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.
For me, the Year of Faith in observance of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II feels like a victory lap. It isn't a victory I earned or deserved or even worked for, but one that God gave me anyway. Suffice it to say that it's a personal confirmation of the idea that when you're wrestling with God, you're far better off losing than winning.
The Church wins when we are open to the world without emulating or imitating it. In other words, we are at our very best when we are so in love with Jesus Christ that we welcome pharisees and sinners alike as he did -- and still does. With examples like St. Paul and St. Augustine, we can be certain that we will never be able to tell the wheat from the weeds when it comes to the people who show up at our doorstep.
Look out on the fields and see that the time of harvest is approaching. This Year of Faith is a call to go out into those fields. I say that knowing that many of them may well be within the walls of our own homes, even our own hearts. Jesus is calling. In the coming days many will hear his call for the first time, or answer it for the first time in a long time. We need to be ready to welcome every soul with openness, with the unprecedented hospitality of spirit modeled for us by the Second Vatican Council.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.