It comes as no surprise to anyone who has met me that I was born on April Fool’s Day. My parents prayed desperately that God would allow me to be born on literally any other day, but God has a sense of humor. His humor – namely His reversal of my plans – would become a recurring theme in my life.
For example: I grew up playing rhythm guitar in worship and rock bands; now I study classical music performance in college. I also wanted to be an athlete, but these days I spend most of my time indoors, practicing my instrument. I was raised as a devout Protestant, but I have now joined the Catholic Church. This is my story.
From a young age, my parents taught me that God is real, that He loves us, and that His word is unfailing. They showed me through their actions that following God is the first priority in all things, no matter how absurd it may seem.
My dad led a small, evangelical, non-denominational church called Calvary Chapel in Lodi, CA. A few years later, he felt called to move to Tulsa, where he became the pastor of another church from the same organization, Calvary Chapel Tulsa.
Living for Christ was not something I did because my parents wanted me to; I did it because the Holy Spirit had drawn me to Himself. My faith was real, and it showed through my active involvement in the praise and worship ministry since I was a teenager.
My time as a worship leader was an experience of being both a shepherd and a sheep in Christ’s flock. Second only to my love of Christ was my love of music. The ability to express my love of Christ through music, and to lead others into doing the same, was beautiful. When I went off to study music in college, God placed me at the University of Tulsa. There I met the people who would eventually lead me to a full union with Christ.
At school, my string quartet occupied most of my time. I rehearsed for countless hours every week with two violinists and a violist as we sought to perfect our craft. When you spend that much time with other people, you get to know them quite well. As providence would have it, both of the violinists in my quartet were devout Catholic women.
These women, Ellen and Sarah, would soon become two of my closest friends. The more we grew in friendship, the more they confused me. According to my upbringing, Catholics weren’t real Christians – they were saint-worshipping slaves to law and tradition who tried to earn their way to Heaven.
These Catholics, however, were far holier than I was. They had genuine relationships with Christ, and He was the motivation for every action in their lives. They prayed with a consistency and fervor that I wanted desperately to have. Interacting with passionate Catholics for the first time in my previously sheltered life was the first step towards my conversion.
Sarah and I had many late-night conversations about God. Over and over, I would think to myself, “That conversation seemed to go well! I think that she might be close to understanding!” She would see the truth any day now. She would see the error of her Catholic heresies and come home to the true church of Christ. Little did I know that I was the one who would see the error of my ways; I was the one who would come home to the Catholic Church.
The Eucharist: Jesus’ Actual Body
One night in January, Sarah and I were discussing theology when the Eucharist came up. She told me that Catholics believe that every Mass, the bread and wine used for communion (The Eucharist) ceases to be bread and wine and becomes Jesus Christ’s literal flesh and blood. To those who are unfamiliar, it sounds like a crazy concept. As I would soon see, however, God is a crazy God.
I told her that it was unreasonable to believe that Jesus was actually present in the Eucharist. What she did next left an impression on me that I will never forget. She told me to pull out my Bible, which, like any good Evangelical Christian, I had conveniently tucked away in my backpack. She then led me to John chapter 6, where Jesus has some intense words for His followers.
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
(John 6:52-56 ESV)
As I read out loud, I tried to hold back tears. I felt God blowing holes in my previously watertight theology. If the words of the Gospel were literally true, Jesus calls us to feast on His actual flesh and blood. Communion was not just a symbol that I was to partake in once every month or so; it was God offering Himself fully to humanity.
I went back home to my parents later that night and asked my dad why we believed what we did. I can still hear my trembling voice today:
“Dad, I need a good reason not to believe this.”
I desperately tried to convince myself that I was right. To my frustration, he was unable to explain what he believed in a way that satisfied my questions.
I came back to Sarah the next day with some half-baked counter-arguments that were plainly unconvincing. I said that Jesus was just speaking in parables, but that didn’t explain why Jesus’ followers left Him after hearing those words. I said that those who left simply didn’t understand, but that didn’t explain why His disciples took His words at face value when confronted. As I would soon find, it’s hard to argue with the truth.
In hindsight, it’s funny to see how badly I wanted to be Catholic, even before I knew that I wanted to be Catholic. I did my best to avoid the issue, but the Holy Spirit continued His work. He has a way of making things abundantly clear. Each time we would have communion services at my church, God reminded me every time of what I had read in His word. I tried to imagine that I was actually partaking of His flesh, but I was still unsatisfied with our communion services.
As God tends to do, He let that issue sit for a while. I didn’t realize what was happening at the time, but the seeds that had been planted were slowly taking their root.
After a quiet summer, something snapped about a month before school started again. My only explanation for what happened is that Holy Spirit moved in me. I was on vacation with my family, just relaxing at the lake, when I had this crazy thought that I couldn’t shake:
What if Sarah was right? What if the Catholics were right? What if the Eucharist was actually Jesus?
The implications would be huge. I had to investigate the claim, regardless of the outcome. If it was true, it was the most beautiful thing that I had ever heard. If Jesus allowed me to eat His physical body, the cross became even more meaningful. If it was false, however, then the entire Catholic church was steeped in complete idolatry.
The more I thought about it, the more intense it became: Catholics literally worship this thing that appears to be a piece of bread. I didn’t want any part in it if that piece of bread was not actually Jesus Christ, but I knew that I would want Him desperately if it were.
The Church Fathers
For the next week, I did some intense research. Starting with John chapter 6, I looked at the scriptures again for myself. I struggled to see any way that Jesus could have meant anything other than us literally eating His flesh and drinking His blood.
