My Baptist friend said it best, “Once I asked the Lord to put a hunger for His Word in my heart, that hunger never stopped and I couldn’t get enough of the Bible.” For me, that moment was the night I crawled on my hands and knees in the darkness begging God for forgiveness, begging Him to come to me, carry me, lift me, save me.
Before that night, I had been living a lukewarm faith; I’m sure now that my lukewarmness was the very thing that would have led to a longtime in Purgatory – if I was lucky. I shudder to think about it now and hope others are inspired to leave their lukewarmness behind. It is amazing how the Lord’s timing works. Sometimes we wait years with no clear answers, but other times, we are answered almost instantly.
That night, I knew instantly that the Lord was there, but that it was up to me to maintain the relationship. Years before, our marriage had gone through some rough times, and I had wanted to leave my husband. From what I know, from stories I heard growing up, and from people who’ve made it through the rough times to long, happy marriages, I knew all couples go through rough times and that most have thought of leaving their spouse at one time or another. Those who made it and were happy about having done so were willing to work hard, to put the other person first, and to look long and hard in the mirror.
I had already lost my husband; I didn’t want to lose my God too. I needed to look at my relationship with the Lord. He had allowed me to coast along too long. I needed to stand up and be the woman I was designed to be. I needed to do some serious hard work. I needed to put God first. I needed to look long and hard in the mirror.
I did and wasn’t happy with what I saw, but I still wasn’t willing to fully embrace the Catholic faith. I was ready to fully embrace the Lord, but the Catholic faith was a different story. I continued to bring my boys to Mass on my weekends. They needed the stability. Everything else had turned upside down in their lives. They didn’t need me telling them their faith was wrong too; however, I was not secretive about my search for God and did take them to the non-denominational church one weekend.
I loved that non-denominational mega church (still do). I loved the band. I loved the music. I loved that people brought marked up Bibles. I loved that guided notes were handed out and that we were encouraged to take additional notes as the service progressed. I loved Kids Kingdom. I loved the Bible themed rooms. I loved the murals. I loved that kids loved going there. I loved that the church offered workshops on every topic imaginable from Christian living, to debt reduction, parenting, Bible studies, and more! I loved that it had a women’s group, a men’s group, a kids’ group, a group for those whose family members had chosen homosexuality, and even a dynamic single parents group in addition to countless other groups. There was truly something for everyone and an openness to forming new groups if something had been missed. I loved the diversity. I loved the anonymity. I loved that I could go there and just be.
Most of all, I loved the people. I met two particularly amazing friends who continue to inspire me and make me want to be a better person. This young couple and their fast-growing family lives truly for the Lord. The wife is sweet and funny and wonderful, and the husband makes me realize I cannot settle for anyone less than someone who loves the Lord most of all. Nothing else matters.
Second to this young family, I loved the pastor of this church. I loved his message. I loved his delivery. I loved how he related the Bible to today. I love that I learned and grew there. I loved the personal connection. I loved that he led the introductory workshop and stayed long after the workshop was finished to meet participants.
With so much that I love about this church, one might question why I didn’t leave my Catholic faith to become a full-time member. There were two defining moments that made me stay Catholic. Ironically, both occurred in this church.
I attended the church’s introductory workshop, not so much because I wanted to join the church, but because I wanted to learn more about it. Like my Baptist friend said, once I asked the Lord to transform me and I committed to being transformed, I couldn’t get enough of Him. There were many days I went to Catholic Mass Saturday night and then made the long drive to this other church Sunday mornings. It was often like going to the most interesting CCD classes ever.
I learned a lot at the introductory workshop. The pastor drew a circle on the board and continued to ring that circle with larger and larger circles. He explained that the circles represented church beliefs. The inner circle represented the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The innermost circle contained core truths that could not be denied by members and included the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The next circle was something they believed but were willing to bend on just a little bit (I can’t remember what the outer circles were, but it made sense at the time). Finally the outer circle was something people had opinions about but weren’t really that important in defining the church. Here he gave the example of music. Some like traditional hymns while others like Christian rock. Some like more music at the beginning of the service while others prefer more at the end. While some music may be more appropriate at some times than at others, he said the worship music and when it is played didn’t change the core belief in the Trinity or that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead for us.
I sat and stared at that center circle. Jesus Christ rose from the dead for me. I found nothing in their central belief that made me turn from the church, but I’d remember that circle later.
