When Ellie and I discussed my “guest blogging”, I thought about sharing my entire conversion story, which would include my childhood, my wayward 20s and early 30s, and my final realization that I needed to be a part of something bigger than myself and even my family. However, I decided to write an abbreviated entry (yes, this is abbreviated for me) for three reasons:
1. It might take me years to write my conversion story and unpack all the emotions that led me to this place.
2. While my conversion story might be interesting there are more interesting stories here, and if you really want to want to be blown away by a conversion story, you have to watch Father Donald Calloway, MIC tell his conversion story . It is well worth your time.
3. Not all of the readers of this blog know me, but they all know Ellie. So I am writing with Ellie in mind.
The first part of the title for this entry is “Planting Seeds,” and, yes, it is a reference to the Parable of the Sower in Matthew Chapter 13 . I can say that at all stages in my life, people planted seeds when my heart was the rocky ground, among the thorns, and the fertile ground. When I first came to the Mount, a seminarian named Tim, now Father Tim, spent hours of his time talking with me about scripture and church teachings, and we attended several masses together; at my friend Paige’s “conversion party” a Franciscan priest named John prayed over me and told me, with great confidence, that one day I would be a member of the Church; Father “Call me Paul” Redmond has shared countless books with me over the years, many of which I have finally gotten the chance to read. Finally, countless “joyful” Catholics have evangelized to me on a daily basis simply by quietly living their faith, even in the face of unspeakable tragedies. This includes Ellie, of course, but also many of you who might be reading this.
My point is this: don’t be afraid to plant the seeds, even if they seem to be on rocky or thorny ground. Plant them anyway. You can do this directly, through an invitation, or indirectly, through living your faith and being a witness to others. Believe it or not, your faith is probably planting a seed in someone’s heart right now. Keep planting. You might not always see the seeds sprout but, trust me, if that person’s heart changes to fertile ground one day she will remember the seeds you planted, even if she never thanks you for it.
On to the second part of my title. Two years ago I watched an interview about Martin Sheen’s movie The Way (if you have not seen this movie you should) on the Tavis Smiley show. During the interview Sheen told Smiley: “I am a practicing Catholic. I just keep practicing until I get it right.” I expect that I will “practicing until I get it right” until the day my earthly life ends, and for that reason I am grateful for the sacrament of confession. Still, we need to remember that even those of us Catholics who are “practicing until we get it right” can be powerful witnesses. What went through Ellie’s mind when I asked her to be my sponsor was, in her words, "No, absolutely not! What is the matter with you Chrissy! You have good examples of Catholic folks all around you every day, I am a disaster. You just don't realize it." Well, that is not what I had witnessed when I spent time with Ellie. I saw someone who fit the description of what Father Collin Poston called a “joyful Catholic.” She doesn’t just say God is Love, she shows that God is love through the way she raises her beautiful (and indescribably great) children, through her kindness and patience with them (and me), through her generosity towards her friends and her family, through her virtue, and through the joyful way she does pretty much all that she does (which is too much to describe here—you all know her!). She is like Saint Joseph: leading a quiet life, which few outside of this blog know about. How could she not be my sponsor?
Having said that, I don’t want to be dismissive of how difficult this past year has been for Ellie, and I certainly don’t want to pretend that I really even know how difficult it has been. I cannot imagine losing my mother and my brother in the same year. God only knows how difficult this past year has been. I do know from experience that grief can shake our faith and wonder where God really is in the midst of all of this suffering, even though He is most near us during these times.
So let’s suppose that Ellie the spiritual “disaster” she believes she is. Why did Jesus choose her to plant the final seed that led my fertile heart to the Catholic Church? Why did Jesus tell ME to choose her as my sponsor when I am surrounded by all these supposedly “better” Catholics? Again, I am going on Ellie’s words, not MY experiences with her. If this is true, I think that Jesus chose Ellie for the same reason that He chose Peter to be the first Pope. Peter was not the “disciple whom Jesus loved the most” and, given his behavior during the Crucifixion, he was not the least sinful. However, as Ellie reminded me the night I was confirmed, it was Peter who first identified Jesus as the Christ. He was flawed but his awareness of who Jesus was never faltered. Furthermore, as Father James Martin has so eloquently stated in his book My Life with the Saints, “Peter is among the greatest of the saints because of his humanity, his shortcomings, his doubt and, moreover his deeply felt understanding of all of these things. Only someone like Peter, who understood his own sinfulness and the redeeming love of Christ, would be able to lead the infant church and lead others to Jesus. Only someone as weak as Peter could do what he did” (236-7). Jesus didn’t choose Ellie in spite the spiritual struggles she has been experiencing, He chose her because of them. He also knew that Ellie knew Him and who He was, even in the midst of her pain. In fact, she knew Him better in the midst of that pain.
So, to Ellie and to her friends and family who read this blog faithfully: first, thank you for reading this, and for helping Ellie become who she is today: my sponsor and lifelong friend. Second, please don’t be afraid to plant seeds of God’s love. You might doubt the person’s heart is fertile ground, and it might not be. You might think you are a “disaster” at this particular time in your life, and you might be. You might think you have no business witnessing to others, let alone being someone’s RCIA sponsor. But remember Peter, and all the other saints who have inspired you, and think about how different our lives would be if they had been too ashamed of their own shortcomings to allow God to worth through them, and with them, to help others, and the saints themselves, grow in their faith.
Yours in Christ,