Two days before St. Valentine's Day of 2015, a friend wanted all of the moms and children of our Catholic homeschool co-op to write thank you notes to the parish priest. We were meeting at the church for far less money than other places would have us pay, and we were genuinely grateful.
However, this created a problem for me: I had been avoiding this priest for months.
I had met with him in the summer to talk about a homeschool event, which was easily and quickly discussed. But just as I began to think I got away with not revealing I wasn't Catholic and was headed for the door, he decided to ask me what parish I belonged to . . .
"Resurrection*," I replied, as if Resurrection was just any other church in the diocese. I started to say good-bye and leave, but his puzzled face made me stop. I hesitated before I explained, "It's Anglican. We're Anglican, but the Catholic homeschool group lets us hang out with them." I laughed and gave him the biggest smile I could, hoping it would be enough to let me go. I was wrong.
"Really?" He smiled back, and sat down as he asked, "Well, why aren't you Catholic?" From that flowed a conversation which changed my life. The timing of it couldn't have been more perfect.
I left his office wanting so badly to become Catholic, but knowing my family wasn't ready. I lived in the tension of telling myself that I was worked up over nothing, that the Anglican Church was just fine, yet wanting to speak with this priest again. He had loaned a book to me, and I worried it would make things worse. I was stalwart as I opened its cover--I refused to be moved by it. Two pages in, I was sunk. Yet still, I felt powerless. I couldn't bring myself to join the Church without my family.
By September, the older four children began to long to be a part of the Church, but my husband remained adamant that we should stay Anglican. Things kept getting in the way though: The Anglican church changed its service time and location. The new location was smaller, which made it more difficult for our family of seven to find seating. I was teaching the kids the St. Joseph's Baltimore Catechism, and they were beating their friends in catechism quizzes at co-op. This also made my kids more aware of what was supposed to happen at Mass, and they began to feel less and less comfortable with the "low church" style of where we were worshiping.
Also, during my breaks at co-op, I would pray in the church or talk to friends. As friendships grew, I became more comfortable asking questions, as did my children. Then we'd go home and share with my husband all that we had found out that day.
January rolled around, and we hadn't been to our church very often because it was simply more convenient to go to the later Mass at the Catholic church. Then my brother visited the weekend before Valentine's. He wanted to go to Confession and then Mass at the cathedral, so we went along, waiting outside while he confessed. His witness of humility as he joyfully participated in that sacrament impressed all of us. When we went with him to Mass, one of my sons whispered to him, "I don't know why we can't become Catholic." My husband, who was starting to feel more pulled to the Church, told me that he thought we should use Lent to discern about converting, but he didn't want me to tell anyone.
So there I was, a few days after that, sitting at a table meant for five year olds, while balancing my wriggly one year old on my knee, trying to pen a thank you note to a priest I had been avoiding. I toyed with the idea of not writing anything at all. Instead, I laid aside my poor husband's wishes and chose to be open. I thanked the priest for the book he had loaned me, and spilled the beans about wanting to discern during Lent.
To this day, I have no idea if the priest ever read my note, or the notes of my older children, who all made a point of how much they liked the Catholic Church despite being Anglican . . . But friends have said that he must have read it and prayed, because the events that followed were incredible!
*This is not the real name of the church we attended.
Part II to this story is here.
©2016 Emily Woodham