I was in high school at the time, and very much on fire for God. I was passionately devoted, but I’ve always had a touch of melancholy. I still do, and from time to time, depression swallows me up. It was a time like this when a good friend – a good Catholic friend of mine – invited me to Adoration.
To my Protestant sensibilities, this was nothing more than a night of praise and worship. The presence of God would be there, because the presence of God is everywhere His people are. God is not confined to Earthly spaces like we are.
So I arrived at Adoration, expecting music and candlelight and prayer. I sat in a pew in the beginning, feeling out-of-place in what was still an unfamiliar sanctuary at the time. As the music and praise swelled, I felt more and more comfortable, and soon I felt this pressing need to go to the altar. I’ve always loved altar calls. I still remember my first altar call at a Christian camp, where a counselor placed a hand on my back and prayed over me. Her hand was large and warm and heavy, and I felt loved and acknowledged.
I do not remember if I was the only one there, but I doubt it. I don’t think, even with as strong a pressing as I felt, I would have been brave enough to go on my own. Regardless, alone or not, I did go, and I remember kneeling, the coolness of the marble against my bare knees. I sang and raised my hands and stared at this beautiful gold cross that rested on the altar before me. Soon, I felt a swell of emotion. Strong and inescapable, and I began to weep. It was not demure, lady-like crying. It was wailing sobs, the kind that leaves your face red and distorted. Everything I was feeling: rejection, heartache, pain, sadness, everything was pulled to the surface and I was overwhelmed with feelings of love, peace and holiness, like a cooling balm over a bad burn.
I am no stranger to the mountain high, to the power of altar calls and intense worship. I have felt them before, and I have felt them since, but nothing I have experienced, not even to this day, compares to this night. To try to describe it in writing seems to diminish it, and I have been reluctant to do so as a result. I don’t know how long I was up there. It may have been five minutes; it may have been an hour. I was lost in this luscious, powerful, healing experience, spirit-filled and heaven-touched. I remember looking down, and seeing small pools on the marble where my tears had fallen.
When I finally rejoined my friend at the pew, I felt slightly embarrassed, as one usually does when they are unsure if someone else had a similar experience. I turned my eyes to the altar, and saw the priest, small and swallowed up by his vestments. He approached the gold cross and reverently removed a small, white wafer. I balked. “Was that there the whole time?” I asked my friend. She nodded.
I was a Protestant, a die-hard reformer, a proud Baptist, a daughter of Martin Luther and John Calvin. Communion was symbolic, tasteless matzoh and Welch’s grape juice, handed out once a month and eaten in strange reverence with my congregation. It never felt special, just a strange tradition standing out in a denomination that seemed to despise tradition. Growing up, my fondest memories of communion was helping my grandfather go through the pews and picking up the empty plastic cups left behind. They were stacked neatly beside the hymnals, and I would make it a kind of game, trying to collect more than he did.
But it wasn’t the body and blood of Christ. That was absurd. I knew that for a fact. A few years before, I had gone to a friend’s church. She was Catholic. I had never been to a Catholic service, and when they did Communion, I didn’t know not to receive. I didn’t know not to drink. I remember feeling slightly scandalized to have sipped wine without my parents’ permission, but I didn’t realize the grave taboo I had committed until much later. When I did learn, it only fueled my skepticism. I had not felt anything different. There was no power in the wafer I had consumed. It was just like the matzoh I had consumed so many times before. Right?
So sitting there, feeling the lingering fingerprints of divinity still on me, and realizing that the wafer had been there, that it was what was different, and that maybe there was something to do this Catholic-thing.
So I then became a Protestant who believed in Eucharist. This is a strange place to be surely, but every time I asked God whether I should become Catholic or not, the answer was always a resounding “No.” My heart was hardened by some issue or another, or an opportunity outside the Church opened that was obviously God’s will for me. And so it has been for awhile, until recently.
I have been without a church for awhile, though I have been to many, and have sincerely been seeking a home church. I attended one church for awhile, and I thought it might be “the one”, but for reasons I am not yet ready to write about, I decided to leave. I love church, though, and I need that weekly learning and community and worship, so I began to attend my friend’s church. Yes, it is the same Catholic friend, and yes, it is the same Catholic church. I started to go regularly, and I began to look forward to it. I love the Church, and I used to go every week in high school and later in college, so the service is familiar and beautiful to me. However, I found myself satisfied to just receive my small blessing from the priest, and then kneel in prayer.
One of my main strongholds against joining the Church has been Mary. Like many Protestants, the veneration of Mary is confusing and smacks of idolatry. Slowly, I feel that I have resolved most of these objections, but the Catholic fascination of her still made me slightly uncomfortable.
One evening, on the feast day of Mary’s Assumption, I decided to go to mass. Bishop Olmstead was speaking, and the parish was also celebrating the anniversary of the order of nuns who call the parish home. I went, and was overwhelmed at home Christ-centered the celebration was. It was beautiful and reverent, and though Mary was talked about, it was always in a way that ultimately glorified Christ. I was moved, and when I went to the front, my arms crossed, to receive my blessing, I felt something missing. There was a noticeable void, and I decided then and there to sign up for RCIA.
So now I’m here, prayerfully learning and humbly asking God to guide my path.