Elliott came to the Catholic Church from an apathetic atheism after having been raised in the Methodist church. He currently resides in rural Japan where he teaches English and occasionally blogs about his faith and racing.
From Methodism to Apathy/Atheism and on to Rome
It can be very interesting the paths that God chooses for our lives. While I am generally content to keep the details of stories like this to myself, I’ve felt that it would be helpful to put this on paper. Perhaps it is His will that I relate my journey in order that others may benefit by it. I truly don’t know at this point in time. Perhaps God will reveal to me the reason at some point in the future.
Most of the salient points of the story begin sometime around the Easter season of 2005. In order for the story to have its full effect, however, it is necessary that we go back several years and see the events that lead up to this time. Unfortunately, I’m not certain exactly where to begin. Perhaps this journey began as early as 1992 when I first left for college. In truth, it began well before I was born, but this isn’t an autobiography.
I grew up in a small town in North Carolina to parents who made sure we attended church every weekend, although it was never really something we discussed outside of Sunday morning. Mom had been raised a Presbyterian and Dad a Baptist, so when they married they decided that they would compromise and attend a Methodist church. With the occasional exception, that's the church and theology with which I grew up. Given that we lived in a small town in the South, the Catholic Church was a total non-factor. Unlike many Churches that you may have heard about in the South, there wasn’t the anti-Catholic indoctrination that many grow up with. When I say it was a non-factor, I mean exactly that. I don’t think I had ever even heard of the Catholic Church. When I finally did encounter it, there was still no mention of how it differed. For all I knew, it was exactly like any other denomination. There was exactly one parish in our town, but it was just never mentioned. It wasn't until around middle school that I met a Catholic family for the first time. They were from Maine and had moved in down the road from us. I remember going to Mass with them at some point, but the only thing I really remember about it at this point is that we knelt during Mass. I believe the parish had a communion rail, but I could be mistaken on that point.
For some reason, even at this young age, it seemed wrong to me for two pastors to preach different meanings for the same scripture passage. If we were all part of the same faith, shouldn't the teachings be the same? It also seemed to me that faith should be more than a Sunday morning activity as it seemed to be in our lives.
Anyway, my middle school years were a very bad time for me. At one particular point my friends left me and began to torment me. I had absolutely no friends left, and was a very angry and depressed child. Mom sent me to the pastor for counseling, but I don't recall it doing much good. I only mention this because I also attended school and church with these “friends.” We were going through confirmation classes at the time, and while confirmation meant the world to me, I couldn't stand to be there because of the people with whom I was forced to attend. The part that I still remember to this day is when they began to teach us about church history. They told us that the Methodist church had broken away from the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation. To my mind, it didn't make sense to split the Church like that, but because of my situation I didn't dare ask questions about it.
Outside of the people with whom I had to attend, I really did enjoy going to Church. In particular, I was looking forward to my confirmation. My grandfather gave me the Bible that he had been given at his confirmation, and there was really nothing more important to me at that point in time than being there for my confirmation. I woke up on Sunday for confirmation with a stomach virus of some kind. I was far too sick to attend, and my parents told me as much. This was my confirmation, however, and I wasn’t going to miss is it just because I wasn’t feeling particularly well. They finally relented and let go. I somehow managed to get through most of the service just fine, but it didn’t last. Just after being called up to the front for the confirmation portion of the service, the stomach virus caught up with me. I was forced to run to the bathroom in the middle of the ceremony to avoid leaving whatever was left in my stomach all over the minister. I only relate this story because it serves as a great example of what the faith meant to me during this portion of my life. Also, it stands in stark contrast to where I would be after high school.
During high school we moved from North Carolina to California due to my father’s work. I was very fortunate that the Methodist Church we began attending in California had an excellent youth group. Virtually every month we went to youth group conferences, and at one point we ran a summer camp for kids in Alaska. I was still happy to attend church at this point, but I don’t know that it had much effect on my life outside of the times when I was at church or participating in parish-related activities.
When I left for college, many things in my life changed. This, in itself, is not unusual, and is generally experienced by most that go to college. Most of the changes I experienced were due to a lack of maturity on my part, and this contributed to a general laziness regarding my spiritual life. While I still believed in God, and considered myself a Methodist at this point, I had stopped attending church. Part of the reason was a growing belief that I did not need church in order to retain my relationship with God, and another part was the fact that I generally was just going to bed around the time most worship services were starting. Satan knows scripture about as well as anyone, and he often uses it to convince you that what you're doing is right. In my case, he used my ignorance of scripture to help me justify myself in not going to church.
