By: Maggie Rudman, The Catholic University of America
I was known in my family as the most Catholic Atheist, and I loved it. Growing up, I would tell people that I was Christian and Jewish, and I didn’t see how the two could clash. My dad is culturally Jewish and my mother’s side is Catholic. We went to Church twice a year and sometimes celebrated Shabbat if we felt like it on Friday nights. But, religion was never a part of my upbringing.
I was truly exposed to Catholicism when I transferred in seventh-grade to an all-girls Catholic school, the Connelly School of the Holy Child. I had to take Religion class, attend Mass, and really be around those who lived their lives as a Catholic. I was very much out of my element, and Religion soon became my least favorite subject. Everyone recited the Our Father in the morning, knew a few books of the Bible, and were familiar with stories of Creation and Christ. I had never really been exposed to any of these things and, on my first day, learned that the Old Testament and the New Testament were both the Bible! That was where I started.
In 9th grade, I decided to entertain the idea that God existed. I shoved my doubts aside when they arose in class, which I would now say is a horrible thing to do. It increasingly became more and more difficult to believe in God, as I had all these questions and did not understand the few answers I was given. I did not like the concept of Faith and saw it as an enemy of true reason. One class, my teacher brought up the term “Atheist,” and I connected and sympathized with the description. And that began my years as an atheist. I immersed myself in the Atheist and Agnostic community: attending events, following the latest Richard Dawkins news, laughing at religion when watching debates online, and putting a large red “A” on many belongings. I believed that we stood for Truth, and religion stood for fairy tales. I came up with questions that I thought would stump the Catholic Church, and I was so impressed with the questions and ideas I had, that I did not care for any answers.
Atheism seeks out a simple answer, one which I wanted. I desired a short, simple, and easy explanation for how the universe was created. Intellectually, I could not accept religion. But, there was something that kept tugging me towards Catholicism. The answers I thought made sense did not feel right. A voice in the back of my mind grew stronger and louder, telling me that God could exist, and I had to give Him an honest chance. I think I knew deep down that once I did not, I would not be able to go back to Atheism. I ignored my doubts, until I was faced with a key moment in my conversion, Kairos. Kairos is an intensive religious retreat that many Catholic schools have, and my eleventh-grade class went on one. I looked forward to this highly secretive retreat throughout high school and also feared it. I felt that I would be entrapped by Catholicism and would not be strong enough to resist my desire for a relationship with God. God was a nice thought, one that I wanted to believe in, but I did not see how God could be possible because I had no Faith. On the retreat, I had the chance to talk with Fr. Chris Seith, who celebrated Mass at my school. His compassion, intellect, and love of God really drew me towards Catholicism. He had something that I did not have, some kind of happiness and knowledge that I wanted, desired, and had been seeking out. So, I attended a Sunday Mass when I returned from the retreat. I did not believe in God and had more doubts than I could count, but I decided there was no harm in attending Mass. It’s quite funny how obviously God was working in my life, when now looking back and reflecting on my conversion. That first Mass at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church was very confusing and filled with elderly people. In fact, I had a moment where I believed that the Catholic Church was only for those with grey hair. But, I left that Mass with a very strong desire to understand what I had heard, felt, and witnessed.
If you are going to say that something does not exist, you need to understand what you are rejecting. After watching The Case for Christ, I decided to embark on my own journey for Truth. If I was going to remain an Atheist, I needed to find answers to my questions. To do that, I had to go behind “enemy” lines and attend Church. I honestly did feel a bit like a detective or an Indiana Jones. I thought that whatever the Truth was, I would be able to identify it. If God did not exist, those reasons would surely make more sense. I could not bear to live a life for a lie. Whatever I believed, I wanted it to be true and real. I was not betting on becoming a Catholic; in fact, I purposefully sought out reasons and what I deemed as “weak-points” in Catholicism. But, here I am.
God really worked through the Catholic community. I loved being a member of the Our Lady of Mercy Parish. I began attending their youth group a program for returning Catholics, and another summer group. I really began to see how loving and wonderful a community the Church was. Some of the people that I really look up to, I met during this time. One person who nudged me in the right direction was once again Fr. Chris Seith, whom I discovered was the Parochial Vicar at Mercy. He pointed me towards Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and for the first time in my life, the answers he gave me made sense. The questions that I thought would surely ‘stump’ the Church, all had perfectly well-reasoned answers. My disbelief of God was really fueled by a misunderstanding of the teachings of the Catholic Church. In 2017, I began RCIA. I had no intention on being baptized because I felt it would be unfair to God to enter the Catholic Church with so many doubts. But, my heart physically hurt when I did not participate in the rites for Catechumens. My mind was changed by some good advice from Fr. Stephen Wyble, a great priest whom I’m blessed to have as my godfather. He told me that maybe by becoming Catholic, I would be able to understand and receive answers to all the questions I had. He asked me if I was willing to trust God, and I knew that I had to. It felt wrong to not be a Catholic. I wanted to have a relationship with the Lord, and this was the only way to truly do that. I was baptized, confirmed, and received my first Holy Communion on March 31, 2018 at the Easter Vigil. I felt God’s love so profoundly and clearly on that night. God eased my doubts and fears, and He answered my questions. I could truly say, “Honey I’m home!”
From my experience, I give two pieces of advice. Number one, seek out answers to your questions. Do not shy away from any doubts or confusion you may have. Once you really understand why the Catholic Church believes what it believes, your relationship with the Lord can only deepen.
Number two, don’t be afraid to trust God. He has only good things in store for you. My entire life transformed when I allowed myself to trust in God. My major (Theology and Philosophy), interests, lifestyle, life goals, and so much more has changed. God’s grace perfects our nature. Trust God because He is God, and only joy can come from living the life that He wants you to live. A little trust goes a very long way. Let Him surprise you.
Edited By: Leo Pio