For Father John Golas, a pastor’s pastor
We stood in the doorway of the local parish. “I liked our old church better,” one kid groused. “I don’t want to be here,” another whined. Truth be told, I didn’t want to be there, either.
Let me back up.
At 14, I had a born-again experience when I invited Jesus to be the center of my life.
Years later, I married Peter, also a born-again Christian, and we settled into a large evangelical church. We led youth groups and Bible studies, involved our children in Christian camps and enjoyed our close church community. It was a great life.
Gradually, however, Peter grew concerned about the issue of authority. Who gets to decide what we believe? At the same time, our denomination began funding abortions. This propelled us to look elsewhere.
Peter launched a systematic examination of every Protestant church within a 15-mile radius. His search certainly did not include Catholics.
Slowly, however, curiosity and a desire to be thorough convinced Peter to take a “quick look” at the Catholic Church. He was sure he’d find gaping holes in its theology. After all, don’t Catholics bow down before statues and worship Mary and make up their own rules?
It was a Sunday evening when Peter headed downstairs to read the online Catechism. “I’ll be up in 20 minutes,” he assured me.
Three hours later, a somber-looking husband emerged. “We have a problem,” he groaned. “That Catholic stuff is good. It must be a fluke.”
The problem was that we had promised God, “Whatever it is you want us to do, the answer is yes.”
We didn’t have Catholic in mind.
So Peter delved deeper. He read early church Fathers, historical documents and encyclicals. He compared these with Scripture and grew increasingly alarmed because he kept running into truth. He never did find loopholes.
I had my own questions. Why do Catholics pray to saints? Why aren’t there Bibles in their pews? And if Catholics believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, why aren’t Catholic churches packed every Sunday? It made no sense.
The hardest thing for me, however, was more personal. A born-again Christian’s world revolves around his or her church community. If we were to become Catholic, we’d have to leave it all behind. How could we do that?
I found my answer in a place I did not expect: the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Remember that in the Old Testament, worship involved animal sacrifice. A small amount of the sacrifice was burned; the rest was “ritually consumed.” It was eaten. The sacrifice was not complete until the people had eaten the sacrifice. Think of this in terms of the Eucharist.
Remember, too, that for a Jew, the life is in the blood. Jews do not drink the blood of animals because it’s blasphemous, yet Jesus told his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Why? Because the life is in the blood. He meant it literally.
As I comprehended that Jesus is actually present in the Eucharist, it no longer mattered that Catholics sing badly and don’t serve donuts after Mass. I could receive Jesus.
After three years of begging God to change his mind, we grudgingly acknowledged that the Catholic Church is the original church established by Christ, handed down from the apostles, just as it claims. We said good-bye to bewildered friends and, with heavy hearts, stepped into the strange world of the Catholic Church.
This is where I’m supposed to say that it was glorious, but it was not. The hard part was just beginning.
The church looked funny. It smelled funny. We stood when we were supposed to kneel, couldn’t follow the missal and were confused when the homily ended after seven minutes. What happened to the other 20?
It got worse. No one said hello. The music was anemic. People left early. Our kids were furious.
By the end of Mass, I was in tears. What had we done?
I recalled the writer C. S. Lewis, who reluctantly converted to Christianity when he could no longer deny the truth of the Gospel. On the night of his conversion, Lewis wrote to a friend, “Surely tonight I am the unhappiest Christian in all of England.”
That’s how I felt. We’d done the right thing but it felt miserable.
Again, I found the answer in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I had grasped this truth in theory but it took time for it to travel from my head to my heart. Gradually, imperceptibly, truth reached deep within me, overwhelming me with the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice. Some mornings as I watched the consecration, I wept.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Eucharist changes lives. It has certainly changed mine.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.