And the Two Shall Become One
by Tim and Mary Drake
Her Side of the Pew
Growing up, I attended Catholic schools. All of my family and friends were Catholic. So, when I began dating in high school I didn't give the faith of my boyfriends much thought. As for marriage, I hoped to find a Christian. Tim was one of the first Lutherans I had met, let alone dated.
We met and began dating as freshmen in college. At the time I had a poor understanding of my faith. I felt that there were more similarities than differences between our denominations. We both believed in the Trinity and in Jesus Christ. We could share some common prayers. We both believed in the importance of church attendance and in raising our children to be Christians. I wasn't sure if our denominations mattered.
When my mother expressed her concern over Tim's faith I shared with her that although Tim was Lutheran he had more of a relationship with God than any of the Catholics I had dated. They were "Catholic" in name only. Tim, however, took his faith seriously.
His Side of the Pew
I was baptized, raised, and confirmed in the Lutheran Church. Through the example of two faithful parents I came to know and believe in Jesus Christ, his mercy and redemption, and the power of prayer. Little did I know where my relationship with Christ would lead, and that my journey would take me someplace I had no intention of going.
I grew up surrounded largely by Lutherans. Aside from an occasional Catholic wedding, I was not exposed to Catholic traditions. I remember finding the wedding Masses long, the kneeling odd, and the church decorations ornate. Somehow, however, I acquired the usual prejudices against Mary, the Pope, and confession.
At the age of ten, standing in a hallway on my first day in a new grade school, I met the first Catholic I ever truly got to know. Mark and I became best friends. At that age, religion wasn't something he and I discussed, but as our relationship developed, we couldn't help but recognize the differences in our lives. Mark and I spent as much time as we could at one another's houses, and on a few occasions attended one another's churches. One night while I was staying over at his home I discovered a laminated prayer card from Italy sitting on his nightstand. It was a prayer card of St. Joseph. I found the artwork and the prayer to be quite beautiful. After telling him how much I admired the card he gave it to me.
After high school, Mark, the prayer card, and I journeyed to the same college. Here I met Mary. Mary and I lived on the same floor of our dormitory and we became friends. We enjoyed going on walks with one another, talking for hours on end, and simply being with one another. By the end of our freshman year we began dating. In college, as in high school, I used the St. Joseph prayer card in times of special need. As an intercessor, Joseph never seemed to fail.
Our courtship lasted four years. In Mary's junior year she decided to live off-campus in the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry Center. Partly in response to her, and partially out of my own desire to learn more about my faith, I decided to live in the Lutheran Campus Ministry Christus House. This opened us up to discussing more seriously matters of faith. I was as committed in my Lutheranism as Mary was in her Catholicism. As resident peer ministers we took part in joint retreats, prayed together, and took part in Wednesday evening vespers.
I found the faith of Mary's family, their devotion, and traditions particularly attractive.
They were truly a holy family and this showed in their faithful attendance at Mass every Sunday and in how they prayed together. I found myself drawn to Mary and her family. It was here that I first gained a respect for Catholicism.
Prior to and following our engagement in November of 1988, Tim and I began to talk more seriously about our respective faiths. We took a premarital inventory and went through a marriage preparation course in the Catholic Church. Thankfully, Tim respected my desire to use Natural Family Planning in our marriage. Tim did, however, have a hard time understanding the Church's desire that couples raise the children as Catholic. I worried about our children and wondered what church they would attend. Not having any hard answers to that question we trusted that God would show us His way.
As an inter-denominational couple we struggled with the questions all such couples
struggle with. What church would we attend? How would we raise our children? We found comfort in the similarities and often prayed the Our Father. We wrestled with the issues, and occasionally we argued. Slowly we began to realize that we could, if we remained respectful, work through it.
During marriage preparation the priest asked us if we were willing to raise our children Catholic. This promise was one I found difficult to understand. I felt slighted, as though my denomination were somehow inferior or less important. I thought to myself, "What if I don't want to?" I certainly didn't want to say "yes" to something I wasn't sure I wanted to do. Reluctantly, I agreed. Although we didn't have all the issues worked out we were married on July 8, 1989.
