When I look back at how that happened, I see a tremendous amount of orchestration that was not at all apparent to me at the time. Experiences that seemed quite disconnected from each other, were strung together by a Divine current of grace— running fast enough to carry me along, but beneath the surface of my consciousness enough to keep me blissfully unaware of where that stream was taking me. If I had even slightly suspected that I was swimming in the Tiber, I would have immediately stepped onto the banks and hightailed it into the woods. Rome was the antithesis of where I saw myself going. Catholic was the very last thing on earth I wanted to be.
Yet when I walked forward to receive Eucharist and Confirmation, I did so freely and with joy. Grace had led me all along. Grace unseen, but all-seeing. Grace to change my path, and even my identity. Grace to step out into the dark and stay there long enough to find that I was home. The struggle, in some respects, wasn't that interesting. I lost every battle I fought. What won out in the end was redirecting grace, almost manipulative, almost deceptive, desperately trying to convince—dare I say "seduce" me.
Coming into the Catholic Church was my unconditional surrender. It involved my waving my white baptismal gown, laying down my arms, and relinquishing my personal papacy. The experience of conversion felt as if I was allowing God to pull a fast one. Now, more than twenty-five years later, I can see His presence backstage in every scene of my life. These poems are my attempt to bring you into the wings with Him.
They made one of those PA system announcements at my Catholic girls' high school that Mother Theresa was coming to speak at the Catholic university down the street. I figured that maybe my mom and I could go and see what she was like.
None of the other girls seemed to care much,
maybe because it was before she won the Peace Prize, maybe because they were more concerned
with earrings, and nail polish,
I think Mother Theresa was just another nun to them.
I wasn't sure what she was to me,
but I remembered the movie I saw about her work when I was nine or ten or so. They showed it at the Episcopal church I went to—
the one that was so very comfortable with the 60's;
the one that struggled through Services for Trial Use;
the one where I sang in the choir;
the one that had a "drop in;" (I was never really quite sure what a "drop in" was.) This was the church where a kid in Sunday School drew a picture of a cat with a mustache when we were told to draw a picture of God.
Anyway, the movie was called "Something Beautiful for God."
My mom remembered it too, and so we went to see Mother Theresa speak.
I can't remember a single word she said,
but I remember what I saw because it scared me.
Entering the auditorium was long line of men in academic robes. They wore their colors,
their anachronistic hats
with great solemnity.
Dignified music played
and dignified men processed in order of ascending honor.
Behind them all, completely obscured —almost invisible—
walked Mother Theresa, so small,
her hands folded in front of her,
her head bowed down as if to shelter herself from what preceded her.
Men of honor had gathered to honor her, But in her presence they seemed so empty, so false, so proud without cause.
Walking towards the stage,
it seemed as if she was the only one not somehow out of place. Real humility has that effect;
it shames the honorable;
it calls to the conscience;
it jars the achiever;
especially if you've never seen it before.
Everyone stood up.
My seat was on the center aisle.
As she approached my row my heart beat faster.
And as she passed by I couldn't stop myself
from stepping into the aisle to touch her hands.
When I looked into her face,
and I cried.
I dreamed about doing important things,
about being recognized,
She did little, menial, things;
and cared less about the things she did than about Whom she did them for. And while everyone
in that room called her "Mother,"
not one was really her child.
Pope John Paul
I'd been at college for less than a month.
I was living my dream,
at the top of the heap,
pretending I wasn't afraid to fail;
hoping I wasn't the one really bad mistake the admissions office had made the previous April.
The Pope, I heard, was coming to Boston— the young,
The two of us Protestants decided to go. Our Catholic roommate decided not to.
We imagined there would be thousands of people, that the T would be crowded,
that if we wanted to get a good vantage point, we'd have to get an early start,
especially since we were outsiders, non-Catholics,
maybe even heretics.
So we did something kind of strange:
we spent the night at the airport.
It was too cold to go to the Common overnight, maybe that was why we did it.
While the hours passed we talked a lot, about this Pope,
about whose Holy Father he was,
about the old divisions that separated us, that kept us apart from him and his.
We found a large piece of cardboard around the baggage claim, and begged a marker and tape from one of the ticket agents,
and noticed some long wooden sticks lying nearby. We decided to make a sign,
one that would make the Pope smile,
one that would tell them all why we had come. "Protestants for the Pope" it said.
We got there at the break of dawn,
early enough to set up camp on the grass right behind the rope that was the great divide
between the crowd and the chairs that were set up for people with some kind of ticket, or pass,
It wasn't long until the ground filled in behind us,
behind our sign so that it looked as if
"Protestants for the Pope" was a sizable organization, even though it was just the two of us Freshmen.