In the middle of these changes, I was confronted for the first time with the topic of abortion. One of the guys that lived on my hall in the dorm my first year at school asked me where I stood on the issue. I told him, truthfully, that I had never really thought about the issue and that I really had no opinion on the matter. He told me that it was far too big an issue and I had better decide where I stood sooner rather than later. To me, the issue seemed to be fairly cut and dried and I approached it from an unusually neutral perspective. I had (and still have) strong leanings toward personal freedom, so I posed the question to myself: which one takes priority? A woman's rights as an individual or the right to be born? It sounds callous, I know, but that was how I looked at it. I never consciously prayed about it, but I believe God knew the questions in my heart and suddenly one day a couple of weeks after running this question through my mind, the answer came to me: murder is always wrong, even if done in the name of personal liberty. In all my wanderings I've never wavered from that idea.
Gradually, my loose affiliation with the Methodist church turned toward something more akin to an apathy towards religion in general. As I took more classes and read more over the course of those intervening years, I became convinced that one could live a moral life outside the structure of a Church. My apathy at its worst became a dislike for religion and I became uncomfortable discussing God and my views on faith. I considered myself at this point in my life to be an Agnostic, leaning somewhat towards Atheism.
I remember going out to dinner with a buddy of mine one night and as we were driving I turned to get something from the back seat. As I was turned, I noticed the bulletin from his Church on the seat. I remember feeling something akin to anger or contempt at the sight. I tell you this to show you just how far from God I was at this time. After my conversion, I identified that emotion for what it truly was: guilt.
Note that while I am pointing out the different stages here in this narrative, all of the changes were very gradual, and occurred over the course of many years.
I remember calling my best friend at some point toward the latter part of this period and the subject of our conversation turned to religion. It seems that he had recently started attending the Catholic Church in his area, and was thoroughly enjoying himself. I distinctly remember telling him that I found it quite interesting that as he was moving closer to God, I found myself growing more distant by the day. This incident in and of itself is fairly inconsequential, but it sticks with me to this day as critical in my path. Was this God calling me home? If so, it wasn't the last time I said no and continued my self-absorbed path.
Early in 2005, a woman by the name of Terri Schiavo made national news. She was in a coma and was being kept alive via a feeding tube. Her husband wanted to have the feeding tube removed so that she could die, while her family was adamant that she be allowed to live. I was a regular listener of the Sean Hannity show at this time, and he was very outspoken on the family’s behalf. He spoke at great length on the issue, telling the audience why he believed her husband was totally wrong on this issue, and how his faith in God backed up his arguments. Mr. Hannity is a Catholic, as is Terri’s family, and he pointed out how the Church was at the forefront of the pro-life movement, both in condemning abortion as evil, and standing up against the “culture of death” that wanted to be able to kill people who were an inconvenience to them. Despite my total denial of any sort of faith, Sean’s arguments resonated with me. I agreed with his points in the case, even though I did not share his religious viewpoint.
Also around this time, Pope John Paul II became very ill. If I remember correctly, it was just before Easter. He died shortly thereafter, and I knew that whether or not I believed, this was an important time for the Church. I watched with interest as the cardinals voted to elect Cardinal Ratzinger the next Pope.
I think it was the Friday before Easter when Terri Schiavo finally died from starvation. Her husband had won the court battle, and had been allowed to remove her feeding tube. According to his lawyers, it would be a peaceful, serene death. I never saw any pictures of her during this time, but I find it hard to imagine being starved to death as anything close to serene, much less peaceful.
