From Methodist to Catholic

I was raised as a Methodist. I was raised on the Bible. By the time I was nine years old, I knew every story in the Bible and our minister allowed me to become a member of the church three years ahead of time. He said that I knew more about the Bible than most of the adults in the church.

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I began feeling drawn to all things Catholic. We lived in a large house and my mother rented out the upstairs bedrooms to earn some extra money for our family. The college football team rented the entire upstairs for several years. One time, Mom found one of my friends who was 16 or 17 in the rooms with one of the players. Mom was furious when she caught them together. She kicked my friend and the football player out. My friend was a Methodist.

After the football players left, Mom let me sleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms while she rented two other rooms to two young women. The one woman was married to a solider who was stationed in Germany. Every weekend she slept with another man. She was not a member of our church but she was a Protestant. The other woman who was named Frances was engaged to a soldier who was also stationed in Germany. She remained faithful to her boyfriend. She was a Catholic.

When I asked Mom and my sister about Catholics, they told me that Catholics worshipped the devil who told them to do evil things. So I asked, "If Frances is evil, why is she faithful to her boyfriend when that other woman is shacking out every weekend while her husband is gone and my friend was doing nasty things with the football player?" I don't remember what was said after that.

It was this time that the adults in the family decided to teach me about "those terrible Catholics." For the next few months I heard every imaginable story possible about the Church, especially the priests. The most terrifying story to me was a reminder that if I entered a Catholic church, the priest would kidnap me and lock me in a little room where he would torture me until I agreed to become a Catholic or -- even worse -- a nun. When I asked Frances about some of these stories, she only smiled and said my family was mistaken. She never lowered herself to saying anything against my religion.

One of the things my family had told me was that if I went into a religious store with Frances, she and the woman in the store would shove prayer books in my face and force me to carry a Rosary. I was at the rebellious age of 14 then and decided to test this warning. I often went on walks with Frances and when she stopped one day to go into the religious store, she said I could wait outside if I wished. I went in with her. Neither she nor the lady paid any attention to me. When Frances and I came out, Frances didn't even bother showing me the prayer book she had bought. When I asked her if I could see it, she handed it to me without any comment. I looked it over and handed it back. That was it.

When I discovered that Catholic items were sold in our dime store, I bought a crucifix picture and hung it up on the wall by my bed. You should have heard my family scream and yell. They scolded Mom and almost ordered her to make me throw "that thing" away. Mom -- who hated and feared the Catholic Church -- glared at all of them and said, "One of these days my daughter will become a Catholic. There is nothing anyone can do about it so you leave her alone and don't you dare interfere with her faith! If you can't do this, don't you bother coming to this house again." (More than forty years went by before anyone told me about this confrontation.) The crucifix picture remained by my bed until I left home five years later.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I was quite well indoctrinated in anti-Catholic rhetoric. Our social studies class had a section about religions which quickly narrowed down to Protestants and Catholics. In that class of 35 students, I could out-argue all the Catholic students which made up at least half of the class. The irony is that I was totally wrong on every point!

By the time I was 17, I accepted a baby-sitting job for a Catholic husband and wife. Their oldest son who was nine seemed to be different from other children his age. He seemed more mature and more spiritual. He told me that he had already decided to become a priest. Of course we discussed religion but when I said the same arguments that I'd used in social studies class, this little boy corrected me and I lost every argument!

There was a book the parents always left on the coffee table. If I remember correctly, the title was "1001 Questions about the Catholic Church." After the children were in bed, I would scan through this book to read the questions. The answers were long and complicated and boring except to one question: "Do you really believe that the bread and wine at Mass are turned into the Body and Blood of Christ?" The answer was simply, "Yes, we believe." That short response impressed me more than anything else I could have read.

By this time, I heard that Catholics could go into their churches anytime -- night or day -- and pray. I was allowed to go into our church only on Sundays. I decided to go to our church on Tuesday afternoon and pray. I entered the sanctuary and our choir director was practicing the music she would play for Sunday. I sat quietly in a pew and prayed. It was so peaceful and comforting. Then the choir director stood up, looked at me and asked why I was there. I said I'd come there to pray. She said, "You can pray at home. Now get out of here and don't come back. You're disturbing me."

Two years later, on May 24, 1957, I went into Mom and Dad's bedroom to kiss Mom good-bye. She had been feeling bad and was still in bed. When my lips touched her cheek, she screamed from the pain. Twenty hours later, Mom had gone home to Heaven. We had been very close to each other. My loneliness was inconsolable. When our minister prayed at the funeral and the graveside, I felt no consolation. I kept praying, "Where are you, Jesus?" It seemed that Jesus wasn't around to answer my question.

Days went by and my loneliness grew. I couldn't find any comfort at home when I prayed. I wasn't allowed to go to our church to pray unless there was a service. I had always felt consolation when receiving Holy Communion but that was only four times a year. Our next Communion Service wouldn't be for another month. In my heart, I couldn't wait that long. My prayer continued day after day after day, "God where are You?"

Then, two months later, without knowing anything about the Mass, I walked into a Catholic church during Mass. Everything was strange to me. I understood nothing. It was one of those moments when the priest was whispering part of the Mass. The entire sanctuary was silent but as soon as I stepped through the door, I felt a beautiful Presence gently embrace me. Tears of joy ran down my face and I thought, "God is here. I want to become a Catholic."

As a result of my decision, my family turned against me, my friends abandoned me, my father disowned me and disinherited me. The only people who defended my freedom of religion were our Methodist pastor, my Jewish college professor, and my agnostic sister. On May 5, 1958, I was baptized into the Catholic Church. Eventually, most of the people in my family accepted me again and my father relented of his anger. His comment upon hearing that I had become Catholic was, "Well I didn't think you had the guts to do it." I have never regretted for one second my decision to become Catholic.

So many people who don't understand our Catholic Faith speak out against the Church and often wonder why we don't rebuke them more severely. The reason is that their attacks don't bother us that much. Those of us who are Catholics are secure with our Faith because there is something intangible and beautifully powerful about the Church. This Power cannot be explained, cannot be debated, cannot be analyzed. It just is. And we call that which just is the Real Presence. Not until a person experiences it can that person understand it.

Maggie L. Cooper

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