“Why? Why the Catholic Church?”

I’m always tempted to take the easy way out and answer, “Because it’s right.”

But I can’t do that, because such an answer would imply that what I believed before, as a Southern Baptist, was wrong. And that’s not quite right. The more accurate response to the why question is, “Because it’s complete.” What I believed prior to my conversion was not wrong at its core. My faith and worship were simply missing a few very crucial elements, among them history and education.

Education does include history, of course; you can’t know history if you don’t learn it. But I really mean my faith, my denomination, was missing a history. I had never been conscious of the fact that while my home church was founded in the early 1800s and my denomination was formed in the mid-1800s, the Catholic Church claimed to be founded by Jesus Christ Himself. That’s not a couple hundred years of history. That’s a couple thousand. That’s quite a history.

Does history matter? By “does it matter,” I mean does having that much history, the most history, mean the Church deserves consideration? Prior to my conversion, I’d have said no, because no matter how long it’s been around, the Church wasn’t right but now we Protestants have it right and we’re good to go.

Except there is no Protestant Church. There are hundreds of Protestant churches with a little c. And a couple other churches on the side. And they’re all different—sometimes in tiny ways, but in ways still large enough to have prompted a new denomination. Don’t agree with your church? Make your own church! Then when the Bible says to tell it to the Church, you get to pick which one. Right? So who’s right? Everybody? Nobody?

I spent some time here and there studying the differences between several Protestant denominations for a few years prior to my conversion. I had stopped going to church. I didn’t feel right at church any more. It felt hollow. Some things didn’t sit well with me, subtle things, attitudes, interpretations I didn’t feel were correct. I drifted so far that I didn’t feel any compulsion to go to any church at all on Sundays. And when I thought about how I had once promised God in all sincerity that I would raise my children for Him, I couldn’t see myself raising my children in what I knew of church. But I left it at that. I was lazy. I didn’t scour the earth for the right church. I figured “going to church” wasn’t really necessary, anyway, so long as I had faith in God and prayed.

So when I found myself thinking more and more about the Catholic Church and whether it was THE right one out of all the hundreds of churches out there, it wasn’t during a period of search. The first inklings actually came while I was reading a series of fiction books set in 18th-century Scotland.  The books are in no way about Catholicism. They’re simply historically accurate fiction set in a delicate time where religion and politics are concerned, and one character in particular is a devout Catholic, so I picked up on lots of Catholic details that I never knew before. In the midst of it all, and with other little things about the Church that kept popping up elsewhere in my life, it hit me that I knew very little about Catholicism.

Yet I didn’t decide to do much research beyond that. I knew I didn’t know much, but as I was unaware of the history of the Church, I didn’t know the extent of what I didn’t know. I felt no urgency. I’d spent too long talking to God but not waiting to hear what He had to say to me in return. It took a direct message from God—and I sincerely believe that’s what I got—to get me to really open my ears back up Him.

In May of 2009, I was very pregnant with our second child, due in just a few weeks. I was also very, very anxious. My first birth experience was a traumatic one—24 hours of labor plus three hours of pushing—culminating in an emergency c-section, my recovery from which was slow and painful. As a baby my first child was highly sensitive and high-needs (except for sleep; she didn’t seem to have a high need for sleep!), and she and I had many breastfeeding challenges at the beginning. I had been pregnant one other time since, in 2008, and that pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage at 9 weeks. Despite a frightening bleeding episode at 13 weeks with this, my third pregnancy, I had made it that far, almost to the finish line, carrying a burden of fear the entire time. The pregnancy had been physically grueling as well. I’d had morning sickness at the front half (which I hadn’t experienced with the first or second pregnancies) and pelvis separation and hip pain issues at the back half. It hurt so much that I could barely walk and had to use a cane. And while my OB had granted me permission for a “trial of labor” to try and avoid another c-section, I didn’t feel the odds were stacked in my favor given that my first baby had had such a big head like her mommy.

What I did feel was fear. I just could not see myself going through all of that ever, ever again. I figured I had two arms for two kids and that was enough. I didn’t want the risks of tubal ligation or any of the other newfangled methods of “getting fixed,” so I started trying to talk my husband into The Big V, which I’d read carried far fewer risks overall.

That day in May we had gone to a 25th anniversary party for some relatives of my husband’s. Afterward we were hungry and I, of course, didn’t feel like cooking, so we decided to head for some fast food. On the way to the restaurant I was trying again to convince my husband that a vasectomy was a good idea. He insisted that he didn’t want to fix what wasn’t broken. I want to be clear that he wasn’t saying “No, you get fixed” — this was all my idea, not his. He had always said he would like a big family (he’s one of five boys) but he would be okay with whatever I wanted… as long as it didn’t involve surgery for him. I tell you what, I was petrified down to my bones of ever being pregnant again. I had determination firmly on my side. I think I might eventually have gotten my way.

