I was born July 11, 1954, the first of seven children. One week later, I was baptized into the Catholic Church. From second through tenth grades, I attended Catholic schools, receiving the Sacraments of Penance, Communion, and Confirmation along the way.
I am grateful for my years of Catholic schooling, and I appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to send their children to Catholic schools for as long as they could. In addition to a love for academic learning and study, I acquired a great love for the Church during those years. That love for the true Faith never really left me, even during my long years of wandering far from the Church. Being taught from childhood the truths of the Faith, receiving the sacraments, learning about holiness through the lives of the saints — these things contributed to my long- term desire to know more of God.
Although our family was not “churchy,” we did say grace before meals and went to Mass every Sunday. I don’t recall that we ever read the Bible or prayed the Rosary together at home, but our lives to some degree revolved around church and school, and there was a general synergy between what I was learning in the classroom and experiencing in church, between what was being taught about virtue and holiness and what I was observing in the lives of the priests and nuns. What I experienced in real life, at Mass, and through the sacraments built on, rather than contradicted, what we were learning at school and what our parents were trying to teach us at home.
There was even a time during junior high school that I thought I wanted to become a nun. I read up on all the different religious orders and sent away for information from many of them. After reading the autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux, I was definitely leaning toward the Carmelites.
After junior high, I attended two years of Catholic high school, where the teachers were all lay folk. That was fine, but gone were the angelic beings walking around in their full nun’s habits. There was still quite a bit of discipline, though, and the academic standards were high.
High School & College: Wanderings
One significant event from my two years of Catholic high school was a week during which normal classes were suspended and workshops on a variety of subjects were offered. One that I attended was given by a representative from the Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE), otherwise known as the Edgar Cayce Institute. Although I had never heard of Edgar Cayce or the ARE, I was very interested in the subject matter of the talk: meditation. Having been exposed to many of the great Catholic saints and mystics, I definitely wanted to learn more about growing closer to God through meditation.
The presentation also piqued my interest in the ARE, which was located in Virginia Beach, not far from where we lived in Norfolk. I learned that Edgar Cayce was what they called a “medium,” a person who goes into a trance in order to allow a “higher being,” “spirit,” or “entity” to enter his body and speak through him. During his lifetime, Cayce often would enter a trance to give “readings” for people who were troubled or sick, and the “entity” would give spiritual advice or information on how to get well, or he would give a reading to explain some mystery of the universe, reincarnation, or a teaching about some spiritual topic.
At the time, I had no clue that I was entering into dangerous territory — that the practices and teachings of the ARE were in no way scriptural nor in agreement with the teachings of the Church. I was only interested in experiencing more of God in a deeper way, and it was my Catholic high school, after all, that had pointed me in this direction by inviting the representative to our school. So a door had been opened which eventually would lead to all kinds of spiritual confusion and darkness. But in the beginning, it was all light and excitement over the new things I was learning. Obviously, I was not very discerning, and I was gradually sucked in.
By the time I finished my sophomore year of high school, our dad had retired from the Navy and moved the family to Oxon Hill, MD, a suburb of Washington, DC. He could no longer afford to send us to Catholic school, so we were enrolled in public schools. Having spent nine years in relatively small Catholic schools, I experienced culture shock at finding myself in a large public school. We continued to attend Mass on the weekends, but we didn’t have the same church-school connection, and we developed no deep roots at the new parish. So church was no longer center stage in our lives, as it had once been, and school was no longer a place of spiritual nurturing.
I did, however, retain a great thirst for the things of God. Unfortunately, most of my attempts to satisfy that thirst took place outside of the Church, through resources of the ARE and in worldviews that nowadays would be called New Age. Again, I never outright renounced the Church or its teachings. I just gradually drifted away from it as I became more drawn into New Age teachings and philosophies. If there was any confusion in my mind back then, I just assumed that it was due to my own inability to reconcile these new teachings with what I had learned of truth from the Church. I figured that God and the Church understood everything perfectly, and someday I, too, would understand it all better. It didn’t occur to me that I was completely on the wrong path.
Another development during this time, as I was finishing high school (1972) and moving into my college years, was that my parents’ marriage was falling apart. My memories of home life during the final years before they separated are filled with confusion and unhappiness. Whether it was home, church, or school, it seemed that the ground under my feet was unstable. Although I continued my search for God, my life no longer had a firm foundation.Whether it was home, church, or school, it seemed that the ground under my feet was unstable. Although I continued my search for God, my life no longer had a firm foundation. Click To Tweet
After high school, I enrolled in the local community college, with no real idea of what I wanted to study. So I ended up taking a lot of classes that sounded interesting. Philosophy and eastern religions were at the top of the list, which probably explains why it took me four years to complete community college.
