California Catholic Daily writer Mary Rose is interviewing young Catholic converts as part of our Inquiring Minds series. If you are a young convert to the Catholic Church and would like to share your story, please contact us.
Interview on September 28, 2021 with Emily, who entered the Church in 2014 at age 18.
What is your faith background?
Emily: I grew up a nondenominational Protestant. Pretty much my whole family was, at least growing up. I’m the youngest of four. I didn’t know anything about Catholicism until I was about 12 years old and we had family friends that converted to Catholicism. And I was like, “What is Catholicism, Dad? I don’t know what that is.”
I was a total nerd. I love reading. I was reading everything I could find about history and things like that. But then I was so intrigued by Catholicism, by what my friends were saying, I started to read books about Catholicism. It started because I was over at my friends’ house and asking all these questions and the dad of the family was like, “Here, I want you to read this book by the time I see you back here.” It was a book on the Church fathers and I was hooked instantly. There was just so much truth and in all the things that I had learned about my faith, I’d already started to question some of the Protestant side of things. I was really involved in my middle school group at church and I felt like there was a lot missing. So I started reading everything I could find and by the time I was 14, I wanted to be Catholic.
I took on things in a very systematic way. I took on each teaching of the Church, or some of the major teachings like Mary, purgatory, the Eucharist, one at a time. I know a lot of converts, it’s their experience that it’s really the Eucharist that pulls them over, but I wasn’t allowed to go to Mass in high school. So my real experience in Mass didn’t come until I was in RCIA and I’d already decided I wanted to be in the faith. So my experience with the Eucharist, while beautiful and completely a part of my life now, was not really at the time. The thing that pulled me over the edge would probably be the Trinity. As random as that is, somebody gave me the argument that technically the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not spelled out in the Bible explicitly.
It’s something that Catholics have understood to be a part of the Christian faith and there are mentions of It, obviously, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the idea that there are three Persons but One is not explicitly spelled out and you have to accept the tradition of the Church in order to accept that. To me, if the Trinity’s not true, then none of this makes any sense. The reasoning behind the Trinity that the tradition of the Church uses, whether it’s St. Anselm, St. Jerome, that makes sense to me. It was like, “Okay, but, I’m no longer Protestant if I accept that.” Not that they don’t accept the Trinity, but if they’re truly sola scriptura, then they don’t have a foundation for that. That was where I was like, “Okay, there’s some big logical issues with Protestantism, at least that I grew up with, and the Catholic Church just keeps having the answers.”
The tradition for my parents was to baptize us once we had reached an age where we could make that decision ourselves, when we were about 14. So by the time they came to me and said, “Hey, you ready to be baptized?” I said, “Yes, but only in the Catholic Church.” And they said, “Okay, that’s not happening right now.” So I waited and I was able to receive all three sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Holy Eucharist on Easter Vigil. That was a special part of my story because not being baptized was something that I for so many years knew the importance of, and I really had to struggle with trusting that Jesus would take care of me if something happened to me. The foundation that that laid for my own trust in Christ’s plan for me, I think was foundational in future battles in that arena.
I went to RCIA freshman year of college.
What were some of the things that didn’t add up in the Protestant faith?
Emily: I went to youth group every Sunday and they would give talks on the crucifixion or suffering or things like that and I would ask questions because I was being really analytical. I was classically educated, so I asked questions and they started just not having answers. I would bring things up and they’d be like, “Oh, well, you know, crucified Jesus and resurrection.” And I’m like, “Whoa, wait, I feel like there’s more to this.”
Things like Mary and purgatory and some of the hot button Catholic topics were things I was reading about that I had some issues with at first, but that was through my private conversations with people and reading. The questions with my Protestant church that just left me missing, I don’t know how to describe it, except I think the Holy Spirit was having me question things so that I could be open in the future to what the full truth is.
I volunteer at RCIA at my parish now and that’s the thing that’s been just struck home with me is how, no matter what the question is, if somebody’s new to the faith, if they’re an atheist, whatever the question is, the Church, even if I don’t have an answer, there’s an answer somewhere. We have over 2000 years of history and brilliant people philosophizing and thinking through all this stuff. That’s what I can lean on and the authority of the Church and the Holy Spirit working through all of that. It’s not just me against the world.
