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How (and why) I Swam the Tiber: My Catholic Conversion Story (II)

October 16, 2010

It wasn’t long after my convictions on contraceptives changed that my husband and I stopped attending our church. There was concern over a variety of issues that had presented themselves in our congregation, and then with the birth control conviction (which did not go over favorably with those members we shared it with — “you know,” *pause*…*whisper* “the Catholic Church teaches that“) there was the feeling that there were little other options . My greatest desire was to find a “church home” that taught the truth in its entirety. At that point I was quite hopeful. I knew deep down God had to have preserved a church out there that was faithful to ALL of His teachings — it was simply a matter of finding it. However, as I quickly realized, it wasn’t nearly as easy as I had originally figured it would be.

Now dear reader, I want you to understand something. In my particular town and its surrounding areas in Montana (somewhere around 50,000 people), there were 94 different Christian churches that publicized themselves in the local paper. (This was not counting the Catholic Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Mormons — all groups we considered to be definitively non-Christian.) Knowing that there were several churches that did not advertise, the total number was somewhere around 100 churches to choose from! Talk about intimidating!

(Statistics show that about 40% of our town’s population affiliate themselves with a religion [not necessarily Christian, however], which comes to about 20,000 possible church attendees. All said and done, that is a separate and unrelated church congregation, each with its own unique theology and practices, for every 200 people!)

I sat down with the list of churches available to us and began by striking off all those we knew outright wouldn’t be an option. We already had the deep and unwavering conviction on the necessity of baptism for the forgiveness of sins (but at the time rejected infant baptism), and so almost every church on the list was struck out of the running immediately. With our contraceptive views, the selection became even narrower. In fact, it was essentially nonexistent. I think only two or three “possibles” remained. In many ways this saved us a lot of time — we didn’t have to spend Sunday after Sunday church hopping until we found “the one.” But on the other hand, the possibility of finding the church we both desired was looking rather bleak.

After checking out the “possibles” via websites, only one seemed like a viable option. It was a very small, fundamentalist church that was part of the Quiverfull movement. We packed up and drove 40 minutes away to attend the church one Sunday, the address firmly in hand. What we found was a fly fishing shop and nobody in sight. Looking back, I can’t help but chuckle. That obviously wasn’t where God wanted us. 🙂  But at the time what I felt was that I was so lost, alone in a sea of churches and absolutely nowhere to go without compromising.

I knew I couldn’t do that. It was all or nothing now. “Go big or go home,” a friend said recently. That was me. I had to have it all because I believed God wanted me, and everybody, to have it all. There was no point in settling for “almost.”

I don’t recall exactly how or when it happened but it was somewhere around this time that my husband and I were flipping radio stations in the car, becoming increasingly appalled with the shallow and worldly content on our local “non-denominational” Christian radio station, when we stumbled upon Relevant Radio — the local Catholic talk radio. My husband and I were so impressed with the knowledge and orthodoxy of the various hosts, and the depth with which they discussed Christian topics, that we left it on. Over many months we continued to listen to it, and every time a distinctly Catholic doctrine or practice was discussed we would angrily mutter our rebuttals at the car speakers.

Then one day, driving home with my 1 year old daughter in tow and my son growing in my belly, I heard something that would change my life forever.

During a commercial break on the radio a soft-spoken man came on and began reading from John 6 (specifically from what is known as Jesus’ “Bread of Life” discourse, John 6:22-71).

“Oh good, some Scripture,” I thought, pleased.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

I had read these verses many times. They were peculiar. They made me feel a bit uncomfortable, actually. I had to admit, I tended to just gloss over them. Yet, something was catching my attention this time…

“The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.'”

“Hold on a minute,” I thought to myself. “Whoever feeds on his flesh? His blood is true drink? Is he saying what it sounds like he’s saying? …No, surely not.”

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

My mind was reeling. It sounded so clear. So black and white. But…certainly Jesus didn’t intend for it to be taken literally…right?

The soft-spoken man on the radio didn’t stop, and thank God he didn’t because what he read next stopped me dead in my tracks.

“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’… After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.'”

I couldn’t believe my ears. The disciples had understood it exactly as I just had, and instead of correcting them or chiding them for their literalness, what did Jesus do? He challenged the fact they were offended! In fact, the words Jesus had just said were so explicit and taken so literally, with absolutely no correction or further explanation by Jesus, that many who had followed him up until that point just…walked away. It must have been so many that Jesus felt compelled to ask if even the Twelve wanted to turn back! (He risked losing even them?)

My heart burned within me. I felt as if I could burst. Yes…yes! What Jesus said is…true. It has to be. How could I have missed it?! All these years I understood nothing. Suddenly I felt like I had just walked out of a dark tunnel into incredible light.

So, dear reader, now you know. It was there: two blocks from my house on a warm afternoon in early summer, listening to a soft-spoken man do nothing but read the Bible, that God made my ears to hear and my eyes to see. And in a flash, in a matter of mere moments, I believed.

One Comment
  1. eln permalink

    Quite wonderful.

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