13 April 2010

becoming catholic: part 5

Becoming Catholic icon

When it comes to matters of faith (and matters of Catholicism in particular), emotions run high. It is a topic on which many have strong bents, preferences, and biases and regarding which particular views are held strongly. In many circles, there is much in the way of fear, misinformation, and outright antagonism when the topic of Catholicism is broached. I do not claim to speak in any official terms about matters Catholic, I claim only to speak for my own experience and journey. That being said, things may be introduced or stated in this series of posts which directly impacted my decision to convert. The purpose of stating these things is not to exact judgment on anyone or to incite anger or division, but only to provide reasoned explanations for why I now freely and deliberately chose to become Catholic.

Read Part 4 here
Note: You can also click on the "Becoming Catholic" icon above to see the entire series

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A friend of mine from Hillcrest Church called me on the day before my Confirmation. "Is it true?", she asked. When I told her it was, she exclaimed, "O My God!" But I corrected her, "No, it's our God," and explained that I was still worshiping the same God whom I had worshiped together with her. Sadly, I was ostracized by many of my evangelical brothers and sisters. Some don't even speak to me anymore. Some canceled my speaking engagements. Some say I have "fallen;" others called it "a big mistake." But I know the big mistakes I have made in my life, and becoming Catholic was not one of them. I have no quarrels with anyone. Their view of me does not upset my peace of mind, although I am sad if they fail to realize that we do not have a "Methodist God" or a "Baptist God" or a "Catholic God." We have one God, who has revealed Himself in Christ and the Church, and who calls us all to the fullness of truth.

Norma McCorvey, in an interview regarding her journey toward becoming Catholic

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Whew, it's been a long time since my last post!! I've been madly drafting both this installment and the next simultaneously, wanting to do all these things as much justice as I can muster. Given the level of activity that has taken place over the past week or two, and with carrying a baby that just doesn't seem to like anything I eat, I've been a bit delayed in getting this out there.

I hope my readers won't mind if just for this post, I deviate a bit from my explanations and understandings of the heftier theological issues and spend some time describing my subjective experience. I've included pieces of this along the way where appropriate, but I wanted this post to focus more on some of my personal experiences over the course of this journey.

It was easier me for to embrace Catholicism on an intellectual level prior to engaging it experientially. We talked about it a lot before we made any moves in that direction, so it was not as if I didn't know what was coming. But assenting to believe it intellectually and coming to bring myself to the Catholic church in actuality was a more difficult leap for me. James had attended a Friday morning mass at the church we now attend and talked to the priest, telling him our story. After that, there was no turning back. After acknowledging our belief, it would have been a serious sin for us not to behave accordingly.

My resistance to the change stemmed from the fact that my life had already seen some massive changes in a very short period of time: in the course of six months, I moved cities, changed jobs, went from a being satisfied single to becoming engaged, took a major international trip, and then got married. And then, just four months into our marriage, we were looking into becoming Catholic? How many major overhauls to my life could I take in such a short period of time?

Circumstances were slightly different for James. I had been raised in an Evangelical church, but he was raised Catholic. He was passionate in his Catholic faith, and once dreamed of being a writer for the Catholic church. He left the church when he was nineteen over some misunderstandings about what the church taught. To have left and then to be coming back about seventeen years later for him was humbling to say the least. Such a move would not have been made were there not tremendous conviction propelling us both in that direction.

If I could impress one point upon those who still object to our decision, or who regard it with skepticism, it would be that. More than a journey of the mind, or history, or of literature, this has been a journey or spirit, of faith, and obedience as well. We weren't seeking to separate ourselves from our Evangelical brethren. We weren't seeking to incite division or argument. Yes, we read and researched a lot. Yes, we discussed intense theological issues at length (and we still do). But how this really happened is that we had humbled ourselves before God repeatedly in prayer, asking for Him to lead us, asking for Him to open our hearts to Him so that we would be willing to go wherever He wanted us to be.

