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From The Raincross & The Big "M" to The Cross: My Journey to the Catholic Church.
I was a lost soul during my precatholic life. My parents never had me baptized because they were inactive Christians. As I got older, I searched for the meaning of life. I looked for answers in some of the Protestant churches and the Mormon church, yet I was not getting anywhere. In 1991, after my parents divorced, I became an atheist, and became part of the world.
Television became my source of happiness from that time onward. I was brainwashed to believe that the prolife movement was denying women their right to an abortion. I also used to believe that fornication and adultery did not make a difference in a person's life. I used to support passing out contraceptives to the K-12th students. Bottom line, I used to be a complete opposite of what I am today.
[During this time period, I didn't like people talking about religion to me because I thought at was a waste of time. For example, I went to this "all ages" nightclub in Downtown Riverside called Attitudes. After about an hour and a half of dancing, I went outside to take a break.
About five minutes later, I was approached by a group of people claiming that I can be saved with just one prayer to Jesus.
I said, "No thanks! I don't believe in that Christian stuff."
A girl from the group responded, "You don't have to believe in God to be saved, all you have to do is repeat after me and you'll be on the way to Heaven.
"Whatever," I said, "If it makes you happy, I'll repeat your lines."
I felt embrassed. As I repeated the lines of a god I don't believe, I felt that people watching were making fun of me. I never wanted to go through this embrassment again.
After the reciting of the lines were finished, the group left. I went back in the nightclub as many people stared at the boy who "went religion".
The next week, same nightclub and same situation. This time I was apppoached by a man handing out "Are you saved" leaflets. He tried to hand to me, but I said, "No thanks. I'm not interested."
He responed, "Come on, it just something to read."
This time with a firm stance, "I said 'No!'."
"I hope you enjoy Hell," the man said.
"Whatever," I thought.
Being prochoice, I thought was part of the "in" crowd at Canyon Springs High School. For example, as I walked into the control room of the school's television prouduction class, I notice my classmate Eric editing some video tapes. I notice on the monitors the slogan, "Pro Choice: Keep Abortion Legal". I asked Eric, "What's your stance on abortion?"
Eric said, "I'm prochoice."
I said, "I'm prochoice also. Are you going to broadcast that on the school channel?"
Eric said, "I hope so."
I said, "I hope so to. I can't wait to see it." The show never got finished and was never broadcasted.
Sex was one subject that was not new at my high school, from teachers showing kids how to use contraceptives to guys and girls bragging about losing their virginities. No doubt I wanted to be part of the action. However, in my psychology class (during my senior year), I learned the real value of sex from a teacher's assistant named Mike.
One day while the teacher and rest of the class where outside during a project, Mike and I stayed inside and talked about life. I asked him if he had a girlfriend and he sleep with her yet. The answer he gave me was stuck in my mind for a while.
Mike said that he's a devout Mormon who believed in the value of holding off sex until marriage. Also the first time a guy sleeps with girl, his view on her changes from a friend to a mere instrument for sex. Then finished his statement by saying that if a girl sleeps with many guys and then you (meaning me), not only will you be sleeping with her, but you'll also be sleeping with those other guys.
I was left speechless. However, Mike's statement didn't sink in until later in my life.]
In the Summer of 1992, it was the last day of class at Riverside Community College (RCC) in Riverside, CA. I was about to walk to the bus stop until my classmate Michael Mckibbon offered me a ride home.
We walked over to his car. When I saw his prolife bumper stickers, being prochoice, I said, "There are already differences between us."
Michael said, "Is that so, want to debate about it?"
Fifteen miles later, as Michael dropped me off at my house, I could not refute anything he said about abortion. I knew I was beat. I could not keep that position any longer. So, I took the "escape hatch" postion, that is, I oppose abortion, but keep it for rape and incest victims. I never saw Michael again until one year later.
One year later, I was doing homework at the RCC library until Michael came up to me. He said, "Hi Richard, how are you doing today?"
"I'm fine," I said.
"It has been one year since our debate. I wonder what is your position now on abortion."
"Well, I oppose it; however, I'll allow it for rape and incest victims."
"I was afraid you would take that kind of position. However, if you're free later today, my wife and I would like to invite you over for dinner."
"Sure, what time?"
