by Julie Green
Ironically, my becoming Catholic was one of the most selfish things I've ever done: I wanted, above all and passionately, to save my soul. To preserve it. To make sure that I had the best possible chance of getting to heaven.
And I came to understand that that was most possible, and even most likely, within the Catholic Church.
One of the events that led to this was my reading a sermon entitled Almost a Christian by John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church. In it, he stated that even if we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, tended the sick and visited those in prison, and did those things regularly but not for the love of Jesus, we were almost -- but only "almost" -- Christian.
That set me to thinking, hard, about my motivations as well as my behavior; what I was choosing and why, how even my motivations could influence other people, and how what I did affected other people. Some of what I came up with was good; some was pretty awful.
Somewhere in there, for this was not a quick process, I realized that souls were real, and that I had one. That may sound silly -- it's one of those things that we take for granted; everyone has a soul. But all of a sudden mine became very important to me, for I also realized that what happened to it would be my doing, the result of my thoughts that led to my choices that led to my actions, all of which would lead me to heaven -- or not.
I began looking much harder, then, at a couple of things: the first was what Jesus wanted for me and of me, and the second, was how he provided me the help that I would need. I could see what a mess I had made of so many things -- even, sometimes, with good intentions. I could see that left on my own, I didn't have a chance; I was far too subject to cultural influences, to my own will, to bad habits, to prior experiences, to my own opinions, to my resistance when I knew he wanted me to do something that was difficult. Yet if he really thought I could change and come closer to him, he had to have provided the means.
The first was the Eucharist. I began going through what I could only call "Communion starvation." I needed it. Not just wanted, though surely I did, but needed. Couldn't live without it. Couldn't make the changes without him, in me, changing me.
I needed the prayers that I found in the Mass, needed desperately to offer myself to him, to be joined with him by and in that sacrifice. We would offer ourselves to each other in that; he out of love, me out of love plus the knowledge of my need.
Another was confession. I knew the big stuff that I had done -- it was obvious. But my searching revealed the subtle (and not so subtle) movements away from him that would need his grace to overcome. I wanted the reconciliation with all others; I needed forgiveness. The more I became aware of the disorder of my life, the more I needed that sacrament; I had seen that I had done the same things over and over and over, and to protect that soul I had discovered, I would need lots of help.
And for the sacraments, I needed the church. Only the church that he had established would be sufficient, for it was only there that his plan, and his graces, were freely available, and fully available.
An image came to me; the church, existing for the protection of my soul. A huge organization existing just to help me to heaven, to watch out for me, to guide me. Priests by the thousands, each entrusted with my soul -- my soul.
Masses all over everywhere, to help me -- me -- to heaven. It was boggling: 2,000 years of faithful people working to get me, Julie, to heaven -- didn't he say that every sparrow was valuable?
I read the documents of the church -- Trent and Vatican II. The writings of Cyprian, Teresa of Avila and Bernard, Augustine and Tertullian; Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. Lots of Alphonsus de Liguori, Papal encyclicals, author by author and topic by topic, everyone there to teach me, guide me and protect me from my own worst impulses, my own will. Things I had assumed, I looked at with new eyes; opinions I had held were changed. Each challenge ultimately convinced me that the church was teaching what Jesus taught, and what he wanted of me.
And, so, I became Catholic. I understood that even when I didn't understand, the church was there to help me in every way it could, and that if I trusted it -- just simply listened and trusted, it would teach me and guide me and protect me, for that was its mission. Not for someone "over there," but here, for me. Because Jesus created it and the Holy Spirit guides it, I could entrust my soul to it, knowing that I would be protected.
And I wanted to get to heaven.
Next month Part 2