By CJ Kallevig
I didn’t grow up in the Catholic Church. Here’s my story about how I got here. Just FYI, this is the first time I’m telling the entire story. It’s not pretty, but it’s me.
I grew up in a Christian home. I went to church every Sunday and youth group every Wednesday. My family church-hopped a lot, though. We spent time in a Baptist church, a Lutheran church, and an Evangelical Free church. The Evangelical Free church is the one that I spent the most time in; I spent 12 years in that church. Also, the E-Free church is very different from the Catholic Church, but more on that later.
Growing up, I had a decent relationship with God. It definitely wasn’t the closest, but I believed and prayed somewhat regularly. I spent a year overseas where I was able to experience God in a very real and profound way. He became much more important to me because He was the one that I could always turn to, no matter what. But then my family and I had to return to the States.
I did not deal with that well. I started acting out, didn’t listen, and was a general screw-up. I struggled a lot with depression, anxiety, and other issues during my high school years.
My relationship with God during this time was very rocky. There were times when I was all in with Jesus and was really focused on my faith. Then there were times where I just did not care about God; I was just going through the motions. I still went to church and youth group, though. After all, I couldn’t let anyone know that I was faking my faith.
Then I got to college. It was my first time living away from home. So I went wild, right?
Wrong. I went to class, made friends, hung out with those friends. I basically did my best to carve out a little spot for myself and stayed in that spot. God was not very present in my life. I tried going to church, but when you don’t have your own car, it’s hard. One church that I attended hardly ever had rides available and the other was way too big for me to feel like I could belong. At that church, I felt like I disappeared into the background. However, there was a group on campus that I felt I could belong to. There was a Wednesday night group and a Bible study that I joined. It was great, and the people were awesome, but my heart wasn’t really into it. I was going because I felt like I had to. I still needed to have that “good Christian girl” mask on.
My second semester at college, I was struggling. I had failed a class the previous semester, and I had never failed a class before. It was around this time that I discovered I deal with depression, anxiety, and sensory issues. All of this combined into a very dark, downward spiral that did not end well. Now you may be wondering: “Well, what happened? You obviously must have made it through.” I did, but it took time.
Near the end of second semester, a friend invited me to Mass. This was someone that I had talked to occasionally, but we were definitely not at that level of friendship where we talked about faith. But she asked me to come to Mass with her, and for some unknown reason, I said yes. Looking back, I know it was the Holy Spirit taking charge. But at the time, I didn’t understand the words that had just come out of my mouth.
But I went! And the minute I walked into that tiny chapel at the Newman Center, there was something… There was a presence in there that I had never felt before. It was like I woke up, like I had been in a daze for so long and like I finally could see the world around me. I wanted to know more. What was this place, and what did they have that I didn’t?
So, I went back. I started to make friends at the Newman Center. I learned more about the Catholic faith, mainly by reading and asking questions. Then after the school year ended, I went home. I studied, researched, and discussed the truths of the faith. I talked to priests, pastors, and my Catholic friends, trying to find the truth.
But it wasn’t until I read John 6:22-59, the Bread of Life Discourse, that I truly began to believe. The verse that finally showed me the truth was John 6:51. It reads, “I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world,” (ASV).
Once I believed this, everything started to fall into place. But once school started up again, I didn’t know what to do. I believed, but what was the next step?
I was at Mass one day, and I flat-out told God, “You have to show me what’s next because I have no clue what to do.” I finished that prayer, sat back in the pew, and there in the pew was a brochure for Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). Basically Conversion 101. To which my response was, “Ok, God, I get the point.”
So, I signed up for RCIA. I asked my friend who, by inviting me to Mass, introduced me to the faith to be my sponsor. As I went through the RCIA process, I fell more and more in love with Jesus in the Eucharist. And as the Easter Vigil approached, my excitement grew. I was longing for the day to arrive when I could physically receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
Then, finally, Easter arrived. The first day of the rest of my life was here. I was so blessed to have friends of mine stay in town just to see me get confirmed.
Easter Vigil Mass is one of the most beautiful services you will ever go to. But one of the things that I remember the most is looking out into the crowd and seeing people that I knew. The looks of joy and happiness were so amazing to see but also emotional. I could see some of my friends crying, and I just about started crying as well.
Then the moment I had been longing for: I was able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time. It was like there was a hole in my heart that I didn’t even know existed. And when I received Him, that empty space was filled. When I got back to the pew, I started crying. I was finally whole.
So that’s how I got into the Church, but the story doesn’t end there. Conversion is not just “one and done.” It is an ongoing process.
I got involved with FOCUS. I was in a Bible study, and I began to lead a Bible study. I also became a lector and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at the Newman Center. So basically, I dove head-first into my faith. And in everything I did, conversion happened: conversion to do what God was calling me to, conversion to believe that I have a purpose.
I also was a Totus Tuus missionary, but that story has already been told on Superior Disciple.
Now I get to use my gifts to serve God in my professional life. I work for a diocese, which has been a dream of mine ever since I joined the Church.
This is my story. If you can take anything away from what I have shared, please take the knowledge of God’s love and mercy. How great and beautiful it is! That same love and mercy which He has shown to me is what He has waiting for you.
You will mostly likely be reading this article after Easter (my 2-year anniversary, btw). So a challenge for you as we go forth to proclaim Christ’s resurrection: tell your story. Tell others about how God has worked in your life, and listen to other people’s stories. God works in wonderful ways if you are open to them.
God bless you all, and I will see you in the Eucharist.