I've been Catholic all of my life, praise be to God. My brothers and I went to Catholic elementary, middle, and high school. We had a good Catholic upbringing. We went to Mass every Sunday and Vacation Bible School during the summer, we always gave up something for Lent, and my dad prayed the usual Catholic prayers with us every night (Our Father, Hail Mary, Angel of God, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, etc.). We received the sacraments when we were supposed to. These should be very basic things, but as I've come to know families who don't even bother with this much, my appreciation for my Catholic upbringing has increased significantly. It is in fact quite extraordinary to receive what I have been given.
I never really had to answer for my faith growing up. After all, everyone around me was Catholic. We knew what we believed. It didn't really matter why, at least to me. In fact, I never even thought to look into why. It just never crossed my mind. Of course, that all changed when I went to college.
In '98, I started at Lindsey Wilson College, in Columbia, KY. It's a small Methodist college in the bible-belt of KY. I went there because they were willing to give me a good amount of scholarship money, and because the campus was nice. It was only once I changed my major from journalism to counseling that I realized that I just happened to be attending the college with one of the strongest Counseling programs in the nation. But, that was not the only way in which my time in college proved to be a very providential experience. My six years at Lindsey Wilson (four for my BA, two for my M.Ed.) was an amazing time of growth for me. It made me confront both my moral standard and the doctrines that I held.
As for morality, at first I more or less felt that as long as I was nice to people, and helped them as much as I could, and went to Mass every Sunday, and never had sex before marriage, then I was a good guy. I wasn't lying to myself either, that's truly what I thought. Note that at that point I still didn't know what it meant to live a fully Catholic life. So, if I was ever in a relationship with a girl, I would always try to see how far I could go without having sex, and whenever that relationship would end, I would be anxious to move on to the next one simply for the gratification that it provided. I see now that God protected me from crossing that final line, and I am very grateful for that. I was always caring and respectful to the girl I was with (at least, as much as I knew how), I just did not yet have a very developed sexual morality.
Around 2001, my twin, who was going to school with me, started researching Catholicism because his girlfriend was a non-denominational Christian and she was asking him questions about his faith. He would always get excited and tell me what he learned. I thought it was interesting, but I also knew that if I started learning about Catholic doctrine and morality, then I would have to confront how I was living. Honestly, I just wasn't ready for that, so I pushed it aside and kept on toeing that sexual boundary.
Then, I started going out with my own Protestant girl! She was Pentecostal, to be exact. Talk about two different worlds! Speaking in tongues and other forms of charismatic worship were very foreign to me, but I loved who she was as a person. She was smart and funny and easy to talk to.
While we were "talking" and then once we started an actual relationship, she began to drift away from her faith. Her church was very legalistic and spiritually abusive to her. She was blind in one eye, so she was always the guinea pig whenever the new preacher in town thought he'd get up and heal a few people. It never worked, and of course, they always said it was because of her lack of faith. If that weren't enough, the members of her church were not allowed to listen to the radio or watch TV. Women couldn't play sports or participate in any gym activities, nor could they cut their hair or wear pants, shorts, or jewelry. The long hair and the long skirt was amazing though. I thought she looked like an angel.
Eventually, her experience of questioning her denomination and slowly stepping out of it made me wonder if I was in the right place. So, that's when I started researching my faith for the first time. Out of nowhere it seemed, I developed an insatiable appetite for knowledge of Catholicism. I read everything I could get my hands on, both for AND against the Church. I would go to Pentecostal and Seventh-Day Adventist message boards and just get my rear-end handed to me. I wanted to know their arguments against Catholicism. I read articles by James White, Eric Svendsen, James McCarthy, William Webster, Loraine Boettner, David Hunt, and other staunch critics of the Catholic faith. But, I also read a lot of Catholic arguments telling the other side of the story.
It was at this time that I finally took a hard look at Catholic morality as it pertained to an unmarried couple. Why is contraception wrong? Why is pre-marital sex wrong? Why is masturbation wrong? What is chastity? What is the purpose of sex? What is the role of the male and the female in a relationship? What is love? After about two years of study I came to two conclusions: the Catholic Church is right and true in all that She teaches, and I need to live my life according to that teaching.
This was so exciting! I felt so alive in the Holy Spirit, and I wanted to share my faith with as many people as I possibly could. But, that didn't work so well in the relationship I was in. Just as I was growing closer to Christ, my girlfriend was drifting away from Him. She began to resent my passion for my faith, and my new moral conviction. She was finally free from her legalistic religion! She wanted to let loose! Be a free spirit! Somebody like me was just holding her back. Eventually, it simply became too much of a strain on our relationship.
When we broke up, it was one of the hardest things I had ever gone through. I thought I was going to marry her. My perfectionism would get the best of me and I would lament over how almost perfect she was. I would think to myself, "If only she was Catholic!" However, looking back on it now, I realize that the break up was for the best, and I see that, were it not for my relationship with her, I might not have ever became more convicted in my faith.
I met other people along the way, people who taught me that I could have fun and still be a faithful Catholic, that I didn't have to be perfect in order to be loved by others and by God, that it was actually possible for me to grow in my prayer life and to gain victory over some of the habitual sins of my life. I can certainly say that I've come a long way since my college days. I am now married to the love of my life, I have three beautiful children, I have a wonderful job, I am certainly the happiest I've ever been, and I see God continually blessing me even though I don't deserve it.
God is good.