I’m not wildly enthusiastic about showing my children pictures of me between 16 years old and 26, a full decade when I was the walking epitome of what not to be when you are young, single, and clueless about your Catholic faith. I didn’t exactly punk-out Duran Duran style in the eighties but I did dress like a Spice girl in the nineties and walk around with a head that would never have fit inside the mouth of Jaws.
That’s not to negate all the fun times I had with fabulous friends who, I’ll surmise, are going over my current Facebook page or blog and having a good laugh over who I’ve become after my reversion experience. Either that, or they’re still wondering if this is the same person they went to school with and partied beside at night. Then, once they come-to after passing out from shock, they’re grumbling at my profile pic, “This bump is all your fault, you phony!” (Sorry, Dudes. My bad.) Finally, when they’ve calmed down, they meet up for a cup of coffee, mention my name and shake their heads while musing, “She always was one beer short of a six pack to begin with, anyway… ”
A St. Augustine type of lifestyle is a common past among many in my generation who have surprisingly emerged to be the most vocal evangelizers of the Catholic faith. Former atheists, drug addicts, workaholic corporate honchos, feminists, party animals, hard-core rock musicians, abortion facility directors, new-age artists, and occultists are making internet waves as a significant portion of the lay voice and membership for the universal Catholic Church. By the sheer grace of God, all those colorful lives are now a living, spectacular testimony of the transforming power of Christ’s love.
It amazes me no end how the people whom we once judged impossible to preach to or convert end up the very ones who work tirelessly for the Church. This is because after having lived an existence without the love of the Eucharistic Christ and the guidance of the Church, converts are excited to share what they know: the radical, galactic difference of a new life with Catholicism. It isn’t perfect, neither is it free from suffering, but it is a life of inner peace. This missing “peace” which they chased after in their former lives (be it in the form of drugs, sex, power, money, career, fame, self) is found nowhere else, but in a full life of faith, service and true love. A favorite quote of St. Augustine is a perennial favorite because it is true: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.”
Juxtaposed with my joy at finally being able to rest in the Lord is the grief I feel when I see baptized Catholics who’ve “fallen away,” “lapsed” or grown lukewarm in our religion. I understand them, remembering that I too searched and treaded the highways and byways of the broad world’s path for meaning until Christ enfolded me back into the narrow gate of His Church. The most painful conflict of a cradle Catholic is shaking off what we’ve been taught was right and trying to reconcile it with what the world perceives and rams down our throat as “better”. The most exhilarating moment is discovering that it is irreconcilable because what we’ve been taught will always be right and there is infinitely more about our faith to learn and love. The mercy of Jesus in the confessional waits with open arms and we want our brothers and sisters to come home.
We outspoken cradle Catholic reverts and converts alike, stand in glaring contrast to those we love from our past. No longer belonging there because we are allied side by side with other reformed but struggling sinners and unlikely witnesses, who now fit snugly into the diverse Catholic Church. We evangelize, despite persecution, ridicule, fear and rejection (and possible lawsuits for inducing concussions) because we know that people like our former selves in our past lives are reading what we share and we never know just who is ready for change. For grace.