Did I ever tell you how I started praying the Rosary before I became Catholic?
If you haven’t read my conversion story or followed me on Twitter for a while, you may not know that I was a new ager and Buddhist back in 1994 when I began volunteering in a Catholic bookstore. I volunteered at first just to help put the place in order. I would grab a fast food dinner and head to the bookstore after my day job, and the store staff would lock me in and leave me to it for a few hours at a time. After a few days I even got a key. My self-appointed task was to clean every shelf in the place, figure out what things were (a daunting task for a gal raised Methodist and clueless about Catholicism), and put it all back together again in a way that made sense. The all-volunteer staff at the time had been shelving things by the “I can reach this shelf from where I’m standing, so that’s where this goes” method. Oy.
But to put things in order I had to know what they were. I had to open up the books and read a little. The bookworm in me was delighted. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. Oh, and all the tape sets! Yes, tapes. We had several tape sets by Scott Hahn and I wanted to listen to them all. I began with his conversion story (here’s a transcript of it). I was intrigued by his account of his discovery of the Church and of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s role in the Church and salvation history. (I was especially intrigued by the story of his discovery of the Rosary and how he turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary when he needed help in a serious situation. And how he was worried at first that doing so would offend the Lord.)
As time went on the director asked me to come work as a full-time paid employee. (As manager and buyer later on.) It was a small store with a small crew and for a while I was the only paid member of the three-person staff. Later we got one more. It was a small store, but, my, she was yar. ;)
Fast forward to 1995. I was still not Catholic but I was fascinated by the Church. I was reading encyclicals every morning at breakfast, attending a weekly class on the Catechism, and listening to apologetics and Bible study tapes in the car. Evenings I would pore over catalogues to learn who carried what. I still had lots of questions about what was what, too. It was all a bewildering array of unfamiliar things. I was attending Mass with a friend, too, and helping her out at her parish. (She was a catechist and youth director. It was for her that I first ventured into the bookstore, so I could tell her what was there. I’d noticed it one day on my way home from work.) At the end of the Catechism class, at the end of summer, I finally asked the priest leading it to give me instruction. I wanted to take his Know Your Faith class beginning later in the fall. (He didn’t want to call it Convert Class so every week he asked the janitor to put a Know Your Faith sign on the door, and every week the janitor would hang out a Convert Class sign instead. Every. Single. Week.)
I worked on at the store, still not Catholic but on the way. I came up with an inventory system of sorts. There was none when I came on board. We had old computers running MS-DOS and I decided to enter our inventory into a program that was not made for a retail bookstore at all, but we had a low, low budget and we had to make do. Every day, between waiting on customers and learning more about Catholicism from them, I sat—surrounded by art on the walls, including a framed print of Our Lady of Guadalupe (the director told me the store was under her protection) on the wall behind the counter, statues on shelves (oh, the statues, I didn’t know what to make of them), and stacks of books—entering item after item into the system.
I got into this. I got so into it, in fact, that on one payday I made the bank run for the store, deposited the day’s receipts and rushed back, anxious to return to my favorite task.
But not as anxious as I would be a few days later when I was going to buy something and found my paycheck, folded up neatly in my billfold, and not in my account. I frantically rushed to the bank and deposited my check. Later I called (no smartphones back then, no apps, and no internet in the store, either) to check my balance. In dismay I discovered that a series of checks had bounced and I would be flat broke for the next two weeks after all the bank charges were paid.
I called a number the teller gave me and explained what I’d done and asked if they would please put the fees back into my account. To say that the lady on the other end of the conversation was unfriendly would be an understatement. Downright cold and rude, more like. She said she’d see what could be done but her tone and attitude gave me little reason to hope.
I sat at my desk, stunned. How could I have been so stupid? What to do now? I racked my brain, desperate for an answer. Looking up from my desk I saw the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her protection! I looked heavenward and said, as countless others from a Protestant background surely have: “Lord, if it’s alright, if it doesn’t offend You, I’m going to ask Your Mother for help.” I know, I know, how could it offend Him? But I didn’t know back then. “Blessed Virgin Mary, if you’re there (hey, I wasn’t kidding about my Protestant background), if you can hear me, if it’s alright that I ask this, can you please help me? I’ll buy a rosary today and start praying it if you’ll—”
That was fast. I didn’t even finish asking and the lady from the bank called me back and spoke—I never expected it—in a much-humbled, embarrassed, even contrite tone. “We’ll be happy to waive the fees and put the money back into your account. This is your first time so we’ll do it, but we won’t be able to do it again, you understand.”
I was so happy I almost kissed the phone. After the bank lady and I ended our conversation, I got right up, went over to the rosary display, and picked out a lovely new set of beads for myself, picked up an instructional booklet, a copy of the Rosary led by Dana and the late Fr. Kevin Scallon, paid for them, sat down and started praying. In gratitude and thanksgiving. In awe. And the beginning of love.
There you have it, the rambling story of how I started praying the Rosary before I was Catholic. Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll enjoy your visit to Catholic Heart and Mind and that you’ll visit often. God bless and may His peace be always with you.
This post begins a series of posts entitled, Did I ever tell you? Stay tuned for more.
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