Looking back on all this with the perspective that hindsight offers, it seems so obvious that God was using these events as a sign to me of where I needed to be in my life, yet I, like so many others, followed my own wisdom, and blithely ignored them. On Saturday night, the night before Easter Sunday, my entire life began to change. As I sat at my computer playing games or what have you, I was overcome by a need to be at church the next morning. This feeling came from nowhere and was completely at odds with everything going on in my life at the time. Even now, all I can tell you about it was that the Holy Spirit gave me an absolute, no-doubt knowledge that I HAD to be at Church the next morning. In the back of my mind, it seemed like it should be a Catholic Church that I attend, but the overwhelming message was that I attend church. To show you just how long my road was, I was less than excited by the thought of attending church, but I found it somewhat difficult to ignore. I picked up the phone book and found the section of churches. Given that I was living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at the time, this was a rather large section, so I had to narrow my search somewhat. I think at this point, I began to listen to the signs, and I found the local Catholic parish (note the singular). I searched for the location on mapquest, and figured out how long it would take to get there, and what time I needed to leave. Now, remember the part where I said that I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of attending church again? I decided that since that wasn’t my idea of fun, I would only go if I woke up in time. Ideally, this meant I needed to be awake by 9:30 so that I could make it by 11:00. Anyone that knows me will realize that this was a longshot at best. I generally considered it a victory to get out of bed by 11:00 on the weekends. I played around on the computer a while longer, and sometime after midnight went off to bed, making sure not to set the alarm clock. The next morning, I awoke at 9:30 to the minute. Sighing, I realized that I had indeed made a promise to myself, if no-one else, and so I began to get ready. After showering and putting on my suit, I jumped in the car and proceeded to follow the directions that I had looked up the previous night.
I walked into the Church and found myself a seat towards the back. As I sat there waiting for Mass to start I had the distinct feeling that there was indeed someone present. Someone other than the parishioners and the priest and deacon. I knew in my heart that God was indeed present in this building, watching and listening to the service. Being that I came from a Protestant background where communion was no big deal, I honestly had no idea that Catholic communion was any different than what I had grown up with. For some reason, though, I felt that I should ask the woman next to me about it. In my pride, I ignored this prompting; possibly because she was absolutely beautiful. So I did what I'd been doing the for the entire Mass – I mimicked what everyone else was doing and I went up to receive communion as if I were Catholic. At this parish, they offered both the host and the cup. As I received each one, it was almost like being struck by lightning. When I say this, I mean that it was an actual physical sensation of electricity as I received each species. It was something that I had never experienced before and I was totally unprepared for it. I managed to make it through Mass mainly by imitating the actions of the people near me.
Needless to say, I was a little overwhelmed at this point. After Mass had ended, I stuck around and waited for the Deacon to have a free moment. I explained to him that I had grown up Methodist, and the feeling that I had experienced the previous night. I also explained to him my lack of faith, and the fact that I had not set my alarm clock. Deacon Fran told me that he believed that God wanted me to come to their church that morning, and he gave me the name of the woman in charge of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). This is the class that anyone interested in joining the Catholic Church must attend in order to be received into the Church.
Since school was out for the week due to Easter break, I stopped by the church office and talked to the lady in charge. Naturally, RCIA had just ended because those in it had just been confirmed at the Easter Vigil. She told me that she wasn’t sure if they would be starting a new RCIA class until next spring, but she took my contact information, and gave me the book that they give all candidates so that I could have something to read in the meantime. I think it took me about a week to finish the book, at which time I went to return it to her. She told me it was mine to keep, and maybe a week or two later, she called to tell me that they would be starting a summer RCIA class. It seems they had 18 people wanting to join the Church. I was excited, albeit somewhat nervous, and started going to the class. While at this point, I was certain that I would be attending church on a regular basis, I was a bit hesitant at the idea of leaving the Methodist Church behind and changing churches. My hesitation led me to make a phone call that I never would have considered making under any other circumstances. I was concerned that my conversion to Catholicism might upset my parents, and I needed them to support me in this if I was going to make it. In between classes one day, I sat down in a private room and I called my mother. I gave her a brief background on what had led up to the choices with which I was now faced. Nearly overcome with tears, I asked told her that I needed to know she could support me in my decision because I wasn't sure I could make it otherwise. I can’t imagine how surprised she must have been, but she told me that she was just happy that I was going back to church, regardless of where it was. Having cleared that hurdle, I now had to face my own doubts and reservations.
Fortunately, the RCIA classes lasted all summer long, which gave me plenty of time to contemplate the changes and pray over them. I asked God on a regular basis to let me know which direction I should go, and I saw nothing that indicated I was going against His wishes. In fact, the people I met at that church were some of the nicest, and most helpful that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing in a church setting. All of these things helped to ease my mind regarding my decisions. As I started RCIA, however, I was given a study abroad opportunity at school where I would be studying in Japan for a month. This was to be the month of June – right in the middle of my formation. The RCIA director really didn't have a problem with it, so I made plans to go. It was a trip of a lifetime, although I realize that my formation and understanding of Catholicism was stunted because of it.
