As the season of Advent begins and the Christmas season is in full swing I wanted to recall the long and complicated journey it took for me to go from pagan to Catholic.
My earliest exposure to religion came in the form of an awkward costume party my non-Christian parents sent me and my sisters to. I was in second grade. We were invited to a church Halloween party.
Or, at least we thought it was a Halloween party. Turns out it was one of those anti-pagan substitute “harvest” celebrations some churches put on to distance themselves from the pagan origins of certain aspects of the Halloween festivities. I said it was awkward for a reason.
My friends and I went in our costumes we intended to wear while trick-or-treating. There was a witch, a vampire, a princess and a Jason Vorhees among others in our group. We stood there in the church standing out like a sore thumb surrounded by shepherds, wise men and other “Christian” symbols like angels and others I didn’t recognize at the time.
My actual religious belief at the time was simple. I knew in my mind there was a God out there and there were likely angels, demons and other spirits. I had read plenty of books on various mythologies from Greek and Roman to Celtic and Norse and even some Anglican Arthurian legends through in the mix. My beliefs were not well defined.
I started exploring paganism through dark magic. I wanted to be a warlock. I desired to learn the dark arts. Not in a cartoon or comic book way, no I was a legit pagan seeking to master the spiritual forces as best as I could. I was deeply attracted to the occult and its temptations of power and lust.
Needless to say this led me down a path where I was reading books on Satanism, witch craft, demons, ghosts and magic, all sorts of magic. I never became all to proficient in spell casting during this time but I developed a strong connection to the spiritual world that has been with me every since.
I was in the first grade when I took it upon myself to make my earliest plea to whichever deity would respond.
At an early age I knew internally I desired to be a girl more than anything else in the world. Thus my prayers were intensely focused on begging any God to please let me wake up tomorrow a girl so I can stop being a boy. I hated being a boy more than anything. I didn’t know which god to pray to so I prayed a generic pray to “god” without defining it.
I also dabbled in fairy tales like wishing upon a star and other incantations children learn through various means. I believed in ghosts, UFOs, Big Foot, Dragons, Leprechauns, fairies, monsters, demons, angels and other general supernatural phenomenon including vampires and werewolves.
I took the broad approach of accepting anything until disproved.
When I was around the age of 10 my parents began sending me and my sisters to this church every Sunday. It was a way to get us out of the house apparently.
During my time there I listened intently to the Sunday school teachers. I was supplementing their teachings I learned from Bible stories with other mythologies I read and mixing in stuff from horror movies such as The Omen and A Nightmare on Elm Street, among others. I quickly developed a broad sense of all religions had some nuggets of truth I just didn’t know how to define my own beliefs.
My Conversion experience
I was 11 years old. It was a stormy night. My dad had been listening to the rock station jamming to a popular Led Zeppelin tune. The weather caused the station to go out and Charles Stanley came on in its place. He was in the middle of a sermon preaching how so many people think being a good person will get them to Heaven. He gave the fire and brimstone message many Evangelical preachers are fond of.
During the course of the sermon, my dad being too drunk to change the channel, broke down into tears and prayed the sinners prayer giving his life to the Lord right there. Having been deeply interested in the supernatural his words shook me too.
Seeing that incident, witnessing the instant change in my dad who got cleaned up the next day and took us all to the first church he drove to. I, too, prayed the prayer that night choosing to devote my life to the God that made it through to my dad.
It was a life changing experience for my entire family. I learned, from talking to my mom after dad’s conversion, she had always been faithful and kept praying God would intervene and save my dad. That was enough for me. I was in. God was real and I now had all the proof I needed.
I didn’t make my profession of faith and become baptized until a year later after I turned 12. My devotion to the Lord and the Christian faith was immediate, but my journey to understanding what all that entailed was going to take much longer.
I started cross dressing before puberty kicked in. It was a way for me to promote my own mental health. I knew in my mind I had to present as a girl every chance I could. This put me on a path of resisting social outings in order to seek every chance I could to sit at home, alone in the dark in my bedroom in a dress so I could feel like myself.
I also began dabbling in playing the game Dungeons and Dragons as well as listening to hard core gangsta rap, heavy metal rock music and eventually discovering Marilyn Manson and Garbage both quickly becoming favorites of mine. All this was taking place during my dads deepening quest to find us the right Church to teach us whatever it was he thought would be best for our spiritual well being.
Of course it was a weird time where things that were okay were suddenly a sin then okay again. That constant back and forth began to drive me nuts. I was perfectly fine devoting my life to Jesus. I was baptized by this time so my devotion to Scripture began to shape my views on life.
I was mostly attending Evangelical and protestant churches at this time. I wasn’t long before we began running into anti-catholic preachers warning us of the dangers of Catholicism. Now I was more of the belief that we were all Christians and some had different practices so I never bought into that belief.
As someone who was deeply invested in paganism before my Christian conversion I dismissed any notion that Catholics were just pagans pretending to be Christians, I knew better. But I never did fully explore the Catholic faith.
Suicide strikes my world
I was 16 when I made my first attempt to take my life. It’s kind of a long story how I got there but it happened at a Church camp. I left the Bible Study and walked towards the side of the mountain proclaiming I was going to throw myself off the cliff and die. I was under the belief that I was ensure an eternal resting place in Heaven as the doctrine of Once Saved, Always Saved was being taught at the church I was attending at the time.
Not long after another fried of mine succeeded in ending his life where I had failed. This, of course shook my faith for the first time and I had to begin questioning everything I knew.
