Conversion story: Back home with the 99

I thank God every day for the dedicated people who go out of their way to help those who are straying from the right path.

Personal testimonies
Opus Dei - Conversion story:  Back home with the 99

A good friend once told me this thing about shepherds - they break the legs of the sheep that would stray from the fold. Initially, I thought, “How cruel! Poor little lamb.” She then continued, saying that after breaking the legs of the sheep that went astray, the shepherd would set it on his shoulders until they reach their destination. Through this painful experience, the sheep learns to keep to the fold. That time that its legs were broken, though surely feeling much pain, it must have felt tremendous joy knowing that it was finding its way back home on the shoulders of its beloved shepherd.

A lot of people have been telling me to write my story, similar to that one lost sheep whose legs had to be broken in order to learn its lesson not to stray from the fold. This is the story of how I got my own legs broken.

My mother is a protestant since birth while my father was a non-practicing Catholic. Growing up, I was not very spiritual and would just go with my mother and aunt to fellowship services in various Protestant sects. Through my exposure to Protestantism, I believed that religion cannot save anyone, but a ‘personal’ relationship with God could.

I went to a Christian grade school where I learned to memorize bible verses. All those years spent repeating verses made no real impact on me; it was all lip service.

My father worked in another country and my mom and I would get to see him yearly, but only for a few days. I was always looking for my dad and asking my mom incessantly when he was scheduled to come home for vacation. Looking back, I realized the importance of having both parents present and active during the developmental years of a child. Through those years, my longing for a stable father figure became a void which I tried to fill by spending more time outside with friends.

In high school, I found solace in relationships with boys. While at first I thought I’d find happiness, deep down in my heart, mind and soul, I knew that this was not what I really yearned. I was lost, confused, and angry. Music became the outlet of the rage I felt inside of me, which I tried to manifest on the outside. I was depressed and angry as I could not cope with problems in my family. I declared myself an agnostic and couldn't care less about God. I forgot I had a soul.

On hindsight, it truly was a blessing that I got a scholarship to a university that my mom had been eyeing for me since I was young. While it was not my first choice for a university, I relented and decided to study there. I owe this school my whole life. Through the philosophy, theology and history classes that they offered, my eyes were opened to the Catholic faith. I passed by the chapel in the university once and saw the beautiful images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I then asked my Catholic friends, “Why do you worship Mary?" And they said nothing. I am grateful that they kept silent because I wasn’t ready to receive at the time the beautiful Truths of the Church I was on my way to discovering.

Every student in that university is required to take up a course on the sacraments. On my second year of college, I enlisted for one but I had no idea who would be teaching and just took the particular schedule because it was not too early. After enlisting, I found out that the priest who would be teaching the class was one of the “terror teachers” in the university. He was stern and often asked questions to those who seemed to pay little attention to the lecture. At this point of my college life, I never really took any of my classes seriously. However, there was something about this priest and his no-frills explanation of the Truths of the Catholic Faith that sparked my interest. I never missed a class, aced all my quizzes and exams and just focused my energies on trying to understand the mystery that was Catholicism.

Halfway through the semester, he asked the class if anyone wanted to go for spiritual direction. I honestly did not know what that meant but I felt like my life needed to have clear direction, so i grabbed the opportunity and decided to give it a shot. I remember that one of the first things he asked me was how I found the lessons. I told him that everything about the Catholic Church just made a lot of sense.

Thus began my spiritual direction with my professor and one of the first things he told me was to try to visit the Blessed Sacrament every morning before starting my classes. These daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament gave me that much needed boost of energy as I started my day greeting Our Lord. I honestly struggled with this act of piety as I still could not let go of the worldly habits that I was into. It was then that I felt unworthy of being in the presence of God, the shame was unbearable.

Knowing my growing interest in the Catholic Church, my spiritual director asked me to borrow Scott Hahn's Rome Sweet Home from the library. I finished the book in a week, taking down as much notes as I could. If one would like to go for an intensive evangelization spree, a Bible and this book would do the job. Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s journey back ‘home’ inspired me so much that I came back to the priest with the conviction to finally become Catholic. I was told what to do, to go to the parish in my vicinity for me to profess the faith. But for months, that intense longing remained to be just a longing - it was never translated into action.

I got derailed from the right track. The devil got hold of me again. I returned to my old ways and my temper worsened. I felt like a different kind of spirit was living within me, someone who had no sense of remorse, justice and guilt for trespasses. But since the fun I had was the fleeting kind, I would wake up in the morning and stare at my reflection, which was looking less and less like myself.

I started seeing this guy whom I met through common friends. We seemed to get along really well, since our personalities somehow matched. After a while, we lived an unending cycle of fighting, making up and draining the life out of each other. It was during one night of arguing when I felt an impelling force to surrender the fight to a higher power and to quit all my worldliness cold turkey.

I graduated from college with the determination to start anew and live a sober life. I went on to work for my friend’s mom and one afternoon, she told me that her daughter's mentor, whom I met when I was a freshman in college, wanted to meet with me.

That weekend, I met with her and as soon as I sat in her office, she told me that she knew that I wanted to convert to the Catholic faith. A rapid stream of thoughts ran through my head, one of which was, “Isn’t it too late?”. But I fought off the negativity and told her that I wanted to be Catholic. I proceeded to tell her everything and she then asked me if I wanted to go with a friend of mine to a center for young professional women to receive formation and catholic doctrine classes among other activities. That afternoon, I realized that I had been delaying and saying no to the good things for a long time so it was just fitting to say yes to everything that she had suggested.

I reconnected with this good friend whom I knew since freshman year in college. We became very close again and were diligent in attending the activities in a center of Opus Dei. Our then mentor helped me to get back into working on the things I set aside two years ago. By a tremendous influx of graces and prayers, my profession of faith, first communion and confirmation all took place in less than a month.

I thank God every day for the dedicated people who go out of their way to help those who are straying from the right path. This is how I experienced firsthand the power of prayers. I believe that the fervent intercession of St. Josemaria Escriva, caused the torrent of graces for my conversion. As written by this great saint in one of his books, Furrow, my horizons broadened and every day has become more colorful and meaningful despite the struggle.

Let us always keep praying for our non-Catholic brethren for God to grant them the gift of faith. Also, for priests and teachers to never tire in being witnesses to the faith, as solid Catholic education lays the foundation for the path to conversion. As lay people, may we strive to live like Christ and have burning apostolic zeal to bring more people to the church through our example. The greatest gift we can give someone is to lead them closer to God.

Now that I am back with the ninety-nine, I hope to help the Good Shepherd in tending to His lost sheep and bringing them back to the fold, through the intercession of Our Lady, the surest and easiest way back to the Shepherd.

“Conversion is the matter of a moment. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime.” - St. Josemaria Escriva, the patron saint of the ordinary