I received this e-mail from "N. from Omaha" a few days ago which asked a very good question:
Hi Cynthia ... I saw your blog and was very interested. Our stories are similar. I'm 37. Married to a Catholic. And, we're both ex-Mormons. I served a mission in Korea, and was a very active Mormon, married in temple. Left the LDS Church in '03 six months after my husband became Catholic. I've been exploring Buddhism and attending Unitarian Universalist church for two years. But I'm scared of exploring Catholicism. I don't know why it's so scary to me. I respect my husband's decision to join, but as a former Mormon I carry around so many biases against Catholicism. My motivation for learning about Catholicism would be to feel closer to God and my husband, and to give our two young children a foundation of faith.
How should I get over my fear? It's like I've been brainwashed my entire life to FREAK out at the sign of a cross? How do you overcome the Mormon programming?
Thank you for the question, N! "Deprogramming" from old Mormon prejudices and stereotypes is a huge part of mentally freeing oneself from the Mormon ties that bind.
I do understand about the Mormon biases against Catholicism, not to mention the Mormon biases against Protestantism, Judaism, and pretty much every religion except Mormonism. I do still carry some of those to this day, unfortunately. Going into a "Christian" bookstore makes my skin crawl. Bumper stickers with catchy little phrases like "In case of rapture this car will be unmanned!" really get on my last ever loving nerve.
But I've always been fascinated by Catholicism. Maybe it's the media and the way the church is presented, or maybe it's the cool little statues and metals, but I always was intrigued by the Catholic church. Growing up Mormon I was told bad things about the Church, but I always loved when I'd get to go to Catholic things with my father for work (he worked in Catholic hospitals his whole career) or got to go to Catholic weddings. I even went through a period in college (after I left the Mormon church) where I attended Mass.
After my search for God led me to a Catholic mass, and I realized this was where I needed to be, I read like crazy and figured out what all these statues and rosaries and prayers and paraphenalia meant. It got rid of much of the "ookies" that were residual effects from my Mormon upbringing.
Also, being raised Mormon, I was always taught to be a "good Mormon". So, moving my religious life into Catholicism, I instictively moved to become a "good Catholic." I read like crazy about all different aspects of the Church. I had to relearn to pray, but I quickly learned some of the basic prayers of the church such as the Hail Mary, etc.
At the same time, though, I also had to relearn how to simply worship God as opposed to trying to be a "good Catholic". Growing up Mormon, I had to pray and read the scriptures and do my calling and tithe 10% of my Gross, not Net, and had to do food storage and journaling and .... I'm sure you distinctly remember. But being Catholic, if all I do is go to Mass every week, confess when I sin, and pray when I can, I"m doing Ok. If I decide to do more, I'm doing Ok, too. It's a hard thing to realize that I can walk into church, attend Mass, receive the Eucharist, and go home, and that's perfectly Ok with God.
However ... I still would feel odd wearing a crucifix, and I would seriously feel odd wearing a cross. During my conversion process, I have learned to have great reverence to crucifixes, so much so that I would feel irreverant to a crucifix if I were to wear it. I am also very careful with my rosaries to make sure that they are treated with great respect because they have a crucifix on them. Crosses still remind me of the "Yay Jesus" mentality of protestantism and they still give me the willies. I wear a St. Benedict medal, which has Latin prayers on it, and has a small cross on it but not a "cross" cross, if that makes sense. It lets Catholics know I'm Catholic, and it gives me something to remind me of my Catholicism. I was the type of Mormon who wore my CTR ring constantly. I like to flash something that people who are "in the know" will know but people who do not know will be oblivious to it.
So what would I recommend to get over your ingrained fear of the Catholic church? What I would recommend for you to do first is to go to a Catholic church by yourself, when there is not a service going on so it will be quiet, and pray in front of the Tabernacle. As I'm sure you know, Catholics believe in transubstantiation, and that the consecrated Hosts truly are the body of Christ. Spending time in front of the Tabernacle and praying has brought me closer to God than any other action I have done in my conversion. Even if you feel uncomfortable praying, just go and talk to God there from your heart, not with any formula or with any memorized prayers. I truly think it will help you gain perspective and bring you closer to God. Trust me when I say this, I was beyond hope for many years. But the Eucharist, the miracle performed in every Mass, is what gave me an insatiable desire to become Catholic. I had to experience that, no matter what the cost.
Pray for the ability to learn how to pray better. It's a simple request. Ask God to teach you how to talk to him so that you can be closer to him. Every other request is gravy right now. That's the first prayer I prayed in a Catholic church, and it's one I pray every day. I have to learn not to pray to be a "good Catholic", but to pray to be closer to God. It's something I work on every day.
I hope this helps and I hope that it answers your question! If any of my readers have a question about Mormonism or my conversion, feel free to e-mail me (link in sidebar) and I will publish your answer here.