Tuesday, December 11, 2007

United by the Divide

Rich’s reception into Roman Catholic faith in 2005 led to a bewildering set of events that left us both at odds. Rich attempted with loving care to mitigate the unexpected consequences his conversion brought into our home. Meanwhile, a great emptiness had entered my life. How could I support my husband and still serve Jesus, while I felt so estranged from Rich and from the Lord?

Although I began to experience a renewed joy after the Lord offered me Spiritual Communion, the heartache of those past months weighed heavily on Rich. He suffered in silence with each obstacle I encountered. His were the hands that held me close when I wondered how I could fit in. In the privacy of our home, his were the words of anger and desperation in response to those who continued to hurt me. His were the promises to protect me from as much anguish as he could.

And his was the heart that broke and bled one morning at Mass.

October had turned into November and I continued to grow closer to Jesus. Each Mass took on new vitality because of the gracious inclusion Jesus offered me. I found myself carried away by His love and would often feel like standing in awe of Christ as I perceived Him through the Holy Spirit.

One Sunday I whispered to Rich that I would not go forward for a blessing. I wanted to stand at my pew instead, and praise and pray. (From the first time I attended Mass with Rich, I had struggled with the point in the Mass when I processed forward for a blessing. I often felt silly or angered to receive a blessing instead of Communion. For Catholics, it was a time of celebration (Eucharist); for me, it seemed demeaning or pointless – depending on my attitude at the time. I struggled with this issue until 2006, when Jesus helped me see the blessing in a different light).

Knowing my struggle with the blessing, Rich nodded and moved into the aisle. As he stepped into line, he looked back at me and suddenly felt as if he had lost something very precious. He said later, ”I felt with each foot-fall forward that I had turned my back on you, our marriage, and our life together. It was as if I was being ripped from our marriage bond.”

When he returned to our pew, he stood very close. After Mass, he looked squarely into my eyes and declared he would never do that again. When he explained what he had felt as he walked forward, I immediately understood. I remembered having a similar response the night he professed himself a Catholic at the Easter Vigil. I assured him from then on I would go forward and ask for a blessing, no matter how I felt about it.

My husband loves me. Any rudeness or unkindness directed by others toward me reverberates in him. When well-meaning Catholic acquaintances happily counseled him that I’d “come around soon” and become Catholic – all while I was standing there as if I was a naughty child needing to be corrected, Rich cringed. When in some social settings others ignored me altogether, Rich hurt even more.

Repeatedly, Rich vowed to leave the Catholic Church. His frustration with the rudeness he’d seen displayed toward me had grown intolerable. He decided we would attend a Protestant church, and he would meet his Catholic obligations as best he could. I knew he was serious. My emotional pain increased as I watched him straining to help me heal and bring me comfort.

By this time, though, I had become convinced it was God who had opened Rich’s understanding of Catholicism, and it was God who called him to the Roman Catholic Church – and I told him so. We talked many times about the pointlessness of leaving the Catholic Church. Leaving was not the answer. Surely, our Father does not make mistakes. And I reminded him that God had called me to be there at his side.

We were united. We would follow Jesus. And we would follow Him together.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Note of Clarification

In past months, I have received many concerned comments, emails, and verbal observations related to the difficulties for me as Rich and I fleshed out our life since his conversion to Roman Catholicism. I thank you all for your kind encouragements and genuine concern. So far, this blog has chronicled the first few months of 2005. I experienced many intense moments of distress during that time as I faced discouragement and difficulties. However, in Christ, I have discovered there is strength, a sure haven and “the balm of Gilead” that heals all wounds. Thankfully the difficulties of those days are not presently occurring.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Interchurch Challenges

I am not sure when I discovered that I was surrounded by unequaled scriptural beauty in the Mass. Although I had experienced the spoken Word in Protestant churches, I never hungered to hear it. Nor had I hungered to meet Jesus with the intensity that seemed to impel me to seek Him each week at Mass and each day in daily Bible study and prayer.

Hearing the Word of God at Mass was like hearing the voice of an old friend in a foreign land. How good that voice sounded: non-judgmental, comforting, stating the same truths I had learned to trust all my life. “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world . . .” This text and others woven throughout the Mass made sense of what seemed a senseless predicament for me as a Protestant worshiping in a Roman Catholic Church. Scripture reverberated in my ears and allowed me moments of forgetfulness from the strain of being set apart.

In years past when I attended Protestant churches and socialized with Protestant friends, I did not think it odd to include in my sphere of friendships Catholic friends. Yet I recall only once meeting a Catholic couple at a Protestant church. They were investigating the possibility of attending our church service. I remember being a bit surprised, and after giving them a handshake and welcome, I asked them why they felt a need to leave their own church. They explained they were an interchurch couple (husband and wife from different Christian traditions – one often Roman Catholic) looking for a church that supported them both. Their desperate search for social acceptance was something I did not comprehend at the time. Nor did they express the division festering at the core of their marriage. It would take my own experience of remaining by my Catholic husband’s side at Mass each week to realize how deep and wide the gulf is that pervades our separated fellowship.

In the fall of 2005, as I began to accept my new relationship to the body of Christ, I naturally desired to find some way to serve. A growing appreciation of Christ’s plan for us motivated me to look for ways to be useful. Scouring the church bulletin, I looked for something a non-Catholic might be able to do.

Initially, I signed up with a prayer chain and faithfully prayed for the needs presented to me. This lasted until the leadership decided to revise the call list and hold a meeting to greet their members and get to know them. By that time, though, I had learned to avoid such encounters because I had unhappily found that once Catholics knew I was a Protestant, the welcoming smile become a mask of politeness. A wall of silence often followed with some bland comment on the weather, and then they discovered they needed to talk with someone across the room

So in spite of the wonderful welcome I received from our priest and the director of education, as well as the opportunity to work alongside Rich as he taught Faith Formation classes (Sunday school), I continued to experience being the outsider in a world of insiders.

But I was persistent. I tried a Bible study at our parish, but discovered that many of those attending the study were agonizing over their children who had left the Catholic Church to attend Protestant churches. I believed that my presence in the group would likely have been hurtful for them, so I did not return. I concluded my ability to serve Christ’s body here seemed useless. I responded by isolating myself further, interacting as little as possible.

Eventually, I discovered I could do something without group interaction. I made it my mission to bring food for our parish’s food bank, and gifts for various other charities the church supported. Most of all, I prayed for our pastors everyday.

That daily prayer became the foundation of a commitment that would grow ever larger, and marked the development of my life in Christ.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Reviewing the Past

I first realized the significance of the Sacrament of Communion when I attended confirmation classes as a teenager. I was 14. Our family had recently started attending a Congregational church when the class began. I remember long, boring monologues by our instructor, and the blue sky through the window above his head where my eyes continually wandered. When our class covered the subject of what our Protestant denomination believed about Communion, I vaguely remember the words trans-and consubstantiation. Most important, though, we learned Congregationalists didn’t believe in either.

Our teacher, a man with graying hair, doubted the validity of scripture, and viewed the miracles of the Bible with cynicism -- especially the story of the Nativity.

