For the first 14 years of my life, I was raised in a non-denominational, very charismatic church in a neighboring town.
I was about to enter high school, and my parents decided that it would be a good idea to start going to a church in our very Protestant town, which had an active youth group.
They thought it was important for me to be going to church with my peers and with whom I would be attending school.
It was here, through Sunday school classes, youth group, summer camps, and several mission trips that I received a solid foundation in my Christian faith and a passion for my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
I also developed a skepticism about the faith of my Catholic friends.
There seemed to me to be a great disconnect between the personal relationship I knew and the rituals and traditions that are reflected in the Catholic faith of my friends.
I just had so many questions: What’s with this Lent thing and giving things up? Statues everywhere? Kneeling? Praying to MARY?
None of my Catholic friends could answer these questions to my satisfaction.
I went to college—a small, private, ultra conservative Protestant Christian school not far from my hometown where my animosity, yet curiosity, about the Catholic faith grew through my studies of the Spanish language.
I took several mission trips to different parts of Mexico where I was able to see the beauty of the people and the culture.
A Man of God
At the end of my college career, I had just gotten out of a very bad long-term relationship, graduated, and had no permanent employment. There was no real solid direction for my future. It was an unsettling time and full of uncertainty.
I then had an opportunity to go on another short-term mission trip to Mexico with my Protestant church. It was a group of college age students, and I was going mainly as a translator.
While on this trip, we were paired with a working partner on the work site. In the hours we spent mixing cement, laying bricks, and framing and building a roof, my partner and I chatted about life and faith and everything in between.
We also led the worship team together, he played the guitar and I sang. Through his actions and leadership he really began to show me what a true man of God should look like, how a man should treat a woman, and ultimately how I had been settling for less than God’s best in my relationships.
I decided to tell him (being VERY CLEAR that I was not coming on to him) how his example was really teaching me.
Shortly after this conversation, we went in for a meal, and as we bowed our heads to pray, I saw him make the sign of the cross.
I was so distracted during the entire prayer. What? How on earth could THIS GUY, whom I JUST told was the best example of a man of God I had ever seen in my life, BE CATHOLIC?
Immediately I pounced on him with a thousand questions. How long have you been Catholic? How are you so faithful being Catholic? Do you pray to statues? AND Mary?
He took a deep breath and said, “Woah. How about we slow down and handle these questions one at a time?” Then, over the course of the next few days, he began to answer my questions.
Each answer was articulate and supported by scripture. Each answer led me to ask more questions and dig deeper into the Catholic faith.
No Catholic I had ever met had been able to sufficiently satisfy my inquisitions like he had. After the trip, we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and he continued to answer my questions.
We spent several hours a day together (over the phone) and apart reading and searching for answers to things like “extra” books in the Bible, the Saints and Mary, and the traditions of the Catholic faith.
The Moment that Changed Everything
We continued to discuss the differences between most Protestant faiths and Catholicism. Of course, the major difference is transubstantiation and the Eucharist, and for this I looked at Mark 14:22-24 with a renewed sense of understanding:
<<While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them>>.
I had read this scripture multiple times in my life but had never looked at it quite the way a Catholic does.
It takes such extraordinary faith to believe that the bread and wine ACTUALLY BECOME Christ’s flesh and blood. It was then that I became a Catholic at heart.
My thoughts were, yes, it doesn’t really make sense, but, when I arrive in Heaven, I want the Father to look affectionately at me and say <<Well done, good and FAITHFUL servant (Matthew 25:23).”
So often we want our faith to be logical and to follow patterns, but the truth of the matter is, it doesn’t take much faith and trust to be logical.
During this time, my once work site partner then became my boyfriend, changed his major to theology, and transferred to a charismatic Catholic University which had a very reputable RCIA program.
He got me into the classes, and I began what I affectionately refer to as “Catholic boot camp.”
They were very intense and required many hours of reading and personal reflection outside of class time. They were often all day on Saturday and Sunday, and through these classes, I met many other faithful Catholics.
Furthermore, because the program was charismatic, it married my roots with my new faith.
I learned about the Communion of Saints which resolved my conflict of “praying to the Saints and Mary,” I experienced the freedom of Confession, and then on Easter 2005, I rejoiced in receiving the Eucharist for the first time.
God Plans are Not Our Plans
Simultaneously as I was coming into my faith, my boyfriend was deepening his—and he felt the need to discern the priesthood. I was heartbroken and crestfallen. I thought I had found my calling to family and motherhood with him.
How could I have changed my entire modicum of worship, only to have my safety net ripped away?
My very Protestant family was not particularly supportive of my decision to be confirmed in the Catholic Church (only my boyfriend’s family made the trip for the Easter Vigil in which I was confirmed).
And now confirmed, I would no longer have my class friends who upon graduation were going all over the world, my boyfriend, or my boyfriend’s family to support me in my newfound faith?
Furthermore, my vision of my life full of many children and music and the Catholic faith was slipping away.
We went our separate ways. I changed jobs twice and moved back home to my very Protestant town. I prayed a lot. My family continued to press me to come back to our home church, appealing to my relationship status. —“By becoming Catholic, you narrowed your options for potential mates considerably,” my dad affectionately reminded me, as if I hadn’t already been weeping on my own about that realization daily for the last year.
The hollow space of loneliness made room for me to see the deep connection between the ways of ritual and the heart.
Even as my emotions run wild and my heart breaks, there’s a grounding measure in these practices of prayer, liturgy, and communion—being stripped of nearly everything I held dear, and finally experiencing in my heart what “God with us” truly means.
I had to be faithful to Him, not the people who were bringing me near to him. And though, I was angry at God, I had no choice but to rely on Him to bring me through this very lonely time.
He did —by reconnecting me with some of my kids from the Protestant summer camps who then helped me to meet up with an old friend from high school.
Matt was Catholic, and a buddy of mine, one whom I had brow beat with questions about his faith that he could not answer when we were teens.
Now that we were young adults, we had a little life experience and a little more in common than we did in our youth.
In passing, I mentioned that I was going to his church, and would be sitting near St. Stephen and St. Ann at the 10:30 service.
He showed up and sat with me, and through a common faith, we began a relationship.
Three years later we married, and three after that we had our first child.
Now in 2019, a Catholic of nearly 14 years, I am a wife, a mother to three children ages 5 and under, a teacher, and a worship leader (cantor) again.
Fifteen years ago, on that trip, I could have never imagined my life looking the way that it does now, but I am so glad that God led me through each challenging and transformative step, to bring me to where I am today.
Hannah Hazi is a Catholic wife and mom of three kids ages 6 and under. She is a high school Spanish teacher in a little town in Pennsylvania. She shares her musical gifts as a cantor in her parish. She loves cooking, reading, painting, and being outdoors.