Doom and gloom reigned in the 1930s. It was the era of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Unemployment was at an all-time high, and thousands of people migrated across the nation in search of jobs. At our independent Baptist congregation, we felt that there was no need to greatly concern ourselves about worldly affairs. We were certain that Jesus would be coming soon to take us to a better life. Politicians might promise that prosperity was just around the corner, but we believed that heaven was just around the corner.
Why Not Jesus’ Prayer?
I remember, as a child, listening to the Sunday sermons and being thankful that my family attended the "right church." I was fascinated with what I heard from the pulpit about other denominations and their strange beliefs and bizarre practices. The Catholic Church was a frequent target of criticism. However, as time passed, I began to have some reservations about some of the beliefs and practices of my own congregation. I was probably no more than 11 or 12 years of age when I read Christ’s words at the Last Supper as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. "This, do in remembrance of me." It seemed to my young mind that we ought to have communion every Sunday rather than just occasionally as we did in our church.
My Sunday-school teacher attempted to soothe my concerns by explaining that if we did something too frequently it would tend to lose its meaning. That did not seem like a satisfactory answer to me. In my King James Version, the Book of Acts stated that the early Christians continued "steadfastly" in the breaking of bread. I felt that our congregation was not following the example of the early Christians.
Then there was the matter of the Lord’s Prayer. That prayer was not a part of any of our services. I was aware that other congregations did pray the Lord’s Prayer. I asked my Sunday-school teacher about that. She seemed indignant that I would ask such a question. Her reply was: "Margaret! You know that we do not believe in set prayers. We believe in praying from the heart." It seemed a bit prideful to me to think that our prayers would be superior to that of our Lord’s. I saw no reason why praying the Lord’s Prayer would keep us from also praying other prayers with words of our own. Besides, I knew it wasn’t true that we didn’t believe in set prayers. I, along with my brothers and every child I knew in our congregation, had been taught that childhood prayer beginning with the words "Now I lay me down to sleep."
As my childhood passed, more and more things bothered me about my denomination. I was young and did not know much about doctrinal issues, but I was an avid reader and read God’s holy word frequently. There seemed to be something missing in our spiritual life. It was not my salvation that concerned me, but, rather, how I should worship and how I should live the Christian life.
By the time I reached my later teens, concerns about certain beliefs and practices of our denomination had not subsided but had grown more intense. During this period in my life, I discovered, quite unexpectedly, that some of the things we had been hearing about Catholicism were not true. My friend Wanda and I had become interested in a couple of Catholic boys and curious about the church they attended. Late one Sunday afternoon, we decided to take a peek inside of their place of worship, a large downtown church. We entered cautiously and sat down in the back pew. No electric lights were on. The only light came from some candles flickering in front and from the late-afternoon sun filtering through the stained-glass windows. Several people were scattered about and seemed to be deep in prayer.
Wanda and I sat in silence. We were surprised to see a large crucifix over the altar. We had been told that it was Mary, not Christ, who was central to the beliefs and worship of Catholics. Yet, here was a reminder of our Redeemer in the most prominent place in the church. I saw something on the seat beside me—what I now know to be a missalette. I picked it up and tilted it toward the window to catch the fading sunlight. One side was printed in Latin. The other side was in English. I began to read the English side. It certainly seemed to be Christ-centered. There were Scripture readings. This did not fit with what we had heard about Catholics being discouraged from reading the Bible.
I turned to the Latin side of the missalette. My high-school Latin was limited, but I had enough knowledge to know that what was written in Latin was the same as what was written on the English side. We had been told that Mass was said in Latin so that Catholics wouldn’t really know what was happening. That obviously was not true. Amazingly, we had projected our own ignorance onto others. Discovering that untruths had been told about the Catholic faith had a profound effect on me. I realized that we had been bearing false witness. I figured that if some of the things we had heard about Catholicism were not true, perhaps there were other things we had heard that were not true. I began a search for the truth, which was a spiritual journey that took me back into history and included a study of most of the major denominations.
A Stop on the Way
I kept researching what the major denominations taught and carefully checked their biblical references on each point of doctrine. As I studied, I became increasingly impressed with what I learned about the Catholic faith. I had heard for years how mistaken Catholics were in their beliefs. But now those supposedly mistaken beliefs began to make sense to me. There turned out to be a biblical basis for teachings of the Church that others had labeled as "inventions."
After we were married, my husband and I started attending the Lutheran church at the encouragement of several friends. I felt considerably more comfortable with the worship services there than in my former church. I was happy that the Lutherans included the Lord’s Prayer in every worship service. Even at a very early age, I had a difficult time understanding how Christians who claimed to accept the entire Bible and to put a literal translation on it could ignore the words of Christ, "When you pray, say . . ." I discovered in the Lutheran church that praying the Lord’s Prayer in no way prevented people from also praising and petitioning God in words of their own choice. It added to, rather than extracted from, our prayer life.
Although I felt more comfortable with Lutheran services, I realized from the start that this was probably not my final destination. I have since discovered that many individuals "stop off" at various churches on their way home to the Church that Christ established. It takes a long time to shake off old prejudices. How much easier it would be to approach the faith if one did not have a background filled with myths about Catholic beliefs. It requires a lot of research to sort out fact from fiction.
With Us Always
I started attending the Catholic Church at the age of 48. Although I was unable to receive Communion at the time, I knew instantly what the missing dimension in my faith had been. It was the contact with Christ through Holy Eucharist. I thought back to what my Sunday-school teacher had said: that if we did something too frequently it would lose its meaning. Unfortunately, communion had already lost its meaning when it became a mere symbolic celebration.
As a Protestant, I had often wondered if Catholics looked forward to the Second Coming as we did. It seemed that Catholics did not talk about it as much as some other denominations. I discovered that Catholics, too, eagerly await the Second Coming (as do most people who call themselves Christian). However, Catholics do not sit on the edges of their seats drumming their fingers as they wait. While they wait, they already have Christ with them both spiritually and tangibly. The centuries of waiting for the Second Advent have been made tolerable through the Eucharist. This was, of course, God’s plan. Our Creator surely knew that humans would yearn for tangible as well as spiritual contact with their Savior. If there is any action taken by humans that can be described as true worship, it is found in the celebration of Mass. What our Redeemer promised he would do, what he did, what he continues to do and what he will do are all manifested in the celebration of the Eucharist. It is a celebration of the past, present, and future.
When I was a Protestant, the words of Christ, "I am with you always" were very comforting. As I came to understand the Eucharist, these words took on added meaning. At the end of Mass we hear the words, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." These words are a reminder of the fullness of our Savior’s message and are a recollection to put our faith into action. They remind us of the guidelines which Christ left with us for our life on earth: to keep the commandments and to help the poor, sick and suffering. They remind us of our Lord’s teachings of peace, love, brotherhood, and forgiveness. They keep us ever mindful that we should spread the Good News. At long last it was clear to me how one should worship and how the Christian life should be led.
My faith journey took several decades. Although I started to attend Mass at the age of 48, I did not join the Church until I was 50 years old. I made my profession of faith and was admitted to the sacraments of the Catholic Church on June 25, 1978 at St. George Church in Ontario, California. I had finally come home to claim my heritage—that ancient heritage to which we all are entitled.