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The Assumption: Finding Mary in the Darkness

At a young age I developed a fear of death. I don’t know what it was that caused me to fixate on this. It wasn’t the death of a relative or family friend. Not that I recall, anyway. I would often find myself lying in bed at night thinking about what happens to a person in death. My imagination ran wild during my bouts with insomnia at a young age. Often my mind would zero in on a feeling of complete and utter emptiness or nothingness. For a young girl, this was incredibly scary.

Even though I grew up Catholic and I believed in God (or had some elementary understanding in a belief in God), I still questioned whether what I was taught was actually true. Years later this gave me some comfort. That probably sounds contradictory, for why should I find comfort in my earlier doubts and questions? Because it tells me that I have always been seeking Truth. This is what our Catholic faith teaches us.

Man tends by nature toward the truth. He is obligated to honor and bear witness to it: “It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons … are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth.” (CCC 2467)

As I was drawn back to the Catholic Church as an adult I discovered that I knew very little about the beauty of the Catholic faith. I had so much to learn! In particular, I discovered the Blessed Mother.

It’s weird, because I had chosen Mary as my confirmation name when I was in the 8th grade. Somehow, though, I never really learned much about her. My interest was piqued when I started learning about Marian apparitions. From there I began reading and trying to understand more about the various church teachings on Mary (the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, etc.). A whole new aspect of the Catholic faith came to life for me and I felt a connection to this blessed woman (Luke 1:48) that helped to strengthen my faith in her Son, God, and the one true Church.

The Assumption, in particular, had a profound effect on me. The insomnia I experienced as a child continued into my adulthood, but to a lesser degree. Those thoughts I had of death and the emptiness/nothingness that weighed heavily on me still crept into my nighttime thoughts. I had taught myself to focus on something repetitive to help calm my mind and get myself to sleep. Often counting was what helped. But as my faith grew I found myself reciting the Hail Mary instead. This simple prayer brought a peace to my soul that I had not experienced before. Instead of simply calming my brain, I was being comforted in my whole body and soul. Soon that fear of death began to dissipate to the point where I stopped thinking about it completely.

It happened gradually and I did not make the connection for a long time. Recently, as I was contemplating the Assumption of Mary in anticipation of this post, I had a light bulb moment. Mary brings me comfort when I struggle with my fears because she is a sign of hope in our belief of the resurrection of the dead. As the Catechism tell us:

A print we have in our home of the Assumption of Mary.
A print we have in our home of the Assumption of Mary.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians. (from CCC 966)

The Most Blessed Virgin Mary, when the course of her earthly life was completed, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven, where she already shares in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection, anticipating the resurrection of all members of his Body. (CCC 974)

What wonderful comfort to know that God has given Mary to us as our Mother to bring us comfort in our time of need. In my time of need, I pray for peace in the dark, still night and my Blessed Mother in heaven brings me hope of a life to come. With her help, I can defeat the demons that sometimes plague my thoughts in those quiet hours.

Today, not only do I know that my faith is rooted in Truth, but that desire to seek Truth also comforts my soul. As I said in the beginning, asking those questions then may have raised doubts, but in the long run, they proved to be the key to learning and accepting the One, True Church that was founded by Jesus Christ Himself.

As I anticipate the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption tomorrow I will once again be reminded that through Christ we have been given the gift of everlasting life. Mary, our Blessed Mother, is our symbol of hope. God assumed her to be with Him in heaven and through her we can anticipate our own resurrection one day.

What an incredible feast day it is!

Top image source: morguefile

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6 Bad Arguments You’ve Of Course Never Used Before

Laugh at the stupidity, cry at the fact that these arguments are used regularly by millions of people, feel vindicated that you’ve tried to explain these logical fallacies to others – but then repent of your own intellectual sins. Most likely, everyone reading this has used several of these before.

Having spent a few years in Catholic apologetic circles and otherwise engaged in the culture wars, here are my top six favoriate bad arguments:

#6 – “I do (or someone I know does) the action you are saying is immoral, therefore it is not immoral”

You’re discussing something with a friend, and you mention that you think a particular action is immoral. Your friend responds: “Well…but I do that.” The unspoken premise is that the person (or person’s friends) are not capable of immoral acts, which is obviously false. This is also a form of intimidation, trying to make a person back down due to social pressure rather than due to the force of argument.