On October 9, 2005, I became a full member of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It was a day I had waited for all summer, and I am still thoroughly convinced that I made the right decision (albeit with a great deal of help). Unfortunately, my graduation soon followed my membership in the Church, and I was forced to leave the Church I had come to love. Before I left Alabama, however, I went to the Diocese of Raleigh website, and began a list of possible churches to attend once I moved to North Carolina. As soon as I arrived there, I began visiting churches in the area, and, after much deliberation and prayer, I signed up to become a member of St. Raphael the Archangel of Raleigh. Almost immediately, I spoke to the choir director, who was thrilled at the prospect of gaining another tenor (they only had two at the time). In April 2006, I was admitted to the Knights of Columbus and have since been honored with exemplification to the fourth degree.
Many conversion stories you read end here – a happily ever after as they revel in their newfound faith as Catholics. My story is really just beginning. I entered the Church and like many others, I was on fire for the faith. I was finally home and at peace with God's calling. The problem was that I was an on fire Cafeteria Catholic. I had missed a good deal of formation and instruction while I was in Japan and so had carried far too many Protestant ideals into my life as a new Catholic. I denied many truths and dogmas of the faith that are critical to being a Catholic in good standing. Fortunately, God is nothing if not patient and He always has a plan. When I moved to Raleigh, I had a job but it didn't start for close to six months. This gave me a lot of free time as you can imagine. I truly wanted to know God and his ways, so I began watching and listening to EWTN. As I listened, watched, and read, my heart began to be opened to the truths that the Catholic Church professes. It took a long time, possibly a year or more, but eventually a thought occurred to me one day: “Why would you profess a faith and not believe everything it teaches? That makes no sense whatsoever.” I knew I was being given another choice and this time I chose God. I resolved at that point to believe all that the Church taught, without exception, and live my life according to those principles. I won't lie and say that made things easier, but it seemed then (as it does now) that the choice was either to believe it all or return to my Methodist roots.
Shortly after making this decision in favor of God, I was forced to relocate to Greensboro. Once I had moved and found a new parish home, I began to search for my place in the Church. I spoke to my new pastor and we both agreed that the priesthood probably wasn’t where I was being called. He did, however, suggest that I try the local Benedictine monastery. Later that year I called the Abbot of Belmont Abbey and scheduled a retreat weekend. I had never met a religious before, and wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. It turned out to be a fantastic weekend and I ended up spending the better part of two years making monthly retreats with them. Eventually I realized that while I loved the Benedictine simplicity and structure, I couldn’t make the commitment to live in that one house for the rest of my life. Regardless, I will always be thankful to those monks for introducing me to the Liturgy of the Hours. That gift has really given structure to my prayer life and helped me to ensure that I am praying every day.
A couple of years after this, I finally got my finances lined up well enough that I could do something I had been wanting to do since I was in RCIA: move to Japan and teach English. I made up my mind that I would apply this one time. If I got it, I would leave and not look back. If I didn’t, I was going to take a more active leadership role in my Knights of Columbus council and spend the rest of my time racing. The application process for teaching in Japan is very long and involved, taking almost six months to complete. The whole time I prayed that God’s will be done. I kept waiting for them to find some reason to reject my application, but they never did. Finally, in Spring of 2013 I got a call saying that they wanted me to teach.
I had thought some about the difficulties of being a Catholic in Japan before I got here, but I really had no idea. Japan is not a Catholic country. It’s not even remotely Christian. Last time I looked, about 0.4% of the population is Catholic. I was placed in a very remote area of Japan, about midway between two parishes. The closest of the two is an hour drive. Sunday Mass (there’s only one offered) generally consists of about 20 people. Sometimes we have as few as 10. On a really busy weekend we might have 30. There isn’t a choir, and there are no groups to join to help fit in with the community. I don’t say all this as a complaint, but more as an insight into how we tend to take those kinds of things for granted in Western countries. The parishes in the US and basically all Western countries provides you a sort of spiritual safety net on which to fall back in times of need. That simply doesn’t exist here. In some ways, this has helped me to remain solid in my faith. Without that safety net, I have to be far more diligent in the practice of my faith.
I have no idea what God has in store for me next. Perhaps I will return to America in a couple of years and get back to life as it was. Or maybe I will stay here and get a job in one of the major cities. Either way, I know that I will have the Catholic faith to use as my compass and guide.
May God bless you.
To find out more about Elliott and his journey in the Catholic faith, visit him at latinrite.wordpress.com.
