How We Caught the Roman Flu


Paul: Jesus is the center of the story of my life. All my life was a preparation for the moment I converted to his Holy Catholic Church. All my life before and after flow in and out of that moment. It’s like the human heart: The blood that gives us life courses through our veins because that muscle beats without ceasing. In the same way, my conversion never stops. It sustains my life, because it is continually refreshed by the sacraments.

Anise: No words can ever tell all the mercy and love God has shown me in my life. I was fortunate enough to be brought up in the Catholic faith, though it took me almost twenty years to realize what an incredible gift my faith is to me. Though I sinned greatly and often failed to do what he asked of me, our Lord patiently waited for me to return to him and his Church. Looking back, I can see how our Lord brought me a greater understanding and appreciation of all God had blessed me with, especially being part of the Catholic Church.

Paul: A good evangelical friend of mine once asked me, "Paul, what made you do it?" He was honestly bewildered by my sudden departure from staunch, lifelong Methodism. "The Eucharist," I said. He didn’t understand. I insisted: "It’s Jesus. When Jesus said in John 6 that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to be one with him and to have eternal life, he meant it. When he said at the Last Supper, ‘This is my body’ and ‘This is my blood,’ he meant it. He spoke literally, not symbolically. The people knew that, which is why so many were disgusted at his hard words and turned away." I wanted to add, "Just like you Protestants continue to do!" But that would have been rude. But it’s true. Once you accept the truth of the Eucharist, Rome is your only home. When I gaze upon the host, I behold the pure radiant love of Christ.

I married a smart, college-educated, Catholic snowbunny from Aspen, Colorado, named Anise Reese in 1985, a month before I started law school. I now had a live-in debating partner and plenty of opportunities to prove that I was right about everything. Later, as a litigation attorney, I honed my cross-examination skills on my patient wife, using her Catholic religion as my foil. Even though my barbs were usually good-natured, God gave Anise the strength to endure fifteen years and to give back as good as she got.

Anise: Paul and I met in college. We were married after dating for two years. I had serious questions about some of the social teachings of the Catholic Church, and my understanding of the Eucharist, the saints, the authority of the Church, and moral issues was deficient. We would often attend a mainline Protestant church together. Paul didn’t like the Catholic Church, and I felt that it didn’t matter what church we attended—what mattered was that I loved Jesus. My husband and I were trying to be good people, and God knew that.

When we began to make our wedding plans, my parents made it clear to me that our family would not recognize my marriage and I would not be welcomed home if I didn’t have a Catholic wedding. I found a priest at the university’s Newman center who could make Paul and my parents happy. He told us that using birth control was fine, that we did not have to raise our children Catholic, that our wedding did not need to be celebrated with the Eucharist because it might offend my husband or his family, and that there was no need to go to confession because God loves.

Paul: When Anise and I first married, both of us had allowed our faith to wane. But to prove how right I was, I became more and more Methodist. I decreed that our children would be baptized and raised Methodist, and they were. Even when I reluctantly relented to the dinner-time visits of Anise’s priest-friend, Msgr. Douglas Raun, I enjoyed pulling out the old King James and trying to justify myself, like the lawyers did to the Lord. The man was solid and unflappable, much to my chagrin.

While Anise went along with becoming a Methodist family, she never officially left the Church.

Anise: We attended the biggest mainline Protestant church in town, and we met a lot of new friends. They were good people, but when they discovered that I had been raised Catholic, I found that they were very ignorant or misinformed about the Catholic faith and had many issues and prejudices. Until then, I honestly did not know the difference between faiths; I thought all Christians were the same. It was the first time in my life that I was persecuted for being Catholic. It was often subtle but very offensive, even for an estranged Catholic. I felt ostracized and very much alone. Many times I secretly escaped to the downtown Holy Family Cathedral, where I would sit and hide from the rest of the world. I felt safe and at peace. Though I did not realize it then, Jesus was gently calling me back to him.

We moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, during an oil bust. We had no money, and there was little work available. Paul was in law school full time. By the grace of God, I found a job in a clothing store. On Friday mornings I cleaned a very nice woman’s house, then in the afternoon I went to St. Francis Hospital as a volunteer delivering flowers to patients in exchange for a free meal. I was once invited to the hospital banquet and sat across from a very old nun in a habit. She stared at me from across the table and whispered, "Pray the rosary." I smiled at her politely but was a little taken aback. She didn’t know I was Catholic, but the Holy Spirit must have prompted her to tell me that.

