My conversion to the Catholic Church took about three seconds. I was an arrogant fool sitting in on my very first Mass and watching it like I'd watch a National Geographic nature film. I was analyzing away, "Those pews are so phallic, who are they kidding that this isn't all about a patriarchy?" when I heard something Jewish. A cantor sang the Psalm. It caught my attention and stopped the haughty drift of my thoughts. I began to be interested. What else might they have stolen from the Jews?
This led to other discoveries, like the parading of the Gospels. "Well, if Jesus does claim to be the Jewish Messiah, I guess there should be Jewish elements in the worship," I thought dismissively until it occurred to me I'd never seen Jewish elements in the Protestant churches I'd attended as a girl. Why not? I puzzled that one out for awhile. I'm not the kind of dog to drop a bone, so I puzzled awhile.
About the time for the consecration (I had no idea what it was called at the time), I had come all the way around to the skeptical thought, actually accompanied by a quiet sarcasm-laden snort, "What if all this were true?"
Then I was hit repeatedly in the head with a 2 x 4. That process took all of three seconds.
I say that comically, but the wave upon wave of revelation breaking over my stunned mind was actually very painful. And beautiful and exquisite and utterly horrifying. I saw things, felt things, all in quick succession with the complete clarity of the words, "It is all true," ringing me like a bell.
Then an actual bell rang signalling the consecration. Jesus himself was upon that altar, and I was done for. I had a choice to make and it was my very last chance. It was true. I could never again deny the truth of it, but I could still deny Him. A yes would cost me every friend I had, the community I'd built, my reputation. Everything. Was I willing to give it all up?
Oh, God, yes.
Then I came back from that heady place to reality where the Mass continued before me. I was Catholic now, but that priest up there on the dais was the first one I had ever been in the same room with. I was Catholic now, but my husband wasn't. What now? I was Catholic, but I had no idea what that meant. I decided to start with the little pamphlet my husband had given me on a whim as we walked past a display on the way into the church. It was on the Rosary. As I read through the mysteries all I remembered of the life of Jesus came back to me. Then I came upon the Assumption.
"The Assumption?" I thought, "What the hell is that?" (The conversion of my heart was won; my conversion of behavior was incremental) I was a dog with a bone again.
The Mass ended. It was a daily Mass, so there wasn't a crowd. The priest was at the back of the church talking with a woman. They both greeted my husband and I warmly, the priest asking a few questions of the new people. He quickly discovered my husband was an ex-Catholic and I wasn't anything I was willing to own up to publicly yet. I said I wanted to join the Catholic church and shot a guilty look at my husband. I knew it wasn't nice to tell him like this, but I didn't have the guts to face him all at once. Maybe he could get over the initial reaction and be polite by the time we got to the car.
Then I blurted out my question before I lost my nerve and before the polite chit chat wound down, "What's an Assumption?"
"The Assumption?" the priest looked surprised. He gave an answer too small to satisfy my hunger, "It was when Our Lady was taken to heaven to reign as Queen Mother."
I pressed for more information and he asked me to make an appointment. I was there the next day and in RCIA by the end of the week. I was a thorn in that program's side. I read book after book, and completely ignorant, each question generated more questions. I took to carrying a notebook to jot them in. People would actually groan when at the end of the RCIA class my hand would go up when they asked, "Are there any questions?" I had pages full.
Somebody in Heaven took pity on my classmates and drew my attention to a bumper sticker with the local Catholic Radio station on it. I tuned in my dial and there I found the depth and breadth I craved.
My husband was kinder than I knew. He had been uncomfortable with the direction our spiritual life had taken us and was relieved to come home to the faith. He joined a Landings Group and began his own Catechesis. Meanwhile, my conversion was a big secret from my family and friends. There were two reasons for this: my family and my friends.
