Surprised by truth
Eucharist, truth, and unity draw the Shetler family to Catholicism
Eucharist, truth, and unity draw the Shetler family to Catholicism
After years of praying, questioning and reading, Derek and Ashley Shetler attended Mass for the first time in July 2022. It was at Holy Name of Parish in Harbor Beach, and Father Kevin Wojciechowski was presiding. They listened to the Scriptures proclaimed in the readings and spoken throughout the liturgy.
They weren’t Catholic, but they sensed God was drawing them in that direction. They remembered Father Kevin’s homily started with the question, “Why are you here?”
That question pierced Ashley, as if it was directed specifically at her. ‘Why am I here?’ she wondered.
Not long after, Ashley joined a friend for weekday Mass at St. Hubert Parish, St. Joseph Church in Rapson.
As the communion line neared her, she decided to approach Father T.J. Fleming to receive a blessing.
And she knew.
The Eucharist was Jesus, and everything the Catholic Church taught was true. Tears filled her eyes as she returned to her seat.
“My being— my soul— was full,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘OK, I’m listening, God.’ … I just felt God confirm everything.”
The Elkton couple laugh that the first 20 percent of their coming into full conversion took long, arduous months of research and prayer and resistance, like slowly climbing uphill; but the final steps that took them over the edge into the Church were swift and complete.
“It’s felt like a long journey, but also a blur,” Derek said.
“We were always serious about our faith,” said Ashley. “We didn’t know what we were looking for… but prayer has been the thing that did it.”
They also joke that “if you pray for the Lord’s guidance, be careful what you pray for!”
Opportunity to live an authentically Christian life
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, Derek began reading theology, philosophy and Christian history books, discovering that a lot of what he had believed about the Catholic Church was incorrect. In some instances, he was misinformed; in others, the Church had a reasonable position, rooted in Scripture.
He also learned that the Church Jesus Christ founded was not the Christian Church in general— it was the Catholic Church. Historical records and the writings of early Christians known as the Church Fathers were irrefutable.
“One of the most surprising things was … once you look into it, it makes sense. You can disagree with what the Church says, but you can’t say they haven’t thought it through,” he said.
Their desire to find the answers led to a deeper humility and trust in God’s wisdom and guidance. When they encountered questions, they sought out good sources and brought their questions to prayer and asked the Lord to help them understand.
“I personally had various humps along the way to overcome, but God's grace saw me through each one,” Ashley summarized.
Paradoxically, they have also embraced what they don’t yet understand.
“I have found myself being more appreciative of the mysteries of God. I can't possibly know all that he knows, but he has given me my whole life to get to know him better,” Ashley said. “Somehow, my faith has increased in knowing that there is so much I don't know.”
In addition to books like Rome Sweet Home by Dr. Scott Hahn and Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed, Derek also began learning about the history of Christianity, discussing topics in online groups.
He also considered his spiritual responsibility to his family.
“We have the obligation and the opportunity to live an authentically Christian life,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Ashley was reading the same books, and they would discuss what they were learning.
“The depth is just mind-blowing,” she said.
Ashley was also deeply moved by the unity of the Church. When she attended a pro-life event with friends, the Catholics (who were a majority of those attending) prayed the Rosary together, using the same words in the same rhythm.
Slowly, the couple came to a realization.
“Joining the Church seemed inevitable and unavoidable,” Derek said.
Derek and Ashley began the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults (OCIA), and their children Asa, then 8, and Luka, then 5, began preparing for baptism at St. Hubert Parish in Bad Axe. Derek also joined a group of men at Holy Name of Mary Parish participating in the Exodus 90 spiritual exercises.
Experiencing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass gave them a new perspective on the Catholic faith, as well.
“We thought [Mass] was a style of worship,” Derek recalled. “I didn’t realize it was literally the most important thing you can be a part of!”
Father T.J. Fleming, pastor of St. Hubert Parish, remembered the family approaching him to inquire about joining the Catholic Church.
“They were just a lovely family to work with and so eager to learn,” he commented.
In his 38 years of priesthood, he has only worked with a handful of families coming into full communion together.
“It’s a blessing,” he said of welcoming new members into the Church. “It’s just a great joy. It brings peace to our life and purpose to our ministry.”
Seeing candidates and catechumens, especially adults, joining the Church changes the dynamic in the parish as well, he said.
“It challenges people born and raised in the Catholic faith; it’s a spark to want to learn more,” he said. “I think it’s a spark for me, too!”
In addition to their classes, the Shetlers also participated in a number of rites leading up to the Easter Vigil. These included the Rite of Acceptance, in which they publicly expressed their intention to respond to God’s call. Father T.J. welcomed them into the church as they entered the sanctuary. Later in the rite, Father T.J. and their friends and sponsors, Curt and Emily Tenbusch, traced crosses each of their foreheads, symbolizing them being marked as Christ’s own. Curt and Emily had first invited the Shetlers to learn more about the Catholic faith and accompanied them on their journey.
During the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, which is held the first Sunday of Lent, the Shetlers joined many others in affirming their desire to join the Catholic Church. Those who have not yet been baptized, including Asa and Luka, also wrote their names in the Book of the Elect.