After the workshop was over, I waited to talk to the pastor alone. I told him of what had happened to my family and my trouble with the Catholic faith. He listened patiently and asked what I had thought of his service. I spoke honestly. I enjoyed a lot of it, but I missed parts of the Mass too. I missed praying aloud with my neighbor, which the pastor took to mean the Apostle’s Creed. I did miss that weekly renewal of beliefs, but I missed the Lord’s Prayer even more. I hadn’t realized until I went to churches that don’t say The Lord’s Prayer how much the words given to us by Jesus Christ mean.
I spoke to the pastor of this, and he listened with understanding. At the end of the conversation, he told me something I will never forget. He said that most Catholics who come to his church are angry Catholics who turn to his church in anger. He said he had seen an openness in me. I wasn’t angry with my Catholic church. I was hurting. I was angry with some individuals, but I still loved my church. I still loved my faith. I still loved the Mass.
In the workshop, the pastor had said that 70% of of his church was made up of former Catholics. The woman next to me vehemently nodded her head. I thought about the mega church and how many hundreds of people it served and what 70% meant. There were a LOT of angry former Catholics in that church.
I didn’t want to be one.
I was tired of anger. I was tired of fighting. I was done with it. I had asked the Lord to show me Love for Him. Anger was the last thing I wanted. I understood their anger, but I wanted no part of it. My heart was sad for all those angry people, those who confused the Church for the fallible men who run the institution. I wanted to help them see the beauty in the Catholic faith. I wanted the Lord to erase their anger, but I knew they had to want that too. I knew that anger is often easier than hard work, putting God, who is Love, first, looking oneself in the mirror, and making necessary changes.
The other defining moment came not long after that workshop. I sat in the darkened church, an air of excited solemnity filled the redesigned big box store. Today, we would be partaking in Communion. It was a hard concept to accept. In the Catholic faith, we can take the Eucharist at every Mass. I hadn’t realized how much I took that gift for granted until I went to other churches where communion is given only once a month. I began thinking about what that meant. What would being able to take Communion only once a month mean for my faith, for me, for my life?
I took the large plate of bread and passed it down the row. A few moments later, I took the tray of thimble sized glasses filled with grape juice and passed it down the row as well. The pastor said the words Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This is my Body…This is my Blood.” Together, we ate the bread. Together we raised the glasses of juice and drank. Together we shared Communion, and it was beautiful and unifying and special,
but it wasn’t the Eucharist.
I looked at the beautiful faces around me. A few were now familiar to me. I loved those faces, and yet they missed the point of Communion. They missed that Jesus Loves them so much He is willing to come back every Mass and be one with them.
I thought about those circles on the board at the pastor’s workshop. I thought about that central circle, that bull’s eye. That is what we are shooting for. That is where we are hoping to land. That is what we will not compromise on. The music, the skill of the pastor, the activities and clubs and workshops…all that is icing on the cake. All of those were things that could be brought to the Catholic community.
But the Eucharist is unchanging.
The Eucharist could not be found in these other churches. The Eucharist is uniquely Catholic. Even with all I’ve done wrong, even with all the mistakes I’ve made, even with all my faults, Jesus loves me enough to return to be with me in the Eucharist whenever I go to Mass and ask Him to.
Nothing else matters.
It was that moment that it all became clear. I was Catholic. I am Catholic. I will always be Catholic.
It was time for me to really commit to my Catholic faith, to stop being good enough and start striving to just be better every day. I didn’t have to leave my faith to find God. I didn’t have to search on my hands and knees in the dark any longer. I didn’t have to settle for communion once a month. I greedily ate up all I could find on the Catholic faith. The Lord had opened my heart and placed a hunger in me that couldn’t come from within. It had to come from the Holy Spirit, and I embraced Him and felt an affinity for Him like I’ve never experienced before. The Eucharist led me to the mysterious Holy Spirit in ways I cannot put into words but which I know with a certainty I’ve never known before.
My world was rocked by divorce, but the Lord showed me the Rock His church could be if I stopped looking at the shallow and really invested myself. It is sometimes hard work. I often have to remind myself to put the Lord first. I always have to look in the mirror and ask if this is really what God wants of me.
But I will continue to do so. The Catholic faith was given to us by Jesus Himself, and that is a gift I’m not returning although I do hope to regift it to others and invite them to invest fully in the Catholic faith as well. I still think of the 70% and pray that they put aside their anger and research, learn, and pray about what makes the Catholic church, THE place to worship.
If you have comments or questions about your faith, please contact me, Catholics Come Home, or a parish near you. Seek until you find but become and remain Catholic. If you are visiting another church, please be careful. The central circle contained no beliefs contradicting Catholicism, but, sadly, it did leave out important beliefs central to the Catholic church. I now understand that there is little difference between contrary and omitted central beliefs.
Special thanks to one of my readers, Roxane, fellow mom of five, for asking me about my defining moment and inspiring this piece.
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