I was thirteen when my dad left that small congregation for the Catholic faith. He, my mother and my little brother all received their sacraments but my parents allowed me to stay at our church and, over time, we continued a conversation about the faith. And why, and how.
That winter, I sat with my mom and my brother on Christmas Eve as my dad waited our table at a nearby restaurant. He was a brilliant theologian and he was suddenly qualified for.... not much. So he took a job waiting tables and this was our new life. All I had known of Catholicism before my parent's conversion was Mary, and praying to Mary, and them being wrong. But in these moments I watched two people who I knew intensely loved God, and truth, give it all up for that Catholic Church. And for that Mary. And their faith spoke volumes and volumes to me in those days.
Years went by and the conversation continued. It really didn't take much for me- a basic understanding of the logic of denominational differences and the Protestant stance and I was essentially sold. It took a few more years and a passionate man (aka Kirby) to rope me in fully but I'm grateful for all of it. I'm grateful that my parents let me journey on my own. Had I not had those years to search and think, I wouldn't have had the incredible experiences of faith at our old church where I grew to love and know God in a deep and meaningful way. I also probably wouldn't have met Kirby, and our journey would not be what it is. I'm so grateful.
When Kirby and I met we were both involved in ministry on some level. He was the leader of his campus ministry and I was a junior high and high school leader at a new and growing church in Simi Valley, CA. I held my affection for Catholicism close to my heart even though I was increasingly more involved in our church. I think I had probably believed in Catholicism for years at this point, and I always felt that pull on my soul. Truth is pesky like that. But I pushed it down mostly for fear of loosing so much in the community I had come to know and love. When I met Kirby, he was in the middle of his own search. He was raised a Lutheran, had a major conversion in a Presbyterian church, dabbled a bit in the charismatic church, and at 21, lead a campus ministry group at a Lutheran college, attended a non-denominational Christian church and was drawn to the emergent church movement. He read guys like Thomas Merton and Brian McClarren, he was from Washington State, he had a beard and a homemade Built to Spill t-shirt. He asked good questions and he thought hard about things and it wasn't long before we both knew that we were supposed to be together. I knew that he would be a soft pillow for all my thoughts on Catholicism to land. And so, one night in his apartment I said, "You should know that I'm probably going to wind up a Catholic someday." Kirby was quiet for a minute and then he said, "Can we meet your dad for drinks tonight?"
And over some margaritas and chips and salsa, my dad walked Kirby through his conversion story. I remember my heart was pounding. What would our future look like if Kirby thought it was all crazy? What would it look like if he didn't?
There was a time that I felt embarrassed that I didn't have the confidence to convert on my own. But now, when I look at our story, it's really such a beautiful narrative of the nature of God and his relationship to us. He really loves us, and he is going to give us what we need to get to him. For me, it was Kirby. He was the final stone in my path and I got to walk into the Church, hand in hand, with my husband. I love that little bit of our story.
He started pouring over the Early Church Fathers and Catholic apologetics and it was pretty obvious that he was convinced of the truth and beauty of Catholicism. Within a month or two, he asked me to be his wife, and three months later, we were married by one of our beloved pastors in the yard at my parent's house. Still learning, but utterly convinced, we went to Europe after our wedding. We knelt in pews in Assisi and Rome and longed for our full communion with the Catholic Church. That following Easter vigil, we received it.
I'm hoping that many of you reading this are wondering why we did such a obviously crazy thing. Why we left a vibrant, growing community of Christians for the cold stones of Catholicism.
I hope you're reading and I hope this answers some of those questions. I truly don't expect this to be the common experience of a Protestant's journey towards Catholicism. There is a lot I didn't read and maybe a lot I still don't understand. It's not very academic or scholarly, it's just my story. It's also not why you should become a Catholic. This is the story of what appealed to me, and what shaped my view of the faith. Please remember that it you happen to find yourself offended or appalled with what I'm about to write.
These are the basic issues that convinced me that the Catholic Church is the church established by Christ and shepherded by the apostles and their successors. I believe this Church has stayed intact throughout the centuries and I believe it's all true.
(Disclaimer*** This post is turning out to be quite the novelita so I'm going to part 1/part 2 it.)
Part 1. Sex.
