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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Conversion Story Chapter 4

My conversion history can be found in my prequel, Ch. 2 and Ch 3. This is the fourth chapter of my conversion story.

I have to apologize as it seems a great deal of my conversion parallels my work history and of course I do not mean to give you my resume. However, it seems that God used my employment to draw me into contact with people who would force me to address that which was lacking in my life.

Some of you will remember my story about my brush with Tarot. I had been pulled into the New Age stuff, and some of this was due to reading various articles in various locations written by various self-described "Catholics", some of which were nuns! It helped to blur the lines even further for me and gave me percieved license to delve even further into the forbidden territory of the occult. This, of course, was nearly my undoing, and that story can be read here.

I left the job with the developmentally disabled to take a supervisory position in a mental health facility which required me to work nights. The cool thing about the job was that it allowed me to take an evening class...EMT, and reconnect with old hobbies such as reading and art work. Seriously...I got to sit at a desk all night and work on charcoals and pastels if nothing else was required of me. And believe me, I went through a lot of books.

I was miserable, though...I could never get any good sleep, and then I couldn't get out of the job! It semed my string of "good luck" had run out with regard to finding my career, and I became more and more frustrated. The terrible nightmares which had plagued me during college returned whenever I tried to sleep on my break in that facility and this drove me back to prayer before sleeping.

There was a Christian woman, a nurse who worked there who said she was raised Catholic and now attends an Evangelical Free Church--which is a local mega-church. As I was seeking God, I sought her out as well and we had many religious/spiritual conversations. She naturally invited me to her church, but something prevented me from going...something in what she believed just didn't ring true, but I didn't know what it was. The reality was that I didn't know my faith but some of the things she described about Catholicism just wasn't accurate and I have no idea what helped me to understand that. Let's just call it the Holy Spirit.

But she did make me think and all considered, she was an ally and since she did not try to convert me to the Evangelical faith, our conversations continued and our friendship deepened.

I also met another co-worker, another used-to-be-Catholic, this one turned Baptist. She belonged to a particular Baptist sect that believes in the Rapture and lent me the books of the Left Behind series. Since I had exhausted my own personal library, I gratefully read the books she provided and I'll admit I was entertained.

But I was also offended. I read the first book in the series and was struck by the blatant anti-Catholicism contained within. But I kept wasn't as though I had anything better to do. I found the writing to be wooden, the characters campy and the overall plot somewhat hokey, but something drew me to continue reading.

Then one evening the co-worker in question and I had a discussion about our respective faiths. I was really not a Catholic in anything other than name...I wasn't even attending Mass on Sundays. She began to attack my beliefs...she attacked Confession first, which was probably my weakest point and maybe the biggest reason I wasn't really a practicing Catholic...sin.

She told me that Confession wasn't Biblical, wasn't Scriptural and the Catholic Church had it all wrong. It was then that I actually drew from a conversation with my Evangelical friend in which she had quoted scripture in a half-agreement with Confession...we must confess with our mouths."

It actually stopped the Baptist long enough to switch gears and attack something else. But by then my mind was working and I was beginning to realize that all around me were Catholics who had fallen away, many likely drawn from their faith through their weaknesses and lack of answered questions.

Although I had read the books and was still reading them, I did not believe in the Rapture, and although I was surrounded by cradle Catholics who had converted to other faiths, something would not let me go with them...something made me dig in my heels and take a good look in the mirror at the Catholic-at-heart reflected there.

One thing the Left Behind books did for me was to make me realize that I was mortal, and as such, one day I would face Judgment, whether in some tribulation or in death...and I needed to reconcile with God. Mom had given me a CD from the Mary Foundation which had the Divine Mercy prayer. I read the promises in a little pamphlet she also provided and I began to pray each morning before I went to sleep...not Divine Mercy, just the simple childhood prayers of the Our Father, Hail Mary, Gory Be, and Guardian Angel prayer.

I attended an Ash Wednesday service that winter, and during Lent, I listened to the Divine Mercy CD and prayed along with it, sincerly desiring to be reconciled to God.

