During my studies with the Rabbi prior to my conversion to Judaism, I was required to read several books about the history of Judaism and Jewish holidays and to learn to read enough Hebrew to follow the prayers during services. My husband and our friends joked: "You're learning more about Judaism than we know--and we were born into the religion!" Their comments made me realize that, as a Christian, I had known very little about Christianity. Other than my Sunday School warm and fuzzy feelings about Jesus, the man with open arms Who welcomed children to His knee, I had no true understanding of who Jesus was or why Christians throughout the ages were willing to become, for His sake, martyrs. Within months of my conversion, a brand-new Jew, I began reading everything I could get my hands on about Christianity. Unfortunately, I time and again picked authors who only wanted to put forth theories about the Historical Jesus, the real man, not the God man. I poured over books that told me Christ was a great human being who probably didn't really rise from the dead but was so esteemed that resurrection stories naturally appeared after his death. I read books that stressed Gnosticism or doubt, that focused on all that was earthly, on all that might be proven but very little on Faith or the supernatural. That mysterious Presence seemed to draw ever farther away.
My curiosity about and longing for this Presence existed within me, day after day. I carried this longing to work and to the movies; it sat with me in the company of family and friends. The more I read about Jesus the more I was filled with confusion and sadness. He was, to me, the ultimate mystery. I decided that I was a Jew whose lot it was to struggle with the concept of Christ, and so began reading literature written for "Jews for Jesus." I found in these books the first hint of comfort, of transcendence. I hid these books from my husband; I never mentioned a word to my friends. I continued to pray the Lord's Prayer, and I became ever alert to the mention of Christ's name--in conversations, in the news, on the radio. I wondered if Christ was the Presence lingering, waiting.
One Sunday morning when my husband was out of town, I felt drawn to attend a local church, one I'd visited a few times previously with my friend T., a nun. This church was Catholic; at least it seemed Catholic to me, a nominal Jew who was now more used to occasional Temple services than to Christian worship. I drove over alone; walked in and sat in the very back. When Communion was offered, I sat unmoving. "It's for everyone," the usher whispered. I wondered what would happen if I walked forward to receive? Would I die? Would the church collapse around me? Terrified, I fled before the Mass was over.
This Christian cat-and-mouse game went on for months. I would go to this church, lurk in the back and stand, trying to be invisible. The priest eventually found me out and invited me to talk. "What are you looking for," he asked. I told him I wanted to know Jesus, but all I could find was the human, the man in the books who was called "Historical." I was looking for the other One. I was looking for a blessing. The priest and I talked for hours, about art and life, about the recent exciting investigations into the "real" life of the man Jesus. We debated the idea of the "real presence." After several meetings with this lovely, learned gentleman, this man who welcomed all to his Communion table, who was willing to give me, a Jew, Communion and to welcome me into his Church, I understood I was not yet in the right place. I knew little about the Catholic Church, only what I recalled from my children's few years in Catholic school, but I didn't want becoming a Christian again to be too easy. I had slipped effortlessly into Judaism without incorporating any of that religion's true essence or belief. I didn't want to be the same sort of Christian. And more and more, I knew I wanted to be a Christian. Not an Episcopalian or a Congregationalist, not a Protestant or a Jew for Jesus. I wanted to be a Catholic, a capitol "C" Catholic. This feeling came to me as an imperative. It came out of the blue.
And so began several years of wandering. I called my friend, T., who introduced me to a priest she knew who, she thought, might help me. I sat across from him in his office as he, dressed in a shirt and casual sweater, crossed his legs and asked what he could do for me. When I told him I thought I wanted to become a Catholic, he frowned. After a few minutes conversation he told me I should practice discernment. Maybe I would really be happier as a Jew. Maybe I should go to Temple on a regular basis, take up all the Jewish traditions and immerse myself in the religion. I asked him how one "discerns," and he told me that I should pay attention to what "feels good" and what "feels bad." When he stood, I thought for a moment he might give me a blessing. But all he did was shake my hand, check his watch and tell me good luck. That made me feel really bad.
I decided to get to work on my own. I read a Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible in order to avoid any "Christianizing" of the text; I wanted to see if the Old Testament really did tell of the coming of the Christ. I read a second Jewish translation: both of them pointed, like an arrow, to the events of the New Testament. I read the New Testament. I reread the Gospels. I bought a Crucifix and hid it in my dresser drawer. The Presence moved closer, not quite close enough to touch.
Finally, I confessed to my Catholic daughter that I was really being drawn to the Church, but I seemed to be discouraged at every turn. She and her family attended, still attend, a Traditional Church, one that adhered to the Latin Mass in spite of the wide-spread changes that followed Vatican II. "See Fr. B.," she suggested. I called her church and made an appointment, saying that I simply wanted to speak to a priest. Half expecting the same sort of meeting--one that intellectualized the Historical Jesus or one that seemed more therapy session than prayer session--I marked the date on my calendar. Little did I know that this meeting would change my life.