Whitney Belprez was received into the Catholic Church in 2008 in Grand Rapids, MI. She and her husband own & operate Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy in Lowell, Michigan (www.twosparrowsfarm.com) She also blogs at www.simplylivingloving.com
I grew up in a home that was politely Protestant yet sometimes hostile towards organized religion. My younger brother and I were baptized in a interdenominational church when I was 5, and though I remember occasionally attending Sunday School, most religious endeavors and efforts had ceased by the time I was in elementary school. I always felt a curiosity toward my friends and classmates who were from families of faith, but generally didn’t feel left out – all but one of my friends came from fairly non-religious families. I entered high school externally indifferent about the existence of God, and even professed some strong agnostic beliefs, but deep down I never lost this feeling that there was something more.
Whether by Divine Providence, or just good luck, I exclusively dated Catholic guys throughout high school (interestingly enough, all of French Canadian descent). Through them, I was introduced to the world of Catholicism – it was mysterious, sensual, and completely foreign to me. The first time I ever entered a Catholic church was to attend Mass with my boyfriend and his family when I was still in high school. As his family sat and unfolded the kneelers I said, “Oh wow! Footrests!” I honestly thought the church had footrests installed and had no idea that they were used to kneel in prayer. Needless to say, his family didn’t find it very amusing!
Even when I wasn’t dating a Catholic, I still thought about the Church and somehow felt drawn there from time to time. I remember feeling something physically different about being in a Catholic church than any other church I had ever been in. I remember feeling warmth, comfort, peace, and calm wash over me as I would sit silently. I loved the way the candles flickered and gently illuminated the mesmerizing statues of Mary. It would be years before my heart was open enough to identify that physical feeling with Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist, and even longer before I recognized Mary as my mother, gently and patiently calling her child into her Son's waiting arms.
Late in high school, I went through a series of trials that included a serious medical condition complicated by the end of my parents’ 20-year marriage. At this time, I met the man whom I would eventually marry. He was, of course, a cradle Catholic and French Canadian, but something was different about his faith – and especially his family’s.
Meeting my future husband’s family proved difficult and challenging to everything I had come to believe and think. However, never had I seen people live their faith in a more authentic way. Not one of them claimed to be superior or holy in any way, but they joyfully answered the call to pick up their cross and follow Christ, even when it made them unpopular, foolish, and counter-cultural. I certainly didn’t agree with what they believed, or necessarily how they chose to live their life – but I deeply respected how authentically they attempted to live their Catholic faith. I was hooked.
Around this same period of time, I made the seemingly innocuous decision to drop my math class my final semester of my senior year of high school, instead electing to take a Comparative Religion course that one English teacher at my high school offered. I fell in love with learning about the sacred writings, traditions, and practices of the world’s great faith traditions. So much so, that I declared a Religious Studies major in college the following Fall and devoted all of my time to discovering the world of religion that I was so ignorant to as a child. I had no idea what I would do with this degree, but I had found something I loved and trusted that the money would somehow follow (which it did).
The Fall of my freshman year in college, I was wrestling with whether or not I should pursue joining the Church; at this point, I had been attending Mass on a regular basis and had come to believe the core tenets of the faith. I had prayed, read Scripture, and was discovering the Catechism of the Catholic Church but finally decided that I was perfectly comfortable attending Mass, and even marrying in the Catholic Church, but not “making it official.” This was a decision that had taken me several months to come to, though I never felt any pressure from anyone in my "Catholic cohort,” and for this I was (and am) immensely grateful. Within days of making the decision to not enter the Church I woke up one morning and knew that God was inviting me to become Catholic - I knew it like I know that I love my daughter. It was the most real, physical feeling I had on my heart and felt in my whole body – I can’t explain it any more than I knew with my entire being what God was asking of me.
After this realization, I immediately started my parish’s R.C.I.A. program. I found the process at my parish to be very prayer-filled and spiritual, but was frustrated when no one provided any real answers to my questions about the Church, many of which included the “W.O.C.A.H.” topics (as I’ve heard them called): Women’s Ordination, Contraception, Abortion, and Homosexuality. Beyond that, I had questions of heaven, hell, purgatory, salvation, grace, the Sacraments (did I really need to confess my sins to a priest?), the list went on and on. I was so thankful that I had the Catechism that at least gave me the “official” Church teaching and could point me to other resources to help me, and it was truly my desire for the Eucharist that kept pulling me all the way to the Easter Vigil. I know this is a difficult issue for many people, but, oddly enough, it never was for me. I had felt an inexplicable physical difference between Catholic churches and Protestant churches - God’s grace had finally broken into my heart and I realized that the physical reaction I was having was Christ calling to me to Him in the Eucharist. After that realization, I yearned and desired to commune with him in that physical way.
