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A letter on Finding Faith – Karen Kerley

In 12 Converts on 2015/10/30 at 12:00 AM

Dear Friends,

I’d like to take a moment to share with you a journey I started years ago, a journey that led me through the mission field, to a Christian university, into and out of many churches and to an unlikely home. Understanding you might need time to digest this journey, I neither wanted to “spring” it on you via phone nor wait until I visit you to “surprise” you with it. It certainly surprised me.

Born in the mountains of North Carolina, I spent my early years in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where my father attended a local Christian university. There, he acquired his undergraduate and graduate degrees, and there he accepted a call to the mission field . . . to Australia.

After spending several years on deputation, raising funds from various Baptist churches to sustain both the ministry and our basic living expenses, my father led us to Australia where we spent almost a decade as Independent Baptist missionaries. It was in Australia that I saw prayers answered, that I learned about many other cultures and that I first experienced Christians outside the Fundamentalist circles in which I was being reared. It was there that I saw how Christians pulled together to face tragedies, drought and death, but it was also there that I witnessed how easily churches fracture over doctrinal interpretations, misunderstandings and even personalities, how they scatter without a shepherd to guide them, without a Moses to lead them through the wilderness.

At 18, I returned to the States to attend university, a Christian university. My love for the arts and opera led me to Bob Jones University. There, I studied business, language and music. There, I was introduced to many Fundamentalist missionaries. There, I took part in mission trips to Europe, particularly Bavaria, Catholic Bavaria.

I remember the spring sights, sounds and smells of the Bavarian villages I made home for a few summers. I remember long walks along country lanes, cycling through lakeside pastures and spending quiet moments in churches, Catholic churches. I remember the colorful processions celebrating Pentecost. I remember being drawn to the beauty, the ceremony, the incense, the organs of the Catholic churches. I remember thinking how sadly wrong and misled all those Catholics were, as I’d been taught since childhood. But I also remember being attracted to something in those Catholic churches, something I couldn’t quite identify . . . a peacefulness, a serenity, a sacredness within the church. It would be many years later that I would discover what that something is, WHO that something is.

A few years later, as a German and English instructor at Bob Jones, I became troubled by what I saw in Fundamentalism. I saw many who were passionate about sharing the Gospel; however, I also observed a division, a separation not just from sinful behaviors, but from other believers, a division that seemed to be spawned by fear, zealousness and perhaps pride.

Worship styles, music, points on the Calvinistic scale and other like issues divided believers, sometimes vehemently. The impacts that I observed to many friends and acquaintances were devastating, some walking away from faith, some moving on to more “progressive” organizations, some leading defeated, joyless, fearful lives. After much prayer and study, I sensed God calling me, pulling me, along on a journey. Having been at BJ, first as a student, then as a teacher, for nearly a decade and in fundamentalist circles my entire life, I left the school, left Fundamentalism. I felt as though I were walking into a desert, like Moses, not knowing where I was going or where I was being called. Out of frustration, I asked God to show me who He was, and lead me to Christians beyond the gates of BJU, and, indeed, He brought vibrant believers from various walks and denominations across my path.

In the meantime, I began fellowshipping with, what I considered to be, more forward- thinking, evangelical churches, free from the dividing constraints I’d experienced, where the music was upbeat, the expression fresh and the worship exciting. I enjoyed the teaching, the fellowship and the freedom but soon found that the worship often left me with an annoying feeling that something was missing in the worship. So, I continued my search as before – unsure of what I was looking for or even missing.

After a few years, I took a paid singing position at a Presbyterian church. I loved the music, began to appreciate the more traditional liturgical structure and, admittedly, enjoyed the pomp and ceremony. Attendance became a matter of habit – singing every Sunday, attending rehearsals every Thursday evening. Over time, however, I began to feel that nagging sense that something was missing. And, again I felt a tug – both through prayer and scripture – to something else, to figure out what was missing.

I also became more aware of the struggles of the protestant church at large with issues of life, of marriage and of moral relativism being forced upon the church by society. One Christmas, I found myself flipping around on the TV, quite aimlessly, when I heard a German speaker. It was a sermon in German, and the thing that caught my attention was an omission in the English translation. From the German speaker, I heard a clear articulation of the Church’s responsibility to be salt in the earth on matters of morality, of life, of faith and that the influence begins in the home, the domestic church as the speaker called it, and in school. The English interpreter left out the speaker’s call to include moral teachings in schools. I was flabbergasted to learn that the speaker was the recently appointed German pope, Benedict. It surprised me to hear a Catholic espousing a Biblical perspective on morality and calling the faithful to live these principles in society.

The following year, I made the decision to leave the Presbyterian church to dedicate more time to my search for a church home.  Out of curiosity, I visited Lutheran churches, Episcopal churches, Baptist churches, Reformed churches, Methodist churches, read doctrinal statements of the Methodists, Moravians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, and of multiple branches of the Presbyterian churches.  It became a running joke that the only churches I hadn’t tried were the Pentecostal churches (seemed too emotional to me) and the Catholic Church (but that church, if one were to call it that, was full of papists who worship people, pray to saints, are bogged down in tradition, confess to men and are trying to work their way to heaven – hardly an enlightened Christian church, I thought).

Interestingly, a few years before, my brother entered into communion with the Catholic Church. Since that time, he and I had spent years fussing and arm-wrestling about it. I credited his entering the Catholic Church to naivite and considered it a single step on a long journey back to a good church where he could worship properly.  I finally agreed to attend a mass to see for myself if what I thought about the Church was, indeed, true. In fairness, it wasn’t what I thought it was.  I appreciated the liturgical structure (I’d gotten used to liturgy in worship at the Presbyterian church) and was surprised to find that the mass was focused not specifically on the sermon as I’d been accustomed, but on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as celebrated in the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, as they call it.  However, it seemed they were also loyal to a man, a pope, supposedly entrusted to lead the church like a modern-day Moses leading the children of Israel, they talked about communing with saints as if believers have functional roles in eternity, about paying respect to Mary as if she warranted special respect for her role in rearing the perfect Christ-child and other things that simply didn’t jibe with what I understood, what I had been taught about Christianity, since childhood.

About the time I left the Presbyterian church, my sister also began a journey, spawned by the desire to center her growing family on Christ.  Imagine my surprise when she announced her intention to investigate, with the objective of joining, the Catholic Church.  Again, we fussed and arm-wrestled about matters of church, of papacy, of pride until I finally decided I simply wouldn’t discuss it further with her.  I felt such a dark anger of betrayal, of pride, a vehemence that I could neither explain nor justify. We’d been reared as Independent Baptists, southerners, missionaries’ children.  I’d been saved as a child, rededicated my life on a few occasions, acknowledged Christ as my personal Lord and Savior and had spent a lifetime collaborating with Fundamentalist missionaries.  The idea of the Catholic Church seemed incompatible with everything I thought I understood about the Church, my faith, my Christianity.  For me, it was simply not a viable option for a Christian journey. After all, what would the people I’d grown up with, worshipped with, studied with think?

I was determined to continue my search for a church home without referring to my sister or brother. Through a series of remarkable events, it slowly began to dawn on me that perhaps I wasn’t simply wrestling with my sister, my brother or even a church, but, like Jacob, perhaps I was arm-wrestling with the Almighty God Himself.  And, like Jacob I was developing a bit of a limp from my own struggles.

Through further scripture study, prayer and reading early church fathers, I began to understand what I was missing in my journey to a church home, to a place of worship.  I’d been taught and believed firmly that the Bible is the Word of God, inerrant and should be taken literally.  Interestingly enough, there were several accounts of words uttered by Christ himself at the Last Supper, in those last moments before He shed His blood on the cross as the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, that I had never, ever taken literally.  Found in Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19-28 and 1 Corinthians 11:24, Christ says, “This IS my body” – not just a symbol of His body – and commands us to commune with Him in the most intimate way, through the ingestion of His body – a consummation of the spiritual relationship and covenant we, the Church, the bride of Christ, have with Christ.  My worship had been missing Christ, the very center of our worship, the body of Christ in the Eucharist.  God was inviting me to a physical consummation of the spiritual covenant I have with Christ, and the only group of believers that accept Christ’s words literally and celebrate this communion, His physical presence in the Eucharist, is the Catholic Church.  From that point, I knew the path that God had invited me to journey was a path to a more intimate communion with Christ through the Church, the Catholic Church.

