As a child, I grew up Seventh-day Adventist (SDA). Much of my spiritual direction came through my grandmother, who was my caretaker, while both my parents worked full-time. She had a very no-nonsense attitude when it came to religion and made sure my brother and I acknowledged Jesus in everything. Before every meal, there was prayer. Before we drove anywhere, there was prayer. Before bed, there was prayer. Morning and evening, we would have Bible-based devotions. Sabbath-keeping is central to SDA theology and practice; therefore, we would start observing the Sabbath at sunset on Friday and it would last until Saturday at sunset. The 24-hour observance involved vespers on Friday evening, Sabbath School on Saturday morning (for both children and adults), followed by Sabbath services, potluck fellowship meal, and vespers again in the evening to close out the Sabbath.
Growing up Seventh-day Adventist was different; none of my friends at my public school were SDA. Aside from missing Saturday morning cartoons (this was before the advent of cable and 24 hour cartoons on demand), we had to live with many “rules.” We didn’t use caffeine. We were largely vegetarian. We did not smoke, drink, use drugs, dance, or wear jewelry (I still do not have my ears pierced). It was promoted that your body was a temple of God, and that you should treat it as such. I did not necessarily mind being different — I loved Jesus, and the SDA church sincerely loved Jesus, so I went along with much of this without any protest.
I remember once that my father brought home a St. Christopher medal for me and I happily wore it. Even though I wasn’t allowed jewelry, I still liked it anyway. My grandmother took one look at the medal, ripped it off, and declared it as satanic — that was the end of any more jewelry. Many SDA, especially “old-school” SDA, are vehemently anti-Catholic. The main objection focuses on the perception that Catholics worship graven images, which is denounced by Moses through the Ten Commandments. To an SDA, all the saints, statues, medals, candles, incense, etc. look like worshipping something other than God. Since the Sabbath is a sign of the Creator and points to God’s ownership and authority, according to SDA teachings, worshiping on Sunday, rather than the traditional Jewish Sabbath, is perceived as worshipping someone other than God. I questioned many of these things as a child, but whatever answer my mother and grandmother gave seemed to make sense. On my mother’s side of the family, my grandfather was an SDA minister, and my grandmother was a preacher’s wife — always helping him, always evangelizing to anyone who would hear, and always keeping Jesus as part of daily life. I had a very devout family.
Adulthood in SDA
As I grew up, my grandmother moved away and our devotions began to dwindle. My father, who at one point had been devout, had left the faith before I was born, and my brother eventually followed suit. My mother was insistent that success in the world was vitally important; school and after-school activities became more important than anything related to God. We made it to church every now and again, but with soccer tournaments, school functions, and the like, it was growing difficult. When we did go to church, without my grandmother, it was just my mother and me (my mother did not push either my dad or brother to join us).
I, however, loved going. In the SDA church, you do not get baptized until you are “of-age” and able to make the decision for yourself. Baptism is by immersion, and I was baptized two days before my 18th birthday. I had completed a baptismal course ahead of time offered by the youth pastor, and asked him difficult questions, such as what the Bible states about pre-marital sex and abortion. He fumbled the answer, but stated that he was not aware of anything in the Bible specifically against either pre-marital sex or abortion. I had asked my mother these questions and got the same answers. As a teenager, I was kind of happy to hear these answers, because they gave me license to have pre-marital sex. On another level, however, I remember being deeply disappointed and confused, because, in all my years of study and of going to church, these answers just seemed blatantly wrong.
Soon after, I went off to college. At first, I attended SDA church services regularly, however, it grew difficult since the church was not close, I didn’t have a car, and school and my social life were pressing on my time. Around this time, I started dating a nominally Catholic man. I started to live a less-than-holy life. I drank, spent plenty of time with my boyfriend, and the like.
After graduation, I moved to NYC and married my boyfriend. It’s amazing how life events like marriage and children draw out hidden religious feelings. My nominally Catholic boyfriend all of a sudden had some opinions about religion: he thought we should have a Catholic wedding! This was the guy who only attended Mass for weddings, Confirmations, First Communions, Christmas, and Easter — maybe.
Well, I went off! This guy all of a sudden, becomes “Mr. Catholic.” I found this to be offensive and hypocritical. Ultimately, we were married in the SDA Church by my SDA minister grandfather, with a Catholic-priest-for-hire administering Catholic portions of the marriage ceremony. I look back on that day, and am shocked that my grandfather married us. An SDA minister will not marry an SDA to a non-SDA, as it is seen as being “unequally yoked.” It must have been Providence. After marriage, I continued to intermittently attend SDA services — always alone.
What to do about “the kids”?
