TALES FROM THE JOURNEY HOME: An American Soldier’s Story

TALES FROM THE JOURNEY HOME: An American Soldier’s Story

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1. How old are you?

27

2. What do you do for a living?

Construction Consulting

3. Where do you live?

Pittsburgh, PA

4. What faith tradition were you raised in?

United Methodist Church

5. What initially attracted you to the Catholic Church?

I loved how the Church made no apologies for God's teaching and stood firm regardless of what pop culture said was correct. Instead of accepting my sinful nature, she calls me to live a holy life through self-denial and sacrificial love.

Before converting, I attended a church where the pastor preached from the pulpit that one doesn’t need Jesus to get to heaven, that Mary wasn’t ever-virgin, and that gay marriage was acceptable.  Even worse, this same church denied the divinity of Christ and taught that Jesus came solely as a force for social justice against class inequality.  As I sat in the pew over the course of a year and heard these sermons and saw the influence this church had in their “Diocese”, I realized that while I hadn’t changed, the denomination I grew up in had and it was time for a new home.

I don’t know how others could do it, but it was impossible for me not to pick up their bad theology and be influenced by it. Regardless of how mixed up I became, I still knew that God was omniscient and un-changing (something that church also contested) and as such, what was right and true didn’t change so I began to search for something that also taught this.  This search led me home to the Catholic Church which was something I encountered years earlier during a relationship with a former girlfriend.

6. Did you have erroneous ideas about the Church before you converted? If so, what were they?

Yes, but my erroneous ideas were not about Catholics worshiping Mary or Saints but about the depth and beauty of the Catholic faith. As a Protestant, I dated a devout Catholic woman whom I absolutely adored. We were fairly serious and started looking at getting married. While we both agreed on the importance of a one church home, neither of us wanted to convert.

In an effort to understand each other’s position, we met with both a Methodist Pastor and a Priest. I’ll never forget the Priest’s response when he said for her to convert to the Methodist Church would be to lose a large part of her faith but that I would leave nothing behind by converting.

At the time, I was initially hurt to hear him say that about the Church I belonged to and then became angry, who was he to say that the Catholic Church had more to offer? The Methodist Church was just as faithful and had the same depth of the Catholic Church.

I would later find out how wrong I was about the Catholic Church and how right that Priest was when I converted three years later. There is more depth and beauty to the Catholic Church than in any of the Protestant denominations and I can only describe the transition as if I was once walking through a movie set of a town with every appearance of being real but now walk through the actual town. What were once flat walls with no depth is now an actual place.

7. How did your friends and family react to your conversion?

My friends were extremely supportive. In a sign of divine providence, I had unknowingly surrounded myself with very devout Catholics. Upon learning that I was converting, these friends were there for me to answer any questions I had and pray for me. I would not have become a Catholic without their help.

My family was less so. As a disclaimer, I’ve got great parents who are very loving and we have a strong relationship but I think it would have been easier for them to hear that I was having a child out of wedlock, gay, or dropping out of school than for them to hear that I had become Catholic.

8. Do you attend the Novus Ordo or the traditional Latin Mass?

Initially I attended the Novus Ordo Mass exclusively but have recently started attending the TLM in the past month or so. It’s a bit of a learning curve as the only Latin I knew beforehand was “E Pluribus Unum” but I enjoy the prayerful silence and the reverence for the Eucharist that isn’t always present at a Novus Ordo Mass.

9. Are you involved in your parish? If so, how?

Yes, I help the Youth Group Minister with any Youth Group events, I'm active in the parish’s Young Adult Group and most recently went on a mission trip to Jamaica with my parish.

10. Do you find that most Catholics are well-catechized?

In my experience, yes. I’ve been extremely blessed to have close friends who are unabashedly Catholic and are great examples of what it means to live the faith. While I’m the exception, I’ve found converts to generally be extremely well-catechized and “Cradle” Catholics to be well-catechized depending on their involvement with the Church.

11. Did you take Rite of Christian Initiation classes? If so, tell us something about your experience there.

Yes, I went through RCIA while deployed to Iraq.

I began the process of converting while I was stationed at an Air Force base in Nebraska. When I finally made up my mind to convert, my local parish at the time’s RCIA class was too far along for me to join so my priest, Father Tom, was generous enough to meet one-on-one and catechize me. About a month in, I received word that I was deploying to Iraq shortly. I was absolutely crushed to tell Father Tom I wouldn’t be able to continue our meetings and finish RCIA but he took it better than me and suggested we pick up again whenever I come back home.

God, however, had a better plan. The week I arrived in Iraq, the base’s Priest announced that a new class of RCIA was starting the following Sunday! This RCIA class ended on Easter Vigil which was a few weeks before I came home. The timing of my deployment and this RCIA class was too convenient for me to believe that it was anything other than Divine Providence.

I confess that at the time I didn’t understand or agree with everything the Catholic Church taught. The Church’s teachings on Women’s Ordination and stance towards an open table at communion were both issues I had problems with but I did know that the Church had the Eucharist and that was more important to me. Who was I to say that in 24 years, I knew more than an organization with a 2,000 year history supported by the brightest minds like Aquinas or Augustine? I also knew that if I were to convert, I needed to actually, you know, convert. I didn’t want to be a “Cafeteria Catholic” because I could pick and choose the issues I liked just fine as a Methodist and not have to go through RCIA. If I were to become Catholic, I wanted either all of it or none of it and so I took a leap of faith and trusted that the Church was right about those issues I didn’t fully understand yet and that I was wrong.

12. To what extent was the witness of Catholics (clergy and/or laity) instrumental in your conversion?

As mentioned earlier, they were extremely instrumental through their example. My roommates and close friends in college were all practicing Catholics and were great role models. Also when I first started those RCIA meetings with Father Tom, I was attending night school at a Jesuit University. In that semester’s first class, I sat next to a former seminarian who became a close friend and was influential in helping me understand the finer points of Catholicism.

13. If you could offer advice to Catholics who wish to help others convert, what would you say?

The people who played a huge part in my conversion all lived the faith and were unapologeticly Catholic.  Showing others the joy that being a devout Catholic brings does more for evangelization than you realize.

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