I had begun attending, on occasion, a Catholic parish recommended to me by a friend from college...Good Shepherd in Golden Valley, MN. I noted that Confessions were held every Saturday from 4-5 pm or by appointment, and several times I went out of my way to drive by the parish during that time frame but I could not get the courage to actually enter the church. I met the priest once at my friend's house as he had been invited to dinner, but I declined the invite as well, a part of me terrified they would "find me out" and realize I was not really Catholic.

Then, after that, having had a discussion with the priest about wine and garlic, which helped me to identify with him somewhat, I nearly called him to make an appointment for Confession. Yet I could not bring myself to actually dial the number. I could not make myself approach what I considered to be the seat of judgment and rend my garments in absolute submission to whatever punishment was meted out. I precieved that I deserved to be punished for the lifestyle I had lived and was continuing to live.

When I came home from work most mornings, I turned on EWTN and watched reruns of "The Journey Home" and "Web of Faith" and found that many of my questions were being asked and answered. I began to go to Mass more regularly, although it still was not every Sunday, and I continued to go forward to recieve communion, and I continued to weep nearly every time. But something here began to change...sometimes I opted not to recieve communion, but remained in my pew, praying, asking for forgiveness.

The struggle for my soul continued. I watched EWTN, thinking the priests to be "very conservative", yet I recognized Truth when I heard it, no matter how much I tried to justify my own actions and reactions.

Then I got the idea that I should buy a book about Catholicism and study it. I had the Catechism, but it was so big and overwhelming, so I started small, realizing that I didn't understand why we crossed ourselves, why we genuflected, and why we used holy water.

It was also around this time period that my boyfriend at the time began to ask me questions about my faith. I didn't know the answers so I looked them up and explained to him what I remembered from what Mom had said and supplemented by what I was reading. The first book I bought was "Why do Catholics do that?" which was a great overview of a lot of things, to include the history of the Bible in summary.

I was living my life in a state of mortal sin, compounded by my reception of communion, and I was nearly back to attending Mass every Sunday. I tried to get other people, other fallen-away Catholics to attend Mass with me, but they would not so I went alone. I tried to get my boyfriend to go to Mass with me, but he refused, citing his "issue" with church. I thought I wanted to marry him, and so I tried to impress upon him how important it was to me that he at least understand my faith. He continued to refuse, so this of course made me realize for myself that no matter what, I wanted a Catholic wedding so I began to pray for his conversion, along with my own.

I began to beg Jesus not to give up on me, that I was trying, and I began to pray that I would not die without Confession. I asked for faith, I asked for Jesus' patience with me, and I asked for absolution even as I continued to commit various grave sins.

My conscience was bothering me, and truth be told, it always had. Yet it was hard to break the chains sin had on me...I had my boyfriend, I had my connections to various occultic practices...palm reading, psychics, necromancy. I actually got really good at palm reading and that's another thing I looked at as entertainment. I began to tell fortunes using a regular deck of cards and at parties, I was a big hit. One Halloween I went out with friends and read the palms of strangers at the bar all night...and I told them things about themselve...things that came to me and were apparently very accurate, but they were NOT "written" in their palms. People were amazed. They thought I was a true psychic, and I was beginning to think so, too.

Somewhere in here my boyfriend, himself a firefighter, convinced me to train for the department's test. He helped me to train, and throughout this training, I continue to pray for God's help, for conversion, and for Jesus not to give up on me. I passed through the grueling process with flying colors, praising God the whole way, and made more diligent efforts to attend Mass. But I still had not gone to Confession. The further I got into the training, the more I realized that this job could kill me, and thus the more I realized that God was still waiting...and I couldn't do this without him.

And the sad thing is, that once I got to the training tower, the tail end of training, I also realized that I did not want to be there anymore. I did not want to be a firefighter. I was in training at the tower when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred (that story is found here), and while that didn't scare me so much, ironically, it was other things that dissuaded me from wanted to complete this training. But I had nowhere to go, so I prayed to God to save me...just as He had intervened and assisted me in completing tasks up unto that date, now I was asking him to get me out of it.

