(At CatholicMom.com our Lawn Chair Catechism lesson for this week from Sherry Waddell’s “Forming Intentional Disciples” is Chapter 7: The Third Threshold: Openness.)
Openness to change, although applauded in our culture, takes courage. We fear what we will lose. We fear what we might need to do. Our comfort zone is so, well, so comfortable. So what does it take to make us vulnerable enough to risk change? Often it’s a life-changing event, bringing great sadness.
For me, it was a happy event: I fell in love with a Catholic.
Love overcame all my childhood dreams of the perfect wedding in my beloved Protestant Church to my Prince Charming of the same denomination, and ideal family accord. My dear Catholic fiancé won us all over and marriage preparation took precedent over the wedding ceremony, which I left to his family. My mother busied herself with the reception.
I met with the priest the six times required at that time to marry in the church. My heart longed to do everything for my love. My head told me that converting to Catholicism was between God and me, not between my husband and me. So it was 2 children and 2 ½ years before I was baptized a second time, as was the custom then.
During those years my young Ensign husband was out to sea for 18 months in three- to five- month stretches. Far from my Protestant family, I was free to explore Catholicism in a way that I could never have done at home. I didn’t know any Catholics in our changing circle of military friends. So I prayed. I went to mass alone in a church where I was a stranger. At first I couldn’t stay through the entire service because I was so uncomfortable there without my husband. I was open to change but I felt didn’t belong there. Not yet.
Trying to fit in, I started Inquiry Class (pre-Vatican II RCIA). Transferred before completing the sessions, I began again in a different church full of new strangers. A few months later when I showed up at the third church, the priest, recognizing that I knew the lessons, inquired into my background. I wearily told him that this was my third try at meeting the requirements for baptism. He told me that when I got home to tell the priest that married us about all these classes and then ask him to baptize me.
And that’s what I did. You see, all the moves and new experiences opened me to change and I now felt at home in this universal church. After worshipping at identical liturgies in three cities I finally opened to this change!
My guarded openness to change, fueled by my desire for unity in our new family eventually overcame my misgivings. But it wasn’t from the example of other Catholics in the pews. My mother-in-law, a Catholic, and father-in-law, a Protestant, lovingly accepted me into the family. I could relate to their marriage situation. They went to Mass together but weren’t unified in their beliefs. I wanted more than that. The priests in the three parishes lovingly accepted me, but no one else knew I was there.
My life as a Catholic is incredibly amazing because the persistent Holy Spirit was with me, encouraging me to take the next step, even among strangers. We can trust that our faithful God shows himself to those who do not yet accept our Faith. He uses each of our voices to welcome strangers, encourage them and pray for them — if we cooperate. Let them see Christ alive in us by heeding the practical words of Pope Francis during his 6-26-13 Audience:
Have you seen how unattractive it is to see a tired, bored, indifferent Christian? A Christian of this kind is no good; a Christian must be alive, joyful about being Christian; he must live this beauty of being part of the People of God which is the Church. Do we open ourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit to be an active part in our community, or do we close in on ourselves, saying, “I have so many things to do, it's not my job”?
(© 2013 Nancy H C Ward)