In This Rock and elsewhere you’ve read the stories of Protestant ministers and other adults who have come home to the Catholic Church. But have you ever read about a teenager converting to the Catholic faith? Well you’re about to now. I am a convert, and I am a teenager.
I was born in Minnesota on March 14, 1980, in the rural southwestern edge of the state. On May 4 of that year, I was born again through the sacrament of baptism in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. My mother made sure that I went to Sunday school. She said my prayers with me, and the little seed of faith began to sprout. My mother was born into a family of Dutch descent, and her parents were members of the Christian Reformed Church, which Mom describes as being very strict. My father came from Arkansas, where Baptists make up much of the population.
I can remember having a tender love for the Lord Jesus at an early age. Vividly engraved in my mind are images of me and my classmates singing “Father Abraham had Many Sons,” “Pass it On,” “Our God is an Awesome God” and “Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory”. What happy times those were for me!
But later years proved to be quite a trial. When high school began, I found myself feeling isolated and lonely. I am not athletic by any means, and I remember all too well being yelled at and laughed at because I didn’t do well at the games we played in physical education class. I discovered at age twelve the gift of writing poetry, which is an “abomination” to the jocks in my school. I wrote poems about Jesus and had them printed in local papers; my peers thought of me as a religious fanatic.
During the teenage years, if you’re not a part of the “crowd,” you don’t exist. so I am one of a large number of teens who just don’t fit in. And during the teenage years, there is nothing more important than fitting in.
Like many teens, I have dealt with occasional depression; my heart has struggled to release all the hurt. Many times I’ve been tempted to turn to the occult for a quick answer to this pain. My faith in Jesus Christ is what has sustained me. He is truly there for us, he is the one who stands by us and gives us the strength to turn pain into a beautiful masterpiece for God. The world is full of false friends, but Jesus our God abandons us not.
I started to read about the world religions. I studied Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Islam. I studied Christian faiths: Lutheran, Presbyterian, Orthodox, and others. I even read a good deal about Mormons, the Watchtower and SeventhDay Adventism. For a reason that I can’t now remember, the Catholic Church — a church that I had despised because my family told me that Catholics believed in silly things — all of a sudden had me gripped by fascination, and I never did break free of that grip.
I live only some twenty miles from the city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I attended my first Mass there with my father at the magnificent St. Joseph Cathedral on October 2, 1994. What an experience that was! I felt such awe at the beauty I saw as I took in the interior of the then seventy-five-year-old building. I remember we sang “The Cry of the Poor” as the opening song, music that spoke to my soul.
On Christ the King Sunday a month later, I found myself in the cathedral for the third or fourth time. I got to hear former Bishop Paul Dudley preach. What an amazing man! His homily that night inspired me later to write a poem. The bishop recited one of the last sentences in the Bible, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Then he asked the congregation to repeat that line, and again, and again. It was very moving.
Because I didn’t know about closed Communion, I received the Eucharist during my first visits to Catholic churches, but even then I truly believed that I was receiving the flesh of Jesus. Belief in the True Presence it is without a doubt the most priceless treasure that Catholics have. I read the words of John 6, “The bread I will give is my flesh…If you do not eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you…for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” Many Protestants read those words and refuse to take them literally. How can they not? Christ says it so plainly and bluntly. Today’s Catholic-bashers act like the disciples who abandoned Christ because they just could not accept his teaching about the Eucharist.
In the spring of 1995, I made a friend from Steubenville, Ohio. Her name was Beth Hart. At the time, she was working for the Light and Life Foundation, and later worked for Catholics United for the Faith. This faithful Catholic reached out to me through letters with love and humor. She sent me tapes by Scott Hahn. I began ordering tapes from Catholic Answers. All the tapes were convincing.
I think the turning point came when I read Surprised bv Truth. I thought it was fascinating how each convert had his or her own “main issue” that had to be struggled with. For some, it was the Eucharist. For others, it was the Virgin Mary. And yet for others, it was papal infallibility or purgatory and indulgences. And as far as sola scriptura is concerned, when I listened to a debate sponsored by Catholic Answers, between representatives of the Catholic and Protestant positions, I became convinced of what a big failure this doctrine has turned out to be. Thousands of different denominations, teaching “this” and “that”. Baptists say infant baptism is does not regenerate, yet Presbyterians say it does. And to think these groups get their differing views from the same Bible!
I became annoyed when I read how Luther added the word “alone” to support his belief in salvation by faith alone, but I was quite surprised later to read about the devotion Luther held for the Blessed Virgin. Obviously, many Protestants do not know about that. What a shocker!
My friend Beth sent me tapes about appearances of the Virgin Mary; these I found fascinating. I’m especially fond of the story of Fatima, and I believe in the message Our Lady delivered there. Another Catholic sent me a video on Eucharistic miracles, occasions when the Host started to bleed or actually took on the appearance of flesh (as was the case at the miracle in Lanciano, Italy). My faith in the Real Presence skyrocketed.
My mother and my father knew how deeply I longed to be a part of this beautiful faith of miracles and apparitions and saintly martyrs. They gave me permission to become a Catholic, which I did on March 29, 1997 at the Easter Vigil ceremony at St. Catherine’s Church, located in my birth town. I had just turned seventeen.
I live in an area that is mostly Protestant. Being one of only three or four Catholics in my town is quite a challenge. Many relatives and neighbors do not understand the Catholic faith — and sadly, many don’t want to understand. I just pray for God to use me to be a witness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. I am still struggling with the pain that lingers from the things I’ve gone through at school, but my Lord is there to console me. He awaits me in the tabernacles of the Catholic Church. One Catholic song that is especially comforting to me in times of sorrow is “You Are Mine.” The next time you sing that song at Mass, know that it is Jesus in the tabernacle who is saying those very words to your soul.
I love being a Catholic. I wouldn’t trade my faith for any other. All the Protestant creeds that are floating around are like mere tin cans compared to the Catholic Church, which is like a priceless vase carved by Jesus himself. It alone contains the full truth of the gospel.
God is doing remarkable things in my life. Just before entering the Church, I had my very first book of poems published. The title is Inspirations. Let me conclude with one of my poems.
Do you want to see the Face of Jesus?
Look into the lovable eyes of a newborn baby.
Fathom the wrinkles on the faces of the elderly
That came to be by hard work and worry.
Observe a homeless person on the street.
Behold the poor and the lowly.
Consider the meek and the humble
Perceive the tears of a struggling parent.
Feel the pain of the abused and neglected.
Look upon all of these, and you have seen the face of Jesus.