Once I became an adult and began my journey into the Church, I reflected on what had brought me here, to this moment, to finally accepting Jesus Christ. It started way before I even realized.
My late grandmother was very Catholic. Her first husband, my late grandpa Norman, died in 1996 when I was about three years old. A couple years later she married her second husband Jim, whom she also outlived. (Only in my recent studies about marriage do I now appreciate how amazing my grandmother was in respecting the Sacrament of Marriage – May God bless her!). The Church was so in my face as a child – it’s amazing it’s taken me twenty years to realize it.
In “My Obsession with Religious Sisters” post, I mention having gone to Ascension for preschool. The parish had been my grandmother’s only parish her whole life, since she only ever lived around the Mt. Tabor area in our home town: she was baptized there, attended Mass all Sundays until she was put in a care home, she was married there twice, and both her husband’s funerals were held there. For a solid four years of my life, the Church was present and it did not stop there.
One of my dearest friend’s was being raised Catholic at the time (regrettably due to familial issues she is no longer active in the Church). I attended Mass with them a couple times when I was younger and I remember a sense of calm, likely mixed in with a sense of trepidation, at the ritualistic sanctity of making the Sign of the Cross with Holy Water upon entering the church, praying (her church had a prayer alcove full of candles to be lit for prayer. I lit one and prayed simply because I enjoyed the symbolism the action and intention represented), and the process to eat some sort of bread thing and drink – what I assumed – was cranberry juice because people telling me that kids could drink wine must have been lying.
All of the times we went, because I was not Catholic, I could not partake in Communion. I felt so bereft and confused. Was I not special? What made these people able to eat this special bread and not me? I know who Jesus is (sorta) – is that not enough? This – possibly, among other influences – could have attributed to my distrust and (almost) complete dismissal of Jesus.
My mother’s mom – let’s call her GMa J – was a non-denominational Christian, even taking it as far as becoming a Reverend, making promo videos out of her home, and hosting Bible study groups. In contrast to the resting peace I felt in Catholic churches, I did not enjoy going to church with my grandma. I detested church – I was too old for the kids section and not old enough for the hour long lectures on life in the adult service. I hated wearing dresses and being talked at. That was all church was to me: torture.
When I asked GMa J why my uncle, who lived with her didn’t have to go, she said “Because he doesn’t have to go if he doesn’t want to.” I thought, But I don’t want to go either. It didn’t take long for me to come to my parents and ask if I still had to visit grandma on the weekends. When they said no, I was all too happy not to go to church – that was the closest and most distant I was going to get to my grandmother.
(I would later learn that GMa J was emotionally unstable, and despite having Jesus to give her salvation, did not right the wrongs and atrocities she had made her children endure while rearing them. Pray for her please.)
Fast forward to the last few years of undergrad. I am single, I am Muslim, and everyone is telling me not to be. My spirit is lost and I am dealing with depression and anxiety. What am I to do? Ironically, through my depression, I met my current boyfriend. We liked each other instantly, tried to keep things casual, and failed. After a few months we sat down and as adults decided we would give each other dating a try.
God was definitely on our side for our relationship.
T – my boyfriend – was raised Catholic but, unlike my father who was also raised Catholic and let the proverbial “Catholic Guilt” go in college, had no desire to convert or try anything else. I was Muslim during this time – or trying to be – and the idea of meeting his Catholic parents who were still attending church made me extremely anxious.
However, my heart was lifted at their kindness, their charity, and their lack of judgment. Here I was (I thought an open-minded Democratic Liberal), full of anticipation and uncertainty to meet Catholic parents, bringing my own misconceptions and judgments to people I had never met. “Can I curse in front of them? Do they curse?” I asked Tom. “What if I say ‘g*ddamnit? Are they Republican? Do they like black people? Are they okay with us dating?”
Jesus has now let me understand the irony of my own preconceptions and how negative judgments limit the informality of person-to-person interaction. How would I like it if people whispered and asked: “Did she go to college? What was her upbringing like? Are her parents married? Does she like white people? Does she have kids?” Etc. Questions based in ignorance should be remedied by seeking knowledge. So I did just that.
T’s parents and family are the kindness folks I have ever met. I saw the genuine character of Jesus Christ within them: charity, kindness, patience. They made me want to go to church to see if there were others like them, to see if the church turned out compassionate human beings.
I almost cried in joy and peace at my first Mass at their parish, which surprised me. It was then that I knew that God was calling me to become Catholic.
By the same token, it was really the death of my great aunt that catapulted me in Catholicism. Her death hit me really hard; I attribute the heightened significance to the passing of my dad’s mother, Grandma C, in 2013. Grandma C was such a compassionate and caring human being that after her death I vowed to spend more time with family – because time is not promised, it is borrowed.
This led me to spend as much time as I could with my great aunt. When I changed jobs, I finally had weekends off, which meant I could come to Saturday breakfast with my great aunt and family to enjoy their company. Tootie – her nickname – passed away in October of 2016 of old age. She was 94. I cried for three days following her passing.
I inherited her 2003 Ford Taurus and think about her everyday I use it. A crucifix from Grandma C hangs from the rear-view mirror, and a pendant of St. Christopher that belonged (and was pinned by) my great aunt still rests in the visor. The car is due for an oil change, but my pocketbook is empty – so may the Grace of God guide the contraption about town until my next paycheck. Amen.
From both of these great women, I learned and saw the truth of compassion, kindness, and love. Whether it came from a genuine character trait within them or was given to them through practicing the Grace of Jesus Christ in their lives (of course, the latter), I felt that Catholicism would be able to tell me how to live peacefully, happily, and healthily.
Now as I type this, I realize that God is and has been ever-present in my life. I realize that the Grace of His Only Begotten Son has guided me to this current place in my life. I am cognizant of the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of the Church. My life is lighter, my heart is not as heavy. Ever day is truly a gift; I am grateful for it.
May God bless you and keep you.