So, after years of prayer, study, lots of fussing and arm-wrestling, I finally followed God into communion with the Catholic Church just this past year. All the things I had protested my entire adult life – the Pope, the role of Mary, communion with the saints, the priesthood, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, confession and other issues – seemed to fall, and are still falling, gracefully into place one by one as I let God lead.

In the Church, I’ve found a spiritual home, an avenue of grace, a place to contribute my talents and abilities to further God’s kingdom – a bit of heaven right here on earth.  Admittedly, I’ve run into my share of cultural Catholics, as I’m sure you have in your journeys, who neither fully understand their faith nor seem to be able to articulate it.  I’ve also had the great blessing of getting to know and serving with many faithful Catholic believers who love God, have an extremely intimate and personal relationship with Christ and are serving God faithfully and joyfully in their communities to the best of their abilities.  For these encounters with the faithful, I’m very thankful and blessed.

I share this journey with you joyfully and out of respect for the efforts you’ve made for so many years to serve God faithfully, understanding that we likely have differing perspectives on the Catholic Church.  I suspect, like my parents in their mission work, you’ve spent years ministering to folks who’ve been hurt or disillusioned by the human reality and frailty of the Church, folks who may not have been able to articulate their personal faith in Christ and individuals who have simply rejected what they consider to be man’s religion.  The Church is, indeed, an old organization, full of tired, erring humans.  Thank God His grace is sufficient to forgive our frailty and imperfections and lead us to lives of productive service in His Kingdom in spite of ourselves. Surprisingly, my parents, former Independent Baptist missionaries, also came into communion with the Catholic Church quite independently of me this past year.  This calling to the Church, to a closer communion with Christ, seems to bear testimony to the fact that when God orchestrates change, He does so within families, the domestic Church.

Please be assured of my continuing good will and love for you.  I understand you may have questions or even concerns, and I continue to welcome an opportunity to visit you and to discuss this journey, if you desire.

May God bless you.

Your Friend,

Karen

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Pentecostal Pastor to Catholic Deacon

In 12 Converts, 14 Book Corner on 2015/09/04 at 12:00 AM

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Alex Jones was an “on-fire” Pentecostal minister in Detroit who was a completely dedicated shepherd of his flock. He greatly loved his people and they loved him. In seeking to give his flock the most genuine experience of the early Church prayer and worship services, he carefully read Scripture, the Fathers of the Church and writings of the early saints. The more he read, the more Alex came to the startling conclusion that the present day Catholic Church – and the Holy Mass – is the same exact “worship service ” from the very early Church. Alex began to share his findings with his parish, and eventually Alex, and most of his parish, joined the Catholic Church. This is his incredible story of a black Pentecostal minister’s challenging and dramatic spiritual journey, and the flock that followed him. Today he preaches with his usual passion about Christ – as a Catholic deacon! This book tells the story of Alex’s life from his childhood all the way to his conversion to Catholicism in 2001. It simultaneously tells the story of his wife, Donna, and her spiritual journey as well, which shows how they were not always on the same path during Alex’s preparation for entering the Catholic Church. Each had to be personally, deeply convinced that this momentous, life-changing and career-changing spiritual decision was God’s will for them. Illustrated with numerous photos.

Cardinal Newman, a former Anglican priest, said that no one could read the Church Fathers and remain a Protestant. Alex Jones is living proof of this statement as well a countless others.

2cornucopias | 2014/10/06 at 6:28 PM | Tags: Church Fathers, Eucharist, Pentecostal, Sacrifice of the Mass, Worship | Categories: 08 Book Corner, 09 Faith Journey | URL: http://wp.me/p1u7G9-2d3
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Conversion Insights – Part I by Kathleen Prevost

In 12 Converts on 2015/08/07 at 12:00 AM

One evening in the spring of 2010, with a handful of Catholics, two Anglicans, and two Baptists joining the celebration, my husband and I were received into the Catholic church.  How it happened cannot be explained briefly, as novelist Muriel Spark has noted: “When I am asked about my conversion, why I became a Catholic, I can only say that the answer is both too easy and too difficult.  The simple explanation is that I felt the Roman Catholic faith corresponded to what I had always felt and known and believed; there was no blinding revelation in my case.  The more difficult explanation would involve the step by step building up of a conviction; as John Henry Newman himself pointed out, when asked about his conversion, it was not a thing one could propound ‘between the soup and the fish’ at a dinner party.  ‘Let them be to the trouble that I have been to,’ said Newman.  Indeed, the existential quality of a religious experience cannot be simply summed up in general terms.”

Nevertheless, I’ll attempt to describe the journey.

Raised Protestant, I gradually discovered Catholicism. J.R.R. Tolkien told his son “sentire cum ecclesia” – to think with the church, for she would always in the end be a true guide.  Here’s how I found my way to her.

The Gospel Written on My Heart

My parents brought me up in the Christian faith, Wesleyan Methodist version.  My father led by example: he made sure we attended church weekly, even though we groaned about it as children do.  The service consisted of a 30-minute sermon thoughtfully explaining a Bible passage or theological concept, book-ended with beautiful hymns sung with enthusiasm. My siblings and I memorized Scripture. We attended Sunday school and prayer meetings and youth groups.  To learn our way around the Bible, we competed in “sword drills” (these were competitions to see who could quickly find a given passage).  At home, my mother formed my moral imagination in Christian orthodoxy, whose grammar was allegiance to truth and the necessity of suffering and self-sacrifice.  Before I went to kindergarten, she read aloud the stories of George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Several of my relatives were Protestant missionaries in Africa.  My neighbors were also my Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders and church musicians.  Nearly every adult I knew viewed his employment as a Christian vocation.  These people weren’t perfect; nevertheless, many of them constantly encouraged me to examine my conscience and  model my life after Jesus Christ.

In sum, my childhood milieu was an invaluable gift.  I found out later that Pope John Paul II wrote about early Christian formation even as I was living it: “Experience shows what an important role is played by a family living in accordance with the moral norm, so that the individual born and raised in it will be able to set out without hesitation on the road of the good, which is always written in his heart.”  (Letter to Families)1

When I was young, the Gospel was written on my heart. Now in middle age, I’ve come to believe that the Catholic church teaches the fullness of the truth, the “Gospel-PLUS,” as Ordinary Jeffrey Steenson expressed it.  (The Causes of Becoming Catholic) 2 But nothing about Catholicism requires rejection of Protestant roots.

I’m grateful every day to the many kind and earnest souls who taught me to love the Lord.  The words of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus when he became a Catholic articulate my sentiments exactly: “To those of you with whom I have traveled in the past, know that we travel together still.  In the mystery of Christ and his Church nothing is lost, and the broken will be mended. If, as I am persuaded, my communion with Christ’s Church is now the fuller, then it follows that my unity with all who are in Christ is now the stronger.  We travel together still.

Beauty and History

As I grew older, education and experience opened my eyes to the splendors of the created world, in particular the beautiful art that Christians have made.  My Christian great-grandparents and grandparents were artists 3 Because local college music professors were on staff and in the choir at our church, the hymns and organ music and choral anthems were often among the best that Christian history has to offer.

In high school, Episcopalian relatives and friends introduced me to liturgical worship where Holy Communion is the focus. The beauty of the Anglican liturgy immediately attracted me, although I knew nothing of its provenance in the Catholic mass. Likewise the elegance of the liturgical year was captivating. I had known only Christmas, Easter, and Reformation Sunday.

Now there were many more celebrations of God and his saints to enjoy.

In college my professors taught Dante’s Divine Comedy, the poems of George Herbert and John Donne, St. Augustine’s Confessions, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and the writings of St. Catherine of Sienna. I learned how to play the organ and thereby discovered the genius of Bach.

Traveling to England one spring break introduced me to medieval cathedrals, and again, it was love at first sight. When I finally made it to the cathedral at Chartres in France, I felt there was no more beautiful Christian place on earth.