Later that night, I arrived at Michael's apartment. I came in not knowing what was about to come ahead. I had dinner with him and his wife, Sabra.
After dinner, they showed all knids of videos about God, Christianity, and the Catholic Church. They then asked me questions about myself. I could not answer 99% of the questions. I could not refute the statements on the videos. [I couldn't keep the "escape hatch" stance on abortion anymore.] I did not know what to think or say except, "What ever God is, has the answers."
August 15, 1993, Michael and Sabra invited me to attend Sunday Mass (not knowing that it was the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary). We were at a parish called St. Francis de Sales in downtown Riverside.
After Mass, they introduced me to the Fr. Louis Marx (Pastor at St. Francis de Sales). He heard about me from Michael and Sabra. He asked me what I thought about the Mass.
"It was interesting," I said.
Fr. Marx said, "You know, Richard, the Mass is a rerepresentation of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross in Calvary."
"To get a full understanding of the Mass, it would take three or four hours to explain. I have only fifteen minutes before I have to say the next Mass. However, I'll give you some food for thought. One: the Mass is not only a recreation of the Last Supper, it is a rerepresentation of Christ on the Cross in Calvary. Two: Christ does not under go a new death. Finally, three: the sacrifice of the Mass is not in a bloody manner like at Calvary.
"Well, I don't like to cut things short, but I have to say another Mass. Hope to see you next Sunday." He then walked away.
Next, Michael, Sabra, and I walked over to the car. I asked Michael, "What did Fr. Marx meant about 'the Mass being a rerepresentation of Christ on the Cross at Calvary'? What did he meant by 'it is not only a recreation of the Last Supper'? Can you clear this up? I sure would like to know what father is talking about."
As we go into the car and left the church parking lot, Michael said, "To explain about the Mass, as Fr. Marx said, it would take three to four hours to explain. However, I'm going to explain as much as I know."
Michael told me that the Mass is a continuing sacrifice of Christ to his Father on the Cross. He does not under go a new death at the Mass because his death, according to Hebrews 9:28, is a once and for all event. However, Christ wanted all people of all generations to participate in this very same sacrifice, he commanded, after changing the bread and vine into his body and blood, the Apostles at the Last Supper (according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:24,25),the first Mass, to "do this in rememberance of me." This topic also leads into the Eucharist; however, we talked about the Eucharist at another time.
One topic I took for granted, while studying the faith, was praying to Mary and the saints because I learned that they are much alive in heaven as we are on earth. However, this one girl named Syliya gave me some food for thought about Mary and the saints one day.
Syliya and I had statistics class during the Fall 1993 semester at RCC. She was having trouble understanding the homework. She was afraid of failing the class. However, I told her that I'll help her out, and gave her my address and phone number.
Five hours after class, Syliya came to my house. As I opened the door, she came in, and noticed my Catholic books and study guides. "Richard," Syliya said, "when did you started studing Catholicism?" She looked at me straight in the eyes.
With no delay I said, "A few months ago when I first started to attend Mass on the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I learned that Mary was taken into heaven body and soul when her time here on earth was finished." I waited for her reply.
Five minutes past, "I dropped out of the Catholic Church three weeks ago," Syliya said. "Iearned (from the bible study meetings at Harvest Christian Fellowship) that praying to Mary and the saints is a violation of the first commandment. Another important teaching I learned is that Mary can't be the Mediatrix of all graces because 1 Tim. 2:5 says that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man." She then went into the kitchen to get something to drink.
I felt frozen in shock. I couldn't respond to her statements because again I took praying to Mary and the saints for granted. However, I took the encounter as a sign from God to take my study seriously.
The next day, I picked up a booket by Paul Whitcomb called: The Catholic Church has the Answer. Thinking about the encounter I had the last night, I skimmed through the booklet until the question on page 29: "Why do Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints when Sacred Scripture states that there is one Mediator between God and man-Christ Jesus? (1 Tim. 2:5)." As I read through the reply, I learned that praying to Mary and the saints is the same as a person asking a best friend to pray gor his or her's intentions because the mediatorship of Mary and the saints between Christ and us is completely secondary. One example to show this point is the Wedding at Cana in John 2:2-11.
