My friend Anna Eastland and I are both bloggers, moms with four girls, and converts to the Catholic Church. Today, I’m delighted to share with you Anna’s conversion story. Like my story, hers starts with a young Catholic guy she liked… but I think that’s just the hook that God used to pull both of us closer to Him.
I would love to tell you about my conversion, which has been the biggest blessing of my life. I was born into a family without a clear faith tradition. My parents were interested in eastern philosophies and practices such as meditation, reincarnation and vegetarianism. So I knew more about astrology than Christianity growing up, and only knew the negative religious stereotypes the media loves to focus on. In my ignorance, I thought religion was creepy and all about death.
I knew nothing much of prayer, though I was lucky enough to live in the countryside for a number of years and to feel in nature the draw to be more contemplative… aware of something bigger and more beautiful than myself.
Meeting A Catholic
I worked for a few years after high school in a café, and that’s where God captured my heart, through a handsome young university grad, James, who is now my husband. He started working there, too, and we began dating. I fell in love with him before I even realized he was Catholic, so it was too late to run away! Happily, my petty jealousy of this “God fellow” who took up so much time on Sunday drove me to start going to Mass with James.
At first I was very uncomfortable, because I was so self-conscious and thought everyone would know I was a stranger who had no idea what this was all about. The only comfort I found at first was in a statue of a smiling woman holding a baby. I couldn’t be afraid of her. She seemed so serene and happy, and made me feel more at home. So I always feel very grateful to the Blessed Virgin Mary, because it was her gentle mother’s touch which calmed my initial fears.
Once I was able to listen better in church, I realized that the message of hope, love and redemption being preached was very beautiful. I began going to college and took ethics, and would always have many questions for James. What does the church teach about this! What about that? Being a convert, too, he took his faith seriously and had studied these topics as well.
We had many intense discussions, but what I always came away with was the sense that the view of the Church was the most unified… in the sense of always respecting the innate dignity and sacredness of every human being, no matter what their external circumstances. This contrasted with the shifty utilitarianism being taught at school, which said that the end justified the means, and evil could be done in the name of good.
Another major factor for me was how whole-heartedly James’ Catholic friends embraced me from the start, even as a quirky teenager (I was only 19 when we met). They saw the good in me, and their love and acceptance helped me to blossom. I’m sure their many prayers also did much good!
After a few years of struggling to reconcile my new growing faith with phantom fears about rejection from my family and old friends, I went on a beautiful retreat for young Catholic women. After the others went to confession and spiritual direction with the priest, I went in to talk to him and explained everything, especially my worries.
He made the matter very simple by asking, “Do you want to be a child of God or not? Nothing else really matters.” Somehow this shook me out of my worry-spiral and made me realize that I just needed to follow my heart, and God would take care of the rest. As if to show his loving providence, James and I were engaged the day I returned from the retreat!
Reading about St. Maximilian Kolbe
I continued to learn about the faith, but the real clincher for me was when I read the biography of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who was martyred at Auschwitz. He was a gentle, poor Franciscan who used the modern media (at that time typewriters and huge printing presses) to spread words of truth and beauty in a world falling into Nazism. He founded a little village with over 800 monks for this purpose. He wanted people to love each other and their faith, and to not mistreat others or be persuaded by false philosophies that degraded the Jews and disrespected God.
Of course the Nazi authorities didn’t like this, and took him, along with many other priests, for whom they harboured a special hatred, into the prison camp. One day a man ran away and escaped from the barracks where Father Kolbe also bunked. As punishment, 10 people from that building were chosen to die by starvation. One was a young man who began to weep and beg for his life, as he had a young family. Father Kolbe stepped forward and offered himself in his place, and his offer was accepted.
For many days, he led his fellow prisoners in prayer and song, and the people starving in adjacent rooms were consoled and began to pray instead of curse. Finally, after I think 10 days starvation, he was given a fatal shot… pierced like our Lord with the sword. Reading about his sacrificial self-giving gave me a new understanding of the redemptive death of Jesus, and helped me realize how it was motivated by a passionate love for his people.
The young man Fr. Kolbe saved lived, along with his family, and attended the beatification when Maximilian Kolbe was declared a saint many years later!
I tell you his story because when I read it I realized that on my own, without the grace of God, there was no way I could love heroically like this saint. I realized that his generosity and bravery were gifts from his loving Father, who allowed him to imitate the total self-giving of his son Jesus. I wanted love like this, too, and finally, four years after meeting James and encountering the Church, decided to enter it.
I was baptized with great joy on the feast of Pentecost, when we celebrate the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit over 2000 years ago.