Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Becoming Roman Catholic

Having been encouraged by others' stories of their coming into the Church, I want to share my own. Although I was baptized and raised in the Episcopal Church, my relationship with the Roman Catholic Church started from my very beginnings. My dad left the Church when he was in college, but his parents remained active in it. My mom's dad stopped practicing his Catholic faith before he married, but it never seemed to completely leave him. To top it all off, my godparents were Catholic. My parents chose them because, as my mom put it, "They were the only friends who actually took Christianity seriously."

Of course, people are quick to point out that there aren't a lot of differences between the Anglican Communion and the See of Rome, yet the differences do exist. I know because my parents had the devil of a time trying to convince me about those differences. My mother tried to remain calm when I announced at the age of seven, with a towel on my head and a big cross necklace around my neck, that I wanted to become Catholic and be a nun. I had pored over my dad's childhood books about the Mass, sacraments, and the saints. I was convinced that it was better to go over to Rome, and I refused to believe that it was wrong. When this phase of wanting to be a nun lasted more than a few days, my mother warned me that the books weren't being a good influence. Then one day to save me from my errant hopes, all the beautiful books on the Catholic Faith disappeared.

Being a parent myself, I recognize that my own parents weren't trying to be mean. They knew too many stories of people who had been abused by people in Church authority. They felt the Church had been unjust to those who had been through a divorce, including my dad's mom. To my parents, the Catholic Church had its good points, but it didn't leave enough room for personal freedom and responsibility. They believed the Catholic version of God was too harsh. They loved me and among their worries was that if I became Catholic I would lose my identity as an individual and would become legalistic.

Of course wanting to be a nun wasn't a constant yearning. I was a fanciful child who wanted to be many things: a nurse, a mother like Marmee in Little Women but with tons of kids, a ballerina, or a movie star. Throughout my growing up though, I would beg again to become Catholic, usually after watching some old movie like, Come to the Stable or Keys to the Kingdom. Each time I was met with stalwart resistance to the idea of me ever crossing the Tiber.

When I was nine. my mother showed me The Nun's Story to discourage me from Catholicism and my desire to run off to a nunnery. I exasperated the poor woman by responding to the movie with a declaration that I not only wanted to be a nun, I wanted to be a missionary nun who, unlike Audrey Hepburn's character, would never leave the Church. For days afterwards, the movie fueled my desire to love God through daily prayers and penances, using the Book of Common Prayer as my missal. When I finally realized that my behavior only upset my parents and did nothing to help the cause of the Catholic Church, I let go of being so overt.

I continued to love the Catholic Church though. My Catholic grandmother would offer every year to pay for me to go to Catholic school, and every year I was crushed that my parents said no. I defended the Pope and the Church, in school and to friends who were anti-Catholic. When my family left the Episcopal Church when I was twelve, I begged again for us to go Roman, but instead our parents went the non-denominational route. I made myself a nuisance to Youth Group leaders and Sunday school teachers with my love of Tradition and the Holy See. When I was in college, I walked from the Baptist university a mile or so down the road to the Benedictine college to do research and sometimes sit in their chapel. I volunteered in a Catholic hospital. I even worked for a Catholic Church's half-day kindergarten daycare. There are so many stories about the Church and me that it's downright ridiculous.

Yet despite all the many things that drew me to the Church, over time a fear grew in me of actually becoming Catholic. My parents were adamant that I'd be throwing away my life and would be miserable if I became Catholic. I went from believing that the Vatican was the best thing ever to believing that the Protestants, and in particular Anglicans, were actually the ones who were true to the teachings of the Apostles and Church Fathers. I decided that the Roman Catholic Church had lost its way in a maze of medieval baggage. I had many misgivings about praying to saints (although ironically my dad taught me the scriptural basis of this when I was a kid). I was terrified about Reconciliation. I was confused by the Catholic view of Holy Communion and the fine line between consubstantiation and transubstantiation. The ultimate fear that kept me from making steps to become Catholic was that I’d lose my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I can’t remember a day that I didn’t know Jesus. Despite all my waywardness and sinfulness, He has been a constant source of peace and love in my life. The belief that if I became Catholic I would be trading Him for “burdensome rituals” made my blood run cold. I wish so much now that I had recognized sooner in life that the fear of losing Him was based on nothing more than a lie.

Though fear held me back from the Church on the one hand, a love for the Church never let go of the other hand. I was in a crazy kind of dance. I’d waltz in for awhile, and then decide I needed a different partner. I kept looking at the different branches of Protestantism to find where I fit in. It took me a long time to get used to the non-denominational churches, but I eventually made my peace with them. I returned to the Episcopal Church and was finally confirmed when I was twenty-one. My husband, whom I had met at a non-denominational church, decided to go back to being Episcopalian, too. (Yes, he was also a cradle Episcopalian.) We were married and baptized our first born in the Episcopal Church. Eventually we decided to leave the ECUSA because there just wasn't enough unity and so many bishops had eschewed Tradition and Scripture. We returned to the free-form world of non-denominational worship, until one trial after another happened. We needed more depth of theology than the non-denominational churches offered, and our search began anew.

The Fundamentalists have little love for Tradition, and we knew too well that that was not the route for us. I peered into Calvinism with all its brilliant theology. However I kept finding myself feeling most united with Calvinists who were four pointers and had a love of Church history. The Lutherans seemed too serious. The Methodists were more confused than the Episcopalians. So after ten years of meandering around, we went back to the Episcopal Church in 2010. Not long after, we found ourselves in the ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) and stayed there until at last, we decided the only place for us was with Rome.

We've been Catholic for nearly four months, and I wish I had become Catholic earlier in life. I am grateful for all the faithful Catholic family and friends who prayed for us. I am astounded as I look back and see how God faithfully and lovingly intervened in our lives to bring us into the Church. I am still a work in progress, with plenty of flaws and sins to confess, but I am so happy each time I walk into our parish church. It delights me to no end, knowing that I belong there and it’s my home.

This post, as long as it is, only tells the surface of the story of my journey to the Church. So under the label Becoming Roman Catholic, I will, God willing, share more.

© 2015 Emily Woodham

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