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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Michelle Therese's Conversion Story

I received this conversion story in an email today from Michelle Therese at Things Go Moo in the Night.

Michelle's story is very interesting in that it highlights the importance of sacred art and church architecture. Unfortunately, we see far too many churches today that look like assembly halls and supposedly Christian art that is one the verge of being scandalous.

Hello! My name is Michelle Therese and I am an American who is married to an Orcadian farmer. We raise beef cattle and sheep - and barn cats!

On December 8th I celebrated my 9th year as a Catholic! I was baptised December 8th, 1998 at Our Lady of Czestochowa church in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, U.S.A.. After nearly six months of intense study I was Confirmed May 3, 1999. I was chosen by Saint Therese and she is my beloved Patron Saint! (The "Therese" part of my name is acctually my confirmation name - I've taken it as part of my everyday name now!) My husband and I hope to make a retreat at Pluscarden Abby as I hope to become a Benedictine Oblate. And we will also try to make a pilgrimage to Lisieux in October!

I grew up in a very anti-God anti-religion and especially anti-Catholic church family. Yet somehow I always believed in God and "The Lady." I had no idea who The Lady was but I knew she was not a God. Later, as I grew older, I understood that she was the Virgin Mary.

I felt drawn to the Catholic Church since I was a very small child. I obviously could not explain my feelings - I just felt the intense desire to run into any Catholic church I happened to come across!! But my mother's intense prejudices against christians and the Church caused her to forbid me to have anything to do with the Bible or the Church. So I knew absolutely nothing about the Catholic faith - or even basic Christianity for that matter!

I'll admit, as I grew older I adopted a lot of my mom's suspicion and impatience with all Christians and basically waved them, and their religion, off as "Brainwashed Bible Thumpers." But I never lost that hunger for the Catholic Church - even if I did not understand it!

I joined the U.S. Navy at age 17 and found myself stationed in Sicily, Italy. I lived within sight of the magnificent volcano Mount Etna and worked as a helicopter mechanic. While off-duty I would often go on local day tours around Sicily. In this way I was exposed to the early early EARLY Christians - I'm talking waaaay back in the 100's - 400's.

We visited churches, shrines, holy places where miracles had taken place and cathedrals so ancient and so full of history that through the paintings, stained-glass windows, stories, statues and other works of art I was exposed to the story of the early martyrs and christians. The tour guides would often tell us the story of each work of art or Saint and then we'd be left to ourselves to wander about and think things over.

I was struck by the fact that a huge number of these brain-washed christians had been willing to endure horrific tourtures and death before they would renounce their faith! I started to think to myself, "There must be something very serious about this Christianity business!"

As I was exposed over and over again to these most ancient places and their amazing art I learned about the bread and wine being changed into the body and blood of Christ. I learned the names of the 12 Apostles and how they were the leaders of the Church and that they passed on their leadership to new people - and this was passed on and on and on down the ages.

I learned that Saint Peter was appointed as THE head of the Church by Jesus.

I learned that God loved me and that He wanted me to be with Him in heaven - and that in order to be with God in heaven I had to get off my duff and acctually get to know God.

And I learned all of this without ever going to Mass or talking to a Catholic - or even a Priest! I was learning all of this through the artwork and the stories of the ancient Christians themselves! I never really thought of them as Catholic. I saw them as "Christian" and so I didn't really grasp the fact that THIS was the Catholic Church!

I was often deployed into the Middle East where I was exposed to Islam and a very serious organized religion that permeated every aspect of public and private life. This opened my eyes to what life would have been like before the separation of Church and State - how God would have been always at the center of everything!

By the time my four year tour of duty was finished and I returned to America I was a self-professed christian. Now I had to find the church that connected with the ancient Church I had been exposed to in Sicily!

I sorted through several different denominations but each one could be traced back to usually one man in the Reformation era - or post-Reformation era. These churches never seemed to go past the 1500's or the 1400's.

Many churches had been around only fifty years - or even two years!

I was beginning to despair when I came across the Catholic Church offering Adult religious education classes. So I signed up!

The first class was filled with a lot of 1960's psycobabble nonsense about things like, "Draw a picture of God and tell us how it makes you feel" and "All that stuff about sin and hell is so old fashioned and out of date!"

I had seen or heard none of THIS stuff in those ancient holy places in Sicily!

I tried the RCIA program at another Catholic church but ran into the same exact stuff. I left after a few classes and was walking down the road feeling pretty bad. I prayed to God and asked Him, "Is the Catholic Church not the right place after all?" A few moments later I heard the most beautiful singing coming through the green leafy trees!! I continued down the sidewalk towards the sound and came upon Our Lady of Czestochowa Catholic church. The singing continued as I went inside and then... I found no one. Not a soul! Not a sound! Hmmmmm.

I talked with the Priest of this church and was set up with one-on-one instruction with this strict Polish lady. Thank God too because I was sick of all that weird "feel good warm fuzzy" stuff!

After several weeks of asking all of the hard questions, reading books and the Bible - and the book, "Story of a Soul" I began to realize that the Catholic Church connected perfectly with everything that I had learned in Sicily from the earliest Christians.

So!! I continued in my study of the Faith, became a bone fide Catholic on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and I haven't looke back since!!


3 comments:

Roseanne Sullivan said...

What a great story! Welcome to the Real Thing. Good observation about the founders of all the other Christian churches being men. Us orthodox Catholics know that the founder of our Church is Christ.

You confirm my experience that most RCIA programs don't teach authentic Catholic doctrine. I sometimes wonder how anyone who joins the Church as you did because of coming to believe in the ancient doctrines can make it through RCIA when candidates are being led to look inside themselves to find the Church doctrine instead of being taught it.

I attended a couple of different RCIA programs on my way back to the Church, having left it as a prideful "intellectual" teenage college student who had bowed to the prevailing atheism among intellectuals. It took me years to find anyone who believed the things I had been taught before I left.

I'm happy for you. God bless you and keep you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Michelle Therese,

Thank you for sharing this powerful story. If you have been influenced so deeply by St. Therese as to begin to use her name every day, please visit my Web site about her at http://thereseoflisieux.org. I hope you do get to visit Lisieux. All good wishes, Maureen

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful account of a conversion and a lovely testament to God's Beauty and Truth.