Pope Benedict XVI recently said: “Art and the saints are the greatest apologetic for our faith. The arguments contributed by reason are unquestionably important and indispensable, but then there is always dissent somewhere. On the other hand, if we look at the saints, this great luminous trail on which God passed through history, we see that there truly is a force of good which resists the millennia; there truly is the light of light. Likewise, if we contemplate the beauties created by faith, they are simply, I would say, the living proof of faith.”

Through Christian art and biography, I was finding proof of Christianity’s truth.  I was also slowly discovering the immense history of the faith, and, as John Henry Newman wrote, “To be deep in early church history is to cease to be Protestant.”   The very existence of Catholicism – its lineage clearly defined all the way back to St. Peter, its liturgical structure unchanged since the earliest centuries of  Christianity – became more and more intriguing. I saw that the church has survived and nourished Christians ever since apostolic times.  She has suffered the same political machinations that afflict any other institution, ones that in fact have devastated other institutions: elimination of the hierarchy (the Roman execution of early popes and priests), division of the hierarchy (the late medieval Papal schism), corruption in the hierarchy (Alexander VI, among others).  She has corrected grave errors, such as those that horrified St. Francis and those that later sparked the Reformation.  She has been beaten down but not broken by human sinfulness – most recently the priests who sexually abused children, and the bishops who shielded them.

Over the long haul, the Holy Spirit has continually renewed and reformed the church.  I found this fixedness, this stability, this endurance, to be compelling, particularly in light of constant Protestant division and multiplication.

Conversion Insights – Part II by Kathleen Prevost

In 12 Converts on 2015/08/07 at 12:00 AM

Chastity

As a young Christian adult, I wandered. I attended church wherever I was employed as an organist at the time.  I read the Bible and devotional books regularly, but my prayers were sporadic at best, and I had no heart whatsoever for the poor.  Because of the example my family and neighbors had set for me, I had formed healthy (if ascetic!) habits early on: no drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no sex.  After college I stopped teetotaling, and my first date with my future husband was at a Texas two-stepping dance hall; but I continued to be celibate, understanding that sex and marriage should go together and that I didn’t want sexual diseases or pregnancy, which at the time seemed to me equally undesirable.

When marriage approached, I thought, “Well, I need to get on the Pill, because that’s what one does.”  I made an appointment at the university health clinic and told the nurse what I wanted.  She replied, “We can’t do that for you because this is a Catholic university.”  I was shocked and upset.  I knew nothing of Catholic teaching on sexuality.  Living as the typical impoverished graduate student, I had no money and relied on the university health plan.

Eventually I made my way to a bookstore near the university, where I found one of the Billings books on natural family planning.4  I really liked what I read – not at all for religious reasons, as neither my husband nor I had the remotest inclination to become Catholic at the time.  Rather, I strongly disliked the idea of suppressing my fertility with drugs as if fertility were a disease.  My husband, who long before had begun to ponder the moral issues surrounding sexuality and procreation, agreed to give it a try.

So, in order to avoid the Pill, we began living in the way married Catholics are taught to do.  Becoming accustomed to natural family planning helped us later find reasonable the Catholic instruction on marital chastity.  I read Oxford professor Elizabeth Anscombe’s essay Contraception and Chastity4

She defended Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and traced its roots through centuries of Catholic theological development.  I also read Pope John Paul II’s writings on marriage and family, generally known as his “theology of the body.”  Before Vatican II, Flannery O’Connor wrote in her humorous and unsentimental way: “The Church’s stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease.  I wish various [priests] would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support 40 billion. I will rejoice in the day when they say: This is right, whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may. Either practice restraint or be prepared for crowding.”

Since then, Pope John Paul II transformed Catholic teaching about chastity.  His theology of the body took the church doctrine that O’Connor called “absolutely spiritual” and made it concrete and real.  He did so with particular insight into women’s gifts and desires.5   I was greatly encouraged to find this thoughtful Christian instruction which celebrates human sexuality and domestic love.

The Value of Life

After our marriage, we joined an Episcopal church guided by a faithful, wise, humble, and joyful priest.  The benevolent parishioners there became, and still are, like family.  They welcomed us into their network of friendships.  Through work with the homeless and hungry in our town, they taught us to care for our disadvantaged neighbors.

Time passed, and we did not have our first child for several years.  I had been indifferent to   motherhood, wanting to complete my education first.  I had been ambivalent about abortion, seeing it as the woman’s prerogative and a necessary evil after rape or incest. But when we began to try in earnest, conception didn’t happen for a year.  Suddenly I wasn’t in control anymore and something deeply desired appeared unobtainable.  For the first time, I began to see childbearing as something more than simply a matter of my will to do or do not.

Our first child was born, followed soon by a second.  Then we suffered three miscarriages over three years. Each miscarriage occurred during the first three months – the period of time during which most abortions are performed. I held what gynecologists euphemistically refer to as the “products of conception” in my hand, and cried.  These heartbreaking losses compelled me to see new life as a treasure, a gift, not the immature and somehow less worthy beginnings of a complete human person.  I saw that the response to an act of violence against a woman should not be another act of violence against the woman and her baby.6   Through suffering, I began to have more of a heart for all the poor – those who are materially impoverished and politically oppressed everywhere, including the unborn.

We went on to have three more children.  The last, Elizabeth, died at 20 weeks in utero. The ultrasound had revealed no complications; three days later, my water broke.  A baby doesn’t die immediately in such circumstances.  To avoid risk of infection, my medical friends advised us to terminate. But we heard her strong heartbeat and couldn’t do it.  I remember thinking as I lay in the maternity ward bed: “I am her hospice.”  She died three days later. After delivery, we held her and spoke about her with her siblings.  My oldest daughter fashioned a large “It’s a Girl!” ribbon and hung it on the hospital room door.

As painful as it was, and as much as I long to have known her, Elizabeth’s brief life was a beautiful gift.  It made concrete the church’s counsel to treasure life “from conception to natural death.”  Our understanding came the hard way, through experience.  But the church has been valuing life for two millennia.  In the Roman empire Christians were viewed with alarm because they broke the conventions of the time: they loved all men (not solely their friends or people of status), and they refused to leave their unwanted newborns by the side of the road to die.  In medieval times St. Francis renounced his wealth and heritage in order to live as a brother to the humble and the impoverished.  In recent years, the Catholic church has aided the poor more prominently and vocally than any other large group in Christendom, through official church teaching, through Catholic charities, and through luminous saints like Mother Theresa.

Immigrants, the elderly, those in economic poverty, outcasts because of status or skin color, the handicapped, the unborn – the church shelters them all.

Conversion Insights – Part III by Kathleen Prevost

In 12 Converts on 2015/08/07 at 12:00 AM

The Real Deal

Having children also taught me to appreciate the Catholic emphasis on the Incarnation.  God made the world and saw that it was good – so good that he became one of us, a specific, physical being, Jesus.  In a small way like Mary “pondering all those things in her heart,” I am continually amazed at my children’s incarnation, their unique existence in the universe. I love teaching and playing with them.  Again, in the Catholic church I found a beautiful affirmation of domestic love.  The church celebrates Mary and Joseph as parents, as the archetypal biological and adoptive parents that they were.

There are other ways that Catholicism honors the created world.  When we attended Catholic classes for the first time, simply to check things out and with no fixed intention of joining the church, my husband and I noticed that Catholics often interpret Scripture in a literal, physical way, rather than in the metaphorical way we were taught as Protestants.  “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” – literally, in Rome where Peter was martyred. “You apostles will have the power to forgive sins” – literally, in confession.  The priestly power of Christ is transmitted in a particular physical way, through the apostolic laying on of hands.  We Christians must physically bring Christ to a suffering world, hence the ubiquity of Catholic charities and monastic orders.  God came into the world through one singular holy woman, and that is why she is special.

But the prime example of course is the Eucharist: the miraculous, real presence of Christ, every day in every Mass throughout the world. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in a letter: “But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. ‘Feed my sheep’ was His last charge to St. Peter; and since His words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life.”

What a joy it is to enter a Catholic church anywhere in the world and know that the summit of the service, in any language, is the real, physical presence of Jesus.