#5 – “Since you think what that person does is immoral, you therefore must hate that person”

Very related to #6, this seems to be based on a childish notion of love/hate. For those who propose this argument, “love” seems to mean you have good feelings about the person or think the person is a good person, and “hate” means you have bad feelings about the person and must think the person is a bad person. If you think what the person is doing is immoral, so the reasoning goes, that probably means you have bad feelings about the person and think them to be a bad person, and therefore hate them. In reality, to love is to will the good of the other (not merely that the other would have good feelings, but their actual good).

#4 – “A lot of people agree with this proposition, therefore it is true”

This is just a sophisticated version of the middle school argument “but everyone is doing it”. The number of people who agree with a proposition is irrelevant to truth or falsity of the proposition. This argument is also often used as a form of intimidation since it emphasizes that you may be in a socially weak position.

#3 – “You are wrong because you are [insert characteristic]”/”You can’t say that because you are [insert characteristic]”

Insert “white”, “black”, “male”, “female”, whatever, it doesn’t matter, this is just an old fashioned ad hominem attack – attacking the person rather than the argument. Any given argument can be articulated by any kind of person. The truth/falsity or logic of a given argument is irrelevant to who happens to be proposing it at a given time.

#2 – “You are a fundamentalist”

The term “fundamentalist” was coined by evangelical Protestants in the 20th century and meant that they wanted to return to what they believed were the fundamentals of the faith. Today, the term appears to be a derogatory term that means simply “I believe you are wrong, and you are more conservative than me”. Sometimes, it can mean “you are insisting on using logic and are showing my view to be illogical, please stop”.

#1 – “That’s just your interpretation”

This is a way for the person to try to avoid engaging what you’ve proposed. The act by which a person extracts any meaning whatsoever from a text is called interpretation. The “just” is supposed to imply that the act of interpreting somehow makes whatever you have to say irrelevant. Of course, simply pointing out that a person is interpreting is like pointing out that a person is speaking (“That’s just what you say” is actually a common variant), and obviously has no bearing on the truth or falsity of what they’ve claimed. Neither does it follow that your interlocutor can dismiss what you’ve said without argument.

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Ignorance Demands Charity and Patience

Shortly after Benedict XVI, Emeritus Pope, declared his resignation from the Papacy, I happened to hear a talk radio program in which a commentator was ranting away about the ridiculousness of an infallible pope. How can anyone really believe that a man can suddenly be made infallible just by becoming the Pope, was this radio host’s question. He went on to scoff at the people (i.e., Catholics) who could believe such a ridiculous idea. The Pope is human, not God, he said. And on and on and on.

I was getting ready for Mass that morning as I listened to this rambling. Normally, I only half listen to this radio program that wakes us up each morning, but this rambling mess stopped me in my tracks. My first reaction was to scoff back at this man’s ignorance.

But his ramblings stayed with me and I had to contemplate them further. As I thought about it more I realized that much of what he was saying was true. The Pope is just a man, he’s not God. And we, as Catholics, do not believe that he is an infallible human being. We all know that no human is perfect (well, except the Virgin Mary, of course). In some ways, as I contemplated the ramblings of this random radio talk show host, I started feeling sorry for him.

I realize that there is a lot of misunderstanding out there on exactly what the doctrine of “Papal Infallibility” actually means. My initial thoughts were to write a blog post explaining it. But there are already many resources and well written blog posts on the topic. So better that I just link those up for you then add one more to the mix (see links at end of post).

Instead, as I contemplated the misguided rantings of this radio talk show host, I realized that I was actually feeling sorry for him. But it wasn’t just him I was feeling sorry for, he was just the one that caught my attention at the time. What he represented for me were all the people I know who have left the Church in anger, those who don’t understand the Church and bash her teachings without taking the time to ask what they actually mean, and any others who feel the need to spew venom at the Church.

