“Touch me and heal me, Savior divine”
Although I marvel at the stories of converts who actually studied and wrestled their way into the Catholic Church, my conversion was pure grace. God was so gracious and so gentle that I was unconscious of the direction I was headed until a month before I decided to call a priest to inquire about the process. Almost imperceptibly through the years all the stumbling blocks about the Catholic faith that I had inherited from evangelical Protestantism and from not knowing any Catholics fell by the wayside.
There wasn’t even a Catholic mission in my Protestant hometown. Neither Catholics, nor Catholic churches appeared on my radar screen until I was in college. Then I briefly dated a couple while fervently, but ineffectually, praying they would come to “know the Lord Jesus Christ as their savior” and join a Protestant church. Not until I was involved in the Charismatic Renewal did I understand that Catholics were actually Christians too.
Looking back, it was probably the Old Testament class I took in high school that laid the foundation for my eventual entry into the Church. There the elegant, patrician Mrs. Reuben Schmidt introduced me to the Jews and to the riches of the Old Testament in one of the most rigorous courses I’ve ever taken. Her attention to detail coupled with her enthusiasm laid the groundwork for my avocation of studying the Jewish heritage of our Christian faith.
She taught the foreshadowing of the Messiah in the prophets, the exodus, the tabernacle, the festivals, and the Jewish history. We also gained an appreciation of theocracy, a nation where God rules. By extrapolation it seemed that right there was a course in “How to Live Successfully” if one correctly applied the concepts in the societal laws to present day situations.
As I studied in the Episcopal Church, I discovered that the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist had developed from the Jewish worship service and the last Passover Seder that Jesus celebrated with His disciples. I also learned about the real presence of Jesus in the wafer and the wine, although many Episcopalians do not accept that tenet of the faith.
The first time that I heard Mary referred to as the Second Eve, years of study popped into perspective and I understood why she had been a part of salvation history too. Eve was immaculately conceived also, but she said, “Non serviam,” while Mary said, “Fiat voluntas tuas.” Later parallels with Mary and the Ark of the Covenant and Mary and the role of the queen mother made perfect sense because I already had the background. I only wondered why more Protestants had not seen the parallels.
Even the title “Co-Redemptrix” ceased to rankle when I realized that all of us are, or desire to be, co-redeemers also. No, God doesn’t need our help; Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient. We don’t volunteer to crawl upon a cross, but we do hope that our prayers and witness will help pave the way for others’ entry into the Kingdom of God.
Through my interest in Judaism, I first understood the joy and beauty of marital sex in a rhythmic style. Even today observant Jews honor the “whites and the reds.” Devout women go through a purification rite in preparation for a return to the marital embrace after days of abstinence. The forced periods apart, according to the Rabbis, develop the spousal relationship and make the conjugal act more pleasurable. It is contrary to everything our hedonistic society thinks makes for “good sex.” But it works. Both Jews and Catholics who practice this lifestyle report greater satisfaction with their marriage than those who don’t.
As a casualty of a contraceptive marriage, I can only attest to what doesn’t work. After my divorce, I read a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal from a Catholic layman who defended Humanae Vitae and Pope Paul VI’s teaching. I knew that this was another way the Catholics got it right. They had applied a concept of Old Testament theocracy to one more area of living life God’s way. I can only weep for the married Catholics who miss out on the joy of obedience.
Although those usual barriers to the Catholic faith were behind me, the immediate reason for reconciliation with the Church was that there was nowhere else to go. I had moved away from my old Episcopal parish and neither of the ones in the new town seemed to fit. I visited some non-liturgical churches in the area, but decided I couldn’t live without the Mass. So that left only the nearby Catholic Church.
I hesitated for several months, but once I made the decision to leave Protestantism behind, all heaven broke loose. I left the steerage compartment of the ocean liner where I had lived on crackers and cheese and entered the Captain’s dining room where table after table was crowded with delightful gourmet treats to feed the soul.
The Catholic teaching on suffering was for me the most rewarding aspect of reconciliation, one of the many lavish spreads for believers. The Catholic Church’s doctrine brought meaning to my suffering and lifted an intolerable burden from my life.
Suffering is no anomaly to true Catholics; they have learned to rejoice in it just as the New Testament teaches. Instead of turning away from it, they use it. “Offer it up,” they shout, “Use it for good.” Like St. Paul in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” they offer their suffering to God along with their prayers and their tithes.
What a joy it was to find both the theology and the people who affirmed that my life had not been some tragic mistake, especially not one I had subconsciously engineered. No. It could be an offering of love acceptable to God – a way to bring healing to the world. No longer secretly embarrassed at my own failures, I could now ask God to take those years of unmitigated, blind pain and use it for His purposes. What a relief! What bliss!
For a Catholic, life here is the atrium of heaven. Like St. Paul in I Corinthians 13:12, now we can only see “as through a glass darkly,” but we do see. We do understand that life on earth is but a preparation for our ultimate goal, our ultimate joy. Success during our lifetime is meaningless compared to what lies before us. Both failures and triumphs are but opportunities to bring God’s purposes into fruition.