Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
Recently my husband and I celebrated our seven-year anniversary of entering the Catholic Church.
The occasion always seems to come and go so quickly, sandwiched in between multiple kids’ birthdays and Halloween, and right before All Saints Day. But then, isn’t that like our faith, in general, which animates daily life and presses steadily on, in spite of the noise and distractions? Even so, I do always like to carve out at least a little time to specifically reflect upon the joy, beauty, and mystery surrounding our conversion. (Even if it’s punctuated by the sound of toddlers playing and teens shouting.)
Both of us had grown up in Protestant churches — mine evangelical and his Lutheran. We met, in fact, at a non-denominational evangelical church we were both attending in college.
Married relatively young, we also went on to have our first baby fairly quickly, which naturally prompted the question of what types of family planning methods we might employ in the future, and what our family was supposed to look like.
There is a backstory there, though. Like most other young brides I knew, I’d begun using hormonal contraception upon getting married. But it made me sick, and I stopped taking it.
And that explains the sweet little baby who, while certainly a bit of a surprise, changed our lives and our marriage in the most beautiful way possible. The perspective that comes when you suddenly see the plan God has for you, illuminated by the tiniest little person with the seemingly biggest needs, is nothing short of empowering.
It makes sense, then, that we began considering how to plan for our family going forward. We’d since learned about the highly unfortunate potential abortifacient effect of the pill, so we knew that would no longer be an option. (And of course we regretted not having learned that sooner.) We were so completely floored by the joys of being parents, of giving our love to another, that we felt a little uncomfortable with the cultural trend towards limiting, begrudging and bemoaning parenthood.
The more we talked, experienced, and watched the world around us, the more we became convinced that we wanted to remain open to children. Eventually, we made the decision (through natural law arguments, essentially) that we would not pursue the use of artificial contraception within our marriage.
Of course life then, as now, continued happening. Miscarriages, international adoptions, more babies, and an out-of-state-move all punctuated the ensuing days, weeks, and years of our marriage. Every so often we’d revisit our discussion about the meaning of marriage, and the role of children within that marriage, but we had no further answers beyond what we had discerned to be true. And as numerous friends were deciding they were “done” building families, and began pursuing permanent solutions to what is largely perceived as the problem of fertility, we remained strongly convinced of one thing.
Either something was wrong with God’s design for men and for women, which clearly included a connection between sexuality and procreation, or something had gone dreadfully wrong with our culture, leading most everyone to conceptualize of healthy fertility as a brokenness or disease in need of healing through surgery or synthetic hormones.
One afternoon, with young children tucked in for their naps, I turned to the internet for information related to Christian beliefs about artificial contraception. As certain as I was that something was very wrong with the way parenthood was being experienced in modern culture, I had also tired of not having a deeper, theological reason for the things my husband and I had decided and observed. Surely God would have had somethingto say about an issue so central to the human experience, I reasoned. But what was it?
Of course I knew, and had known for some time, that my own religious tradition had nothing to offer here. There are Protestant sects that eschew birth control, yes, but those groups tend to rely solely upon Scripture verses declaring children to be blessings, and though that is certainly true, it did not (in my mind, anyway) speak to the larger and deeper issues of the meaning of marriage, and of womanhood.
I seemed to remember, however, that Catholics — the mysterious group of people that worshipped Mary and prayed to saints — didn’t, or weren’t supposed to use, contraception, so I began looking there. Figuring that even a broken clock can be right twice, I thought perhaps the Catholic Church possessed some helpful information related to children and marriage — even if it was so wrong about, well, everything else.
Through various internet searches I eventually found myself reading something called an encyclical, written by Pope John Paul II. Then I discovered his papal addresses, collectively referred to by some as Theology of the Body. Hours passed as I pored over the material, which was unlike anything I’d ever read on the subject before.
I was mesmerized.
It turned out that the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage, personhood and sexuality were the most comprehensive and beautiful that I’d ever encountered. These beliefs, so exquisitely passed down throughout the ages, had not only the deep and resounding ring of truth but also a strong and abiding sense of goodness. Thisis what I’ve been missing. Thisis what the world is so hungry for, and seeking. Thisexplains man’s mission in life.
The rest, as they say, is history. After my husband and I decided that we would be those (admittedly strange) Protestant people who adhered to Catholic beliefs about marriage, we eventually came to wonder what else the Catholic Church might be right about. Over time, as we explored the various doctrines and dogmas of the faith, we became convinced. The Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ. The fullness of the faith.
And so we converted, received into the One, True, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011.
We’d just celebrated some kids’ birthdays. And we’d also just returned home with our newly adopted daughters a month prior. Then those same daughters both underwent heart surgery a month after our conversion, one of them twice.
Back then, like now, life was hurtling by through ups and downs, as it always is. But what a gift we have in the Eucharist, the saints, our Mother Mary, the sacraments and the truth. Even in the Church’s present era of difficulty, I am ever grateful for the gift of the Catholic Faith, and for the way that I am able to experience the friendship of Christ in its fullest form, this side of Heaven.