I wasn’t convinced that Catholicism was completely true yet, but I knew enough to know that it wasn’t crazy. Sarah once told me that if I believed Catholic teaching regarding the Eucharist, everything else would fall into place. Sarah’s words didn’t make sense to me at the time. As God worked in my heart, however, I began to see what she meant.
If the gospels made me realize that I could have possibly been wrong, the writings of the earliest Christians convinced me. I found that until the 1500’s, Christians unanimously believed that the Eucharist was literally Jesus. Just take a look at some of these quotes from the church fathers:
“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).
“For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist…is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (Justin Martyr, First Apology 66 [A.D. 151])
“’Eat my flesh,’ He says, ‘and drink my blood.’ The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients, he delivers over his flesh and pours out his blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children” (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children 1:6:43:3 [A.D. 191]).
“The bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 19:7 [A.D. 350]).
“Christ was carried in his own hands when, referring to his own body, he said, ‘This is my body’. For he carried that body in his hands” (Augustine, Explanations of the Psalms 33:1:10 [A.D. 405]).
“What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ” (Augustine, Sermons 272 [A.D. 411]).
Seeing what the earliest Christians believed was powerful. These quotes are only a small sample of my research, but every single early Christian that I found wrote of the Eucharist as the Body, Blood, Soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. I had no way to fight it; I was convinced. I remembered St. John’s gospel, especially how those who heard Jesus’ words were disgusted and left Him in droves. I also remembered St. Peter’s classic response.
“Lord, where else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
(John 6:68 ESV)
I clearly remember the moment when I quit fighting against God. It was still summer, so the music building was deserted. I sat in a practice room at my school, completely alone. I stopped playing my cello for a moment and God finally got through to me.
I felt Jesus issuing me an ultimatum: I should either believe His word, or I should leave Him entirely. I knew that it would be difficult to do something so contrary to how I had been raised, but I also knew that I could never leave Christ entirely. St. Peter’s response became my prayer. I told Jesus that I truly had nowhere else to go.
I told everyone that I knew about my conversion of heart, and was met with mostly positive reactions. Almost none of my Catholic friends saw it coming; they were shocked and overjoyed.
Since my initial conversion, the Church has helped me to grow more than I could have imagined. I began to actually pray for the first time in my life. Growing up, I would attempt to pray but would never get very far. I would attend prayer meetings and say words with the brothers and sisters gathered. I would talk at God and halfheartedly attempt to listen. I was never intentional about it, however, and my prayer was sporadic at best.
This changed when I realized that I could spend time with Jesus in person.
Like the difference between spending time in person with a friend as opposed to texting him or her, physical presence is incredibly significant with God. It is good and necessary to pray to God wherever we are, but it is even richer to spend time with Him in person
Christ’s physical presence in the Eucharist is overwhelming. I can sit in front of the God who created the universe, who came to this world in the person of Jesus Christ. The same body that suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, rose from the grave, and ascended into Heaven abides in the same room with me when I enter a chapel.
Like the difference between spending time in person with a friend as opposed to texting him or her, physical presence is incredibly significant with God. It is good and necessary to pray to God wherever we are, but it is even richer to spend time with Him in person. I began to fall in love with prayer. As a result, I fell more deeply in love with God.
The time between my initial change of heart and when I officially joined the Church on Easter were some of the most painful months of my life. My parents felt like I had betrayed them, and our relationship became strained. God used my shortcomings in that relationship to teach me humility and how to take responsibility for failure. More than that, he used my sufferings to teach me that suffering could actually be desirable. For the first time in my life, I truly knew what it meant to have nowhere to turn besides Jesus.
To make things even more difficult, I found that I would not be allowed to receive Christ in the Eucharist until Easter. My initial conversion happened around August. The time between August and April felt as if it were 8 years rather than 8 months. Despite my impatience, God used this time of waiting to strengthen me. As Easter approached, God began to replace my suffering with joy.
Through this time, I learned that it is when I suffer that I am most like our Lord. His ultimate display of love was to suffer and die for our sakes. Therefore, when I experience hardship of any kind, I have the opportunity to imitate Christ’s love shown on the cross.
Whereas previously I complained about pain, I now can unite my pain to Christ’s pain. My suffering then takes on the same redemptive nature of Christ’s passion. I now see that suffering is not something to be feared; it is something to be welcomed. If I want to unite myself to Christ, the quickest way to do that is through His sufferings.
As I focused more completely on Christ, He ordered everything else in my life. I wanted nothing more than to be united with Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion, and God used that desire to draw me to Himself.
As I focused more completely on Christ, He ordered everything else in my life. I wanted nothing more than to be united with Christ
During the weeks leading up to Easter, days felt like months. When Holy Week (the final week before Easter) finally arrived, I felt completely ready to receive Christ. The night of the Easter vigil, I was finally welcomed into the Catholic Church, and I received the body of Christ in my first Holy Communion.
This was by far the most joyous moment of my entire life, but to attempt to put my experience in words would be unfair. All that I can say is that I finally felt complete. I had been searching for my whole life for something to fulfill me, but I had never quite found it. I knew that the answer was Jesus, but no matter what I tried, I still felt that something was lacking.
Receiving Jesus Christ’s body into mine filled that hole inside of me. In the sacrament of the Eucharist, I eat Christ’s literal body, blood, soul, and divinity. This is not any ordinary meal. The God who created everything that exists sees fit to physically come into my body. Just thinking about it gives me shivers to this day.
At the heart of the Sacraments, nothing can be found other than Jesus. The Church’s job is to bring people to Jesus. The Catholic Church has brought my soul to Christ, and I am grateful beyond words.