Elizabeth Reardon shares how as a young Southern Baptist girl she found herself walking in the doors of a Catholic church and leaving forever changed.
Freshman year at Mount Holyoke College was an exciting time of rigorous study, new friendships, challenging adjustments and unbelievable growth. Over 1,200 miles away from home, I found myself both seeking comfort in the familiar but also joy in discovering who I was to become. Though I studied hard and partied equally so, I still made time to attend church either on campus or locally in town with a classmate. Yet, I was noticing that something was missing, something I couldn’t define but leaving me incomplete. Perhaps the experience of worship service had changed, or I had –even a bit of both.
Then one Sunday as the minister spoke of metaphorically of finding one’s center, I realized that was it! While I knew my center was Christ, I could no longer feel his presence as near and tangible. My soul yearned for so much more. This internal pull was intense, and over the course of the proceeding months I truly felt God working within asking me to let go and let him lead.
That morning getting myself ready after a late night out had caused me to miss the first half of service.
I could just go back to my dorm room I thought. But wait, there is a Catholic mass starting soon. Rather than being uncomfortably late, I could be on time. Yet, I know so little of Catholic practices. Will my unfamiliarity be too easily distinguishable? What I heard in response within my heart was, “This is an opportunity to find what you have been searching for. God is here.”
The Father’s presence
I turned the handle on the door of the chapel and took my seat towards the middle of the church. I knelt before God for the first time. In this silence before Mass began I found such peace and comfort in my anonymity. Here in this sacred time and place, I whispered, “I am here too, Father.” Admittedly, as Mass began it was all too obvious, as I looked to my left and right for guidance, that I was a newcomer. Yet, just when I started questioning the reasoning that had brought me here, God reached out and drew me close. On either side hands outstretched were the beautiful recognizable words of the Our Father echoing throughout the chapel space. I was home.
Soon thereafter, I was to discover the love of my life in the deep friendship that had begun previously that fall. (That story featured here) A Catholic and sophomore at UMass Amherst, I couldn’t believe how blessed I was that God had planned it all! Though we frequently attended Mass together, for some time I still held back in telling him how God was moving me ever closer to conversion. With prayer and discernment so significant in my life, I was cautious and wanted to be certain that this was indeed where God was leading me to go.
A Mother’s dream
Yet, when that moment did arrive, there was no looking back. My searching heart had been filled with a fullness of faith, joy and love. And to my surprise, my family not only respected my faith decision but prayed and supported me throughout it all. To this day, I still remember the phone call to my mother. After sharing the events that had brought me to this place, there was a long pause for what seemed like an eternity.
“It all makes sense now,” was her response.
“What makes sense?” I curiously asked.
“Before you were born I had a dream that you would be a Catholic. Standing before a multitude of others gathered, you then spoke passionately of your love and faith in God. I know now that God was preparing me for this day.”
“Mom, why have you never told me this before?
“Well, I didn’t want to persuade you should that not be God’s will. I knew that if it was, that God would certainly lead you there.”
Twenty-one years have passed since this conversation, yet I thought of this moment again this weekend as I was asked to speak at St. Patrick’s in Wareham. Through these years, I have been blessed with countless invitations to serve, witness and grow in my faith. For me, it is the journey of a lifetime — one I joyously embrace and continuously seek each day.
(© 2015 Elizabeth Reardon)
Elizabeth Reardon is a Pastoral Studies/Religious Education graduate at Loyola Chicago; lay minister; happy mom and wife. She blogs at Theologyisaverb and hosts a daily radio program on Real Life Radio called An Engaging Faith. Her first guest post on JOYAlive.net was This is Community.