August 24, 2016

Why and How I became Catholic

Most people who know my background had to have done a mental flip when I became Catholic last year, in May of 2015.  I didn't tell anyone leading up to it, mainly because I wasn't ready to answer questions or deal with backlash from pagan friends, some of whom absolutely hate Christianity.  I had originally intended to turn this into a book, somewhat of an autobiography, going into details of my life which lead me to this point, but instead I find that it works best as a blog.  That doesn't mean the book won't ever exist, I may still write it with plenty more details, but that at this point my other writing projects are taking a priority.  I'm still not sure how much of my past it is alright for me to reveal, since it involves other people's deeply personal business, so the blog version, without too many personal details, will suffice for now.  


     Though most of my family who I knew were Catholic, my Ludad/Gypsy relatives, my mother was Nazarene and neither her nor my father went to church.  However, I always knew who God was, and I always knew that my life would center around serving God. My dad prayed with me and taught me some basic prayers, and I had some children's bible story books. I was jealous when my half brother got to go to church with his dad, but that is also how I found out that church is where you go to learn about God.  I desperately wanted to go to church, but no one wanted to take me. 

     When I was around 6 years old, I spent one of many days at my grandmother's farm with my cousin and I asked if I could stay the night. It was a Saturday, and my grandmother said no because my cousin had to go to church the next day.  I got super excited and said, "Church?! I want to go to church!"  I ended up going with him, to a Southern Baptist church, and I was able to arrange, with permission from my parents, for the church bus to pick me up every Sunday morning for Sunday School and Church.  

     Fast forward several years, and my life had turned to a nightmare.  I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that from age 9 until at least age 18 or 19, my life was turmoil after turmoil, and trauma after trauma.  It shattered me.  I will never go into the details of in what ways I was shattered, even the little I remember is too much for most people to even begin to understand.  However, there I was, a complete mess.  

     I kept to myself the details of most of what was going on inside of me, and I turned to prayer for healing.  I prayed fervently, several times a day, and would cry myself to sleep at night while praying intensely.  I would eventually have an experience which is best for another blog, and the details of which it isn't appropriate to share anyway.  Suffice it to say, I was put back together, slowly, and eventually learned some deep spiritual truths from the experience. 

     Healing from that kind of experience really takes a lifetime, but over time I grew stronger, more clear-headed, and focused.  My love for God manifested greatly, and I saw a need to seek Him more fully.  I told my pastor, and he began giving me private classes in his office, no funny business, teaching me about church history and why the church believed as it did.  At that time it was at a "First Baptist" (AKA American Baptist) church which I was attending because of family issues with the first church I went to.  

   Through the course of those classes, I became disillusioned with the church.  I found that I didn't believe as they did, and I didn't sense the presence of God there.  I started seeking out other Christian churches, including the Catholic church.  For various reasons, each church didn't work out for me.  I didn't agree with how they interpreted the Bible, and some of them only seemed to be after money.  I even tried the LDS (Mormon) church for a year, but eventually decided that I didn't accept their story of Jews in America and the golden plates, etc.  All respect to my LDS friends, it's just not something I believe.  That said, there are certain parts of their theology which I find intriguing. 

    Though I had attended a couple Catholic services, the catechism class scared me off, and the priest was very unfriendly when I told him that I want to convert and eventually hope to become a priest.  I was 16 at that time.  Thus, I never gave the Catholic church a real chance back then.  Funny thing is, it was Mary who had called to me back then as well.  She appeared on a bed-sheet hanging over my window in lieu of a curtain, as the Madonna and child.  She simply smiled at me, and I knew that it was Catholics who honored Mary. 

     Eventually I decided that God didn't exist in any Christian church, and that the original Christian church had been destroyed, just as the Mormons had taught; even though I didn't, and still don't, think that they are the restored church.  I became Christian without a church, and began to go to the library to study other world religions.  I figured if I had a broader perspective on different religions, then I could more discern who God is and how to find Him. 

     When I was a young adult, late teens, I decided that I was Wiccan, but then decided Wicca didn't suit me, and I became just pagan.  I even became the High Priest of a pagan coven.  We worshiped many gods, though I still believed in Yeshua, Jesus, as well.  Ultimately, by the time I was a High Priest, I was not a polytheist nor a monotheist; I was a panentheist who accepted both monotheistic and polytheistic interpretations of the Divine.  I decided that each religion was a unique cultural view of Divinity and spirituality, but that they all ultimately were attempting to describe the same things.  Yes, there are differences because they have different cultural and environmental influences, but they were trying to achieve community and union with the Divine.  

     I kept studying diverse religious traditions on my own and through school, though I never attained any scholarly degree.  I did, however, at some point get an online ordination so that I could more fully practice as an interfaith minister.  I did weddings and baptisms, as well as more esoteric and occult things such as reading Tarot, runes, and I-ching, and offered shamanic services as well.  


