Pamela Simcock, who serves on the Diocesan Review Board, was received into the Church in 2015. (Courtesy photo/Pamela Simcock)
By Pamela Simcock
Recently, I attended a meeting with Bishop Peter Christensen. After the meeting, the Bishop warmly greeted each of us. When he reached me, and kindly inquired how I was, I mentioned the momentous day that he baptized me at the 2015 Easter Vigil Mass.
He smiled and asked, “Did it take?”
I laughed, “Most definitely.”
The Bishop then asked if I was happy with my decision to become Catholic.
I have thought a lot about the answer to his question since our conversation and about the meandering path that led me to Catholicism.
I grew up in a small south-central Idaho town with a mom who was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a dad who was raised stringently Pentecostal. The compromise my parents ultimately reached between those two diverse theologies was to abandon both. Before they reached that decision, however, my grandfather personally baptized me into the LDS Church at age 8, and I received a good dose of Mormon Sunday school.
I remember loving then, as I do now, the books and the stories in those Sunday School classes. I also remember asking a continuous stream of questions, much to the consternation of my teachers. My persistent inquiries were discouraged to the point that eventually the Sunday school leaders suggested that maybe it would be better if I didn’t attend classes without a parent present. When my mom and dad left the Mormon Church, I was set spiritually adrift.
My high school graduating class was just shy of 200 students. I was close with a group of friends who, I believe, were the only girls in our class who did not attend the Mormon seminary classes. Two of my girlfriends were Catholic. I knew where they went to church and every time I drove by, I was drawn to the brightly colored statue of Mary near the entrance of the small white stucco building. It intrigued me that a church would include a spiritual image who looked more like me.
My college years began at a private women’s institution and involved many theoretical courses in comparative religion and Western and Eastern philosophy. Practically, I had always felt God’s presence in my life, no matter how difficult life became. I was always looking for a way to strike up a conversation with Him.
My first marriage lasted a decade, and the violence I endured during that marriage brought me to my knees. After I left the marriage, my desire to feel God’s presence in my life intensified. I left Idaho to stay safe during the divorce process, working on a consulting project for a year in Manhattan and Las Vegas. During this time, I attended many different churches and studied diverse faiths and philosophies. I was mesmerized by the soaring sound of Baptist choirs. I felt a soothing sense of calm during Quaker meetings. I was drawn to the intellectual approach of Christian Science and felt academically at home in their reading rooms. I spent six months studying with Buddhist monks whose serenity and kindness constantly moved me to tears.
Wherever I went, the Mormons found me, due, I suspect, to the concerted effort of my maternal grandmother. I talked with the missionaries and visiting teachers who came to see me and read Mormon theology. I asked persistent questions and eventually realized that the answers to my questions were not found there. I felt guilty about not wanting to return to the church of my childhood, especially because of my grandparents, but I knew it wasn’t right for me.
I remember coming home to Idaho one weekend, primarily to visit family. I searched the internet for churches in the Boise area, seeking a faith tradition to explore next. The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist came up in my searches, and I found myself returning again and again to the lovely images on the Cathedral website. I looked up the worship schedule and decided to attend my first-ever Mass on a Saturday.
Walking up the sandstone steps toward those towering wooden doors that night felt like taking a step both back in time and toward myself. I walked into the building and was enveloped by the grace, beauty, and richness of the Cathedral. My eyes were drawn first to the figure of Christ on the cross above the altar. After that, I wasn’t sure where to look next: at the jewel-toned stained glass sparkling in the setting sun, at the faithful worshippers reverently kneeling on the floor, or at the stunning architecture reaching toward the heavens. It was a moment of sensory stun as I realized how and why such imagery has the power to connect us immediately to the miracle of God.
As I caught my breath, my eyes settled on the statue of Mary to the left of the ambo, her head bent in prayer. I was taken back in time to the image of Mary outside the tiny Catholic church in my hometown. I stood there feeling Mary’s invitation settle over me as the priest entered the Cathedral and the Mass began.
I sat in one of the rows directly in front of the statue of Mary. As Mass progressed, I found myself staring intently at Mary’s loving face, feeling an unprecedented level of peace, healing, and comfort. I didn’t understand what was happening during the Mass. I didn’t know when or why to kneel or stand. I didn’t know the words to the prayers or what to say back to the kind people in front of me who shook my hand and wished me peace. I did know, however, that something inside of me sparked to life that night, something I had hoped would ignite my life.
