A few weeks ago, Leila at Little Catholic Bubble asked about people's personal faith stories. Cradle or convert? What got you to where you are? I've written about my moment of reversion before, but it's only one moment on a long time line.
Here you go Leila, just because you asked.
I was born and raised in a "Catholic" household. My father was a Naval officer whose faith was more obligatory than personal, and my mother was a girl who had been raised in poverty, but now had acquired a bit of social standing and always seemed slightly embarrassed to not be Protestant.
We prayed at dinner because it was just what we did, but the words themselves were empty ritual. We went to Mass on Sunday mornings more for the social aspects than for anything to do with God. My mother sang in the choir because they were her friends, my father and I read at Mass every week because no one else was willing to do it, my brothers served every week for the same reason. Nobody sat in a pew in our family except my mother's purse. It was not Mass, it was us on parade. We must have been the very picture of the involved Catholic family. It was a facade. There was no substance to our faith. The Catholicism in which we were raised was more like good hygiene, an inoculation against becoming a fanatic "Born Again."
Which is not to say that there was no evidence of our Catholicity in our lives. We went to Catholic schools at the end of the era which still saw nuns teaching . These kind women introduced me to the idea of the Sacraments, saints, and personal sacrifice as a privilege and reflection of God. They took us to Mass twice a week, Confession every other week, and taught us our prayers, and our Catechism. It was under their quiet guidance that I decided I wanted to be a Saint with a capital "S."
When we lost my mother to a traumatic brain injury when I was 14, no priest came to offer Last Rites (that I am aware of), no Masses were said, no prayers were offered. I can't even remember praying at all. The spark of faith I had had as a child had long since died out. The stranger who now lived in her body had a better relationship with God than anyone else in our house, and she would scream at Him in a string of expletives.
My Father fell away completely at this time. He began to question everything he had ever heard or professed to believe. He brought home cassette tapes of dissident priests and made my older brother and I listen. Chief among his new beliefs was the heresy that although Hell may exist no one ever went there. These tapes of "theology" became a regular part of our lives as did the New Age counseling meant to help us deal with the reality of life with a severely brain-damaged parent.
It was during this time that I stopped going to Church altogether. If there was no Hell, no Truth, and a dispassionate God who abandoned us in our pain, then what was the point of worshiping Him? There was a half-hearted token protest from my father, but I got the impression that he was more impressed by my independent thought and spirit than worried about my immortal soul.
I did not go to Church again until I became engaged to the Computer Guy. He was a Lutheran boy, and wanted to be married in his family's church. I enjoyed going on Sunday mornings more for the approval I got from his family than from any spiritual benefit. My own family had completely disappeared, and though I wasn't an orphan I certainly felt like one. Where once was a large family of grandparents, aunt and uncles, cousins, parents and siblings, I now had 4 people who lived far away and one of those was still a child. I loved being a part of the Computer Guy's large loving family. Every Sunday at breakfast, I would fight back tears of gratitude for what I had found. I was ready to convert.
One Sunday, when I was pregnant with #1 and horribly ill with morning sickness, my husband slept in (exhausted from 2 jobs and being a full time student) and I went to the local Catholic Church. I sat in the pew and sobbed as the familiar rituals washed over me. This was home. The longings of my childhood peeked out from the dark recesses of my brain. I was certain that I could never become a Lutheran.
I continued on upon the confusing path I was walking and #1 was Baptized in the Lutheran Church despite my longing to be Catholic. I thought it would be better for her to be raised in the faith of her family. The Baptism itself was a bitter disappointment to me. Lutheran baptisms are so short. I was unprepared for the lack of ceremony. Where was the blessing of the parents? Where was the candle representing the Light of Faith? Where was the chrism? The Tradition? She was a Christian person, but it just didn't seem to be enough.
I told the Computer Guy that I couldn't raise a Lutheran. I didn't know how, and I didn't want to learn. He was as lukewarm in his faith as I was in mine, and he shrugged and told me it wasn't that important. We started going to the Catholic Church. I returned to the facade faith of my youth, completely comfortable and completely unchallenged.
Then #2 was born prematurely and I was awakened to my longing for God. The importance of our Creator was plain before me in the tiny, sick boy in the hospital. God had come looking for me. I was the lost sheep. I became a Catholic Christian in more than name and practice, but in reality. I was in love with my God and His Church.
It took the conversion of my younger brother away from the Church to open my eyes to how much I still didn't know. He was in the army and stationed in Iraq when he started calling me with questions. He had been talking to a Protestant minister who was making him look at what he believed. His poor catechesis and weak faith foundation were no match for the pastor's knowledge. He called me on the weekends disturbed by all he was learning and its contradictions to what he knew. Could I defend it? Did I have the explanations? He was desperate for answers from me. I had none to give him. The watered down CCD of my childhood had left me ignorant.
I began studying furiously in an effort to give him the help he needed. I could not. By the time I had the knowledge, he no longer wanted the answers. He had left the Church. I had found it. There was a beauty and a truth in the writings of long dead theologians which was wholly unexpected by me. There was certainty, beauty, and tradition. There was an entire family for me in the Communion of Saints. There was God here, in the faith and in the Eucharist. I was home again at last, and here I shall remain.