My parents, though, had taught me the opposite – that I should trust sacred scripture, and that Jesus – fully God and fully human – came to earth to die for my sins.

But sin was a subject I wished to ignore – and I was glad our confirmation teacher never spoke about it. The lure of worldly attitudes, such as pride and self-centered importance kept me from seeing my need of repentance and obedience to the Eternal King of Glory.

When the time came for my fellow students to be baptized and confirmed into the Congregational church, I decided not to follow the group. Much to my parents’ disappointment, no amount of pressure – not even a visit with the pastor – would change my mind. My parents had planted in my heart as a young child the idea that to commit to Christ in baptism must be with my whole being. That good sowing bore fruit. I knew I was not ready to make such a commitment. It took a very long detour of 13 years before my rebellious heart was ready to hear the urging of the Holy Spirit to come to Jesus.

I was 26-years-old, when I committed my heart to Christ. It was for Him alone I was immersed in the baptismal water on June 12, 1974 at a Disciples of Christ Church. I wanted to be baptized as an act of love and obedience toward my Savior and as a promise to the Lord that where He led, I would follow.

And to the best of my ability, I did.

Thirty years later, He led me to attend Mass with my husband, whom God had directed into the Catholic Church. That’s how I found myself excluded from the Table of the Lord each Sunday. (I still find it mystifying and humbling that Jesus offered me a way to meet Him each Mass through what I later discovered was called Spiritual Communion).

Through the spring and summer of 2005, I attended services with Rich, but always with great reservations, feeling myself an outsider, held at a distance from the living body of Christ. After weeks of social isolation and spiritual drought, Jesus came to find me and to nourish me with Himself. Once again, I felt like a participant in the worship of our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Slowly, I began to grow as I received spiritual communion. I didn’t know it at the time, but spiritual giants such as St. Catherine of Siena, St. Alphonsus, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. John Viennay, had written of such communion, and of what would happen to those who drew closer to Christ through a complete desire to receive the Sacrament.

Little by little, understanding penetrated my heart and the Mass began to come alive for me. I listened to the words of Scripture, the hymns and congregational responses. In them, I heard a new voice speaking – not the voice of a priest, reader, or parishioner – but of my Lord. What had seemed like a programmed hour of rote responses scripted to move from point A to B with ordered regularity, now sounded like a loving conversation between members of a family.

Moreover, as I listened to the prayers, responses, and songs from week to week, it became apparent to me that everything I heard, and all that was said during the Mass was full of Scripture. The lavish use of God’s word made my spirit rejoice. I found myself responding in my spiritual language (what Pentecostal Protestants and Charismatic Catholics call “tongues”) or I simply exalted Christ quietly with joyful peace.

Yet along with joy were the pricks of pain as I remembered that Rich and I were parted at our spiritual core. I was mindful of this especially as we sang songs about the Bread of Life, or lyrics stating, “All are welcome” to the table. I stood empty-handed. I could not be offered a piece of bread or a drop of wine. If the Lord had not provided His spiritual communion for me, I would have completely lost courage.

The Lord’s wonderful gift enabled that courage to empower me to seek His plan for my life within the Roman Catholic Church. I came to accept that He had placed me as a Protestant, with all the warts associated with that label, to be right where I was – in the pew next to Rich.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Saint John Vianney, known also as the CurĂ© of Ars, writes this about Spiritual Communion: “There are some who make a spiritual communion every day with blessed bread. If we are deprived of Sacramental Communion, let us replace it, as far as we can, by spiritual communion, which we can make every moment; for we ought to have always a burning desire to receive the good God.”

During the week following my first spiritual communion, I wondered what was happening to me. I was tempted to doubt my act of faith, wondering if I had fooled myself into believing I was experiencing Communion. I was not sure. Yet, gone was the constant rancor in my heart. I was surprised, too, by moments of joy. However, I was so attentive to my preparation for an art show at the end of August that I took less notice of that joy than I should have. In my view, what was taking place at Mass for me was a great idea. I knew it was a gift, but I guessed it was more like a substitute, and not true Communion.

Not comprehending what the Lord had offered me, I remained satisfied that He had taken pity upon me. I had supposed He was letting me participate on a level that was more like seeing, but not tasting. I did not know this spiritual communion was much more than Jesus’ gift to help me feel at ease. I did not realize the magnitude. Like a toddler who sucks a pacifier, I was pleased to leave the church building each Sunday contented.

The next Sunday I again received my Communion by faith, as I had the week before, but this time during the consecration, my doubts vanished. As soon as I swallowed and said, “Amen,” after the elevation of the cup, I felt a wellspring of joy in my heart, and recognized the presence of the Holy Spirit. For the next few weeks, this became a pattern for me during each Mass.

Rich and I continued to sort out our new lives. We were not in perfect harmony, but at least he was not getting an ear-full of woe each week.

One Sunday in August he commented on the difference. I shared with him what I was doing, and he hugged me, encouraged that in a small way I was happier at Mass.

With the art show fast approaching, Rich also encouraged me in my artistic endeavor by helping with the housework so I could concentrate on the rubrics of my craft. Thankfully, he was satisfied with scrambled eggs or pizza for dinner on days I had spent hours in the studio. With high hopes of sharing my images in a large venue, Rich took me to the airport and sent me on my way to Atlanta during the Labor Day weekend. I sensed that this trip would change me, although I hadn’t a clue how that would happen - and I expressed that to Rich.

The first day or so of the art show was enough to convince me I would not participate in that type of venue again. I was not part of the Fantasy/Gamer crowd, and my art did not seem to appeal to them either. This was a great disappointment for me because I had hoped my unique work would fit well within this eclectic group.

On Sunday I attended a Protestant service with our daughter, who lives near Atlanta. My foray once more into an Evangelical congregation was not as satisfying to me as I had expected. After three years in sacramental churches, I supposed the difference of liturgy and unfamiliar songs left me with a spiritual emptiness. I came away confused by my attitude and disillusioned with what I had thought would be a very satisfying morning. What I did not take into account was how the small act of faith I had experienced at Mass had now changed me.

On the flight home, failure and self-pity engulfed me because of the disappointing reception of my art. The past year’s trials paraded before my weary thoughts, and I slumped in my seat.

After a while, I took out a drawing pad from my carry-on and made some notes about my emotional state. I was determined to keep up a good front of cheerfulness – but my heart had gone out of me. I had come to the end of my fortitude and I felt morose. Moreover, I wondered how long I would be able to be as supportive of Rich as I had been. I knew from experience that over time my resolve would languish, causing my cooperation to falter. I loved Rich, and wanted our covenant-marriage to succeed, but on that flight home, remembering the past months, we seemed sorely in trouble.

It never occurred to me that all the difficulty I had experienced, as well as the failure to prosper in my venture, was exactly right for me. I thought my eyes were wide open and I understood all that had taken place. However, I was still blind.

But Jesus was in the process of giving me sight.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Undeserved Gift

Spiritual Communion . . . I had no idea what it was as I doggedly attended Mass with Rich each Sunday, all the while wrestling with my frustration and attempting to cope with all the differences in our lives since Rich converted to Catholicism.

