A Letter of Encouragement to Women Entering the Church This Easter
Letter from Paige Boyer
Congratulations! You’ve made the momentous decision to enter the Catholic Church this Easter, and even though I don’t know you personally, I couldn’t be more excited for you to join us here in the Body of Christ. After all, I was in your shoes just four years ago when I converted to Catholicism as a graduate student pursuing a master’s in public health at a Big Ten university.
Yep, it surprised me, too!
“Lukewarm Protestant” best describes my religious views as a child and teenager, and for most of college, I was a devout practitioner of I-don’t-need-religion-to-be-a-good-person-ism.
But as my graduation ceremony loomed, I began to grow weary of my own wishy-washy beliefs and embarked on a quest for truth that ultimately led me to Catholicism.
Because once I was willing to look beyond the stereotypes and misconceptions that pervade our culture and listen to what the Church actually teaches, I discovered more than just the rational belief system for which I yearned -- I also found a rich and beautiful tradition, a worldwide community of faith, and most importantly, a Lord and Savior who knew and loved me personally.
It felt like unearthing a treasure trove bursting with riches I didn’t even know I wanted or needed. It felt like coming home.
However, as grandiose as this may sound, it all began in the most ordinary way. The moment that finally forced me to confront my noncommittal attitude toward faith didn’t involve a lightning bolt or a trumpet flare. I wasn’t standing on a mountaintop or sitting at rock bottom.
No, I was simply taking a break from homework and checking my Facebook feed. That’s right -- my “quest for truth” all began during the fall semester of my senior year in college, when I came across a post announcing that yet another high school classmate had gotten engaged.
Even though engagement announcements were a dime a dozen in those days, this particular post struck me in a new and profound way. Among the many pictures and congratulations, I found a touching remark by my friend’s fiancé in which he described her as a woman of faith, beauty, and strength. His words echoed over and over in my mind until it hit me.
I was 22 years old. (Cue Taylor Swift music.)
The elusive “real world” was right around the corner.
It was only a matter of time until I was going to have to make some big, scary, important decisions about things like my career, finances, and (hopefully!) marriage and children. And I wanted something on which to base those decisions. Something bigger than my own judgement or the advice of family members and friends. Something like…
Faith was a quality that my friend and her fiance cherished in one another, and it provided a foundation that undoubtedly helped them discern marriage together. I yearned for that, too -- a belief system to guide my actions, a moral compass to help me find my way, an integrity that would attract others with similar goals and values. People had said plenty of nice things about me before, but I had never been described as a woman of faith or conviction. And for the first time in 22 years, this deeply troubled me.
I wanted to be a woman who knew what she believed in.
And so the search began. I started my investigation with Christianity, which was both the faith of my family and a religion about which I knew surprisingly little. I devoured books and blog posts, listened to countless podcasts, and joined my religiously inclined friends at their respective church services. I studied proofs for God’s existence and examined evidence for the credibility of the Bible. I even dabbled in praise and worship music and took a stab at this little thing called prayer, because although these elements didn’t appeal to my rational side, many Christians seemed to find them helpful. Much to my surprise, I found myself growing more and more intrigued by Catholicism, one of the few denominations I had hoped to avoid entirely. Didn’t the Church oppress women or worship Mary or something? Maybe, but it was time to stop assuming and actually find out.
So I asked one of my Catholic friends if I could attend mass with him. Even though I was only vaguely aware of what was happening the entire time, and even though all of the sitting, standing, and kneeling left me wondering if I’d accidentally walked into an aerobics class instead of a church service, I’ll never forget my first experience watching a priest consecrate the Eucharist.
The air felt thick with reverence and time seemed to stand still as all eyes became fixed on the mysterious activity at the altar.
It would be weeks before I would learn the word transubstantiation, and months before I would even begin to wrap my head around this challenging Church teaching. Yet I knew something was happening, something that hadn’t happened at any of the other churches I had visited.
