Encountering Catholicism – part 4

PRESENT HERE

+JMJ

This is a continuation of my conversion story to the Catholic Church from Protestantism. The last part talked about how I was attached to Protestant services and didn’t want to consider any sort of liturgy.

Despite everything I liked about the Protestant community I was part of, I continually felt a great anxiety after every service. I knew it was probably because God didn’t want me there, and wanted me to come back to the liturgy. Yet I didn’t want to acknowledge it. My heart was not open to God’s Will, so I felt anxiety instead of peace. My conscience was not clean because I wasn’t truly responding and holding on to my attachments. God eventually had much compassion on me and allowed me to see my error…

I was studying for a university exam and decided to take a little break. Since I was researching Catholicism at this time, I went to a website to read a bit about Our Lady and found a page on the Mass. I only remember one sentence – “the Mass is the holiest moment of our lives”. This was the phrase that turned around my whole little world. I suddenly saw, with perfect clarity – the type of clarity I wanted all this time yet also feared – that God wants reverence. Liturgy. The Sacraments. I remembered the Orthodox liturgies and knew – they are valid.. and the Protestant Communion I had didn’t have whatever they had. I wish I could say that my response was an immediate “yes”. Instead, it consisted of many tears and eventually, a half hearted “yes.. but can I still attend the Protestant services sometimes?”. Even that didn’t last long.. because in a few days, I got so frightened of the change (“would  I LOSE my relationship with Jesus?” I wondered..) – that I confused myself and no longer felt sure of anything.

It is a story of great Mercy on God’s part towards a sinner like me.. because He didn’t stop even then. He didn’t give up… and sent me some words through a Catholic friend who had no idea of what had happened in my heart. I will forever remember and treasure them because immediately I received the grace to trust God and respond to what He was asking. I’m still amazed at God’s mercy that He did so much to bring me home.

I came back to the Orthodox Church after this.. yet I felt my journey wasn’t finished. As I continued to research Catholicism, my beliefs started to change, with a profound sense of peace. God did it all and encouraged my cooperation which up to this point had been fearful and uncertain. I would spend time researching about Catholicism but became very lost about whether I should be Catholic after all. I was extremely fearful of making the wrong choice. In the end, I just began feeling extreme peace about Catholic doctrines – and God would somehow just give the grace to believe them. One day, I realized all my beliefs are Catholic, and decided to finally try and go to Mass!

Then I tried praying to the Saints… The first time it was with much fear. I’m forever grateful to St Therese for helping me with this. There’s a novena to her asking for a rose… I wasn’t sure but prayed it, and looked up to find a vase of roses placed in front of me. Roses continued to appear in striking ways throughout the novena. There’s nothing to boast of here because people with strong faith do not need signs. My faith was shaky and fearful. Yet from this, I began to believe. I am sharing this as a way to thank her and to encourage devotion to this beautiful Saint. St Therese must have prayed hard for me because despite all my uncertainty and fears, on Easter of 2009, I finally became Catholic. God brought me home… Or literally carried me, as I was unable to do it. Deo gratias!

Needless to say, my relationship with Jesus didn’t ‘end” when I became Catholic. Instead I found how my relationship with Him as a Protestant was real, but limited in ways. Now, I could receive Him physically into myself! God is infinitely greater and more loving than I ever imagined.

The writings of the Saints are what introduced me to Jesus in a deeper way. I saw the love of God that I always sought out as a Protestant. A love that is infinite, that is like a fire, infinitely sweet, vehement, consuming, tender. Like living water and a brilliant light that overwhelms us. A love that becomes impossible to live without and makes one want to give everything. The ideas I read about went beyond anything I had known… like before, here was a Christ who loved me, but loved incomprehensibly, thirsting for me, waiting, lonely and rejected by so many, hidden in the Eucharist – a Christ who desires reparation. My faith was previously more about me and my feelings.. here, so much was about His feelings. Bringing Him joy and consolation. What is it like for Jesus when I visit Him? Would He have a heart in which to find His rest? His Heart is our Heaven.. can our hearts be heaven for Him, to shield Him from the pain of being rejected by millions of souls? Here was Christ who is in agony on the Cross, desiring our hearts to be immersed in the consuming fire of His Heart. The intensity of the imagery of the mystics: Jesus’ Precious Blood, value of suffering, Christ’s loving embraces, the Crucifix, prayers as arrows to wound Jesus’ Heart with love – all of this was so new and so ..”Catholic”. You could tell right away this was going to be a Sacramental religion. There was nothing abstract. It was unbelievably intimate, vivid – after all, we can eat and drink His Body and Blood…

It was all irresistible and drew me in but at times also surprised me, because the Saints were sometimes so bold, and their language was so passionate, and they stopped at nothing to love Him. I saw God’s love is so much greater than I thought it was, so much more intimate and powerful. I could see their longing for God, a longing that was so strong. How God loves us, that our hearts could be so consumed by Him, that we want nothing else, only complete union with Him, to have Him only and completely, being lost forever in His Heart.. His Heart is our Treasure, more beautiful and precious than gold and silver. And when He reveals Himself to the soul it is in glimpses that only further inflame this thirst for Him. I began realizing that this is only a tiny echo of the longing that God feels for us, hidden in the Holy Eucharist in the Tabernacle, – like He told Sr Josefa Menendez, He waits for a soul all night until she comes to receive Him in the morning…

I could see why the Sacred Heart devotion drew so many of the Saints to Him – it is a devotion centered on His love. These spiritual ideas give more peace and consolation that anything earthly. From the moment of reading about these ideas, I saw that this is what I have been looking for as a Protestant. I was searching for Jesus, I wanted Him to be physically present among us, and there He was, hidden in a little Catholic church across the street – forgotten, unknown, and so little loved.

(image credit: http://holycardheaven.blogspot.ca/

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