Updated: Sep 26, 2019
When I was 18 years old, I left the Presbyterian church of which I had been a lifelong member and was confirmed into the Catholic Church. Really, I did not "join" or "find" the Church; rather, I came home. I came home and claimed my birthright as someone baptized since infancy into what is the birthright of all the baptized: Catholicism.
As long as I could remember, I believed in God, felt affection for Him, and wanted to please him. However, 18 years of staunch Calvinism couldn't fill an obvious longing I had in my heart and left me, to put it mildly, confused.
My spiritual life went a little something like this: I would hear some youth group talk or sermon about God. It would make me question whether or not I was really "saved". So, I would "ask Jesus into my heart" again, for the thousandth time, and celebrate a new "Christian birthday." Then, the next talk would come, I would doubt again, and on and on and on this went.
Because, see, all the talks and sermons and books and CDs were different. Some said the answer to longing was to know God better. How could I know God better? I prayed to Him, read about Him, studied about Him, served at church, lead a Bible study, etc. I had all of the boxes checked, I was exhausted, and this longing, this void I had, remained. It was akin to spinning on a hamster wheel.
I was told to know God by doing these 3 things every day (prayer, reading, and service), but I was told not to make a list or check off any boxes. I was told that I'm supposed to follow my own conscience as my ultimate authority, but that everyone’s heart is full of deceit and cannot be trusted. I was told that once Jesus is in my heart I'm going to heaven no matter what I do, but I was told that if my actions didn’t "line up" with my faith that I never had real faith in the first place. I was told that faith was saying a prayer, that that prayer was only real if actions followed it, but that my best actions were like a dirty rag to God. I was told that you can’t please God with your good actions, but you can displease Him with your bad actions. I was told that to get closer to God was to know Him more, and to know Him was to study and learn more about Him, but I was told that relying on my knowledge was pride. I was told to church-shop to find a church that fits my own needs and makes me happy, but I was told that church shouldn’t ever be about me.
Okay, so, I couldn’t know God more because to know Him more would lead me to pride. I couldn’t pick a church that met my needs because that lead to selfishness and a judgmental heart. I couldn’t have the faith that everyone talked about because I still had doubts and weaknesses and shortcomings (this is where not calling faith a "work" is so damaging). I couldn’t aim for holiness because that would be prideful and a works-based faith, but I couldn’t sin because if I did that meant that my faith wasn’t real. I had to choose God to be saved, but I didn’t have the innate power to choose God at all because I was a sinner.
Do you see how I was a bit confused?
God and my faith life became like this puzzle that I had to solve without looking at the picture on the box. The Christian life that God wanted me to live was some jewel hidden in a cloud in the sky that I could reach for my whole life but would always fall short. I had this deep longing to know God more, but I was forced to suppress it as a sure sign that I did not trust God enough.
And then, I came across Catholicism.
By the grace of God, my dad got put on a committee to plan the "liturgy" for our Presbyterian worship services. He came across The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Ratzinger, and, after about 10 years of reading, he was finally sold on Catholicism. The problem was, no one else in the family was on board. In fact, my mother told him she would divorce him if he joined the Catholic Church. However, when I was 17, he was confirmed into the Catholic Church, all alone, without a single family member present.
Needless to say, this made a huge impression on me. We talked about Catholicism a lot. We talked apologetics constantly, and he always had an argument that I couldn't counter for every pro-protestant point I brought up. So I went from "All Catholics are probably going to Hell" to "okay, maybe some of them aren't" to "this actually kind of makes sense" to "Catholicism is a pretty cool religion." Me, join it, though? Not a chance.
I present to you a definitive list of reasons I would not join Catholicism:
My boyfriend would probably break up with me (he did).
My mom said I would never find a Catholic husband.
The rest of my family probably wouldn't join.
I was leading a Bible Study for young (Protestant) girls.
I knew more about the Catholic faith at this point than the Catholics I knew in person (which was one family).
None of my friends were Catholic.
It was way, way, way out of my comfort zone.
Now remember, this was at a time when Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus was just not talked about. When I did come across it, I read that Protestants counted as part of the Church. So, no real motivation there, although I strongly suspect if I had heard that outside of the Catholic Church, there is no salvation, this might have been a shorter story. Who knows.