We have all seen it in comboxes, on Facebook, and even run into it in our own families or among our friends. I don’t know about you but most of the time I get defensive and want to stand up for the Church and the ensuing conversation often gets heated, leaving me angry as well.

But what use is our anger? Especially when discussing (to put it nicely) misunderstood teachings of the Church with people who are angry at the Church and unwilling to be fair to her. The problem is that they just don’t know, whether it is out of misunderstanding, lack of catechesis, or complete ignorance, we have no way of knowing. And until a person is willing to listen and learn what the Church really teaches, arguing with them is fruitless.

Does this mean we shouldn’t engage them at all? No, I don’t believe that. I think we need to engage people in a different way. But not through arguing with them and trying to defend the Church. That does nothing but create a circle of everyone defending their views and trying to prove themselves correct. That gets you nowhere, as you probably know if you’ve engaged in any sort of online debate. And if they are friends or members of your family, it can create a tension that will negatively affect your relationships. Instead we need to be charitable, realize that the person ranting about the unfairness of the Church or the out-dated teachings or whatever the issue does not understand the Church’s Truths.

That’s the key for me: the person just does not understand the Truth of the Church.

I remember a time when I did not understand the Church’s Truth. I remember arguing with people, too, always being closed to what they were saying to me. However, I also remember the people who were patient and allowed me to get through what I needed to get through. I remember the patience people showed to me that made me respect them more. That respect allowed me to actually listen and start to hear what I wasn’t hearing before.

So when it came to the random radio guy ranting away about Catholics believing in an infallible human as the head of the Church (as if, if the Pope said it was going to rain in New Mexico on Tuesday we’d all believe him), I found myself having a bit more of a charitable attitude toward him and all those he represented for me. He doesn’t understand and has probably closed himself off from understanding. Maybe one day someone will enter his life who can be that charitable person and gently plant the seeds for him to start being more fair to the Church.

Personally, I find this very hard to do. It’s not my first inclination. So I write this as a reminder for myself, as well as anyone reading, that a charitable attitude, patient understanding of where a person is coming from, and the ability to just help them to see that the Church is not the enemy can go a long way in starting a true dialogue instead of having a circular argument.

What do you think?

And for some resources on the teaching of Papal Infallibility:

Infallibility at New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia

Papal Infallibility, tract from Catholic Answers

Papal Infallibility by Jeffrey Mirus, PhD at EWTN

Papal Infallibility: It’s Probably Not What You Think by Elise Hilton at Acton Institute Power Blog

The Pope is Not as Powerful As You Think by Leila Miller at Catholic Stand


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Going AWOL Out of The Christian Civil War: How My Desire for Christian Unity Lead Me Home to The Catholic Church (Part 2))

In the first part of my “coming home” story, I described how my Christian life began and how, only a few years later, God began to place a burden on my heart for the lack of unity within the Christian family. If you missed the Part 1, you can read it here.

This dissatisfaction I felt with the existence of multiple Christian denominations, and the understanding that this was not what God had in mind for his family, nagged me through the months that followed high school graduation. As I mentioned in the previous post, I left behind the Baptist church I grew up in, and became a member of a non-denominational church, as I felt this was the best solution for refusing the divisions created by man. The concept of “denominations” was what I had become adamantly against, and this church did not claim a title.

At this point, the Catholic Church was the furthest thing from my mind as an option I would consider.  The only words I ever heard spoken about the Catholic Church were in a negative manner by non-Catholic friends and church leaders, who claimed that very few Catholics, save the Catholics who didn’t believe most of Church Teaching, were going to Heaven due to their lack of relationship with God, worship of Mary and the saints, the ungodly practice of keeping Jesus on the cross, and a host of other allegedly unbiblical doctrines. I had even read a book, provided to me by my non-denominational young adult group that described “facts” on “false teachings”. Amongst Hinduism and Islam was a chapter on  Roman Catholicism, which explained all the reasons why it is clearly unbiblical, a false religion created by deceptive men. If I had this book in my possession now, I am confident that I could point out all the flaws in the author’s presentation of Church Teaching and use of Scripture, but I regress.

