Friday, February 27, 2015

My Conversion Story: Part III

About 6 years into my Catholicism, not much had changed.  Yes, I had deeper and deeper knowledge and inner conviction of the faith, based mostly on theological, biblical, and doctrinal issues.  But my heart was as hard as ever.  I continued to commit mortal sins without confession.  Outwardly, I was a "good Christian girl," and yet inwardly, I was in rebellion, I was stagnating, I was making no progress.  I remember being so irritated at the change of the Latin translation that took effect in 2011 that I thought about becoming Episcopalian.  I had so many gay friends that I didn't know how I could be in a Church that didn't "support" them.  I felt like conservative Catholics were taking away my Church and splitting hairs.  Basically, I was using a small issue [the new Latin translation] to be an "excuse" for my greater discomfort.  The discomfort came from my sin, not from anything else.  I didn't understand the Church's true teachings on sexuality.  I figured, I wasn't able to live up to them, why would I tell my gay friends that they had to live up to them?

In the meantime, my life was falling apart a little bit.  I had a series of losses in my life.  Within the span of 15 months, 5 people in my life had died.  2 were elderly, after long illnesses, but 1 was not.  It was a horrible, surprising death.  Way too young.  And the remaining 2 deaths were murders of a couple - and to make things worse, I knew the murderer.  It rocked me to my core.  I wasn't that close to the murdered couple, but I knew them well enough to have been a small part of their lives.  We saw each other weekly at church, occasionally shared a meal afterwards, attended a Bible study together at one point, and were friends to the extent that we exchanged cards and gifts at special holidays and prayed for one another's families.  While I was mad at the Church for being so conservative, their deaths really forced me into a little better place, morally speaking.  I call it "white knuckled sobriety."  I refrained from several of my serious sins after their death, not because I had gone to confession or had a true change of heart, but because I was scared of hell.  I knew I shouldn't be doing those things in the first place, and I was reminded that death could happen at anytime, to any of us.  In the midst of all this death, my brother was going through a divorce, the only divorce on one side of our family for generations.  It was hard on all of us.  My sister was getting married amidst major drama and disapproval from my parents.  And, at work, I was being sexually harassed.  Needless to say, it was a stressful time.  As a result, I developed insomnia for the first time in my life.  I know it's silly, but I would have nightmares about the murder of my friends.  Their home was constructed in a way that was very similar to my home.  I would see their dead bodies in my home in my mind's eye, as if it had happened there.  I would sleep for a few hours at a time, then wake up with a racing heart beat and a racing mind.  I would be sick to my stomach.  I would have major anxiety about what the next day held at work with my harasser.  It was awful.

During the insomniac phase, I had a habit of listening to Catholic radio or Catholic podcasts to pass the time.  I would leave the lights off, close my eyes, and rest, but not sleep.  I figured, at least these radio shows or podcasts wouldn't disturb me further.  And, falling asleep to them, if I did sleep, would put something good in my mind for a change.

One night, I was doing just that.  I was listening to Catholic Answers, and the guest was Rosalind Moss (before she became Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God).  The caller was asking something about whether or not she should be single or married, and how to know God's will.  Sister Rosalind's answer was basically that, no matter what vocation we are called to, we are called to give our lives away completely.  To live as selflessly as possible.  That might mean being a wife and a mother.  That might mean joining a religious order or consecrating one's singleness to God.  It didn't really matter which vocation it was, it was how we lived it.  There was something about the way she said it, and what she said, that caused me to sit up in bed.  In the middle of the night, with the lights off, in the middle of my insomnia and insanity, I started to cry.  I cried tears of mourning.  It's as if I realized in that one instance that I had been totally selfish with my life.  I had used my intellect and drive to collect everything I could for myself, to make my life as comfortable as possible, and to "achieve" in the worldly sense.  I had pursued worldly pleasures with an outward guise of religiosity, but no real devotion to God.  I took for granted that these were my choices to make, my life to live.  That caller and Rosalind's answer brought me back to the Catholic Church.  I hadn't really left, at least physically, but my heart was far from God.

Still, it took a few months to get me into the confessional.  I had such a nagging sense that I needed to go to confession.  I went once, when converting to Catholicism, at age 25.  From then on, I would go to the community penance services at Advent and/or Lent, but I never went to individual confession.  I really wanted to go behind a screen, and I really wanted to go to a priest who didn't know me.  I was scared of those things.  But, I also really didn't want to change my life, and I used all of these as an excuse not to go.

One day at work, not long after hearing this radio show with Rosalind Moss, I went to a lecture about academic honesty.  Keep in mind, this was in the midst of my "white knuckled sobriety" phase (refraining from serious sin, simply out of sheer will power, not due to grace).  The lecture stated that by simply posting things like the 10 commandments in public places, people behave better.  They are reminded of greater principles and what is right and wrong.  Even if they don't know the 10 commandments, by displaying them (or something similar, such as a list of rules), students cheat less.  Part of the lecture involved an exercise in which we were asked to list as many of the 10 commandments as we could.  I remember entering into a discussion with my Protestant co-worker about how Catholics and Protestants divide the 10 commandments differently (and NO, it's not because Catholics want to have permission to worship idols).  Somehow, I kept that piece of paper with the 10 commandments on it.  Over the next several weeks, I kept looking at it, thinking with regret that I had broken all 10.  That piece of paper gradually became my first, true examination of conscience.  And yes, I had broken all 10.  I had taken birth control pills for a few years, not knowing their abortifacient properties.  Not only that, but I had taken the "morning after pill" several times, knowing that it would "prevent" a possible pregnancy.  I could have been responsible for the deaths of several conceived babies, who never had the chance to be implanted or born.  God only knows.

Thanks be to God, I finally sought out a priest who would hear my confession behind a screen - a priest I didn't know.  I took a modified version of that list of the 10 commandments and explained to him how I had broken each and every one.  I explained that it was my first confession in 6 years.  Speaking the things aloud that I had done brought me to tears.  The jig was up.  Despite outward appearances, I was ultimately a proud, selfish, sinful person.  His gentle voice told me that I could always begin again, that God was delighted in this, and that it was the perfect time (Advent) to prepare anew for the Savior.  And, with his words of absolution, I was finally set free.

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

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