My family was Church of Christ. While it was never spoken of from the pulpit growing up, the handouts available on the tables in the vestibule often held tracts that spouted things like the Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon and the Pope was the Anti-Christ. A few people in the church had family members convert to Catholicism. This news was greeted in the same manner as people whose family members had come down with cancer: with condolences, disbelief, and shocked horror. Although my mother and father made it clear they did not approve of the tracts, neither did they approve of Catholics and their beliefs. I grew up with the impression that they were a strange cult, like the Moonies.
My friends were another matter entirely. They loathed Christians, Catholics especially. One had told the story of her son accompanying her to visit her mother at a senior facility. Some little old ladies in the lobby had made semi-rude gossipy comments about them as they walked past. The little boy got on the elevator, rolled his eyes and said, "Probably Christians." His mother laughed as she told that story, so did everyone present. I didn't. As far from Christian as I was, I thought she was training up a bigot. That's never funny.
I told one friend what was happening with me. She was pretty neutral except that she was worried how it would change the dynamics of our relationship. We still keep in touch loosely. The others were a different story. I announced it finally and endured tears and anger and finally a scathing acceptance of "my truth." I had lost all credibility and, in their eyes, any claim to intelligence. After a few abortive attempts, all contact with that group of friends was lost. No one would return my calls or even my Seasons Greetings Cards. Finally, after a few years I just started sending Christmas Cards thinking what could I loose? One responded and now we exchange biannual letters. The others dumped me because they couldn't be friends with someone like me, an intolerant Catholic.
Hard to believe an average bunch of gals could be so anti-Catholic in this day and age? Not in the New Age. We were actually a group of goddess worshipping pagans and I was a priestess. I was a leader in the community. I taught classes, wrote songs, led rituals, the whole shebang. And for those of you who don't believe in these sorts of things, I was able to do all sorts of unbelievable things, like mild prognostication and other creepy stuff. The allure of these "gifts" is such that I will not go into details. Suffice it to say, my group was astonished that anyone would be willing to give up such power.
Now that I am free, it amazes me how enslaved I was to it all. I didn't see myself as worshipping the devil or demons, I just thought I had found a legitimate power source. I was amazed at the "miracles" I could perform. I was heady with it. The power is the bait. It hooks you and then turns on you. The people involved stagnate and become trapped into cycling through personal issues over and over. It's similar to the stagnation of the personality caused by alcohol and drug abuse, and the experience is very much like an addiction. With this much personal dysfunction, the groups can get ugly. One of the most chilling comments during my "confession" to my group was from the group leader, "There's a reason we used to kill oath breakers." She didn't mean our group in particular but the groups in the largely recreated neopagan past. Her reference was historically dubious, but I was never so glad to dust myself off and move on in my life.
I found myself filling my days not with the chatter of friends, but the chatter of Catholic Radio. It was a lonely but a wonderful time. I was discovering things and growing as a person in ways I never could have imagined. My husband was also undergoing a transformation. Our marriage had never been better. Incrementally, I was learning just how self centered and sinful I was, and I was learning how much I was loved. I had, all my life, yearned for something, unknowing. Now I knew, and I had that something.
In the midst of this, I told my parents. They were not pleased, but they were not condemning either. They said they would tell the rest of the family for me, meaning aunts and uncles. It was their way to spare everyone any unkindness or awkwardness stemming from the initial shock. Then my parents said something that surprised me, "This will be good for your family."
That they found some good in my conversion was an incredible surprise at the time. Of the two groups, family vs friends, I had expected the opposite reactions. I had feared that my family would disown me and expected my friends to work out a new relationship with me. Exactly the opposite occurred. I was disowned by my friends, but my family and I have worked things out.
Why did I visit that church that day? Like any convert I was looking for something and found more than I bargained for. I was considering attending the Catholic Church because I wanted a community large enough to hide myself in. I wanted respectability without having to actually be respectable. In a sense, Cafeteria Catholics evangelized me. I walked in that door thinking I might go to the cafeteria to pick and choose what I wanted from table. I would remain unchanged.
God had other plans.