At the Easter Vigil in 2008, I was fully received into the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I felt so blessed and joyful that God had led me home to the Catholic Church. Looking back, I was probably unprepared to be fully received into the Church that spring, but God’s wisdom and mercy are infinite, and my new faith played a key role in the development and growth of my (now) husband and I.
Becoming Catholic strengthened my relationship with my (now) husband, whose passion for the Church was ignited by my interest, and he began to rediscover his faith as an adult and take ownership of it. The summer after my reception into the Church, my boyfriend and I decided to move in together. His family was, of course, not supportive of us living together before marriage and my family thought we were young but had no moral problem with the decision. As Catholics, my husband and I knew what the Church taught about premarital sex, cohabitation, and contraception but had no understanding of the theology behind it. Though my fascination and love of the Church had grown, I still had no regard for the Church’s teachings on this matter. No one at our parish, including our priest, seemed to have any objection to our situation and lifestyle choice.
Though I would never admit it at the time, I had increasingly felt uncomfortable living together and engaging in premarital sex, though my discomfort was tempered when we became engaged just a few months after moving in together. Even though I wasn’t ready to listen, God was patiently and quietly directing us to a more moral choice - making the best of our less-than-perfect (or prayerful!) decisions.
We married a little more than a year after I become Catholic in the same church in which I was received into the Church. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful Sacrament, but once again I was disappointed with the lack of sacramental preparation we experienced - we were required to attend a one-day retreat through the Diocese, which was conversational fodder for our trip home. It was a concern when we discovered that many of the couples in our group had never discussed many of the retreat topics – finances, prayer life, family size, etc. We felt much more prepared for marriage, comparatively, yet not once did anyone even mention things like Theology of the Body or Natural Family Planning. It was quietly assumed that everyone was probably having premarital sex, contracepting, and cohabitating, and that seemed to be perfectly acceptable.
Our first year of marriage passed by generally uneventful – nothing seemed to have changed after getting married. We were living just like we did before, but we had just gotten a lot of gifts and a great big party. Around the time of our anniversary, I began feeling uncomfortable because I increasingly felt that God was asking us to stop using artificial contraception. Again, I can only describe it as this tangible, physical feeling that my entire being knew what God was asking of us (yet my will still wouldn’t obey!). I was put on the pill at 15 for irregular periods, like many young women are, and had continued to be on every brand and dose imaginable. My husband still saw no moral reason why we should stop using hormonal birth control, especially since he did not want to become pregnant until we were in a better financial position. I visited my doctor because I was experiencing excessive pain and bleeding from uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts, which he reluctantly said were probably a side effect of the prolonged hormonal contraception. This was enough to convince my husband to go off the pill.
Still, we had no idea how to practice Natural Family Planning - by God’s grace, my sister-in-law was (and is) an NFP instructor and when I quietly approached her about learning NFP she graciously, and without judgment, gave me all the resources I needed to transition to NFP. The entire year after I stopped taking the Pill was very difficult for us. It took my body a full six months to begin ovulating again, and it wasn’t until my body purged itself of all the synthetic hormones that had built up from years of taking the pill did I fully realize how damaging it had been to my entire being - body and spirit.
After we stopped contracepting, I had never felt healthier in my entire life – the cysts and fibroids had disappeared, my cycles were completely regular, and my migraines had become almost non-existent. I fell in love with the body that God created for me! As a woman, I felt that society and the medical profession had only ever told me that something was wrong with my body and that it was never good enough – finally I reveled in the fact that God had created a perfect and beautiful body that worked without always being on some prescription! My self-esteem and confidence soared – all because God was quietly and patiently leading me.
To challenge us even more, however, my husband and I felt clearly called to be more open to life in our marriage. We had only been married about 18 months at this point, and we had both finished college but my husband had been struggling to find consistent work and I was the primary breadwinner. We were living paycheck to paycheck, yet we had a lovely rental house, two working cars and always enough money for groceries. Not exactly what we wanted – but just what we needed. Yet, for several months we felt that we should be open to the possibility of a child. This was frightening, uncharted territory for both of us, and required a radical obedience to His call. Once again, I felt Christ calling me to be foolish in the eyes of the world so I could grow in holiness in the eyes of the Lord.
