by Brandy M. Miller Profiles in Catholicism
I thought I was raised Catholic. I was told that I was Catholic. We went to Catholic Catechism classes for about an hour each week before Mass, and we attended Mass each week.
I knew about our relationship with Mary. I knew that we followed Jesus. I also knew that we were different from other Christian churches. I knew that other Christians thought we weren’t Christian, but my mother assured me we were the first Christians
My mother also told me that the church was run by a bunch of old men who just “didn’t get” women. So I wasn’t taught to listen to them or to take them seriously. Key doctrines, like the sanctity of all life from conception through natural death, were simply discarded as being further proof of the oppressive rules against women.
I was told that asking questions about why we believed what we believed was a good thing to do – and I did. Unfortunately, as I got older and the questions got harder to answer, I couldn’t find anybody within the faith who could give me the answers I needed in a way that made sense to me.
Quite often, the answers I got amounted to: “It’s dogma,” or “it’s a mystery.”
The biggest question, and maybe the most important, that they couldn’t answer: If God loved me so much, why did He allow me to go through all of the abuse I went through as a child?
Since nobody I knew seemed to have an answer to my questions, I assumed there were no answers. God and I didn’t have the kind of relationship where I saw asking Him as a viable option.
On the eve of me deciding to reject confirmation and leave the Church, the Holy Spirit tried to step in and provide the hints to where I could find the answers. I was sent a dream in which I was walking through the Vatican and while there were guards posted at all the hallways and entrances, nobody was stopping me from going wherever I wanted.
I found a staircase that led down deep into the interior of the Vatican and at the bottom of that staircase was a door. I opened that door and stepped into a room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lining every wall – all of which were empty, except the bookshelf closest to the door. That shelf contained just two books – The Complete Works of Jesus Christ and The Complete Works of the Apostles.
I woke up from that dream convinced that it meant the leadership of the Catholic Church was conspiring to withhold the truth from believers. My doubts about the faith were cemented and I left.
I tried atheism, but I wasn’t any good at it. Science tells us that order requires energy to maintain. Our universe is a place where everything operates according to laws that are testable, provable, and knowable by man. If this weren’t the case, science could not exist.
Science is only possible because those laws are unchanging, and we can depend upon them to operate the same way every time we conduct an experiment. As long as all the variables are controlled, if we have correctly understood the laws and applied them, we can be sure to get the same outcome.
Those laws give it order, which meant that a force greater than mankind had to be maintaining that order. The order might start out of chaos but it could not be maintained without energy deliberately sustaining it.
I tried paganism. It sounded nice to be told that “love, and do as thou wilt” (a bastardization of St. Augustine’s quote to “Love God and do as thou wilt.”) was the only rule I needed to follow. It sounded nice that we were inclusive of all gods and all religions, which sounds infinitely less judgmental than a religion that states there is only one God and only one way to live.
However, the more I looked at the Wiccan religion and the pagan beliefs they espoused, the more I came to see the flaws in what they were doing.
A spell assumes that I know what all I need and what is good for me and then demands that whatever god or goddess I am appealing to bend themselves to my will in exchange for the sacrifice I am offering. It is the height of human arrogance.
Prayer, by contrast, recognizes the limitations of my knowledge and experience and seeks from God an answer that will ultimately be the best for me and for those around me. It is a humble acceptance of the fact that God’s ways are so far above our own ways as the heavens are from the earth, and He owes us nothing but provides everything out of love.
When I sat down to think further about the Wiccan rede that we were to do no harm, I realized it was impossible for us to know for certain whether we were doing good or harm. We might think we were doing someone the greatest possible good and yet be doing great harm. How were we to know the difference? Were we truly to rely on the cast of a deck of cards to be sure of the outcome?
I ultimately abandoned it as an empty, meaningless exercise in self-worship and wishful thinking.
I explored many different protestant faiths but there was something missing from them all – something that I could not put my finger on but knew without a doubt wasn’t there.
I would periodically attend Catholic Bible studies, hoping to find the answers I was seeking, and that did help to answer some questions but it only brought up more. It seemed the more I knew, the less I understood.
