Interview on February 12, 2021, with Brianna, who entered the Church in 2015 at age 21.
What was your faith background?
Brianna: I grew up in a Protestant non-denominational situation and there wasn’t a lot of solid doctrine. It was more emotional, a little bit charismatic. I always had questions and there weren’t a ton of answers.
I remember being a kid and observing very emotional praise and worship and not understanding what was happening. Praise and worship nights were cathartic things where you all of a sudden unload all of the bad things that are happening in your life and have a bunch of people pray for you and you fall down on the ground and cry. I remember not having much that I was deeply upset about and feeling like I should.
I wasn’t baptized as a Protestant. At various youth events or church services I prayed the salvation prayer when they did altar calls, but baptism was a separate step and I could never understand why. “Why do we have a hot tub in the back of church to dunk people in? Why do you have to get up in front of people and be dunked to be a Christian?” I asked youth pastors and other people and the answer was basically: Jesus said to do it. I think the semi-theological answer I got was that baptism is an outward sign to other people of your commitment to your faith. To which I asked, “Why can’t we just get up in front of everybody and say that we’re going to do it? Why the water?” They would say, “It’s a symbol.” “Okay, but why does it need to be dunking?” Because I didn’t want to be dunked in front of everyone, and because I couldn’t fathom why it was important, I did not get baptized.
At my church, once a month, maybe once every two months, they would have communion but it was – I’m not even joking – cut up Mission tortillas from the grocery store and watered-down grape juice. It was the same explanation as baptism, “Oh, it’s a symbol. It’s to remember that Jesus died for our sins.” I thought if this is a symbol and we just remember it this way, then maybe this isn’t important to do because we could remember it without the grape juice and without the tortillas. If something is set up that way and there’s not a lot behind it but it’s just a symbol, it’s a nice way to remember, then to me it doesn’t seem like an important thing.
Then I was exposed through pro-life work to Catholicism and all of the very deep traditions and theological, philosophical underpinnings of what’s just a really well-thought-out and written down doctrine and set of beliefs. That idea that people would write down everything that they believed and adhered to and reference it every Sunday in Mass in the Creed and put that emphasis on orderly ideas that enform how the faith plays out was really interesting to me. Also, the peacefulness and beauty of the Mass really appealed to me.
For Catholics life revolves around the Mass. And for Protestant churches, because they come from Catholic churches, Christian life still does revolve around church and going to church. But because they don’t have the Mass, it’s not a sacrament, and the building is unimportant, what actually happens in the service is pretty unimportant and can be changed. The reason for going to church that most non-denominational churches or people would say is: it’s about community. You go to church not to meet with God, but to talk about God and meet with other people. And I thought “Okay, God is probably there, and, I would assume, important, if God is there, but the things that we are doing are not indicating that God is here, in church, in any special way. So it doesn’t really matter if I go or not.”
Also, a big part of Protestant theology is personal revelation and people reading the Bible for themselves and interpreting it. And I was always like, “I don’t know how I would possibly interpret this. I don’t know anything and I don’t have time to become an expert on ancient Hebrew. Why has no one spent time interpreting this already?” It turns out people did, and did write it down and some people are just ignoring it, I guess. That was another part of it, “Okay, to be a Christian you have to read the Bible and figure out what it means on your own, which seems highly dubious to me.”
When I was in college I stopped going to church because it didn’t feel that important and I eventually slid into agnosticism. That’s where I was for several years. I was taking a bunch of classes and working at the same time. Then I got really sick for a whole year and that year I took just one class so I wasn’t busy. I had a really good friend who went to the same church I did growing up in the Bay Area and she became Catholic a couple of years before I did. That year, because I had time, we were hanging out quite a bit and I asked her about her conversion and we started talking about theology and what had convinced her to become Catholic. We talked about Baptism and Communion and how Church teaching on those is: yes, it is symbolic, but it’s also a sacrament. God is also doing a thing and that’s why it’s important.
Is that when you began to be interested in Catholicism?