During this time, I joined a study group associated with the ARE. There were no strange rituals; we just got together weekly to meditate and study “spiritual” topics. It was all very interesting and “spiritual,” but after a while I began to notice the lack of any kind of moral teaching or standards to go along with the “spirituality.” I needed a strong moral authority in my life.
This dabbling in New Age philosophies and teachings led to a growing sense of confusion and dissatisfaction, but I didn’t know where to turn. I missed the Catholic Church and the solid foundation it had offered. I missed that feeling of having a real teaching authority in my life, coming straight from God. I missed the closeness to God that I had felt in the Mass. But by this time I had drifted so far away that I was no longer sure of what truth was or whether the Church could actually offer me anything substantial. I had for too long walked down a path where objective truth was not as important as subjective experience — the idea that any road you might choose is fine, for they all lead to God.
Objective truth is what I was seeking and longing for, but I was not sure where to find that truth. The disintegration of the family structure at home left me without confidence that any of my earlier experiences in the Faith had been real or substantial. I did not outright reject the Church or her teachings; I just no longer knew that she was the true Church. I was like the lover in the Song of Solomon: “I sought Him whom my soul loves; I sought Him, but I found Him not” (Song of Solomon 3:1).
Eventually, a friend invited me to a large non-denominational charismatic church in Washington, DC. Although the high-spiritedness of it all was foreign to me, I did enjoy the worship music and the great Bible teaching from the pulpit, as well as in the Sunday school classes. So I began to attend this church on Sundays, while at the same time continuing with my weekly ARE study group.
During the same time period, I encountered some people manning an exhibit at school. They had very nice pictures and claimed to be the true church. They turned out to be Latter Day Saints (“Mormons”). They were so clean cut and wholesome looking, so convincing in their enthusiasm, I thought they might have the answers I was looking for. So I signed up for their classes, and before long they were coming to my house every week to give me lessons in Mormonism. I attended some of their church services and social functions, and my, what a nice group of people they were! So family oriented and wholesome. Of course, I wanted to be a part of that, so I began to seriously consider becoming a Latter Day Saint.
Thankfully, a friend and some of his other friends at the non-denominational church became alarmed and began praying for me. Their prayers were answered. I quickly realized that Mormonism was not what I was looking for. Eventually, I also tired of the ARE and quit that group as well. But I was still looking for answers. I don’t think I even knew what my questions were, but I wanted to know truth, and I wanted to know God and the right path to finding Him.
I remember driving down the road one day, feeling desperate and crying out to God to please show me the way. The following Sunday in church, still the non-denominational one, the song leader, who knew nothing of my struggle, began to speak of “truth.” He said something that struck me like lightning: that if you want to know the truth, you need to seek it in Jesus Christ. The simplicity of his statement seemed to enlighten my darkness. I could see that if I clung to Jesus Christ, I would have the truth.He said something that struck me like lightning: that if you want to know the truth, you need to seek it in Jesus Christ. The simplicity of his statement seemed to enlighten my darkness. Click To Tweet
From that day forward, I confined my search for truth to Jesus Christ. Never again did any philosophy that did not acknowledge Him as King of the Universe, Lord and Savior, appeal to me. I knew and understood that He alone was the way, the truth, and the life. I didn’t yet quite have an answer as to where I should be attending church, or whether there really was only one true church, but I knew that I was on the right path: my answers were to be found with Christ. He would lead me and show me the right way.
Soon afterwards, I finally finished community college and transferred to the University of Maryland to pursue a degree in physical therapy. I also met my future husband, and we became engaged. During my two years of college in Baltimore, I attended a wonderful Episcopal church on Sundays. The services were very liturgical, which I loved. This church seemed to provide the perfect combination of solid Bible teaching, the reverence and solemnity of the liturgy, and some of the more positive aspects of the charismatic movement. I loved everything about it, especially communion time. I understood that their communion did not contain the Real Presence, but I wasn’t sure any more if I believed in that. Deep down, I missed the Eucharist, and this was the closest I had come to a Catholic Mass in a long time. I felt that I was getting closer to what I was looking for.Deep down, I missed the Eucharist, and this was the closest I had come to a Catholic Mass in a long time. Click To Tweet
Marriage & Family Life
Right after graduation, I married, and my husband and I settled into an Assemblies of God church near where we lived. We had become used to the charismatic style, and this was a nice church, not too extreme for our reserved personalities.
After our first child was born, we moved to a different neighborhood and joined the closest Assemblies of God congregation there. This church had a little “looser” style of worship but was still not too extreme. The people enjoyed lively music — a lot of Southern Gospel — and encouraged raising of hands and dancing around in the sanctuary.
