Interview on July 28, 2021 with Anna, who entered the Church in 2011 at age 20.
What was your faith like when you were growing up in the Bay Area?
Anna: I grew up in a really devout Protestant household as one of five kids. My parents opted to homeschool the last two, my brother and I, and we had a pretty rigorous Christian curriculum and upbringing and they emphasized putting feet to your faith. We did a lot of missionary support, missionary work, pro-life work, Bible studies. It was a very active household. My dad was a convert from atheism in the Jesus movement in the 70s.
I felt very devout and very serious about my faith from a very young age. The hard part about growing up Protestant was that it was such a serious part of our life and my faith that I wondered all the time, “Am I really forgiven? Am I going to heaven? Am I truly saved? Have I been saved? Do I need to answer the altar call at our church again? Do I need to be baptized again?” – because there are no sacraments. It’s really hard to be a perfectionist and be Protestant. I think that’s what Martin Luther went through. I identified a lot with Martin Luther like, “Do I need to beat myself more to be more perfect for God? Will He ever love me?” That sort of thing. Striving, you’re always striving, never resting.
What first attracted you to Catholicism?
Anna: Nothing attracted me to Catholicism, because the only time I looked into Catholicism was to research it from Protestant sources so I could tell all of you why you were wrong. I started doing pro-life work and I started meeting more young Catholics. I knew a few Catholics growing up, but I also knew from my parents why they were wrong about being Catholic. But I started meeting a lot of young Catholic converts from Protestantism within our homeschool circle, within the community doing pro-life work, and they were very self confident and they were also not threatened by my very serious Protestantism. I was mystified. I was so confident that I was right. I was reading the original sources from all these Christian reformers, I went to bed reading John Calvin and Martin Luther, all their original texts. I couldn’t figure out why you would convert from Protestantism, because I had 500 years of Protestant history, why isn’t this appealing to you? I started researching it so I could debate with them and feel really good about that, but I never researched it from the Catholic perspective, which is a big mistake. If you only look at something from one side, you only get half the argument.
What pushed you over the edge? How did you end up Catholic?
Anna: I started traveling with my friend Lila for pro-life work and she would go to daily Mass, so I started going to daily Mass with her. I was still researching things so I could understand why she was wrong. I would feel confident about it, but I never felt pressure from her or from anybody else within the pro-life movement. I spent probably a solid year just researching why Catholicism was wrong.
But then, to fast forward, Lila and I got on a plane, and we flew from San Francisco to New York, it was a cross country flight. Lila and I were just briefly talking about another Protestant’s conversion and I was thinking about it. All of a sudden, on the plane, I started to have these flashbacks to all these verses I’d grown up memorizing as a child. My parents put me in this program called Awana, a 13-year Bible memory program. At the end of it, I got the highest award, which was you memorize almost 700 Bible verses, you read the entire Bible, you summarize it over 13 years. It’s a pretty intense Bible scripture memory program. So I already had all these verses memorized from a Protestant perspective. So I get on this plane and all these verses start coming into my mind and I start feeling this presence, almost a feminine presence, which, now looking back, was probably Our Lady helping me out. All these verses came to my mind, but they were no longer coming from the Protestant perspective, I now saw the other side of the same verses. Things about the head of the church, the unity of the church, verses about different sacraments and baptism. So this was five hours and I’m still thinking about these Bible verses. At the end of the flight, I thought, “Okay, what if all of those verses actually point to something other than what I thought they pointed to?” I didn’t tell anybody at the time, but I thought, “Okay, I’m going to actually research this from the Catholic perspective and let me see what Catholics actually say about this.” So I spent a good bit of time googling and researching things on my own from the Catholic perspective. And then I started reaching out for help.
I also told my parents. I said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m beginning to think that I need to research Catholicism and look at what Catholics say, instead of just looking at how Protestants argue for things.” I asked them to look at it with me, I said, “Please help me because I feel like I’m sliding. And I don’t know how to stop this because I don’t want to be Catholic.” I invited them to research everything with me, knowing they’d be very upset, but I wanted to be open with them. They refused, they panicked, and it led to a lot of conflict in the household, but I just continued to research.
I told my Catholic friends and they started giving me Catholic sources to look at, things I’d never seen before in terms of church history, ethical issues regarding birth control and abortion, that made sense from within the Catechism, that I didn’t have before.
What convinced you that Protestantism wasn’t true?