In addition, I found myself yearning to love, and be loved, by Jesus each time I was excluded from the table of the Lord at Mass. I believed Jesus was there, he is always in the midst of those who trust and call upon His name. St. Matthew writes, “For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (New Jerusalem Bible) Jesus was in our midst, but I was blinded by my preconceived ideas of how I could meet Him. I expected to meet him through the moving of the Holy Spirit in song, prayer and during the reading and preaching of the word. And I longed to again meet Him at His table – a longing that all Christians receive at birth in Him.

But, at our Catholic church (I wrongly concluded) I was a bystander at His table and He was not there for me. As far as I could tell, before that Sunday in July, God had heard my heart’s cry, but He had chosen to keep silent. He did not change my situation so as to meet my wants as I had hoped He would.

He had another plan.

I knew from my reading of the Psalms that at times God is silent toward His children . . . but He is never out of touch with us. While God had been silent in my life at other times, His silence had never been this long nor this deep – nor had my longing to hear Him been so intense.

On the Saturday evening before the Sunday Mass I mentioned in the last post, Rich experienced for the first time an hour of prayer devoted to waiting before Christ in the Eucharist (know as Adoration). I remember patronizing Rich as he rambled on in glowing terms about his experience that evening at a local youth rally with our church. I listened with skepticism to his buoyant excitement about praying before the Blessed Sacrament (a consecrated host placed in a special holder called a Monstrance). Rich was sure Jesus would answer the prayer he poured out before Christ’s beloved Presence – his prayer that somehow I would find peace and comfort in the Catholic Church.

I sensed his deep disappointment when I told him I was glad to support him in our new church, but that I was quite comfortable with my Protestant beliefs and mind-set.

To say I was interested in understanding Roman Catholic thought would have been false. I was happy with what little knowledge I had already gained. I pined for my life as a Protestant. Moreover, I was hurt – and irked – that our new church’s rules denied my right as a child of the King to the Communion table.

I was doing my wifely, Christian duty following my husband, and I suppose I expected God to notice.

The Lord’s deafening silence hurt me all the more.

I must say, though, when the Lord’s answer came, it was not the welcome release I had hoped for. Rather, it was an invitation to an action of faith.

Although I’d been baptized in the Holy Spirit for years with the gift (Charism) of other tongues, and I’d known His overpowering peace through the moving of the Holy Spirit in my life, I was surprised that the Lord’s first clear instruction to me in many months was that I receive communion by faith. It was one thing to see His answers to prayer like asking for my shoulder to be healed or the bills to be paid, but it was quite another to receive a direction to do something that seemed opposite to my understanding of how non-Catholics should act.

I might not like the rules – but I knew how to follow rules. And, angry though I was with the Catholic Church’s rule that I could not take Communion, I was willing to comply, because complying equaled obedience to the Lord, and that meant I accepted His direction whether I understood it or not.

Christ did not suspend the rule, but offered me a gift I had not expected nor asked for. All I had to do was receive it.

Long ago, I had learned God is not as interested in our pleasure – or in what we think He should do, as He is interested in our obedience. And the Father likes to take us at our word. When we say, “I will go anywhere for you,” – He will send us. When we say, “I will do anything for you,” – He will ask it of us.

I had made those promises of going and doing many times during my thirty years of attending Protestant worship services. It had never entered my mind that His “sending” and “asking” would involve kneeling in a Catholic church. More to the point, I never imagined Jesus would ask me to receive Communion by faith during the consecration of the bread and wine. I accepted Jesus’ gift not because I deserved it, but because of God’s grace given to me to accept it.

I am a proud, arrogant, peevish woman who could never be good enough nor worthy of such a magnificent gift. I’d smirked at Rich’s belief in Christ’s presence in the consecrated host the evening before – and with razor-like precision, Jesus challenged my Protestant know-it-all attitude by offering me Himself as supernatural food at Mass the next morning.

His mercy is overwhelming.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The continued emptiness of my prayer-life increased even as we attended Sunday Mass and assisted in a Faith Formation (Sunday school). Although I experienced the predictable awkwardness associated with any new comer to a community, this could not account for the emptiness in my relationship with God. Not even walking forward to receive a blessing lifted the barrenness of my heart.

I wondered how could Jesus, whom I loved and to whom I had committed my life, place me in such an unreasonable place. I longed to be at His table. How could He who said that those who believe in Him must eat His body and drink His blood, now engineer a situation where I could do neither?

I accepted that God had moved upon Rich in such a way as to change his understanding of Holy Scripture passages from a Protestant interpretation to a Catholic one. Rich’s love and desire for Communion (the Eucharist), and his deepening prayer life, were indications to me of a move of the Holy Spirit.

In contrast, my relationship to God seemed a rock-strewn path with signposts that advised me to “Pay attention, examine yourself, and follow Me.”

But, follow where?

I had wrestled with my past and present only to realize I was who I was. That was all I could be. Nevertheless, I was exhausted with the struggle that ended in discouragement. Even reading the Scriptures provided no comfort. All I could see in those words was a persistent directive to love.

But God, being rich in mercy, knew what He was doing. Until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes, my situation resulted in an ever-deepening longing for Jesus, even as the strain of abandonment grew in intensity with each Sunday Mass.

Then, one Sunday Morning in July 2005, I sat in the pew next to Rich half-listening to the lector read the Scripture. The second reading in our Missal was from Paul’s letter to the Romans. “Brothers and sisters: What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).

I had memorized those passages as a young Christian, but had never experienced the extreme need that would propel my soul to cling to those words and their offered gift of God’s love. I rolled the text over again in my mind: “For I am convinced . . . that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I interpreted that to mean nothing can separate me from Jesus. Jesus was here at this service for me. He had not kept himself from me. However, my blindness to His love had kept me from Him.

I wondered, was He telling me He would never refuse His body and His blood to me? Would I come to Him, who promised to cast no one away, who approached Him in complete surrender? I didn’t hear much of the homily (sermon) that morning because my thoughts had fixated on the idea that nothing, nothing could separate me from my Savior.

And at that moment I remembered an incident that had occurred years earlier. In 1968, prior to my commitment to Christ, I sat with my parents in an unremarkable Sunday Service at the Congregational church we attended. As a young adult who believed myself to be a Christian because I had been raised to be one, I was welcome to take Communion.

It was Communion Sunday. The small glasses of grape juice and plate of broken unleavened bread had been passed through the congregation. The pastor had already intoned, “This is my body given for you . . .”

I chewed the bread and reached for the cup sitting in its holder on the back of the pew in front of me, but before my hand touched the glass, the thought dropped into my mind, “That’s the blood of Christ.”

Mystified, I picked up the tiny cup and looked into the sparkling liquid, which seemed to thicken and deepen in color. The pastor spoke the words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood . . .”

I didn’t know what to do. Should I put the cup down? What would I tell my parents – that there was blood in my cup? They would think I was insane. So, I drank it. It was an awful, gagging, difficult thing to do. A black revulsion gripped my heart. I wanted to flee. My spiritual eyes had opened for the first time in my life and I saw I was filthy with sin.

