Friday, May 23, 2014

My Journey to the Catholic Church, Part II

Part I

  When my mom answered the phone that night, she immediately knew something was wrong. My voice was shaking, and I just couldn't seem to get the words out. My mom kept asking me what was wrong, and I could tell she was so worried about me. I finally took a deep breath, and said, "Mom, you know how we've been trying to find a fit with different churches for the past year or so, but nothing really clicked for us? I know you and Dad haven't been looking lately, but I've been going to Mass every Sunday with Katie at the Catholic church here in Evanston. I know how you and Dad feel about Catholicism, but...I truly feel like it's right for me. I've been doing a lot of reading about the church, and I just feel that their practices, beliefs and traditions make so much sense. I'm sure this is hard for you to understand, but I want to become Catholic but I don't want to disappoint you and Dad and.." I was crying at that point, and I didn't know what else I could say. My mom, God bless her, said the exact words I needed to hear.

  "Honey, you can go to a Catholic church. However you want to worship God is just fine with Dad and I." (I should also note that my dad, having heard my mom's end of the conversation, decided to lighten the mood by bursting into the Latin chants and prayers he remembered from his days as an altar boy. My mom said, "Oh for God's sake, ignore your father!"). I was so relieved, I couldn't stop crying and thanking my mom, and she kept reassuring me that she didn't have a problem with me becoming Catholic, she and my dad were proud of me, and I should really hang up the phone and get some sleep because I had a busy day of practicing and rehearsals tomorrow. Once an Italian mom, always an Italian mom. We hung up the phone a few minutes later, with me promising to give my mom a call the following day to talk more about my decision, and assuring my mom that I would, in fact, get a good night's sleep.

  I hung up the phone feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted off my chest. Katie and Marci (my roommate for the summer, with whom I'm still friends) came over to give me hugs and words of encouragement. That night was fifteen years ago, and I still remember exactly how I felt before I went to sleep. Joyful. Unburdened. Hopeful. And above all...so very, very thankful. I thanked God that night for showing me the beauty of the Catholic Church, for my loving (and very non-judgmental) parents, and for the support from my wonderful friends. I couldn't wait to get my hands on even more information on Catholicism. I wanted to know everything; the history, the traditions, the beliefs, the various charities, the saints, the prayers, the devotion to Mary, etc.

  Understandably, when I spoke to my mom the next evening, she had quite a few questions for me. (The first one being, did I want to become a nun? No, I always knew that wasn't in the cards for me). I answered her questions as best I could, but I still felt as though I was lacking in information myself. I wrote down my mom's questions, and told her I would get back to her when I had the answers. Looking over the hastily scrawled list of questions, I realized that not only would I have to figure out my own personal reasons for wanting to convert, but I would need to clear up a couple of misconceptions about the church as well. Keep in mind, not only did my mom not grow up Catholic, but she didn't have the greatest view of the Church (due to some members of my dad's family refusing to show up for their Methodist wedding ceremony, and the anti-Catholic remarks frequently made by my nana over the years). I would have thought that my dad could have answered some of my mom's questions, but despite his attending Catholic schools for eight years, attending Mass every Sunday with his parents and serving as an altar boy, well, let's just say he didn't pay attention as well as he should have during catechism.

  I told my mom one of the things I loved the most about the Catholic faith was the reverence; genuflecting before the altar, bowing before the Eucharist, how the I could attend any Catholic church in the world, and the Mass would follow the same order, and the honor and devotion shown to Mary and the saints. Even as a child, I've always felt a special bond with the Virgin Mary, and I wondered why our Protestant church made a point of emphasizing the roles of Biblical women such as Esther and Ruth, but rarely said a word about the woman who gave birth to the son of God (except at Christmas, and even then Mary only received the slightest of nods). I've always looked at our holy mother as the best possible example of love, gentleness, virtue, and strength, and it seemed natural to me to show her as much reverence as possible. I loved the solemnity of the Lenten season, the anticipation of the joyful Christmas celebration during Advent, and the Church's commitment to social justice. I was so impressed with their charities serving countries all over the world, fighting everything from poverty to disease to human trafficking. One thing I especially loved was the involvement of people my own age in the church. In the UCC and other Protestant churches we visited over the years, it was rare for me to see any teenagers or young adults worshiping on Sundays. There weren't any youth groups or activities, and I distinctly remember a Methodist minister pleading with his congregation one Sunday to bring young people back to their church to worship and participate in activities. In all the Catholic churches I began attending (in Evanston that summer and back in the Milwaukee area after I returned home), I saw every possible age range worshiping at Mass. The elderly, parents with young children, and lots of college-aged students and teenagers, many of whom I recognized from my high school.

  When I returned home to Wisconsin at the end of the summer, I decided I would spend my senior year attending Mass at various parishes, and I would go through the conversion process my freshman year of college. This period was probably the most difficult, in terms of adjustment; my dad couldn't resist making fun of my new found faith at any given opportunity, and while I tried to laugh it off at first, I lost my temper after he teased me one too many times. My mother was supportive of me converting to Catholicism, but she wasn't always very understanding of my insistence at attending Mass every Sunday. Eventually all of us came to an understanding, and while there was disappointment at my conversion from an extended family member, I finally felt comfortable admitting my love for the Catholic faith and my desire to convert.

  On September 22nd, 2000, my parents packed their minivan and pickup truck to the brim and drove me to Appleton, WI, where I would be attending Lawrence University. My wonderful roommate and I hit it off right away (it didn't hurt that she came from a devout Catholic family!), and I loved my new school and new friends. Jen (my roommate) and I began attending Mass at Saint Joseph's Parish, which was widely known for sponsoring events and support groups for LU students. Shortly after my freshman year began, I contacted the RCIA-Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults-coordinator at St. Joseph's, and I began the slow and steady process of converting. RCIA was such a blessing for me; the other candidates and I learned everything about the history of the early church, the meaning behind the prayers and devotions, the beliefs, the order of the Mass, and basically every question I ever had about Catholicism was answered. I began the preparation to be received into the Church the weekend after Easter (previous family commitments had made it impossible for me to be confirmed on Easter Vigil).
Saint Joseph's Parish in Appleton, WI. This church will always have a special place in my heart. 

  I remember my confirmation day very clearly; I was excited, somewhat nervous, and unfortunately very, very sick. (I had come down with a sinus infection and bronchitis a few days prior, because why not??). I remember repeating the words after the priest, the members of the parish extending their right hands towards me, and the final words, "congratulations Marisa, and welcome to the Catholic Church." I couldn't stop smiling, and I cried as I hugged my sponsor and thanked her profusely for everything she did for me. My heart felt so full, and I made a vow that day, not only to God but myself, to always be the best Catholic I could be.

Part III is coming soon (much sooner than Part II, I promise).

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