Anna: I think the one thing that really convinced me was the division within Protestantism. I saw that growing up with church splits, with political divides within the churches, very elite rankings of Protestantism. I became a reformed Protestant as a teenager; they think very highly of themselves because they really dig into reformation history. But even within that, it’s like, “Is this all there is? We only go back this far?” Seeing that you can’t just rely on sola scriptura because you still have divisions and disagreements about things that can’t be resolved. You can just divide people down further and further and further until your congregation is 30 people because that’s the extent to which you can get people to agree on a petty issue within Protestant Christianity. So: the division, the lack of authority. Every man was his own Pope, and no one saw that that was a problem.
There was a time when the Southern Baptists did not support the pro-life movement; they were supportive of abortion, I think in the 60s and 70s. I thought to myself, how many babies have to die before Protestants will make up their mind about abortion, or birth control, or IVF. They have no authority. They have no way to decide on something like that. This is a serious issue that actually affects people’s lives, life and death. You have every man being his own Pope and deciding whether or not abortion is something that is in the Bible or not. And what do we think about that? How do we interpret those verses?
Were there any hurdles that held you back from Catholicism or tripped you up?
Anna: The things that trip you up are usually more miscellaneous things like purgatory. Indulgences are kind of confusing at first. Some of the other practices within Catholicism, you don’t understand initially, when you come in: statues, some of the funny devotions. I think some of the cultural issues might confuse new converts at first. But you have to decide, is this the truth? Am I going to be convinced by 90% of it, and then just accept that there’s 10% that I will never completely understand? That I’m going to accept it as it is, and hope that over time, I’ll either grow to appreciate that more, or someone will give me a better explanation for that?
Did you have any bad experiences with Catholics?
Anna: Yeah, but you have the same experiences with Protestants. I already knew that you can’t judge a religion or certain denomination by people’s behavior. I think what really attracted me within my circle was the self-assurance. It was that these converts were not intimidated by a serious Protestant. They knew that I had nothing that I could tell them that they hadn’t heard before, that they hadn’t already researched, that the truth wouldn’t explain. That was very good because everyone in my circle, all of my Protestant family and friends were very intimidated by Catholics. We didn’t know why anyone would want to be Catholic. “It’s so archaic backwards, clearly, you understand that you’re worshiping Mary, right?” So it doesn’t make sense that anyone would want to be Catholic. No one could understand it. Why would you want to go backwards?
Did your family ever become reconciled to your conversion?
Anna: There was a lot of divide, there was a lot of pain. Ten years in, we’re much further than we were before. It’s hard for me, with my pride, to think that my parents and my family think I’m not as intelligent because I’m Catholic. I know the judgments that they hold because I held those same judgments. So I feel like I’m under a spotlight sometimes. And I feel like I have to explain a lot of the bad behavior of other Catholics, or confusion, questions about the Pope, everything, it’s like I’ve become the Google machine for everything within Catholicism. Every time the Pope says something, I get an email from somebody in my family. I don’t think it’s actually inquisitive. I think it’s more of just, “Let me remind you how odd this statement is.”
Do you have advice for how Catholics can better evangelize?
Anna: Don’t be intimidated by Protestants and be willing to invite them to things, be willing to say something. I think too often Catholics seem like they’re very content to just let everyone find their truth and have their freedom and they’re not that willing to step out and say something to someone about their faith. They seem very private about their faith. I don’t know if it’s a American Catholic cultural thing, but they don’t often say, “I’ll be praying for you.” “I’ll be saying a rosary for you.” “Would you like to go to this Catholic Bible study with me?” They seem like they think that Protestants have found the truth and they’re happy with that. So we’re not going to bother them. We’re going to let them stay there and we’re going to be ecumenical about everything. That’s sad, because there are so many Protestants that would want to talk about it, genuinely want to talk about deep things with religion. They want answers and they don’t know who to ask. They’re spending time anonymously on the internet trying to answer their own question. You don’t have to have all the answers, either. You can point them to a good website or you can go do your research yourself and send them links to things.
What else should people know about your conversion?
Anna: I did not go through RCIA. The friends that helped me convert found me a priest who would answer my questions privately and gave me a private confirmation, first Eucharist, and confession, which I found very helpful. I think for some people RCIA may be a good process. For other people that have a strong Protestant background and maybe need some one on one specific questions, don’t make the process longer than it needs to be. I think you need to tailor it more to the person so that they can be a part of the Church sooner rather than later and not get caught up in the bureaucratic process.
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.