Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism

What God Means to Me!-By Anne Harrington

My three younger brothers and I were brought up as Protestants in Washington State, and we came to the fulness of Faith when I was 15. The way God has revealed himself to me has been through my faith journey. My father (a city planner and US Army Reserves officer) was raised a devout Catholic, and my mother (a nurse) a devout Protestant. As you can imagine, that didn’t go so well.

Despite my mother’s “conversion” to Catholicism in order for them to marry, her beliefs had not changed. Three years later, shortly after my birth and baptism, we started a routine of spiritual two-timing on Sundays: Mass followed by a service at a local Evangelical Protestant church.
Eventually my father, weary of the hassle and bickering every weekend, caved in and agreed to drop the Catholic thing.

We moved when I was six to the town my father had been raised in. Joining a local parish was out of the question, so we did what every sensible Protestant family does after a major move: we went church shopping. We tested out multiple denominations (Nazarene, Free Methodist, another Evangelical group), and finally my parents compromised on Lutheranism.

All the while I had developed a close relationship with my paternal grandmother, who was horrified at our doctrinal ping-ponging. I have no doubt that her daily Mass attendance was fuelled by petitions on our behalf. Her devotion and love for her faith moved me, even as a child.
On the rare occasion I attended Mass with her, I was always filled with a deep sense of peace; a stark contrast to the spiritual chaos I was used to.

My parents had made the decision to home school early on – both for academic and spiritual reasons, and my mom quit her job to stay home and teach the four of us (I still question her sanity!).

We were doing a segment on Church History, and I was drawn to the early Church Fathers and to studying how the Church developed. When I was 15, I decided to do a research paper on Martin Luther, since it correlated to my studies for Confirmation in the Lutheran church. It was the first time I had ever studied the roots of Protestantism, and the more I studied, the more uncomfortable I felt. Luther’s teachings on the Eucharist, “good works”, and other hallmarks of his doctrine just didn’t add up with saints Ignatius, Polycarp, Augustine, etc, not to mention Scripture! It became increasingly uncomfortable to attend Lutheran services, especially at communion. I knew I could no longer participate in this faith, and I knew where my heart was leading, but I was terrified of what it would mean for my home life.

On Ash Wednesday, 2003, I lay prostrate on my bedroom floor, crying and praying for guidance. I asked God to send me a sign, anything, to lead me in the right direction. When I looked up, the first thing I saw was my dad’s crucifix—he was deployed to Afghanistan that year, and I had found his crucifix and put it up as a reminder of him.

Immediately I was flushed with a sense of peace like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I went to my mother and told her, through sobs, that I was a Catholic. I was prepared for a shunning, but was met with the power of the Holy Spirit. In secret, my mom had been listening to EWTN’s Catholic Answers radio programme, and had been moved by the spiritual and Scriptural depth of the content.

Her prejudices slowly melted away, but she was too proud to admit any Catholic sympathy after 20 years of bickering. Meanwhile, my dad was attending Mass regularly in Afghanistan without telling my mom. What was needed was a catalyst, and God had chosen me. Rather than be angry or upset, my mom called the local parish and set up a meeting with the Youth Minister and RCIA director. What started as a personal journey soon grew to a family affair, and by the grace of God my whole family has come to the fulness of the Faith.

I am still amazed at how God reveals his divine will in even the simplest of things; how seeds are planted and nourished without us even realising it. My journey has shown me that in everything, from my grandmother’s example to my spiritual turmoil, God is present.

Anne Harrington, 23, is attending the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College, for an MPhil in Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies.

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