All of those arriving crowds were Catholics, of course, at least the ones around us were.
They asked us about the sign.
They shared their blankets,
and their snacks,
They told us how happy they were that we had come.
We had to wait all day.
The people around us sang to pass the time, and we sang too,
because we knew their songs.
The Pope arrived and cheering voices rose from Boston Common like incense, like smoke
climbing to form the dark gray clouds that covered the sky.
it started to rain.
This was not a normal rain.
It was icy cold,
and wind driven,
and rhythmically torrential.
Everyone took what cover they could find,
putting on those old fashioned rain hats that old ladies used to carry in their purses; huddling
under umbrellas that were turning inside out in the wind;
even sharing a garbage bag.
We just stood out in the rain,
because we were young;
because somehow it renewed us; because we wanted our sign to be seen.
When the Pope spoke the sun came out, and the rain stopped mid-air.
His voice echoed off the buildings;
and though he addressed tens of thousands, I felt like he was talking just to me.
I was too far back to see him at all,
but it was as if his eyes were on me;
like he and I were sitting in a room somewhere,
just talking, like a new acquaintance that doesn't feel new at all, but strangely,
"Be not afraid," he said.
And even though I didn't think I was afraid of anything,
He said it again
and I took new courage.
Just before Communion
the sky opened
and rain came pouring down harder than before. The Lord's Prayer thundered on every tongue.
An army of priests waded into the crowd— past the people with tickets and chairs—
with mud staining their white robes; with mud splashed up to their knees; soaking, shivering,
carrying covered bowls filled with bread I knew I could not take—
Bread for Catholics,
not for me.
But I watched them come,
and people moving forward in the mud;
that no one would do this for a piece of bread, unless he was very, very, hungry;
unless, in fact, he was starving,
and it was the very last piece of bread on earth.
Our sign finally collapsed,
but more than a few news photographers had taken our picture with it during the day, before the rain,
before they had what they came for
We didn't talk much on the T. We were too wet,
and it was hard to tell if the numbness I felt was from the rain or not.
We climbed up the stairs to the fourth floor,
and walked straight into the showers,
clothes and all.
I turned the hot water on full blast, knowing that no sprinkle could warm me, only total immersion.
I found the lecture hall and took my seat.
Ec 10, Introduction to Microeconomics.
I was the first one in my family to go to college, and it was my very first class.
It felt as if I was doing something historic.
The professor collected his notes and began to speak.
and cleared his throat, and spoke some more.
At first I heard the sound of pens upon paper,
the pages in notebooks being turned,
the rapid fire of terminology
being written in chalk on boards half cleared by old erasers. And my mind could not have been
further from economics, because in those sounds I heard a different Voice
lecturing on a different subject, and He was louder.
"This is what you've been doing on Sunday mornings." That is what I heard,
resonating in my mind.
"You come with your text and your notebook and pen,
to your bible believing church,
your evangelical church,
where people ask what God is doing in your life,
and where people mask their pain with a smile.
And this is what you have been doing on Sunday mornings.
You come to class, to hear,
to be educated,
But not to worship,
to be changed.
You come to master, and not to be Mastered." And in Ec 10 that day
I learned nothing about economics.
left and right,
black and white,
the noble lie told around a fire in a cave.
Man is a political animal
whose life is
but not short enough.
a hunter in the morning,
a fisherman in the afternoon,
but always the critical critic
and so he smashes the mirror.
He gets what his free development demands
from every other "each"
who found himself at the edge of the horizon
with a totality of equipment he didn't know how to use. He awakens to find that he is choking on
a serpent, conscious long enough to wish
that Zarathustra would just
a weariness to the flesh.
Real intellectuals are skeptical.
Truly brilliant minds don't believe. There is a place where
Machiavelli and Montesquieu,
Plato and Rousseau,
Hegel and Homer,
A place where if there is a difference, I have lost my ability
to tell it.
Theory after theory,
all a conspiracy
to convince me that I didn't care. (But I did.)
My evangelical church was too small for me, too narrow,
too uncomfortable with women.
And so I went back to another, bigger one I knew before,
one that was home to me as a child, one that had sacraments,
instead of overhead projectors,
and even a few monks.
The priest there told me that sometimes a crisis in faith was just an indication that
your God was too small,
or your Me was too small.
That sounded good to me,
but when I went to him to ask
about how it was that some of our bishops didn't believe in the virgin birth;
or somehow thought that they could reconcile
he suggested to me
that underneath it all,
I was secretly a lesbian.
I knew I wasn't gay,
but in that conversation
that my Church
For no reason
my fiance's roommate invited me to Mass, and for no reason
I said I'd go.
