Converts to Catholicism have the reputation of being full of fire for God’s Church. I am really no exception.
I came to the faith in my late 20’s after losing a baby through miscarriage. I was drawn to the Church both intellectually and emotionally. I was drawn intellectually because the Church takes a stand for the unborn.
Unequivocally, it teaches that the life I was carrying was a real baby, not anything else. I was drawn emotionally because the Church validated my grief, and it had mechanisms to help me though that grief process.
But underneath the emotions and the cognitions, there was something much richer that was calling to me.
I was pulled by the Holy Spirit to come deeper into communion with Him. The relationship that started at my Baptism took on new meaning when I was in my darkest hour, as God wrapped me in His grace and pulled me into His church.
I had been raised Christian, by two very Christian parents in a very Christian household. I was baptized as a baby by our Presbyterian pastor. We prayed before dinner every night and attended church every Sunday. From the third grade on, we attended a Congregational church. We did Sunday school, church camp and youth group. My mom and I sang in the choir, and my parents were active with stewardship, diaconate, and trustee boards. I loved getting dressed up for church each Sunday. When the weather was nice we would ride our bikes to church.
As I got older, I increased my involvement. I directed the children’s Christmas program one year. I took organ lessons and substituted once (it didn’t go well). I got a job as the church secretary in graduate school and served on the search committee for a new pastor when our old pastor retired. I loved our the little traditions, like having church outside once a year. Rather than a normal service, it was a trivia day and I loved seeing how much these old people knew about the Bible! The church was more than a church — it was a community. When I married a Catholic, many people thought he would start attending church with me and my family. The distance (and his proclivity to golf when he could on Sunday mornings) didn’t make that realistic. We would go to Mass with his family or service with mine — whatever fit with our schedules. We were mostly social Christians.
In college, I didn’t have much of a church life. I still saw my home church as ‘my church’, but I went to school in another state. I had a really rough patch that first year in college and I did a little church shopping.
For the first time in my life, I attended a Catholic Mass. It was friendly, but not in the same way. There was no fellowship hour after service and considering the fact that it was across the street from a college, I was shocked by the lack of young folks at Mass. I was confused not knowing when to stand or sit or shake hands. Everyone seemed to know what to do but me. And yet, I felt a pull during the worship. It was the complete opposite of my home church. Here, it was all about the Mass and not about the people. I told myself that the draw I felt was in the depth of the tradition, the incense, the prayers. Knowing the worship had its roots in 2000 years of Church history was comforting to me. Summer came and I was happy to come home, get straightened up, and start dating my future husband.
Fast forward about 10 years, and again, I was pulled to the Catholic Church. I wasn’t Catholic. Oh, no. We just went to the Catholic church because it had the best sermons (I didn’t call them homilies back then), a good selection of Mass times, it was close by, and my husband was Catholic. St. Matthew’s was just our temporary church while we were out of state for my husband’s work.
And, then, the unthinkable happened.
We lost a baby to miscarriage. Our little Lily.
And for the second time in my life, I found myself in the darkness. I was lost and my husband brought me to our priest. I had shaken this man’s hands after Mass. I had listened to his homilies. That was about all.
I told him I wasn’t Catholic, but he didn’t care. We told him our story–Lily’s story–and he listened. I cried, of course. Then, he asked me: “How do you feel right now?”
My answer: “Like I am wrapped up in a warm blanket.”
The Holy Spirit was there, holding me, protecting me. I felt His presence.
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Why had I never before recognized that presence?
In all my years of church attendance and worship and service, I had searched for that feeling, that comfort. It was what home should feel like. It was like my mom’s hugs.
It was like magic.
It was the Holy Spirit welcoming me home. It was God’s presence, in persona Christi.
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So I did what every nerd does, I started researching the Church. I stopped taking the Eucharist during Mass (yeah, I know I shouldn’t have been taking it ever but I didn’t really understand that), and started longing for it instead.
Through Baptism, the Holy Spirit ignites a flame within each of us and that flame can be just a flicker or a raging fire. Sometime it is bright, sometimes it seems ready to extinguish. But for the baptized, that flame and God’s grace is always there.
The graces that are poured out in Baptism sustained me through my tough times even though I wasn’t Catholic. The gift of Baptism helped me survive my more rebellious years and brought me back to His church when I was in my darkest hours.
Baptism gives us an indelible mark–it wipes away the stain of original sin marking us as Christ’s Beloved. Once we are His, He won’t ever abandon us.
I wonder what would have happened to me in the college years had I not been marked as Christ’s Beloved. Being confronted with the evil I encountered, would I have been lost to drugs and drink? After the loss of Lily, would I have recognized the goodness around me or would I have hardened my heart? Would I have turned against my husband rather than allowing myself to lose my grief in his love?
Recently, our dioceses started confirming children at the same time that they receive 1st Holy Communion. The change was in large part in response to the growing need our youth have for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in such difficult times. These sacraments, that outsiders often see as pomp and circumstance, are more than symbols. They are nourishing, they are sustaining, they are life saving.
And it all starts with Baptism.
As parents, the best gift we can give our children is a foundation in our Faith. Baptism doesn’t make our children spiritually bullet-proof, but it does provide them with certain armor. They will choose for themselves whether to follow Christ or not. They will decide if they agree with the truths of the Church. They will commit to the tough life of a follower or maybe fall away from the Faith. But baptizing them as babies gives them the initial relationship with our Lord. It gives them a start, an introduction, and a place to come home to when they are lost and afraid. I am eternally grateful to have found my way back home.
MaryRuth is a wife and mamma to four little saints in the making. She weaves together research on child development and practical Catholic parenting on her blog, Parenting with Peer Review.