The turning point came at a point in my life where I almost completely abandoned my attempts to reach out to God. I was not living in alignment with any faith. I was the most miserable I’d ever been in my life, which was saying something. Then, the day came when my 7 year old son was standing in my room looking me in the eyes telling me not only that he was going to kill himself but exactly how he was going to do it and he had a backup plan in case that first plan failed.
I was forced to ask myself a question: How had we broken our baby so badly that death seemed preferable to life?
It was my journey to finding an answer to that question that led me to attending sessions held by members of the Apostolate for Family Consecration, a group dedicated to teaching Catholics how to be part of the Great Commission and giving them concreate, real answers to the questions that are being asked of them every day by non-believers and by other Christian faiths.
This was exactly what I needed. Suddenly, I was finding the answers – deep inside the Catholic Church just as my dream had promised me – to all the questions I had about the why behind every what we do in the Catholic faith.
I came back to the Catholic faith when I realized that every law, every rule, every precept, and every tradition she passes on to her children is all designed to help teach them how to give and to receive love so that they might choose life, and live it abundantly.
The more that I began to live her laws, the more that I was capable of both giving and receiving love. The more love I received, the more I was capable of giving, and the more I began to heal those places and spaces which were so deeply wounded by the abuse of the past and my own choices in how to handle them.
I was finally able to put my finger on exactly what it was that had been missing from all of those Protestant faiths I’d tried: the rich set of tools and supports that the Church provides to those who are faithfully carrying their cross in this life.
In confession, I found the courage to be honest about who I was, where I was, exactly as I was so that I could be loved for all those things. I understood that my mortal sins were like spiritual cancers eating away at my heart and robbing me of my capacity to love.
The priest was the doctor, acting under the orders of the Divine Physician, dispensing words of wisdom about how I might avoid this cancer in the future as well as giving me medicine to heal the wounds they were causing me now. Some cancers were persistent, taking many visits before the healing was done. Others were simpler matters, where the sin had not yet taken root and could be removed easily.
In the lives of the saints, I found the encouragement and consolation I needed while walking that narrow road. Encouragement, because no matter how badly their lives may have been before they set out to follow Him, and no matter how many falls they experienced along the way, they made it through to the end. Consolation because no matter what I was going through, there was a saint who had walked in my shoes or experienced far worse and to whom I could turn with assurances they would understand my troubles.
In Mary, I found the mother I didn’t have growing up and needed so badly. I found a mother who was always there for me and never failed me, who was a source of encouragement and who believed the best of me, who was always working to help me achieve my highest possible good: Heaven.
In the Rosary, I found the graces needed for every stage of my walk with Love. When love was new and my doubts were many, the Joyful mysteries guided me. When love was painful and the cross of it was heavy, the Sorrowful mysteries carried me through. When tempted to quit and to give up on myself or on others, the Glorious mysteries reminded me of what was awaiting me if I but persevered in faith. When running low on love and my cup was feeling empty, the Luminous mysteries were there to remind me to fill up on the Sacramental Love of Christ.
As my faith grew and I began taking my son with me to Church, he began to heal. My husband, an atheist from the day I met him, initially resisted my reversion. It required drastic changes to the life we’d been living, and he was not on board with all of those changes.
In his eyes, it was like I was having an affair with a man with whom he could never hope to compete, and this new man in my life was changing me right before his very eyes. He thought he’d married Rachel only to find himself now shackled with Leah. In spite of this, he chose to stick it out and struggle to make our marriage work.
However, as I would eventually remind him, the woman he’d married was selfish, vain, and ungrateful. Nothing he’d done was ever good enough for her, and she blamed him for every problem that came up.
Only through Christ were the wounds I carried able to heal enough that I was finally able to rejoice in what was good in him, to see and acknowledge my own contributions to the wreckage of our life and to take responsibility for my part in our problems, and to be willing to put his needs, wants, and desires ahead of my own. With the help of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter community, my husband would eventually convert to the faith, too.
It’s been fifteen years since I fully returned to the Catholic Church, but I can say with certainty that I will never abandon her again. It is in the Church’s example of her faithful service to her children that I learned to be the parent my son needed me to be. It is in the Church’s example of her fidelity to Christ that I learned to be the wife my husband needed me to be. It is in the Church’s sheltering arms that I found the answers I needed, and they all led me to Love….”for God is love.” – 1 John 4:8