I was raised in a religious, Catholic household, at least by my mother’s influence. My mother was raised by two Catholic parents who were lax in the practice of their faith. Apparently, they did not attend Church on a regular basis.
That changed when my mother was seven years old. Her father had a nervous breakdown and was unable to work for three years. My grandmother then became the breadwinner; this was during the 1940s, when not many women worked outside the home. Once my grandfather emerged from the breakdown, he had a conversion experience and became very devout. He set up a prayer altar in his house, he attended daily Mass, and the family prayed the Rosary daily. It had a profound effect on my mother and her sisters.
My mother, after marrying my father (who was also a lax Catholic), continued the family tradition of praying the daily Rosary together. We went to church on Sunday and generally tried to live out the Christian life.
Probably the best virtue my mother passed on to me was faith. I always had a strong belief that God existed, that He was real and always around me. When I was young, I did pray a lot and felt a closeness to God, and I had an attitude of wanting to do the right thing.
But somehow, when I became a teenager, while I didn’t recognize it at the time, all of that began to change. Friends and boys moved to center stage, and prayer and faith receded into the background.
At the same time, my parents suddenly split up and got divorced. My dad had started an affair with someone at his workplace as I finished the eighth grade. A few months later, he left our family for her. I wouldn’t see much of him or have much of a relationship with him for the rest of his life.
In the meantime, as a family, we relied on our faith, and I remember praying a lot to forgive my father and for healing. My whole life, as I knew it, had been shattered. My security was gone. That is how things stood as I entered high school.
I went to an all-girl Catholic High School, had to make new friends, and my parents were separating. These things really caused me to rely on God my freshman year. But by my sophomore year, I had acquired a great group of friends, and the boys started paying attention to me.
That’s when my spiritual journey started to decline. I would go to church on Sunday with my family, but I didn’t pray much, except maybe a prayer here or there to help me on a test.
In my junior year, my prayer life was pretty much the same. Not having a father in my life and having a working mom allowed me and my first boyfriend, who was a few years older than me, to enter into a relationship that was not chaste. I had always been taught that pre-marital sex was wrong, and not to do it, but my boyfriend and I had become very close, and I thought that I loved him, so it seemed to be a natural progression of the relationship. I didn’t understand that you could make a decision not to do this, and then ask God for the graces to stay chaste.
So now that I was in this relationship with my boyfriend, and I wasn’t struck by lightning, I got caught up in society’s view of pre-marital sex: “It’s okay as long as you love the person.” That way of thinking causes a slippery slope. Not only had my views on sex changed, but my thoughts on a relationship with Jesus changed as well. I started to believe that it was okay to miss Mass, because as long as I prayed and was a good person, that’s all I needed to get to heaven. Wow! How clever the devil is at twisting our thoughts.
As I moved into college, my boyfriend and I broke up, but my relationship with future boyfriends — and with Jesus — was pretty much the same. While in my 20’s, church was every once in a while, along with prayers when I needed something.
Eventually, I graduated from college and got a good job. Every now and then, usually when I was between boyfriends, a twinge of guilt would hit me about how I needed to go to church and pray more, but it never lasted long. A new boyfriend would come into the picture, and that would be the end of it.
However, at age 28, something changed. I had been dating my Jewish boyfriend for two years, and he had told me that he could only marry someone who was Jewish. He was pretty much an atheist who only observed the traditions of Judaism. I wasn’t practicing my faith, but knew that I could never convert, because that would mean denying that Jesus was my Savior.
It got me to thinking, “What do I believe?” Since I was raised Catholic, I thought that maybe I should start there.
Around that time, I was flipping through the television channels and happened to catch the program, The Journey Home, on EWTN. As I started watching the different episodes, I came to see how different people came to the Catholic Faith. I began to learn about the Fathers of the Church and how the Deposit of Faith was passed down to us. I became convinced that the Catholic Faith was the one true faith. Soon after that, I definitively broke up with my boyfriend.
I would like to say that I had a St. Paul type of conversion, but I’m a very slow learner, and it took me a long time to get to where I am now.
At 30 years old, I met my husband, who was a Catholic and was wanting to become more involved in his faith. We married 18 months later in the Church, and two and a half years later had our first and only child. During that time, we went to church on Sunday and prayed somewhat, but I was still very worldly. Even though I knew that the Catholic Church was started by Jesus Christ, I did not conform to its doctrine on contraception. I knew that, if the Church was right about everything else, it had to be right about contraception also, but I didn’t try to learn the Church’s reasoning, and I didn’t conform. Regrettably, because my son was a challenging baby and my husband and I were older parents, we decided to have only one child.