I hadn’t learned much in the way of doctrine beyond a few basics. I knew about the Gospel message of repentance and faith. I knew the Be attitudes. I knew about the sinners prayer and the Romans Road to Salvation. I had a basic understanding of the pretribulation rapture. I spent most of my time obsessing on interpreting biblical prophecy and less on Christian living.
I knew about the Armor of God and the Works of the Flesh so I had a rudimentary understanding of the Christian faith. But I never explored any deeper out of frustration with all the different interpretations. I stuck closely to the least controversial topics that the majority of Christians agreed on and shied away from the deeper topics, intentionally.
Catholicism clashes with my beliefs: Round One
I moved into an apartment with a friend of mine that I grew close to who had a spare room at a time I was fighting with my parents. It ended up being one of those situations where I ended up making things worse for everyone involved but I can’t gloss over this part.
I had already gone through my brief foray into producing “Christian Rap” music to the point I put on a concert for my friends that resulted in me preaching damnation to a bunch of Catholics.
They were not impressed. One came up to me and said dude we appreciate your enthusiasm but we’re already saved, we’re Christian. I rebuked him saying no you are Catholic, that’s the same as worshiping the devil. I was wrong to but I didn’t know any better yet.
Needless to say I was working hard on converting my Catholic roommate and any of his friends as I could. What I succeeded in doing was turning one former Catholic into a Mormon and then giving into temptation for a night of drinking the resulted in the death of another good friend.
What really ended up happening was I discovered I was deflecting my repressed transgender bisexual feelings into a scathing condemnation of others in order to bury my own flaws and try to build myself up spiritually speaking by winning over other converts. It was how I stocked up on the Holy Spirit if you will.
2008 changes everything
I was a devout Christian raised in the Midwest with very conservative values. It was no stretch for me to pledge my loyalty to the political ideology that closely aligned with that upbringing. Everything changed in 2008. I was white, sure, but my friends were not. I was the only white kid in a ton full of Hispanics, African Americans and other non whites.
For me, the election of Barack Obama, while certainly a blow to my political leanings at the time, was a major victory culturally speaking for those I cared about. This began the wavering period where I started to question everything I had previously held as firm.
It was one year later, in 2009, that I began applying to colleges. I had dropped out of high school, with no education floated from job to job amassing a pretty lousy credit score and thus it was not an easy road getting into a decent university.
By the middle of 2010 I finally found a university that would accept me and offer me student loans to begin my education.
Catholicism clashes with my beliefs: Round Two
I was in only my first semester of college. I was taking an art appreciation class and an American History course. Both of these began to challenge my long held beliefs on the origins of my then Christian denominational allegiance.
I was challenged with the reality that before the Reformation, for the most part, all Christians were basically Catholic. There were some underlying complications to this but it was an unavoidable fact I had to grapple with.
During this time I began exploring the Catholic faith. I also began learning more about the Eastern Orthodox Church which I had always assumed was just a branch of Roman Catholicism.
By this time my years of video games, specifically role playing games, and Dungeons and Dragons reminded me that there was a very strong interest in my mind to explore the medieval period in Church history.
It was also the time I started to really question everything I thought I knew about the Bible and Christianity. No matter how much I looked for an excuse to label Catholics as a false branch of Christianity I couldn’t escape the calling.
How an Anglican changed my mind
Last year I started a new chapter in my life. Aside from starting the journey to accept my transgender identity I had been struggling with I also began realizing that I had never found a church family or single denomination that worked for me.
I spent all my life moving from town to town, state to state bouncing around from one branch of Christianity to another. I had resisted any that even resembled Catholic at all. I knew I couldn’t find the right church for me just it couldn’t be Catholic.
I started working at a new job where I met an Episcopalian who invited me to his Anglo-Catholic style church. I was instantly scared away by the very mystical liturgy the church practiced. It reinforced my fear these were pagans pretending to be Christian.
I went home and prayed about it. This whole time I had never wavered on one central truth, my belief that Jesus was in fact the Son of God and the Savior of Mankind. Nothing was going to shake that. Even if I struggled with defining sin and living with how to grow spiritually, nothing would ever shake my belief in Jesus as my Lord.
After meeting with the Anglican priest over the course of several months and talking to some Catholic co-workers I did some intense research using Catholic Answers as a starting point. I slowly settled all my fears and doubts. I prayed intensely about it and decided to take the plunge.
I signed up for the Right of Christian Initiation of Adults at my local Catholic Parish and by the time the Easter Vigil was nearing I went to the priest and request an exception to the year long wait. I was anxious to join the Church and complete my conversion to a devoted follower of Christ that I started all those years ago.
In my mind I struggled to settle issues I didn’t quite fully understand. But that wasn’t what mattered. The first time I participated in the Holy Sacrament of Reconciliation I felt an instant healing of my broken soul. The Lord assured me, through his Holy Spirit, I found my way back into the comfort of his flock and the safety of his Church.
The first moment I received the Holy Host in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist I felt the real presence of Jesus’s Body in my soul. I have never felt the power of the Holy Spirit, the blessings of God nearly as much as I have since coming home to the Holy Roman Catholic Church that Jesus founded over 2,019 years ago.
What does the future hold?
I didn’t think I would get here where I am today. Finally, at peace with my Faith and a growing desire to get closer to God renewed my spirit.
It took me watching a Netflix series that focused on actual devil worshipers to really wake me up to the reality that despite my early affirmation of Faith int he Lord , I needed to get my life right so I could begin to not only get closer to God through prayer and Bible Study but also to better serve him.
Today I proudly introduce myself as Catholic after spending over three decades wandering this earth trying to define my religious beliefs. I have recently signed up for a number of opportunities within my Parish family and I look forward to growing in Christ daily. Stay Cool.