     I went to college, and I originally majored in psychology, but ultimately changed to Archaeology.  I figured that I was serving God through my spiritual role, but that it would never pay the bills.  As I studied Archaeology, I discovered the anthropological term, "shaman."  There is a whole other post on this blog dealing with what exactly is a shaman, but for this current post we'll keep it simple.  A shaman is one who experienced great trauma, was shattered, and then put back together with the help of the spirit world.  Such people learn various spiritual lessons along the way, and gain a unique insight to spirituality which can't be quantified or easily explained.  It became apparent to me that the term shaman described my life exactly, and that I had been practicing like a shaman for many years without ever knowing what shamanism was until much later.  (Anthropologists use the term "shaman" to refer to spiritual leaders and other significant people in various cultures who all seem to have certain things in common, despite differing cultures and vast distances.  Some people have thus become mistaken thinking that "shaman" is a title, something which is given to one by others.  Instead, it is a descriptive term, and most primal cultures have/had their own title for their spiritual leaders.) 

  In my case, as in many others, I also dream significant dreams, which I did even before these experiences, and I also would go on spiritual journeys, have visions (such as the one of the Virgin Mary) and help others to put themselves back together.  I practiced physical and spiritual healing, and intervened on the spirit world for others.  I would use drumming, or even just fervent prayer, to make these journeys into the spirit world, and I always saw results; though I was never allowed to do anything which would work in my own favor.  I paid a heavy price for this practice, and I will keep paying that price until the Blessed Mother prays for it to be removed from me. 

   I discovered God in nature.  God was all around me, and through me.  God was complex and beautiful, and I became uncomfortable using any gender pronouns for God.  I believed God was male, female, and everything else, including that which is beyond our understanding.  The forest was always one of my favorite settings for shamanic journeying, and the collective spirit of the forest would just carry me away, even without drums.  

The Archangel Michael

     One night at home, I began a shamanic journey.  Everything was normal so far.  I had a candle as the only light in the room, had some nag champa and frankincense burning in my incense burners, and it was all silent.  I didn't drum that night because I was at home, and I didn't want to disturb my neighbors.  

     No sooner was I on the starlight path beginning my journey, when the Archangel Michael stood in my path.  I had no idea what Michael should look like, nonetheless I recognized him right away.  He said, "You shall go no further until you hear my words."  Sadly, I don't remember his exact words, but the gist of it is that he wanted me to attend a service at Old Mission San Miguel Arcangel, and actually asked me to attend all the way through Advent.  It wasn't until I got to the church when I realized that San Miguel Arcangel is Spanish for "Saint Michael the Archangel." 

     My best friend and I attended a service, and it was my first time ever at the mission.  I was overwhelmed by the beautiful, but simple, architecture, the powerful statues and paintings, and the overall spirit of the place.  I decided that I wanted to take adult catechism classes to see if I wanted to be Catholic.  However, my best friend talked me out of it.  He brought up all the reasons I would never wish to call myself Christian, let alone Catholic, and we never attended another service that season.  

     The one thing which did come out of that experience was my first book, "An Angelic Journey Within," which I believe was inspired by the Archangel Michael.  Despite not being Christian, it's a rather Christ-centered story, though it does include some references to other cultures and religions because of my personal views at the time.  

EWTN, Fulton Sheen, Mother Angelica, and Pope Francis

     Within the next month, December, I discovered that our satellite tv came with a Catholic television channel, EWTN; "The Eternal Word Television Network."  I grew interested in it, and slowly so did my best friend.  I particularly felt drawn to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and I would turn it up and sing along with it whenever they played it.  We then discovered the oddest thing, our wild boy cat would calm down completely and watch with interest whenever Mother Angelica (may she rest in peace) would come on and pray the rosary with the  sisters. We ended up leaving EWTN on whenever we would leave the house, because when we would come home the kitty would be much more calm and we'd find much less of a mess to clean up.

     We ended up watching a lot of EWTN ourselves, and through it we learned a little bit of Catholic theology.  Neither of us had any intentions of becoming Catholic, though we were finding that we agree a lot with the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, despite our agreement on some principles and teachings, we were panentheists and we believed that most religions would lead us to God. 

     In November of 2014 I had another vision of the Virgin Mary.  She appeared as the Virgin Guadalupe, and surrounded by corn, though as she spoke she changed into Our Lady Queen of Heaven, with stars orbiting her head as a crown.  She told me to seek out her Son at Old Mission San Miguel, and to attend for all of Advent.  My best friend, same one, agreed to go with me.

     After our first mass there, yet again the Spirit of God overcame me and I felt a need to take adult catechism classes.  This time when I mentioned it to my best friend, he said, "Me too."  He had been watching old recordings of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, along with Pope Francis, and had become more intrigued by the Catholic Church than I had known until that moment.