We were married on a hot Minnesota summer day. The service was a mixed ceremony at St. Eloi's Catholic Church in my hometown of Ghent, Minnesota. We decided not to have a Mass so that Tim's side would not feel left out. Tim's Lutheran campus ministry pastor gave the homily, while our priest co-celebrated.
I particularly remember the "Our Father." Tim and I were gathered in a circle near the altar, holding hands with our wedding party, the pastor, and priest. In a wonderful display of ecumenism and unity, dear Father Bernie Schriner asked that everyone hold hands, even across the aisles. A college friend sang a moving rendition of the prayer. Toward the end, so overcome with emotion, Father Schriner, shouted "Everyone!" and together everyone sang "For thine is the kingdom…and the power… and the glory… forever. Amen." There wasn't a dry eye in the place.
After our wedding, as before, we would sometimes attend our churches separately. At other times we would attend one or the other together, or sometimes we would attend both churches each Sunday. We both found it difficult to do this. Although I had been brought up in Catholic grade school I didn't understand my faith well enough to be able to explain to Tim why we had to go to both.
We continued to struggle with the issue and attended both churches until sometime in 1993. We had just moved into our first home in St. Paul and Tim found it more convenient to attend St. Columba Catholic Church just three blocks away from our home.
Around this time I began praying for Tim's conversion. I didn't know if it was the right thing to do and so I would utter a prayer saying, "Lord, I don't know if this is your will. If Tim would be converted that would be great. Whatever you think is best Lord."
It was so hot on the day we married one of my memories is of standing in the Catholic school's walk-in-freezer with my brother, Jeff, and my best man, Mark, as a way to keep cool prior to the service. What struck me about the day is that it would be one of the few times in our lives when all those we cared about would be gathered together with us to help us celebrate our love for one another.
After our marriage we struggled with Sunday services, vascillating between attending Mary's church, mine, or both. I found it frustrating to attend both of our churches each Sunday morning. Often times the readings would be the same. It was difficult to watch Mary receive the Eucharist while I remained behind in the pew. I imagined how hard it would be to watch my family go up for communion without me. The part during Mass when the congregation says, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed" both irritated me and gave me hope. I felt that because I was Lutheran I was not deemed "worthy" to receive that which Christ offered for all. I took hope, however, in the fact that Christ would "say the word and heal me."
Over time I grew disillusioned with the Lutheran parishes we attended. The teachings of the church seemed to vary greatly depending on the pastor. Mostly out of convenience, I started attending church with Mary, and foregoing a Lutheran Sunday service, reserving Lutheran services for only special occasions such as Christmas and Easter.
The real crack in my Lutheran shell came, however, early in the 1990's as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America began changing doctrine in regards to sexuality and abortion, and even began funding pastors' abortions through their medical insurance coverage. As you will later read, abortion was an issue I could not compromise on. The Catholic Church taught that abortion was always wrong; whereas the Lutheran Church had started teaching that is was an unfortunate, but necessary fact of life for some women. Suddenly, being Lutheran meant more to me than sitting in a pew. Ultimately, it meant believing everything that the Lutheran Church believes and teaches.
Thus began my walk down the road leading elsewhere. I was certainly attracted to Catholicism, but had many questions and doubts. What I needed in my life was a fellow convert whom I could talk to. My wife, Mary, and friend Mark had embraced Catholicism because they were born into it. I desperately needed to talk to someone who had come to it independently on their own. God provided exactly what I needed, but in a most unusual way.
During the summer of 1993, while walking home from church one morning Tim
expressed his potential desire to learn more about Catholicism. I was both shocked and excited. At the same time I was cautious. I didn't want to say too much. I kept my distance and feared getting involved because I didn't want him to feel pressured. I knew that if I pressured him he would resent it later on. I knew that it had to be him, not me. I didn't want Tim converting because of me. I offered to be his sponsor and he accepted, and I began praying more.
During 1992 and 1993 several events occurred simultaneously that played a major role in my conversion. The first of these occurred in August of 1992. My father showed up at our apartment unexpected and alone. His very presence, unaccompanied by my mother, foretold that something was not as it should be. Calmly, but tearfully, he told me that I was not his son. Enlisted in the Air Force, my father was stationed in Guam shortly after he and my mother were married. He brought papers showing that he had been discharged from the Air Force and returned home from Guam during the summer of 1967. When he came home, my mother was five months pregnant. I was born in September. Having grown up with divorced parents himself, he did not want that for me, and so, honorably, he stayed with my mother albeit with a great deal of pain and a lack of forgiveness.