During that summer, not only did I take the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes on Monday nights, I also sat in a few of Michael and Sabra's seventh grade CCD classes on Sunday mornings. I learned how the Old Testament was fulfilled by the New Testament, how St. Peter became the first Pope, and more. Moreover, one lesson I liked from their CCD class was how they taught the Rosary.
On the weekdays, whenever lunch time came around, I would usually attend the 12:15pm midday Mass at St. Francis de Sales.
Then a Rosary would be recited after Mass. I liked praying the Rosary after Mass; however, I thought once in a while, I would like to pray with people of my age range because the rosary recited--after weekday Mass--would mostly be done by senior citizens.
One day, a Protestant friend named Ryan invited me for the intercessionary prayer group at a Protestant student club called "Students for Christ." He was president of "Students for Christ." He highly recommended to me that I particapate. He didn't care what kind of Christian I was because he recognized all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. So, I decided to just attend the intercessionary meetings. Little did I know what was coming ahead for me at the meeting.
At the meeting, I felt welcomed by the other members. I felt that even though Catholics and Protestants have major differences on this and that, at least prayer keeps them together as family. However, one thing that turns me off from any person (Catholic or not) is too much bragging.
I listened to this one guy, I'll call Ray, bragging about the bible and the death of his grandmother. I didn't catch everything Ray said because he was bragging in a semihateful tone. However, near the end of his testimony, he started to talk about the death of his grandmother.
He said that it was a happy moment in his life because he knew she was already in heaven. Then he asked, "You know how long family and I cried? One day."
Ryan then said, "Okay, Ray we get your point. Now, lets get started on the meeting." The meeting lasted fifty minutes.
After the meeting, Ryan and I parted our ways. I walked over to the cafeteria. There I started on my homework.
Then, Ray comes by and interrupts me. He starts out by asking, "Are you a Roman Catholic!?!"
I answered, "Yes and no."
He then spends fifteen minutes giving me his antiCatholic view of things and how he was saved from the "Whore of Babylon."
I stayed calm and let him make a fool of himself. I looked at my watch and said, "I only have five minutes towards my next class."
"Okay, we'll talk about this later."
I walked to class and never saw him again. I also never came back to the meetings because of this encounter.
The Eucharist was one subject that I needed to clear up. During my preatheist time, I was taught that the bread and wine were symbols of Christ's body and blood. However, after I became an atheist, I couldn't care less about the bread and wine.
One night at Michael's apartment, we studied John 6, especially verses 34-69. Then, Michael pointed at verse 52 and said, "They clearly knew what [Christ] was talking about from the last verse. He added strong emphasis in his statement about eating his flesh and drinking his blood in verses 53-58. Then at verse 66, he lets most of his disciples go, and he asked the twelve who were left if they would like to leave in Verse 67.
"However, St. Peter (in verses 68 and 69) says, 'Master to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy one of God.' In other words, if Christ wanted the Eucharist to be symbols of his body and blood, he would've cleared up his point at either verses 52 or 60. If he didn't clear up his point at the two verses and he just lets them go, he would've been morally obliged (in verse 66) to call them back and clear things up."
"Wow," I said.
The 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time in 1993 came along, and as I listened to the readings (especially the Gospel: Mt 23:1-12), I wondered what the writer talked about. I started to hear (in my mind) just the music from Don Henly's "Dirty Laundry" as the reader read verses 8-10. I thought: was I sinning when I called my professors "teacher" or "doctor"? Was I sinning when I called any man "father"? I felt I couldn't ask these questions to Michael and Sabra because I was afraid they were going to say "what a dumb question." I didn't dwell on the issue for a long period of time and forgot about it.
Near the end of the Fall semester, I walked over to the bus stop along Magnolia Avenue. I came up to April (a girl from "Students for Christ") and said, "Hi, how are you doing?"
April said, "I'm fine."
"How's Harvest going along?"
"Oh, I don't go to Harvest anymore because the past few weeks I been studying the Episcopalian faith in Orange County, and convinced by their teaching and liturgy that they teach more of the truth than Harvest ever does. That's why this is my last semester at RCC. I'm going to move to my mom's place and convert at a parish in Santa Ana."
All of a sudden, the "Dirty Laundry" music and verse nine from Mt 23 came back into my mind. I said to April, "Wow, tell me one thing, what did Jesus meant when he said, 'call no one on earth your father.'?"