“Father T.J. walked us through the Rite of Acceptance with our sponsors … [and] I remember how beautiful the Rite of Election was,” Ashley said. “Those were very special times and moments that I was so thankful for having been able to experience.”
The OCIA (formerly RCIA) process is gradual and thorough, acknowledging that the Holy Spirit gradually opens our hearts.
“Real conversion— turning our hearts to Jesus— isn’t quick,” said Peg McEvoy, coordinator of faith and catechist formation and OCIA for the Diocese. The Church asks catechists to consider the readiness of each person for the next step in the process.
“We, especially as Americans, tend to see any process as one that starts and ends, almost as a graduation,” she said. “Instead, we are to focus on gaining spiritual strength and eventual fruitfulness as the introduction to the RCIA says: ‘By God's help, they will be strengthened spiritually during their preparation and at the proper time will receive the sacraments fruitfully.’”
This wisdom fits with what Derek realized as well.
“Faith isn’t learned or taught in a single day, but day-by-day for your whole life,” he said.
Their journey crescendoed with the Sacraments of Initiation during the Easter Vigil, April 8, 2023. Derek and Ashley, who were both previously baptized into the Christian faith, received the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Luka was baptized, and Asa received all three Sacraments of Initiation.
“Reflecting back on the Easter Vigil, it was very much like my wedding in that there was so much build up, and the day came and it was all a blur!” Ashley said.
Both children were excited to be baptized and eagerly approached the font. As Father T.J. poured water over Asa and Luka’s heads, Ashley and Derek’s faces shone with joy.
“I can’t imagine a better moment as a father,” Derek said.
As a member of the Catholic Church, Luka will receive First Holy Communion and Confirmation at the appropriate age with the other children in their parish.
“To receive Confirmation and First Holy Communion felt like both a culmination and a beginning of our journey— truly indescribable!” Derek recalled. “It really hit me fully the first time I heard ‘Welcome home!’ during the hugs and handshakes after the vigil.”
A year of blessings
Since then, the Shetler family has continued to grow in their faith through prayer, spiritual reading, reconciliation and participating in Mass each weekend and on weekdays when they’re able.
“It has been wonderful to take the kids to different parishes whether we are traveling, or for a weekday Mass and be able to share with them that Jesus is present in each tabernacle,” Ashley said.
Looking back, Ashley sees that the Lord was fortifying them throughout their journey, offering encouragement and consolations when they were most needed.
“Though it can still be a struggle, I have experienced a greater peace knowing that I can trust in God’s plan of sheer goodness for myself and my family, even when I don’t always see it,” Derek said.
Both are immeasurably grateful for the gift of the Catholic faith.
“I love being Catholic! The richness, beauty and fullness of our faith is something you just can't quite experience outside of Christ's Church,” Ashley said.
Their Catholic faith is woven into their daily lives, from wholesome music to observing the liturgical calendar. Luka has a child’s Mass book that he uses to find the sacred items in each Catholic church, such as the altar or sanctuary candle. Each morning, the family uses the Magnificat magazine to pray together and read the Gospel. They learn about saints and reflect on their lives and their ‘yes’ to God.
They also reflect on their own ‘yes’ to God. What began as a few questions grew into prayers for the Lord to guide them to truth, and he led the family into his Church. To anyone curious to learn more about the Catholic Church, the Shetlers would eagerly encourage them to listen to God.
“Then I would tell them, right off the bat, it may seem overwhelming, but God doesn’t expect you to swallow the ocean!” Ashley said. (Derek joked that he would tell his past self that you don’t need to be able to recite the Catechism of the Catholic Church by the Easter Vigil.)
“You don’t have to say yes today. Just please don’t say no. Continue to seek answers to questions you have and continue to seek God’s will for you,” Derek said. “If you’re already praying, continue to pray. If you’re not, please start. You don’t even have to be good at it; just start spending time simply talking and listening to God. Then buckle up!”
What is the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults?
By Peg McEvoy, Coordinator of Faith and Catechist Formation/OCIA
The Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (formerly known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is the primary and ancient way people become Christian in the Catholic Church.
In the introduction to the OCIA/RCIA texts, it says that this rite is "designed for adults who, after hearing the mystery of Christ proclaimed, consciously and freely seek the living God and enter the way of faith and conversion as the Holy Spirit opens their hearts. By God's help, they will be strengthened spiritually during their preparation and at the proper time will receive the sacraments fruitfully." Everything in the OCIA process stems from this basic understanding.
Period of Inquiry and Precatechumenate
Faith is awakened and the fundamentals of Catholic teaching are explored.
| Rite of Acceptance and Welcome
V Individuals formally state their desire to become Catholic and the Church accepts them as catechumens (yet to be baptized) or candidates (baptized into another Christian tradition.)
Guided by catechists, catechumens learn more about the Catholic Church.
| Rite of Election (catechumens) and Call to Continuing Conversion (candidates)
V The first Sunday of Lent, those who seek baptism inscribe their names in the
Book of the Elect. Candidates for full communion into the Catholic Church also
publicly express their desire for the sacraments.
Purification and Enlightenment
| Reception of the Sacraments of Initiation
V Sacraments are administered during the Easter Vigil.
The neophytes (newly baptized and received into the Catholic Church) reflect on their experiences and God’s working in their lives during the OCIA process.