To say that such news was shocking is an understatement. Learning the truth turned my whole world upside down. It threw everything I thought I knew into question. Growing up, I had never once questioned that my parents were not who they said they were. While my younger brother, Jeff, and I looked little alike, we simply thought that he took after dad and I took after mom. Perhaps even more shocking was to learn that my father had wanted me aborted. Thankfully, my mother did not.
God, in His wisdom, can bring good, even from sin. Learning the truth was a blessing. It helped to explain some of the misdirected hostility I received from my father as a child. It helped to explain why my younger brother and I were so different. But, I was also blessed with undiscovered family.
Not only did I learn about the true identity of my father, but in learning the truth I also discovered two older half-brothers that I did not know existed. Two months after learning the truth and coming to terms with who I was, I placed a phone call to one of my half-brothers, Rich. We spoke for a long time and agreed to meet at a nearby restaurant. I was nervous about our meeting and did not know what to expect. Walking into the restaurant that evening, there was no denying who my brother was. We shared an undeniable resemblance. Meeting him was like looking into a mirror and seeing myself thirteen years later. As we sat eating our hamburgers and comparing stories the waitress asked, "Are you guys brothers?" Here we were meeting for the first time in our lives, and a stranger could see the resemblance. We laughed, thinking, "If you only knew..."
In meeting Rich, a unique and inseparable bond was formed. We each felt more
complete. Yet our bond is one that is more than genetic. Although thirteen years separate us, we have different mothers, and we grew up in different homes, our looks, voices, personalities, and mannerisms are uncannily similar. We share the same values. We have similar senses of humor. We both share a passion for motion pictures and pizza. We also share some of those hard-to-believe separated at birth, similarities. Our wives are both named Mary. Rich works for the Archdiocese of Denver; I used to work for the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota. We are, in fact, more like each other than we are like the brothers we each grew up with.
Most importantly, Rich had converted to Catholicism at age 18. In Rich, I found
someone I could identify with. Like me, he had grown up Lutheran. Sharing his story with me propelled me to learn more. The Holy Spirit had placed him in my life exactly when I needed him.
Not long after meeting Rich, a couple of other events pointed me toward the Church. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church was published and we purchased a copy. I liked having it around because it seemed to have answers for so many of my questions. It also impressed upon me the validity of having all that the Church believes in a single source. It gave meaning to the statement "One holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church."
Also at about this time Mary's church, St. Columba's, started perpetual eucharistic
adoration. Feeling the need to pray more, and not fully understanding the meaning of the Blessed Sacrament I signed up to pray an hour each Sunday evening.
Unfortunately, the RCIA program at our local church left something to be desired. Had it been for RCIA alone, I never would have converted. Thankfully, a friend offered to go with me to a 13-week Fundamentals of Catholicism class at a nearby parish. The class was taught by an orthodox, faithful, and humble priest capable of handling any question put to him. It didn't take long for the Holy Spirit to work within me. An audio tape by former Protestant minister Scott Hahn, and the book "Surprised by Truth" further clinched propelled me toward the decision I knew I had to make.
Incredibly, the issues I had long had contention with were no longer issues. They had melted away. I felt as if I had been infused with a complete knowledge and acceptance of the Church and her teachings. I learned that asking Mary or the Saints to pray for me was no different than asking a friend to pray for me. I understood the Church's respect for the sanctity of all human life and its teaching on the selfishness of contraception. I came to know the differences in belief on the Eucharist, and why non-Catholic reception of our Lord's Body and Blood implies a wholeness that hasn't existed since the Reformation. I wanted our family to be one spiritually. I was on the road to reconciliation.
Confession was my last major obstacle, more out of fear than any lack of understanding. It was difficult to overcome the Lutheran belief that we are "dung heaps covered with snow." My teacher-priest compared the Lutheran concept of forgiveness to typing with an old typewriter. If a sin were like a mistake, you could white it out, but you would always know that the mistake had been made. In contrast, he compared the Catholic idea of forgiveness to using a computer. Confession, he described, was like hitting the delete key. Once the key was struck, you would never be able to tell the mistake had been made. If this were true, I felt that, confession had to be the most powerful and freeing sacrament Christ had given His Church.
