Lizzie Reezay is a popular 23-year-old. Her YouTube channel, “LizziesAnswers,” started when she was just 15, has more than 200,000 subscribers, and her 400 videos have been viewed more than 35 million times. She has a large following on Twitter and Instagram, too.
She is also a recent Catholic convert. Reezay entered the Church last Easter, after a remarkable journey that took her from Russia and Thailand to Pepperdine University in California and from hating Catholicism to studying the Fathers of the Church and falling in love with the teachings of the Catholic faith.
She spoke with Register senior editor Matthew Bunson about her conversion and evangelizing through social media.
What have the last few months been like since you entered the Church?
It’s been really chaotic. I had no idea I’d get so much attention from the Catholic world. I actually thought I’d lose a lot of subscribers that were Protestant, and, instead, the opposite happened. So it was very overwhelming at first. But it’s been amazing getting to read so many messages from people who are also converts or looking into Catholicism for the first time and say that my story is so motivating for them to keep researching.
How was the response of your viewers and followers?
It’s been so much. I’ve gained a lot of new followers that just found out about my story. The craziest thing is a lot of my subscribers have been praying for me to convert for several years. Because I’ve been teasing Catholicism and talking more about Church history, some people have been praying for me for a year and a half, two years, to become Catholic. So, finally, saying I’d been in RCIA for eight months and was coming in at Easter, everyone was so excited and felt like they were part of my story.
Tell me about your faith journey.
I grew up in Churches of Christ, which is the Stone-Campbell Movement. My parents were actually missionaries in Russia, so I lived there for the first few years of my life. We were really, really involved with church growing up. I went to a Church of Christ university. I took a lot of religion classes there. I was very intertwined with Church of Christ. I was actually going to move to Bangkok, Thailand, to be a missionary there for several years. I got fired from that when I started coming out with more Catholic videos, so I decided to stay in the States.
... My parents moved over there at the end of the Soviet Union, so they were the first wave of people to move there. But they both love Russian culture and Russian literature, so I have a really positive view of Russia.
What sorts of questions were you getting as you grew in popularity on YouTube, and how does that contrast to now?
I was getting a lot of questions about relationship advice. A lot of my earlier videos have a lot to do with that, but I’ve always intertwined Christianity in everything I’ve talked about because I think the way to help my subscribers the most is to show them God. Then, when my mental illness came out in college, I began to talk more about bipolar disorder and depression. And I’ve been making very specific theology videos the last couple of years, following my journey.
So here you are on YouTube, growing your YouTube channel, and running parallel to that, you are undergoing a spiritual journey yourself. Do you remember what your first encounter with Catholicism was?
It was kind of through my YouTube channel, because a lot of my followers were Catholic, even from high school, and they would tell me things about how Protestants would discriminate against them and say they weren’t Christians.
But when I got to college, I befriended some Catholics in the philosophy department. What really got me to start researching was that people were converting from Protestantism, from the Church of Christ — it was a trend going on in the philosophy department. It was strange to me, because, growing up, there were a lot of Catholics who had converted into the Church of Christ. So, in my mind, Catholics became Protestants, became “more Christian.” But the opposite was happening. Also, two of my professors at Pepperdine were also Catholic converts, and they really impacted my decision to research [the Church].
That series of conversions — did you have conversations with people about it?
No, I didn’t, because I had so much negative energy, hatred even, toward Catholicism — because I saw it as tarnishing and ruining and changing what Jesus had created. I saw it as a less pure form of Christianity. I saw the priests and all the tradition as blocking you from having a relationship with God. So I just felt like I couldn’t have a chill conversation about it, so I didn’t ask at all. I’d be friends with these Catholics and with these Catholic converts, but we never had discussions about it.
There’s an old saying that if you study the history of Christianity, you inevitably become Catholic. It sounds like something similar happened to you.
Yes, definitely. It’s interesting because I took about 15 classes on Christianity at my undergrad [Pepperdine University]. But we didn’t really go into Church history, even in our Church history classes. So when I started reading about the Church Fathers and learning about Ignatius and Polycarp and Athanasius — all these people — I’d never even heard their names before. After taking so many classes on religion, I thought I knew so much about Christianity, [but] I realized I knew nothing about Church history.
You must have felt a little deprived.
Yes; I was angry. I felt like core parts of the faith had been kept from me my entire life. I was so angry at my family and the church I grew up in. It was such strong emotion during that time.
So there was this moment when you had this profound encounter with Catholicism, with the Fathers of the Church and the teachings of the Church. Something had to give, didn’t it?
I started reading more and more, and it was honestly so terrifying at first. I think if you grow up Catholic you don’t understand how much fear there is: I was so scared of the power of the Catholic Church. But I was also addicted to reading more and more, because I was getting to know the early Christians, and I wanted more. I started going to Orthodox Divine Liturgy every week. I thought I could be Orthodox and not Catholic because I thought I wouldn’t have to accept all the dogmas. Also, I love the Divine Liturgy. I think the Eastern rite is beautiful.