Sinfulness

The Christian formation of my childhood, the lives of the saints and the powerful witness of Christian art, the unity of the Catholic church since apostolic times, Catholic teaching on sexuality and life and the Incarnation – all of these elements prepared my heart for becoming a Catholic.  The last factor in time, but the first in importance, was my despair at being a “miserable offender” (as the Book of Common Prayer phrases it).  When I was a child, I was often overly ridden with guilt; when a young adult, I was self-satisfied and not sorry enough.  As I approached my 40’s, I became increasingly aware of my inability to overcome pride, anger, and the other deadly sins.  The continual cycle of transgression and sorrow and repentance, carried out in my own heart, lacked accountability and progress.  St. Augustine wrote: “What am I to myself but a guide to my own self-destruction?”  I look back with shame on so many wrong actions or omissions, so many misguided avenues of thought, so much lack of charity.  Left to my own devices and desires, I festered in my ego and relied too much on my own parochial preferences and comfort zones.  I needed strong medicine.

I have found help in the sacraments of the Catholic church.  When G.K. Chesterton was asked why he became a Catholic, he replied: “To get rid of my sins,” to go regularly to confession where God forgives one’s sins in a clear, physical, incarnate way through the priest’s words.

This is an antidote to pride, to anger, to despair.  And I have felt it an inexpressible comfort to receive the body of Christ as often as possible.  I love the words of the old communion prayer: “I desire to come to thee like Magdalen, that I may be delivered from all my evils, and embrace Thee, my only good.” Regularly encountering Christ is the key to transcending the self and becoming like Him.

When I look back and see how, step by step, I came to trust the Catholic Church as a true guide, I am filled with joy and gratitude.  My knowledge is imperfect, my Christian charity painfully meager.  But there is hope because I can continue to learn.  Despite my sinfulness, I can meet Christ – physically – through the sacraments of the Church.  I can receive His grace often, for as long as it takes, in this life and beyond, for me to become pure and worthy of the Beatific Vision.

Flannery O’Connor spoke of the “abandonment of self which is the result of sanctifying grace,” and I will end my overlong testimony with her words: “I don’t think of conversion as being once and for all and that’s that. I think once the process is begun and continues that you are continually turning inward toward God and away from your own egocentricity and that you have to see this selfish side of yourself in order to turn away from it. I measure God by everything that I am not. I begin with that.”

Footnotes
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_02021994_families_en.html

2  Jeffrey Steenson: Why I Became Catholic
http://www.anglicanuse.org/files/The-Causes-for-Becoming-Catholic.pdf
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/2045902/posts
http://www.usordinariate.org/ord_news_popeestablishes.html

http://www.fourgenerationsart.com

http://www.boma-usa.org/

5  http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/AnscombeChastity.php
http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0002.html

http://www.archdioceseofdetroit.org/SHMS/Faculty+5819/Janet+Smith+9260/Dr.+Janet+Smith+-+Published+Articles.htm

http://www.feministsforlife.org/FFL_topics/victory/2ndrape.htm

Fr. Conrad L. Kimbrough – Part II Episcopalian

In 12 Converts on 2015/07/03 at 12:00 AM

Just shortly before I became a Catholic, a man came to Steven’s Point, to speak at a dinner meeting.  I don’t remember how I happened to get in on it because it was certainly a Catholic gathering.   After dinner I went up and talked with the man who was there, and I was astounded about how much he knew about the Episcopal Church.   And then I went to a Mass celebrated by that man.  I got way up in the bleachers — it was in a high school gymnasium, because there was no church big enough to hold the crowds.  I was not able to receive communion, of course, so I just got out of everyone’s way and sat in the top bleacher.  Then as the procession went by, I heard a voice say “Father Kimbrough,  come down”.  So I lept over the bleachers, coming all the way down to the floor.  And, there I was introduced to the man who was to be, within a year, Pope John Paul II.  I thought all the way down, what do I do.  What do I say to this man and without ever coming to a decision, when I reached the bottom of the floor, I genuflected and kissed his ring.  I knew that was not being done any more, but it was such an overwhelming thing, that I just did it.  Finally, coming to a conclusion about what to do.  It was from that time on I knew my decision was made.  I had to become a Catholic.  I also at the same time met the bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, Bishop Fredrick Frecking.  He did say to me: “I can’t promise that you will become a Priest.”  I said:  “I don’t expect you to promise me anything.  I just have to be a Catholic.”  So he invited me over to his residence, and he received me into the church and then had a reception and dinner, with several priests.  He was most kind. And he asked me if I could report to the seminary in three weeks.  Now generally speaking it takes several years of being a Catholic before one can go to a seminary    But because my mother was ill, the Bishop wanted me to go home to  see her and then come back and report to the seminary.  So, three weeks after becoming a Catholic, I was a seminarian in the Catholic Church.  I went to the seminary of the Sacred Heart, near Milwaukee.

I was there three months and then I was told that I was through.    So I returned to N.C.  There were several options, I could have stayed in Wisconsin.  But that plan was cut short by my Episcopal Bishop, who called the Catholic Bishop of Green Bay and told him to call the Catholic Bishop of La Crosse  and tell him “to get rid of me.”  So in order not to stir up trouble,  he just offered me money to go to N.C. to talk with both bishops in North Carolina.  I really had no interest in being in the diocese of Raleigh, so I went to Charlotte. I remember the afternoon, I reported there.  My Bishop had said he would get in touch with the Bishop in Charlotte. But when I showed up at the Bishops door he said, “Who are you?”  I told him and explained things, and he said:  “Come back on Friday”. And that was on a Wednesday, so I came back on Friday. He said I am making you an ‘assistant’ at St Ann’s.  I don’t think I ever did know what I was assistant of, I was just an assistant.

I continued to be called Father Kimbrough.  It was very strange when the announcement came out that Father Kimbough will be ordained Deacon next Saturday.

I was ordained by Bishop Begley, at St. Anne’s church. He wanted to keep it quiet as instructions were from Rome. He said I will ordain you in the Convent chapel, the Sisters’ Chapel there  at St. Ann’s church.  I thought that was fine with me, but during the prostration in the Litany, my feet would be out in the hall because the chapel was so small.  Well, it turned out that Father Anthony and the Bishop both realized that it would not work to have the ordination there,  so it was in the main church.  I was astounded by the number of people that came to the Ordination.  The first ordination was to the Deaconate and more astounding was the Ordination to the Priesthood.   I found out later that when I prostrated in front of the Altar, during the singing of the litany, many of my Baptist relatives thought that I had fainted and they wondered why nothing was being done about it. We got on through the ordination.

One of the Priests said to me:  “You certainly were calm during the ordination, and I said: “Certainly,  I have been through this four times — so I guess I should be calm”.

The day I was ordained,  I was given an appointment to Lenoir N.C.  I fell in with a group of clergy who met next door at the United Church of Christ, and thoroughly enjoyed their company.   We met every Wednesday and had a paper given or talked about problems and then went to lunch together.   I really loved Lenoir and hated to leave, when the time came, for my appointment to Lincolnton, N.C.

I was the only one of the clergy in Lenoir that was really happy in the town. They all wanted to leave, but, I would have been content to stay there the rest of my life, at the beautiful  St Francis of Asissi Church.  But in due time,  I was sent to Lincolnton.   I loved Lincolnton because of the great family spirit in the parish. I was there for not quite two years,  actually, when I was sent to Hendersonville, N.C.   I enjoyed Hendersonville.  Every time I left a parish, it was in real pain.  I kept being transferred.  Then to St. Benedict’s Greensboro for eight years where nine young men became priests and two young women became nuns.  I was at St. Dorothy’s in Denver, N.C. for about four years.

Finally, I came to my retirement.   I became a Catholic when I was almost 50 years old, so I had served  about 25 years as a Catholic Priest.

In retirement I returned to Salisbury to my family home.

Continued

Fr. Conrad L. Kimbrough – Part III Catholic

In 12 Converts on 2015/07/03 at 12:00 AM

I have never been in a parish which did not have at least one vocation, to the priesthood or the religious life.  That is in the Episcopal Church as well as in the Catholic Church, with the exception of the first Parish I had in the Episcopal Church.