It was at this point in my life in which God chose to introduce to me my future husband. God’s perfect timing turned out to be the August after I graduated high school. I had chosen not to date anyone unless I could see myself marrying them, in which case we would explore the possibility of marriage. As Jordan pursued me, I felt a peace about opening my heart to a courtship with him. He met every quality on my future husband “list”, with the exception of one: he was not a Baptist or a non-denominational, but Catholic.

Jordan was raised Catholic, but at the time we met he did not have a strong passion for his faith. He knew the basics of what he was taught growing up, and for the most part attended mass weekly, but this was ultimately the extent of his Catholic devotion. However, he spoke often about praying for our relationship and exhibited fruits in his life that made me confident he was growing in the Lord, “in spite” of being a Catholic. As we became serious and it became knowledge to both of us that we would one day be married, he readily attended church and weekly Bible study with me without ever involving Catholicism in our relationship. I figured that we would simply continue to go to church there and non-denominational Christianity is the faith in which we would raise our future children.

A few months later, in a stunning plot twist, Jordan began to get more and more enthusiastic about the Catholic Church. It seemed to happen overnight. One day he was at church with me, seemingly soaking in the charismatic worship and Protestant sermon, and the next he was talking about going to mass, reading Catholic apologetics books, and meeting with a priest for discussion. I was completely caught off guard by this sudden devotion, and I was scared; Jordan was my best friend and accountability partner, and I honestly felt that he was getting caught up in a deceptive religion that kept souls from experiencing freedom in Christ. I expressed my concerns with him, and he told me things that seemed completely off the wall and terrifyingly untrue: Mary is available to pray for us and intercedes for us in the same way a friend on Earth might. The Lord’s Supper in a Catholic Church is not a symbolic memorial service, but the true flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Speaking of Jesus Christ, he founded the Catholic Church.

I challenged everything he said. I demanded Scriptures (and learned that, indeed, my belief that everything must be written in the Bible is not found in the Scriptures!). I brought up Catholic doctrines that I thought were wrong, and he was able to provide a sound explanation of each, through Scripture, through history, and through applying my understanding of God’s character and nature. But I would not be deceived. I knew what I had always been told about the Catholic Church, and I was sticking to that.

This was a very hard time in our relationship. We argued and debated about theology often and as a result, God became a touchy topic that was often avoided. Though he still came to church and Bible study with me, he adamantly refused to miss mass. One day at church he passed on participating in the Lord’s Supper, telling me it was contrary to his beliefs that Jesus was speaking literally when he said “this is my body”.  I cried the rest of the day.

Several times I considered ending the relationship, but I never felt a peace about it. I felt God speaking to me that I should wait out the storm, and one day this would no longer be a barrier between us. I took this to mean that Jordan would see the errors in the Catholic faith and leave this religion behind. I earnestly prayed day and night. I fasted and prayed. I had others in my church pray. I prayed that we would both find Truth, even if it was contrary to the way one of us was always taught.  Additionally, I took the same approach of John Henry Newman and sought to become an expert in the history of early Christianity so I could use that information to disprove the assertion that the early Christians were Catholic in belief and worship practices.

That was the beginning of the end of my days as a “non-denominational”. As John Henry Newman said at the end of his own research, “to be deep into history is to cease to be a Protestant”.

The historical facts could not be denied. The early Christian Church was not just an unstructured group of men playing songs on a guitar and talking about how much they love God, as I once thought. It was a Church with structured leadership, beginning with Peter, to whom Jesus gave the “keys to the Kingdom of Heaven”, and the authority to “bind and loose”. (Mt. 16:18,19) I learned that “keys” were a sign of authority, signifying that an office was being created; one that is bigger than the current holder, and would continue after that person died. I learned that historical writings from the earliest Christians showed that the beliefs of the first Christian Church were the beliefs still held by the Catholic Church today. I found that my passion against man-made denominations was actually a very Catholic viewpoint, as denominations were indeed created by man, a response to refusing the role of the Catholic Church as the authority of Christ.