I sat there mesmerized
for no reason,
by something I had seen enough of before to be able to dismiss. But for no reason
I could not dismiss the student Mass,
that Sunday night,
in the basement of the Church,
for no reason,
the choir sang
One Bread, One Body
and for no reason,
I broke down in tears
because I couldn't receive
what I didn't believe in at the time.
And it was the lack of a reason that confused me.
So when the priest announced a series of talks
called Basic Belief,
and said that this week's topic would be Eucharist,
for no reason,
Setting them Straight
I knew my stuff,
and all this hocus-pocus
wasn't something I could just let stand.
So when I went to hear what Catholics believed, I figured I would set them straight
on a few things,
because you can't do it all in one fell swoop.
It takes time.
I had four years of religion at the Catholic girls' high school, and got mostly A's even though I wasn't Catholic,
probably because I wasn't Catholic,
because not being Catholic,
I knew more
than the other girls,
and even more than at least some of the nuns.
But listening closely to what The Church taught about Eucharist,
I was shocked.
In four years of religion at Catholic school
I had never heard what that priest was saying, and that made me mad.
It made me mad to think that all this time I had been deceived
by the evangelicals,
and the episcopals,
but even more by Catholics about what Catholics believed— or were supposed to.
It infuriated me to no end
that they had kept their truth
that they had found a way to keep me from finding out
what they really thought,
when push came to shove.
when the priest was done,
I introduced myself,
protecting my Protestantism,
but confessing that I had been sorely misinformed about the Catholic Church;
and that after what he said,
I had to admit
that Catholics were Christians after all—
a kind I did not understand—
to make peace with.
He asked me how serious I was
about making peace,
and when I told him that I was serious indeed, he got out his appointment book,
and I got mine.
I went with the intention of making peace,
not finding it.
But when I sat down in that priest's office,
in the basement of the Catholic student center, I told him much more than I intended
about being homeless,
and not knowing if I could believe any more.
I confessed Plato,
and how I had come to the notion
that every myth and philosophy
But what I meant was that none of them no longer fit the ever widening canyon inside me.
I told him how I had wandered through denominations; how I hadn't found a real home in any of them,
at least not one that lasted long
after I revealed
my true self.
I felt as if I was at the edge of an abyss,
on the verge of unresistable atheism.
I could no longer simply believe.
I could not leap across the gulf that stretched wider with every question, nor could I go back the way I came.
Without saying a word,
the priest got up, took a crucifix down from the wall, and put it on the table between us. Looking into my eyes,
he leaned forward,
and asked me to tell him
that the cross didn't mean more to me than Plato, or Homer,
or all the philosophers I had read
until I could no longer think
or even breathe.
Finding that I could not do so, I made the crossing;
and sailing on tears,
landed safely on the other side of the abyss
The priest asked if I was willing to read for the sake of the peace I said I wanted with the
I took it without hesitation,
with no secret agenda,
without intentions other than what I had stated.
The book he handed me was the Vatican II documents. He told me to read Lumen Gentium,
the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
So when I got to my room, I opened it
instead of my other work; instead of Latin,
or political philosophy.
I thought I could afford forty pages of diversion,
But I didn't really know what those forty pages would cost me.
The words I read were startlingly familiar. They rang with the same Truth
I had encountered only when reading the Bible. The Mystery of the Church,
The People of God,
The Universal Call to Holiness;
every word flowed from Scripture
interpreted as I had never seen it:
deeper than deep.
I inhaled each successive line with excitement,
And when I finished the final page, I closed the book,
not quite sure
what to do next,
I had not found
a single thing
that I could argue with,
or look down upon,
or shrug my shoulders about.
Everything was plain,
but the plainest
and clearest thing was this: I was no longer
And when I went back to the priest I told him so,
and to my surprise
I asked him what I had to do
what I already was: a Roman Catholic.
I never knew where I was until I had moved beyond it. I never intended to be what I was becoming.
I never suspected that the mountain had become a stair, and that I had been climbing step by step
before I found myself above the tree line, above the clouds,
where I could finally see
where I had been going
And now that I am here,
I don't mind saying I was tricked. I had to be,
or still I would not know
the Bread that feeds
and leads me
or the Grace
that will not let me stay
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is an author, singer-songwriter, and lay evangelist. A 1983 convert to the Catholic faith, Jaymie is a wife and mother of eight. She has written a biweekly column in America's oldest Catholic newspaper, The Pilot, since 1995. Experienced in parish faith formation and music ministry, Jaymie currently serves full-time as a Children's Editor at Pauline Books & Media. Find Jaymie on Facebook, or learn more about her ministry at www.loavesandfishesministry.net.
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