Joining the Church; unanswered questions answered

     We interviewed with the priest, followed by the director of RCIA (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults) and began Adult Catechism classes, not the formal RCIA program.  I felt for our catechism teachers.  They were intelligent and knew their Catholicism, but we had a lot of tough questions.  My years as a protestant, followed by years as an interfaith minister, had me well-versed in the Bible (no pun intended) and I had studied Qabbalah, Gnosticism, and many obscure forms of Christianity.  We kept them hopping, but they were excellent instructors who were always on the ball.

     The director of RCIA is also, until the next election, the formation director for the Secular Franciscan Order, and he invited us to one of their meetings. I immediately felt at home, like I was among family, even though I knew no one.  I still had so many doubts about the Catholic Church, but in my heart I knew that I was home.

     I learned about Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, and how she went to mass every day.  I decided that I would also go to mass every day.  I don't drive, but at the time my best friend had a work schedule which would allow him to drop me at the mission an hour before the early morning weekday mass. It also meant that I would have to stay at the mission for a few hours after mass until my friend could get a lunch break and pick me up.  A nice older gentleman who attends regularly helped me find the right pages in the Liturgy of Hours so that I could read along with everyone.  In my diocese we do that practice, which a lot of Catholics don't like, where people who can't receive communion go up with arms crossed over their shoulders and receive a blessing instead.  I was reluctant at first, but eventually I started going up with crossed arms.

     One day after morning mass I knelt in front of the Guadalupe painting in the mission chapel, and I said the Hail Mary a few times, even though I barely knew the words.  I can't kneel for long because of a physical disability, so I then decided to walk around and look at the different Stations of the Cross which are on the walls among the paintings of angels and saints. I prayed at each of the 14 stations, and I let all of my doubts about the Catholic church come to mind.  As each doubt played out in my mind, it immediately had an answer.  

     I can't cover them all, but a few examples of doubts I faced, and the responses: Question; "If I'm going to be Christian, I can't worship statues anymore."  Answer, "You never worshiped statues.  You worshiped what they represent.  Catholics don't even worship what these statues represent, except for Yeshua.  Statues were present in the Temple of Solomon and on the Ark of the Covenant, but they were not worshiped." Question;  "How can I be a Christian after years of preaching an interfaith message."  Answer; "You can be a Christian because you believe in Yeshua, and because I have lead you to this church."  Question; "How can I give up being an interfaith minister, how will I make a living and survive?" Answer; "I will provide.  Only have faith."  

     Protestant churches had me really hating Saint Paul the Apostle.  They twisted and misused his words so much, that I came to the conclusion that Paul was trying to corrupt the message of Yeshua, and I hated him for it.  It was thanks to our catechism instructors that I was able to heal my relationship with Saint Paul, and eventually discovered that if you think Paul is disagreeing with Yeshua, then you're either misunderstanding Paul or misunderstanding Yeshua; and it's probably Paul that you're misunderstanding.  

     I don't remember exactly when, but at some point during that process I had a dream which sealed the deal for me.  I can't reveal all the details of the dream, but simply put; the Virgin Mary showed me untold destruction and evil in the world and asked me to help her Son's church, the Catholic Church.  It was after that dream that everything else clicked, including accepting the Apostolic authority of the church, handed down through Peter from Yeshua.  

     I discussed all of these events and lessons with my best friend.  We had lively, in depth discussions about the Catholic Church, Christianity, and God in general.  We read through the Catechism of the Catholic Church together to help us gain a better understanding. Ultimately we came to very similar conclusions to one another.  

     We finally asked our catechism teachers about first communion, and on Pentecost of 2015 (May 24) we were confirmed into the Catholic Church and received first communion.  I chose Michael the Archangel as my patron saint, and my best friend chose Saint Francis of Assisi.  Just prior to that we were both provisionally/conditionally baptized because neither of us could track down our infant baptismal certificates (mine was Catholic, his we're not sure of.  We still can't find either.)  Of course, we both also went to first confession before our confirmation.  

     After we were confirmed we were invited to regularly attend the Secular Franciscan meetings, and now we are both in formation with the Secular Franciscan Order.  We are also Knights of Columbus, though we have trouble getting to meetings or functions very often because of the remote area in which we live plus work schedules.  

     A few months before our confirmation I joined the church choir, and I still sing with them, I'm currently the whole bass section.  I eventually would also become a lector, and my best friend volunteers as an usher and whatever else he can do as need arises.  We are both awaiting training to be Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist.  We can't go to daily mass anymore, but we do go every Sunday, and every other chance we get.

     I won't pretend everything is hunky-dory.  We are financially struggling like never before, and things weren't exactly easy before. We often don't know how we will get rent paid or have food.  Somehow we've made it work, but we're running out of options.  All we can do is keep praying and keep trying.  Maybe God will bring my book to the attention of enough people who will enjoy it and it will become a real source of income, or one of my upcoming books (one in final editing.)  I don't know what He has in store for us, but we keep praying and trying to keep the faith.  

     Hail Mary, full of grace.  The Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. A-men. 

     Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.  Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, oh Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Power of God, thrust into Hell, Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.  A-men. 


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