Here's something I believe: If Catholicism is true, then it should change us.
In fact, it should change everything about us. Here's something else I believe: The Church actually does have the capacity to effect change and in a way that is unique to her. And while we're on the subject of things that I believe, here's another: The evidence for the Church's ability to change us is everywhere. Throughout the ages, countless individuals have seen their lives transformed through their Catholic faith. For those who choose Christ and His Church, a lifetime of adventure awaits. Not the kind of adventure we see in movies but rather one of faith, a faith that grows until it permeates every aspect of our being. As we embark on the adventure by placing our lives in the service of God and others, transformation inexorably follows — the kind of transformation we were meant for.
A lifetime journey into faith and faithfulness in the Catholic Church may sound daunting, and perhaps it is, but it is also overflowing with meaning. The ultimate goal of such a life is nothing less than total conversion, which is another name for the transformation of which we have already spoken. To undergo conversion is to undergo a change; and in some form, this change is necessary for all of us, whether we come from another religious tradition or from a family that has been Catholic since before the death of the last apostle. To undergo conversion is to become different, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is to be made different. It is the start of the process of becoming a saint, for that is the ultimate point of conversion and God's goal for each one of us.
Becoming Catholic — entering the Catholic Church — is often dramatic and frequently involves trading in our worldview for something that can seem foreign. It's seldom linear, and can involve taking one step forward, and two (or three) steps back. In my case, the seeds of Christianity were planted during my Presbyterian childhood. I made a decision for Christ during my pre-teen years, backslid a good bit subsequently, went to a Catholic college, and after some trial and error (mostly error), finally wound up coming into the Catholic Church. I was a true convert, by the way, since I had never been baptized (odd but true). Only after my baptism did I stop and look around, winded and breathing hard, and realize that I wasn't at the finish line.
I was only at the starting gate. My transformation — my conversion — had just begun.
But it had begun.
I should probably tell you right up front that getting to the starting gate was not easy for me. My conversion was neither the most straightforward nor the quickest one on record. I was good at resisting change, and before I took the plunge I stood at the water's edge for a long, long time. But I finally jumped in, and I'm here to tell you that the water's beautiful. I've been a Catholic for more than twenty years now — practically half my life — and from what I can see, the Church is what she claims to be: the specific road that Christ gave us to walk as we approach Him.
I believe that becoming a Catholic has enabled me to make more progress in my journey toward God than any other single act could have done. Christ has changed me through His Church, and I am confident that He will not be done with me until I have become the person I was created to be.
But there are some hard facts that I have had to deal with along the way. One of them is that the process of transformation takes time and is not all fun and games. It starts deep in the soul, showing itself first as a restless and often uncomfortable drama of the interior life. Step by step you find yourself becoming more and more committed to seeing the adventure of faith through to its end. Eventually, the discomfort fades and the restlessness wanes. Yet the adventure continues. At times, it barely seems to inch forward, and at others it hurtles on at breakneck speed.
Once we have reached that moment of grace, the instant when everything becomes different, we can see for the first time that faithfulness is what we have been yearning for all along, often without knowing it. It is, after all, what we were made for, and for that reason it begins to heal the pain and divisions in our soul — in our self. It quiets our useless anxieties; it tempers our need to grasp at the pleasures of this world as a drowning man might grasp at a piece of driftwood. In short, it begins to put things in order.
That moment of grace is what we often call conversion. But, as I've already said, conversion can rarely be reduced to a moment. A decision to open our hearts to Christ is certainly the first step toward transformation, but only the first. It is the moment when we discover our true selves and recognize our true home, but we have not yet become our true selves nor have we entered that true home. How many of us can claim to be like St. Paul on the road to Da mascus, transformed in a moment of blinding clarity — so utterly changed that our old name no longer suits us and we need a new one.
