By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Book Review | Published May 4, 2006
“THE CATHOLIC MYSTIQUE: Fourteen Women Find Fulfillment in the Catholic Church,” by Jennifer Ferrara and Patricia Sodano Ireland. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, Ind., 2004); 299 pp.; paperback; $14.95.
Jennifer Ferrara had a dilemma. An ordained Lutheran minister, she was upset over her religion’s refusal to take a definite position on the sanctity of life.
Ferrara was intrigued with Catholicism because of its consistent stance on life and eventually felt called to become Catholic. Still, when she told her Catholic neighbor that she was thinking about converting, he was shocked.
“You don’t want to do that,” the neighbor said. “After being a Lutheran minister, you would be taking a giant step backward.”
She discovered that many people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, shared her neighbor’s view that the church was no place for “self-respecting, intelligent women.”
Ferrara went on to prove them wrong.
Received into the Catholic Church in 1998, she co-authored “The Catholic Mystique,” a collection of first-hand testimonies from more than a dozen educated, articulate, accomplished women who converted to Catholicism.
The stories are excellent and will intrigue readers eager to explore the mysterious workings of the conversion experience.
Ferrara’s story is one of the most compelling. As a Lutheran minister who presided over Communion, she says she grew troubled when she noticed crumbs left over from Communion being swept away by a vacuum cleaner.
“If (Lutherans) believed the bread was Christ’s body, they would not send it out with the trash,” she realized.
However, as she began studying Catholicism, she faced two big stumbling blocks: the church’s refusal to ordain women and the role of Mary.
As for ordination, she came to accept the Catholic position, once she understood the theology that it was based on.
“At the heart of the diversity between men and women lie the differences between motherhood and fatherhood,” Ferrara notes.
Thus she realized that women are not refused ordination because the church sees women as inferior, but because the priest acts in the person of Christ and because Christ Himself called God “father.”
“To state what has ceased to be obvious in a society governed … by the principle of androgyny,” she adds, “women cannot be fathers.”
Ferrara also came to see that Catholics venerate Mary as a way to grow closer to Christ.
“In my experience, true contemplation of her sacrifice, her service, her suffering inevitably leads to a deeper faith in her Son for whom she lived.”
Ironically, when Ferrara began attending Mass, she nearly lost her incentive to convert.
Hungry for the rich and beautiful traditions of Catholic worship, she found instead a “mind numbing” liturgy with contemporary music, which tended to “secularize and trivialize the sacred order.”
She persevered, however, and eventually found what she longed for on the day she walked into a traditional parish and heard the organist playing, “O Sacred Head, Surrounded.”
Another conversion story is by Barbara Zelenko, a Lutheran who experienced a turning point when she listened to tapes by Scott Hahn, who, she says, “offered me a whole new approach to the Catholic faith.”
Eventually she realized someone else was helping her on her journey—and it was the Virgin Mary.
As Zelenko decided to learn more about Mary, she discovered that Reformation leaders, such as Luther, Calvin and others, had accepted Mary as the Theotokos or Mother of God, but Protestant churches later had drifted away from her.
She asked herself why Jesus had chosen to be born of Mary, a human mother, when He could have appeared among us fully grown.
Soon she realized that His choice of a human mother had elevated Mary and had made her the mother of all God’s children.
Another compelling story is by Cathy Duffy, a lapsed Catholic who returned to the faith because of “hard-headed logic.”
When she began home-schooling her children, Duffy became curious about how she could explain to them why early Christians had included some books in the New Testament, while rejecting others.
She realized that the very Bible that Protestants use today was compiled by the early fathers of the Catholic Church, whose authority, ironically, was rejected during the Reformation.
“The more I was forced to defend my conclusions,” she writes, “the more I appreciated that Catholicism possessed the most logical presentation and defense of Christianity.”
Lorraine Murray is the author of three books on spirituality. She is a regular contributor to The Georgia Bulletin’s Viewpoints section, and to the Faith and Values section of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.