Officially? Yes, I’m now officially a Catholic. I considered myself an “unofficial” Catholic until April 5th, 2015. The journey started six years ago, and I can’t even believe it’s been that long. When I was in my last semester of college to become an elementary teacher, I began student teaching at a small, Catholic School near Cleveland, Ohio. I didn’t realize one experience would change my whole world. It just goes to prove how every step we take, no matter how small, will impact our future. Every person we meet and every situation we are put in, will somehow transform how we move forward with life. My road to Catholicism is proof.
I didn’t know much about the Catholic faith at all, but I wasn’t against spending three months in a kindergarten classroom in a Catholic School. When I discovered I’d be attending Mass once a week with the students, I remember being a little nervous, since I knew next to nothing about it. Week by week, I learned a little more, felt a little more comfortable, and found myself a little more interested and engaged. It helped to be surrounded by some of the best people I’d ever known and to have felt so welcomed into their school and church community. I grew really close to a group of people there, who still remain some of the closest in my life. I had felt a sense of transformation in those three months and had realized I really wanted to explore becoming Catholic. It was definitely a place where I felt a connection. That’s really all it takes in the beginning, a sense of connection and feeling of wanting more.
I took my time getting started. In fact, it took about five years to begin the process of becoming Catholic. During that time, I had been teaching second grade at the Catholic School where it all began. (No, being Catholic wasn’t a requirement to teach there.) I was often overwhelmed with work, as well as a two-year graduate degree I packed into a one-year advanced program. Sometimes I wondered if I was just making excuses for not starting sooner, but last year, I realized why it all happened the way it did. It was during my last year of teaching in Ohio when I met the person who would later become my husband. He was the music director for the church of the school where I worked. We met when he helped my students prepare songs for their First Communion. We had been dating almost a year when he got a job as a youth minister in Richmond, Virginia. I knew we were meant to be together so never thought twice about making the decision to move to Richmond. We had arranged for me to live with a couple from the church where he got the job. It was all a risk but one I knew would work in the end, especially when a week after I moved, Mike proposed to me in Virginia Beach, still one of the best days I can remember.
I was now engaged, living in a strange city with strangers, unemployed, and planned to begin my Catholic journey in two months. Interestingly enough, the couple I was living with ran the RCIA program at our church, the program for conversion to Catholicism. They were turning out to be some of the best people I had ever met, and things seemed to be happening in a particular order, one which I didn’t even realize until later in the year, was definitely meant to be. I started the program in August. I learned so much, changed in a variety of ways, and worked on changing my outlook in a difficult time. I was going through turmoil in my career search. During all of this, I was trying to plan a wedding with Mike, transition into a new city, meet new people, and balance a new life.
The journey to become Catholic had reached a peak, when I was confirmed at the Easter Vigil Mass this past April. It was amazing to feel like an “official” part of the Catholic community, although I’d been going to the Catholic Church and participating in Catholic events for years. I feel like it’s more real and meaningful at this point. With my Confirmation, also meant my husband and I were able to have a Catholic wedding with a Mass back home in Ohio. One of the most special parts of the Mass, besides exchanging vows of course, was both of us being able to give the Blood of Christ to our family and friends as Eucharistic Ministers during Communion. It was a first for me and something we got to do together. Many of the people at our wedding commented how they had never seen the bride and groom as Eucharistic Ministers at their wedding and what a beautiful Wedding Mass we had prepared.
So you might be wondering what all this means for the future. How is my life any better or different? Really it means the journey has only begun. I have so much to learn and always have questions about the Catholic faith. The road to becoming Catholic is never really over. Things are always changing. People are always changing. There’s so much to explore and understand. As for my day-to-day life, I am officially part of my husband’s Core team for Life Teen. I helped a lot last year, but now I have my own small group, go to the weekly Core meetings, and play a more integral part in the Sunday routine. I feel more invested, since I am now official, and Mike and I are now also official!
Every day and every week I am learning more about my faith and Catholicism. I am lucky enough to have a husband who knows almost all the answers to any questions I have, but I feel very lucky to also learn from my fellow Core team members at our meetings and on Life Nights. I may never feel like I know as much as they do, but it is a blessing to be able to gain a lot of knowledge from them. They probably aren’t even aware how much of an impact they have. The teens have had a bigger impact on my faith and growth than they could imagine. For someone who was actually scared to work with this age group, they have taught me a ton about my journey and myself. I have become close with a lot of them and can’t imagine Life Teen without them!
It should be an eventful and interesting year, as was last year. I plan to grow stronger in my faith, in my own personal life, in the professional and social world, and most importantly in my role as a wife. It doesn’t matter what stage of life or what age you are. If you have been involved or considered making the leap to become Catholic, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Whether you have been helping with Life Teen, are a teen who has been to Life Nights, or have found yourself wondering about being Catholic because of an experience with a Catholic friend, ask someone more about RCIA and the options you have. There will be someone who can help you and a whole new world of faith and love awaiting you.