“Why Did You Become a Catholic?”

“Why did you become a Catholic?”

That’s a question every convert hears and it gets harder to answer year by year. The many reasons anyone has for converting are numerous and can be as innocuous as being married into it to a radical change in heart after one event. Indeed, I’d almost like to respond, “Well, why wouldn’t I be one?”

I, like most, could fill an entire book with why I became a Roman Catholic and remain in the embrace of the Church. Such a book, I think, would still be a poor defence of the faith and was probably better said by Bl John Henry Newman or G.K. Chesterton. So, I will give two reasons for my own conversion, the first being summed up by Chesterton, “To get rid of my sins.” The second reason is the much-more complicated truth about the Incarnation, a fact that I’m reminded of as we approach Christmas.

First Confession

I can still remember my first confession with the esteemable Fr. Reginald Martin. He was a stout Dominican priest with a commanding presence and a jovial laugh, when you could tell just the right joke. I felt all kinds of anxiety going to find him to hear my confession. I even wrote notes of what I had done. The journey to this moment was a long one, but a joyful one when I look back.

I was raised an Evangelical and my family was highly involved in a megachurch. The preaching was good, filled with the Biblical literacy that is often missing in today’s preaching. I would say it was mostly a positive experience, but with one small mark. You see, my reader, I had and still have what is now known as Major Depression Disorder, commonly called clinical depression. This caused me to have some rather frightening moods and I have been on medication for it here and there. To put it bluntly, most American faiths do not know how to cope with it. Through no fault of their own, and with the best of intentions, most pastors and spiritual leaders would tell me to “pray against it” or to just resolve to be happy. For most of my life, I considered it a personal failure that I couldn’t just be joyful or cure myself and that feeling eventually turned to resentment and an eventual turning away from the faith.

I mostly considered myself an agnostic, but I still had the seed of faith. After extensive reading, especially of GK Chesterton and Thomas Aquinas, I resolved to try again. So it was that I attended my first Mass since my grandmother’s funeral. At Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder, CO I experienced a Good Friday liturgy. I was so unfamiliar with the practices, and I was unsure how everyone but me knew when to sit, stand or kneel. Everything about the service was alien, but it was also familiar as if I had gone back to a house from my childhood. It was also the first time that I knew the feelings of guilt and shame, but not in the oppressive caricature that society makes it out to be.

It was in that moment, as the Cross was being venerated that I knew what I had been, that God knew what I had been, and that I knew He knew. Yet I was not feeling beaten down as much as I felt as if I had injured a good friend and all I desired was to make it right.

After RCIA and struggling with some theological issues, I was told when I would be confirmed and a made a member of the Church. I was also informed that I needed to first receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation by having my confession heard. There were a lot of pitfalls I had to overcome in this process, too many to get into. I struggled with the idea of the Eucharist, I was in a committed relationship with an atheist, and I was just too prideful about my own supposed brilliance.

My first task was to go to the parish garden and find Fr. Reginald, which struck me as a burdensome task. It reminded me far too much of when my parents made me go to the convenience store to apologize for being rude in their establishment. However, the good priest took me to his office and we began the process of remembering. As I said, I had a small notebook of each sin I had committed from my baptism at age 11 to that very moment. It seemed daunting and yet we made it through each item.

Finally, Father prayed the words and we made the sign of the cross. I shook his hand, thanked him for taking the time to hear me and walked back to my car. The feeling of relief was overwhelming, it was almost euphoric. Even if you are not a Catholic, if you have ever wronged someone then you know how much it can eat at you. If you have also then apologized to that person and they have not only forgiven, but have given you assurance that all is right then you can begin to understand that feeling of relief.

The Incarnation

As we continue the season of Advent and look forward to Christmas, trying to dodge all the different commercial trappings of our culture, I think back to how many times the idea of the Incarnation has brought me from my own dark night.

The word incarnation is from the Latin incarno, to be made into flesh. So, in as simple terms as I can put it, the event of the Incarnation is the taking on of flesh by our Lord. This idea was new to me, even if I had heard it before. The idea that God was born of a virgin, taking on flesh, and being fully God while yet fully human was not just exciting, it was also scandalous to me when I stopped to think about it.

We sing every Christmas, “remember Christ our saviour was born on Christmas day,” but how is it that those words are a comfort? How does anyone wrap their mind around such a strange notion of Christ, our Lord, being in flesh and walking among us. I have heard that we are too comfortable staring at the crucifix, but how much more so should we be so uninterested and unmoved by the idea of God in the flesh of a baby, laying in manger in some cave?

Chesterton summed up this shocking paradox when he beautifully noted,

A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end has repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest, all the literature of our faith is founded.

No matter what dark periods my mind will enter, no matter my struggle, this has always brought me back. It was what made me want to be Catholic and keeps me in the Church. While it is not a cure all, and I often forget this matter, there is much comfort for those of us who know that Christ came in the flesh and dwelt among us; that there is a God whose love for us is so powerful that he will take on our nature in order to redeem it.

It has not always been easy, I still stumble and have many sins to atone for. My depression is far from being cured, but the Church offers comfort and examples of how to remain holy despite my own propensity for self-destruction and doubt.

image: Apse Mosaic, Cappella Palatina, Palermo, Sicila/ Shutterstock

Michael J. Lichens


Michael J. Lichens is the Editor of Catholic Exchange. When he's not revising and editing, he is often found studying and writing about GK Chesterton, Religion and Literature, or random points of local history. He holds an A.M. from the University of Chicago Divinity School and a BA from The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. You can find him blogging at Catholic Coffee Drinkers or find him on Twitter @mjordanlichens or facebook.

