Dates: Living today
Nationality: American (from Texas)
Occupation: Journalist, and former atheist.
Formerly a fervent atheist, Jennifer Fulwiler was always interested in debating faith issues. She disagreed vehemently with the Catholic church on many of its attitudes, including in particular the questions of contraception and abortion.
Numerous factors contributed over the years to a reappraisal of her views on Christianity in general and on the Catholic faith in particular. A turning point was when she recalled her father’s instruction: “Never believe something because it's convenient or it makes you feel good. Ask yourself: 'Is this true?'."
The account of Jennifer’s conversion is a beautiful story of grace at work. Her full account may be read on the “Why I’m Catholic” site here. The following extract picks up the story after she had taken on board her father’s words:
And so I set everything else aside, and clung to the simple question: What is true?
I quickly realized then that that was not in question, and hadn't been for a while. For weeks now, I had known on an intellectual level that I believed what the Church taught. What stalled me had not been a hesitation of whether or not it was true; it had been a hesitation of not wanting to sacrifice too much.
I had no idea how things would work out. I thought there was a fair chance that this step would lead us to financial ruin, and may even take a serious toll on my health. But I decided, for the first time in a long time, to choose what was true instead of what was comfortable. Joe and I signed up to begin the formation process at our parish church. And, in the first statement of faith I'd ever made, I told my doctors that I would not use contraception, because I was Catholic.
After that moment, a bunch of fortuitous events occurred that smoothed the way for us to become Catholic. A series of windfalls gave us the money we needed to manage our medical bills. After they got over their initial shock at encountering someone who wouldn't contracept, my doctors came up with creative solutions to keep me healthy. Even after a surprise positive pregnancy test came at the worst possible time, just a few weeks after I'd healed from the blood clot, a bunch of startling coincidences played out to help us stay afloat during that difficult time.
The next Spring, three days before Joe and I would be received into the Church, it was time for my first confession. As I approached the confessional, I had no hesitation. I had an intellectual understanding that God is the source of goodness, and that therefore it's important that we take great care to repent when we have done something bad. But I'd already privately confessed all these sins in my head, so I figured that telling them to the priest, who was simply standing in for Jesus, would be redundant -- after all, Jesus had already heard all this stuff.
But as soon as I heard the words coming from my mouth, everything changed. To hear all of these selfish, cowardly, hateful acts articulated with real words, for another human being to hear, was more powerful than I could have ever imagined. Tears began to flow, and, as I continued recounting every unloving thing I'd ever done, I shook and sobbed. Never could I have imagined the impact it would have on me to hear of my own sins, spoken out loud; but never could I have imagined how much it would impact me to hear the words, spoken by the priest on behalf of God, that I was forgiven. I walked away from the confessional in a daze, and slid into a pew in the silent church. I knew that my life had just changed, never to be the same again.
Later that night, around midnight, I stepped out on the back porch. When I was younger I used to avoid going outside at night when it was quiet and still, because it would trigger memories of all those ominous thoughts about meaningless that I was trying to forget. The darkness outside was too familiar, as if it had all spilled out from somewhere within me. But as I stood there that night after my first confession, I realized that all that was gone. The darkness within me was simply not there anymore. In its place was peace, and an unmistakable feeling of love. For the first time, I felt the presence of God.”
For the fuller version of this story, and for the experiences of many other Catholic converts, visit http://www.whyimcatholic.com.
© Ray Chidell 2012