I can still recall the night all my studies of history and re-evaluation of certain Scriptures fell into place, and I realized the answer for refusing the Christian civil war. My blood went ice cold at first, and then warm, as words of realization spoke to my spirit: Christian unity cannot be possible without a single, binding Teaching office. Private interpretation of Scripture leads to different conclusions, which leads to different churches and denominations, which creates disunity. This is why Christ gave us a Church, divinely guided by His Spirit, to preserve the Truth of God’s Word. And as history shows, that Church IS the Catholic Church.

At that moment, I ceased to be a Protestant. I did not know everything the Church taught, and some of what the Church taught I was still skeptical on (it took some time before I had enough faith to believe Christ was truly present in the Eucharist). But that didn’t matter: in choosing to come into the Catholic Church, I was saying “I don’t know everything, and there are some things I am inclined to disagree with. But if I disagree, it is not because the problem lies with the Church—it is because the problem lies with me and my private understanding of Scripture.”  The one thing I knew for certain, and the only thing that mattered, was that the Catholic Church is the only Church established by Christ and not man, and it’s in this divinely guided Church where the fullness of Truth and Christian unity lives.

It was scary to leave the only type of Christianity I had ever known. I experienced a “culture shock” of sorts, and wondered if I would ever truly feel at home in such different surroundings. Additionally, I lost a few friends who felt betrayed by my choice to become Catholic. They did not experience the same change of heart as I and still believed I was being misled. Many people thought I became Catholic simply for a boy. A friend of mine was told by a leader in her church that I allowed my love for Jordan cloud my spiritual judgment. However, I would be willing to stand before my Lord, look Him in the eye, and say with honest conviction that my decision was based solely on a realization of Truth, after a close study of Scripture and history. Jordan and I were both on paths to the Truth, and I like to say we found it together. It was because of me exposing him to an alternate Christian perspective that he began to look deeper into the Church, and it was because he challenged my beliefs that I felt the need to seek Truth.

Jordan and I began RCIA classes in September 2008, me as a baptized Christian and him as a Catholic update. On April 11, 2009, I received the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist, entering into full Communion with the Catholic Church. In the years since, we have served as sponsors in RCIA, helping guide other people to the beautiful, Christ instituted sacraments. This is because four years ago, as an anti-Catholic evangelical Protestant, I asked God to help me reunify the Body of Christ. At that time, I didn’t know where to start, but now I do.

In order for us to worship as one, we all need to be  home. Christians of all faith communities need to return to the home Christ built for us 2000 years ago. That home is the Catholic Church.

“Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the catholic Church”

–Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


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Going AWOL Out of The Christian Civil War: How My Desire for Christian Unity Lead Me Home to The Catholic Church (Part 1)

“So, that girl, do you know if she’s a Christian?”

“Uh, well, she’s Catholic…”

This was a statement that I have said more than once growing up. If someone asked me, for whatever reason, if someone the two of us know is a Christian, and if I knew they went to a Catholic church, my response was the aforementioned… skeptical at best.

Indeed, just because someone identifies as Catholic does not necessarily mean they are living the Christian life outside of Church or even acknowledging Christ in their hearts. It was not my place to give a definite answer, because only God knows their true heart. But the problem with my skepticism was the fact that if the person in question identified as Baptist or another “Bible-believing” denomination, my response was much more confident. Ultimately, the general attitude I had about most Catholics was that if they are truly living for Christ in their hearts, it is in spite of their Catholic faith, rather than because of it.

Like so many Protestants, all I knew about the Catholic Church was distorted misconceptions about what the Church teaches, why the worship is structured the way it is, and what the Church actually is in relation to Christ. The Catholic Church as an institution is corrupt, the followers do not read or care about the Bible, and they are merely taught to go through the motions of worship without thinking about the meaning of their actions. And they clearly don’t care about the Ten Commandments, because that commands against idolatry and Catholics worship statues.

Never in my life did I think I would become of them. Never in my life did I think I would cross over to the dark side of Christianity, where the Holy Spirit isn’t actually present and the overwhelming majority of its followers are hell bound and in dire need of salvation.

Never in my life did I think I would come to realize that everything in that preceding paragraph is terribly wrong.

I started my walk with God when I was fourteen years old. It was the summer before my ninth grade year, and before that year I didn’t heavily acknowledge God in my life. I believed in the existence of God, I had a Bible at home, and I went to church occasionally, but I wasn’t living a life surrendered to Him. He was a distant relative who crossed my mind occasionally and who I visited from time to time, but putting effort into growing closer to Him was not on my priority list.