But then, my dad told me I should read John 6 if I haven't before. And hey, you, reader, should read John 6 if you haven't before. Because Catholics believe in something called the Eucharist: Jesus Christ is substantially present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in Holy Communion. Yes, it's in the Bible. Yes, you should go read John 6 if you doubt me.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. (John 6:51-55)
Read the entire passage. Over and over again He says it: eat my flesh. Some disciples leave saying that this teaching is too hard. Certainly, as I was reading this with the Catholic teaching in mind for the first time, I was saying with them, "This saying is hard, who can hear it?" (v. 61). At that point, if He meant symbolically or anything less than literally, would He not have clarified right then, rather than allow them to leave? But He doesn’t. He only repeats that they must eat His body and drink His blood.
When Jesus says He is the gate, does anyone say, “Jesus, you’re not a gate!” When Jesus says He is the vine, does anyone say, “Jesus, you’re not a vine!” Does anyone leave in these scenarios because they think He is being literal? No! This time is distinctly different. People leave thinking He’s literal. If He wasn’t being literal, wouldn’t He have stopped them? The upholding of this teaching was so important to Him, that He was willing to lose followers rather than retract it.
It was as if Jesus' answer to the disciples was an answer to me: Does this scandalize you? I noted that, at least, it was not any crazier than the idea of one God three persons, a Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and on, and on, and on. So I asked my dad, "What happens if I were to reject this teaching? Would I die, as Jesus says here?" His answer stunned me:
"If you are convicted of this truth, and you reject it without repentance, than yes, the Church teaches that you will go to Hell."
We were made for much more than what we settle for in our comfort zones.
I was faced with a decision: On the one hand, I could decide to not believe that Jesus was being literal and the Eucharist is just a piece of bread. All of the arguments against the Eucharist, and believe me there are plenty, boil down to this: That is not Jesus’ body. However, Jesus held up what looked like a piece of bread and said This is my body. It’s a man’s word vs. God’s word.
I could take that chance, and bank on the man, and bank on the fact that millions of the world's most devout men and women were wrong. Not being a Catholic, I was the minority. My faith was the newest (five hundred years to two thousand years) and full of much less people. If I was right, good for me. If I was wrong, what would I be missing out on?
If it was true, if it was really Jesus in there, I could be not only in the spiritual presence of Jesus, but I could literally sit at his feet. I could be in the physical & spiritual presence of Jesus. I could be as deeply intimate with Jesus as is humanly possible and consummate my love for him and His love for me by taking Him into my body. I could get literally and spiritually closer to Him then I ever could be without the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is everything. What it means to be Catholic is to believe in the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This is everything. Why wouldn’t it be? If you heard that the President or one of your famous heroes was in town and you could go actually sit at his feet and talk to him and listen to him and touch him, would you go? Or would you be content to just read his or her books or biography? Take it a step further. If millions of people throughout history and throughout the world claimed that Jesus was in their Church and you can go sit with Him and physically be with Him, wouldn’t you go? Even if you were skeptical, wouldn’t you at least check it out?
That’s why the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered every day. That’s why there are chapels open 24 hours with a consecrated host in a tabernacle for us to go and pray to Jesus at his feet. Where Jesus is, I must be.
But if I was wrong, and I missed out on all that . . . the thought made me shudder. Could I risk being wrong? After seeing all of the richness and the fullness of truth that the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist, all totally Biblical, could I risk missing out on that? Could I risk missing out on the real, physical presence of Jesus? Could I dare to take the chance that Jesus, in body, blood, soul, and divinity, had made Himself available in a piece of bread for me and I just let Him wait there for me, alone, rejected?
But on the other hand, how could I leave everything I knew behind over what seemed to be just a piece of bread?
Faced with this decision, and now a freshman in college, I decided to go on a Catholic weekend retreat for students. During the "welcome portion", the leaders were going over some logistics. I'll never forget what they said, so casually, "Oh, and, we have a chapel with a tabernacle that will be open 24 hours each day. So you can go see Jesus any time you want, just go into the small room off the basement downstairs."
