How about this for a love story: the saga of Athea-Anne Lee Jendel, who fell in love with Catholicism and with the man who would become her fiance.
The Arlington Catholic Herald describes her remarkable journey from religion to religion, until something just clicked:
After a night of drinking too much for the first time, she woke up feeling that “there’s got to be more for me than doing things this way,” she said. “Not just the drinking, but in life.” There was something that needed to change, but she was not sure what.
She stood in front of the mirror, tears falling, and sang lines from a Protestant hymn, “I surrender all to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”
“Nothing dramatic had changed or was different, but internally there was a slight shift,” Jendel said. “Maybe God was opening me up for the next step.”
A month later, she started dating her co-worker Jeff, a Catholic. While in the past she wouldn’t have been open to dating a Catholic, she felt a new sense of openness.
They had their first of many Catholic/Protestant debates on one of their first dates. Subsequent discussions tackled everything from grace and justification to the sacraments and the saints.
“It was amazing to me that we kept dating,” Jendel said.
As the relationship progressed, Jendel started thinking about a future with Jeff. He helped her feel comfortable with the idea of raising future children together in the Church, “but I made it clear, I’m not converting,” she said.
After she agreed the children could be raised Catholic, she decided to attended Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) classes at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington “to learn more about the Faith and about Jeff,” said Jendel.
As she grew more invested in Jeff and Catholicism, friends and family members from home were worried and gave her Protestant resources on why Catholicism was not scripturally sound. “These were beautiful people who love the Lord, but I had to do my own research — lots of research and intense prayer,” she said.
Seeped in Protestantism since birth, her research on Catholicism sometimes “felt almost like I was going against God,” she said. “It was lots of internal struggle for me.”
She continued to attend RCIA, however, talked with and emailed Catholic friends, read books and watched videos on Catholicism, and attended Protestant/Catholic faith-discussion dinners.
Then, finally, “I had the most beautiful realization,” she said. “It started with the Eucharist. If you look at Scripture and compare it with early history, you could see the healing power of it,” said Jendel. The realization led her to see the sacraments as physical manifestations of God’s grace.“The sacraments are not a to-do list. They are a brilliant, physical way to receive Christ’s gifts to us,” she said.
The idea of grace as a gift, which holds a special place for many Protestants, Jendel saw in a new way through the sacraments.
“The Eucharist is actually receiving grace. In reality, sacraments are not things you are doing, but you are putting yourself in the path to receive the grace of Christ,” she said. “We are very real, physical people, and God’s using real, physical things.”
When members of the RCIA class started talking about confirmation saints, Jendel decided to study some saints’ lives herself. She came across St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patron of the Arlington Diocese and a convert with a deep connection to Scripture and the Eucharist. The saint’s twofold love “resonated with me,” said Jendel.
She even tried praying to St. Elizabeth. But since praying for the saints’ intercession is not part of Protestant faiths, she did so with trepidation.
“I would pray, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to ask for Elizabeth Ann Seton to intercede for me. Sorry if this is wrong,’” she said.
Three weeks before the Eater Vigil, unbeknownst to Jeff, Jendel stared considering converting.
As part of her decision-making process, she attended a faith discussion dinner on charismatic Catholicism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For Jendel to hear “that the Church has (the charismatic tradition) in its heart” was something very important to her. The dinner also left her feeling that charismatic Catholicism was “more sound then faith-filled Protestantism,” she said.
Once Jendel fully grasped the gifts of the sacraments, saints and Holy Spirit, she recognized the fullness of Christ in the Catholic Church. Here was a faith that did not just have a piece of truth, but a complete truth.
She made her decision.
When she told Jeff, he was shocked. She’d consistently told him she was not converting, and he’d never pressured her.
Jendel knew her decision was bigger than the relationship, but her choice to convert was buoyed by Jeff’s love. “He loved me so well,” said Jendel. “The way he exhibited Christ to me, it was very helpful in my faith journey,” she said.
Jeff proposed a month and a half after Jendel was received into the Church.
Read it all. It’s a winner.