After that Sunday, I avoided Communion for six years. Not until I repented of my sins, asked Jesus to forgive me, and by His mercy obtained forgiveness, did I receive Communion or desire it. When Jesus gave me new life, I became a beloved child of my Father in Heaven. I was buried with Him in my Baptism and raised to newness of life in Him. And with that new life came a deeper understanding of the special sacredness of Communion. I had not forgotten His blood in the cup, nor the need to be clean before Him.

So now, as I stood during the Mass, I wondered if Jesus indeed wanted to give me Communion. Was He asking me to trust Him for something that only He would provide for me? Could I accept as true that all I had to do was believe that He wanted to do so?

Fear enveloped me that somehow I had misunderstood. Yet, spurred on by hope in His love, I would take a leap of faith.

During the Offering, I examined my conscience in preparation for communion.

I knelt as the priest held up the Host and said the same words that my Protestant pastors intoned for years during Communion. As our priest spoke those words and consecrated the host, I accepted the idea that Jesus was giving me His body. I swallowed and recited, “Amen.” Then the priest took the cup, elevated it above his head, and repeated the words of the Lord. And once again, I chose to believe Jesus' offering to me. I swallowed and said, “Amen,” once more.

I felt nothing -- much as I had felt nothing the evening I gave my life to Christ.

However, for the first time since we had attended a Catholic church I did not feel conflicted when Rich went forward for the Eucharist and I for a blessing. On the way home, I sat quietly next to Rich, ruminating on a small kernel of peace, pondering what I had done. For the first time in two very long years, I thought I might feel at home once more in church.

It would not be for another several months that I would learn about Spiritual Communion. By that time, the Lord had radically changed my life.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

How We Got Here

My parents came from different denominations and avoided problems inherent with inter-church families by attending Protestant churches without preference to denomination. Their only requirement was that the church they attended would be either Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, or Disciples of Christ. My parents also opted to dedicate their children to the Lord, rather than baptize them. (When Protestants dedicate their children, the parents, acknowledge their children are a gift from God and promise Him to raise their children in such a way that the children will accept Christ as their savior and be baptized. The children do not usually become members of the church when dedicated). Thus, they kept us from becoming members of any denomination by baptism.

My parents taught me I could choose a Protestant denomination once I was an adult. By the time I committed my heart to Jesus at the age of 26, I was uninterested in denominations. My only desire was for Christ, alone. I was baptized in a Protestant denominational church, not as a declaration of my membership in that body of believers, but as a declaration of my love for Christ and my intent to follow Him.

I sought no other label but Christian.

Rich developed his attitude toward church membership within an overseas military chapel environment in a non-Christian country. This setting discouraged denominational divides. Protestants and Catholics shared friendship and fellowship in bible studies and every-day living. They lovingly cared for each other and overlooked their denominational differences. Rich’s idea of Christian servant-hood had remarkable similarities to my own. We were well-suited for each other.

But when Rich converted to Roman Catholicism, I thought he had forgotten he was a Christian. He talked no longer about Jesus, but of the Church, or the Church’s doctrines. This left me ill at ease and, as I have stated in previous posts, I felt abandoned.

However, while I thought Rich had replaced Jesus with a denomination, he believed he was simply trying to share with me his excitement about what he was learning. He wanted me to experience the same wonderful call of God on his life. He hoped I also would discover Jesus in a new perspective within the historical tradition of this ancient church body.

Years earlier, in 2000, Rich had hung a crucifix above his computer. The image of Christ on the cross reminded him of the cost God paid for our salvation. Rich also began to write for a Catholic newspaper on the East Coast, and as each edition arrived, his desire grew to communicate his love of Christ with Catholics. He talked with me about this and I encouraged him to keep writing, for I too, felt the tug to see Rich minister to that part of Christ’s body. Rich’s desire to be more fully involved with some type of gospel ministry with Catholics seemed to grow with each year. However, he could not see how to fit himself into a Catholic context; nevertheless, we were sure we would be shown the way.

In 2002, we moved to Connecticut and spent two months living in a motel room waiting for our newly purchased home to be readied. During this time, we did some local sight seeing. A regional travel book mentioned, “A Sunset Cruise,” sponsored by St. Edmund’s Retreat on Enders Island. I thought this would be fun, since the mini- retreat would be on a sailboat at sunset. It sounded like a great way for us to see some of the coast and spend time with Jesus.

Rich was not sure we would fit in; the retreat was sponsored by a Catholic group. I assured him that there were no qualifiers mentioned in the ad, and I called and made reservations for the next week. We sailed out of Mystic, Connecticut, past Enders Island, out to Fishers Island where we dropped anchor, ate our boxed dinner, listened to a portion of Scripture, and watched the sun set over a glassy sea. Rich initiated a conversation with the priest, who was the retreat director, and who, in the next two years of friendship, opened the door for Rich to explore the mystery and life of the Catholic Church.

When Rich and I discussed the deepening call he felt toward the Catholic Church I found myself in conflict. I thought I was willing to follow Rich into ministry anywhere. But as he moved closer to embracing the doctrines of Roman Catholicism, I discovered my own lack of enthusiasm. What surprised me most, though, was my almost total opposition to Rich’s now consuming desire to join the Catholic Church. My childhood experiences of exclusion by family and friends from participation in any Catholic service or practice had indeed formed a deep gulf of pain.

As we traveled from Connecticut to the state of Washington, we moved into the unknown with knowledge that our future was somehow bound-up in a division that was creeping into our one-flesh marriage.

But God’s grace came to me in a word of comfort one sun-filled morning as we drove through miles of sunflowers along the road headed west. Rich was asleep in the seat next to me and the horizon was an undulating sea of brown fields. Humming a hymn softly to myself, a thought dropped into my mind: in the future we would be attending a Roman Catholic Church.

I was shocked with that idea, but somehow strangely comforted, too. I thought God would do something in me to change my heart. Perhaps we would both be part of this call -- not just Rich. I pondered that possibility over the months ahead and waited to see how I might change.

What I discerned, however, despite my willingness to be changed, was a resounding discovery that I was most definitely a Protestant.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

What Followed

After weeks of feeling miserable and uninvolved, I set about to know more about the Roman Catholic Mass, and dutifully studied the Missal – a book comprising the yearly congregational readings and responses. I found the Missal next to a hymnal in the bookrack.

It took me some time to discover how our Missal worked. I learned by trial and error that the basic outline, or order of the Mass, is in the front. Scripture readings and responses are in the middle section. To find the correct reading on any particular Sunday I looked for the date of that Sunday printed at the bottom of the page. Hymns were in the back of the Missal. Special days such as Easter filled entire sections, and like all books, there was a table of contents.

Across the page from the table of contents were the “Guidelines for the Reception of Communion,” which described who could take Holy Communion, and how those who could not take it might participate in the Celebration through prayer. The suggestion in the Guidelines encouraged everyone to pray to be united with Jesus and other Christians.

I was especially grateful that the general form of the Mass was almost exactly like the Anglican services we had experienced. The service seemed comfortable to me until it came time to sing the Communion hymn and Rich processed forward to take Communion. As had happened each time we attended Mass since his conversion, I was in tears by the time he returned to his seat.

