First, I want it to be known that I absolutely love my upbringing, my family, and their faith. I am the fourth of eleven children from a very Christian home. My father was the pastor of an Evangelical Lutheran church that he started in Maryland. I grew to know the Lord and had the Bible read to me every evening before bed until I left for college. We moved to Ohio as I was finishing my eighth grade year and I transitioned from home school to public school for the first time. While I made friends very easily, we were not the best influences for each other. With all of these changes and the influence of my friends, my faith was lukewarm. Like many others, I felt that God was distant and I only cared Him about when I felt helpless.
I attended Wright State and tried to get involved with some of the faith groups but was quickly turned off when I was told by one group that I didn’t have the Holy Spirit in me because I had never spoken in tongues. Although I knew this to be absolutely false, it had me thinking. “Do I have the Holy Spirit in me?” “Do I even care?” “I am a pretty good girl compared to a lot of other people, especially those who claim to be Christians.” With the help of a boy I was seriously dating, I concluded that I wasn’t sure there really was a God. I finally told my parents that I didn’t feel God was near and thus there must not be one. I was resolved to continue my life without feeling guilty about: skipping church; shelving my Bible; banking on luck, not prayer; and sinning as if I was never taught right from wrong.
This all came crashing down in mere months. My boyfriend cheated on me and I got into a terrible accident which could have cost mine or others’ lives. This was such a reality check. I spoke to my older brother about how lost, confused, and helpless I felt and he challenged me to do one thing. “Find peace with what you believe. If you think there is no God, then find peace with that. If you don’t have peace then go figure it out, He won’t leave you alone.” He bought me the book Mere Christianity and I began reading. I began to find my peace.
As I reengaged with my faith, through Apex, I also took a job at Marriage Works! Ohio where I met Spencer on my first day. We hit it off well and despite the fact that he wasn’t really practicing any faith, much less his Catholicism, we began to date. As we became more involved he dove into his own faith and began re-exploring Catholicism.
I remember telling Spencer when we first began dating that I would never become Catholic. I remember feeling completely convinced that even though he was becoming more serious about his faith through Catholicism, I never would. I was interested in understanding more of what my now husband believed and how it was different from the faith I had, but I had no intention of joining the Church. We read pieces from a number of books from across the spectrum, some of which were very anti-Catholic. We would discuss all of my misinterpretations until the wee hours in the morning. As Spencer’s love for the Church and for Jesus noticeably grew, my walls came down. Not only was I reading material about Catholicism, but I had an incredible Catholic to learn from.
I remember the first time I attended mass at Immaculate Conception church. It was so beautiful. I began going every Sunday in addition to going to my regular service at Apex. Eventually I wanted to go to IC instead of Apex, but I still had some big hang ups. One was the Eucharist. I quickly embraced the belief in the real presence, so why couldn’t I receive communion? Who are you to deny me Jesus? There were many a mass that before entering R.C.I.A. that I went up anyway and received because otherwise I would just sit in my pew sobbing feeling so denied, disconnected and uninvited.
By July, I decided after much prayer to begin R.C.I.A. at Immaculate Conception Church. I wanted to learn a little bit more about Catholicism. I dug up the guts to tell my parents that I was going to begin these classes but that I wasn’t becoming Catholic or anything, just learning more from practicing Catholics. Just so you know, everyone should go through R.C.I.A! Even if you’ve been Catholic for 12 years. It was so unbelievably helpful to hear from incredibly smart people what it means to be Christian and love Jesus like a Catholic. So many of my questions were answered, so many of my misconceptions were cleared and so many great relationships, like the one with my amazing sponsor, were formed.
Another of my big hang ups was Mother Mary, of course. Spencer and I went to visit his sister, SIster Grace Dominic, O.P. one afternoon and prayed the rosary with all the sisters. I was definitely just mumbling to myself while everyone else was so reverent until I decided to just be still and listen. I asked God to help me understand how this devotion to Mary wasn’t idolatrous and sinful. Tears filled my eyes as God answered back. “She loves you, Bess.” Jesus loves his mother so much and she loves him and us. This answer seems so simple but once I finally heard it, I felt like laughing. Of course!!! And the saints, as good friend Rachel Mahle pointed out, love us too! It’s not sinful to ask Mary and the saints to pray for us, they love us so much and want to do just that!! I don’t remember to ask them for their prayers all the time, but I love knowing now, just how much they are praying for me in my journey.
As March approached I knew that I needed to make a decision. I wasn’t so adamant about staying Protestant any more. I had many difficult conversations with my parents and it was painful to see my wonderful, godly, mother weep when I told them in January that the decision was made. I love my parents. I love the example they set before me and I do not think they are any less Christian than I am. So much of me wanted to please them by all I did and this was one of the first times that I felt like I was consciously hurting them. But, I needed to do what I was feeling called to do.
Easter vigil was one of the best days of my life. It wasn’t the easiest day as I knew that this joyful occasion could hold so much pain for my parents. But I was comforted as I looked around and saw my soon to be family that had traveled to be a part of this special day, friends, and even an uncle from Maryland. I knew they were all there to welcome the new members into the family. I remember standing by the altar when father came up to me with the Body. I hadn’t received in quite a while after my conscience reconciled with not receiving until I was Catholic. When I finally got to hold Jesus in my hand and consume him, I imagined my wedding night that hadn’t happened yet. Being united with Jesus after waiting for so long gave such a feeling of peace, joy, love and of finally being home.
- Beseda Bray