Converting to Catholicism - A Letter from Sarah Carey
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What is your greatest fear? Our Lord tells us to never fear, but yet, I find myself failing in this area of our great Faith. Perhaps you struggle with this, too. My relationship with fear has always remained constant: fear of car accidents, fear of food poisoning, fear of believing the wrong doctrines, fear of hellfire. Life is tiresome when you’re afraid and trying to hold on to your salvation for dear life. Life is tiresome when you’re traveling to your spiritual home and there is no end to the road in sight.
You see, dear sister, I am a convert to Catholicism.
I was raised by devout parents who love and serve Jesus without shame. They taught me the tenets of the Christian faith: the divinity of Jesus, how He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, died for our sins, and rose again to conquer sin and death. The little church we attended was tight-knit and warm: we were there for each other. At the age of six (without external pressure from my parents), I discerned that I was ready for baptism.
For years, I was too comfortable in my faith. After all, our church did everything “right” and followed the Bible. We weren’t like Catholics who drank, cursed, and only went to confession just to sin all over again. I believed if I kept doing those “right” things, I wouldn’t lose my salvation and place in Heaven. If I am honest, sister, I was not motivated by my love for Jesus, I was motivated by fear. I believed that if I just dotted every “I” and crossed every “T,” I would be worthy enough for Jesus.
Yet, as I grew older, I felt a growing pull to our Catholic faith. There was fear again, rearing its ugly head. I wanted what my Catholic friends had: an order in their year with Advent and Lent, fasting, liturgy, saints, Our Lady, and Ash Wednesday. In college and the following years, I struggled with these desires of faith. I looked longingly at the Catholic church at the edge of campus, yet I only entered the doors once. Even then, along the way, I still felt Our Lord at my side.
In November 2016, I held my breath, and took the plunge. I attended RCIA in a lovely and vibrant rural parish. As my confirmation drew closer, I announced my intentions on social media. The backlash was very ugly, especially from those in my former faith community. I was told I was wrong, that I was no longer a Christian, and that I was going to hell.
Sister, to hear this from those who once called me a friend was a heartache. I felt alone.
Today, though, I recall the words of St. Padre Pio: “Do not fear. Jesus is more powerful than all hell.” Jesus is more powerful, dear sister. More powerful than those who would discourage you in your faith, more powerful than those who would bring you down in other parts of your life. Even better, Our Lord has said “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.”
My sister, even if you are a cradle Catholic, we are all called to conversion. Regardless of who we are or where we live in the world, Jesus calls us each to a radical change of heart. Just like the fear of hellfire, the fear of giving it all to Jesus can be scary. Others will try to pull you down, but thankfully, we have Our Lord, who has conquered sin, hell, and death, on our side.
Get to know Sarah
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hi sister, my name is Sarah Carey. I’m 28 years old, a convert to Catholicism, and a gifted education coordinator from Central Kentucky. I’m engaged to a New Yorker, and spend lots of long weekends and school breaks traversing the sights between Manhattan and Long Island. I love international travel, Chinese soup dumplings, the Rosary, hours in Eucharistic Adoration, blogging (www.sarahecarey.com), and reading in quiet solitude. While my fiancé was a springboard for my conversion to the Catholic faith, I had admired the Church from afar for many years. Even as a Protestant, I knew that my Catholic friends had something that I didn’t. In the beginning of my conversion, I was terrified, but I pushed through. During the 2012-2013 academic year, I was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to South Korea. While in Korea, I lived with a great family and my host mom was a Catholic. After seeing her statue of Mary in the curio cabinet and rosaries around the house, I knew that was the beginning of the journey to my spiritual home. It only took about five years to cross the Tiber.
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
I want to be a saint. Each day, I try to ask myself, “Will this bring me closer to Jesus and Heaven, or will it pull me away?” As a Catholic, this orients my life towards Christ and reminds me to frequent the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist as much as possible. Of course, there are days I fail spectacularly (and not-so-spectacularly), but I know that Christ is ever-merciful. I’ve always been inclined towards the spiritual, so I don’t find it difficult to think about how I can move closer to Jesus. I believe this a wonderful grace that has been given to me.
From one Catholic woman to another, how have you discovered your sense of belonging in the Church?
I came from a Protestant tradition that was very restrictive about what women could do during worship and within the church. For example, women could not act as ministers, serve communion, read Scripture, attend business meetings, pray during worship, lead music, give a testimony, collect offering, or teach Sunday school (unless it was small children under 12ish). When I began RCIA, I saw women teaching all levels of religious education classes, serving as Eucharistic ministers and altar servers, reading Scripture during Mass, giving announcements, and serving on committees.