When we got to the restaurant, I had to visit the ladies’ room for the five hundredth time that day, so my husband sat down at a table to wait with our daughter while I went. There was an older woman, probably in her sixties, sitting at a table near them, and when I got back from the restroom she was talking to my husband. I assumed the woman was waiting for someone else, as she was by herself and hadn’t even had a tray of food at her table when we had arrived.

But she was really by herself.

She had started talking to my husband to compliment him (he told me later) on our daughter and on my pregnancy and she told him about her sad experiences with her own family. After I returned she repeated for me that she’d had only two children. She said, “If knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had two, I’d’ve had twelve.” She told us again and again what a good thing these children of ours were. She said she was all alone now, just her and her pets; her husband and her children were gone.

She spoke to us for only a few minutes. After she left, I queried my husband about his conversation with her. He told me she had had two children, a boy and a girl. The girl had died at age five, and the boy had accidentally shot himself as a young man, leaving her and her husband childless. And then her husband had died.

Not ten minutes before that encounter with that woman—who wasn’t even eating anything when we got there, who wasn’t there with anyone else, who’d just been sitting there as if waiting for us to get there—I had been trying to make my own husband complicit in ending my childbearing years for good.

I cried, and cried, and cried, right there at the table.

And I cried a lot more over the next few days.

But I relented. I let go of my own wants and rationalizations and, above all, my fears. I opened my mind up to the idea of more children. Who was I to say “No, God, no more blessings, please!” …Really, who was I, to say that to God?

The birth was textbook perfect. Five hours, one push. Not one hour of pushing—one push. And the baby was perfect. She nursed. She slept. She was so content and settled, absolutely night and day different from her big sister.

It was not long after the birth that I opened my mind again, this time to all the Catholic bits and pieces that had been popping up in my life. I asked Catholic friends for book recommendations aimed at Protestants. I read Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn. And then I signed up for RCIA—Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults—which started in my local parish at the end of summer.

I found that any hangups I’d heard about were suddenly minor, and then nonexistent. I wished—I wish!—I’d looked at the Church years ago. I had never before let the Church speak for herself. I’d always believed what I’d been told—which wasn’t much, really; my old church wasn’t preaching anti-Catholic this and that all the time. But I’d heard enough here and there to form an attitude of “Catholics believe some wacky stuff.”

What an unfounded attitude. In the past I had made fun of the idea of transubstantiation without researching the scriptural basis the Church gives. I had dismissed the notion of confession as silly and unnecessary without researching the scriptural basis the Church gives. I had assumed Catholics “worshiped Mary” without bothering to see what the Church said for herself and without researching the scriptural basis the Church gives. I didn’t see why the Pope was so special but never bothered to see what the Church said about the Pope.

Here’s where history and education collide. Catholic teaching and tradition regarding transubstantiation and the Eucharist, confession, Mary, the Pope—all of that came first. Way first. Way before my former denomination was formed. And I’d never had a clue. Not a single clue. I’d never bothered to educate myself. Once I did decide to seek and submit to God and to seek education regarding the oldest church there is, once I let the Church speak for herself, I found the Truth.

I was confirmed Catholic at the Easter Vigil in 2010. Now I have a seat in heaven every time I go to Mass, and I taste and see Jesus Christ Himself. I am so happy. My marriage, which wasn’t bad to begin with, is better than I could ever have hoped for. My husband is exploring RCIA himself. We still have only two children, but we’ll have several more, God willing—not necessarily twelve, but I’ll never say never. All of our children will grow up in the Church. They will be raised to respect life and to love and serve others. I continue, I will always continue, to study Catholic theology and apologetics (starting with easy-to-read things my mommy brain can handle), and I learn something wonderful and new all the time… but it’s only new to me. The Church has been at this for almost two thousand years. The Church has been the repository for the Truth the entire time. And the Truth doesn’t change. If the Church was right in the first century after the crucifixion of our Lord, then it’s still right. Jesus would not have left us here to drown in error, error, and more and growing error for 1500 years until the Reformation. The Holy Spirit is better than that. “On earth as it is in heaven”? What does that mean? Heaven doesn’t look like hundreds of denominations. Heaven looks like the Mass.

Matthew 16:13-19

Luke 10:16

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