Magazine article U.S. Catholic

My Latter-Day Saints: Conversion to Catholicism Doesn't Happen at the Speed of Light. as You Take Step by Hesitant Step, It Helps to Have Friends Who Will Give You a Little Nudge

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

My Latter-Day Saints: Conversion to Catholicism Doesn't Happen at the Speed of Light. as You Take Step by Hesitant Step, It Helps to Have Friends Who Will Give You a Little Nudge

Article excerpt

I call them my saints. They are the people who stood along the road to my conversion and walled with me for a while. Without them I never would have arrived at that Easter morning when I was confirmed in the church.

Over the last 20 years many have asked me how I was led to that much-maligned institution, "organized religion." The question is usually asked by people who have left one church or another--disappointed, perhaps, that no congregation lives up to gospel standards, that they are all composed of human beings.

I, too, left the church--at 12. The Methodist Church it was, where a devout grandmother had insisted I be baptized over and against the indifference of my parents. Jessie Lester Gies. I can still see her coming to her old upright piano with flour on her apron to play a Beethoven sonata while a pie bloomed in the oven. Throughout my childhood she nurtured my Christian education with Bible stories and heart-to-heart talks about what matters in the world. She pointed out the connections between the teachings of Jesus and the civil rights struggles in the South.

Yet, like so many others, I left the church as I was coming into adolescence--a time of great passion, when no equivocation will be tolerated. I raised my hand at Methodist Sunday School. "Must we believe in God to be here?" I asked.

A kindly youth minister answered, "No, not necessarily."

I politely excused myself and never went back.

It would be years before I met my saints.

In 1983 the world's attention was once again fixed on the terror of nuclear destruction. I was living in Seattle and found myself reading with interest every news article concerning Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. He had declared Kitsap County, with its first-strike nuclear submarine base, to be the Auschwitz of Puget Sound; he had withheld half his federal income tax in refusal to support Pentagon spending; he had stood on the tracks of the White Train, protesting the delivery of missile parts. He also regularly showed up in person at the state legislature and Seattle City Council meetings to lobby for the interests of the homeless and the poor.

I wrote him a letter, remarking on his moral leadership.

He wrote back, quietly insisting that he did no more than he was bid to do by his understanding of the gospel.

Soon after receiving his letter, I resumed reading the Bible-after a lapse of 27 years.

I first saw Sister Rosarii Metzgar when she answered the door at Stillpoint, the retreat house I had chosen out of the phone book. A tiny old lady in slacks, she greeted me and showed me to my upstairs room.

During the week I spent fasting and--more to the point-giving up smoking, I often glimpsed her padding silently around the house carrying a volume of Alan Watts or mowing the spring grass barefoot, pushing a rotary mower. A couple of times I ran into her in the kitchen, and once we spoke. She had a handful of freshly cut daffodils, which she'd brought in from the yard.

"Father Jack Morris will be with us in the morning," she advised. "He's that priest who started the Jesuit Volunteer Corps." She was looking in the cupboard for a vase for her flowers. "We'll have Mass."

"I'm not Catholic," I announced.

She selected a plain drinking glass and filled it with water from the tap.

"I could never be Catholic," I said. "Just thinking about the role of the church in history, I'd be angry all the time."

She placed her yellow flowers on the windowsill above the sink and turned to me with a brilliant smile. "Oh my, agreed energetically. "Anger is important. We must always hold onto our anger."

Something lifted from me like a dark bird.

The next day Father lack Morris arrived. I came down to dinner and broke my fast. A Montana native in his mid-50s, Father lack struck me as bright and robust, with a great sense of humor and a fierce commitment to gospel values. …

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