Although I am a convert to Catholicism, I feel like I've been catholic all of my life.
I grew up in a small town evangelical church called the Church of the Nazarene. I attended church regularly, earning a ten year perfect attendance pin in Sunday school. During some of my high school years I quietly questioned what I was being taught, like all teen agers, trying to think critically about things I did not fully understand. Although it wasn’t in my nature to rebel, I wasn't always comfortable with what I was being taught. I did not understand the reason for my discomfort and so I rarely voiced my questions out loud. My concerns didn't seem to have a focus at the time, and I believed that it was either my lack of understanding, or possibly a lack of faith.
Somehow I became convinced that the church of my youth was the only way into Heaven, and that Catholics as well as others were not teaching the truth. During college, however, I attended church less often even though I attended religious schools for the first two years. After college I searched for a church that was exciting, vibrant, and uplifting, but I couldn’t find what I needed and although I attended church intermittently, I went less and less often. Eventually I quit going altogether. My Mother had taught me that I shouldn't look for a church that I liked, but that I should find a church that was teaching the truth. Her advice is just as good today as it was then.
Belief in God, Heaven and Hell, and faith that Jesus died on the Cross for me continued to be a part of my life. I missed attending church and sometimes considered attending church on my own, but I just never got around to it. My wife and I attended church with my Mother on visits to my home town, but although we seemed to share many of the same religious beliefs we never attended church by ourselves. I knew that my wife was Catholic, but since I felt that it wasn't teaching the truth my goal was to convert her away from Catholicism. It seemed to me that we should be attending a small local protestant church near our home, since I hadn't found anything better and it couldn't hurt. She, on the other hand, felt that the protestant church of my youth seriously lacked the level of worship that she desired, and I don't believe that being protestant was ever an option for her.
Although my wife’s children had been baptized Catholic they hadn't completed their Sacraments, and prior to a wedding my wife sponsored one of our daughters in a local RCIA program. During that period my wife responded to a personal call and decided to take a deeper interest in her faith. She began attending Mass on Sundays, and joined the RCIA program as a team member. With her renewed interest we returned to our discussions about church and religion and I discovered that I was agreeing with her most of the time.
She would come home after her RCIA meetings and we would talk about the subject for that evening. During those conversations, I began to realize that what I had believed about Catholicism was not accurate. She eventually invited me to attend the RCIA meetings with her and since she would be there it seemed like a good thing to do. For some reason I also believed that there were Catholics and there were Christians, so I was surprised to discover that I seemed to be in agreement with what I was hearing. I already knew that we both believed in Jesus and the Trinity, but this was the first time that I understood that I could be Catholic and still be a Christian.
During these meetings I slowly realized that the Catholic Church had answers to the questions of my youth, and even more importantly, it was teaching what I considered to be the Truth. I've always had a strong commitment to community, and a sense that we are all part of the Kingdom of God. I believe that the path to Salvation depends on each of us working together, and that the consequence of an individual’s sin goes beyond the individual’s action. This is not an "every man for himself" world but a world that truly depends on the love of and for others. Heaven is not something to wait for; it is something to build now.
I began attending weekly Mass with my wife, and after some hesitation I went forward during communion for a blessing. Once I did that I was hooked, amazed by an overwhelming sense of well being that lasted all week. I quickly became dependent on my weekly blessings, and that became a desire to be in full communion with the Church. I joined the next RCIA group as a participant and looked forward to my confirmation.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation was another surprise for me. The Church teaches that sin does more than separate us from God. It also separates us from community, ourselves, and creation. This matched my concept of sin, along with the idea that we are all in this world together and we are all responsible for each other. Sin, whether it’s mine or someone else’s, affects all of us. God, like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, loves us and forgives us even before we ask Him. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is needed to right the wrong we’ve committed to community, to ourselves, and to creation. For me, the surprise was that the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation was such a blessing.
Although I had stopped searching for a long time I never lost my faith in God. He used my wife's hope to bless me, her charity to convince me, and her love to lead me to his Church. I believe that the Catholic Church is teaching the Truth, and I want to learn all that I can so that I can help others, by being an example of his love. I am grateful for this opportunity to deepen my relationship with God, to learn more about his Church, and to contribute to His Kingdom.