When I look back at the unexpected turns my life has taken, two things -- very much related -- stand out. The first is becoming Catholic. The second is having eight children. I suppose when I say "related," I really mean "dependent." The truth is that I never would have gone beyond the first two children if I had remained an Evangelical Protestant. Actually, I've told our kids more than once that most of them owe their existence to RCIA.
But, if I look just one step further, it is clear to me that I never would have come into full communion with the Catholic Church if it wasn't for Vatican II. It isn't because Latin, or chapel veils, or the priest facing away from me would have been deal-breakers. They wouldn't have been. Actually, most of the visible changes didn't make that much of a difference to me. And some of how the Council was implemented was awkward, unwieldy, even unwise. But what was less openly visible -- the Church's confident new openness to the world -- changed my life.
I could be wrong, but I think that the pre-Vatican II Church would not have been particularly enthused by the kinds of questions I needed to ask her. From the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary to what seemed to me a rather odd insistence on Christ's actual presence in Holy Eucharist, the whole Catholic way of thinking and believing was a real stretch. There was so much for me to work through, and I mean work. I could never had come out the other end of my inquiry if the Church had done anything less than mother me as a foster child who had nowhere else to turn.
Faith crises are very real. You can trust me on that. I know what it feels like to stand at the edge of what looks like a bottomless abyss, but not be able to go back the way that led you there. There are things you leave behind forever, things you simply cannot pick up again once you have put them down. And when you arrive at the cliff, you finally realize that only grace can carry you across the canyon. The best thing you can do is take a deep breath, and avoid looking down.