Summer before the ninth grade, during a worship and prayer service at a week long church retreat, God’s spirit gripped me in a way that it never had before. I found myself on my knees, promising with a sincere heart that from that point forward, I would strive to live a life that was less about me and more about Him. I told God to begin to teach me and mold me into who He wanted me to be, and I would follow wherever He leads.  I left that day feeling like a new creation, and I always refer back to that moment as the day I began my relationship with God. About six months later I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All of these events occurred in the First Baptist Church in my hometown, and I know that I was blessed to begin my Christian life in a church full of godly role models and amazing friends who held me accountable in my walk with Christ. I was highly involved in the youth group throughout high school, where I grew spiritually through summer camps, mission trips, Wednesday night Bible studies, and various fellowship events throughout the years. I am thankful that I had such a wonderful faith community to call home during my teenage years, in which temptations and threats to my walk with Christ were at every corner.

However, when I was seventeen, I began to question some things I had never thought about before. This question was brought about when I became involved in a young adult program at a non-denominational church in my hometown. As a senior in high school, I would soon graduate from the youth group. This worried me because my church did not have a strong young adult program, and I knew that I needed community to stay strong in my faith. When I was introduced to the young adult group at this new church just in the nick of time, it was like a godsend. To this day that is still how I view it, because inclusion in this group caused me to question for the first time the reason for multiple Christian denominations.

This new church did not claim a denomination, because they wanted to simply love God free of denominational titles. Nonetheless, their theology did not differ greatly from that of my Baptist church, with a few minor exceptions. These exceptions were few, but they caused a slight division that was noticeable to me as I spent time with both groups. My new group would jokingly poke fun at the Baptist style of worship, which they perceived to be rigid and without freedom. Alternatively, my Baptist youth minister was infuriated with me for involving myself in a church that he thought wasn’t entirely biblical.

This division stirred something up in me, and I began to wonder why there are so many different kinds of Christians: Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Presbyterians are only naming a few, as I soon learned that there are over 30,000 registered denominations and sub-sects.  All groups read the same Bible and claim to worship the same God, but are divided by some sort of disagreement in scriptural interpretation or practice. Then there is the identification of “non-denominational”. I initially thought, like many do, that attending a non-denominational church was the answer to refusing the Christian Civil War, as I would not be claiming any type of structured faith. I came to realize, however, this this is ultimately another denomination in and of itself, except that one freestanding church may interpret scripture entirely differently from another in the same five mile radius.

The more I thought about this in the months that passed after high school graduation, the more it began to truly anger me that as Christians, we aren’t unified. Christ wanted us to be unified. He wanted us to be one body, all in agreement with each other. I came across I Corinthians 1:10, where Paul says “I appeal to you brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say, and there be no divisions among you, but you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  People would often tell me that denominations do not divide the Body of Christ because we agree on most things. We all love Jesus and claim Him as our Lord and Savior, and that is all that is important. But Scripture does not tell us that we should agree on most things but then agree to disagree on that which keeps us in separate churches; it says we are to be perfectly united with no divisions.

This was a very hard time for me, as I was so broken about the fact that the Church was split up in so many ways, which is not what Christ wanted. In me grew a passion and desire to reunify the Church and to tear down denominational walls. This calling only overwhelmed me, because I was lost as where to start. Common sense clearly states that there can only be one truth, not multiple truths, and certainly not 30,000 truths. And when five different people from five different denominations say the Holy Spirit guided them to a particular understanding of scripture, and none of those interpretations perfectly coincide, that  presses the question, “who is right?”

It did not occur to me right at first that perhaps Christ gave us a physical Church: one which He ordained as His authority, whose Teachings are divinely guided by His Spirit, and will keep us unified in one Truth, a Truth which this Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will preserve throughout the years.

As I earnestly prayed and sought after God for the next several months, He led me to this answer, and in the most unexpected place: my longtime foe, the Catholic Church.



Part 2 of this story will be published on CatholicSistas August 24