We asked Him for these things in good faith, trusting and believing that our Lord wants us ever nearer to Him, and abiding ever more closely in His will. The prayer was as simple as that. We weren't seeking another dramatic change, but God in His mercy led us to the place where we are now. And so in this process our consciences were formed, and our spirits transformed. St. Paul wrote in Romans regarding conscience that "whatever is not from faith is sin." And so it would have been sin not to follow our consciences and to disobey the faith given to us when the path was so clearly marked. After praying those prayers and God making the way clear, what are we going to say: Uh, sorry Jesus, I know I asked You to lead us, and that we would follow wherever You wanted us to go ... but, please not this! And thus, it has also been a journey marked by profound humility. We never in our wildest imaginings expected that these prayers would lead us into the Catholic church.

I remember the night before I attended my first mass at this particular parish. There was a lot on our minds, and I was a mess. The next day when I woke up, the mirror reflected the evidence. I looked like I had been beat up, my face pummeled repeatedly with merciless, unrelenting fists. The skin around my eyes was puffy and purple; I viewed the world through dark slits. My hair looked like I had been tearing at it, which for my state of mind the night before, I very well may have been.

I had been to a Catholic masses before, and so was not entirely unaccustomed to the standing and kneeling, the prayers and recitations, to the robes and the altar. I felt a bit awkward being in that environment again -- like being in a place where you understand the words, but aren't familiar with the customs -- but not uncomfortable or unwelcome.

There was a line in one of the hymns sung that day that grabbed us both; something about coming home. Unexpectedly, we both wept at the same time. Indeed, this was coming home for both of us in a way neither of us had foreseen or anticipated.

I made the decision to begin the RCIA program at the church, as it was already underway. RCIA stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, and is basically a catechesis, or religious instruction, for adults considering conversion. The class, more than 20 strong, had an amazing range of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, ages, and life experiences. There is much I could say about what I learned, what we discussed, and the phases of the 6-month process that is RCIA. Together we laughed, served the community, and delved deep into hot-button topics.

Suffice it to say, these experiences bonded us together in a way that I've never before experienced. Some were already baptized and some not; many had Evangelical/Protestant backgrounds like me, and some had little church background at all. We all had different stories of what brought us to the Church, and how we came to be there, but found commonality in the reality that we were all willing to turn life as we knew it upside-down for the sake of embracing what we believed to be true. We found Jesus there in a way we had never known Him before -- in a way we were not willing to give up.

I may write more about this experience since it was so formative and transformative for me and since I owe so much to those who journeyed with me. But for now, I wish to leave you with a handful of images from a day I anticipated and experienced with as much joy as my own wedding.

Easter Vigil
The culmination of our instruction together occurred at the Easter Vigil mass (the night before Easter) in which we were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. We watched, worshiped, and participated with joy in observing the baptism of those who had not yet been baptized. We all walked forward together with our sponsors to receive Confirmation (the strengthening of the gifts of the Holy Spirit), and finally to receive our first Eucharist. After months of coming forward with arms crossed to receive a blessing, it was with joy that I first received the body and blood of Christ.

Easter Vigil_0027

Easter Vigil_0056

Easter Vigil_0075
First Eucharist

Easter Vigil_0112
With Fr. Bryan

I hardly know how to put into words the joy I've experienced in this, my homecoming. Like Norma McCorvey, I can affirm that I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. But becoming Catholic was not one of them.


  1. Thank you again for sharing your journey! It was interesting to read. And the feeling of coming home certainly is a powerful one.

    By the way - I tagged you on my blog (only if you want to).

  2. i know this feeling kirsten. i've done it a couple of times (radically changing directions and being very misunderstood in the process) and it sucks. i'm imagining you've lost some friends or at least that some relationships have changed in ways that make you sad. sorry. i wish there was some way to make that less painful.

    but it sounds like you have plenty of rich relationships forming in the void, so i'm really glad for that. it took me quite a while when i left the pentecostal church to feel at home anywhere again and that's a profoundly lonely sensation...to be homeless.

    and the changes: oh my. i can't imagine how disoriented you must feel sometimes. that's a lot of stress. even if every change is something positive, it's still an adjustment, a stretch, a pulling on your sense of solid ground under your feet. i hope that very soon you will get to settle into some kind of normal, stable "this-is-my-life-ness" and that it's a spacious and warm place to live.