I thought to myself in anger, surely, being a Protestant in a Catholic world was much too difficult for me. Although I was no longer attending a Protestant church, the desire to participate in Communion was a natural outflow of my Christian commitment, experience, and practice. I wondered if I had better rethink finding a Protestant church. The church where I attended a woman’s Bible study would be a good fit, but it was a 45-minute drive, and we had only one car. The more I mulled over the possibilities, the bleaker my predicament grew.

I knew Rich was praying for me. He hated to see me suffer, and was beside himself with misery. He told me many times he didn’t know how we could survive this continuous heartbreak, and if I would be more content, we would attend a Protestant church and he would sort out his Catholic obligations as he could.

Love is patient . . . patient to let the Lord work in me, in Rich, and in our situation.

One Sunday, during the processional hymn at the beginning of Mass, I was surprised to hear a voice very different from the usual near-whispered singing. A man behind us sang with passion, as if expressing his love directly to the Lord. I was impressed. The lackluster congregational singing often made me wonder if anyone in the Roman Catholic Church really cared that they were addressing the Trinity in song.

Later, during the portion of the Mass when the congregation “passes the peace” and shakes hands with those around them, I noticed the young man who had been singing so energetically radiated a joyful countenance. In weeks past, I’d only encountered pleasant, reserved, or non-expressive faces.

After Mass, Rich suggested we try the coffee and donuts in the social center. Because Rich received his RCIA instruction from a military chaplain, this church was a new community for both of us and Rich was eager to meet someone – anyone – with whom we might connect.

As we held our coffee cups and watched the milling crowd, I spotted the young man again. I urged Rich to speak to him. Surely, I thought, a person who seemed to be rejoicing in Christ might be a good person to get to know.

While the three of us sat at a table and talked, Rich mentioned his recent entrance into the Catholic Church. The young man immediately stood up, brought the senior pastor to our table, and introduced him to us.

Our pastor sat down and encouraged us to involve ourselves in the parish. When I explained I embraced the Anglican belief that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, he made a genuine effort to address my concerns about not receiving the Eucharist. He explained that the rules of the Roman Catholic Church prohibited him from giving Communion to a non-Catholic Christian. Although there were special circumstances during which non-Catholic Christians might receive the Eucharist, he said these were few and needed special permission. However, he warmly invited me to come forward to receive a blessing during the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Communion.)

I was grateful for the kind welcome and invitation by this good pastor.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Husband is a Roman Catholic

By the time we were seated on our chairs in the base chapel for the Easter Vigil Mass, I had accepted the inevitable change that was undeniably upon us. Although I wasn’t thrilled with what lay ahead that evening, I wanted to make the best of it for Rich. After all, I had determined to accept God’s will in my life, and my life was intertwined with Rich’s and I deeply regretted not being able to be fully attuned to this good thing in his life.

It grieved us that Rich had not received any recommendations or suggestions during his weekly instruction of how we might maneuver through these new waters. However, Rich and I talked about it quite often and concluded we had only two options: I could attend Mass with Rich, as a show of unity (but not join the Catholic Church), or I could go to my Protestant church while he attended Mass at the Catholic one.

Rich and I mulled over the solution of dual church affiliation. We knew of couples who’d chosen that option. A group of them had formed an online inter-church ministry to promote a one-couple-two-churches approach. Their web site, www.interchurchfamilies.org, was a great help for us in sorting out our options. The members of the group encouraged husbands and wives to respect the theological differences between their Catholic and Protestant church communities. Many of the couples even attended their respective churches together, and had done so for years

Rich and I discussed this form of church affiliation, and it seemed like a dual commitment of emotional energy, miles of travel, and the juggling of service times; as a 50-something couple, Rich and I were not capable of such an energetic “unity”.

During the Easter Vigil Liturgy, as the congregation recommitted themselves to Christ, Rich and I recommitted ourselves to the Lord, as we had at our baptism. That was a reaffirming part of the Mass for me, yet while Rich recited his part as a convert, I found myself enveloped in a profound sadness. Rich had no idea how wobbly my legs felt when the service ended; I kept a firm hold on his arm as we followed the crowd of well-wishers into the fellowship hall.

While I leaned against the wall and watched, Rich was greeted by one and then another of the congregation. I was happy for him.

Suddenly, I found myself warmly greeted. The man shaking my hand was the priest Rich had been meeting. Looking into his kind eyes, I wondered why he never reached out to me during all those months of counseling my husband. Rich’s half-hearted statement to me that the priest would be glad to answer my questions, and that I might attend any of their sessions, seemed to me an afterthought because of its timing--- midway into Rich’s weekly sessions. My Protestant experience had prepared me for joint pastoral counseling; I did not understand why our marriage had not been an important factor from the beginning.

Nevertheless, this man seemed kind and genuinely interested in me. We chatted for a few moments before he moved on to converse with others.

And so, our new life in Christ had begun.

The following morning we attended our first Easter Mass at the Catholic Church we’d visited several times during the previous months.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Week Before

The Saturday evening service between Good Friday and Easter morning, called the Easter Vigil, was the Mass during which Rich would enter the Roman Catholic Church.

A week before the Vigil I finally grasped that this Catholic change was really going to happen, and I’d better prepare. I planned to make a nice dinner, get my hair cut, and select just the right clothes to wear. I queried Rich about the dinner, but he promptly informed me he did not want a fuss. The process leading up to the week ahead had been difficult enough, and he did not want to emphasize it any more. I knew he was thinking of my needs, so I planned his favorite breakfast for that Saturday morning. We had a quick dinner the evening of the Vigil.

During the days leading up to the Vigil, I mused on my future within this unfamiliar body of believers. That future looked somewhat bleak. Rich often sat holding me as I mulled over questions about my role in Rich’s new home church. What if I had a spiritual problem? To whom would I go? As a non-Catholic, how would I “fit in” as Rich involved himself in the life of his church? I had always been at his side during church ministries, such as teaching Sunday school and home Bible studies. Would I now have to remove myself from those ministries in which he would participate? We clung together and pondered these questions from time to time – I in despair and he in anguish, unable to give me answers or comfort me.

By “coincidence,” my daily Bible reading took me through the book of Job during Holy Week. I’d read this book many times before, and had always plodded through the narrative of what seemed like one long, dull complaint. This time I saw myself in a Job-like situation, and his question, “why?” echoed in my mind.

But the more I read of the futility of Job’s situation and how he suffered without understanding the reason for his pain, I realized Job’s character grew stronger through his trials. His steadfast trust in God remained firm despite circumstances and personal attacks. Nothing altered Job’s trust in the mercy and righteousness of his Redeemer.

Friends accused Job of living a sinful life, and that was the reason for his troubles. Although no one had accused me of living a sinful life, I began to accuse myself. I desired so desperately to have renewed life breathed into our marriage that I now agonized over my supposed and real failures. For a time, I worried something was wrong with me because I could not accept the new beliefs that were so easy for Rich. I struggled with this every day. And, like Job, I pleaded with the Father to let me know what I was to do –not what I wanted to do, but what He wanted me to do.

