In the conversation with Chris, we covered a lot of ground!
First, I found out that a Marian Conference was, indeed, about Mary. Second, I learned that the main speakers were a couple by the name of Larry and Joetta Lewis. Larry was a former Methodist minister (whose father had been an Assemblies of God minister) who had become Catholic. (You can read his story here: http://chnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/mary.pdf.) When Chris first told me that the speaker had been a Protestant minister, I assumed he must’ve been Lutheran or some other, more liberal, denomination. Surely no truly Bible-believing pastor could become Catholic! It was certainly a surprise to me to learn that someone raised Assembly of God would even consider the Catholic Church (they’re traditionally known to pretty anti-Catholic). However, our conversation dealt a lot with Mary, as I’ve written before.
One reason I was so interested in Mary was because she was the most controversial figure for me and because of rosaries. The Christian bookstore in my hometown used to have rosaries to sell. I was rather intrigued by them because they were so pretty, but I never saw any Catholics wearing them. I hadn’t known they weren’t necklaces, but rather an aid to prayer! I learned that at the prayer service of a friend.
Raymond had been a good friend in Montana. Nolan worked for his son and had come to think a lot of their whole family. When Raymond was diagnosed with cancer, Nolan visited with him in the hospital. The cancer went rather quickly and he was soon called to his eternal Home. Because of the way rural parishes often run, the priest asked that someone else take care of leading the prayer service the night before the funeral. The family asked Nolan to do it. It was one of the greatest privileges he’s ever had. Nolan agreed, but said anything that was specifically Catholic someone else who have to do as he had no idea. They were happy to do that and asked another friend, Mike, to lead the Rosary.
When the time came, everyone knelt to pray. I stayed sitting because I wasn’t sure what to do and figured it’d be best not to kneel if I had no idea why. Mike knelt at the front of the church facing the crucifix, so Nolan turned and knelt as well since he was sitting up front. However, he soon realized a problem–he had no idea when he should get up again! His back was to everyone and couldn’t see what was going on. After a few glances over his shoulder at pauses, one of the sons caught his eye and gestured to him to just stay there and indicated he’d signal him when to stand again. We sure get a chuckle over it now!
As everyone around me prayed I couldn’t quite tell what was being said. Mike would pause here and there and say as he announced something and then everyone started up again. (Now I know he was announcing which part of Jesus’ or Mary’s life, called “Mysteries,” was to be meditated on while praying.) It really intrigued me because, although I couldn’t catch all that was being said, it was very powerful for that many people to be joined in prayer together verbally, not just mentally. And, whatever the prayer was about, they obviously believed it was important to do together at the time of death and on their knees.
After the service was over, I asked Mike what it was they’d said. He pulled a little pamphlet out of his pocket that explained what it was and how it was prayed. He said I could have it and I still do. I thought it amazing that Catholics spent so much time specifically meditating on the life of Christ. It was also obvious that out of the fifteen mysteries presented (there have been five more added since then), all but two were focused on Jesus. (For further explanation, look here: http://www.rosary-center.org/howto.htm.)
So, as Chris explained about Mary and I asked her questions, I ended up asking her to send me a rosary. She had offered to send me a Catechism which would explain Catholic teaching and a few other things to better answer the questions I asked her. I didn’t think it would be a good thing for anyone to see me buying a rosary. Although I was only curious, I didn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.
After we hung up, I started thinking up other questions and e-mailed them to Chris. John often ended up answering them because Chris’ time was limited with small children. As I started learning more, I had more questions and started looking things up online. I wrote Chris and told her I was doing this and she cautioned me to be careful as there is a lot out there contrary to Catholic teaching. “Just remember,” she told me, “even if it’s written by a saint, if it isn’t in the Church’s official teaching it isn’t necessarily correct.”
I was also waiting for my package to come. Even though it was coming Alaska, I didn’t think it should take so long and wondered if it’d gotten lost. Finally, a month later, it came. With it was a letter from Chris saying that she had purposefully delayed sending it. She said that someday when we looked back on this time of learning about the Catholic faith, she didn’t want anyone to ever think they had taken advantage of us in our time of sorrow to try to push us into the Catholic Church. Then, as now, it always amazes me how seriously the Catholic Church takes Jesus’ command to count the cost before deciding to follow Him.