Were there things with the Catholic faith that you thought were too crazy to believe?
Emily: I struggled with the Assumption of Mary until the Holy Week when I was confirmed and baptized. I ended up, at the time, taking it on the faith of the Church. Just, “Okay, logically I’ve gotten to the fact that the Church is the authority and they have the final say and they’ve declared that to be doctrine. Who am I to say otherwise?” There seemed to be little physical evidence and things like that. I doubted the Assumption for sure, but somebody walked me through that logical progression of accepting the authority of the Church. That did it for me with that. Purgatory sounded crazy to me at first because I’d read the Divine Comedy and I didn’t know it was real, I thought someone had made it up and then somebody mentioned that people actually believe that. I was like, “Wait, that makes so much sense.” And then I started to read about it, but I did think, “oh, that’s crazy” at first. I had questions about Jesus’ own baptism and how that related to He redeemed our sins on the cross, more nitty-gritty theological questions, because I was reading parts of Summa at the time, too. I had some struggles with that the few weeks leading up to my conversion and Easter Vigil, but I think there was also some spiritual attack too. A lot of that got cleared up once I received the sacraments.
Did you have any bad experiences with Catholics?
Emily: The reason I didn’t even know what Catholicism was we didn’t know a lot of Catholics. We knew a lot of Protestants and I had some friends of no faith. I wasn’t surrounded by Catholics.
I went to Hillsdale College. It’s really amazing. There are a lot of Catholics on campus, atheists, agnostics, you’ve got the whole gamut, but everybody believes what they believe. Even the Catholics that maybe were getting it wrong on some things or were struggling in certain ways were doing it authentically. My negative experiences with Catholicism have come more recently, seeing some of the division within the Church, especially between more traditionalist and the more liberal side of Catholicism and all the stuff about the Eucharist and the president. There’s a lot of division over things that should be fundamental. So the way that Catholics go to war against other Catholics that I’ve seen in more recent years I think is not a good representation of the Church. But that was more recent and I’m very involved in my faith now. So it’s not something that makes me doubt or something like that.
Did you feel out of place or not at home when you converted?
Emily: Not at all, once I converted, but in the years leading up to that. So from the age of 14, until 18, when I knew I wanted to be Catholic, but I was surrounded by Protestants and I was still going to my Protestant youth group and high school, I felt very out of place. It was difficult, but in a way that really helped me to grow. Just to be honest, I announced to my high school group that I was planning to become Catholic and people had problems with that but once I actually received the sacraments, I was home. I’ve never felt out of place.
What does your family think?
Emily: A couple of members of my family have converted, separate from my experience. A couple of them are still not so on board, but everybody’s been very respectful of my decision. I’m really thankful for that.
Do you have advice for how Catholics can better evangelize?
Emily: I think it’s St. Catherine of Sienna who says, “If we want the world to become holy, then we’re the ones that need to pursue sainthood and set ourselves on fire through the Holy Spirit.” It’s through our own battle towards sanctity that we’re really going to be able to be that witness to others. It’s cheesy, but It does flow out of us. The Holy Spirit will flow out of us in how we interact with other people, with people who come to us. If we’re really listening to the Holy Spirit and It’s nudging us to do something, we need to follow that. But we’re not going to really be able to hear that unless we’re in tune with our own failings.
I think one of the great ways that can help Catholics evangelize and prepare themselves is reading Fr. Jacques Phillipe. He’s so great. In the School of the Holy Spirit, I recommend it to a lot of people specifically when it comes to how do they as a Catholic evangelize better? That’s on the more spiritual, prayer, Holy Spirit side, but then when it comes to the practical stuff, we’re living in a lot of chaos. There’s a lot of things that are related to faith and now coming into cross-section of faith, whether it’s abortion or LGBTQ rights. There’s a whole host of things that are in contradiction with the Catholic faith and I think that Catholics need to not be afraid. They don’t need to be guns blazing, but there’s a way to step out in courage and speak the truth in love, in an inappropriate time place in the workplace, with friends, but I think it really has to start on the ground level. That means with family and friends. Eventually we’ll get to a place where if you’re really praying and listening to what God wants you to say, then you can trust Him when He’s telling you to say something to coworkers. But if somebody’s not practicing that in their own family or amongst their own friends, then that should be the primary focus first and work outward.