I was baptized a Catholic when I was a baby. I grew up going to church and attended Catholic schools. It would be ridiculous at this stage to say that I am still Catholic only for these reasons; it would indicate some type of immaturity on my part, as it would say that I have accepted this faith on other people’s assumptions of it and on traditions. While these things contributed to my remaining Catholic, they are not the reason for it. And contrary to what some people assume, reason actually has a lot to do with it (along with logic, research, and the gift of faith).
Once I entered high school I became supported by a number of adults who carried the gift of faith proudly. I feel that I can really pinpoint the change in myself, in taking on the faith through my own choosing, during my high school years in large part due to these adults who had no problems sharing their faith with me, evangelizing me and giving me the opportunity to explore faith and Jesus.
I’d love to have a story in which there was a significant moment in which everything made sense and when I made a final and devout commitment to Christ and the Catholic faith. As some would say, to have a Paul conversion experience:
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ He answered, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Acts 9: 1-19.
In fact, my experience resembled nothing like this at all (but it sure is dramatic!). And thankfully this isn’t the only experience in Scriptures I can relate my own conversion to. No, my example resembles that of blundering, mistaken-filled, confused Peter. As Jesus would say to him on occasion:
“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:31.
“Are you also still without understanding?” Matthew 15:16.
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Matthew 16:23.
Peter: Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
These are just a few examples I can totally relate to. And just from one Gospel (though except for John, they do mostly cross-reference). Thankfully Peter’s experience doesn’t end on these notes. He may have continued to be a little confused, made some blunders (had a major dispute with Paul in which he was wrong), but he is most definitely on fire for Jesus after the resurrection, as the letters following the gospels tell us.
This is really how I felt high school was for me – blundering and confusing in my faith, but still on fire in my relationship with Jesus. One of my high school youth ministers, Sr. Sheila, planted the seed in me of studying theology after high school. She probably thought the seed would remain dormant (or didn’t realise she had planted one), but after several years it emerged again and firmly took root when I was deciding what do to after completing my Culinary Arts certificate. After some deliberation, I started my theological studies at Newman Theological College.
This was definitely an interesting turn of events. It took my blundering and confused (but still zealous!) faith and threw it in the fire. I watched it burn. I felt like I was burning with it. Analogously, I was, and so was my faith. It was being refined, as gold is refined in fire. All the questionable things I believed were being either burned or cleansed to reflect what the Catholic faith in Christ Jesus truly believes. It was a hard process, because not only was I having to redefine my perspective on faith, but I was being marked on it (double-whammy!). But I survived. My understanding of what constitutes my faith and why it is this way became much more clear than it had been before (though as any theologian would say, the more you learn, the more you realise you will never fully understand). I am a far stretch from perfectly understanding my faith. Even the saints do not claim such lofty goals. But I can proclaim the Gospel undimmed and even know a little bit about it now.
My conversion is not complete. I will be continuing this journey for the rest of my life, but I have learned enough to know that, through God’s gift of faith to me, I can joyously continue to choose this life every day. I am thankful that I had the great opportunity to truly learn my faith so that I am not trying to reason with problems or situations with only a high schooler’s grasp of Christianity (which is ultimately, an immature grasp due to the nature of adolescent growth). If that were the case, I’m not sure if I would have easily continued in my faith. I have found that there is so much complexity in life and in faith that having a group of people versed in our faith to support and enter into dialogue with about issues and problems has become a necessity for me. Faith by oneself is not faith. It is rather a view that looks upon oneself as the answer (as I realised at a point in my own conversion). I need my community to know God and to know Jesus, lest I end up in a vacuum. Faith cannot be separated from community and community is needed to understand our relationship with God. I find solace in this – my community is not perfect, but it is striving to be at one with God. I fit in perfectly with that image – I am not perfect, but I am striving to be in good relationship with my God.
So while many people have great testimonies that are full of zeal and drama (and I love hearing them), I fit in closest with the “dumb but learning” crowd. I don’t take too many leafs from St. Paul, but perhaps one day I will. If I don’t, I feel like I’m still in good company and until then, I’ll continue rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ Jesus and his invitation to me to have life, and have life to the full.