Paul: As if to complete with the creeping Romanism in my household, I had to become UberMethodist. I was appointed to the powerful pastor-parish relations committee at our church, and then I was on the finance committee. I pushed through a restructuring of the church’s government by consolidating two governing bodies into one church council and was appointed its first chairman. I was presented with a silver cross in a plastic box that had been passed around other committee chairmen but never worn. I wore it around my neck while chairing the meetings. But the more I delved into the Methodist church, the more discouraged I became. I was catching the Roman flu, but I didn’t know it.

Anise: In January 1991, after the births of our two sons, I became pregnant again. I was not happy about it. I did not want to have another baby. I felt that it was too much for me to handle and that it would inconvenience my life. I was selfish and self-centered, and I failed to see what God was giving me. Even though God had shown me how he had taken care of me over and over again, I was blind to it this time. After my initial temper tantrum, I accepted it and started looking forward to the new baby. Paul and I hoped it would be a girl, and we had even chosen a name for her—Theresa Anne. But a month later, I had a miscarriage. I continually replayed my words—"I do not want it"—in my mind. Perhaps God heard me and is punishing me for being so selfish, I thought. I was devastated.

The following Sunday we told our Sunday school class about the miscarriage. Although some of the group members expressed sympathy, the prevalent reaction was dismissive. They said things like "You can have another baby." Their attitude was startling to me; I did not recognize these beliefs. It wasn’t like I had broken a nail and could grow another one. I had been pregnant and my baby had died. It dawned on me that my perception of the beginning and sanctity of life was very different from theirs.

I decided to see what the Methodist church had to say about this topic, but I could find no answer. I even looked up this church’s position on abortion, and the "follow your conscience" answer I found deeply disturbed me. I found myself again on the outside of a group that did not share my beliefs. My childhood faith had given me these beliefs. That is where I needed to turn for answers.

Paul: The more Anise immersed herself in her religion, the more excited and alive she became. When she miscarried, something snapped in her. God called her back to the Church. That little lost life made a huge difference in our lives. Anise went back to Mass, which she had abandoned when we started the young couples Sunday school class at First United Methodist in Albuquerque. She was reveling in the truth, while I was seeing an anemic, sad imitator, the branch cut from the vine. But I continued to be proud of appearing to be the ideal Methodist family, even though I had a wife who clung to that death-focused dinosaur called the Catholic Church.

Anise: Before long, I initiated what I refer to as the Holy Wars. My husband was aware of my love and loyalty to the Catholic Church and was angry about it. I went to confession and started to attend Mass on Saturday evening and then go to the Protestant church with my family on Sunday.

I began to see fundamental differences between the Catholic and Protestant faiths and to appreciate the beauty of the Catholic Church. I began to understand why the Church had its rules and regulations—not to control us but to protect us from the evils of this world and bring us closer to God. I felt uncomfortable and often irate by the discussions in our Protestant Sunday school class. I was bothered by the lack of authority and guidance there. I did not want to cause friction in our marriage, but I could not reject the truth. I prayed for the conversion of my family. I wanted to be a family of one faith, the Catholic faith.

In August 1995, the beloved pastor of my new Catholic parish died and was replaced by an incredibly gifted priest. Many times I would listen to his homilies and would go home excited to tell my husband about what I had heard, but he did not want to hear about anything having to do with "Romanism."

One Sunday in the Protestant sanctuary, I attended a class taught by the minister. We began to discuss abortion. I said, "Thou shall not kill," thinking this was a no-brainer. The level of anger directed at me in response was so strong that I honestly thought they were going to club me. Never in my life had I been treated with such hatred and disdain. The minister just stood there and watched it unfold. I told my husband what had happened, and we stopped attending that church. That afternoon, I called my brother, a Catholic priest, and sobbed.

Paul: When Anise was chastised for making pro-life statements during Sunday school and the minister didn’t back her up, I knew it was time to jettison First Church. So week after week I dragged my three boys to all the different Methodist churches in Albuquerque trying in vain to find one that was conservative. But they were all the same. Eventually I settled for a small Methodist church and my boys finally had a stable Sunday school.

Meanwhile, Anise was banqueting on the truth at that popish temple, St. Thomas Aquinas in Rio Rancho. Every Saturday evening, we watched Anise drive up in the station wagon fresh from Mass and eucharistic adoration. Sometimes I asked her if the cracker talked to her and, if so, what it said. Then on Sunday morning we engaged in the charade of the happy Methodist family and went to the eleven o’clock service, nametags donned, to be greeted by the smiling people. Methodists are very friendly and hospitable. These are great virtues, but you can’t build a church on them. Anise’s Church had feet of iron. Mine had feet of clay.