There have been so many that have shown interest and many of them have not continued their vocation to  its fulfillment.  But they have at least tested themselves by entering religious orders, at least, for the postulancy or the novitiate.  When I was in the parish in Greensboro, which I have not mentioned before, this vocation job has reached its fulfillment, I think.  We had about 9 or 10 men who applied for admission to seminary and there were 3 young women who entered the religious life.  Two of the young men did not continue in their studies for the priesthood, which means that there were 9 are in Seminary or who have become priests.  Several of them are in the diocese of Charleston.  One is the chancellor and another has old St Mary’s church in Greenville, and has been a great success there in redecorating the church, and in planning a new church.

There are others who have fulfilled places of importance in the church.  When I was first ordained it was my prayer that some priest greater than I might be raised up under my influence.  I think this has been fulfilled several times over, with the wonderful priests that have come out of Greensboro, especially.

Most of the time that I spent in the pro life movement was in Greensboro.   It was there that I was twice arrested, once in Greensboro and once in Charlotte, for blocking abortion clinic doors.  That was an experience that I shall never forget.  It did not have the horror that I thought it might have.  I remember that when we appeared before the judge, I was the first one to appear, so I knew that what I said would influence those coming after me in the trial.  I said I could not fulfill his desire that I pay court costs, or promise not to visit an abortion clinic for at least a year.  I said:  “I’m sorry your honor, I cannot do that.”  And with that, he sentenced us all to prison terms of one length or another.  I remember that I served for a little over a week together with one of the Greensboro parishioners from St. Pius.  We entered prison together and were there for the whole time.  The prisoners called me “Father”, and because the other one that was with me carried a Bible as I carried my office book, they called him “Father”, and he said “NO, I am not a priest”.  So they called him “Brother”.  It was quite interesting.

I was also sentenced for a weekend in Charlotte.  I remember one of the boys that was with me who is now a priest in the diocese of Charleston.  Someone called his mother and said “Do you know where you son is”.  This matter having appeared on the TV evening news. The mother said “no” and she said: “He is in jail.”  So his mother immediately called me to find out what was going on.  The funny thing is that I was the one in jail, not her son. I did not get the phone call, naturally. It was quite an interesting experience.  And then when I was in jail in Charlotte, it was quite different.  We did not have any work to do there; we sat around all day on our bunks.  When the time for meals came we had chairs to sit in at a table but then they were put away as soon as we were finished, and we went back to sitting on our bunks.  I had really enjoyed more the other prison where we had work to do every day.  It made the time pass more quickly.  Every evening I would sit between the dining room and the dormitory where I would talk to people about troubles in their lives.  Quite interesting there too.

In addition to this work in the pro-life field,  we had processions with praying the rosary.  There were many other meeting that I attended with those who were against abortion.  And I remember, it was there that I became really active in the pro life movement.  An Auxiliary Bishop of NY came down to Greensboro. He told of his experiences and I suppose he had been in prison as much as anyone.  He has since died.  I was so terribly impressed by this man, and I said to myself:  “If he can do it, then I can do it”.  That is when I made my decision to block the clinics, to stop mothers from killing their babies.

I happen to know that 25 % of those who are turned away from abortion clinics, never return.  So, in that way, I believe a number of lives are saved.

First of all, I become active in the Cursillio movement.  That was when I was first ordained.  I enjoyed that movement very much and what it meant to me.  At first I was reluctant to go, and even after I got there I was reluctant.  But I was completely converted and became very active in the Cursillio movement.  For a while, I was The Spiritual Director for the Diocese of Charlotte.

A little while later on I became involved in Marriage Encounter. That started when I was in Lenoir, and carried over while I was in Greensboro.  I participated in a good number of the marriage encounter sessions that were held through out the Diocese and other Dioceses as well.

There is not time enough in a priest’s life to give himself to more than one of these renewal groups at a time. I finally also became interested in the Marriage Encounter movement.  This too I enjoyed very much.  As a priest, I conducted many of the sessions of marriage encounter.

But then finally, in Greensboro I became really active in the pro life movement so there was not much time to work in the other movements I have mentioned.

I served in Greensboro eight years and, God called 9 young men of the parish to become priests and 3 young women became religious.  And it was especially a happy time to attend the ordinations of those young men who had become converts to the Church.  There were others that were “cradle Catholics” who also became Priests.

That  makes up pretty much what I did in Greensboro, and then I went to Holy Spirit Church  in Denver, NC, for a short time.  And then from there I entered retirement.  I returned to my family home in Salisbury upon my retirement, and was very happy there for a good long time.  Just about 10 years. And then I became ill with a number of difficulties. First of all, I was sent to the hospital to be examined and then I was sent to another hospital to be treated and then finally I was found on the bedroom floor of my house where I passed out.  By some chance the front door was left unlocked and a nurse came by.  I don’t know who she was; I have never been able to find out.  Why she was there I don’t know.  Except She was there as some sort of public health situation.  At any rate she came in and found me on the floor.  And I woke up in the public hospital in Salisbury.  In the hospital I developed double pneumonia, so I was not able to do very much.  I lay there in bed, and in terrible terrible pain.  I had recently had back surgery and that did not seem to totally solve my pain problem.  The back surgery was necessary.  But still later I found out that my hips were a problem too, as well as my back.  So the doctor who examined my hip with x-rays, told me there was no reason to come back.  He did not recommend another surgery and said I would have to be content with taking pain pills for the rest of my life.  And just endure what pain there was, which was considerable.

When I was able  to leave the hospital after double pneumonia, I came here to Maryfield, and this film is being made in the chapel, at Maryfield.  There is an Adoration Chapel just behind the Altar here and it is a place of real devotion, and I am very dedicated to the Sisters who have done so much for me.  When I came here I was lying on my back in bed and hardly able to move, and now I have gotten much better even more than the doctor expected. And I am able to get around with a wheel chair and a walker and do a little walking by myself.

I thank God for all that has happened,. I am able to say Mass here, and concelebrate every day.  On Tuesday of every week I celebrate Mass by myself.   A special Altar is put up here in the nave so I don’t have to go up to the large Altar.    God has certainly blessed me in my life and I am very thankful to Him. I am grateful to all those who have assisted me and those that have led me to this place.

I have had the joy of instructing at least one person in the Catholic faith here and have seen him baptized and confirmed and now he serves at the altar on Sunday mornings.  I am very satisfied to see that I am able to keep going.  I hear confessions frequently and preach my Mass on Tuesday, and in every way I think God has blessed me.  I see few people here that are very unhappy.  I have enjoyed Maryfield, thoroughly.  I have been present at the death of two retired nuns while I have been here and have been able to assist others in their troubles.  I have tried my best to turn their vision elsewhere and look toward God to see how many blessings have come their way.  So I am happy to present this film to you about my life and about the end to which it has come here in Maryfield.

If I should be able to care for myself I plan to return to Salisbury, but I leave that entirely in God’s hands. I do want you to know how happy I am here and how much the Sisters have done for me, and how happy life can be, as long as we turn everything over to God and allow him to have his way with us.

Thank you for listening.  It has been a pleasure talking to you.

Fr.Kimbrough died in July of 2011.  May his soul rest in God’s peace.

Fr. Conrad L. Kimbrough – Part I Methodist

In 12 Converts on 2015/07/03 at 12:00 AM

I am Father Conrad  L Kimbrough, the L is for Lewis.  I was born in Salisbury, NC on May 10, 1927.  I am a Priest of the Holy Roman Church, to use the proper name of the Church.

I began life in a Methodist family and I remember attending Sunday school for the first time when I was about 3 years old.  I still remember the clothes I had on.  They would look terribly strange today, but they were black velvet trousers with a white shirt with a frilly front to it. I was educated in the faith of the Methodist Church.  I remember my mother, sitting by the fireplace in our living room reading to us from stories of the Bible;  a book that fascinated me from the very beginning.  I went to that same Methodist Church for a number of years.  I remember when I was in the early years of high school saying to some of the young people that we need a picture of our Lord in front of the Sunday school class with a table in front of it with two candles.  The answer from one person that heard me was: “You are a Catholic.”  I thought that was very strange.  Years later I went back to the Sunday school room and there was the table and there were the candles and there was a picture.  But not the one that I wanted back so many years ago.  The picture that turned up on the wall was that of the Blessed Mother, not of our Lord. And I was really kind of shocked by the whole idea.