Over time, however, I became uncomfortable with both the Assemblies of God’s teachings and their style of worship. I missed having a sense of reverence during worship services. But I was no longer a young, single woman, free to go exploring and church hopping. My husband did not share my sense of restlessness, and we were raising four children who needed stability and a church home. On the other hand, I didn’t know what I was looking for. I seemed to be the only one who had problems with the Assemblies of God. It must be me, I thought. My deep longing for a sense of reverence and liturgy in church, for an observance of the liturgical year, for the Eucharist, for “heroes of the faith” beyond television evangelists, for a sense of being part of the historic Church reaching as far back as Christ and the Apostles — I figured all this must be just sentimentality for the things of my childhood. Not even practicing Catholics seemed to be talking much about these things. Yet, even with prayer and the Bible filling my life, Protestant theology and spirituality seemed to be shallow.
Years later, I discovered “The Bible Answer Man,” Hank Hannegraff, on the radio. He had a lot of wisdom and Bible knowledge, and he had some big issues with the extremes and abuses going on in some Pentecostal circles. Listening to him on the radio and reading his articles validated much of what I had been sensing — that something wasn’t quite right. Although the church we attended did not get into the extremes, they seemed to admire them from a distance. I felt very much out of sync with the rest of the congregation.
Finally, in 1998, we left the Assemblies of God and began to search for a new church home. We decided on a local Nazarene church. I did not sense that the Nazarene church was my “final destination,” but we had to go somewhere, and this church had a great pastor and very friendly people, and the Sunday services were at least civilized. The pastor even acknowledged something akin to a liturgical year. It was so refreshing to be attending church where they actually did special activities during Lent and Advent. Until that time, I don’t think I had even heard the words “Advent” or “Lent” mentioned in all my years of attending Protestant churches. Here, at least, there was some serious observance of Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Advent, and Christmas.Until that time, I don’t think I had even heard the words Advent or Lent mentioned in all my years of attending Protestant churches. Click To Tweet
Still, I longed for something more — a deeper spirituality, more reverence, the lives of the saints, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Basically, I wanted my life, and especially the spiritual dimension, to be filled with goodness, truth, and beauty. I began to sense that what I really wanted was the Catholic Church, not just a Protestant church that had a few Catholic elements. But given my family situation, I assumed that I would never be able to return to the Church. My husband had never had the beautiful foundational experiences in the Church that I had. His only exposure to Catholicism was attending Mass at funerals or weddings, and his impression was that the Mass was pretty boring. So he had no interest in Catholicism.
We live about 45 minutes from the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, and when some of my Catholic relatives would come to town, I began suggesting that they might like to visit the Shrine. (It was a convenient excuse. The truth is that I wanted to check out the Shrine, and after my first visit, I wanted to return anytime I could find an excuse.) Once, when I took my dad there for a visit, I picked up a couple of books in the bookstore: Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home and Jeff Cavins’ My Life on the Rock. I devoured both books, and on every page I was finding things in their experiences that I could relate to. Just as, years earlier, Hank Hannegraff had articulated an intelligent, Bible-based rationale confirming my suspicions about the wrongness of the situation I was in back then, the Hahns’ and Cavins’ books helped to confirm my dawning awareness that the things I had been longing for existed only in the Catholic Church. They gave intelligent and rational explanations, backed up by Scripture and Church history, for why the Catholic Church is the true Church. What a happy day that was when it all came together for me, when I realized that my longing for Catholicism was not merely a nostalgic sentimentality. It was truth that could not be denied. I was finally clear in my own mind about what I needed, and my desire for all things Catholic rose to a fever pitch.What a happy day that was when it all came together for me, when I realized that my longing for Catholicism was not merely a nostalgic sentimentality. It was truth that could not be denied. Click To Tweet
I developed a craving for the Eucharist that just wouldn’t go away. I wouldn’t say I needed to be convinced of the truth of the Real Presence so much as I needed some scriptural confirmation that this perceived need of mine was real. I can’t tell you where I first heard the Catholic explanation of the sixth chapter of John, but I suspect it was on EWTN. The part of the explanation that struck me was where it was pointed out that, if Jesus had only been speaking symbolically about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, then why would He not have explained that more fully to His disciples? Why would He have allowed so many of them to fall away because of a misunderstanding? That was my confirmation that Christ was truly in the Eucharist. And then, all the other pieces began to fall into place.
Many times on EWTN, I would hear it said that it’s important to read the early Church Fathers, and so I did. It was such a revelation to find out that the early Church definitely believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Thus I was able to see that both Scripture and Church history support the Catholic belief. My yearning for Christ in the Eucharist was legitimate!