What a spoiled brat I was. How this testifies to the great patience of God, to put up with a Blue Coyote such as myself. I'm still amazed he doesn't just sit back and say, "I told you so." and let me rot.

But no, God intervened. I actually suffered a training injury which turned out to be serious enough to warrant surgery.

I didn't even consider being annointed prior to the surgery, which required a general anesthesia, yet even so, I did pray a great deal prior to the surgery as I had not yet gone to Confession...and as such, I feared dying.

That spring, my boyfriend was deployed to Afghanistan so I house-sat for him. I didn't do a good job in observing Lenten practices, but I did go to Mass every week to a local dissenting parish which sported a female "homilist", yet I returned again and again because it was close by and there was a certain witness in the reverence shown there by the elderly parishioners...and something in some of their music.

As Holy Week approached, I began doing web searches for services and Masses...I resolved that it was time to go to Confession. It was time to come home.

I found a parish in Edina (I think...was it Our Lady of Grace? off of Vernon Ave if I remember correctly?) which had a penance service followed by individual confessions. It was the Tues. or Wed. of Holy Week.

I arrived and picked up a printed sheet identified as an "examination of conscience", which was a list of various sins. I sat near the back of the sanctuary, alone, literally shaking, and when I read the list I began to weep copious tears. I listened to the reading of the Prodigal Son and waited for the instructions as to where the various priests would be located, hoping to be able to go behind a screen. As it was, I found myself in a line to go to a face to face confession. As I stood, I prayed, I read and re-read the examination of conscience, and hoped that no one noticed my distress. I was weeping uncontrollably, knowing that this was it...I had to do this, I had to approach and ask for forgiveness. I had to beg the Lord for mercy and acknowledge that I had not lived the life God intended for me.

And I was terrified. I knew, intellectually, that the priest was not going to shout at me or berate me, although I felt that this was what I deserved. I had grown up in a very dysfunctional home with a very mentally unstable mother (bipolar), and so I had come to equate any kind of "penance" with public humiliation of a sort which usually involved being berated in public.

I must have stood in that line for 45 minutes, begging God to help me stop crying, help me stop shaking, help me go through with this. Finally, it was my turn.

The priest actually expressed alarm at my condition and before we even began he was trying to put me at ease. I sobbed that it had been about 12 years since my last confession and held out the examination of conscience which had been provided. I told him that I was a terrible person.

At this point he interrupted me, explaining that the examination of conscience was meant as a guideline and was not there to heap guilt upon us...he told me that I was the prodigal daughter and had nothing but praise for my coming in for confession and that I should not be so fearful, then guided me through the confession. I was not sure he understood everything I said, especially the worst sins, because I was crying so hard, but he just nodded as I spoke. I confessed that I knew I was going to commit the same sins again and again and so I wasn't sure I could be forgiven. The good Father explained to me that God knows this and this is why he has given us the Sacrament of Confession, and then spoke the wonderful words of absolution and gave me my penance. He welcomed me home.

I think it was as simple as three Hail Marys.

I left the church, feeling lighter, feeling joyful, and although I was still crying, my tears were no longer the symptom of guilt and fear, but of joy. I was home! I had been reconciled, and I thanked Jesus from the depths of my heart that I would have the courage to continue to follow Him.

To this day, I cannot write about, think about, or speak about this wonderful event without tearing up. And the pitiful words available to us in earthly languages can't even come close to the agony and the ecstasy of the experience.

I wish I could say my conversion story ended there, but it didn't...and that's a tale for another day.

For those who have not gone to confession in a long time...GO! But don't do what I did. Make an appointment, and speak to the priest ahead of time...explain that you haven't been for awhile and ask if he can recommend an examination of conscience for you to aid in your confession. Do not be afraid...he is not going to yell at you, and as I have heard over and over again, priests LOVE to hear the confessions of the tenured sinners; they love to guide we the lost sheep back home and my theory is that it underscores the importance of their Vocation. So go, and be reconciled, and don't make Jesus wait any more. If you can't find the courage, send me a note, and I will be happy to add you to my prayers.


Anonymous said...

