Update (25 September): Greetings, visitors from Amy Welborn's Open Book (one of my faves)! And thank you so much, Amy!
Update (26 September, afternoon): And greetings also to visitors from Catholic and Enjoying It!, The Anchoress, and Sed Contra, three more sites that have touched me deeply. I am so moved and encouraged by everyone's prayers and words of welcome. Below I've also added a few links to some more milestones that were important to me along the way to Rome. I think I may yet create a category for these posts, but if so that'll take me a little more time to implement.
On the morning of Sunday, September 11, I was received into the Catholic Church. What a happy day!
I woke up early, around 6:30 or so. As I'd resolved the night before, when I prayed the rosary I went through all fifteen of the traditional mysteries. I iced my left ankle (which I'd twisted a few days earlier while in the process of that very hazardous activity of getting up from my futon), and put on the Mass in B Minor.
I don't remember that much about my meditations on the joyful mysteries. When I got to the sorrowful mysteries, though, I wept. I wonder if when Jesus told his disciples to let the little children come to him, some of them were bawling. Anytime I've heard about that story, I've somehow imagined the first-century equivalent of well-scrubbed little tykes dressed in their Sunday best, lining up politely to see Nice Mister Jesus before they go off to get their pictures taken. But Jesus takes us in his arms even when we're not presentable and respectable, he welcomes us when our eyes are red with tears and our noses are dripping. Though we should be ashamed to come before the Son of God in such a wretched state (and what disciple wouldn't try to protect his or her master from the indignity of getting dribbled on by someone like this), he loves us anyway. Even though we might not recognize it at the time, we're all pitiably helpless except through the workings of God's immeasurable grace.
Then the glorious mysteries (cue the Vivaldi Gloria). By the grace of God, my earlier wanderings and my earnest searching during the last seven years have finally brought me to the Church.
The journey to Rome has been a long one, but I began looking into Catholicism really intensively only a few months ago, when John Paul II died. I'd seen him officiate at the large public mass at Downsview three years ago for World Youth Day and was impressed with his quiet dignity. So when he died, I wanted to find out more about him. Figuring that if I wanted to see what disgruntled ex-nuns and former Catholics had to say I could just turn to The Globe and Mail, instead I tuned in to Eternal Word Television Network on the Web (I don't get cable) to listen to people who loved him and loved what he stood for.
I was just fascinated. That same dignity and quiet enthusiasm shone through in a whole variety of programs, one of which I believe was The Journey Home Encore, with interviews with former Protestants who had converted to Catholicism. God, is this what you have in store for me too?
And I read. Amy Welborn, Mark Shea, and a host of other sites they linked to. Polemical Protestant sites, not-so-polemical Protestant sites, Catholic this, and Catholic that. What is this thing called Catholicism?
Somewhere along the line, Pontificator got me thinking when he made the leap from the Episcopal Church of the USA to the Catholic Church. I read the comment thread, so full of blessings and encouragement from faithful Catholic readers of his who had been hoping and praying for the day (along with others who preferred to stick it out still in ECUSA or wished he had gone Eastern Orthodox instead, though almost everyone wished him well). Those blessings stirred me powerfully. The feeling I got resembled other promptings by the Holy Spirit--but was this the real thing? The discussion at the site of another one of my Web heroes, David Morrison, got me thinking more about conversion.
I finally saw the importance of church unity. I'd known for some time that Protestants were considered "separated brethren," but it took a while for the true tragedy of schism to sink in.
It must have been the morning of June 5 that I woke up about 4 o'clock with a driving urge to read more Catholic material, including some Web sites and a few sections of John Henry Cardinal Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which I'd just happened to pick up last year at a used book sale. This was apparently the day for me to go to mass for the first time since the piquing of my interest in matters Catholic. Once the hour was civil, I called a friend to ask if I might attend mass with him, and he agreed readily. I trekked uptown. The music was nothing particularly special, if truth be told, but I was impressed nonetheless by that same quiet dignity of the mass. At lunch, I asked him a few questions and just listened.
