When Given an Ultimatum of Faith
Letter from Regina Cothren
My dear radiant sisters,
“It’s just a church.” These were the words he spoke to me over the phone as I cried on the other end in a painful kind of sadness and frustration. I knew I loved being Catholic, but I didn’t realize how much my Catholic faith meant to me until it was attacked by someone very close to me.
Halfway through my first year of college I began a long-distance relationship with a guy I had known for many years. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that we both realized that we vastly differed in our faith lives. I was a Catholic and he made it apparent that he would never be one.
He told me I was blind and naïve for choosing to pursue my Catholic faith. That Christ could never be present in the Eucharist and we were re-crucifying him every time we had communion. He told me that I was limiting my relationship with Christ by choosing to remain Catholic and that he was attacking my faith because he cared about me and didn’t want me to believe in something that wasn’t real. Finally, he admitted that he didn’t think this would be that big of a deal and that I would just convert one day for him. He told me that his whole goal in the relationship was to get me to hate Catholicism and convert to something else. He then gave me an ultimatum: I was going to have to choose between him and the Catholic church because he was never going to allow a future family to be Catholic and he was never going to accept me fully as someone within the Catholic faith.
My heart felt heavy. Every time we had these talks it felt like I was breaking into a million little pieces. I didn’t want to feel like I had to choose between someone I cared about and my faith, which I was learning I cared about more than I originally knew.
And that’s when I could hear Jesus begin to faintly whisper to my heart, “choose me.” For months after that time I tried to drown out those whispers because I was scared of fully choosing God. I was scared of what that would look like. I was scared of what that meant. So I remained Catholic, but over time, I became complacent, stopped praying, and stopped going to mass regularly.
Four months after I had ignored those initial whispers from Jesus, I felt broken and was unsure of my identity. I had poured out so much of myself into this relationship and my cup was empty because I wasn’t seeking after God to fill it up. I spent many of my weekends with this guy, and in order to have what I could of his attention, I skipped mass in the process and tried to fit in with a lifestyle that wasn’t centered around Christ. My once extroverted and full of laughter self, felt foreign to me. My anxiety and sadness had caused me to lose more weight than I needed to and I felt ashamed of the person that I had become. I had wanted to feel accepted in my relationship but I knew I could never be with my Catholic faith. So I pushed my faith to the side in order to save what was left from the relationship, but it was never enough. And as a result, I felt like I wasn’t enough.
Looking back, I can now see why I felt those things. At the time, I hadn’t been to mass in a month and I hadn’t been to confession in over a year. I had removed myself from the heart of Jesus. I had removed myself from the place where I knew I felt the greatest peace and joy. The place where my heart felt known, protected, and pursued. The place where my heart felt at home. The place where my heart belonged. I had walked away without realizing it. I allowed the lies of Satan and the world to fool me into thinking that it wasn’t that important and that holding onto this relationship mattered more because I would never find better.
It was around that time that those whispers I had been feeling in my heart and trying to suppress weren’t whispers anymore. They were loud. They were deafening. I kept hearing, “choose me” over and over again. I was scared that I would never find anything or anyone better. I was scared that I would be rejected for believing that God was who He said He was in the Eucharist. I was scared that if I chose Christ then I would lose everything else. I finally told God that this wouldn’t be easy. Christ heard my fears and gazed upon me lovingly and tenderly and once again gently asked of me, “choose me anyway.”
This guy had told me that it was “just a church” but it wasn’t “just a church” to me. It was THE church. It was the source of my love and joy. It was where I experienced Jesus within the most sacred Eucharist. How could I walk away from that knowing the truth? How could I ever walk away for a guy when I knew for the first time that Jesus was the man for my heart and that I would be miserable without Him?
As I was processing all of this inner turmoil inside of me, God placed on my heart the story where the disciples are walking along with Jesus, and He begins to speak with them. He asks His disciples, “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” His disciples gave all kinds of answers but then Christ more directly asked, “But who do you say that I am?” and Simon Peter replied, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus seemed to ask that same question of me, “Who do you say that I am?” and after a moment I say, “Jesus you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And I believed it with my whole heart. And if I believed that with my whole heart then how could I not be living like Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God?
Jesus, sensing this brokenness within me, asked me in return, “Who do I say that you are?” And my dear sisters, He says that we are loved. That we are His. He says that we are not damaged goods. He says that we are daughters of Christ, the Son of the Living God. How else could I respond but to say, “God, I choose you. I choose you through the joys. I choose you through the difficulties and the tears. I choose you through the persecutions. I choose you. I fully choose you.” And after the relationship officially ended I drove as fast as I could to the chapel late that night to be with God to receive His love and mercy.
Life after my reversion of the heart hasn’t been void of struggles or temptations, but it has come with a greater sense of fulfillment, peace, and love. Yes, I am a broken human person, but God has lovingly turned that brokenness into a beautiful brokenness that can reside in His heart and be used for His glory. Through this painful persecution from this person that I cared about, I was able to draw closer to God and find my true identity as a daughter in Christ. I no longer sought to place my identity on something as shaky as another human person. I instead placed my identity on the firm foundation of our sweet Lord. Satan attempted to fill my head with lies saying that I would never find better, but life with Christ has been far better than my heart felt safe to dream for. I feared that Christ would leave me isolated if I chose him, but He has instead continued to place holy people in my life who show me tiny bits of that heavenly Christ-like love on Earth. After the breakup I went to confession for the first time in over a year expecting the priest to look upon me with disdain as I brought the dark parts within my soul to the light, but instead of disdain, the priest looked at me with eyes that only the Father could look upon me with and said with love and compassion, “You are not damaged; quite the opposite. You are renewed and you are very very good.” Returning back to The Church, being able to enter more fully into the wedding feast of the mass and receiving the Eucharist again was like nothing sweeter than I had ever experienced. Now, every time I receive the Eucharist I am able to look at God as He tenderly looks back at me and say, “I choose you.”
It was in the breaking that I was more acutely aware than ever of how the Lord’s heart breaks open for want of us. When I see the body of Christ being broken open for us to receive Him in the Eucharist during mass, I see the Lord’s heart once again pierced and broken open for us as He cried out on the cross, “I thirst.” In that moment, I feel Him thirsting for us as I receive the healing powers of the body and blood of Christ. I see His sacrifice of the mass and I feel His heart pulsing with great love before us. How can I receive this great act of sacrificial love before me and not think to myself, “Oh, how He desires us fully to be His beloved”?
Keep your hearts up sisters and let yourselves be loved by the one whom love was first created from. Come receive the fullness of His love and let your hearts be pursued by the One who never tires of gazing upon you. You are worth the pursuit. Choose Him.
Love your sister in Christ,
About the Writer: Regina Cothren
Regina Cothren is number 7 of 11 children in her beautifully chaotic family. She is currently a senior studying Social Work at the University of Georgia and is actively involved in the Catholic student ministry on campus, helping to lead small groups and praise and worship. Regina enjoys spending her time hiking in the mountains with the people she loves and admiring the beauty and brilliance of God’s design in nature through the means of a small flower or a sunrise. You can always count on Regina to laugh in any situation and almost always choose to catch up with a friend through a walk rather than meeting up for coffee. In her last year of undergrad, Regina hopes to more fully live out her daily vocation to love others and better receive that love in return. You can catch up with her through her Instagram, @reginacothren.