“Have you been caught in the traps of life’s difficulties? You must not look at your own situation or the trap that holds you. Look at the Lord. Let God act and take care of you. Cast your burdens on the Lord who will nourish you. With your mind at peace; await whatever happens. Let the Divine Will be enough for you since it is always very good. As God directed St. Catherine of Siena, ‘Think of me and I will think of you.’”
—Peace of Mind: Spiritual Counsel from St. Francis De Sales,audio cassette.1
Last year, Francka Povsic, my special friend and co-leader of our prayer group gave me a copy of the above inspirational audio cassette. These words from St. Francis De Sales powerfully describe the Truth that I have learned about God’s infinite love for me. Our Lady gently called me to peace through reported messages of Mary and eventually to the Roman Catholic Church.
Using a Catholic phrase, I grew up as a “cradle Lutheran.” My parents raised me in a loving Lutheran home. In quiet humility, my parents have always modeled devotion to family, daily prayers, church involvement and service to others.
Up through my teenage years, I was much more spiritual than most of my peers. When I was confirmed in ninth grade, I wanted to become a missionary. I even chose to go to Capital University because it was a Lutheran college. But during college in the 1970s, I found myself pulled away into a secular college lifestyle. Friendships, parties and career became my attachments more so than God did.
Once married, my husband Doug and I became regularly attending members of the Lutheran church; however, I was attached to perfection, work and pleasing my family and everyone else. As our two children grew, we both became very active in our Lutheran parish. As I look back, I realize that church became another place for achievement at the expense of my own spiritual development and personal relationship with Jesus. I was so busy “doing” things for the church that there was no room for prayer and quiet time with God.
Five years ago at the age of 38, the years of attachment to the world had paid their toll. I was suffering from anxiety, depression and early menopause. Although I was not addicted to alcohol, I used alcohol to mask my pain. As a high school guidance counselor, I felt constantly bombarded by the evil effects of the world on our youth: materialism, drugs, teen pregnancy, abortion, suicide and spiritual starvation. Given the overwhelming nature of these problems, I felt helpless to make a difference.
From the depths of my agony, I cried out to Jesus for help. Much to my surprise, Jesus sent me his Blessed Mother. This was particularly surprising because as a Lutheran, I was taught to consider Mary only at Christmas. But when we truly relinquish our worldly attachments and open ourselves to God’s Will, He responds to us in ways far beyond our human expectations. He reached me through His Blessed Mother, and eventually gave me the gift of the Roman Catholic Church.
This all began when a close Catholic friend told me about her pilgrimage to Medjugorje.** It had helped her deal with her marriage to a severe alcoholic. While reading a great book about Marian Apparitions, my spiritual journey moved into high gear. I did not experience miracles in the dramatic sense; I had no visions, apparitions or obvious supernatural experiences. Instead I became profoundly aware of Jesus, Our Lady, the angels and saints who were my heavenly team helping me to search for peace and happiness. Focusing on Our Lady’s simple messages of peace, prayer, conversion, faith, fasting and penance, I now felt my prayers could make a difference to help the world.
As I began to live these message of Mary, the right people and situations became available to me through Jesus and the intercession of the Blessed Mother. For example, I found a local Catholic book store that was a rich source of information about Mary and the Catholic Church. The owners, who have made many pilgrimages to apparition sites, certainly gave me more information and support than I could have ever dreamed!! They invited me to their prayer group and consequently, I became friends with many incredible people who were in love with Jesus, Our Lady and the Catholic Church. I continued to attend their prayer group, and learned about Theotokos, a Marian center in Toledo, attending many of its sponsored events.
Many converts speak of the Virgin Mary as the last hurdle to Catholicism. The opposite was true for me. Through these messages of Mary, I quickly grew to love the Blessed Mother and thirsted to find out more about her. After attending the Chicago Marian Conference in 1993, I immersed myself in books, tapes and conferences about the Blessed Mother. I began fasting once a week and praying the Rosary. I was drawn to share my love for Our Lady and my calling to live her messages by beginning a Rosary prayer group in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Our group began with eight Lutheran women who clumsily learned to pray the Rosary together. Heaven must have been chuckling over our awkward but sincere attempts! I believe Our Lady sent Francka Povsic into my life to help us. Francka had led a life of deep devotion to the Rosary and Our Lady since she was a little girl in her native land of Slovenia. She provided humble and profound spiritual guidance that touched our hearts and helped us persevere. Now in its fourth year, our prayer group is still ecumenical with Lutheran, Methodists and Catholic women praying together with Our Lady.
At the Chicago Marian Conference in 1993, the speakers emphasized the importance of visiting Jesus in the adoration chapel. Visit Jesus—what were they talking about?! As a Lutheran, I knew that Jesus was always with us but these people talked about Jesus as if he was in the same room!
Once I learned the significance of Eucharistic adoration, I took the brave step of seeking out the adoration chapel at St. Aloysius Church in Bowling Green, Ohio. Through weekly visits with Jesus and simply resting in His presence, Jesus led me through the difficult steps of letting go of my need to control every situation and replaced them with His Divine Will and Guidance. In that quiet chapel, Jesus took me by the hand and led me to a profound healing of the mind and body, and a conversion of my heart. As I look back, I realize that it was in that adoration chapel that Jesus led me to the Catholic Church.