Brianna: Because I wasn’t taking classes and I was sick, I had down time to read. I started reading a lot of C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity, I started there. Then I read a bunch of G.K. Chesterton. The way that he writes about the world and about and about faith and about God is extremely beautiful, so I read a ton of his things and I really, really loved all of his books. Then because G.K. Chesterton is Catholic and I was talking to my convert friend about some questions that I had and she was talking about her perspective of being a die-hard Calvinist and then becoming Catholic, those things in combination piqued my interest in Catholicism.
I read the Lives of the Saints maybe just to get a flavor of Catholicism and I had a couple of other people in my life at that point who had converted from similar non-denominational backgrounds and had become Catholic and they probably lent me books that I read. I read a couple of Scott Hahn books and I was listening to Fr. Robert Barron’s podcast, which is really good.
Also, a church that was near my friend’s house was doing the Fr. Robert Barron “Catholicism” series, so I was going to those with her and absorbing more Catholic stuff that way. And at some point I borrowed my friend’s Catechism and read it all the way through in a day or two. And it was like, “Oh, well, here are all the answers to the questions I had about Baptism and Communion and all of the questions. Wow, would you look at this?!”
Did you have trouble accepting any particular teachings?
Brianna: Even after reading the Catechism, and I think I read it twice within a week, I was still a little bit iffy on the Eucharist. I was like, “What the crap?” It was really weird. The rest of the stuff made sense, it’s good, but literally turning into Jesus’s Body and Blood – that’s A) gross and B) such a weird thing to pick as the hill to die on. Catholics are like, “We believe this and it’s extremely important and you can’t make us give it up.” And other people are like, “That’s super weird.” And they’re like, “NO!” and double down on it. It’s just a weird thing to double down on.
I had the logical explanation of why the Church believes that it’s literally the Body and Blood. And I was like, “Okay, I’m with it. I’m understanding the line of reasoning that you have on this, ok, but it’s still so weird that you would do that and why would God set it up that way? That’s pretty weird. It’s just wild.”
What pushed you over the edge?
Brianna: The moment I remember going like, “Okay, all right God, I’ll buy it. The other stuff is fine, all right, I’ll buy this, too,” I was sitting in the church hall with my friend and watching the “Catholicism” series and they finally got to the one on the Eucharist. For some reason the way that Fr. Robert Barron explained it in that series just kind of clicked and it was like, “Oh, okay. It’s still weird, but I can’t really argue with it so I guess I’m doing this.” That was the last thing that I was unsure about. After that I was like, “Well, I guess I have to go be baptized and sprinkled in front of people.”
What does your family think about your conversion?
Brianna: My parents’ background is pretty loose theologically so they were fine with it. They were like, “Great, that works for you, awesome.” My mom initially was a little bit iffy about it because she grew up in a very intense Pentecostal Church environment that was super anti-Catholic, but it wasn’t a huge deal and they came to Easter when I was baptized and confirmed and it was really nice. My grandmother was raised very Catholic and since my conversion has come back to the Church. She was Pentecostal for a long time and then was more non-denominational for probably most of her life and then started coming back to Mass with me. After I got married she came to Mass with my husband and me a little bit more. Then she even went back to Confession, really just came back to the Church as a result of people in the family going to Mass. It was a cool additional blessing.
Do you have any advice for how Catholics can draw Protestants to the Church?
Brianna: What drew me to the Church is the way that the Mass is treated as a sacred time. You’re not coming to church to meet with other people. It’s nice that other people are there, but you’re coming to church to meet with God, so you try to dress up a little bit and you genuflect when you come in and you are focused and you spend that time meeting with God, being in the Mass and participating in the Mass. I think exposing people to that level of sacredness is very powerful even if you’re not talking about a lot of theology. Bringing someone to Mass and exposing them to that kind of sacred experience can be a lot. The Mass is extremely beautiful even if you don’t know what’s going on, which, when I started going to Mass, I didn’t know what was going on and it didn’t take anything away from it. It feels like a very holy place and a holy environment, especially if people are treating it that way when they’re coming to Mass.
I think the more people are exposed to the beautiful things in the church, the more attractive the church is, because that emphasis on everything that is true, good, and beautiful is, I think, unique. Certainly other faith backgrounds have a similar vibe or similar maybe general emphasis on the true, the good, and the beautiful, but I think the Catholic Church over the centuries has really nailed it.
And also if you have someone who has theological questions, give them a Catechism. Don’t make them ask for it.
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.