Going Catholic, part 5

I wasn’t going to stay. It was just going to be through Christmas. Then, through Easter. Then, well, where else was I going to go all summer? Then, in September 2011, I started RCIA classes (Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults), just to see. My husband, bless his heart, came with me, even though he had no intention of converting.

By the way, John Willome (aka John who is Baptist) should get an award for Husband of the Year. Most women who go through a midlife crisis just buy shoes or read trashy novels. I left the entire Protestant world with absolutely no warning.

The classes were both beautiful and hard. Beautiful, because the people — the leaders and participants — were loving, faithful seekers of God. Hard, because Catholicism is more different than I thought. One night (the night on apostolicity and purgatory, if you’re wondering), I ran out at the break, crying.

One of the leaders, a woman who became my sponsor, followed me. “What’s wrong?” she said.

“You don’t know how hard this is,” I told her. “You’re a cradle Catholic. I have no one in my family who is Catholic, except for a couple of people who married in. There is some real prejudice against Catholics in certain corners of my world.”

She didn’t understand, but she didn’t reject me, either.

So, why did I stay?

As often happens in my life, I found my answer on NPR. Specifically, “Fresh Air with Terry Gross.”

I downloaded an interview with Carlos Eire, a professor of history and religious studies at Yale University. He was one of 14,000 children evacuated from Cuba in the Pedro Pan Airlift when Fidel Castro came to power. Eire talked about the graphic nature of the iconography in Cuban Catholic churches — really gruesome stuff. When he came to live in the USA, he found the American Catholic church to be quite different.

“American Catholic churches were kind of cheerful, compared to the Spanish ones. They had a limit on their iconography, not just in terms of the numbers but the types of images that they had, especially in Miami, where everything was new. The fearfulness gradually began to disappear and began to be replaced by an awareness of the fact that it wasn’t religion that was scary; it was life that was scary. It wasn’t those images that were awful; it was life that was full of awful things, and those images were actually there to comfort. And give you some kind of feeling that God has empathy for you.”

—Carlos Eire, “A Cuban American Searches for Roots,” November 22, 2011

Yes, Carlos. That’s it. Life is scary, but when I’m in a Catholic church, I feel that God has empathy for me.

My mom often used words like “overcome,” “victory,” “deliver” and “conquer.” They were words that she found helpful to describe her battle with cancer and her life as a prayer warrior. It’s taken me a long time to realize that as much as I love my mom, our experiences—both spiritual and just life experiences—are very different.

I knew I was doing the right thing one night at RCIA when we talked about the sacrament of anointing of the sick and human suffering. Every person in that room acknowledged some amount of suffering in their lives. Every person had either found comfort in leaning on God or they repented of not leaning on Him.

That’s when I knew for sure I was home.


  1. Such comfort in reading this. Ani Defranco said it well: “Life is sacred.. Life is also profane.”

  2. Here is my perspective on this part of the story. http://johnwillome.wordpress.com. I love you.

  3. I love reading this. And it makes me want to become more loving.

  4. With each one of these, I say to myself, “This is the best one yet!” And with each one, that is true. I cannot thank you enough for the honesty here, for the acknowledgment of both the wonder and the weirdness of this move in your life. And “John who is Baptist?” LOVE it.

    Though I will not convert, I do get this at a deep down level, Megan. I have made so many rich, satisfying discoveries with my immersion, for brief periods, in the Benedictine world. There is an openness to theological divergence, a broad and often exciting picture of God, and that deep well of comfort, assurance, empathy that you write about here. I am forever grateful for this part of my journey.

    On a completely different note, coming from your comment about your mom – I have a dear friend whose 34 year old daughter died of a very aggressive form of breast cancer that starts on the skin. She herself was a highly regarded oncologist and did everything she could do to stay alive, including a bone marrow transplant. But she absolutely hated the language of warrior/battle/fighting in relationship to this disease itself. One reason was because if you use that language and you don’t survive, then somehow you are a ‘loser.’ I think she was onto something. I know the NT uses the language occasionally, but I don’t think it’s the best choice for a lot of life’s difficult situations, actually. I prefer some of the other rich metaphors in scripture! (This woman also hated the ‘pink’ month – feeling that so much of that fund-raising was bogus and the money did not go where it was purported to go – but that is another whole story.)

  5. You write with such clarity Megan. I am so interested in this journey. Might I just ask how you resolved some of those questions (purgatory for example)? Thank you for sharing your heart. It is a very dear one.

  6. I feel like I should take off my shoes when I read this. This is a sure sign of home.

  7. Anyone can come up with something wrong with anything, anyone, any group. That is why we belong to God first and foremost. That lady did a stupid thing, writing that letter…she should know that you’re not trying to please anyone but God. What a silly woman.

  8. okay…i’m back. yep, got interrupted. I also wanted to say..that thing about npr is pretty funny. i like that program. just reminds me of how many times i am surprised at where answers come from, just how they have come from some of the most unexpected times and places.

  9. “It’s taken me a long time to realize that as much as I love my mom, our experiences—both spiritual and just life experiences—are very different.”

    I won’t add to this. Just wanted to call it out. Huge, this.