When I was about eleven years old, I decided it was time I was baptized and the teacher came around one Sunday morning and asked if there was any body in the class room that had not been baptized and wanted to be baptized, and I raised my hand and said “I would like to baptized but, I think I should ask my mother first”.   The teacher said she did not think my mother would mind.  So I consented to baptism that morning. When I got home I informed everybody that I had been baptized. I remember quite frequently I would be told “meet with your parents after Sunday school class” because, we were going to see grandmother.  My response very quickly became, you can go without me or you can wait for me, but I am going to church.  No one could very well say that I could not go to church.  So my will prevailed.

Life went on like that for quite a while. I did not mind being a Methodist.  My hair used to rise on my arms when we sang the Gloria Patri, because I thought it was a Catholic sounding hymn. I remember another time when I was in high school, when I sent in fifty cents to get a prayer book, with all the Latin titles to the prayers: the Te Deum the Venite and all the other prayers  that were traditionally in the Roman liturgy.  I took that prayer book to school with me that afternoon as it came in the morning mail. During the afternoon I remember I was busy reading the prayer book, below the desk, so the teacher could not see.  As I got a little older, I became more and more interested in the Catholic Church.  I had a good friend who had a medal and I asked him how he won it.  He said he did not win it. It was a gift.  I could not understand that because medals were won for some achievement.  He also informed me that Jesus was all man and all God.  I had always maintained that Jesus was half man and half God, but he showed me where that was impossible. His family soon moved away, so I lost that contact with the Catholic Church.  I remember he took me to the celebration that took place after the building of the new Catholic Church, which was about three blocks from my house.  He showed me a cake that was being offered in a raffle for, ten cents per ticket and I could buy a chance on the cake.  I thought to myself,  “that’s a sin.” One should not be raffling and certainly not a church making money on the raffle, so I did not bid on the cake.  The church was beautiful.  I was taken inside and shown the new building.  I had walked past the church many times. I had seen old Father William out in front of it, but I would never pass by him. I would cross to the other side of the street rather than meet him. There was something frightening in a way about priests.

I remember that I was downtown with my mother and we saw two women dressed in long black dresses with white things around their faces, and I said to my mother “who are those women”.  And she said they were Sisters. I thought she must be wrong because one was very old and the other very young.  They couldn’t possibly be sisters.  But I never argued with my mother.  So, all these events (including a girl  carrying a palm branch home from church on Palm Sunday) I thought that made very good sense. After all, it was Palm Sunday.

All of these things contributed to my leanings toward  the Holy Roman Church.

I went away to a Methodist Junior College in Brevard, NC.  I took a religion course which was required. It was conducted by a Methodist minister. He began telling us this, that and other things that was not true.  He said that I got all my religion from Paradise Lost and not from the Holy Scriptures. This I could not accept. It kept on until I couldn’t be a member of the Methodist Church, any longer.  This is not my church, I thought.  One day I decided to go with a friend to the Episcopal Church.

It was a Thursday afternoon, I recollect.   There was nothing going on in the church; it was silent but from the time I walked in the door, I said to myself:  “This is where I belong”.  I went looking for the rector thinking the rectory was next door only to find it was some distance away. I walked to his house and rang the doorbell and said: “ I would like to belong to your church”. His response was: “That is a decision you will have to make for yourself”. I asked if there was something to read – some book – to find out about the Episcopal Church. He provided me a book. And I went on my way.  Eventually I was received into the Episcopal Church.  I was conditionally baptised and was confirmed on the following Sunday.  Those two events occurred on the first of April and the 8th of April, 1945.  Then I continued in the Episcopal Church thinking it was truly Catholic.  I was given a book on my Conformation Day and I began to study it thoroughly.   I began to pray the rosary. I remember trying to find a book with the Salve Regina, which was not in the book, I was using.  I remember I met a lady that knew it by heart, so I wrote it down when she recited it for me.  I started going to confession after several difficulties getting to a priest that would hear my confession.  But, it became a regular part of my spiritual life.  I also embraced other catholic customs which were mentioned in the little Episcopal book I had been given.

I went away to Berea College in Kentucky after I finished Brevard. There I would hitch hike to Mass on Sunday morning, which was strictly forbidden, but I felt like a martyr for the faith.  If I got a ride in time, I would go to the Episcopal church which was forty miles away in Lexington, If I did not get a ride that soon, then I would go to the Catholic Church which was only 12 miles away in Richmond, KY.  I became familiar with the Priest in Richmond.  I remember asking the Priest one time, if I could receive communion.   I was told I was in the right pew but the wrong church. I could not receive communion.  I could not go to confession there either. So I had to go to the Episcopal Church, for my confessions.

When I was about finished at Berea I wrote to one of the authorities in the Episcopal Church, (we did not have a Bishop,.our Bishop had retired) and asking permission to go to the seminary.  I already knew, on the advice of my parish priest, that I wanted to go to Nashotah House, which was quite Catholic.  The man I wrote to did not answer my letter.   I wrote again, and again I did not receive an answer.  Finally, I hitch hiked from Kentucky all the way back to North Carolina to see the man and he said:  “Oh, I sent you the answer to the letter, and it would be all right for you to go to Nashotah house, but I really never got the letters.  He finally filled out a form for me which I took myself and mailed to the proper authorities   I was permitted to go to Nashotah House,  but when I got a bishop, he was elected that fall.  I went to see him in Charlotte, NC. to make sure that I had his permission to attend seminary. He was not yet a bishop.   I suppose he was not in a ready position to turn me down.  When I went to see him I was early for the appointment and I was in the church  praying my rosary when in walked the bishop-elect.   He too was early;  I said to myself: “There go my chances of ever being ordained,  being caught praying a rosary.”  He, never mentioned it and life went on, and I entered the seminary.  The opening day at the seminary was the same day  he was made Bishop of Western N.C.   So I entered Nashotah House that fall, and I loved it from the start.  It was a beautiful place. We had beautiful liturgies.  The Dean of the seminary, though, did not quite totally share the Catholic view of everybody else. When I would go by the deanery I would say in a loud voice, “Personally, I love our Lady”, and the next day I would say: “Personally,  I love the Holy Father”.  And I was told I’d better shut up or I would be thrown out.  Finally, I was called into the Dean’s office, and he said: “I hope you are not just stopping off for a sandwich on your way to Rome.”  Well he was dead before I finally made the step. But at any rate, I finished seminary and was then ordained in N.C.  I went back to Wisconsin, to visit a friend of mine, one of my classmates.  And he said: “I want you meet our new bishop who was the Bishop Coajuter.  Who became the Bishop of the diocese eventually.  So I went to Stevens Point, Wisconsin to see my friend and he said we will have a cup of coffee with the Bishop and then we will be on our way.  While I was sitting there the Bishop said: “How would you like to be the Priest at Swamico?”   I told him I had not come looking for a job and he said I know, but I think you should go to Swamico.   He told me later that when he saw me coming up the walk he said: “That is the Priest that I want for Swamico, (which was a small fishing village on Green Bay)”.  My time there was rather idealic.  It was a beautiful parish, and I stayed there for a few years before I was sent to Rhinelander, Wisconsin,  where I served for four years.

Then, I was sent to Sherry where I was at a retreat house.  And then back to Rhinelander for four more years and then to Stevens Point where I served eight years.

And it was while I was there that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church met and voted for the ordination of women.  I was a delegate to that convention. And I remember how upset I was.  How I really wept about the idea of the Episcopal Church falling apart.  It had been very important to me.  I loved the Church of England .I had been to visit the shrine in Walsingham several times.  I had worshiped in Westminster Abbey and to see it all just falling away bothered me terribly.  I remember one day the bishop called me and said I would have to stop complaining about the condition of the Episcopal Church to others.  I said: “I will stop complaining, but in a few months you will have my resignation”.

