There is a great GK Chesterton quote that says
The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.
I, like a number of other Catholics, could easily agree with that statement. He goes on to say that talking about his personal conversion makes something as big as the Church seem much too small. I think that is a great point. Rather than trying to explain how I became “fully Catholic” as an attempt to persuade, I’d like to explain it to help provide some clarity to where I am coming from when it comes to expressing my faith.
I think a misconception many have about me is that I am only Catholic because my parents are. While I grew up going to a Catholic Church and attending faith formation through that, my family never forced me to be Catholic. In fact, my mom made sure we knew growing up that she would still love and accept us even if we stopped following the Catholic faith. I participated in Children’s Christian Theater so I attended some Protestant services growing up. In high school, I learned the basic tenets and history of different religions. I had friends from a variety of faith backgrounds. Our lunch table dynamics sounded like an introduction to a joke: a Catholic, a Mormon, a Muslim, and an atheist sit down at a table…
Though I had some important moments in faith, I also dealt with doubts. During a retreat, someone told us that being confirmed doesn’t mean you don’t have questions about the Church; it means you choose Catholicism as your path to Jesus. I had a very long list of questions, but that comforted me enough to move forward.
When I got to college, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to continue practicing Catholicism. I had my huge list of questions and didn’t feel comfortable asking them. My freshman year, I was dating a guy who was more of a practicing Catholic than I so that was some encouragement to keep attending. I also started to make some friends in the choir so though I didn’t feel like I fit in with the rest of the congregation, I had some connections.
Challenges to my Faith
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I worked at Philmont Scout Ranch. People seriously challenged my faith for the first time in my life. Though my Mormon friends in high school had invited me to some activities at their Church and shared their faith with me, I never felt overwhelmingly pressured. At Philmont, I had a Protestant co-worker who whispered behind my back that I wasn’t really a Christian. I attended one non-denominational Bible study; before that, no one ever asked me questions like “when were you saved?” so I felt a little uncomfortable and confused. The Muslim co-worker was a convert from Catholicism, and he not only asked me some hard questions but did so in an incredibly rude way. I really had to think about what I believed, what the Church taught, and if I could really defend it. One of my co-workers lent me the book Catholic & Christian by Alan Schreck. It is a fantastic book, and I highly recommend it! It helped me to understand some of the theological questions and helped me grow the tiniest bit in that way, but I still had a ton of questions.
Between that summer and January the next year, I started dating Ben. I was still attending Mass somewhat regularly because I was in the choir. In January, I started a co-op (extended internship). After I moved in with my apartment-mate (we both had our own bathrooms and bedrooms on opposite ends), I found out that he was Catholic as well. I went to Mass with him pretty much every Sunday.
Around this time, Ben started exploring the Catholic faith.
We were attending Mass together, and I was going to RCIA with him that fall, but I went on a second co-op in my spring semester. This time, I was the only Christian in the house, and my Mass attendance became less consistent despite being Ben’s Confirmation sponsor (I did not do a good job).
The worst months of my life occurred that summer through the winter. My tinnitus was causing a lot of emotional turmoil on top of dealing with mental illness. My shoulder was causing me so much pain and was so weak, I couldn’t open a door. Ben and I broke up in the fall which was absolutely devastating. This caused me to make a lot of mistakes. It was a really challenging semester academically for me. These challenges were compounded by the fact that I was a type 1 diabetic but had yet to be diagnosed. I was miserable and unsuccessfully seeking happiness outside of my faith. Fortunately, FOCUS started up on my campus. One of the missionaries persistently invited me to Bible study and other events despite me usually making (really lame) excuses.
In January 2015, I went to my first SEEK conference. It is hard to articulate how important this experience was for my faith development. In the simplest terms, I caught a glimpse of my worth in the eyes of God. I realized that if I wanted to be happy (or at least happier), I needed to make God the center of my life; I recognized the need for a relationship with Christ.
Ben and I were able to heal our relationship and started talking about putting God as the focus. Though I my interest in learning more about my faith grew, I still didn’t do much about it.
That summer, I ended up working with a devout Catholic. We’d carpool sometimes or walk to Mass together, and he was a great example of living the faith. I started going to adoration every once in awhile (which was more than I had ever done before). This summer, I also really started digging into the “why” behind our Catholic faith; I wanted answers to the things I had previously just disregarded as “backward.” I was finally trying to fully live my faith as a Catholic and let it influence my life.
My 5th and final year of college (taking two extended internships postponed my graduation), God blessed me with a Christ-centered friendship. Both Ben and I continued to grow together in our faith.
To Be Continued…For the Rest of my Life
I am still learning what it means to have an intimate relationship with Christ. I am still finding amazing things about our faith. I am trying to grow holier, but I still make mistakes (or feel like I’m a bad Catholic). But I’m finally entirely confident I am on the right path to lead me closer to God, and that brings me a lot of genuine joy.