After that first Mass, I found myself searching for Catholic churches in whatever city I happened to be. I loved the Latin Masses in larger cities. I equally loved the quaint, wooden churches in smaller towns. Every time I went, I found myself searching for images of Mary and felt her healing presence as I sat in Masses that I still didn’t understand, feeling the tears stream down my face as my wounded heart knitted itself back together again.
In retrospect, I realize that those numinous experiences with Mary were the first of three reasons why I converted to Catholicism.
The second reason manifested itself as I became healed enough to ask the same types of questions of Catholic theology that I had asked my Mormon Sunday School teachers. To my surprise and delight, each time I asked a deacon, priest, or canon lawyer why the Catholic Church taught what it did, I was provided a clear line of reasoning that traced back logically through scripture and centuries of doctrine. The answers to those questions satisfied my need to understand why the Church taught what it did, and I never once felt that I was doing something wrong by asking questions.
I also never felt that I was doing something wrong when I continued to feel concern or even disagreed with a Church position. Whenever those moments occurred, I heard a version of, “The answers you seek are ultimately between you and God. Pray and ask for His guidance,” from whomever I was speaking with at the time. I never felt judged, even though I knew that the spiritual leaders with whom I spoke may have had strong beliefs that were different from my own. I was encouraged to explore and think and pray. I felt respected and trusted.
The third and final reason that led me to the Catholic baptismal font was based on my own morals and values, independent of theology or doctrine.
One of the religion classes I took in graduate school explored the question of what religion means to me. In that class, we explored many different definitions and paths of religious experience. Some of those paths were traditional such as family history. Some of them were spectacular such as visions, revelations, and miracles. And some paths to religious truth were more individual such as devoting oneself to monastery or committing oneself to a life of service. The path that felt most right to me was, and is, committing to a path of service to others.
Several years before taking that graduate school class, I had elected to leave for-profit consulting and to devote myself to advocating for victims of relationship violence: child abuse, dating violence, domestic violence, and elder abuse. I believe that this is the work to which God has called me. On this path, I feel that I am doing some small amount of good in the world as He patiently sands down my faults and rough edges.
The more I learned about Catholicism, the more I realized that my individual way of being religious in the world was very similar to the Catholic Church’s collective way. The Church’s history of advocating for public health and education is inspiring. The work that Catholic Charities and other Catholic ministries do today to serve the public good is equally humbling. I love that the Church offers service to all those in need, not just those who are Catholic and in need. This is one of the primary reasons I am so happy with my decision to become Catholic.
When I completed RCIA and was baptized in 2015, I went through a period of worrying about whether or not I was Catholic enough. I worried if I missed Mass. I fretted if I didn’t say the rosary often. I added stacks of Catholic literature to my reading list each week and felt a sense of failure if I didn’t get through it all. I tried to add being a Catholic to my other roles of wife, mother, advocate, teacher, student, activist, volunteer, writer and researcher.
Eventually I realized that being Catholic isn’t about adding another role to my already full life. Rather, being Catholic is about allowing the teachings of Catholicism to permeate who I am, no matter what I’m doing. When I finally got this, I stopped worrying about how Catholic I was and started focusing on how my Catholic values are expressed in all my endeavors. I’m not perfect at doing this, but since I have given myself permission to not have to be a certain way in my religion, I have ironically, become a more kind, respectful, and giving person.
Today, my relationship with the Catholic Church fosters the ongoing conversation with God I have longed for since I was a child. Sometimes I get busy and preoccupied, and the Church and I drift apart. But then, something happens, and I go back to the relationship.
I feel compassion for those people who have decided that religion isn’t worth their effort and perhaps have rejected religion. They are missing out on an incredible source of guidance, strength, and inspiration. I am so blessed to have found Catholicism.
And while I have forgiven myself for not being a perfect Catholic, I also have stopped expecting Catholics to be perfect for me. Working in victim advocacy, I feel great challenge when an incident of abuse is brought to light in the Church, especially if the abuse involves children or other vulnerable populations. I am concerned at times about the role of women in our faith and the Church’s ongoing response to discrimination, violence, and injustice.
Still, I feel hopeful and see evidence that the Church is working to thoughtfully respond to these important issues.
In my final analysis, it is easy to affirm a resounding “yes” to Bishop Peter’s question. I am so happy with the decision I made to become Catholic. I pray that in the years to come that I will continue to evolve as a person and as a Catholic. I pray that I will find ways to give back to the Church that has given so much to me. And I pray that each of you will feel the comfort of Mary in your lives, find meaning in your religious experience, and be accompanied by peace and hope as you walk your own paths through this miraculous and, at times, tumultuous life.
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