Wednesday, September 17, 2014

// C O N V E R S I O N p t 2 //

Did you read the first part of this story yet? If not, you may want to get yourself caught up.

May of 2007: I just got home from 5 months in India where I had been volunteering as an English teacher. While I was there I did a lot of praying and soul searching about many things, one of which was my desire to get married. I had always wanted to be a wife and a mother, but had never dated or done anything even close to dating. I was 20 years old, I had seen the world, and now I felt like it was my turn to be in a relationship.

Enter Alex.

We worked together that summer at a bakery, I had known him very casually for few years but we'd never been more than co-workers—until that summer, when he asked me out on my first date (a whole other story for another blog post).

When I look back at the beginning of our relationship it all seems so crazy to me. I had always pictured myself becoming really good friends with a guy and then only dating him after I knew him really well.  But Alex and I were practically strangers! And to top it off, he was a Catholic! As someone who had always had very high ideals about love and purity and Christ-centered dating it was incredibly uncharacteristic of me to be dating an almost perfect stranger who, for all I know, didn't share any of my beliefs! I can only attribute it to the nudging of the Holy Spirit.

Anna and Alex, the early years.
It didn't take me long to see that, unlike almost all the Catholics I had previously known, Alex seemed to really know Jesus. One of our early conversation may have gone something like this:
me: So you're Catholic, right?
Alex: Yeah.
Me: So, what do you think about Jesus?
Alex....after a pause: Well...He's God, and I love him. 

This seemed like a good sign to me. He also had a good handle on scripture, and he could explain and defend many elements of his Catholic faith that puzzled me. We spent hours discussing points where our theologies disagreed. Me attacking, him always calmly and politely defending. I was impressed by his character and love for the Lord, and was convinced it was my job to help him break free from his Catholic bondage and become a real Christian.

Well, our first, second, and third dates turned into 3, then, 6, then 10 months of dating, and the more I got to know him the more I got the feeling that he wasn't just going to stop being Catholic. Around the time we had been dating for one year, Alex took a two-month trip to Peru. Shortly before he left I was (not so slyly) trying to get out of him where he "saw us going" and if he had thought about our relationship "long-term." A few days later, while I drove him to the airport, I got my answer. He handed me a book entitled The Good News About Sex and Marriage by Christoper West, and asked me if I would read it while he was gone, saying that if we got married he wouldn't expect me to convert, but he would still want to live out his Catholic faith, and that I should know what that entailed. I said goodbye to him, shed a few tears, drove home, and immediately started reading.

And I was blown away!

I knew a lot about scripture, and theology, and my church talked a lot about issues of faith and morals, like abortion, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, stem cell research, and fair trade. But I had never in all my life heard anyone suggest that artificial contraception could be outside of God's plan.  I had barely heard of natural family planning and just assumed it was an outdated calendar method used by Amish people. I had always assumed that when I got married I would go on the pill, wait 5 years, and when I was "ready" I would start having kids. I assumed that's what everyone did. I had no idea there were other possibilities.

Then I read this:

The Father, from all eternity, is making a gift of himself in love to the Son...
And the Son, eternally receiving the gift of the Father, makes a gift of Himself
back to Him. The love between them is so real, so profound, that this love is
another eternal Personthe Holy Spirit. 

Among other things, this is what our being made in the image and likeness of God
reveals: we're called to love as God loves, in a life-giving communion of persons...
The love between [a husband and wife] is so real, so profound, that God willing, 
it may become another human person. 

- Christopher West, The Good News About Sex and Marriage

Marital love is a complete giving of one's self to the other, not an exchange of goods. And love should always have the potential for life.  It doesn't mean you have to have 20 kids.  But it does mean you're not actively shutting out God's life-giving creativity. 

I read about the incredibly low divorce rate among NFP couples. I read about the dignity it offers to women, and how it fosters communication between a husband and wife. I read about health benefits and low costs. And as I read all this, I became convicted of two things: one was that this was truth, and I wondered why I had never been taught this anywhere else.  The other was that if the Catholic Church was so right in this matter, then maybe it was right about some other things.

I could feel my world being rocked. I was at a tipping point  I could turn around and forget all the things I was beginning to think, or I could I could pray harder, dig deeper, and challenge my faith in a way I had never done before. The feeling was agonizing, but in my heart of hearts I knew what I was going to do. And I got a huge dose of affirmation from my mom. "If you and Alex get married, you should be the same denomination, even if it means you becoming Catholic."

All that following year Alex and I went to a Fundamentals of Catholicism class. I learned about the ins and outs of Catholic doctrine. And the more I studied the more I saw that there was just as much biblical support for the Catholic side of an argument as there was for the protestant view I had held all my life. It was unsettling. But because I felt so strongly about some teachings, like NFP, and (gasp) transubstantiation, I knew I could trust the Church on issues I didn't understand as well.

I had also been going to mass with Alex every week.  The quiet, reverent and liturgical forms of worship were very different from the energetic and charismatic Sunday mornings I had grown up with. I was realizing that I had been relying on the emotional "high" of contemporary worship music to carry my relationship with the Lord. If I didn't feel butterflies in my stomach, or cry, or lift my hands in the air, well, then I hadn't really been worshiping. I hadn't really been in communion with Jesus. But Jesus shows up, regardless of style or emotions. He shows up if there is a guitar and drums, or if there is an organ and choir, or even if there is no music at all. He shows up when I am on a mountaintop of emotions and feeling all the feelings. But more importantly, He shows up when I'm tired, and life is hard, and I don't feel a thing. Those are the moments when I say, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief."

Learning how to worship without contemporary worship music was challenging. I knew my faith was maturing, but there were days when I just really wanted to sing the songs I loved best! Alex and I started attending an adoration service at the seminary here in St. Paul. (For the non-Catholic readers, an adoration is when the Blessed Sacrament [ie: the Bread {ie: the Body of Christ}] is exposed to pray and reflect in front of.  It's way to spend some time with Jesus.) At this particular service there was adoration, there were priests hearing confessions, and there was praise and worship music. I couldn't believe my eyes  there, in a beautiful chapel, nuns, priests, college students, kneeling in prayer, sitting quietly, standing with hands raised, and the sound of voices singing echoed and rebounded off the stone walls and arches. It was 100% Catholic, but it had that element of singing worship I had been missing. And for the first time since Alex and I had started dating I felt completely at home. For the first time I thought, yes I could be Catholic.

The Chapel at St. John Vianney Seminary. The place where I first thought I could be Catholic.
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  1. Such a wonderful story! I love that he just gave you a book and asked you to read it.

    1. Thanks Rita! Looking back now Alex can hardly believe that he did that. It's seems so gutsy! Again must have been the Holy Spirit.


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