One day I got a letter from him, saying I understand that you are interested in becoming a Roman Catholic.  I want you to come and talk with me about it.  The next day I wrote him a letter. I went to the Catholic bishop’s house in La Crosse, Wisconsin and was received into the Church and given conditional Confirmation.  And I went to stay with an Episcopal priest friend of mine.  Then I mailed the letter saying I had become a Roman Catholic.  A few days later I received a letter from the Bishop saying: “I see I am too late”.  I really was tired of discussing — There was nothing more to be discussed.

Continued

Reflections of recent converts: My first year as a Catholic

In 12 Converts on 2015/05/08 at 12:00 AM

032912-first-year-catholicEach Lent, Catholics watch as hundreds of people go through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and join the Church at Easter. Last year, 949 people entered the Church at Easter in the Diocese of Charlotte – among 150,000 people nationwide. Each of these new Catholics has a unique story and a different reason for choosing the Catholic Church as their home.

What happens after they are baptized or brought into full communion with the Church at Easter, when their lives begin to blend with the lives of their fellow parishioners? The Catholic News Herald spoke with several people who joined the Church last Easter about their first year as Catholics:

THE BIGGEST CHANGE

Shaun Keady says the biggest change in his life on Easter morning was that “there wasn’t a huge change.” The morning after his baptism, Keady, now a new member of St. Ann Church in Charlotte, woke up and life seemed almost the same – but he understands that the grace of his newfound faith gives him strength to face “all the temptations and struggles that are still there. There’s the realization – that God gives you opportunities to keep making more steps daily,” he says.

“Becoming Catholic isn’t just about changing the church you’re in on Sunday, but changing your whole life!” says Ashley Faye Miller, a Belmont Abbey College student. Miller had “found herself” and the Catholic faith through a novena to St. Anthony of Padua, which led her to the Abbey.

“I had lost myself and was praying to him to help me find myself again,” she says.

Miller hails the education she receives at Belmont Abbey College for forming her in her newfound faith. Fellow Abbey student Carly Kensinger also attributes Catholic education with her conversion. She had attended a Catholic high school in California and from there was recruited for Belmont Abbey’s soccer team.

“I have many Catholic friends, and my sister had become Catholic. I went to Mass for at least a year before starting RCIA. Becoming Catholic, the biggest change was: I was able to finally be able to fully participate in Mass. That’s probably the most exciting thing,” Kensinger says.

“It has been one of the most peaceful and joyous years of my life!” exclaims Christie Dvorak from St. Ann Church, who entered the Church with her daughter.

Dvorak’s daughter started coming home from school two years ago saying, “Mom, I want to become Catholic!” Raised Baptist, Dvorak began attending daily Mass when she would drop her off at school.

“Don’t get me wrong, though; life stressors are as usual. I just feel more prepared to deal with things that come my way. I feel like I have direction and purpose for the first time.”

AFFIRMATION

“Catholic – now that’s a good faith!” said Kelly Rusk’s Baptist grandfather when Rusk broke the news of his conversion. For Rusk, this endorsement from the Baptist who had been “my spiritual rock and guide through life” confirmed his decision to enter the Church.

“My parents were happy and supportive,” explains Mark Brown, UNC-Charlotte graduate student and member of St. Ann Church. He was raised Methodist, and his mother witnessed his conversion journey. She even helped it by “church shopping” with Brown during school breaks.

Miller was surprised when her mother attended the Easter Vigil. “My mom attended my baptism,” she recalls. “She says she had never done anything so ritualistic, but she was so happy she came.”

For Daniel Diaz, however, the affirmation came only from the new friends in his life like Father Richard DeClue. “I found myself alone and without friends for a long time. In fact, many people didn’t believe me because of my past hatred for the Catholic Church. One frat brother even said, ‘You’re lying to me!’ when I told him I was becoming Catholic!”

But Kensinger has had a different response from friends. “One of my favorite things is when a Catholic – whether practicing or not – hears that I became Catholic. They are so happy for me; there is an amazing sense of family from other Catholics – which was a nice welcome.”

Adds fellow convert Lesha Sabio, “My circle of friends has always been a big group that included a few Catholics, lots of Protestants and some people who aren’t particularly religious. But everyone was supportive of my decision to convert.”

STRONGER MARRIAGES

Sabio – who describes her first year as a Catholic as “wonderful!” – was married shortly after she entered the Church. She had grown up in a small community, attending the same Methodist church since she was born.

“We got married last July in a Catholic ceremony. Since we were both Catholic, we had the full nuptial Mass,” she says proudly. She and her new husband Hernan now attend St. Leo the Great Church in Winston-Salem.

“I think it makes my relationship with my husband even better than it would be if I had remained Protestant,” Sabio reflects. “To share our faith, worship together, be active in the Church and approach family and social issues from a common understanding of God’s Word is very unifying.”

Madeline Keeter also found that her wedding just a few months following her baptism was “everything I had imagined growing up. I have always been very faithful and knew I wanted my wedding in a church, and the Catholic ceremony was very meaningful,” she says. Keeter was raised a Mormon and is the first person in her family to openly leave the Mormon religion.

Rusk, however, was married for nearly four years before his conversion.

“I love my wife, but I never considered her faith when we first married,” he admits. “But when I felt God pulling me toward the faith, it made our marriage stronger.”

For Angelina McArthur, a member of St. Michael Church in Gastonia, the greatest joy of entering the Church has been “supporting my husband, who is going through RCIA and will be confirmed this Easter.”

“We are all attending Mass every Sunday. It enables us to focus on what is most important,” she says. “I grew up in a family that attended church regularly. I always wanted to be Catholic.”

TRADITION SOLID AS A ROCK

“As an individual, I can’t possibly know everything there is to know,” Kensinger admits. “It is comforting to have the Church because they know better as a whole. It is comforting to know you can’t pick and choose what to believe,” as she had been taught to do as a nondenominational Christian.

For Miller – who had been thinking about converting from a Pentecostal and Baptist background since she was a senior in high school – becoming Catholic has been important because “so many things in my life were transient, and I wanted the ‘Peter Rock.’ I was so confused and didn’t like to hear one thing one weekend and then go to another church and learn something else the next weekend. I wanted something more solid, tradition, a foundation, more continuity.”

Keady, raised Presbyterian and Wesleyan, says he had been “always very spiritual, and even found ways to go to church with friends in high school,” but he began seeking answers to life’s intellectual challenges about four years ago.

Keady laughs as he recalls how his journey to Catholicism began: A priest and some friends came into the bar where Keady worked. Keady peppered him with questions. “I guess the priest wanted to chill with his friends, so he said to me, ‘Look, if you want to know more, you need to read St. Jerome.'”

Brown’s conversion started with reading a classic work of fiction by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Crime and Punishment.” He then began to seek God more fervently.

“All my thoughts were confirmed and took shape in the Faith, where they had just been speculation,” Brown explains. “Everything the Church taught was always in line with what I had always thought, even though I didn’t know how to express it.”

Diaz, on the other hand, says he first struggled to accept the Church’s teachings, especially about the Blessed Mother. “I chose St. Thomas Aquinas as my patron because he also struggled with the teachings on the Immaculate Conception.”

Diaz, currently a graduate student at Regent University in Virginia, calls his conversion an “intellectual pursuit” that he never expected to happen.

“There is so much to learn when you haven’t grown up in the Church,” adds McArthur. “I am constantly growing in that respect.”

“Absolutely, without a doubt I have found home,” Keady says. “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. The Church’s teachings aren’t broken, so why would I want to go anywhere else? I just have to allow the Church’s teachings to absorb into me.”

— Mary B. Worthington, correspondent

Talk with a Catholic priest

Becoming a Catholic is a spiritual journey that each person must decide to make for themselves. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) is a process to help people grow in their relationship with God, become familiar with Catholic teachings and get involved with parish life. To learn more, talk to the pastor of the Catholic church nearest you.