"yet I recognized Truth when I heard it, no matter how much I tried to justify my own actions and reactions"

Adoro - that makes two of us.

I just finished reading this entry and I am crying. Crying with joy that you found your way back. Crying with recognition because it sounds very much like my own experience.

When I finally came back and made my confession the priest told me I made a beautiful confession. Imagine! Beautiful! I would've thought he'd be disgusted. No - in "priest lingo" he "caught a big one" - that is, someone returning after many hardened years away. They apparently have fond nicknames for people like us. Those that confess weekly are minnows, those that come back after 10 years are like tuna and those coming back after 25+ years are whales!

We must remember that as surely as we meet Jesus in the Eucharist, so do we meet Him in Confession.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Angela: Great comment!

Adoro: Wow, whew, and wow again. Isn't Why Do Catholic Do That? a fantastic book? It was one of my first reads on my way back too.

It has been my experience, since I returned home, that priests are delighted to even have people show up for Confession. It's kind of sad in a way but think of it from their perspective. They get to fulfill their calling and help someone at the same time. No, they are not psychiatrists but it's not about diagnosis, it's about forgiveness.

I give you mad props, girl, for doing the face-to-face confession. I only did that once and it was probably 25 years ago. I prefer the screen.

Yes, Our Lady of Grace is off of Vernon in Edina.

Unknown said...

Great post, Adoro, Thank you.

I was away for 23 years when I went to Confession with a priest from White Bear Lake at a one day retreat at the Basilica in 1981. So I guess that I would be categorized as a whale (and still am in some respects).

While I confessed tearfully, it was somewhat unconsciously, and I know that I omitted to tell all my sins. But I didn't omit them willfully and know that they were forgiven. He asked me to read the Prodigal Son Gospel for a Penance. I still love that Gospel.

But in my continued growth, I am realizing that it would be very good for me to make a General Confession soon and go over some of those things that I probably neglected to mention and discuss other aspects of my spiritual well being with a Confessor during an appointment.

Your tale encourages me. Thank you, again.

Anonymous said...

That is just awesome....I can't say any more about it...

Tim said...

Wow, Ms. Adore ( I wish I knew your first name), this is truly a wonderful story. I linked it to my blog.
I am so glad you didn't get side-tracked from your reversion to the Church by the schismed Catholics who became Protestant. I am glad that that one nurse was able to help you in your faith....
And your beautiful portrayal of confession! Good job there. I love the sacrament of confession. I can't see how Protestants can live their faith without it. I suffered greatly in my Protestant walk because of lack of confession.
Oh and EWTN, thank God for them. You know, I think I've actually read "Why do Catholics Do That?" it's written by Father Keating, right?
I, too, tried out for a firefighter position here in Vegas about ten years ago. It was a blessing of an experience.
What a wonderful priest you had for your confession. There's nothing like a good priest is there? I remember one of my first times confessing when the priest told me to relax, I was so nervous and he was very compassionate. He had that warm, masculine tone of kindness in his voice, I'll never forget that.
Great job in encouraging your readership to go to confession. We often need a little push here and there.
I am so glad you wrote out your reversion story. There is still an epilogue, I hope. Wanna hear about your relationship with your boyfriend and about your career and all.

RobKPhD said...

This is wonderful! Thank you so much. The sacament of reconciliation is one of the most wonderful things in the world! Thank you for sharing this story. I really appreciate knowing that I am not the only one who went through this kind of thing. My comment is to share that with you too.

Adoro said...

Hello, everyone, thank you for your fantastic comments.

About the face to face confession...that's just how it "went down"...I really didn't want to do it that way, but I guess it was God's will and had I gone behind the screen I would never have known the face of my Confessor, I would not have fully understood what I was recieving. I really didn't realize that until just now so thank you, Holy Spirit!

Tim, thanks for your wonderful comments and for the link. That's one of the things I love about blogging...encouraging others in understanding their faith, helping them realize they are not alone by any means, and encouraging them to approach Jesus through the Sacraments.

RobK, you are definitely not alone, and you know, I've spoken with many other people who had similar experiences to ours. I see it as our job to help guide these people into the fullness of the Faith. :-)