  3. I LOVED this. I love hearing what you felt as well as what you thought about and wrestled with. I know they're both important, but this filled in some of the gaps that I hadn't heard in the other sections.

    I'm so glad you found your home . . . I hope to someday find a church where I feel like that. Bless you there!

  4. I'm so sorry you've had relational difficulties over this, Kirsten. What a shame.

    I love hearing what God is doing in your life, how he is leading you, and how you are being faithful to follow. It never does anyone any good to be somewhere you're not supposed to be. Lord bless you!

  5. Kirsten,

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us. I know for me it has been VERY enlightening and it is sad that you have been given grief along the way.

    The more I live, the more I see that our Lord isn't confined to one given church, let alone one denomination. I'm sure when we get to heaven we'll see Catholic, Orthodox, Jew, and Gentile alike praising God in heaven. This isn't to say that all roads lead to heaven, but I know that Jesus isn't found in just one place.

    If you're up for the task, I'd love to hear (or maybe poke James to "guest blog" 8^D) on the misconceptions that are common to the Catholic church that us "outsiders" assume by default.

    All our love from the Patterson clan out here...
    [:: Sean ::]

  6. @Esther
    Thanks for reading, Esther!! The feeling of finally "coming home" is a powerful one, indeed. And I'll certainly be getting to that tag when I can!!

    Yes, you know this all too well -- even good changes causing stress and feelings of instability, a feeling of I just want solid ground under my feet-ness. The whole process has turned me inside-out so many times, there have been days when I wonder which way is up. It helps to be married to a good man, and to be surrounded by safe people. They help me keep my sanity, even on the days when I question it.

    Thanks for being here. Love you.

    Thanks for reading and for sharing in the journey. This piece was really important to share, and definitely colored the whole experience. I too hope that one day you find a church that is truly home -- it is not to be traded for anything!!

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing in this installment. The saddest thing has been to see these relationships strained because of this decision, for people to think we've gone off the proverbial "deep end." It helps to have friends who understand that this wasn't done rashly, but out of obedience. Thanks for being here.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and to participate with your thoughts!!

    We'd definitely agree (and Catholic teaching affirms this also) that God is not confined to a single denomination. Indeed, I experienced Him and saw Him work amazing things in the Evangelical churches I've attended most of my life. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the case.

    What was at stake for us here, however, was not just "what will get me to heaven?" as much as it was "What did Christ intend when He said 'I will build My church'"? and "How do I best live a life of holiness and obedience now, here on earth"? I do believe Christ had a specific plan in mind when He said He would build His church, and I think most people would agree that thousands of denominations was not His plan. He uses it, He works within it (thanks be to God!!), but it is a far cry from the oneness and unity to which we are continually enjoined throughout the Scriptures to maintain and uphold. Denominationalism is a big beef of mine (and has been since I was a kid), so that is something you may see me go back to continually. ;o)

    When this journey started initially several years ago, the big question I was asking was this: Assuming Jesus had a specific plan in mind when He said He would build His church, isn't it incumbent upon me to find out if that still exists, and if so, to follow it no matter what inconvenience it may cause, no matter how unpopular it may be?

    I recognize certainly that our spiritual journeys take us different places. Like I said, my purpose in becoming Catholic was not to incite division or argument with any of my Evangelical Protestant brothers and sisters. I love them dearly. I would affirm the conviction that we all need first to see that our consciences are properly formed and once they are, to be sure that we are living in accordance with them. That's what we've done here, and I hope and pray that my brothers and sisters everywhere will experience all that Christ has for us on earth in all its fullness.

    P.S. I LOVE your idea about addressing the common misconceptions thing -- that's something I've thought of doing when I started this series. I have a few notions in mind to address, but if you have anything specific to call out, feel free. :o)

  7. Kirsten,
    I haven't read this post fully yet. I've fallen behind in reading this series, but I really want to pick up where I left off and hope to catch up soon. I'm so glad you're taking the time to share. :)

  8. I love you, my friend. This story -- and your heart in it -- is so beautiful.