Committed to my quest, I climbed my way to the top of the Methodist church. My high water mark as a Methodist was being a delegate to the 2000 New Mexico Annual Conference, the governing body of the district. I roomed with my minister, a decent conservative man who also had a commitment to changing the church. Even though I had found a kindred spirit, he lacked the self-confidence of Msgr. Raun. This troubled me. More trouble came. During a forum on social policy, I was the only one who took a pro-life position; it was met with disapproval. Then came the ordination service. The bishop told the congregation that this was the ultimate Methodist experience. "Liturgical dancers," scantily clad like vestal virgins, glided up the aisles, one carrying a processional cross, sans corpus. I saw women being ordained. When the time came to go to communion, we walked down the aisles directed by the "dancers" and stood before two smiling people, one holding a mutilated loaf of bread and the other a large cup of grape juice.

That night I was totally dejected. I realized that my church was the great pretender—aged, declining in membership, and adrift somewhere between Catholic and Baptist. Back in the room, I told my minister that as long as the church turned its back on the unborn, it would continue to die. He didn’t argue.

Anise: While Paul was away at the conference, I started a novena to St. Joseph. When he returned, we went for a walk, and he revealed to me that he had serious questions about his church. The sermons were shallow, and he often felt embarrassed at the sheer rubbish that was coming from the pulpit. He missed the church of his childhood.

Paul: I still went to the Methodist church but would sometimes go to St. Thomas to placate Anise. I got tired of sitting there during Communion, so Anise said I could walk up with my arms crossed and get a blessing. Msgr. Raun was at the altar, holding the host before me. My knees got weak and I almost collapsed. The closer I got to the altar, the more warmed I became. The irresistible force was gaining on the immovable object. That night I told God in prayer that if he wanted me to become a Catholic, I wouldn’t fight him anymore.

Secretly I started reading up on the Church. Msgr. Raun gave me a few things to read, and I devoured them like a starving man.

Anise: We moved to a small village near the city, and I began attending the village Catholic church. I became acquainted with the priest and confided in him how troubled I had been with the way in which the campus priest had administered my sacrament of marriage. Father told me that he would re-administer the sacrament on our fifteenth wedding anniversary the next day.

Paul: Anise talked me into renewing our wedding vows during a daily Mass at the unholy hour of 6:30 A.M. I couldn’t receive the Eucharist, but Father put his thumb on the host, then crossed the sanctified thumb on my forehead. He knew my heart.

Anise: Paul and I renewed our vows and had our marriage blessed in front of our children and many of our friends. Afterward, I took the boys up to the adoration chapel. Our middle son knelt down in front of the monstrance and said, "I want to be Catholic, God."

Paul: That evening we went out to dinner, and I told Anise that she could start raising the boys Catholic. She was taken totally by surprise and cried tears of joy. I didn’t know that I was also answering the prayers of my sons.

Anise: I was up all night thanking God for the incredible miracle he had given to me. I was humbled and awed by him and his great mercy for me.

Paul: Then it happened. My passion culminated in my standing amid the shards of my carefully constructed Protestantism and knowing that I had been defeated by the Catholic Church. I had been playing hooky at Barnes and Noble, clandestinely reading Peace of Soul by Bishop Fulton Sheen. The words on page 269 blew me away: "The convert’s certitude [in the answer is] the absolute, final solution, which one would die for rather than surrender." Later that day, in my office, it came to me. It was true. All of it. I knew that the Catholic Church was the authentic Church of Jesus Christ, and I wanted in. I called my Methodist pastor to give him the "good news." He wasn’t pleased, but we ended on a cordial note. I hung up the phone and literally jumped for joy.

I went to Monsignor the next day and told him that I wanted to become a Catholic. I bared my pathetic soul in the confessional. My resurrection came when Monsignor placed the host on my tongue. I got up off of my knees, turned around, and was greeted by my wonderful wife-sponsor, my three awesome boys, and the beaming smiles of many friends. I was finally in the earthly home God had saved for me.

Anise: On July 26, 2000, the feast of St. Anne, my husband became Catholic. Many years of prayer were finally answered. I credit St. Anne for this miracle because she was my patron and I had poured my heart out to her at her basilica in Canada, which is known for many answered prayers and miracles. We were finally united in our faith.

Paul: Even though it was July 26, St. Anne’s feast day, it was Easter morning for me.


Paul Yarbrough is a civil trial attorney with the law firm of Butt Thornton and Baehr PC.

This article appeared in Volume 18 Number 2.