My freshman year at Hope I took a 2-credit introductory religion course with Dr. Ortiz. I found the course very challenging and it totally wrecked what I thought I knew about Jesus and Christianity. Near the end of the course Dr. Ortiz stopped me at the end of the class and said “You should be a religion major.” I spent the next two years after that wrestling with Christianity and seeking a denominational home that seemed theologically and philosophically consistent within and outside itself. I was having a horrible time and regularly interrogated Dr. Ortiz with questions via email which he would always respond to graciously and patiently with more answers than I really wanted or could emotionally bear.
I decided I would leave Hope to gain some perspective. I signed up for a domestic study abroad program where I lived in a cabin on a mountain a long car ride from civilization without my phone or Facebook and many other distractions. I intended to figure out this denominational issue once and for all. The summer before I left I took a church history course with Dr. Ortiz. Although the course was condensed at the time I took it and luckily had my whole semester “abroad” to meditate on it. During this time, I tried every church on the map. Funny enough, the way it worked out, even going to Protestant churches, I don’t think I got to receive communion that entire semester. Driving up the mountain, on the way home from my last church service that semester, which happened to be Mass, I looked out the window at the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I turned to my professor, also the driver, and said: “Want to know my pet peeve? When churches don’t serve communion every time. In the ancient church, the Eucharist was the whole point of going to church. Everything centered around that. At least for the sake of tradition, we should stay historically consistent.” We stayed silent a moment. I looked back out the window at the sun filtering through trees as we rounded a bend and the scene broke into another bright and beautiful landscape. I got uncomfortable. Finally, I said it out loud: “I have to be Catholic.”
As soon as we got home I emailed Dr. Ortiz and St. Francis de Sales Parish to alert them of the fact that my heart was on fire and this needed to happen as soon as possible. This was too many years in the making. I gobbled up all the Catholic media I could find, ravenous to know God in this new way that was true and beautiful, simple yet endlessly mysterious. When I came back to Hope for the Spring semester, the Saint Benedict Institute had all kinds of groups, activities and events on campus that I could do alongside Catholics in preparation for my baptism and confirmation. I joined the women’s prayer group, an Exodus 90 group, and met with Carly McShane (the campus missionary) and Fr. Nick weekly, and attended a three-week seminar on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. By the time the Easter Vigil arrived I was already a changed person. But that night, at my baptism, I became a new person in Christ, and through my confirmation I matured more fully into that person.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be given my eternal baptismal robes and then return to a campus with minimal Catholic community and then try to maintain my robes as I said I would in my baptismal promises. Without things like daily mass, constant access to the sacrament of reconciliation, such an intense community of Catholic students, and events that the Saint Benedict Institute has, I may have lost sight of my new identity. Besides the gift of a deeper, more fruitful, and eternal relationship with God, the next greatest gift that I received from my conversion almost 9 months ago is the new community of friends and family (including the communion of saints!) that I have found through the Catholic Church and more specifically through the Catholic community at Hope.
Jazz Porter is a senior studying Church History and Theology and Environmental Studies at Hope College. She is a member of the leadership team for the student group Hope Catholics and leads a bible study on campus. Jazz enjoys brewing her own kombucha and playing with her four guinea pigs.