I finally made the decision to convert and enter the Catholic Church a year after I graduated from college.
Through fifth grade, I attended a Presbyterian church, until it split due to an argument between the two pastors. From then on, my mother and I hopped from church to church, occasionally leaving when a church separated over a disagreement, or simply because we did not mesh well with the community. For me, church revolved around friends and those feel-good moments when everyone in the youth group would sing praise and worship songs in a dimly lit room.
Church pervaded my everyday world not because I placed God at the center of my life, but because my social life primarily consisted of church gatherings, and many of my friends from church also happened to attend school with me. I resented people who tried to question Christianity too deeply. Faith was meant to be kept simple and straight-forward. God loves us. Jesus died to pay the price of our sins. We can turn to him and be saved through grace. That’s it. Any further theological questions not only seemed a waste of time in my mind but also revealed a lack of true child-like faith, a sin of doubt and unnecessary questioning that could become a stumbling block for others.
I only began to delve deeper into my faith when I entered college. I began dating a Catholic man in my sophomore year, and our journey together quickly brimmed over with numerous heated arguments and attempts to convert each other to Protestantism and Catholicism respectively. I finally made the decision to enter the Catholic Church a year after I graduated from college. Here are the top five factors that led me to convert.
Consistency in Teaching
Though I had always loved the simplicity of the teachings in the churches I had grown up in, I found myself becoming frustrated when I began seeking deeper answers to questions such as “What is the relationship between justification and sanctification?” and “How can we be ‘saved’ once and for all if we continue to turn away from God in sin?”. The answers I received varied depending on who I asked and how their particular denomination interpreted the Bible. The Catechism of the Catholic Church intrigued me because of its consistency. Whenever I asked my boyfriend, Tom, a question about what Catholics believe on any given topic, if he wasn’t sure about the answer, he would be able to find the answer for me in the Catechism.
I began to see faith in a new light. Though Tom didn’t always personally agree with or fully understand some of the Church’s teachings, I saw how he grappled with the truth, trusting that his own interpretation of Scripture and God’s commandments would always be inferior to that of the Church. He continually strove to follow the Church’s guidance, even when he had to admit he didn’t yet fully grasp certain teachings. His staunch foundation in the Church’s authority made me rethink my idea of faith, which mainly relied on personal conviction.
Coming from a Protestant background, I refused to believe anything unless I saw direct Scriptural evidence for its validity. I had read through the entire Bible and grown up memorizing Scripture, so I felt confident that certain Catholic teachings could not be based in the Bible.
The issues of Mary, the Eucharist, and the pope seemed particularly unbiblical to me. And yet, passages I had read time and time again began to take on new meaning in light of what I was learning about Catholicism. I did a double take when I read the first part of the Hail Mary in Luke 1:28, 42, and Peter’s appointment as head of the Church made sense once I learned about the Greek words petra and Petros in Matthew 16. Reading John 6 again with the Catholic Church’s teachings in mind made me question why Jesus would have repeatedly emphasized what he was saying with “Truly, Truly” and why he would have allowed many of his disciples to turn away from him if he was simply speaking symbolically.
I began to see how sola scriptura did not pass the test of time. Without tradition, who would have decided on the official canon of Scripture in the first place? And if the Bible was truly meant to be read and interpreted on its own, why are there so many vastly different interpretations of the same passages? Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium form equal pillars that support the Truth of God. Each is needed to guide the others, and if a pillar is removed, confusion and an array of contradictory teachings based on personal interpretation will ensue.
Friendships with Faithful, Young Catholics
In our junior year of college, Tom began a Bible study for Catholics. The Newman Center on our campus was very small, but each week, a group of about six of us would meet to read and discuss Scripture together. As my friendships with the others in the group began to deepen, I began to see that Catholicism consisted of more than just a cultural heritage or a set of traditions. These Catholic friends walked with me and Tom as we navigated the ins and outs of being in a cross-denominational relationship. They helped us through the times of loneliness and confusion we experienced in our struggle to understand God’s will for our relationship. Through their faith and joy, they became witnesses to me that the Catholic faith has the power to reach young hearts and minds.
The Tangibility of the Sacraments
In all the churches I had grown up in, the pastors always focused on prayer, both personal and communal. They emphasized the importance of having a strong spiritual life but gave little to no guidance on how our bodies related to our faith lives. For this reason, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body fascinated me when I first heard about it.
“The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God [God’s love for man], and thus to be a sign of it” (TOB February 20, 1980).
I had never heard anyone speak with such reverence about our bodies and how interconnected our physicality is with our spirituality. The Incarnation took on new meaning for me, as I realized Christ came to be with us in the flesh so that we could relate to him both spiritually and physically.
With my newfound awareness of the importance of our bodies, I fell in love with the Sacraments. God created us with five senses and allows us to connect with him with all of our senses through the Sacraments. In Baptism, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick, we are given the physical signs of water and oil to make visible the grace that God bestows on us. In Holy Orders and Matrimony, God unveils his graces through the laying on of hands and the vows made by the couple. In Confession, God gives us the opportunity to directly hear his words of forgiveness and guidance spoken to us through the mouth of the priest. And in the Eucharist, we can draw close to the same Incarnate God who came to us as a human baby. The more I learned about the Sacraments, the more I hungered to receive them, and the closer I came to my decision to become Catholic.
Finally, amidst all the questions running through my head and the doubts and fears about the future of my relationship with Tom and my friendships with my Protestant friends, I went to Adoration for the first time during my year in RCIA after college. As I looked around the Cathedral at the people kneeling before the Eucharist in the intricately-designed, golden monstrance, the first thought that popped into my head was Wait, why are we kneeling in front of a piece of bread?. Then it hit me. Jesus Christ literally stood before me. As I gazed at the humble king, so fragile in the form of a host, I felt the immensity of his glory and love. He who would willfully choose to become a human baby, he who would willfully choose to become a piece of bread for our sake, had been waiting for me my entire life, in every Tabernacle, at every Mass, waiting for me to turn to him and say yes.
When I tell people my journey into Catholicism started when I began dating my now husband, I get a fair share of knowing looks, as if it all suddenly makes sense why I really converted. But the truth is, while my husband played a role in leading me to the Church, I spent hours in prayer, asking God to reveal my heart’s deepest motivations. I wanted to be sure that my choice to convert was pure, wholly a decision I was making for my own good, not for the good of the relationship I was in. I only came to the firm conviction to convert once I felt fully at peace that even if Tom and I were to break up, I would still want to be Catholic. With my eyes fixed on Christ, I raced forward and arrived at the Church. Many others ran beside me, guiding and accompanying me, but in the end, I found myself alone before God in prayer, needing to make a decision for myself. It has been a long, winding journey as a convert, and the way forward stretches beyond what the eye can see, but when I think back on where I came from and where I am now, I feel a conviction in the depths of my heart and a certainty that God has and always will be guiding me towards himself.