As I was raising my son and asking God’s grace to help me in my parenting, I was gradually moving closer to God. I noticed that my prayers would be answered, and I started to seek God more and felt closer to Him.
But about four years ago, something happened that accelerated my spiritual life. On a Sunday afternoon, I read an article in the newspaper about a priest who had died in prison. He had been convicted of killing a nun many years earlier, and people were outraged that he was given a Catholic funeral with Mass and a Christian burial. Not knowing where he would end up eternally, since he never confessed and the evidence was so strong that he had done it, this got me to wondering if there had ever been a Catholic priest who had a near death experience of hell.
I searched the internet for that, and up popped the name of a priest: Fr. Steven Scheier. He had been a priest for 12 years, had been involved in a head-on collision and was left in a coma. He said that he had mortal sin on his soul, didn’t have much of a prayer life and no devotion to the Blessed Mother. He would have been considered a “popular priest” by his parishioners. As he was going through his life review, seeing his sins, there was nothing he could do but agree with his Judge. There was no blaming or making excuses. Jesus told him his punishment was hell. But then he could hear a woman’s voice pleading on his behalf. He realized that it was the Blessed Mother Mary interceding for him. She asked Jesus if he would give Fr. Scheier a second chance.
Mary pleaded for his life. She asked for special graces and strengths to see if he would bear fruit. Jesus replied, “Mother, he’s yours.” He came out of the coma and changed his life completely. That story moved my heart.
After that story, there was another near-death experience listed on the same website. It is the story of Gloria Polo. That story took all afternoon to read. I read, stopped, reflected, cried.
Gloria Polo was a dentist in Colombia. In 1995, she and her cousin were walking across a campus toward the library when they were both struck by lightning. Her cousin died instantly, and she died several times while lying on the ground.
She thought she was a good person, but Jesus showed her her sins in the light of the Ten Commandments. He showed her how her advice had harmed people and how the effects of sin trickled down. The story was very detailed; she had died with mortal sin on her soul.
It was as if a veil had been lifted, and I suddenly recognized my own sinfulness. I saw the many sins she had committed, that I had committed as well, and how offensive they were to Jesus. Sins against charity. For instance, she told Jesus, as they were going through the Book of her Life, that she never killed anyone. But there is more than one way to kill. One can kill, in intent, with words and actions. She also mentioned that she never stole. But Jesus showed her how she stole people’s good name and reputation by repeating stories about them, causing harm to their name and reputation. It didn’t matter whether those stories were true or false; the effect was the same.
Do you know what saved Gloria Polo from hell? A faithful peasant man saw her story in the newspaper and started pleading with God for her salvation. This man, who had never met her, practiced the ultimate form of charity towards his neighbor. His supplications saved her life. Jesus showed her that this is how we are to practice charity to all of mankind. After reading this, I was in tears. It caused a deep conversion to take place in my heart.
I resolved to dedicate my life to Jesus in a new way, through prayer, reading his word and being obedient to him. I was on fire for my faith and couldn’t get enough of reading conversion stories, such as Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn, No Price Too High by Alex Jones, No Turning Back, by Fr. Donald Calloway, and so many more.
Reading the lives of the saints taught me many things. For instance, I noticed during my readings that they had a deep, personal relationship with Jesus. It’s as if they tasted a piece of heaven and couldn’t wait to get there. I wanted to know the Jesus that they knew. When I read these stories, I got a glimpse into heaven as well. It took me outside of myself and this world and connected me to my Creator, which is what we are made for. This is the Jesus that I longed to experience and know!
I started to feel a deep regret about using artificial birth control (contraception). I knew it had to be wrong because the Church said it was wrong, but I didn’t know the reasons behind it. Then I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church on birth control. God opened my eyes to the beautiful meaning of human fertility and sexuality. It was a perfect understanding of how God views life, and I began to see how it was all connected.
Life is a gift, and we are supposed to be open to whatever gifts He wants to give us in marriage. The conjugal act is the gift a husband and wife give to each other, and the new life that can result from that is God’s gift to us. When we use artificial birth control, we are essentially telling God that we don’t want or aren’t open to any gift that He might want to give us. I had never thought of it that way, but now that I was reading this, it made perfect sense to me. Why had I not understood it before? I have since gone to confession and stopped using artificial birth control, but still regret that I was not open to what God might have wanted to give me.
Given all of these life experiences, I now make good confessions. I look at the Examination of Conscience and confess my sins in light of that. I am so grateful for Jesus’ gift of His Church and the means that He used to bring me closer to Him. I am a work in progress, but at least I am progressing.
The Catechism says that faith is a gift from God. To know His Church is also a gift, and I am grateful to Him for revealing to me. I believe that God wants to reveal His Church to everyone. All you need to do is ask, and I’m sure He will show it to you.