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-by Anne Barber, Anne was born in Haddonfield, NJ. From age seven, she began traveling the world with her parents, as her father’s jobs with the US government took them to live in Germany, Iran, and Brazil. Later, she received a BS from San Diego State University with a double major: Zoology and Spanish, and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami School of Law. She still holds an active law license in Florida. The same year she entered law school, Anne completed her studies for ordination through the Evangelical Church Alliance. She began leading mission trips to Cuba twice a year for 8 years beginning in 2003, completing a total of 16 trips. In 2004, Anne was one of the founders of My Father’s House, a nondenominational church in Ellenton, FL, and pastored for 12 years. During this time, she was a regular contributor to the clergy column, Faith & Values, in the Bradenton Herald. Her journey into the Catholic Church began in 2016.
How It Began
In early August 2016, my life suddenly changed — irrevocably and forever. It began on the night I picked up a rosary and a “How to Pray the Rosary” pamphlet, sat in the candlelight on my front porch, and prayed it for the first time. From the first prayer, tears began to roll down my cheeks. As I stumbled over — then embraced — the sentence, “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” I felt a distinct motherly presence next to me. Unseen, yet comforting, consoling, inviting. I remember saying, “Mary, if you’re there, I could sure use a mother.” And a response came, “I chose you.”
Since 2004, I had pastored My Father’s House, an Evangelical church in Ellenton, and later Parrish, Florida. I am also an attorney and a licensed member of the Florida Bar. I had never given Catholicism even a passing thought. But I had a number of rosaries in my house, thanks to my dear friend, Gloria Martinez, who had worked for me for 10 years. Gloria was a devoted Catholic woman who truly lived her faith. Over the years, she obligingly provided me with rosaries. First I asked her for a red rosary to hang in my red car. Then a blue one to hang on a blue stained glass mirror. Then rosaries for friends who saw mine and wanted one. Of course, they were only for decoration, since I absolutely did not believe Mary was anything more than Jesus’ earthly mother.
Like most evangelicals, I believed Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. But I also believed Mary had at least seven other children with Joseph after Jesus was born (Matthew 13:55–56). I felt the title “Mother of God” bordered on blasphemy.
Now, sitting on my porch, speaking to the warm presence I felt near me, I was immediately able to put all my prior concepts about Mary aside. They simply didn’t matter any more. What mattered was that she had apparently entered my life, and I decided to let her show me who she was.
I had discovered the EWTN Catholic television network, and had begun watching the programs. Soon I ordered a painting from their Catalogue, one of Mary holding the infant Jesus and a lamb in her arms, entitled Innocence. I also ordered two books by Mother Angelica. I put the painting on my bedroom wall, where any parishioners entering my home would not see it.
One night, as I sat on the bed, reading one of Mother Angelica’s books, I looked up at the painting, and it seemed as if I saw one of Mary’s hands move. I kept watching, and it did move! So did her head, as she bent down toward the baby. Then her mouth opened as if she were speaking to the child. (However, I heard no sounds.) Following this, it seemed His head turned up to look at her. Finally, she appeared to sway back and forth as if rocking the baby and the lamb, with her dress clearly blowing in the wind!
What?! I was so startled that I took off my glasses and put them on again. Surely this was some sort of optical illusion. But no, the painting began to move again. Now I was frightened! Was there something evil about this painting? Was this woman about to step out of the painting into my bedroom? Was God displeased that I had been talking to Mary? That I had hung the painting? I prayed to God that it would stop moving. It sort of did, but I felt there was still an entity in my room, and it scared me.
The next day, I tried to contact Gloria, to ask her about it, but I couldn’t get in touch with her. That night, the painting moved again. This time, the lamb also opened its mouth, as if it were bleating, and the baby’s face turned red, as if he had been awakened and was about to cry. The third night, too, the painting moved as if it were a living scene, and rays of light shone out from the painting into the room. Absolutely shocking!
I decided, then and there, that I either needed a psychiatrist or a priest! The following day, I visited a local Catholic church, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Parrish, FL. My husband, Bob, and I had been there before to visit their thrift store. Afterwards, on one or two occasions, we entered the empty sanctuary to see the artwork and statuary. I’d even given a donation to light a candle for prayer requests.
On the day after the third evening of seeing the painting of Mary come alive, Bob accompanied me to St. Frances’ thrift store, and I asked one of the workers how I could learn more about the Catholic Church. The thrift store lady kindly informed me that RCIA classes were beginning the following week, and if I was interested, I should visit the office. She explained these were classes for adults inquiring about the Roman Catholic Faith, and that taking the classes did not mean I had to become Catholic.
We went to the church office. Bob is a retired Lutheran Pastor, now pastoring a Community Church part time. He loves to “talk shop” with other clergy, and asked to see the priest. The retired priest in residence, Father David, graciously made time for him, and the two of them went to a conference room. I spoke with the secretary, meanwhile, asking her about the RCIA classes. She immediately recognized me from my photo in the Bradenton Herald, for which I wrote an occasional article for the Pastors’ “Faith Matters” section. “You want to know about the classes for yourself?” she asked incredulously.
Next, I spoke with the woman in charge of parish education, and cried when I related my experience with the Rosary. When I told her of the moving picture of Mary, she didn’t react adversely, but explained what an “apparition of Mary” was. It was if I were being propelled quickly in this new direction. I didn’t know it then, but Mary had taken me firmly by the hand and was leading me step by step to her Son in the Eucharist.
I was assigned a wonderful RCIA teacher, Georgia, who agreed to teach me privately, so as to not expose me to folk in the community who might know who I was. (“To prevent scandal,” she said.) My husband was nonplussed, having decided I was going through some sort of “phase” that would pass. He even agreed to attend a morning Mass or two with me.
Georgia suggested she attend daily Mass twice a week with me, to answer any questions, and afterwards, we could meet for class. The second Mass Bob and I attended was on a Tuesday. For the Eucharist, Georgia explained that I could go forward, cross my arms when I got to the priest, and receive a blessing. I happily did so. After Father spoke the blessing over me, I felt like an anointing had been poured on me. I could physically feel a warm, weighty substance on the top of my head. When I got back to my seat, I said to Georgia, “I felt something. I can’t move.” She replied, “God is pouring out His graces on you.” I knew right then that there had to be something profoundly different about the Catholic Communion and began intensely desiring to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist.
The Mass ended with a novena to the Virgin Mary. Bob could barely tolerate listening to it and later reiterated the Protestant view on what he termed “Catholic heresies.” I didn’t care. Something had happened to me, and I wasn’t going to fight it. I knew that God was sending me in this direction and that I would become Catholic. Not because of the Church’s great theology, or because the Fathers of the Church were convincing, or because I had thoroughly analyzed my experiences in light of scientific evidence, or because I understood anything intellectually. Simply put, I had met Mary. She had made herself known to me, crept into my heart, and I was already prepared to follow her anywhere she led me.”