Church in the Wildwood: A Story

I originally wrote this post on June 4th, 2017 or Pentecost. It took me a very long time to write this, and an even longer time to decide to publish it. When I announced my conversion to Catholicism on social media, the situation became very nasty, very quickly. I know that whatever is put on social media is for the world’s consumption, and I didn’t expect everyone to agree with my choice. I even expected a few objections.

However, I just didn’t expect the enormous social media blow back. Facebook statuses were composed, indirectly directed towards me. Other posts were written, with my name not used. I was unfriended. It was open season. I’m no martyr for the Faith, but those actions and words hurt. I know some of these people may see this post, and that’s fine. I forgive them, not for their theological opinions and beliefs that they are free to have and express, but for their nasty outreach tactics.

For you dear readers, I pray you find your way to Jesus, Our Eternal Hope.

-Sarah, July 10, 2017

Chapel, Eifel, Germany, Wayside Chapel

An April 2002 quote by the late Richard John Neuhaus, founder and editor of First Things, captures the spirit of my post in complete clarity (changes my own):

I became a Catholic in order to be more fully what I was and who I was [in the Churches of Christ].

If you’ve followed my writing for a while, you probably know I’m a decent writer, but I’m not terribly eloquent or convincing. I’m not a trained Catholic apologist, and I’m not as intelligent as I once thought I was. That’s why it’s taken a while for me to put my mind and thoughts to the page regarding my decision to join the Catholic Church. On Pentecost, today’s feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection, I want to talk with you about church, changes, and the joy of the Lord.

I was raised in the Churches of Christ. My little church, however, was different that other Churches of Christ. While we didn’t use instruments in corporate worship, we didn’t believe that those who chose to attend other congregations in town (Baptist, Methodist, Christian), were bound for hell because of they are worshiped in  “denominational churches” or had piano accompaniment.

Like Neuhaus, who was raised Lutheran, I cherish, and still cherish, my spiritual heritage in the Churches of Christ. The little Church of Christ around the corner is where I was baptized, took communion on a weekly basis, and was instructed the in the tenets of Christian orthodoxy. I truly do not remember a time when I did not know of Jesus Christ and His presence in my life.

Yet, I struggled with a strange emptiness. I am a firm believer that if you have a problem with whatever church you’re attending, the first step is to look in the mirror. Usually 95% of the time, you and I are our own problems in any given situation. Despite my own self-assessments, this emptiness followed me to college where I faithfully church-hopped for four years. I went to churches in traditional buildings with stained glasses and padded pews, I went to churches in store-fronts and refurbished supermarkets with rock bands. (At one church, the minister and his wife took me out for lunch, and I never returned. I still feel guilty about it).

But, the one time in the four years I attended Catholic Mass with my friends, I was at peace. In high school, my Catholic friends would talk about their Lenten fasts, Ash Wednesday, Advent, and liturgy. In my heart, I wanted what I saw as a fullness of the faith. But, I stayed away. In college, I continued to bury my feelings about Catholicism, but voraciously devoured the writings of and by the saints. In the courses for my religion minor, I almost always wrote about topics regarding Catholicism. For my English oral exam my senior year, my exam partner and I talked for the better part of an hour about female martyr saints. I admired and knew so much about the Catholic faith, but I hadn’t taken a step.

Several months after college, while beginning a Fulbright year in Korea, a few other grantees and I were looking for a local church to attend. I watched as two of my fellow teachers boarded a bus to a local Catholic church. I so badly wanted to go with them, but instead I traveled with the majority of Christian teachers to a local Methodist church. I struggled with my faith. Not in a “I don’t know if I believe who Jesus said He is,” but in a “I don’t know where I belong in my faith journey.”

I asked (maybe hinted to) God about my feelings.

For the next ten months, I lived with a host family: Catholic mom, non-religious dad, and two kids. It was some of the best months of my life. In July 2013, I returned back to the States and taught in Western Kentucky for two years. During my second year in Western Kentucky, on Thursday afternoons I tutored English language learners at the local Catholic school for a semester. I yearned to be part of the Catholic Church even more.

At this point, you may wonder: Sarah, why didn’t you just start going to a Catholic parish? The short answer: My faith was inhibited by anxiety. Though firm in faith, the Churches of Christ tend to emphasize dotting every “I” and crossing every “T,” lest one lose his salvation. Growing up, Catholicism was cast in such a negative light (not necessarily by my parents), and I was scared of the thoughts I was having about the Catholic faith. For years, I was between a rock and a hard place.

Fast forward to November 2016, and I found my courage and decided to enroll in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults or RCIA. The first Sunday I was to attend, I chickened out. Seriously. I was that afraid. I curled up in bed when I should have been in my formation class. I was like a dog who had finally caught the car she had been chasing, only to wondering “Wait, what?”

After the next Sunday, the rest was history. I cannot tell you how many times I found myself near tears or in tears during the Mass, or how many “Aha!” moments I’ve experienced before and after my Confirmation this past Easter. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve felt sweet relief from anxiety and pain (imagined and real) after receiving the Eucharist. I cannot tell you how sweet it is to spend an hour with Jesus during Adoration. I cannot tell you how simply wonderful and full my faith is. I believe that God was calling me to the Catholic faith for years, and in His blessed timing, I was able to find my place. I am home, and I am in a state of peace I simply cannot put into words.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with this:

Maybe you don’t know Jesus. Maybe you do, but you’re not sure what to do next. Maybe you’re in a very difficult spot in your life and you’re not sure where God is. You scroll through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and see a perfect world that others are living. You feel alone and forgotten and full of fear. But, here’s the catch: everyone is broken.

There is no perfection. Only Jesus.

I encourage you to say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). I can’t promise you that life will become a bed of roses, in fact, after choosing to follow Jesus, your life may become more difficult. Why? Because our enemy, the devil, hates it when he loses. Don’t be fooled: evil will work overtime when you surrender yourself to the King of the Universe.

Jesus did not promise us a carefree life, but He did promise that He would be there as we go through the difficulties. I encourage you to hand yourself over to Him, and to listen to His call on your life. You are worth so much to Him. You were created in His image.

Finally, to paraphrase quote my friends over at Catholic Bridge,

If you are not a Catholic we suggest that you ask Jesus what he would have you do next. We trust He will guide you. Ask him where he wants you. Ask him to surround you with believers. Ask him to guide you to the church that He would have you attend. We believe the answers will come if you sincerely ask. We encourage you to read the Bible every day and ask Jesus to guide your every step. Jesus led me to the Catholic Church. Perhaps that will be where your road will lead also. If it does, I hope to meet you some day. I put that in God’s hands. May God bless you and keep you until that time.

May God bless you, friends. I pray that my story can help you find the faith you need or encourages you in the faith you already have. Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever!





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