"Surprise! I'm becoming Catholic!" -Me today to me circa 2009.
"LOL. Wait. Are you serious? What?!" -Natalie 2009 to Natalie 2014.

That's pretty much how the conversation would have gone. I was agnostic and I knew the following about the Catholic Church: patriarchal hierarchy, obsession with Mary and her virginity, I think we all liked JPII?, Mother Teresa was cool too, child sex abuse, the Inquisition, Henry VIII, and on Ash Wednesday Catholics walk around with ashes on their foreheads.

So I am not surprised when family and friends like darling Kayla say they are surprised. What is it about the Catholic Church that speaks to me? Why am I called there? Why am I, a feminist, skeptical, pro-marriage equality woman joining a body that at least on the surface seems entirely at odds with my very being? Well, it isn't all that it seems. The cover does a poor job of reflecting the book. I think Pope Francis is helping redesign that cover but still, Catholicism isn't what it appears.

In March, I'll be sharing my faith story with my fellow catechumens, sponsors, and the team that has helped us learn about the Catholic faith. Being a developmentalist, I want to start from the very beginning, maybe even before my birth or LDS baby blessing. Start with my parents or even my grandparents. Give a nod to the culture and context in which I grew up. But the truth is that my faith story didn't really begin there.

I wish I could say it began with something more dramatic than it did. An angel appearing or God speaking clearly, directly to me. Instead it happened in a parking lot in a heated debate with an agnostic (me) and an atheist versus a nondenominational Christian. The subject was if the world's existence and our existence and experiences were truly random, truly chaotic or if there was something sort of holding it all together. It was brutal. Fortunately, we are all still friends. But while I argued with my Christian friend, it planted a small seed. She is brilliant, skeptical, a scientist. And she has faith in something greater than humanity.

A few months later, another friend (brilliant, skeptical, scientific) told me that God wasn't an actual male being on a planet out there in the universe. She encouraged me to think outside of that LDS box. She didn't believe that God was a noun. No, God was a verb. The verb to love. "Hey, it's even in the scriptures." Little seed planted.

And sometime during all this, my younger sister visited Europe on an art history tour. She brought me back a bottle of rosemary olive oil from Italy and a charm of St. Francis of Assisi from the Vatican. He is the patron saint of ecology. We are good friends.

Then I got a message from a cute guy on an online dating site. He is Catholic and it said so right in his profile. I was agnostic. It said that too right in my profile. He wanted to go on a date with me. Something was different about that. I fell in love with him. We watched a season of Dexter that involved Colin Hanks bringing about Revelations. I asked this guy I was dating if he thought Revelations was literally going to happen at the end of time. "Of course not! It's about the Romans." He went on to share some unorthodox, even for "liberal" Catholics, thoughts.

I fell more in love with him. My mom suggested that I learn more about the Catholic Church if things were going to get serious. It was good advice. So I downloaded Catholicism for Dummies and read it over winter break. My younger sister and I went to Midnight Mass in SLC and talked about the anti-materialism message from the priest. She told me that she replaces Jesus with love and it works for her atheistic view of the world. I wondered if the belief in love and the idea that love will conquer all is the same as the belief in God. For me, it really is. Sometimes my connection with God during a day is as simple as a hug from Sean or a phone call with one of my sisters. It's that warmth and love. That's God.

I liked Midnight Mass and the Catholicism for Dummies book only piqued my interest. I searched online more about the Catholic Church and found out that they had classes for people interested, called Inquiry. Six weeks of meeting with Catholics and asking them questions. I searched for a church that started these classes as soon as possible. I found St. Francis of Assisi Parish. Inquiry was awesome. They would answer any question I had and they answered the questions honestly but with some real world perspective. And that continued on as I decided to discern my joining the Catholic Church.

Every so often, I find myself hungry for more information, and I've turned to Catholic radio, EWTN, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic.com. I think the perspective found in those places mirrors what most people believe about Catholicism. But judging Catholicism by Catholic radio, by whatever the USCCB has said this week, is like thinking everyone in the United States has the same opinion as those on Fox News. Yes, watching Fox News can sometimes give you perspective or at least something to think (or get angry) about. And yes, a lot of Catholics are like the ones who share there perspective on Catholic radio, etc. But you only hear some parts of Catholicism emphasized by the USCCB, etc. I've had to dig deeper to find organizations like Catholics for Choice, news provided by National Catholic Reporter, and the Madeleva Lecture Series from St. Mary's College. It's not that these are anti-Catholic or "disobeying" the Vatican. It's that they emphasize different aspects of the Church, like social justice. The Catholic Church is not the Vatican. It's the people in the parishes. The hierarchy, the USCCB, and Catholic radio can be helpful but they are not the Church. When you hear or read something about the Catholic Church, pay attention to the messenger and know that regardless of where it comes from, it's only a piece of a large, rich religious tradition.

My faith story doesn't begin with a visit from an angel or the clouds parting and God announcing Her presence. God has already done that. It began with my community of loving people showing me a different way of seeing the world. Believing that love or God rules here and when we take part in that love and God's plan, the world gets better. I realized a few weeks ago that Jesus's conception was announced by an angel while Jesus's resurrection was announced by a woman. I've been thinking a lot about that. I believe now that Jesus is among us, angels are no longer God's messengers but we are messengers of love to each other. By becoming Catholic, I am taking on that discipleship for life. I am called to share God's love with my fellow human beings. I have a community and soon a partner for life to help me do this. That's a big piece of what becoming Catholic means to me and that's why I am called to the Catholic Church.


If time allows, I'll update my blog with thoughts as Easter Vigil approaches. It's nice to share what's been going on internally during these past few years.

2 remarks:

Megan @ Grad Student Needs Hobby said...

I love this post! Here's why: I love that it takes down the idea that people who are "brilliant, skeptical, scientific" cannot also be spiritual/religious. I firmly believe that the two are NOT naturally at odds with each other and only become that way because humans make them that way.
I think Catholicism is absolutely beautiful and it has spoken to me in many ways too. I can definitely see what pull it has!
Thanks for sharing more of your story. I hope we get even more - and if not, can you and I still do some jewelry making and chat soon??

Kayla said...

I'd like to ditto what Megan up there said about "brilliant, skeptical, scientific" and spirituality. And again, I'm happy for you to have found conviction, spirituality, and a relationship with God (alas, I still know God as an actual being in space :) ). Sometimes I wish I were braver and had heated religious discussions with friends, but my skin is still just too thin. Reading what you said about seeds being planted is another push for me to get over it already.

And also, I'm still JUST SO HAPPY for you and Sean! You are the most adorable couple. Love you! Cheese and onions!