest for the Youngstown diocese. He just had his first year anniversary. Our daughter Eva is entering her second year of Novitiate with the Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. God willing, she will receive her habit and make her first vows next August. Four of our children are married, and grandbabies 14 and 15 are due next year.
Dan and I are members of the Holy Family Institute, a secular institute approved by Rome. Through the Society of Saint Paul, we were consecrated by becoming postulants, novices, and taking temporary and finally perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for our married state in life. Our lives have been offered up for the salvation of the world through all forms of the media and as reparation for the harm the media have had on human souls everywhere in the world.
My story is about ongoing conversion. Our God never gives up. He keeps going after His lost sheep, even when they are sitting in the pews every Sunday right beside us. He didn’t give up on me, and He won’t give up on you! Just open the door and He will transform your life.