I found part of my answer in Job 23:8-16 (New American Standard Bible):

8"Behold, I go forward but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
9When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him;
He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.
10"But He knows the way I take;
When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
11"My foot has held fast to His path;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
12"I have not departed from the command of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.
13"But He is unique and who can turn Him?
And what His soul desires, that He does.
14"For He performs what is appointed for me,
And many such decrees are with Him.
15"Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence;
When I consider, I am terrified of Him.
16"It is God who has made my heart faint,
And the Almighty who has dismayed me,”

Our Father poured into my troubled heart the balm only He could provide. I was comforted by His reminder that He knows the way I take, and that He appointed for me this time, this place and this way. Even when my heart felt faint from the darkness of an unknown future, it is His nail pierced hand that orchestrated it.

I read that passage repeatedly; and I remembered the exhortation of pastors and teachers in my past who encouraged me to trust in the Lord, lean on His word, accept good and bad from His hand.

The words to a favorite hymn played in my mind, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ. One look at His dear face, all sorrow will erase; so bravely run the race till we see Christ.”

I would try to accept everything from the Lord’s hand as something He had planned for me.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I Begin My Instruction

As much as I wanted to, I came to realize that no matter how I tried to squeeze myself into a Roman Catholic mold, I was unable to embrace all Catholic beliefs with a clear conscience. The doctrines and dogmas about Papal authority, Marian devotions, of Indulgences, Purgatory, prayers to Saints . . . I could not embrace them as Rich could, and I was dumbfounded to think that all my best efforts to do so were of no consequence.

It became clear to me that I had forgotten a truth I thought I had learned long ago: the Lord does not need my help.

Discouraged, I determined to tough it out – whatever that would mean for our marriage. And so, in a throw-up-the-hands-and-say-I-give-up exasperation, I decided to go about life as best I could.

But, I was not off the hook. A Christian who does not grow will shrivel into uselessness, and so, while Rich finished his meetings with the priest on the naval base, I began attending a classroom of a different sort.

I am now convinced the Holy Spirit used the turmoil in our home to capture my attention so I could rivet my eyes on Jesus and learn what He wanted me to learn. As I read the Scriptures from week to week, I found myself often opening to I Corinthians 13. That passage had always been a “feel good” chapter for me, because I liked the thought of love, and I believed I was living according to that definition of love.

However, as I repeatedly read and meditated on those verses, I discovered I was not living out any of those commands. In fact, I had never carefully studied my attitudes and actions in the light of what St. Paul had written.

Here is the passage (from the New American Standard Bible):

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. “

“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

“Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away."

“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

I did not have that kind of love. Through those weeks of strife, I was unforgiving of my husband who was following the Holy Spirit’s urging. I was only marginally supporting him because all I was really interested in was me. Even if Rich did and said things that upset me, if I had love I ought to be kind. I ought to forgive. I ought to be patient, I ought to . . .

The Holy Spirit was focusing in on my sin, but my will set itself against His, and I decided I would “think about it” — later.

Later would come sooner than I thought.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Spectator and Participant

As the haze of our turmoil started to dissipate, I began to study Rich’s behavior more carefully. What I thought I had observed in him during those more difficult months now caught my attention. I discovered a transformation in Rich’s prayer life, and that brought moments of joy back to my heart. I saw the young man I remembered from our first years of marriage – a disciplined man spending hours with Jesus. Initially I thought his change would be temporary, and I waited to see if his renewed habit truly was a move of the Holy Spirit. The longer I waited, the more dedicated Rich became to “his hour with Jesus.”

More impressive, however, was a change in another area that really confirmed something new was happening to Rich. Of all the challenges I had seen him struggle with consistently; Rich’s most difficult foe was his temper. I had seen him wrestle with ill temper, get a hold on it, and have it on the mat – only to see anger reach out, clutch at Rich and slam him down for the count. Over those long weeks of early 2005, Rich displayed an un-characteristic calm at all times. That impressed me. Perhaps my long years of prayer for him were being answered. I even dared think that this “Catholic thing” was somehow responsible.

If Rich was being made new, I, however, could not see much difference in my life. And that troubled me. Was Rich’s newness because he was now more attuned to the Lord through his different understanding of Scripture? Just as important, could that understanding make a difference in me? I wondered if I could be a Catholic too.

Goaded on by the desire to be again in agreement with Rich in our Christian walk, I felt the need to give an account to myself of what I believed. Thus followed a time where I questioned everything I had learned about how to serve Jesus. I compared all that I had read in the Catholic books scattered about the house, to what I believed the scriptures said. Either I believed the simple gospel – Jesus died for me – or I believed the Catholic books; for me to be a valid Christian, I should believe in the primacy of Peter, the many attributes of Mary, making prayers to the saints and similar ideas, which were foreign to what I believed scripture taught. Furthermore, until I read those books, I hadn’t realized how adherence to specific practices such as Baptism, Reconciliation, the Eucharist, and Confirmation were considered critical to salvation.

As I told Rich, I am a simple Christian. Unlike my husband, my Protestant education was not focused on learning doctrines in a classroom. I just trusted that if the Bible said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved,” that’s what I needed to do to be saved. What I lacked in doctrinal knowledge I gained in relationship with Jesus. He offered me eternal life by shedding His precious blood for my sins. I owe Him everything. He owes me nothing, and yet the Master of the Universe deigned to give me all I possess.

It was this relationship that I pondered, and I pondered it long. Either I was hopelessly separated from Christ because I was not Catholic, as I believed the books insisted, or I was as I had always been since the day I gave Him my heart . . . a Christian.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The End – and the Beginning

It was clear to me that God had opened Rich’s eyes to Roman Catholic interpretation of Scripture. However, I could not see where Rich was getting his newfound convictions. It puzzled me and caused no end of anguish that I was unable to understand Rich. But more importantly, I was bewildered that my Lord Jesus had not moved upon me in the same way He had moved on Rich. To this point in our lives together, for every major change or direction Rich and I had undertaken, we had individually experienced from God a change of heart to prepare us. However, what happened in 2005 was not what we had come to expect.

Who can comprehend the Father’s plan? I know God does not make mistakes, so I searched my Bible each day, even when the words seemed to have no life in them. I prayed as fervently as I knew how, yet our divisions seemed to multiply. However, in spite of all that was happening between us, Jesus placed into my heart a desire to trust Him.

Nevertheless, for months we found ourselves lost in that grotesque carnival fun house called “division.” After all the talking, weeping, praying, after having taken a course on communication, participating in a marriage enrichment weekend, and exhausting our own best efforts, we found ourselves once more totally frustrated with each other, ourselves and our situation.

We agreed on one thing, though. We knew we could not continue to live this way. We were “one flesh,” but we were biting and devouring each other. So, once more, we pleaded with our Lord to help us. As we approached the Throne of Grace, we admitted our failures and sins, and our need to be free of this divisiveness that continued to consume us.

And that’s when everything began to change. In that quiet moment of prayer on our living room carpet, our Father answered us separately. Into Rich’s heart He spoke, “It is over.” Into my heart He impressed, “Come here no more.”

We each understood His meaning. Rich knew he should no longer speak of our differences. Independently, I knew the same thing. When we told each other what the Lord had spoken to us, we discerned, for the first time in months, the Holy Spirit’s benediction of peace.