April answered, "Jesus wasn't forbidding the titles, he was forbidding the misuse of authority in Matthew 23. Verse nine has to be read in the context of the entire passage to get the gist of what Jesus was talking about." Then the bus came.
As 1994 came around, the Spring semester started. As I sat in my RCIA class one night, Dave Strough (the teacher of the class) talked about how we should reverent to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
He said that when Jesus is in the tabernacle, genuflect. Also, when a person goes inside an empty Catholic church, that person usually won't feel alone.
Then he slightly changed the subject, and focused on how priest should greet Jesus on the altar after consecration. He said, "According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal or GIRM, a priest must genuflect three times during the Sacifice of the Mass. I usually don't see priests at other parishes following that rule here in the San Bernardino Diocese. It is the main reason my wife and I come here to St. Francis de Sales because Fr. Marx tries in his power to keep this parish within the guidelines of the Vatican."
[About thirty minutes later, he told me and the class about what it takes to make a valid consecration of the bread and wine during Mass. He told this story, "One time, my wife and I were at a parish in Corona. We noticed this new priest at this parish.... During the high point of the Mass (or the consecration of the bread and wine), he (the new priest) lifts up the host and says 'This is Jesus Christ's broken body'. From that point on, I knew that Mass wasn't valid.
"After Mass, I met up with this new priest. I asked him how he was doing in Latin. By my shock, he didn't know a word of Latin.... So for a Mass to valid, the priest must say 'this is my body' and 'this is my blood'."]
I thought: Wow he really knows his stuff.
Later that night, I asked Dave has he ever considered becoming a Deacon?
Dave answered, "Richard, I wanted to be a priest. I studied books about faith since I was a kid. However, after lots of studying, I realized I didn't have my calling. Few years later, I married my wife, and I've been happy ever since. I thank God for fifty plus years of marriage."
"Wow," I said.
[The next morning as I walked to bus stop on Ironwood Avenue, I noticed a girl, named Kim, (who dropped out of my high school during my after my freshman year) standing at the bus stop. I never really cared why Kim dropped out (because Kim and I only had one class with each other and we weren't friends), however, what I saw in her hands that morning really shocked me. She had a baby in her arms.
Then the statement Mike (the teaching assistant) told all came back to me. From that point onward, I decided no sex until marriage.]
As the months passed, the teachings of the Church, although hard to live by, convinced me more and more everytime that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ. I realized I couldn't stay an unbaptized soul forever because I found home and waiting for my "adoption" into the Church to become official. However, I had another dilemma to face, who was going to be my godparent/sponsor?
I didn't want to ask Dave because he told the class he would be willing to sponsor, however, he didn't know how long he'll be around afterwards. I couldn't ask Michael because he was already a sponsor for somebody else at another parish. So, the only person left I could ask was Michael's wife Sabra.
One Monday night, as Sabra drove me home, I asked if she would be my godparent. I waited in silence for her answer.
Five minutes passed, Sarba answered, "Richard, being a godparent is a responibitiy I feel I'm not ready for. However, I'll let you know in two weeks."
I said, "Okay."
I went to weekday Mass, and prayed during my free time for two weeks on the hope that Sabra will be my godparent. But even if she didn't, I knew I can trust God to find me one. Little did I know what the answer would be at the end of the two weeks.
One night, as Sabra picked me up from RCIA class, she said to me, "Yes Richard, I will become your godparent."
"Thanks be to God," I said. Then we left the parish parking lot.
Easter vigil 1994: after the sixteen readings and the homily, I officially became a Roman Catholic. I received the Sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist in that same night. It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I thank God for not giving up on me, even though, I gave up faith in him eariler in my life. The End
If you enjoyed reading my conversion story, here are some books I recommend for serious Catholic reading.
The Bible, Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition (RSVCE) (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996)
Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994)
Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Rome Sweet Home (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1993)
Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995 )
Frank Sheed, Theology for Beginners (Ann Arbor, Servant Books, 1981 )
Pillar of Fire/ Pillar of Truth (San Diego, Catholic Answers, Rev. ed. 1997)
Paul Whitcomb, The Catholic Church has the Answer (Rockford, Il; Tan Books, 1986)
These books may be found at your local Catholic Book Stores.Richard Earle Laws's Profile
© 1999, 2000 Richard Laws
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