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The Revert and the Convert: Why We're Catholic, Part 1
In this first installment of our two-part series, I talk about my reversion to Catholicism. In the second installment, Melissa Presser will write about her conversion journey.
The Revert: Jenny duBay
I was raised Catholic. Well, sorta.
Although my childhood was predominately Catholic—and my heart always remained in the Church no matter where my body had to be—my mom was restless. My family was Catholic throughout my earliest years, and due to my deep hunger for the Eucharist and desire to receive the True Presence of Christ, I was given a special dispensation by the bishop to receive my First Communion at a young age, ahead of the usual first-graders who received. With a fervent devotion to our Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, my young soul felt more at home when I was in church than anywhere else.
I’m not sure what my mom was searching for, but her spiritual restlessness soon led the family away from the sacred space of our local parish. We bounced from church to church, denomination to denomination. I think I experienced it all, from Episcopalian to Seventh Day Adventist to Assemblies of God, Baptist and a miscellaneous denomination I can’t quite remember, then back to Episcopalian, then on to the next …
That, combined with my dad’s physical restlessness and penchant for moving his family to different places nearly every year, meant I grew up with very little stability when it came to developing a solid relationship with a local Christian (or even social) community.
Despite her wayfarer ways, my mom would periodically return to the Catholic faith. Every time she did, I felt immense relief, release, and joy. I was back home! I hated being forced to participate in all those other churches, especially in the dreadfully boring vacation Bible schools and obnoxious youth groups. At the Assemblies of God youth group, for example, the other kids pestered and hounded me, insisting I was destined for hell because I didn’t agree with their radical theology. I still professed to be Catholic, and that was a gigantic “no-no” in their eyes.
Yet, despite persecution during those particular years, I still clung to my true faith. It was only in Catholicism that I felt at home, only through the Mass that I felt at peace, whole and holy and nearly able to touch the hem of God’s robe.
At one point in my childhood I developed a deep fear of losing Jesus, so I began a nightly prayer vigil. “Please Jesus, please, don’t let me ever lose you. Please, Blessed Mother, please, don’t ever let me ever lose your Son,” I begged.
I had no idea why I was feeling such intense fear. I couldn’t imagine ever losing Jesus, but still I knew was one thing: I had to pray.
And so I did, faithfully and steadfastly, until the fear eventually dissipated.
Fast-forward nearly twenty years.
How did it happen? How could it happen?
I’d lost Jesus. But he never lost me.
I won’t go into detail about those dark days, because I’ve already mentioned them in another post. Yet throughout all those years when I was a wandering soul, I never lost my deep desire to truly know God, to experience God, to unite with God.
I just had a messed-up idea of who God was.
Finally, not able to stand the separation any longer, I begged the Divine One: Fill me with the ultimate spiritual truth. Give me the wisdom of Solomon. Enlighten me.
God is prompt when someone reaches out in authenticity. I made this prayer my daily morning meditation, and less than a week later, I was rattled and shaken at the response. I received it deep within my innermost self, inside my “Cell of Self-Knowledge,” as St. Caterina of Siena put it.
Suddenly, I knew. I was enlightened. I was filled with sophia—the wisdom of God. That wisdom, that truth, was so clear and obvious, yet so difficult to comprehend (1 Cor. 1:23). The ultimate spiritual truth, the wisdom of Solomon, can be summed up in one amazing and crazy sentence:
Yes! Yes, Jesus is the Son of God.
That wisdom wasn’t at all what I’d been expecting. Up until that point, I’d been in total denial about Jesus’ divinity. Antagonistic, even.
But I could no longer deny the truth. I knew!
Jesus and his Mother had answered my childhood prayer of so long ago, and had led me back home to the truth.
Jesus is the Son of God!
My time away from the Church had led to moral sin and dangerous spiritual wanderings, and I realized I was in need of serious cleansing. My soul required renewal and rejuvenation.
Just as sure as I knew Jesus to be the Son of God, I knew something else: the Catholic Church was where I had to be.
There was no alternative option, because all other denominations would leave me as empty as my search for other spiritualities had. There was always something lacking in those other churches, like a puzzle with a few pieces missing. I could see the image, I knew what it was supposed to be, but it wasn’t complete. I couldn’t quite reach God, not in the way I wanted—or in the way my soul needed. The fullness of the sacramental life simply wasn’t present anywhere else. And so I realized: There is only one Church: the Catholic Church.
After all my darksome wanderings, my soul needed the Sacraments more than my body needed oxygen or water—especially the blessed Sacrament of Reconciliation, which would then enable me to once again receive the precious Sacrament of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Because of my childhood experiences, I was well aware of what the various Protestant denominations offered—and what they lacked. What they failed to offer were the very things my soul yearned for and needed most—true repentance and forgiveness through the cleansing of Reconciliation, the precious Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, a renewal of my Baptismal vows, and a rejuvenation of my difficult marriage by renewing my marital promises through a sacramental rather than a purely secular service.
When asked why I’m Catholic, I can give a variety of reasons. It’s in the Church where I can feel my soul lift, lighten, and fly toward God. I love the sacred beauty of the Catholic Church’s traditions—found nowhere else—and I feel as if I’m touching the hem of God’s robe when I’m in a glorious Gothic cathedral, listening to Gregorian chant, inhaling the sacred prayer-scent of incense, kneeling in Eucharistic adoration, or immersing myself in the Latin prayers.
But, most of all, I must be Catholic because I must have the sacraments in my life. The sacraments have been called “the masterworks of God” for a deliberate and distinct reason—because they’re visible signs in our visible world that confer true, invisible graces from God. Without God’s graces we’re nothing, we have nothing, and our lives crumble to nothing. The sacraments help us communicate with God, hear His voice, and respond to His call.
Sacraments are ‘powers that come forth’ from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are ‘the masterworks of God’ in the new and everlasting covenant … The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the Body of Christ and, finally, to give worship to God.
(CCC 1116 and 1123)
I must have Christ—his real, True Presence. I’m human and keep failing, so I must have Reconciliation. I pray daily that God will not let me betray my Baptismal vows again, and that He won’t let me die without first receiving the Anointing of the Sick and Last Rites.
I pray—and strive—to live and eventually die in God’s embrace. And I need the Sacraments in order to do that.
I can’t go it alone. I know that now. Thank God for His gift of the Catholic Church.