Using the gift of NFP, we conceived in Spring 2011. Our life immediately became more difficult and burdensome. Money was tight; our relationship was strained for many weeks, and my body was desperately trying to adjust to supporting the new life within me. God's ways are not always our own and we had so much to think and pray about. During those weeks of darkness, God truly carried us both.
However, God gave me such a gift in teaching me to embrace my femininity and my incredible ability to cooperate in His creation through bringing new life into the world. I chose to use a midwife and give birth at home, because of the confidence God gave me in my body's abilities. Our daughter, Cecilia Catherine was born on December 1, 2011 at 11:35 p.m. in our living room. Minutes after she was born, snow began gently falling outside and two of my best friends were there quietly praying a Rosary, supporting our new family. My husband had helped to catch Cecilia and we basked in the glory and perfection of our newborn daughter. She is the most beautiful gift I have ever been given and I believe with all my heart that she is not truly mine - all children are on loan to us from God and we have the responsibility of making sure they are returned to Him.
There’s a saying that reality is stranger than fiction, and I believe this is always true when we walk through our life with the Lord. In my personal journey, there are two lessons He is continually teaching me through His Church: trust and obey. Always. Because He is God and I am not. I have given up asking for what I want because I know it’s a useless endeavor with Him. Instead, I only ask for the strength to do His Will, whatever that may be. And I am so much happier for it – He offers us true happiness and true freedom if we only listen to the wisdom of His Church. Following the Way of the Cross is not easy, comfortable, or always pleasant, but the Eternal Creator always knows what is best for us - radical love, trust, and obedience to the Living God that is Love.
Whitney Belprez was received into the Catholic Church in 2008 in Grand Rapids, MI. She and her husband own & operate Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy in Lowell, Michigan (www.twosparrowsfarm.com) She also blogs at www.simplylivingloving.com
Whitney Belprez’s Recommended Reading
Ron Doub was a life-long Lutheran but after 15 years of trying to convert his Catholic wife to Lutheranism, the tables got turned. Now Ron, a former computer-industry professional, evangelizes the faithful organizing parish pilgrimages to Catholic shrines in the US and throughout the world. In addition to his pilgrimage ministry, Ron also promotes Lighthouse Catholic Media CDs and the EWTN Media Missionary program in parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He is also a member at both the Legion of Mary and a Catholic men’s group at St. Mary Catholic Church in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Why Am I Catholic? Well, it was never my intention but I always tell people that the Holy Spirit has a great sense of humor and I’m living proof! Here’s my story!
PART I – A LUTHERAN’S JOURNEY TO THE CHURCH
I was born and raised in a wonderful Lutheran (ELCA) family in Williamsport, Maryland, a small town in western Maryland. My parents were very active in the Lutheran church teaching Sunday school, confirmation, vacation bible school and more. In fact after my father’s death, my mother went to Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary and was ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1985.
I was also very active in the Lutheran church throughout my high school years, which culminated in me being confirmed and becoming the president of the church youth group, the Luther League, for two years.
Jehovah's Witness Convert
Lou Everett, Jr.
Lou Everett was one of Jehovah's Witnesses for more than 14 years. During that time, he served as a full-time minister as well as other major roles within the congregation. Lou's journey to the Catholic Church was truly a rough road traveled.
From Jehovah's Witnesses to Catholicism: My Journey
In 2005, I find myself inside a Catholic church for midnight mass. My future wife, born and raised in the Catholic Church, by my side; silently showing me something that I never thought I'd see or feel. At the age of 31, a realization set in that I never would have expected to occur – thus begins another part of my journey to the Church, my home.
Peering back into my childhood, I realize that my journey actually began as a child. My father was in the military so our family traveled around quite a bit. I was born in San Francisco, California while my father was stationed there in the Army in 1974. Both of my parents are 'cradle' Catholics and had very different experiences with the Catholic Church. Throughout the various moves from place to place, my parents were contacted by Jehovah's Witnesses. Their message seemed to touch my parents enough to eventually become baptized in 1984 as Jehovah's Witnesses.
Katie is home schooling mother of three, avid reader, catholic blogger and lover of education.
Since becoming Catholic, I have been asked numerous times, WHY??? Why are you doing this? Many Catholics have asked with excitement in their voices, and my non-Catholic family and friends have asked with dismay.