Now, despite what I had read in books about the Eucharist, I thought this was a joke. I literally started to laugh, and then shut my mouth when I realized no one else was. I looked around the room and was shocked to realize everyone thought it was a perfectly reasonable statement to say that Jesus was in the tiny room downstairs.
They said it so casually, but this rocked my world. This is what the Eucharist means. It's not just some abstract theological concept. The Son of God is present under the appearance of bread and wine so that we can go see Him, sit at His feet, or partake of His divinity any time we are able.
I went to that adoration chapel as soon as I could. And He was there. Jesus, my King and my Savior, was sitting in a tabernacle in the form of bread. I remember thinking over and over, "I have been Martha for so long, worrying about the wrong things, when Jesus has been here the whole time. Now I can finally do what Mary did. Kneel at Jesus' feet."
And you know what? He had been waiting for me in the Eucharist, in tabernacles around the world, for two thousand years. And He's waiting for you, too.
I knew right then that I had to become Catholic. I needed to have the Eucharist. I needed to have Jesus. I still had so many questions. I had doubts. I didn’t even understand how what looked to be a piece of bread could be Jesus. But, where Jesus was physically, I had to be. I trusted that if Jesus chose to come down in the form of bread and wine in the Catholic Church, He was not going to let His Bride or those seeking Him be led astray. And He didn’t. He has not allowed the gates of hell to prevail against His Bride and His Church.
All of the questions that I had wrestled over my entire life were put to rest, because the Church had one, clear-cut answer for me. It was not found in knowledge, but in what looked to be a piece of bread. That intimacy that I longed for is as satisfied as is possible this side of Heaven when I am absolved of my sins by Jesus through His priest, kneel in front of Jesus in a tabernacle, am present at Calvary through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and when I received Him, body, blood, soul, and divinity in Holy Communion.
I didn’t have to church-hop and find the worship that suited me because the crux of a Mass isn’t the songs or the sermon but Jesus. I could have a peace and allow Jesus to fill this longing. I could aim for holiness and now have the graces to attain it through the Sacraments. The desire to please God was something that had always seemed so natural, but was one that years of Calvinism had effectively attempted to squash. Now, what relief! I could please Him, I could strive for virtue, because of all of the graces given to me in the Sacraments.
I could rest. I could rest in the authority of Christ’s Church and not on my own feeble understanding. No longer did I have to spin on the hamster wheel, trying to discern what was true and what wasn't.
Being Catholic is the best decision that I have ever made. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t practical. It wasn’t comfortable leaving everything that I had ever known and risking ridicule and the severing of relationships. These did come. It wasn’t comfortable to leave everything for what looks like to everyone else just a piece of bread.
But we are not called to be comfortable. We are called to be followers of Christ.
This decision is not just for me, just like the call to follow Christ isn’t just for me. This call is for everyone. The intimacy that Jesus offers is for everyone. The Catholic Church is for everyone.
We were made for much more than what we settle for in our comfort zones. We were made for intimacy, and Jesus gives us that intimacy in the Eucharist. We were made for radical love, and Jesus gives us that love in the Eucharist. We need to trust in Him and follow Him, even if it leads us to something that sounds crazy or scares us and accept His gift of Himself. That is where true peace, freedom, and joy lies because that is where Jesus’ body lies: in the tabernacle of a Catholic Church.
Post script: I feel like this is something I need to add. I had doubts about the Eucharist and about the Church leading right up to Confirmation. I have heard too many people become mostly convinced of the Eucharist, only to decide not to join the Church because they "have doubts." Quite frankly, this is silly. Of course you will have doubts. Having doubts does not mean that truth is not the truth. This is one of the dangers of Protestantism: I have to be fully convinced of something in order for it to be true. This is a lie that should be rejected. Jesus says, "Ask, and you shall receive." Ask Jesus what He wants from you and follow Him, no matter where it leads.
The miraculous does happen. Quite frankly, it's miraculous that I should ever have become Catholic. Remember how I told you my whole family was against it? Praise God, my entire family is in the Catholic Church today. God can convert the hardest of hearts. Never ever lose hope.
The rest of the story, what happened after I converted, will be coming soon! Subscribe so you don't miss it!