Interview on April 22, 2021, with Hadyn from Ventura, California, who entered the Catholic Church in 2015 at age 17.
What is your faith background?
Haydn: My mom grew up Episcopal and my father grew up Roman Catholic. Neither of them were very religious people. They met in college and got married and they started going to evangelical Christian churches. Over the years, my family got more and more interested in theology as they became more and more grounded in their faith. I grew up going to Baptist churches. Then as my parents got more conservative, more involved with the liturgy of the services, we started going to churches that included more liturgy, for example, churches that would recite the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed and had what looked suspiciously similar to the sacrament of the Eucharist at their services. When I was in high school, my family got more involved in reading the early church fathers and, for my parents at least, it was a “Oh, no, the early church fathers were Catholic” moment. We had grown up reading about how great Martin Luther was and about all the terrible cultish things that Catholics believed regarding icons and the Eucharist, so we grew up believing the exact opposite, that Catholics were heretics, Jesus had siblings, Mary wasn’t perpetually a virgin, et cetera. But as we read more, we started to realize that those were all facts that the early church fathers were grounded in, and that books of the Bible had just been taken out in the 1500s that had previously been included in the scriptures.
My cousins were Catholic and we had always lived close to my cousins, so my family had a lot of talks with them. At the time my father was a deacon within our Protestant church and we had started a church plant in a new city, so my father was one of the leaders in that circle. As we became more and more grounded in the Catholic faith, my parents started taking us to Mass and it was kind of funny because it was a secretive thing. We would go to a 5:00 PM or 7:00 PM vigil service and then the next day we would get up and go to the Protestant service at 10. My dad knew enough about the Catholic faith at the time, and we had friends that were Catholic, so we knew not to receive the Eucharist. Later on, my family decided that we probably shouldn’t be receiving communion at our current church either, since that’s not really the Eucharist. Eventually, as my family finally decided that Catholicism was the way to go, we had this coming out moment at our old church, saying, “We’re still happy to support you guys financially as we have been for the last several years and slowly wean that down. We’re still happy to be involved with community outreach,” et cetera, because that’s where most of our friends were from. My family was involved in lots of leadership at the church. The community outreach, my dad was a deacon, we led the music, et cetera.
They did not take it too well. The pastor at our church at the time decided all of a sudden that he was going to start a youth outreach program and invite me out to coffee. I, being pretty naive at the time, thought it was just him being a genuine nice pastor, but he actually wanted to hear all the secrets on what my family was doing, how long we had been going to Mass, if we were receiving Communion. I don’t know if it was intentional or if he just got the facts wrong from what I had said, but afterwards he called the priest at the parish we were going to and said, “The McQuade family is receiving Communion illicitly at your parish every week,” which was certainly not true. So then we met with the priest at our parish and informed him on what was going on. He was pretty understanding. I think he felt a little bit weirded out to be involved in this whole strange ordeal with our Protestant church. We were already baptized and my father had been Confirmed in the Catholic Church, but then the rest of us were Confirmed, myself and my younger siblings.
It took a little longer for me to come around to accepting some of the things in the Catholic Church that were new or unfamiliar to me. I resisted at first because I wasn’t sure. I was old enough where I felt like I had to look into it on my own and really decide what I believed. I had lots of arguments and discussions with my parents about how the Eucharist could really be the True Presence of our Lord. We had always been taught things like Jesus had brothers growing up, but the more discussions I had and the more we read some of the stuff in the early church fathers, the more I came to realize that that was the truth. So eventually we were confirmed around Easter 2015 in the Catholic Church. I’ve been Catholic ever since.
I grew up with three biological siblings and then my family over the years has adopted seven more siblings from China. I am the third oldest biologically. When I was 14, my family adopted another boy who’s a few months older than me, so that puts me fourth, technically. My two older brothers were in college when we converted. They had moved out of the house at that time and they did not convert to Catholicism, although one is now in the process of RCIA.
Were there any hurdles that were particularly difficult?
Haydn: The main one that stands out was the Eucharist. I didn’t get how that could physically be the body and blood of Jesus Christ. There are certain things that I said like, “It’s possible to get food poisoning from them, if they carry some disease or bacteria. So if it really was the Body of Christ, how could the Body of Christ give you a bacterial infection?” I said, “If it really was, how come it doesn’t look different?”