Often, the Catholic Church is criticized for excluding women, but this is far from the truth. Women are welcome to serve in so many capacities within the local congregation. To say that the Church does not ordain women as priests, deacons, and bishops due to sexism comes from a place of ignorance. This unique teaching simply means that we are each called to different vocations because of our God-given sex and state in life. Through the solid teaching of vocations (which was largely absent in my former tradition), I have found my place in the Church. I am grateful to the many women in my parish for showing me what it means to be a confident, Catholic woman.
"...When I began RCIA, I saw women teaching all levels of religious education classes, serving as Eucharistic ministers and altar servers, reading Scripture during Mass, giving announcements, and serving on committees... I am grateful to the many women in my parish for showing me what it means to be a confident, Catholic woman."
What’s the most empowering piece of advice you’ve been given as a Catholic woman?
To imitate Mary. While no single person has said, “Sarah, imitate Mary as often as possible,” it has been a thread throughout my faith journey. Many women are sometimes confused when it comes to Our Lady: “How can I possibly imitate Mary, the mother of Jesus?” But, I think the Scriptures give us such a great vision of womanhood through Mary: obedience to God, pondering the Incarnate Word in our hearts, and doing “whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). This is in a stark opposition to our society, which tells women they must be loud, brash, and aggressive to make a difference. In Mary, we see a quiet strength that changed the world. I believe this applies to all types of women in all states of life.
Tell us about a woman who inspires you. What lessons have you learned from her? How has she influenced your life?
My mother, without a doubt. Unfailingly, my mother has been there for me in all states and phases of my life. She was the first woman to teach me about Jesus, and she’s my number one in any situation I’ve experienced. Even though she is not a Catholic, she has supported my conversion in so many ways. If anything, my mother has taught me the power of perseverance in the face of life’s difficulties. Her motto? Be angry, but don’t stay there, and suck it up. This has helped me in so many situations where I could have pitched my tent in the land of despair. If I can grow to possess a mere fraction of the selflessness and generosity of my mother, I will be content.
What’s your favorite way to pray?
I love the formulated prayers of the Church – chiefly the Rosary. Often, Catholics are criticized for saying rote prayers because it’s perceived as something we do to impress God or to be heard more by Him (Matthew 6:7). However, the Rosary is a wonderful gift which walks us through the life with Christ with His mother by our side. Personally, I can attest to the peace that the Rosary has brought into my life. The regularity and stability of the prayer has become like my security blanket in so many life experiences. While the Rosary should not replace spontaneous prayer to God, it’s a wonderful supplement for when I’m at a loss for words. I try to turn to the Rosary each day and I encourage you to try it, too!
How is Jesus challenging you to greater love in your current place in life?
I am challenged each day by Divine Mercy. Lately, I’ve struggled with showing love and mercy to those who I believe aren’t “worthy” of my attention. At Mass a few weeks ago, the Gospel reading was Jesus telling His disciples that it doesn’t really matter if you’re kind to those who are kind to you, because even unbelievers do that. What matters is if you show love to and pray for those who are unkind to you – rather purposefully or indirectly. This is a radical call to conversion that I struggle with each day, and Jesus never fails to remind me of the importance of selfless love each day. When I begin to think that I’m better than another person, I remember that Jesus died for me, which means I’m a fellow sinner.
What's currently your biggest stumbling block in pursuing the Lord?
Myself. Often, I place excessive expectations upon myself. I want to read the daily readings, pray a rosary, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, spend time in Adoration, and find a way to serve my community. When I try to complete all these practices, I find that I fall into a mindset of “I have to do this and if I fail, I’ve let God down.” This can cause unnecessary anxiety because it tricks me into believing that I
can send myself to Heaven with my own works. I unintentionally take Christ out of the equation in my pursuit of Him. I remind myself that God’s mercy is applicable to me, too.
Fill in the blank
A typical day in my life looks like…
Waking up around 5 or 6 AM, spending quiet time in prayer, going to teach, and coming home to relax with a book and chat with my fiancé. I live a very Benedictine life of prayer and work.
My favorite quote is...
From Mother Angelica, the foundress of EWTN. She said, “Let us not be confused by the talents and missions of other saints. Let us become the saints we were created to be.” This quote gives me great freedom to embrace my identity in Christ, as opposed to lamenting that I’m not a great, historical saint that everyone admires. It keeps me humble.
I feel most inspired when…
I write. I love to write about faith matters and share it with others. This gives me a great excitement that nothing else does.
The Catholic Church is…
A lighthouse in our dark society. If you’re even the slightest bit interested in what Christ offers you, go to Mass. He is waiting for you in the Eucharist. He is waiting with outstretched arms.