I got a set of rosary beads from a store in the Portuguese neighbourhood where I live. I learned about the mysteries through some Web sites and The Seeker's Guide to the Rosary. I was excited (okay, call me a methodological nut) by the philosophical coherence of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Update (26 September, afternoon): I can hardly believe I neglected to credit Pontificator's discussion of sola scriptura, Philip Blosser on Tradition, and especially Mark Shea's By What Authority? Finding a firm foundation in the teaching of the Church has been utterly essential to my journey. And while doctrinal soundness trumps esthetics in my book, the sheer beauty of the mass as conducted by the Oratorians also drew me closer to Rome.
I told many of my Baptist friends from church that I was getting seriously interested in Catholicism. I pointed out to some of them that C.S. Lewis had believed in purgatory. I debated with one friend about some point on which I'd come to disagree with the Baptist line, perhaps on the legitimacy of asking saints to intervene on our behalf. With a rueful smile I admitted to another old friend who was standing nearby, "I think I'm pretty far gone."
In July I attended the summer school run by the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, for a week of classes on the Catholic Catechism. That was the clincher that persuaded me to convert.
I observed the ceremonies for two new friends who were received into the Church, both after converting from Anglicanism. I still had a lot to sort through, though, both intellectually and emotionally. I met several times with my sponsor and with a priest I'd been referred to by an old friend. And, poignantly, with a dear progressive-minded friend whose tales of struggles against the Catholic hierarchy I'd once listened to with great enthusiasm.
It was a good thing I'd cried myself out early in the morning. By the time I was dressed in my spiffiest suit and ready to go, my mood could hardly have been sunnier. I walked to Holy Family, revelling in the gloriously balmy weather and in the goodness of God. Cue the Pinkham Christmas Cantata, one of the most exuberant pieces of music I know. Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
The reception ceremony took place in the private chapel where we'd gone for mass during the summer school. The priest read from the closing of Romans 8 and delivered a short homily. We recited the Nicene Creed together. I declared,
I believe and confess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.
Do you take the Catholic Church to be your spiritual home, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer? I do. (Not that that was how it was phrased, of course, but the Church is the Bride of Christ.) The priest anointed me with oil, in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
I may well be recounting the events out of order--keeping the chronology straight so I could blog it accurately later was far from my mind, and it strikes me that this whole account marks only a few of the visible milestones while most of the interior journey is beyond my powers to describe now. Too personal, too amorphous.
At the end of the ceremony I greeted each of my friends and relatives standing in the chapel. More than one remarked that my face was just glowing.
Then came the mass, with all the incense and music befitting the arrival of the Most Holy One. This is not, I thought, just a memorial (as many Protestants would have their communion services), it's a miracle. This is the Real Presence, and for the first time I would eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. Truly a life-sustaining gift, and what a pity it is that many cradle Catholics seem to take it for granted.
Afterwards we held a small party in the room below the chapel. Friends brought cake and wine. (No, Toto, we're not in the Baptist church anymore.) A friend who is on her way out of the Anglican Church gave me the Book of Common Prayer; I can skip over some of the Thirty-Nine Articles, we decided, but the prayers are beautiful and powerful. I'd wanted my own copy ever since I read Sue Careless's Discovering the Book of Common Prayer last fall. Her guide reminded me of the value of set prayers and stirred my desire for reverent liturgy. (Update: see also an earlier post on extemporaneous prayer.)
That evening, I offered a slice of leftover cake to one of my neighbours. She inquired about the occasion, so I told her I'd been received into the Catholic Church that morning. Oh really? Turns out she's a lapsed Catholic. We talked for twenty minutes or so, and she told me this was the happiest she'd ever seen me. I'm not surprised. After the United Church of Canada, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the wilds of outright atheism, then a spiritual awakening seven years ago, the Mennonite Church, and the Baptist Convention, I'm finally home.
Despite the honeymoon, the trials of life weren't long in coming, of course, and the journey ahead of me must be more difficult than I can now imagine. I have a home, though, in communion with saints on earth and saints in heaven. I have a home.
Oil poured under water is drawn up to the surface on top of the water. Water poured on top of oil sinks below the oil … Things which are not in their intended position are restless. Once they are in their ordered position, they are at rest …
'For I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord' (Ps 121:1). There we will be brought to our place by a good will, so that we want nothing but to stay there for ever.
St. Augustine, Confessions