Becoming Catholic was one of the scariest things I have ever done in life. Since childhood I’d been taught that the Catholic Church was a crooked, greedy, abusive, and judgemental institution where you paid your way into Heaven and only priests were allowed to speak to God.
My conversion to Catholicism didn’t begin with a blinding light and me falling off my proverbial horse like St. Paul. I guess you could say that God and the Church had pursued me my entire life until, at the urging of my soon-to-be mother-in-law, and in order to appease my husband’s family, I agreed to attend RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).
In retrospect, I basically imagine that God clapped his hands and said, “Whelp, that’s that. She’s mine now!” the moment I walked into the RCIA classroom.
Over the next few months, everything that I thought I’d known about the Church and her teachings was stripped away. I began to see the Church for what it was and not for what my poorly catechized family members taught me as a child, or what secular media showed me on television. I asked questions and they were answered. I brought up issues that have long plagued the Church and they were explained, sometimes to the benefit of the Church, and sometimes to its detriment.
My sacramental conversion began when I wanted my husband’s family to like me. I was tired of not knowing that meal-time prayer they all prayed together. I was tired of hearing words like “Holy See” and “Ecclesiastical” and “Pontificate” and not knowing what in the world they were talking about. I was tired of not understand the sit, stand, kneel, stand, kneel, sit, “Amen” in Mass.
My true conversion began when Father Paul asked me if becoming Catholic was really what I wanted to do. He explained that I was free to choose whether or not to become Catholic. I was free to walk away if I didn’t feel it was for me. I sat there in that chair, at this small wooden table, staring at a priest whom I’m pretty sure has the gift to read souls, and realized that I wanted this because I wanted it. Not because of my husband or my soon-to-be in-laws. I wanted to become Catholic because over those many months, I’d fallen in love with the Church, with Christ.
There have been far more profound “yeses” to God in the history of our faith, but mine at that moment felt pretty flipping profound. Why? Because I knew from that moment on I would have to surrender everything to God.
You see, conversion is synonymous with total and utter surrender. You cannot become Catholic without surrendering the former self to Christ. You take your most deep-seated philosophies on life, your most ingrained behaviors and habits, and you surrender them wholly. You empty yourself of who and what you are so that you may be filled with Christ’s love and mercy and grace to become an entirely different creature.
At least, that’s how it goes in theory. But you have people like me who cling desperately to facets of the former self, who battle with God over who’s will will be done. You have people like myself who are afraid to trust in God and step out of their comfort zone in order to achieve the change we need to grow. And so you wake up every morning and you surrender again and again and again, until the issue is resolved and God reveals another part of you that could be better, holier, and you start all over.
As Bishop Robert Barron says, in essence, having a relationship with Christ is like taking a piece of glass, which in darkness can appear perfect, unblemished, and turning it toward the light where suddenly you can see the flaws, the imperfections. And the beautiful part about it is that we’re given the tools to wipe the glass clean, to mend the fractures and see clearly. When we smudge the glass again, we’re given the tools necessary to wipe it clean, if only we’re willing to first accept that there is a blemish, and then accept that we need the help to mend it.
I wasn’t simply converting from one belief or faith to another (I was a polytheistic Pagan before my conversion), I was converting my entire existence to center around one Truth, and that Truth called for me to make radical, necessary changes. And I didn’t look at these things and think “wow, the Church is so oppressive and doesn’t want you to have fun!” For the first time I saw that these guidelines for the Church were no different than my having expectations of behavior from my children, of giving them a bedtime and helping them to establish healthy life habits. It was no different than my wanting the absolute best for my children, for them to be good, honest people, and doing my best–as their parent–to set them on the right path, to teach them the right things, and to implement discipline where necessary.
Any parent who truly cares for and loves their child is going to have rules and regulations to keep them from hurting themselves or others. They place rules not to keep the child silent and still, but to ensure that they can LIVE and live WELL. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. But that’s a different conversation for a different time.
I’ve been Catholic for five-and-a-half years now, and I can tell you that every day I go through small conversions, and every day I must renew my surrender to God. It’s a lifelong process. Even Mother Teresa spent hours in the confessional, surrendering her cotton-ball sins to Christ. Even up to our dying breath, we must surrender to His will.