I am not the world’s most likely Catholic. My already-skeptical family left the Church in successive waves that began in the 1990s and ended with the sex abuse revelations in 2002. I don’t mean that my parents left during this time, although they did – everyone in my family left, perhaps with the exception of my very lapsed maternal grandmother. By my mid-teens, I had lost my faith, too – or at least banished it. I sensed that I was letting go of something precious, but I’m more naturally lazy than the average person, so I didn’t investigate my qualms. I remained away from the Church for several years.
The Examples of Other Catholic Women
No one thing drew me back. I attended a Catholic college mostly because my father, a lifelong agnostic atheist, told me that he approved of Catholic education. I was confirmed in the Church during college. I started going to Mass once in a while, but nothing more.
I do remember a moment when my perspective shifted. I was exiting a red line metro station in Washington, D.C., during my first year of law school, scrolling through Instagram. I’d followed a Catholic woman’s account because Instagram suggested it, and she was sharing something about The Catholic Feminist podcast. I decided to listen.
Until then, I’d given little thought to what being a practicing Catholic woman in my twenties would look like. I deeply opposed most of the Church’s teachings – on abortion and contraception, yes, but also on the necessity of confession and the continuing relevance of Catholic teachings in general. I believed (as I suspect many Catholics do) that Evangelicals were the ones “on fire” for their faith, and that Catholics more or less shuffled into Church every Sunday and politely demurred when a priest started talking about “the right to life” or worse – giving up possessions!
But I was wrong.
While listening to The Catholic Feminist, I learned that there were many Catholic, American women who followed the Church’s teachings. I was astonished not only by the observance of these women, but also by their deep, intellectual understanding of Catholicism. I didn’t even know what “magisterium” meant, let alone “theology of the body,” “double effect,” or “ex cathedra” (I probably would have if I’d done all the readings for my RCIA class, but again – lazy). I had been ignorant about Catholicism all along.
I was disturbed. I was 23 and newly engaged. If the Catholic Church was right about things (and it seemed that way to me), I couldn’t just ignore it. But I also knew few people in my life would understand if I changed my opinion on so many matters. I didn’t want to change! Apathy was much easier, and I wanted to choose that, especially since it meant I could sleep in on Sundays.
I couldn’t, though. Not when I knew there was a universe of Catholic teaching to discover. Whatever my faults, I’ve always at least wanted to do what was right. Now I had a chance.
So, I came back to the Church.
Reactions When I Went Back to the Church
As it happened, my husband-to-be was extremely supportive, more so than I could have imagined. Most other people in my life took longer to warm up to my change of heart. I think most people found the idea of being Catholic – especially a Catholic woman – to be embarrassing and regressive.
I’m sure my reversion made little sense on the surface. I was always stubborn, pugnacious, and a bit too assured of my own intelligence. Most of all, I hated being told what to do. (Maybe this tendency explains my interest in Joan of Arc, who has taught me that obedience can be a good thing.) The coexistence of such a personality with such a religion was puzzling. Yet I’ve always been headstrong, maybe even arrogant, and I’d always loved being Catholic, somewhere in the depths of my heart.
I’m not sure why I’ve been drawn back to my faith so many times despite spirited resistance. I only know that it’s always been this way – me being drawn to God, me pulling away, me being pulled back again, irritated and overjoyed.