Interestingly, no one asks void of emotion. I was talking with a friend who recently converted, and I was telling him about my mother's belief that the Catholic Church is Satan's greatest triumph in all of history. He replied, "It has to be either Satan's greatest triumph, or Christ's greatest triumph. There is no neutral ground when it comes to the Catholic Church." Truth. The same applies to people I talk to about my conversion; there is no neutral ground. They are either excited or dismayed.
So what led to this decision? Often, when I try to tell this story, it is too overwhelming. How do you describe eight years of reading, discussing, listening, and journeying? My worldview gradually shifted, and it is difficult to put into words what happened in my mind and my heart. There are a few landmark times in my journey that I will try to highlight.
Church of Christ Convert
Joe grew up in the Church of Christ but fell away and became agnostic in his teens. He joined the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil of 1999 and was married, to his lovely wife Michelle, in September of 2000. Joe is active in new media ministry under the pseudoname "The Catholic Hack" and coordinates Catholic family conferences full time for Fullness of Truth Catholic Evangelization Ministries in Houston TX.
"From Slavery to Sonship"
St Luke 15:1: And he said, "There was a man who had two sons; 12: and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them.
I too took my inheritance from my father in an untimely fashion. It was 1980 and my father, who was serving in the Army, had just been stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. I was six years old, and I began to recognize the very peculiar and confusing behavior he had towards my mother. At the time I didn't understand what he was doing, but I knew that the way he was treating her was just not right.
What I didn't know was that my father was addicted to pornography, and sexual promiscuity, and he imposed this world-view upon my mother, treating her like an object of use instead of a person. Needless to say, this kind of abuse led to a divorce leaving my sister and me hurt, confused, and bewildered. All we wanted was our parents together under the same roof, even if they were always at each others' throats. My father always complained that my mother didn't "meet his needs," but it was still far better than living through divorce.
Once cynical of Catholicism, Chad's journey to the Catholic faith was difficult, but it led to intense study and deep personal reflection which brought him home to the Catholic Church. He now hopes to share the lessons he learned and the beauty of the Catholic Tradition with those around him.
Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, my parents raised me in the Lutheran faith. My parents were not the most spiritual of people, but they wanted to make sure that my siblings and I were "exposed" to faith. Basically, the concept was to introduce us to Christianity but allow us to make our own decisions. After being confirmed, I never went back.
For years, I was agnostic at best. Based on what I was learning in school, religion did not make any sense to me. Science had become my religion of sorts, and science seemed completely opposed to what I had learned in Sunday school. My analytic mind led me closer to science, and further from faith. To believe in God, I needed proof that he existed. Not finding it, by the time I left high school, I went from agnostic to full-blown cynic.
Leonard L. Adams, Jr.
FROM PAIN TO PEACE
Leonard Adams converted to the Catholic faith in 2010. His story is a journey from Pentecostalism to Judaism to the New Age Movement to Atheism to Catholicism.
I was born in the ghettoes of Chicago's South Side in 1961. My first memories are of dilapidated apartments, window frames without windows, trash strewn on the streets, urine-soaked alleys, and a neglected-derived independence. As a three-, four-, and five-year-old, I remember many times coming and going from the apartment my mother, siblings and I shared while my mother, an active alcoholic at that time, had friends over from morning till night – days filled with card games, cigarette smoke and all the beer and vodka they could want. I remember someone giving me beer as a four- or five-year-old after having dumped fresh cigarette ashes in it, saying that the ashes made you get "higher."
Laura is an educator and freelance writer in Calgary, Canada.
The road to Catholicism for new converts is as varied as the personalities of converts themselves. Mine came by means of the sublimely cracked perspective of a neurological disorder called Tourette Syndrome.
Raised in a mainstream Protestant church, I found myself drawn to evangelical circles in early adult life by the zeal and commitment I found there. Active church involvement, university, marriage, three kids and a fulfilling career in education filled the years that followed. Time sailed along at the hectic pace of most young families, until our youngest son, Peter, started having marked difficulty coping with the normal, everyday stresses of school life.
JoAnna is married and has four children. This is her story as a lifelong member of the Lutheran church to Catholicism.
I was born to lifelong Lutherans (ELCA) who, of course, baptized all their kids Lutheran. I was baptized on December 28, 1980 -- a date that I realized, soon after my conversion, as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. I sometimes wonder why I wasn't baptized sooner given that I was born six weeks prematurely, but I suppose that in Lutheran circles baptism isn't considered crucial for newborns, even premature ones.