Reprinted with permission from Catholic News Herald

The Miraculous Journey Home by Gail Buckley

In 12 Converts on 2015/04/17 at 12:00 AM

gail-presents-to-pope-1I was raised in the Methodist faith in a small town in North Carolina. The only Catholic Church in town was a block away from my house and a large brick home which served as a convent was just around the corner. I would often see the nuns, dressed in their habits, walking to the Catholic school which adjoined the church. Whenever I saw them, I felt a great sense of respect. I considered them to be very holy, although I knew nothing about the Catholic faith. When I was twelve years old, I heard our pastor state in a homily that in the “end days” most people would turn away from Jesus and become “worldly” — following the antichrist, who he explained was the devil. I don’t recall the devil being mentioned very often in our church and so this statement immediately got my attention. I was perplexed; I couldn’t imagine people turning away from Jesus and following the devil. This was very upsetting to me so I made a promise to God that I would never do that – no matter what everyone else did.  I pledged never to turn away from Him and certainly to never follow the antichrist! I obviously didn’t realize what it meant to become worldly and consequently just three years later at age fifteen, I was already headed in that direction. Gradually, Jesus was replaced by someone more important to me – myself.

Like most teenagers, I had become self-centered, materialistic, and absorbed in the ways of the world, i.e., worldly. It was when I was fifteen that a strong storm slammed the shores of the Outer Banks which was just an hour’s drive from us. It was reported that many houses that were on the beachfront were demolished by the high waves and strong winds and that nearby Jockey’s Ridge (the largest sand dune in the eastern United States) was littered with broken furniture and household items. I knew several families who owned property there and it so happened that the next day at school, one of those friends invited me to go with her family to their beach house the following weekend. They had gotten reports from others in the area that their house was not damaged due to the fact that it was further from the ocean but they wanted to go and check things out for themselves. I didn’t get many opportunities to spend much time at the beach and so it was with great excitement that I rushed home to ask permission that day. My mother reminded me that it was Mother’s Day weekend, but knowing how much this meant to me, she consented. It was to be the first Mother’s Day I had ever spent away from my mother and I knew that saddened her, but I was too excited to think about that; all I could think about was myself.

We decided to spend our last day at the beach, which was Mother’s Day, climbing Jockey’s Ridge and seeing for ourselves what was there. As we were trudging up the dune, our feet sinking deep into the soft sand, something shiny caught my eye. I picked it up, looked at it and although it had an inscription on it, it didn’t make any sense to me so I just put it in my pocket. It so happened that I had a new charm bracelet with very few charms on it yet, so I put this new “charm” on my bracelet even though I wasn’t sure just what it was. I’d never seen anything like it but I was intrigued by it. My mother later told me that she thought it was something Catholic, like a St. Christopher “charm”. (Many non-Catholics are only familiar with St. Christopher and/or St. Francis and then only by name).

I’ll fast forward now 30 years when I was 45 and at a point in my life when things were at their lowest. I was miserable even though we had just built a new house, thinking that might make me happy. It didn’t. I was finally realizing that material things weren’t the answer I was seeking. Unfortunately, I didn’t even realize I was seeking an answer or even what the question was. I just knew that nothing seemed to make me happy any more.

One night when I was at my lowest point, I fell on my knees and prayed for the first time in many years. It was a very short prayer. “Lord,” I said, “I can’t handle my life anymore; I want you to take over my life.” That was all I said and I went to bed.

The next morning, I awoke a brand new person. I couldn’t stop talking about Jesus. I was filled with love, peace, and joy. The first thing I did was look for my Bible. I wasn’t really familiar with the Bible, only picking it up occasionally to look for a certain verse to add in a sympathy card or some words of encouragement for a depressed friend. Unlike my Baptist cousins, I was never taught to memorize verses in Scripture nor did I ever attend a Bible study. However, it was truly the Holy Spirit Who led me to the Bible that day because I was supernaturally led to verses that spoke directly to my heart and explained what was happening to me.

The very first verse that He led me to was Ezekiel 36:26 where it says “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” When I read it, I started crying tears of joy, because I knew that He had done just that. I truly had a new heart.

Soon after leading me to Scripture, the Lord starting leading me to other books – lots of books. Again, this was all supernatural; no human being ever mentioned any of these books to me nor had I ever heard of any of them. The Lord just led me to them one by one over a short period of time. I went through these books like a starving person, devouring every word, yet I never realized that all the books I was reading were Catholic, until one day while reading “Miracles Do Happen” by Sr. Briege Mckenna, I came to a chapter where she was talking about something called a miraculous medal. I was thoroughly intrigued and determined to get myself one of these amazing medals. I remembered that there was a Catholic bookstore in Charlotte, so I looked it up in the telephone book and called the store, asking if they had these and then for directions to the store. After hanging up, I was standing in the middle of my bedroom and glanced over all the books I’d recently been reading, stacked high beside my bed. All of a sudden the thought came into my head, “All these books are Catholic!” Then out loud I said, “God, I can’t believe I never realized that these books were all about the Catholic Church. Are you trying to tell me something? Do you want me to become Catholic? If that’s what you want Lord, please make it very clear to me. Have someone say to me ‘Would you like to become Catholic?’and then I’ll know for sure that’s what you want.”

Twenty minutes later, I walked into the Catholic bookstore and then realized that I had no idea what a miraculous medal looked like or how to find it, so I stopped a woman walking by. “Excuse me” I said. “I’m not Catholic and I’m looking for something called a miraculous medal, could you help me?” “Oh,” she said, “Would you be interested in the RCIA?” “What? I….” but before I could even finish speaking she was already rushing off, saying “just a minute; wait right there!” I stood there wondering what in the world had just happened and what she was talking about. “Did she say ROTC?” I wondered. Then she reappeared, handing me a piece of paper saying, “Here’s Sister Barbara’s phone number, I’m sure that….” I interrupted, “Excuse me, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. What is the R…?” “Oh,” she said, “I’m sorry. What I’m trying to say is, would you like to become Catholic?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – just twenty minutes ago I had asked the Lord, if he wanted me to be Catholic, to have someone say those exact words to me! I couldn’t get home fast enough to call the number.  Sister Barbara answered and I told her why I was calling. “Wonderful,” she said, “We start classes tomorrow night.” “My goodness, Lord, we’re not going to waste any time, are we?” I said to myself. And so I became Catholic. The day I was confirmed was one of happiest days of my life. I felt like a new bride. I cried often: before, during and after my “journey home” – tears of absolute joy, of course.

Three years after entering the Church, I was on the phone talking to a friend about my conversion when I remembered finding that Catholic “charm” on the sand dune 33 years earlier. “Hold on a minute,” I said. “I think I still have that charm bracelet here in my jewelry box. I want to look and see what that was that I found that day when I was 15.” I opened my jewelry box and there it was. I returned to the phone, tears running down my face. “I can’t believe it,” I said to my friend, “It’s a Miraculous Medal.” And it truly is a miracle. I was only 15 and I had already forgotten my promise to God, never to leave Him and I was already following the Antichrist in my selfishness, my materialistic goals, following the ways of the world. I had even forsaken my mother on Mother’s Day to pursue my own selfish interests, but my heavenly Mother had not forsaken me. I believe God sent her on that Mother’s Day and that she has been with me throughout all these years, gently guiding me back to Him. It took 30 years and many wrong turns but thanks be to God, I’m finally home!

NOTE: Gail has been a speaker at several national Catholic conferences, a guest on EWTN’s Journey Home show with Marcus Grodi, and a featured guest on many Catholic radio shows including Catholic Answers Live, Ave Maria radio: Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo, Al Kresta Live and others. She has also been featured in Envoy and Lay Witness magazines In 2009, Gail was invited to the Vatican for a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

In addition to overseeing CSS, Gail also serves on the board of directors of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) as well as the Steering Committee of the Catholic Leadership Conference and the Board of Reference of PureHope, a division of the National Coalition for Protection of Children and Families.  In 2010, at the request of Saint Benedict Press, Gail compiled and edited a new Catholic study Bible which is currently in its second printing and is being sold in both Catholic and secular bookstores such as Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. Gail authored several of the 76 supplemental pages that she added to a Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition of the Bible, making this the first Bible of this kind in this particular version which includes both the New and Old Testaments. In 2011,  Gail became the host of the national radio show, “The Bible Lady”, which airs live every Monday at 12 noon ET on Radio Maria, the world’s largest Catholic radio network which covers 62 countries. Listeners can also hear the show live on the Internet at radiomaria.us