I discovered other things about the early Church and its beliefs that were so much in line with Catholicism, such as apostolic succession and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. It made perfect sense that Jesus had established a Church and had given it authority to teach doctrine and that when it came to faith and morals, He would not allow it to be led astray. So He built His Church upon the Rock and gave the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, and that authority has been passed down through the ages to the successors of Peter, the Popes.
In the end, these two things came together: an understanding of the Eucharist and of the authority that resides in the Church through the papal office and the Magisterium. This was the definitive, final piece of the puzzle that allowed me to come back to the Church.
Even so, at the time, I didn’t know if I would ever really be able to return. I was still a wife and mother in a very Protestant family, and I didn’t feel I could independently go my own way. So for the time being, I contented myself with reconnecting to my Catholic heritage in small ways while remaining in the Nazarene church.
I began making regular trips alone to the Shrine, sitting in a chapel, praying and reading my Bible. I also had a burning desire to pray the Rosary, to say the Hail Marys and hold the beads again. So I went out and bought a rosary and began to pray it daily. I can’t explain it, but it just felt so right. I began reading more Catholic literature, both classic and modern. Through Jeff Cavins’ book, I learned about EWTN and began watching many of its programs. I discovered that the Church still has holy priests and nuns! The teachings of Father Benedict Groeschel, Father Mitch Pacwa, Mother Angelica, and others brought such refreshment for this thirsty soul of mine. I began watching The Journey Home every week and found myself relating to every guest in one way or another. And I began staying up late at night to watch the Mass. It was all such a beautiful feeling of rediscovering my true home, not only because it was the Church of my childhood, but because it was the Church founded by Christ, my Savior. And it became ever clearer to me that I could no longer remain outside it. I really wanted to be back “home,” where I belonged.
The Good Shepherd Carries His Lost Lamb Back Home
On Christmas Eve, 2003, I attended Midnight Mass at the Shrine. At Communion time, I was filled with angst at not being able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I prayed a desperate prayer, asking Mary to intercede, to help me somehow to be back in the Church by Easter. I felt I would die if I could not quickly come back into full communion with the Church. I also felt it might take a miracle, since I wasn’t sure how my husband would react to my decision. The following week, I made an appointment with the priest at the local church and told him of my situation. He walked me through the steps for reconciliation. There was some paperwork involved. I went to confession, and with a little fear and trembling I approached my husband about my desire to return to the Church and about the need to have our marriage convalidated, since we had originally been married in a Protestant church. He was not so happy about my plan for returning to the Church, but since the plan I presented to him was one that would make a very minimal impact on our normal routines — I would attend Saturday vigil Mass and still attend Sunday School and church services with the family on Sunday morning — I think he decided that there was no sense in resisting something that was obviously so important to me, even if he didn’t understand it at all. He was a little more negative about going before the priest to say our marriage vows. He said he didn’t understand why the Catholic Church did not consider us already married (going on 30 years by that point). I tried to explain it to him and insisted it was going to be a very short, simple ceremony that would really be painless. So he agreed. I believe he agreed to it mostly because he just hates conflict, and it was just the path of least resistance. On our way home from the convalidation, though, he exclaimed how nice that was and how we should have invited people and had a little party afterwards. In spite of himself, he was blessed by participating in the Sacrament. So, I was all “official” a few days before Ash Wednesday — I didn’t even have to wait until Easter. God is so good!I felt I would die if I could not quickly come back into full communion with the Church. Click To Tweet
It was so wonderful to receive the Body and Blood of Christ again. And going to confession on a regular basis — what a blessing! Having the Communion of Saints to look to for inspiration and help. The Magisterium. The beauty of the liturgy. The complete Bible. The Catechism. The true Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The mystics and saints. The martyrs. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church. The Liturgy of the Hours. The security of being part of the Church Christ founded and which He promised He would never forsake. These are the things that satisfy the soul that hungers and thirsts for God (see Matthew 5:6). The blessings God provides for us through His Church are innumerable. I grieve that it took me so long to find my way back home, but I am comforted to know that God, in His Providence, is able to redeem what we have ruined and lost, to bring good out of evil and to “restore the years which the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25).
My husband did not object to my returning to the Church, but he still has no interest in joining me. He is content to remain with the Nazarene Church. By the time I finally returned, the kids were grown, and only one of them, our daughter Amy, raised any objections. Yet today, she herself is a devout Catholic! Many Rosaries and prayers to St. Monica go up continually, asking that her three siblings will one day discover the beauty, truth, and goodness which can be found only in the Catholic Church.