My initial attraction to Catholicism was sex. For real! I had spent my post-pubescent years in a Protestant culture and, for me, the theology of sex as a Protestant looked almost no different than the totally secular worldview. In our evangelical community we joked about sex, we joked about who was next in line to do it, we had seminars where we were taught that good a Christian wifey gave it up all the time, no matter what. The only thing that seemed to separate us from the world was that we were supposed to wait until we were married to do it. And, honestly, I never thought that made much
In contrast, the Catholic view of sex was astoundingly complex. The church teaches us that our bodies are amazing, that sex should be good, and that it's more powerful than we can even understand. Sex is a mutual sharing of love, and selflessness and commitment. And I think on the surface, every Protestant you meet would agree that all those things are true. But Catholic theology is different in that it's rooted in the essential belief that sex is always connected to life. Ironically, not using contraception solves a hell of a lot of issues that the majority of couples are struggling with today, with the added "complication" of possibly becoming a parent (I highly recommended this complication). When you are open to the possibility of babies happening when you do it, it's easy to only have sex with your spouse, and it's hard to make it cheap, and it's hard to use your partner. Even if you're unable to conceive, the fundamental belief never changes- sex begets life. If you believe that about sex, even if a baby never comes, you are still entering fully into the mystery of the sexual union and our nature as complex, sexual beings. It's an endlessly deep truth- human life is invaluable, we are all divinely made, and the sexual experience allows us to co-create with the Creator, thus giving it utmost value. The Church protects her children by teaching against the use of artificial contraception. We are constantly reminded that sex is more. That it's powerful and it accomplishes powerful things. I was always turned off to the oversexed Christian culture I knew, whereas Catholic doctrine naturally imparts a deeply profound view of sex and it doesn't shame it, or us. I identified with that, and it drew me in further.
Another thing that had started to bother me as a Protestant was how much emphasis there was on the will of God. Does God want you to be a missionary in China? You gotta do it. Does he want you to sell all that you have and give it to the poor? You gotta do it. But kids? There seemed to be zero recognition for God's will in the family. Every woman I knew was contracepting without any hesitation. And I don't blame them. No one spoke of it from the pulpit, no leaders taught us, no strong women told us about the pill and how much damage it could do our bodies, and no one even asked the question of whether or not it was an immoral choice for the person who believed life began at conception (see: abortifacients). It was as if we were to embrace, with absolute abandon and holy courage, the will of God for our lives but fertility and family were almost completely out of the equation. I never understood it and I still don't.
And I think this inability to look back at our Christian heritage has really crippled most modern Protestants (nervous, nervous but I'm just gonna go right ahead and say it). The church as a whole- Protestants and Catholics alike, accepted the teaching that contraception was a sin up until the 1950's. A sin! Isn't that amazing? You would nevvvaaaaa find that language in a modern Protestant-Christian community. And yet, just a generation ago, it was a fundamental teaching that was universally embraced. I think most Protestant denominations have followed closely in the steps of the sexual revolution and sadly, the result is a generation of Christian couples whose divorce rates rival that of the secular world. Pornography, infidelity, abortion. It's all there right up in the mix with the modern Christian (Protestant and Catholic) and it's easy to say well, shame, shame, that's just sin for ya. And it is! But it was born from another thing, and maybe this is the part where I'm being too mean and you're not going to be coming for dinner (I'm not meaning to and I still want you to!!) but I believe it's because the modern Christian is contracepting. All these problems are rooted in our view and experience of sex. If we devalue sex at it's core by removing it's essential connection to life, then it's value is measured in pleasure alone. And pleasure alone can quickly and easily become pleasure however I can get it. With another person, with two people, with a screen, with myself.
The devaluing of women is only a natural reaction when you stop seeing her as someone who is capable of bringing your baby into the world. And vice versa. I'm not talking about fertility, I'm talking about capability. I'm talking about the power of the human person, male and female, and the power of the sex.
I started to believe that in order to contracept one must already choose his or her will over the will of God, and that was a direct contradiction to my faith. And the only church I saw still vehemtly proclaiming this truth was the Catholic Church. I began to view sex, in the world I knew, as fragmented and unappealing.
I wanted a whole experience, a full giving and a full receiving. Nothing held back, everything on the line.
Too much?? Here is a weird pic I found saved on our iPad to balance things out.
***** intermission *****
Let me take it down a notch by explaining the beauty of Natural Family Planning. When you shouldn't get pregnant (because we still believe that sometimes the baby-having needs come to an end) and you've come to a mutual understanding as to why, and it's serious. Then you both sacrifice the times that you could get pregnant by abstaining. See? It's not just your job to take that pill, lady girl. It's not just his job to bag it up (in the words of my fave late nighties r&b hit that I cannot believe those are actually the lyrics!).You can come together with your spouse and say- we can't sustain another baby right now, so we will work it out together. Sex deserves our respect, and NFP, like it or loathe it, accomplishes just that. It respects the belief that sex and life cannot and should not be divorced. Plus, no nasty chemicals, no pheromone interruption, NO THREE EYED FROGS, and being in touch with your body. What more could the modern, ovulating lady want??
Ok, that's it for now. (Babies and beds... Sexiness overload!)
Part 2, tomorrow.... I'm sure you are dying to read more and also ready to shoot me dead. Both/and.
If you're interested in a Protestant opinion on the contraception- see here. For more on Natural Family Planning go here and here .
For more on sex and Catholicism go here, here and here.