The last time I set foot (and stayed) in a Catholic Church was 615 days ago at an Easter Vigil. I was born and raised Catholic. During high school I attended a Baptist youth group with my friends, because our church did not offer any activities. At college I may have skipped around to a church to two, mostly out of guilt if my roommates were going, but they were always one way tickets. I went to the Catholic Church on our college campus twice in 5 years.
When I left school I took the first job I was offered working for the Catholic Church and spent the next 12 years devoting all I had to them. Not to God. A lesson I learned later about the difference between serving others and serving others through Christ.
I advanced through several positions and the higher I got, the more I learned about my faith and yet the farther it made me feel from God. There were so many rules, prayers and traditions that I just simply didn’t know, let alone understand. Going with the flow I picked up just enough here and there to get by.
During the final years of my career, my position expanded to include Catholic doctrine on pro-life issues, marriage and politics. The demands were great and people made me feel needed. Perhaps, I thrived off that feeling more than I should have. With all that came working long weeks and many weekends. Not seeing my kids in the morning or before they went to bed. Despite how much I gave of myself in that position, there was always a conflict within me. I felt as though I was juggling between the good Catholic girl who fully believed everything the Catholic Church taught and advocated for those things and the girl who questioned so many things about her faith and beliefs that she wasn’t really sure she believed anything anymore.
I saw up-close the reason why so many people dislike Christians. Hearing Catholic’s condemn others for the choices they were making got to be sickening. You know that whole “unconditional love thing” people preach, well there are certain conditions to that. They aren’t in fine print, so don’t bother looking them up in the bible. Everything they judged I was doing or had done. I was truly a poster child for the wrong way to be Catholic.
The girl, who had used birth control off and on, was teaching natural family planning and telling others to use it, when she didn’t trust in it.
The girl, who understands why cohabitation is not the ideal situation leading into a marriage, but felt as though it worked for her relationship, was preaching against it.
The girl, who should be able to explain the Catholic Church’s strong stance on homosexuality, but had 2 groomsmen in her Catholic wedding party who were dating.
The girl, who didn’t wait until marriage to have sex, that was giving talks to youth about abstinence.
The girl, who is pro-life but had to argue that it was against Catholic teaching to have an abortion under any circumstances, even though she empathized with a woman’s decision to terminate the pregnancy after being raped.
The girl, who hadn’t been to reconciliation since 8th grade, because she felt she didn’t need an interpreter to ask God for forgiveness, encouraged others to go.
And the girl, who was supposed to be a practicing Catholic, was really a member of St. Mattress.
Last year there was a great divide in both my career and my faith that permanently separated me from the Catholic Church and left us searching for what was next. Being denied communion from a faith you truthfully wobbled in, is really a wake-up call.
A friend/neighbor invited us to her church a few months after much of this had happened. I have to admit as we walked in the doors I almost felt I needed to set some personal boundaries. They hug, shake hands, smile and ask how you are. They were genuine, but this was certainly not something I was used to and it was almost a bit overwhelming. (But a piece of me liked it.)
We’ve been attending there for a little over a year now; recently getting a more involved. I served on a retreat for young girls this fall and there was something in the air there that I just can’t quite explain. These ladies, who I joined late in the game, had spent so much time making sure each of the girls who attended felt special and loved. And they did it for me too and I was just a volunteer.
The past year and a half has been difficult for my family, but we have weathered the storm. Losing nearly half our income has made money tight, but we continue to make it. We’ve had a lot of family support and a close group of friends that we’ve made who have kept us going. There was still that hole that just wasn’t quite closed.
Being a part of this new church, as it is in the midst of growing and changing, has been monumental for me. Although it did take me a while to feel connected to the worship style and music; which I now love (except it is a little loud at times). What reached my heart immediately was that every single Sunday I walked away with a message that I could apply to my life or that challenged me. That was something I was missing. I’d walked too comfortably for a long time and I needed to feel the urge to dig deeper and go farther.
I have been involved in a women’s bible study and the other week we were discussing something (probably off topic) and someone mentioned previously being Catholic. I was like – wait, you used to be Catholic? And several ladies said yes. I guess I always felt a little odd transitioning from being Catholic to a nondenominational Christian church. How does that work? Do people even take you seriously if you do? Can you be accepted? A priest told me that once you are a Catholic you are always a Catholic.
At the church service on Sunday November 10, 2013 something unexpectedly came over me. Our pastor was talking about being planted in the church and the commitment we must make even if the future isn’t clear. Behind me sat an older man who had just lost his wife and I could hear him crying softly as we sung. On my heart and mind recently had been a family at the church whose 5 year old daughter is battling cancer. What they are each facing is tremendous, but I see such strength from them as they continue to rely on God, despite not knowing what lies ahead. Suddenly, I asked myself – What am I waiting for?
I had been bitter and guarded this past year at our church. My fear was rejection if people knew the real me or where I came from. I felt that the God I thought I served had been a little absent in our lives as turmoil had poured down recently. Turns out it was me who was out to lunch.
Having been baptized as a Catholic I wasn’t even sure what the rules were on getting re-baptized. My opinion was that it would be a cleansing and a way to start over. I have always believed that Jesus is my savior and that He died on that cross for us. But I had always been timid about taking a huge step and publically telling everyone that I’m putting all my trust and all my faith that He will sustain me if I continue to let Him in. I’ve always recognized the blessings and miracles we’ve rejoiced in, but have never fully given the credit to God.
I was baptized because I am different. My beliefs have changed. For the first time I felt as though I had a true relationship with God in which I can openly discuss what is on my mind and seek guidance. I no longer see a God who is selective in whom He loves and forgives. I felt God saying, “Go. Trust that they will embrace you as I have.” And they did.
*I write this in no disgrace to the Catholic faith. There is much beauty and mystery that it beholds, as well as a rich part of our history. We all have experiences that shape us. This was just one of mine.