It all started with a boyfriend, albeit one I dated for less than a month. Sweet and caring, he was a nondenominational Christian. He knew his Bible and was proudly anti-religious. I was a proud Catholic but didn’t know why. Inevitably, the conversations turned to religion: I’d tell him what I believed, he’d question it, but I had no reply.
I was raised in a nominally Catholic household. My mother took us through the sacraments out of obligation while my agnostic father stayed home on Sundays. By the time I was 13, my mother gave up the weekly fight to bring questioning pre-teens to mass.
For the rest of my teen years, my relationship with God and the Church was sporadic: I’d talk to Him when I needed something, but that was about it. I do remember times of driving myself to mass as a teen whenever the worries of life were plaguing me. I knew the peace of Jesus was there, I just didn’t know much else.
When I went to junior college, I had the genuinely good desire to find a future spouse. But, as many do, I acted on this desire in a disordered way: being in sexually impure relationships, falling into the drinking and partying culture, etc. These three years of my life could be summed up in one word: confession. I spent a lot of time in the confessional, and therefore had lots of small conversions of the soul. The Lord doesn’t work quickly with me, which is also perhaps part of his divine wisdom. As impatient as I am, He never does snap his fingers whenever I ask him for purity, or patience, or some other virtue. No, all of these virtues are hard-fought for me. Instead of a flash of blinding light, my story consists of lots of little conversions of the heart, much like Saint Augustine.
It was a grace for God to let me feel the weight and shame of my sins and have access to confession, and also a grace to to receive his unending relief, mercy, and love. It was this season where I also began unraveling the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. As I was unable to receive communion while in a state of sin, I grew in my holy desire for Jesus. I spent more time in adoration, I craved for my body and soul to be fed by that most holy Host, and to remain free of sin.
Then, with little to no preparation, I was plunged into the soul-killing cesspool known as the American University. Or a state college, in my case, but the rampant liberalism at Chadron State College, in a small town in western Nebraska only further demonstrates the poison-filled plight of our higher education system in the US. Too harsh? Nope. But this is a subject for another time.
Anyone who had a semblance of a Christian faith may as well have had a target on their back, the way the professors took aim at them. They didn’t dismantle faith in big ways, but slowly worked in religious questions, common objections to the Christian faith, outright untruths, and dripped relativism in their lessons behind a sweet smile. One by one, I watched my classmates–mostly Protestant kids from small towns in Nebraska–lose their faiths entirely.
I have to confess, I was being sucked in. My formation in the Catholic faith was so utterly poor that I had no idea how to refute false claims against the Church. Rather than make myself look the fool, I remained silent in class. I was helpless and ashamed. I loved Jesus, but I couldn’t defend Him or His Church.
So I decided to learn how.
Each shot that one of my teachers took against the Catholic Church was an arrow that pierced my side. The sorrow I felt for the Bride of Christ was very real. But I used those arrows to rekindle my fire of faith. This time, my faith was informed in the mind as well as the heart.
“Why was the mass in Latin?”
“All wars are due to religion.”
“Why no women priests?”
“Gender is on a spectrum.”
All of these questions and false claims set me to researching. I watched Catholic YouTube videos and spent a lot of time on CatholicAnswers.com. But ultimately, I found the true source of knowledge: Jesus Christ in the tabernacle. I spent more time in adoration and at daily mass than ever before, in a chapel next to the classroom in the old Catholic school that no one ever visited. I began teaching Confraternity of Christian Doctrine to sophomores in high school, and thoroughly enjoyed sharing the faith.
As Peter Kreeft said, “The more you know, the more you love.” There is meaning behind all symbolism, there is a purpose for everything in the Church, and there isn’t a heresy She hasn’t squashed in her 2,000 years of existence. I began to see that modern protestations are nothing new.
I was finding myself for the first time on solid ground, which was good, because my whole world would be shaken down to the bare bones of what I perceived my life to be. Turns out, just because you convert or re-convert, life isn’t absolutely peachy from that day forward.
“Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties.”–C.S. Lewis
Three things that were (I thought) central to my identity were ripped from underneath me in quick succession: my relationship with the person I thought I would marry, admiration from my coaches and peers, and a failure to qualify for nationals despite being in a qualifying position all spring. The relationship I was in ended abruptly, shocking me and everyone around me. A difficult and narcissistic coach was singling me out nearly every week in practice. The mental pressure led to a decreased performance in the arena, and I failed to achieve my lifelong dream of making the College National Finals Rodeo when it should have been easy.
With all of this stripped away, I was thrust into a loneliness I have never experienced. I even broke my collarbone the day before my 23rd birthday, so I didn’t even have the comfort of keeping my horses with me during my final year of undergrad. Looking back, I see exactly what God was doing.
Only when I understood that my identity lies in being his daughter and nothing else was I free to move forward. There was nothing I needed to do, nothing I needed to change. He loved me because He made me. I was, and am, pleasing to Him, simply for existing. It was time I started acting like it.
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”–Saint Augustine
In November of 2019, one experience would be the fuel that fanned my flame. On a school trip to Baltimore, I used the Latin Mass Directory to find a Latin Mass nearby. I had never been to one, but the small groups of faithful Catholics online had piqued my interest in this forgotten and ancient mass.
St. Alphonsus Liguori Church was dimly lit for the low daily mass at 7 o’clock in the morning. I squeezed into a tight pew with unpadded kneelers, knowing that I was in the midst of something far older and deeper than I could comprehend. It was dark, and I didn’t understand a word of the mass. I followed along watching those in front of me.
I have never been closer to Heaven than at that moment. It was as though I could see the numerous angels descending from the high altar, all of the saints and martyrs helping us to pray the mass. The little red missal helped me to follow along as best I could, but mostly I just watched, though my soul was participating in ways I knew not.
What did I see? Reverence. True love for Our Lord. Kneeling at the altar rails to receive Him, only the priests touching his Precious Body, and silence. Blessed silence. Even when the chants were sung, it reminded me of the choirs of angels. I didn’t need the mass to come down to my level: my soul was lifted to Heaven through the mass. This was true worship.
One thought came to mind throughout that blessed hour: Why did they ever do away with this?
It was the final missing piece of the puzzle for me. The tradition, heritage, and home that I was yearning for was there in the Catholic Church, most especially in the Old Rite. The truth, beauty, and goodness was most alive in the rite that had existed for roughly 1900 uninterrupted years. This was the mass that all of my favorite saints had celebrated, and all of my ancestors. This was the mass that the English and Irish martyrs died trying to preserve, and so many others. It was like discovering a family treasure that had been hidden from me for my entire life.
Endowed with that missing link, today I continue unraveling the mysteries that comprise the one, true Church. I am pleased to say that I will never get to the bottom of these pleasurable puzzles: fully understanding the mysteries of the sacraments, the Church, and God’s love is something only God can give us the grace to do.
And as depraved and sinful as I still am apt to be as a fallen human being, I am also pleased to share that I will never see the end of God’s mercy.
Infused with the fire of tradition, I love sharing the Church’s teachings with those around me. We all crave Truth. In this lost world, it is becoming more difficult to find. Yet, God made us curious by nature, and the answers are out there if we seek them. I encourage you, no matter your state in life or creed, to research the things you have always wondered about concerning religion and Christianity. There are very few subjects that the Church doesn’t have an answer for. See for yourself.
“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”–Gustav Mahler