To read Part One, click here.
As Carol got up from the table, and as I thought about heading upstairs to my computer, she pointed to a boxed DVD set by the TV in the next room and asked:
“Can we watch that?”
I was stunned. It was the DVD set that I consciously debated putting out of sight before she arrived in Phoenix (so as not to be so “in your face” with all the Catholic stuff we have), but that I ultimately, providentially, decided to leave right where it was. It was Father (now Bishop) Robert Barron’s Catholicism.
In one surreal instant, Carol and I had gone from a quarter-century of never speaking of religion to Carol requesting to watch one of the best, newest (and longest!) presentations of the Catholic Faith in existence. It was almost like I had entered the Twilight Zone -- that's how unexpected it was.
Working to keep my shock in check (and wanting to yell for Dean), I answered: “Sure! Do you want to watch it now?” She did, and we sat down together on the couch. I was almost apologetic as I chatted with her as it began, not fully believing that she really wanted to watch, and praying that she would stay awake. She was absolutely notorious for falling asleep while watching television, and sure enough, about ten minutes into Episode 1, she was sound asleep. I lamented the missed opportunity, but I continued to watch alone just in case she woke up; however, in the end, she snoozed through the whole thing. Drat. As I moved to turn off the television, Carol suddenly awoke, looked at me, and said, “That was very interesting! Can we watch more?”
We proceed to watch Episode 2, and then over the course of the next several days, we watched all ten hours, all ten episodes. Every day I thought that she would forget or decide she was not interested in continuing. But she never forgot, and she was always interested. And, to my utter shock, not once in all those hours did she fall asleep again. Trust me, that alone was a miracle!
By Episode 10, the discussion was about the Last Things (Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory), and Carol’s questions came more frequently. We had an excellent theological discussion -- but it still seemed so odd. Was this really my secular, Jewish, pro-"choice", liberal mother-in-law? Dean and my daughter Priscilla had been watching the final episodes with us that night, and they were equally stunned with this strange and wonderful happening, but we all tried to stay nonchalant.
The series finally completed, Dean went up to bed while we ladies lingered a bit; Carol seemed to want to keep talking, as this was her last night in town. We stood in a hall area, chatting, and then she said this exactly: “I can see the appeal.” Oh gosh, I know what she is getting at, I thought, but what do I say? I don’t want to push in any way.... The normally verbose Catholic blogger/teacher was scrambling for the right words! I sent up a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit.
“Oh, yes," I threw out there, "Now you can see the beauty of the Faith that Dean was drawn to! I know it was hard for you to understand back then. And he never felt he had to abandon his Jewish roots, but he was simply completing his Judaism. He discovered that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Church He founded is the New Jerusalem.”
Those few sentences were the most I'd ever spoken to Carol about her son's conversion in the 15 years since his baptism.
She seemed agreeable to all that I said, and then she asked, “How long does it take?” I hesitated, Priscilla and I glanced at each other (She was asking how long it takes to become a Catholic?!), and I told her that it takes several months to go through the RCIA process, and that I used to teach the converts years ago if she had any questions. I also mentioned that it’s still possible to be privately catechized if one could not physically get to a regular class.
Other than expressing a desire for a book that was discussed on the video, (Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton, which I promised to send her), Carol didn't request anything more that night. In retrospect, I know that she would have been grateful for more information and guidance, and I'm guessing she was surprised that she didn't get any.
After Carol retired, Priscilla and I quietly marveled together. Did she really say that? Did she really ask that? Is this for real? I was grateful there was another witness there to confirm the things that Carol had said. I knew exactly what had occurred, of course. Carol had watched the series with an open heart, sincerely seeking God. God can work with such a heart. Ten hours of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty streamed through her eyes and ears, and her soul responded in exactly the way a soul is made to respond to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty: it was drawn in, excited, enchanted. One of my favorite sayings, “Truth comes with graces attached”, was played out right in front of my eyes that week. I had the privilege of seeing it happen.
Carol flew home to Atlanta the next morning, I ordered and sent her Merton's book, and that was it. Yes, that was me -- the big, bold Catholic evangelist and teacher, doing essentially nothing! I was too nervous to take another step. Over the weeks, Dean and I were still awestruck over it, occasionally wondering what we should do and praying about it, but since he, also, was entirely too sensitive about not wanting to push or manipulate, and since we kept second-guessing the whole situation, or wondering if she would persevere or drop it, we didn't do a thing and we stopped talking about it.
Carol took the next step. During a phone call in January or February, she mentioned to Dean that she would really like to be baptized. It was so surreal to him that he didn't even tell me about it until we were at dinner that night, and then only casually, as if he were speaking of our shopping list. I responded with elation and motivation, but also with some shame. I imagine she'd hoped that we would talk to her about the Faith in the ensuing months, which of course we never did. Poor Carol had to work up her courage to ask her son for help. As she always had lived in certain timidity of being ridiculed or chastised by others, it was no small thing for her to keep asking. At that point, I finally acted.
And this is where God, who loves to surprise and delight us, made a perfect move.
To be continued....
Part Three is here!
(I am so thankful that Fr. Barron is aware of the miracle of which he was a part! His Word on Fire ministry reprinted this excerpt from Carol's story, here. God is good!)