MILWAUKEE — For many people, the sea represents a metaphor to chart the course of their religious journey, constantly changing with blue crests of bliss and fervor to the dark depths of doubt and disappointment. Erika Reinders, 26, said she first grasped control of her faith while water skiing on the choppy waves of Okauchee Lake.
Reinders, a recruiter for ManpowerGroup, was baptized when she was an infant but never considered herself a practicing Catholic.
Growing up in Okauchee, her family did not attend weekly Sunday Mass; but after her uncle died from a heroin overdose when she was in first grade, she had questions concerning death and felt “called to live his life.”
“It’s been a long and complex story for me to discover my faith,” said Reinders. “Being a kid and growing up, I’ve had all these questions so I explored any religion I could get my hands on, even Buddhism.”
During high school, Reinders attended church with her friends of other denominations, but she did not feel the same enthusiasm for their styles of worship.
“In college I kept feeling called back to the church,” said Reinders. “Many of my cousins were getting married around that time; I noticed that going to a Catholic wedding is so much more different than other denominations — there is a presence of the Lord there. You don’t get that feeling at other weddings.”
She graduated from UW-Madison in 2012 with a degree in history.
“I already had a grasp on Catholic theology from my background in history. If you take any aspect from medieval history or the Reformation to modern European history, you’re going to know a good amount of Catholic theology,” said Reinders. “From an intellectual standpoint, that part formed the fact that if I were ever to become religious, I would be a Catholic.”
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“I thought I was doing everything right, but my way of life wasn’t conducive to living well. God put some obstacles before me, to get as low as I needed to get, in order to really want to find my faith,” she said.
During her spiritual lowpoint in the summer of 2013, Reinders went water skiing with a friend from high school, a practicing Catholic, and noticed the subtleties of being a Catholic in everyday life.
“I realized from him that being Catholic isn’t about wearing religion on your sleeve, but just going about to be a truly good person and living well. That’s when I realized I wanted to become a Catholic again,” she said.
Reinders explored different avenues to return to the church and discovered an advertisement for Brewing the Faith, a monthly Catholic speaker series for young adults in St. Francis and Lake Country. She became reacquainted with a former coworker who gave Reinders a more personal dimension to living her faith.
“I had always enjoyed her company at work; I was not religious when we worked together and because she isn’t the type of person to proselytize, I had no idea about her beliefs,” said Reinders.
Their friendship opened the door to Cor Jesu (a Latin phrase meaning “heart of Jesus”) – a weekly eucharistic adoration service at St. Robert Parish, Shorewood.
“It wasn’t until Cor Jesu that I sat alone for an hour and I was able to be one with the Lord. It was my first experience with a sacrament after baptism,” said Reinders. “It was transformative for building a relationship. Whether it was intentional or not, it fueled my desire to come into the church.”
She also remembers feeling the presence of her late grandmother praying with her at Cor Jesu.
At that time, Reinders, living in Bay View and attending Mass at Immaculate Conception, read the book “Living the Mass,” given to her by her other grandmother. She wanted to receive the Eucharist, but it was too late to join the parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program for that year. In the meantime, Deacon Patrick LaPointe of Immaculate Conception introduced her to an online faith formation series called Symbolon.
“Before, I thought I was ready for Communion and confirmation, but I realized I wasn’t,” said Reinders. “Symbolon did a really good job answering the questions I still had about Catholicism and really prepared me to enter RCIA.”
The following summer she attended St. Charles Parish, Hartland, and joined its RCIA program. “The parish at St. Charles is so alive and involved, it’s really a hotspot for the Holy Spirit,” said Reinders. “Without even trying to find a community, I was able to join a small group of people going through the same experience as me and it made my RCIA experience more real and relatable.”
As Reinders grew in her faith, she noticed friction within her family.
“My family slowly began to realize that I wasn’t going through a phase but was changing my way of life,” said Reinders. “I still feel like they think I’m a crazy religious person, but I’m OK with that because I’m comfortable with who I am.”
Last March, she was confirmed and received Eucharist during the Easter Vigil at St. Charles.
“It was an amazing day because all the people and priests who helped me get there were present at the vigil,” said Reinders.
Today she is a volunteer core team member for Brewing the Faith through its Lake Country Catholic affiliation and looks forward to helping others find their way back to the church.
“It was a long and winding road for me to rediscover my faith, but the journey has been worthwhile,” said Reinders.