A new priest had just come to the parish (Father Rick Heilman). If I shut my eyes, I could have sworn that he was a protestant minister (and I mean this in a very good way). He talked about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He was inspiring and on fire for God and this really appealed to my heart.
While attending our lake church and hearing the good news, I wondered why there was such a separation between Christians. I never studied church history, so I decided it was time to read about it and try to understand why there is such a big division between Catholics and Protestants. I spent over a year researching and reading and surprised how little I knew of Church history. There had been some nagging questions on my heart over the years that just hadn’t been answered in my faith background. Some things that just didn’t make sense to me and I would often read scripture and then ponder how that related to what my Protestant church had taught me.
Ever since the start of the Protestant Reformation around 1517, the LINE was drawn and both sides claiming right about their way of believing…forever creating a division in Christ’s church. What happened in the past to cause this division? For a long time, Christians were all of one accord…. They were Christ followers…not without their own problems. “We are right, you are wrong.” It is a shame that Martin Luther’s challenge to some of the Catholic Church beliefs soon took on a life of its own…far from what I suspect he intended. We will probably never know all that happened back then—but the devil, our enemy, loves when we become divided. In division, there is weakness. However, what the devil doesn’t’ understand is that God’s love and his Church will never fail.
So as I started to seek material to read…from both sides, the more I questioned what I believed about the Catholic Church. I was beginning to realize I had many misunderstandings about the Catholic Church that has been passed down through hearsay by well meaning Christians.
My search intensified. Some of the main questions I wanted answers to:
Saved by faith alone vs. Saved by faith and works
Communion as a remembrance of Christ vs. the Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (Communion)
Why Catholics don’t allow Christians outside the Church to take communion in the Church?
Praying to Jesus alone for forgiveness of sins vs. Praying to Jesus and confession to a priest
The role or Mary, Saints, Pope, icons, relics and many other things…that were not a part of my Protestant upbringing…
During my search, I suddenly found myself needing a knee replacement. You are asking… what does that have to do with my search? Good question! While I was in the hospital recovering, our priest came to visit and pray for me. All the sudden, I felt the need to tell Father Heilman that I was not a Catholic. (On this particular day, I was hurting and on pain medication, so I blame my confession on the drugs! But I know it was the Holy Spirit working in my hospital room that day.) I confessed that I had been married before my current marriage. I told him how Holy Spirit had led me to apply for an annulment of my first marriage two years after I had remarried, and how I still had the annulment approval papers in my file cabinet after some 30 years.
He said, “After your annulment, did you renew your vows in the Church?” With a funny look on my face I said, “I don’t remember that we did.” He replied that he could take care of that and we could meet after I recovered from knee surgery to start the process. Then I told him that I had been taking communion all these years due to the guidance of a priest before our marriage (which by Catholic teaching is wrong). He told me that he knew I was a Christian but that he would prefer that I stop taking communion until I became a Catholic. You may wonder why the Catholic Church doesn’t offer communion to all Christians. If you are really interested in understanding this…you will do some research as I did. Anyway, I was very sad about not receiving communion, but I respected our priest so much I did as he requested. From that point on, I did not receive communion, which meant I had to stay seated while others went forward to receive communion. Staying seated in the pew when Communion is served meant one or two things: you are not Catholic or you have not confessed your sins. Putting aside what others may think of my staying in my seat…I started to miss taking communion and I knew a decision had to be made in the near future. You see taking communion meant a lot to me, although I didn’t believe in the real presence of Christ at that time, I still felt close to Christ. So either I needed to go to a Protestant church for communion or join the Catholic Church.
At the end of our conversation, while I was in the hospital, Father Rick asked me if I liked to watch DVD’s. I said sure…I would be having a lot of time to watch while recovering from knee surgery. He just happened to own a series of DVD’s on the Catholic Catechism and wondered if I would like to view them. I said yes. Well…God stirred my heart and although some questions were answered, now I had new ones. I knew until I answered these questions, I wouldn’t be taking communion soon. After watching 48 hours of catechism explanations, I then decided to go through the RICA program at church. This is a program for those looking to join the Catholic Church. My dear instructor, Marie, was very kind and patient with all my questions in class and via email but I was still not ready to join. What was left?
I had told my priest that out of respect for my mother, I would not join the Catholic Church as long as she was living. Not that she would be displeased or reject me…just that my mother was a wonderful Christian and she and dad gave me a wonderful Christian heritage and I wanted to honor them. My mother passed away two years later and now I had no excuse for not joining.
Another question I wanted answered, what did it mean to pray to Mary? Ask and you will receive…as I was sitting in our family room, I picked up a brochure that had a portrait of Mary on the cover. As clear as day, I heard the Holy Spirit’s voice say, “It is ok. You are coming home.” I then knew it was OK to have questions. These questions would be answered in time. God spoke clearly to my heart while I was seeking an answer.
Then, in June, one Corpus Christi Sunday, our priest gave a homily on the Eucharist (Communion)…and as I sat there listening to him, I developed a huge lump in my throat. I desired to have communion (Eucharist) so much that my heart ached and tears streamed down my face. I knew that the Eucharist was the Real Presence of Christ. It was at this point I knew I would join the Catholic Church but when?
That same month, the doctor told me that I had uterine cancer. And that I would need to have surgery. In reflection, I decided I didn’t know what the Holy Spirits words “coming home” meant when I had looked at the brochure with Mary’s picture on the cover. Did it mean that I was going to die from cancer? Was I “Coming Home” to heaven, my new home? Or, did it mean that I was “Coming Home” to the Catholic Church. Since I didn’t know the outcome of my cancer surgery… I decided that I should join the Church before surgery… then “Coming Home” would be covered either way.
That week, we invited our priest over for dinner and during dinner I surprised my husband and our priest and announced that I wanted to become a Catholic. Since I had already gone through the RCIA program and had been baptized as a young adult, there were just a couple things I needed before I entered the Catholic Church and our wonderful priest said that he would help me take care of those things and agreed to take me into the Church before I had surgery. (see posts about my Cancer Journey)
I thank God for this journey of faith starting from a small child to today. Never did I think he would lead me to join the Catholic Church, but I am glad that this is where my journey has taken me.
Many are on a journey of faith…one that we are on throughout our life. The learning never stops, unless we stop it.
I was blessed with a wonderful foundation of faith and now I had found a new love for the Catholic Church. In my face book site and blog, The Catholic Way, I will share with those who are seeking the explanations of misunderstandings Protestants, like me, had/have about the Catholic Church in hopes of bringing unity in the body of Christ.
There were so many other things that happened along this journey…to many to write… I love my new Church… the reverence, the beauty, and the truth that it holds. I want you to know I love my Christians friends…both Catholic and Protestant…they have all taught me so many things. We can agree to disagree about doctrine…but the one thing we have in common is our love for The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit… God, three persons manifested in one. We must come together to share God’s blessings, to encourage one another, and to build up the body of Christ.
Now is the time we come together… honoring and obeying our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are accountable for what we learn and the insight we are given. Thank you for reading “Why I became Catholic”. I hope this inspires you to find answers to your questions.
I welcome you to return to my blog… I am in the midst of placing all my posts in categories so it will be easier for you to find what you want to read be it Spiritual Encouragement, My Cancer Journey, My Mother’s Journey or The Catholic Way, etc. I will also be testing out some new designs for this blog as well… so please leave your comments about how each one appeals to you and the ease of use.