How grateful we are that our Father put an end to enmity and opened our eyes to what had been happening to us. We suddenly realized we had been under the control of “…the rulers, the powers, and the spiritual forces of wickedness…” (Eph. 6:12). Our eyes were now open to that devilish plan.


In opening our eyes, I was suddenly free to discover how God wanted me to live within this new life. What I found was that this change was not just about Rich and his discoveries – but it was also about me. The weeks that I had felt estranged from God, His word, and His direction, started – in a small way – to make sense.

While Rich continued instruction with the Catholic priest on the naval base, I read some of the books Rich brought home for me. They were written from a Roman Catholic perspective to a predominantly Roman Catholic reader. Some books explained doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic Faith in clear terms, listing rules and traditions to which all Catholics adhere. These books described Roman Catholicism as the singular most perfect expression of the Christian Church, because Catholics have the Faith and Traditions handed down by the apostles. I also read testimonial stories of converts, some of whom remembered their Protestant past as being totally biased and dismissive toward Catholics. Some writers, at times, characterized their former Protestant instruction about Catholic theology as a form of bigotry. Although often praising the biblical roots of their faith, most testified to having been overtaken with the surprising discovery that they had been very wrong about the Roman Catholic Church and rejoiced that they were no longer Protestants. Their glowing descriptions of the wonder and newfound life in Christ sounded very much like the emotions I experienced when I made Jesus my savior at the age of twenty-six.

If those books did not beckon me to become Roman Catholic, they did challenge me to grow up in Christ. The first step was to admit that I was also ill taught about Roman Catholicism, and that my teachers had unknowingly passed along to me perceptions and misinformation that could be characterized as bigotry. When I discovered this, I was shocked. I had always thought of myself as open-minded. Could I really be a bigot?

I took a hard look into my past; most of my life I had been acquiring a thick shell of bias against Catholics. It covered the wounds unknowingly inflicted by my extended family, and it cushioned the other times I had hit my head against the wall of Roman Catholic beliefs. And, as bigotry is likely to do, I grew proud in my own particular doctrines and practices; it hardened my heart to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and blinded my eyes to the Father’s image in others.

I had two choices, (we always have only two). I could continue in my sin – or repent. I chose to repent. And the next part of that process was to forgive people who, in the guise of Catholic religious belief, intentionally or unintentionally had hurt me.

Over the years of my life, I have learned forgiveness is not a single act. It is a state of the heart, to be practiced daily. And to this end, the Holy Spirit gives us ample opportunities.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Definite Differences

Thoughts of being emotionally abandoned kept me up night after night. It seemed as if a wall of isolation stood between us. Rich sought to comfort me, and I sought to comfort him -- but whenever we reached out to each other there was neither peace nor consolation. Our meaningful times of praying together were gone. Going to church became a painful chore.

Not a day passed that we did not find ourselves mulling over our differences of doctrine. Neither of us could understand why the other did not see the plain clarity of our own interpretation of Scripture. I could not comprehend how Rich’s insights could be so divergent from his past. For me, his changed perception and adherence to that change seemed as if he had closed the door on our lives at a critical level. We, who had found our greatest joy serving Jesus at church, now mechanically attended worship services. He began to voice dissatisfaction with the Protestant churches I wanted to try. I found myself in tears during the services at the Catholic churches we visited.

I grew more isolated during those months, alone in our home trying to put the new house in order and prepare for family visits. At Rich’s urging I sought out a women’s bible study at a local Protestant church and I became a member and regular attendee of the art league in town. After three months of attending that bible study, I left. Of the fifteen or so women, only one had bothered to even learn my name. I sought out another bible study farther from home. These women opened their arms in greeting at my first visit. Their acceptance of me unknowingly helped support my fragile courage, especially during the final transition in April.

But most helpful were friends from former days. Although I did not discuss our problems, I did mention the church dilemma we were facing. These women encouraged me to trust Christ. They urged me to stay connected with them. Without their constant commitment to our friendship, I could not have gone through the changes that were taking place in our home. Curiously, one challenged me to look for Jesus in the Catholic Church -- something I did not consider a reasonable suggestion at the time.

During the first months of 2005, Rich began to identify more and more with the doctrines he was confirming in his heart. He tended to have Catholic friends, and because we had just moved to a different state, he reached out to the Catholics he met at work and old acquaintances from our former home in Connecticut whom he knew were Catholic.

Rich did not discuss our problems with anyone, but he asked them for prayer for us to be able to communicate and stop fighting. Some of his new acquaintances tended to take sides. I don’t think they planned to do that, but it happened. What I perceived as their subtle messages about “how difficult Protestants can be” put me on the defensive. I thought Rich was complaining about me to his friends, something he had never done before. When I met them, they seemed cool toward me.

A chaplain he had counseled with at his job tried to instruct me by saying, “I know you are having some problems. We are all on faith journeys and this change in Rich is his responding to God’s call. You need to let him make this change.” As much as we needed help, talking with the chaplain only intensified my belief that I was being singled out and under attack. Rich had gone to her for advice. Yet, objective as I’m sure she wanted to be, she already was biased to his point of view because, as I learned later, she herself had moved with some difficulty from one denomination to another.

That meeting set a wedge between Rich and I that took several months to heal.

Although we both knew how to behave in Christ during good times and difficult ones, we found ourselves focusing more and more on our differences. Our eyes were off Jesus, the One who had held our marriage together for those thirty years. We did not know we were being influenced by the enemy of our souls. Honestly, we believed we were doing everything that was right to do. We sensed our need to find common ground. Yet the slightest problem escalated into sometimes weeks of misunderstanding. This had never happened in the 30 years we had been married.

If our eyes had been opened, we would have seen what was happening. The arguments, the days and nights of feeling abandoned, the lack of joy in our worship together in church or at prayer, the antagonistic feelings and the subtle thoughts of suspicion, anger, frustration were all part of a spiritual manipulation. But we could not see it at the time.

We had become prisoners of ugly, denominational division.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Had To Begin Somewhere

When Rich first approached me with the idea of his joining the Catholic Church, I panicked. While all that he was learning was new to him, it was very familiar to me. He’d lived his life for more than fifty years without serious thought about the Catholic Church. His only understanding of Catholicism was what he had learned in Bible College, and seminary, and from a few conversations with a Catholic priest and some Catholic friends.

I wondered if Rich knew what his decision might bring into our marriage. I tried to point out things that might be different for us, such as my exclusion from the Lord’s Table, and that we would be at odds about so many long held traditions, but he couldn’t hear me. In fact, no matter how often I pointed out those differences, I did not seem to have his attention, and I perceived his responses as negative. I came to believe he thought of me as an antagonist. He, however, couldn’t understand why I wasn’t seeing the truths he was discovering – truths he wanted to share with me as he has shared other spiritual blessings during our lives together. So, I was frustrated with what I perceived as his anger at my questions and he was frustrated at my tears and outbursts.

Looking back, I shouldn’t have tried to point out the actual and potential problems. I should have let him go about the business of doing what he felt he had to do. He was determined to discover as much as he could about Catholicism. Standing in his way only delayed the process; but I had some deep issues that motivated me.