Shortly afterward, I started meeting with a priest to address my endless list of questions and joined a women’s group at my campus parish to determine whether it was actually possible to believe these crazy Catholic things and still pass for a normal college student. As my exploration intensified, so did the Lord’s gentle but persistent work in my mind and heart. The walls began to come down, and that “something” I had sensed during my first mass became a theme. Catholicism always seemed to offer something more, a complete picture where other belief systems could offer only glimpses.
But after so many years of not taking a stance, I wondered if I could ever muster the courage or commitment to fully embrace any religion, let alone one with such rich and complex doctrine.
One particular turning point occurred when something (aka the Holy Spirit) inspired me to attend an early morning daily mass. During the homily, Father addressed the issue of doubt and encouraged us to ask God to increase our faith whenever we struggled. Perhaps this sounds painfully obvious, but I had never heard about or thought of this before.
"Ask God to increase my faith?" I thought. "Is that a thing? And what if the thing I need help believing is that God exists and hears my prayers in the first place?"
But for whatever reason (aka the Holy Spirit), I decided to give it a shot anyway.
"Lord, if you’re really out there, please increase my faith. Thanks, er, amen."
This little prayer turned out to be a game-changer. Throughout the rest of my journey to the Church, some Catholic teachings were challenging for me to grasp on an intellectual level, whereas others were difficult to accept because of the personal implications. But whenever I gave the Lord a speck of faith -- one that made even a mustard seed look mighty -- He delivered. Sometimes He granted me the ability to clearly see, and other times the grace to simply trust. He satisfied my mind with the truth I craved and pursued my heart with goodness and beauty beyond my wildest imaginings. By the time I finished college and started graduate school, I was ready to enroll in the RCIA program at my campus parish. And by the following Easter, I was ready to enter the Catholic Church.
And yet, four years after my confirmation, I am still finding my way.
I am still actualizing my identity as a beloved daughter of God and learning what it means to be a Catholic woman in this broken and beautiful world. Some days I wake up with a burning desire to give Jesus my everything, and other days the best I can do is want to want to serve.
Occasionally I feel bold and inspired, but more often I feel completely unqualified, unsure why God would call my feeble self to run this marathon of holiness in the first place. But if I know one thing for sure, it’s that our Lord can do wonders with a willing heart. Just look at the lives of any of the saints!
So as you make your final preparations for Easter, don’t let fear or doubt convince you that you’re doing something wrong or that you’ll never have what it takes to be Catholic. Run to the Lord and ask for His help in understanding the teachings of the Church, in living them out, and in trusting His plan for you. He has chosen you to come into His Church at this particular time and place in history, to anoint you for a mission that only you can fulfill, and He won’t leave you high and dry. He will equip you with all you need, including faith, if only you ask sincerely.
He also provides us with a wealth of resources and support in the life of the Church and in one another. So ask others to pray for you -- after all, you have the entire communion of saints at the ready, in heaven and here on earth! Consider looking for a good spiritual director to help you grow in your faith and keep that “spark” of devotion alive for years to come. Frequent the sacrament of reconciliation (starting with that first awkward trip to the confessional) and allow the Lord to continually remind you of His infinite mercy.
And as you find your footing and learn how He is calling you to live this Catholic life, resist the temptation to compare. There are many different ways to be a strong, beautiful, kind, generous, life-giving woman in the Church today.
Outside of what is required (e.g., Sunday mass), don’t feel pressured to do something simply to prove yourself to others. Jesus knows your heart and wants you at His table, so find the prayers and practices that draw you closer to Him and knock yourself out!
Sister, thank you for your witness. Thank you for your “yes.” I’ll most certainly be praying for you and the grand adventure that awaits.
Yours in Christ,
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About the Writer: Paige Boyer
Born and raised in the Midwest (go Hoosiers!), Paige currently lives in Houston, Texas, where she serves as the Director of Recruitment and Onboarding at Adore Ministries, a Catholic nonprofit missions company. You can often find her laughing at the crazy journey that is her life and planning elaborately themed parties with the help of color-coded spreadsheets. Her love language is tacos.