Conversion may flare up and then fade away again, seemingly to nothing, but the truth is that once it has taken hold, it can never again become nothing. It can, however, become hidden, growing slowly and invisibly in your soul in a place that you don't even know is there. Then, suddenly, conversion springs to life again in a way and with a force you could never anticipate, and then you're back on the adventure, the one you only thought had ended.
By God's grace, I was baptized at age twenty-five and entered the Catholic Church. That was the moment of my conversion. It's recorded on my baptismal certificate, and I can tell you not just the date but even the time of day. Yet my conversion is still going on, and I hope it will continue until my earthly life comes to an end. Back when I was twenty-five, I had no idea that conversion was a process that would have countless beginnings but no end, that it begins anew every day. That was something I was startled and disturbed to discover. It made me feel like a failure, as if I wasn't doing something right, something very important.
Since that time, I've grasped that I was not a failure but a human being. I have also grasped that the process of conversion — even for cradle Catholics — necessarily involves turning our hearts again and again toward Christ. It involves growing in our understanding and practice of the faith.
That's the good part. The bad part was that I also learned that my heart was unruly and not always in the mood to turn to Christ; that despite my baptism, my heart remained stubborn and determined to turn in any direction but the one in which I wanted it to turn. In other words, I learned the I was not only a human being but also a sinful human being, whose understanding is partial and confused, one for whom practice can become rote and distracted. At times, it can seem almost empty.
And this is one of the reasons that conversion must be ongoing, why the adventure that God has begun in me and in countless others — continues. We are backsliders — all of us. We must constantly recommit. We must hunt for what we have lost and relearn what we have learned over and over again. This is an adventure that involves real work!
Like all Catholics, I have been given the tools to build a life of sanctity. But what good are tools if they are not used? The sacraments strengthen and feed me. They are the primary way God supports me on my adventure. The deep reality that lies at the heart of the Eucharist pulls at me when I am tempted to turn away. That reality urges me to turn back when I have turned away. It calls to me when I try to turn away, until once again I pick up my cross and follow the One whom I have found but still seek. I return again and again to prayers that have become rote, and eventually I am given the grace to find in them the meaning that seemed lost. I return to the confessional to discard the things that separate me from God, and I am renewed.
I have tried to walk the road of conversion for many years now, and I like to think I've learned a few things. In this book, I hope to share some of that knowledge with you. Let me make it clear that I am deeply thankful for my Protestant upbringing. It was both a gift and an excellent foundation upon which to build. I also have great respect and affection for non-Catholic Christians. Having spent a lot of time on both sides of the Protestant/Catholic divide, I understand what it is that makes the Catholic Church seem foreign and even threatening to the non-Catholic. I know what the big hurdles are, from where the roadblocks are likely to come.
Converts bring their own set of challenges to the Church. Much like immigrants to a new country, we must take time to learn the language, become culturally aware, and grow sensitive to the nuances of the faith. The richness, depth, beauty, and history of Catholicism are all vast, and we have varying abilities to assimilate them, to adjust to a new way of life.
For the last twenty years, I have been privileged to be associated with the Coming Home Network International. If you've ever watched The Journey Home television program on EWTN, you know something about the Coming Home Network. It was founded by Marcus Grodi — himself a convert, and a former Presbyterian minister. On his television program, Marcus has interviewed hundreds of converts and reverts about their journeys into the Church. As you might imagine, the stories are as diverse as the people, and I have learned a lot from them.
Kevin Lowry. "Transformed: Lessons of a Grateful Convert." Introduction from How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2015)
Published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, IN, www.osv.com, 1-800-348-2440. Used with permission of Our Sunday Visitor.
Kevin Lowry is a convert to Catholicism and the son of a former Presbyterian minister. He and his wife Kathi met at Franciscan University, where they discovered the richness and beauty of the faith. After spending time as spiritual nomads, the couple met Scott and Kimberly Hahn, and faced the inevitable. They entered the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil, 1992. He is the author of How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church and Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck.Copyright © 2015 Our Sunday Visitor
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