To understand what seemed to Rich as my emotional and irrational objections to his desire to share his new understanding of the Catholic Church, and why I dared not encourage that clear call of God on his life, I need to take a moment to explain.

The foundation for panic began in my heart when I was four.

A pivotal moment in my life, one that brought years of subtle rejection, took place the afternoon my sister first became ill. My parents were not at home. When my mother returned to our apartment she was dismayed to find our caretaker hysterical and firemen resuscitating my baby sister. I rushed from my bedroom to tell Mom how I had tried to help, but the shock of the event overwhelmed her. She lashed out at me. And unknowingly she allowed that day and the days that followed to embitter her. Her focus became my sister to the exclusion of everything else. I must have seemed a burden. She went about the motions of parenting me but did not begin to recover hope and affection until my brother was born five years later.

If I had no acceptance at home, where could I expect to find it?

My maternal uncle was married to a Catholic woman, and my paternal aunt was married to a Catholic man. Their families were well-meaning toward me, and during my younger sister’s frequent life and death visits and admissions to the hospital, I spent many Sundays in one of their homes.

On Sundays, my mother’s brother, a non-Catholic, stayed home. It puzzled me that my aunt, who was always gracious and welcoming to me, and included me in every family outing, would on Sundays rush her sons out the door while I ate breakfast alone. I often asked to go with them, but she typically evaded my request by telling me my uncle was in the yard if I needed anything. So I would wander the house or watch television until my aunt and cousins returned from Mass. I assumed they didn’t take me with them because my parents and I were Protestants.

My father’s sister and her husband were both Catholic. I remember them as huge people who brooked no nonsense. The first time they took me to Mass I imitated them and knelt after we arrived at the pew. My aunt gently pushed me toward the seat and firmly whispered to stay seated. I sat there until I was told to kneel at the Elevation of the Host. At that time my aunt confided to me that Jesus was now present and they would soon go forward to receive Him. I looked very hard to see Jesus. When the family processed forward I was again told to sit. Jesus came to this church, but I was not invited to meet Him.

This, along with the definitive theological pronouncement from one of my Catholic cousins, who told me that as a Protestant I was going to hell along with the Christ killing Jews, sealed my relationship with the Roman Church. I was not angry with Catholics. I simply developed a gut level feeling that the Roman Catholic Church did not want me around, nor did it consider me of much worth.

When I returned with my parents to our Protestant church and heard again, “…Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world,” I sighed in relief. Jesus loved me.

My husband didn’t realize it, but I expected to be forever an outcast within any local Catholic church because I was not Roman Catholic. Worse, I also knew I’d be barred from taking communion with Rich. That knowledge caused me increasingly severe emotional stress. Communion was the foundation stone that was set into our lives the day we were married. We celebrated Communion as our first act as man and wife – an unusual request, our Evangelical Baptist pastor told us – but one he agreed to.

I was convinced the Catholic Church viewed my love for Jesus, and His for me, as improbable because of my incorrect doctrine and lack of participation in the correct rituals. I was convinced they believed Christ, my Savior, could not bridge that gap and call me His own. The pain of the childhood separation from my mother and from my aunts and uncles’ families morphed into a conviction that I would be separated from my beloved husband in the same way.

I began to have nightmares.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

My Life Plain And Simple

2004 started well. My husband had a good job; we lived in a pretty house on a quiet street with friendly neighbors and beautiful views out our windows. Our children were healthy and busy about their lives, and our siblings and elderly parents were active about theirs. We were involved in our church and had many new friends. Even a long desired art room was mine, and local art shows exhibited my work.

But in the mystery of life, serious changes crouched below the horizon. In fact, those changes – and challenges – were rooted in events two years earlier.

The first came with our move to Connecticut when we began to attend an Anglican church. Although we had never visited a sacramental church before, our interest was aroused when this particular Anglican church was strongly recommended by Christians we respected.

The Sunday we walked into the vestibule we were warmly greeted by the senior pastor. We felt at home with his sermon, the praise choir and the welcome from many in the congregation. But the transition from the non-sacramental Protestant upbringing of my childhood brought lots of questions from family and friends who wanted to know why we would attend a church they suspected to be non-biblical.

My faith and understanding of Christ was born and matured during my fifty-plus years in non-sacramental churches, although, as a young adult, I briefly investigated different styles of worship. I was intrigued by what I experienced at Newman Centers (special parishes that minister to the needs of college students) and for a brief time engaged in some discussions with a friend’s priest about the Catholic faith. Those experiences were more like looking through a window as an observer.

But, I became alive in Jesus the November evening I bowed my 26 year old heart before him, confessed my sins and gave Him my life – all of it. An Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Baptist foundation formed my doctrine and practice. Jesus accepted my commitment to Him and sent me to Japan where I taught kindergarten on the naval base. Within a month of my arrival, I met Rich. A short time later, we married and began our life in that foreign land. When we returned a year later to the States, Rich attended an Assemblies of God Bible college, and we began a family.

I grew in my relationship with Christ as a result of the testimonies of others, and was nurtured by the rich fellowship with godly men and women. My spiritual mentors – men and women of seasoned faith and experience – encouraged me to trust God’s plan for me, to stand firm against temptation, and live each day dedicated to Jesus. I learned to read the Bible from cover to cover, and choose books about Christians who lived totally for Christ. I attended Bible studies taught by mature Christians who also encouraged me to place my feet on the Rock, Christ Jesus.

But in time, I became complacent in my walk with the Lord. When I recognized it, I sought to be renewed in my spirit, and our gracious God sent a Pentecostal revival meeting to our town. It was a wonderful time of getting back to the basics of faith: Jesus’ death on the cross, salvation, resurrection . . . the renewed blessing of the Holy Spirit in my life encouraged me to be more active in the spreading of the gospel.

I believe I understand some of the nature of fallen man. We tend to get in a rut and that rut feels comfortable. So when we started attending the Anglican services I was forced out of my cozy rut. In time, I came to love the sacramental service, the people, and the idea that perhaps for a few moments I was touching the body and the blood of Christ. Our pastors were Anglo-Catholic in their teaching. Although the praise team led our worship, for me, simply entering the sanctuary was a time of worshipful recognition that Jesus was present there. That was not a new concept for me; that idea was held by members of all the Pentecostal and Holiness churches I attended.

The most difficult part of attending the Anglican Church was that it took me a long time to address the pastor as “Father.” I don’t know how often I would find myself not speaking to the man just so I did not say “Father.” He must have thought me a real dunce. But all those years as a child being told to “call no man father” really were hard to get past. After two years I was partly successful.

Life was not perfect but it was pleasant and even the hard places were manageable, taken one day at a time. Life became comfortable again.

I should have thought more about that as I read my Bible. Nowhere are Christians urged to sit back and relax. We are called to be salt and light, not comfy pillows on a couch. I was blinded by the thought that I was doing all I could for Jesus. I was as good a wife as I thought I could be. I was a loving mom and daughter. I attended church, helped out cleaning the sanctuary, taught first and second graders in a youth club, supported hungry and uneducated children . . . I thought I was doing all I could. I looked forward to a life of the same kind of service as I had been accustomed to for over 30 years.

What I did not know was Jesus wanted more.