Only another convert can truly understand the terror I felt once I realized that Jesus was calling me into the Catholic Church! Mine was not the typical conversion of a wife following her husband who was already in the Church. Instead, I was embarking on a journey alone. My entire family including my husband, children and parents were strong Lutherans and planned to stay that way. They thought I had lost my senses with my constant talk about the Blessed Mother. When I finally got up the courage to tell them about my decision to become Catholic, I am sure that they felt betrayed and forsaken.
Although this was quite painful for all of us, the more I prayed about my decision, my sense of peace grew stronger that it was the right choice. I was blessed with a sign that confirmed my decision. I was rereading the book about Marian apparitions during the flight home from a visit with my friend who first introduced me to Mary. I read again about several of the author’s requests for roses from Our Lady and St. Therese of Lisieux as confirmation of decisions he was trying to make. I humbly prayed to Jesus and Our Lady that I would greatly appreciate a sign confirming that I should join the Catholic Church. I set my book down to stretch my legs. When I came back, a man behind me who had noticed my book tapped me on the shoulder and asked me about my interest in Marian apparitions. After a brief conversation, he handed me a holy card of St. Therese of Lisieux surrounded by roses! That day, I cried tears of joy and thanksgiving to my Lord who was affirming my decision through a special gift of confirmation.
Why did I decide to join the Catholic Church? I can state the reason in three words: The Holy Eucharist. I had always treasured Holy Communion which is considered the True Presence of Christ in the Lutheran Church; however unlike Catholics, Lutherans do not focus their worship and church life around the Eucharist. I was drawn to the Catholic Mass that culminates in the celebration of the Eucharist. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Transubstantiation, and an emphasis on the contemplation of our Lord’s passion made sense to me. In addition, I realized that I had been missing out on the support of the Church’s Saints throughout the ages. Most of all, I needed to belong to the Church that had introduced me to my heavenly Mother.
I joined the Roman Catholic Church on the Easter Vigil of 1995. My special friend, Francka Povsic served as my sponsor. Not surprisingly, I chose St. Therese of Lisieux as my patron saint. My husband Doug, my children, and family friends supported me by attending the Easter Vigil. Although my family found all of this very difficult to understand, they accepted my choice.
Since my confirmation day, I have never regretted my decision. Beyond my wildest dreams, the Lord has showered me with boundless graces, friendships, knowledge of the Truth, peace, consolation and spiritual growth. I am deeply grateful to the many pastors, priests, religious and lay people who have provided spiritual direction before and since my entry into the Church. Retreat houses including the Abbey of Gethsemane have provided ongoing places of prayer and solitude. Making my Consecration to Our Lord and Our Lady, according to the teaching of St. Louis DeMonfort, drew me into very special friendships with other women in my parish.
This past March 1997, I received the special grace to go on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, yet another example of God’s quiet but concrete miracles in my life. I did not experience supernatural signs or wonders, but rather a pilgrimage of fulfillment. I came home with an incredible sense of gratitude to God for all that He had given me. I now realize that the fruits of Mary’s messages are to be found in everyday life.
I struggle like most Catholics to find time to pray the Rosary and spend time with Jesus; however, I increasingly look to Jesus, Our Lady, the Holy Spirit, the angels and Saints for help and guidance. When I start getting too emotionally attached to this world, I consciously try to let go and give my cares to Jesus. I ask for discernment and seek His will instead.
I continue to attend both the Lutheran and Catholic services. My family and I attend the Lutheran Church together and I attend the Catholic Church alone. Doug has demonstrated incredible love for me in accepting my spiritual journey even though it must be frustrating and painful for him. I agonize about how to unify our family’s spiritual life, and I constantly pray for the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance.
In September 1997, my special friend, Francka passed on into Heaven. After suffering from leukemia for over six years, Francka is now in joyful union with Jesus and Our Lady. Just weeks before she died, Francka gave me a special message: “I know one thing—I trust in the Lord completely. We can adore and honor him in the best way possible. I am not doing too well physically, but it will be O.K., little by little.” This statement captured her life of humble obedience to the Lord, and the qualities that drew me into the Catholic Church. This was Francka’s way. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, Francka lovingly did the ordinary things of life in an extraordinary way. It is not surprising that Francka died on September 8, the Feast of the Birth of our Lady.
Particularly when her suffering was severe, Francka would imagine herself at the foot of the cross, gazing into the eyes of Jesus. Francka has been a beautiful model to all of us who had the honor of knowing her.
As I looked out over those assembled in the funeral home to pray the Rosary with Francka’s family, I felt a special spiritual bond with my fellow prayer group members. I sensed that Francka, Jesus and Our Lady were smiling down from heaven on all present including our ecumenical prayer group, made up of Lutheran, Methodist and Catholic women who have responded to our Lady’s call to pray for peace, conversion and love for each other.
Thank you, Jesus for hearing my cries for help and sending me your Mother!
1 Graden, John, OSFS, (produced by). Peace of Mind: Spiritual Counsel from St. Francis De Sales, Toledo, OH: Word Consultants, 1996. (1-800-782-2270). This is an outstanding audio cassette for those who want to learn how to find God’s peaceful presence in the midst of daily life.