Three years later, we had our first child. In the SDA Church, there is no infant Baptism. We do a dedication ceremony, much like when Mary presented Jesus in the Temple. However, my husband and his mother were insistent on Baptism, as well. Again, I found this to be offensive and hypocritical, because I never saw my husband or his family praying, attending Mass regularly, or doing anything outwardly Christian. I relented, and only because I told myself that our children could “re-do” Baptism later on in the “proper” SDA way.
I had three children in a row, and I was in the regular habit of taking all of them to Sabbath School and services. My mother would also come with me every week. My in-laws lived further away, and were not part of our religious services. Then came the day when my oldest was three, after attending a service for one of my in-laws (perhaps a First Communion), when she asked me, “How come we go to daddy’s church, and how come we go to your church? Why are there two churches?” Indeed. I did not have an answer.
Shortly afterwards, I sat my husband down and asked him, “How Catholic do you want these kids to be?” He gave me a fumbling answer something along the lines of “I want our kids to do all the ‘things’ I had to do.” Later on, I understood that he wanted the kids to go through all the Sacraments of Initiation into the Catholic Church. We were registered to a parish through my husband in order for the children to be baptized and it stated very clearly on the bulletin that if you wanted to know more about the Catholic Church all you had to do was call the number for RCIA. Since my husband wanted me to be in charge of the religious education in the house, I decided to call the parish and find out what it means to be Catholic. I had delayed doing all of this for a time, but one morning I woke up, was getting ready for work, and a thought in my head was screaming at me that I needed to find out what Catholicism was all about before I did any more religious education for the kids. This was a thought that could not be ignored. I called the number listed on the bulletin and left a message. The sister in charge of RCIA called me that afternoon and insisted on meeting that night. When we met, she handed me my RCIA folder and told me that meetings were every Tuesday. Talk about an “organized religion!”
But this was just supposed to be for the kids!
For weeks, I was feeling as if I had made a huge mistake. I was not trying to convert to Catholicism, only learn about it. Let me be clear: all this was for the kids’ sake, not mine — I knew my Christianity! How did I get myself into this?
I began attending RCIA and, once I started learning about the Catholic Church, exploring the history and teachings, I realized that so much of what I had been taught as a kid was skewed. How could 1.2 billion Catholics all be damned? What kind of God would do that? How could a 150-year-old small sect of Christianity have more truth than 2,000 years of rich tradition, scholarship, and history? I knew I was going to have to join the Catholic Church — and I knew it was going to hurt.
I would have to break my mother and grandmother’s heart by rejecting their tradition and faith for what looked like on the surface was for the benefit of my nominally Catholic spouse. I was going to have to go to Confession for the first time after living more than 30 years of life! Originally, I did not think this was a good idea; I had already taken all these things to God. I was sick with stress over having to bring up the past, which I thought was already forgiven. I was wrong! Confession was the best thing that ever happened to me. Healing truly does happen in that confessional, and the priest I had was truly acting as “another Christ” in that Sacrament. For the Protestants out there who might be reading this: don’t knock Confession until you’ve tried it!
The Eucharist made us one
If I could point to the one thing that really “made” me accept the Catholic Church, it would have to be the Eucharist. I had been in Catholic churches as a kid and adult, and had always been offended that I could not take “the bread” at Communion time. After all, I was plenty religious. In fact, I thought myself more religious than any of the Catholics I knew (I would also submit this as an exhortation to Catholics everywhere to respond to the call of holiness; non-Catholics are watching all the time, and are not necessarily impressed by what they see). This became a real lesson on pride for me. It was a lot like being a Pharisee that knew all the laws, but didn’t notice the Lamb when He was right in front of them.
The Eucharist has the power to unite, though. After being confirmed and receiving my first Eucharist the Easter service of 2006, there was no more “daddy’s church and mommy’s church.” We were a part of one church in our home, united into the one Church instituted by Jesus.
Growing in the Faith every day
I think it is important for me to also note that I did not necessarily fully understand everything that the Catholic Church taught prior to my conversion. The honor given to Mary was a big hurdle. I had no concept of venerating Mary prior to being Catholic, and it took a while for me to get it. In 2013, I made my consecration to Jesus through Mary and am delighted to continually discover that Mary does not stand in the way of her Son, Jesus, but only brings you closer to Him.
Also, at first I did not like being called a “convert.” That seemed to imply that I was not a Christian before being Catholic, or that, once I went through all the Sacraments of Initiation, I was “done.” I would implore Catholics and non-Catholics alike to remember that we are all on our journey and need to continuously “convert.” I think the Catholic Church needs to do a better job emphasizing “continuing education” for its adults. The Protestant denominations often do a much better job of this, with regular Bible study groups for adults. I have found the Institute of Catholic Culture and the New Evangelization as important avenues of continuing Faith formation.
God meets us where we are, and make a path that brings us closer to Him. I will always be indebted to my devout SDA grandmother and nominally Catholic husband, both of whom God used to pour out upon me abundant grace and mercy along the way.