Friday, February 27, 2015

My Conversion Story: Part II

Perhaps it's odd to those who were raised in more moderate households, but I didn't tell my family of my conversion to Catholicism.  I remember feeling a false guilt as I entered a Catholic church each week for RCIA - "if they could only see me now," I would think.   God bless my parents, but I knew they would stop at nothing to keep me from converting.  Nothing.  This includes kidnapping, taking away my car (which was a gift from them), barring me in my apartment in order to prevent me from attending my own confirmation, and possibly causing a huge scene if they were to attend the confirmation.  I'm not exaggerating.  I know this because I saw what they did to another beloved family member who wanted to become Catholic.  They sat her down for hours and had a one-sided lecture.  They traveled across the country to intercept her unexpectedly and confront her again.  They harassed her with letters upon letters.  They berated her, called her character into question, involved the Protestant leadership at her church.  They firmly believed she had "never really been a Christian" and that she was deceived.  She was dragging her family to hell and must be stopped.  So, based on their past reaction to a family member more distant to them than me, their own daughter, I opted not to tell them.

The experience of my first confession was something I will never forget.  I was scared to death.  I had a concert to play really quickly after the penance service.  My RCIA director was there, noting who did and who did not participate in their first penance.  Intellectually, I was convinced of the necessity of this sacrament by this time.  (Thanks in large part to Leonard Foley's book Believing in Jesus).  I understood it as making amends for our sins, which affected the whole church.  Therefore, we must "apologize" to the whole church.  This is close to actual Catholic teaching on Reconciliation, but it doesn't fully grasp all that it is meant to be.  Frankly, I loved the concept, but I didn't want to tell a stranger all that I had done, especially not to his face.  I really wouldn't have done it if it weren't required as part of being confirmed.  The devil really tried to keep this from happening in so many ways.  One was that the line was moving quite slowly, and I had to play at a concert in a short time after.  I was going to be late if I didn't ask to cut in front of some people.  Graciously, they let me go ahead.  The priest was really surprised when I said, "This is my first confession."  At one point, when he said a prayer (of absolution, I'm guessing), he held his hands out to pray.  Quickly, I grabbed them, and held his hands as he prayed.  I know now that holding hands with the priest during confession isn't exactly correct form, but he was so kind.  I was so shocked that "that was it."  I had just dumped 25 years of sins on this man, and all I had to do was say a few prayers.  The mercy was overwhelming.  I left for the concert.  I remember wondering if I looked different.  I certainly felt different.  That night, I slept better than I have slept in my whole life - before or since.  I had a feeling of lightness, a feeling of true freedom and God's love.  It was so foreign.  I did quickly lose that feeling again, after getting back into sin, but the experience was so real that I will never forget it.  

After I was confirmed, I still retained many of my other more liberal beliefs.  And by retaining them, I was, in essence, a "cafeteria Catholic."  I justified this to myself by thinking things like, "God knows my heart," "I'll never be perfect," "I believe the essentials."  And also, I didn't really know ONE Catholic my age who practiced the faith in areas of sexual abstinence, refraining from being drunk, etc.  Despite my intellectual conversion and belief in the Real Presence, I still had this one prejudice and bias against Catholics.  It was, "No one really follows Catholic beliefs anyway.  Why should I?"  Oddly enough, it took me years to recognize the flaw in this reasoning, or to even realize it was there.  I did get to know many, faithful, wonderful Catholics who strove to follow Church teaching.  Many of them were much older than myself, but gradually, I saw that many do follow Church teaching.  It was I who didn't.  And, besides, that which makes a teaching true is not "how many people follow this teaching," but, "is this true or not."  I had professed and agreed to following Christ and His Church, yet I still rebelled.  

See parts I, III, and IV of My Conversion Story.

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