On Ash Wednesday I was moved to go to confession. Compiling a laundry list of 27
years worth of sin was a very humbling experience. The Cathedral of St. Paul seemed an appropriate place for the sacrament. There, I poured out the sins of my life and was filled with the grace that accompanies the sacrament. It wasn't a lightning bolt of grace, striking me suddenly, but rather a gradual appreciation of the sacrament and its graces. After confession things moved quickly.
Converting is a covenant one enters into with God. Like marriage or parenthood, it is one of those things you can't really try out beforehand. Once I decided to convert, there was no going back. It was all or nothing. Either I accepted the Church and her teachings, or I wasn't Catholic. There was no room to pick and choose. RCIA and the Fundamentals classes were very much like marriage preparation coursework and Engaged Encounter. There was only so much prayer, reading, discussion, and discerning I could do. My intellect could only take me so far. Eventually my heart had to follow. Through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament I had acquired an unquenchable hunger for the Eucharist. Truly, I was in love with God, and was being moved to take a childlike leap. I did not have all the answers. I did not know where it would lead. But I had to trust in God. As the Church teaches, some things have been and will continue to be a mystery. This is what faith is.
I was unable to wait until Easter to convert. My heart had been opened to the Truth. To not convert felt like denying God. On March 19, 1995, the feast day of St. Joseph, gathered with my friends and family and Mary as my sponsor, I professed my belief in the Holy Catholic Church and all her teachings, was confirmed, and accompanied Mary to the Lord's table for the first time since we had begun dating ten years earlier.
I am now able to look back on these remarkable events and can clearly see the hand of God in their timing. Had my stepfather not told me the truth, not only would I still be living without knowledge of my father or my brothers, but I probably never would have met my biological father before his death, and I may not have come into the Church.
It is a sad statement about my own Catholic education that I grew up as ignorant about my faith as I did. In some ways I was not taught my faith; in other ways I took my faith for granted. I made no effort to actively learn more about it. I now realize how thankful I am that Tim converted. The questions that Tim raised through his Fundamentals class inspired me to learn more. His questions and reading taught me things I never knew. Tim shared with me what he was learning and he taught me the true differences between Lutheranism and Catholicism. Tim's conversion was a great blessing to me. I am a more faithful Catholic because of it.
I'm also thankful that the Spirit moved Tim to convert when he did. I feel bad saying it, but his conversion did make things easier, especially raising children. It is an incredible blessing to be a family strong in one faith. It helps to make our decisions easier. We feel more united in how we discipline and raise our children, and we share common friends who feel strongly about their faith as well.
Although I believed in Christ my faith did not hold the fullness of Truth so beautifully expressed in Christ and His Church. Therefore, through my conversion, I Corinthians 7:14 was fulfilled. "An unbelieving husband was sanctified by a believing wife." Even more miraculous, God took my love for Mary, combined it with my love for Him, and created new life, not only within me, but within us. Just weeks after my conversion, after a long struggle with infertility, my wife and I learned we were expecting a child. Our joy was compounded in discovering that we would join in the pregnancy of the Holy Family when we learned that our projected due date was Christmas. Elias Joseph Drake was born on December 27, 1995.
It used to be that both the Lutheran and Catholic Church seriously cautioned against mixed marriages because of the potential for the "danger of loss of faith." While I understand their caution and the potential that mixed marriages have for causing pain I marvel at the joy that Mary and I now share. Our own mixed marriage not only strengthened my faith, but Mary's as well.
In writing my conversion story I naively envisioned writing something profound, perhaps something that would touch others. Because it is so deeply personal I discovered it to be the most difficult writing I have ever undertaken. The Jewish convert to Catholicism, Dr. Karl Stern, wrote, "How do you begin to write about how you fell in love with God?" To write a conversion story from only the human perspective is to provide an incomplete tale. Clearly, in ways seen and unseen, the Holy Spirit was acting and moving in me, opening my ears, mind, and heart. Likewise, the prayers of my wife and others, known and unknown, were being raised in unison to Heaven. As complete as this story may seem, our perspective pales in comparison to the Heavenly events we are unable to relate.