Then I also started going to Mass every week, so it was Orthodox [Divine Liturgy] and Mass every week, both on Sunday, and reading and reading.
You said your YouTube followers had been praying for you, hoping you would come into the Church. They obviously had a clue where you were heading.
Yes, it was wild. Even in 2016 I was receiving comments saying, “You’re a future Catholic; welcome home in advance.” I was honestly so confused, because I didn’t think any of my beliefs fit Catholic theology. But I was getting all these comments, and I even made jokes with my mom, “Look at these comments; they think I’m going to become Catholic — so funny.”
But I think that people who have converted can see a convert from so far away.
So there came a day where you realized, “I have to do this.”
It was actually the night before Easter 2017, and I read through all the Communion accounts, and I read through John 6, and I started crying. Because I’d been reading the Church Fathers talking about the Real Presence, but then reading through the actual accounts — and especially the “Bread of Life” discourse in John 6 — it’s just so obvious. Jesus repeats it several times; the Greek is gnawing, chewing. It’s there; it’s Scripture.
I think you’ve done a better job doing research than most Catholics. So there you were, at Easter 2017. What was the next step? Who did you tell first?
I messaged my Catholic friends from Pepperdine and told them I knew I was going to become either Orthodox or Catholic, but I wasn’t going to convert for three or four years. I was going to push it back.
Well, that didn’t happen, did it?
My plan was to go to Thailand and pretend to be Protestant. I even had conversations with my best friends about how I could hide it. ...
I even had certain books that I was like, “I’m not going to read that until I really want to convert.” ... But, eventually, the Thai church didn’t want me to come.
So I was at this point where I thought, “Okay, I’ll just go right to RCIA.”
How was that experience?
It was amazing — finally being able to “convert in” and knowing I was closer and closer to taking Communion.
Because that was the hardest part: I went to Mass every week for a year and wasn’t able to take the Eucharist.
And I would cry every time at the miracle. I had previously thought transubstantiation was crazy; and finally believing in it, and knowing Jesus died to give us this sacrament: It was amazing experiencing that every week.
When did you understand fully the Real Presence?
I think around last spring, and just reading it in Scripture really cemented it.
So you came in this last Easter. What was that like?
It was amazing. A lot of my friends who came to my confirmation were atheists or Protestant. They have been part of this journey with me, even though they don’t believe. My priest has been such an amazing spiritual rock in my life. He has helped me understand so many things, like the problem with evil, the depths of theology. He leads our RCIA class. We also have a weekly Bible study that’s pretty small that he’s a part of. So I just feel so close to my priest and so grateful for everything he has done helping me to understand the faith.
We live in an age of secularism, of doubt. That’s especially true for millennials, who seem farther and farther away from Christianity in particular. What advice do you give to those reaching out to millennials and to millennials themselves?
I think that, for Christian millennials, it’s our job to befriend people who are not Christian and show them God. All of my roommates are not Christians — a lot of my closest friends. A lot of my subscribers are atheist and agnostic, and they say they’re not religious at all, but they find my videos interesting. I actually met up with one of my subscribers two days ago, who has been following me for six years, who became Christian because of my videos and then became Catholic herself, and began praying for me to become Catholic.
… I never went on trying to be a “Christian YouTuber.” I just incorporate [faith] into every type of video. So I’m just being myself, but God is a part of that; that’s how I organically incorporate [faith] into YouTube and into all the relationships in my life.
Do you find millennials react better to that rather than the classic or traditional form of evangelization?
Yes, a lot of people who watch my videos don’t go to church, are not interested in going to church, and have this “spiritual-not-religious” attitude. So they’ll watch my videos, and I encourage people to become a part of the Church and not see religion as a negative thing. I think it’s a great way to reach out to people.
So my advice is to read people who are experts in the field. They don’t even have to be Christians; they can be atheists, but people who are experts in the field of biblical interpretations, Greco-Roman culture, Second Temple Judaism. Read experts, and read and read and read.
The Second Vatican Council called on Catholics to use all the means of media to evangelize. Social-media platforms are where we are, in so many ways, in the culture. What are some of the suggestions you have for using social media smartly to proclaim the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith?
I think we shouldn’t at all go about it as combative or trying to change people. I think it should be more [about] sharing parts of your life. But I think we should never go about it like trying to convert people, and “this is why you’re wrong” and attacking different people. In fact, I converted to Catholicism because so many of my Catholic friends were stellar people, excellent, so intelligent, kind and compassionate. Seeing that part of their lives, but then also knowing they were Catholic, made it very attractive to me.
Editor's Note: This interview was updated with corrections at 4:15pm Eastern July 5, 2018.