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  • noelfitz

    Thanks for this article.
    It makes me feel guilty ( a Catholic thing) about the way I just accept being a Catholic. But did Mr Lichens have Catholicism in his genes from his Catholic grandmother?
    Also many American Catholic sites seem to be populated mostly with converts. I often feel that they bring puritan individualism into the faith, which differs from the mindset of many cradle Catholics.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    I won’t argue about the Puritan Individualism, no sir. We bring our whole selves, flaws and all, to the faith and hope to be open to being changed and formed in the faith. That doesn’t always work in practice, and it is a struggle I know I have often found.

    As for “having Catholicism in the genes” it is very possible. My family on my grandmother’s side was Catholic going all the way back to emigrating from Ireland but soon picked up American Protestantism, and even my grandmother was a tad of an anomaly. To my knowledge, most of her siblings were not. My aunt is also quite devout and I believe her prayers, and the prayers of many saints who met me, helped in ways I will never understand.

    Thanks for your comment and questions. Always a pleasure to have you participate in the forums.

  • noelfitz

    Mr Lichens,

    Thank you for taking the time out of a busy life to reply to me. It is appreciated.

    Edith Stein (St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) and Cardinal Lustiger remained Jews until their deaths and Blessed John Henry Newman remained an English Victorian gentleman after he became a Catholic. These and other converts brought new insights and dynamism into Catholicism, for which cradle Catholics have benefitted.

    Congratulations to all in CE. I appreciate the respect shown to contributors. At the present time people, even Catholics, have different views which they are entitled to hold in good faith.

  • kirk

    Hmmmmm. The comment by noelfitz, “puritan individualism” is a thought to ponder. Just exactly does he mean by that phrase? I think back to my Protestant roots for indications of ‘puritan individualism’, and I can hit upon a few that might fit that category, like my own internal struggle with scrupulosity, the certainty that everyone else in my church was a better Christian than I and God would punish me for my mediocrity, or that my salvation was dependent upon how closely I followed the rules, no smoking, dancing, card playing, alcohol, sex (and no thoughts about sex).
    As a Catholic, i still refrain from some of those bad habits – but the difference is that I am convinced of the Love of God rather than the vengeance of God. As Catholics we are a people of God who pray for and support each other in the faith, the Eucharist consumes us as we consume the Body and Blood of Jesus; the Sacraments of Healing sustain us.
    And so I can say that in my case, I left my ‘puritan individualism’ behind – except in my memory, for I treasure my faith upbringing. Without that I don’t think i would have so quickly absorbed enough Catholic doctrine to swim the Tiber. That has made all the difference.

  • JMC

    Though I’m a cradle Catholic, like you, I can tell a million stories about how and why, during a ten-year foray into New Age-ism, I never truly left the Church, and what finally made me turn my back on the New Age and brought me completely back to the Holy Faith. Advent blessings, and Merry Christmas.

  • BillinJax

    Without comment I list the things which together made me
    want to immerse myself in the Catholic faith.

    The beauty of the Churches

    The formality and humility of our Worship

    The voice of a Mother calling her children

    The solid ground of authenticity

    The clear prominence of The Crucifix

    The treasured Rosary

  • Michael J. Lichens

    Advent blessings to you as well, JMC, and I pray you have a very Merry Christmas

  • Michael J. Lichens

    All very, very good reasons to want to convert, if I do say so.

    Beauty was actually a big reason why I came over, but certainly not the sole reason. I love Catholic art from the icons to the baroque architecture. I have a soft spot for gothic buildings, too.

    Also, oddly enough, a family friends who was a Muslim happened to have a rosary that he gave me long before I became Catholic (he attended Catholic school as a child). I still have that rosary and think about the countless graces that Our Lady has found for me through that piece.

    Thanks so much for your comment and sharing a window-view of your story.

  • Mike Langley

    Michael … a blessing to read this … I wish the miles between us were not so great…. Oh, and I read Chesterton’s Everlasting Man every Advent. Hope yours is full of His Joy.

  • JMC

    Though every person has a bazillion reasons for wanting to convert, most can point to a single thing that actually moved them to do it. In the case of my best friend, it was the music. Our choir was desperately in need of singers, so I invited her to join, even though she wasn’t Catholic at the time. Our choirmaster, though he routinely hands out music in just about every genre, has a particular fondness for Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. One season of this, and my friend was hooked. She was received into the Church that very Easter. That choirmaster has since left us, taking a job in another state, and our new one is more enamored of Gospel and contemporary music…some of which is wonderful, and some of which…not so much. But, contrary to the concern of some of our friends that her reasons for conversion were too superficial, she has stuck with the Church, and with the choir, despite music that she doesn’t really like. Like the ancient saying, all roads lead to Rome.

  • Ben Swagerty

    Mike – how truly enjoyable it is to read a well-written article that also sheds a new perspective on one’s faith! I savored the clear, concise writing (not often found on the interwebs) and the focus on confession and Christ’s incarnation. When you come out of confession, don’t you feel like Rocky in those movies after he’s just run up all of those steps? I sure do. After your first confession, I wonder if you were able to immediately drive anywhere, or if you had to sit in your car for a bit and let it sink in.

    Thank you so much for the good writing, I’m looking forward to more. God is so good!

  • Paul Houck

    How wonderful it is to hear your thoughts. I’ve been nostalgic lately to sit with old friends over a strong glass of whiskey, simply enjoying each others conversation. I could picture your face and expressions as I read this.
    Miss you, and Merry Christmas!

  • Michael J. Lichens

    I actually went for a walk and could only think, “Man, this is good. It is all so good.” There is a real liberty in from coming out of the confessional that I feel every time.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    Thanks, Paul! I appreciate you stopping by and I certainly felt a little nostalgia for sitting on rainy day and drinking some Irish whiskey. What good times!