An analogy that was very convincing to me, was the story of the burning bush, where God showed Himself to Moses. I believe that, in that story, that was God fully present in the form of that burning bush. If you took a branch off and looked at it under a microscope, it wouldn’t look any different. There weren’t any secret God particles in there, but he was still fully present through that form.
Did you have any bad or off-putting experiences with Catholics?
Haydn: My cousins were Catholic, so I remember picking them up from the Christmas Eve Mass one time. That was one of the first times I remember ever being exposed to Catholicism on that level and I was really curious. We showed up and hovered around the back of the church right around Communion. I remember thinking it was a little strange. I didn’t have a strong aversion to Catholicism, unlike a lot of my Protestant friends who said, “Oh, Catholics are going to hell, et cetera.” I didn’t think that was the case. The form of the Mass was not as foreign to me as it was to a lot of my Protestant friends, because it was something that my family had been interested in for a while. In fact, the church plant followed a very similar structure to the Mass in terms of kneeling, reciting the Creed, the Alleluia, the Gloria, et cetera.
Did you experience culture shock after entering the Church?
Haydn: Certainly. Growing up Protestant, now married to someone that was a cradle Catholic, we had very different upbringings when it came to, for example, what sort of books you give to your kids. We had plenty of books about Jesus and the apostles and missionaries and Martin Luther, but we didn’t have any books about saints. The whole doctrine of the saints was a very foreign idea to me. I didn’t really understand how patron saints worked. I didn’t understand how, if you lost your car keys, certain saints were the ones you petitioned as opposed to others. But that’s something that I’ve come to understand more of, especially going to a Catholic university where those things were talked about almost constantly.
Do you have advice on how Catholics can better evangelize Protestants?
Haydn: I think it starts with what sort of Protestant the person is. An evangelical Baptist will have very different values when it comes to the form of the Sunday service than someone that’s a very traditional Protestant. It also depends on how aware these people are of the history of the Church. For example, most Protestants think of Martin Luther as this great founder of Protestantism that revitalized the church, but they don’t know that he wrote some wonderful things about Mary. Depending on who you talk to, that will carry a lot of credence or none at all, depending on if they’re familiar with Church history and if they value that, or if they’re really just searching for truth and spiritual guidance. One of the main things that Protestants are missing out on is the Eucharist. Explaining the beauty of that could certainly be a great form of outreach.
How would you explain the beauty of the Eucharist and how did you come to accept it?
Haydn: That analogy that I mentioned with the burning Bush, that really helped. Also reading John 6 a few times was very helpful. Very clearly Jesus states, “This is my body and blood.” And even though His followers, a portion of them, left Him when He said that – they said, “This can’t be true,” – He stuck by what He said. As it was a difficult hurdle for me to overcome, I think it was a difficult hurdle for people at that time to understand, too. I don’t think it’s something that we can ever completely understand as humans. That’s what makes it a mystery. Understanding that it’s just one of the mysterious ways in which God works was something that led me to accept it as the truth.
Is there anything that would be good for Catholics to know about your conversion or conversions in general?
Haydn: I think it’s great to have somebody you can just ask questions, if it’s a friend who’s a priest or a strong Catholic, somebody that’s Catholic that’s very grounded in their faith and familiar with Church doctrine. I think it’s important to have somebody like that in your life that you can talk to because if you’re converting from Protestantism to Catholicism, you’re certainly going to have questions and wonder why so-and-so is said at the Mass or wonder a certain doctrine about the saints. And if you have a personal relationship with that person, all the better, because that person’s going to know where you’re coming from and why you might even have that question in the first place.
There was this family that we knew growing up and they went to church and other than that, they pretty much stayed at home all day. They didn’t watch any movies or TV shows or socialize with anybody except for one hour after church each week. And they were a really nice family. But I think it’s our duty as Christians to spread the gospel everywhere, to the corners of the earth. It’s hard to do that if you don’t get out of your shell or your bubble and evangelize. I think Protestants do a great job at evangelizing in America. I think Catholics do a good job as well, but it’s certainly something that we could work on in terms of outreach, just as long as we’re not putting aside the values of the Catholic Church to appear trendy and doing away with some of the beautiful traditions, just to be more appealing. It’s a fine line for sure, but I do think that people in the Catholic Church should be more open in outreach, especially to our Protestant brothers and sisters.