Our wonderful intern, Beth Kelleher, interviews Catholic convert and social worker Melissa Ralston about her faith journey. Photo by Meghan Clemm.
Here at The Catholic Catalogue we stress that being Catholic means living a life. Melissa Ralston is living a Catholic life in Grove City, PA. I met her when she spoke to one of my college classes about her career in social work. As we sat down to chat Melissa’s raw and beautiful description of her faith became the main topic of conversation.
“Mass gave me what I needed to pursue each week. For an hour I had peace and more understanding.”
It wasn’t until graduate school that Melissa officially joined the Catholic Church through the process of RCIA. As an undergraduate student she was asked to be a godmother to her step-sister’s son. Because of her role as godmother she felt responsible to learn more about the faith. Melissa began attending Mass with some of her friends who sang in the choir of a Catholic Church. She loved the music and eventually Mass became important to her personally as well. She shared, “It gave me what I needed to pursue each week. For an hour I had peace and more understanding.”
Melissa’s story of conversion to the faith is full of honesty and self-evaluation. “I had to ask a lot of questions. God and I went round and round,” she laughs.
Even after initially coming to the faith Melissa struggled with God. She lived through about 6 years of watching loved ones suffer from illness, dealing with chronic pain herself, and facing feelings of rejection and fear. Melissa felt in some ways as if she’d hit rock bottom. She had found and accepted God, and yet life continued to present challenging trials. Amid the problems she faced, Melissa began considering what advice she would give to social work clients who felt they had hit rock bottom. “I would tell them to step back, accept, and let go of guilt and anger.” Melissa explains how we often carry negativity around with us like a suitcase full of bricks. We are heavy people with our worries and our desires to be loved, accepted, and included. Melissa found peace and the energy to keep going by laying her concerns and sufferings out to a priest. She was beautifully honest with herself and with God and as a result she was able to lighten her load. Despite difficulties she explains, “My life is always better when God’s presence is at the center.” Her turning point didn’t come from holding onto guilt or negativity, “Aha! moments never come from guilt trips,” she smiles. Basic trust and self-evaluation helped Melissa to keep moving forward on her journey.
Social work has helped Melissa value the right of the individual to self-determine, both inside and outside the realm of faith. A client should have a certain freedom over their own life. Melissa also sees a need for this freedom in the lives of Catholics. She says, “We all struggle and try our best and hope we are getting closer to God. But everyone has a right to their own path. People may prefer you take a quicker or easier path, but you must be true to your own way.” What Melissa says rings true to me as a Catholic. So often we compare our own faith journey with the journeys of our friends, our heroes, and even strangers. We look for certain milestones that other people pass and we are discouraged when we travel at a different pace than it seems others are traveling. Melissa highlights a need we have to respect the different routes people take to faith.
Today Melissa describes herself as resting in thankfulness. She doesn’t know yet what the future holds for her career, or what other difficulties might come her way, but she trusts that God will provide. “Looking back there was a path prepared for me, a very scenic one,” she admits with a smile. The peace I see in her eyes and her easy smile are evidence that God has blessed her hard work.
– Beth Kelleher