I love the Catholic Church. I didn't always, however. I love Catholic Mass. There was a time I thought of it as "vain repetition" and "works religion." I love being Catholic and I thank God for bringing me to his Church, through so much confusion and controversy. By God's grace, I hope and trust that this love and enthusiasm will never die.
I began my religious journey to the Catholic Church as a Non-denominational Evangelical Protestant with no expectation whatsoever that I would one day be Catholic. I'm sure if someone had told me my future faith in high school, I would have been horrified, for at that time I was doing my best to show my Catholic friends the error of their beliefs. At different points along the way, I considered myself Neo-Orthodox and "Nicene Protestant." My journey, by God's grace, took just about three years. I was received into the Church on October 11, 1998 at the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Astana, Kazakhstan.
My initial doubts came in college while studying higher criticism of the New Testament and modern pseudo-Christian theology. The more I studied, the more my trust in the historical reliability of the scriptures diminished, and with it my faith, for the scriptures were the sole basis of my Protestant faith. Eventually I accepted the solution of my Religious Studies professors, Neo-Orthodoxy. According to this existentialist interpretation of Christianity, the gospel is the disclosure of man's inability to make utopias or even to know anything with certainty about metaphysics (God, heaven, salvations, the soul, etc.). In fact, religion was the chief sin for in it man flees from authenticity in agnosticism and attempts to hide his ignorant state in his pretences of religious knowledge. This, I believed, was the true message which the man Jesus had taught and the resurrection was a symbol of the on-going power of this message even after he died. For a brief time, this solution seemed to resolve my historical doubts and at the same time preserve some sense of still being a follower of Christ. In time, I realized Neo-Orthodoxy was both bad philosophy (Hume and Kant never did succeed in disproving the theistic arguments) and bad history (the first Christians argued that if Christ were not resurrected, their faith was vain and they were to be pitied above all men).
I read and read and finally hit upon a novel approach in Dorothy Sayers. The creed was what was ultimately important, not the scriptures per se; I could believe in the former while still having certain doubts about specific points in the latter. At the same time, Chesterton, with his incredible wit and intelligence, open my mind to the possibility that Catholicism might have something to say for itself after all. I began studying the history of the Reformation and discovered that the heroic figures who had formed my Protestant imagination (most of all, Luther) were mythical pictures which were wholly unlike the real men who founded Protestantism, the crude, name-calling Luther, laid waste by his scruples who broke his vows and insulted all his opponents in the most scathing language; the fornicator Zwingli; and the grim, egotistical Calvin who executed those who lampooned him and drowned single women who became pregnant.
Moreover, I came to realize that justification by faith alone, for all the early Reformers, necessarily involved predestination, a view which makes God into the devil and human existence utterly pointless. I realized that Arminianism was really just the Catholic view held by Protestants who had rejected their founder's chief doctrine. I studied the More-Tyndale controversy, which brought the key issue to light: Protestant faith was, above all, in the words of Tyndale "feeling faith" and its trust in the Bible based upon these feelings alone. At this time, a Catholic friend explained to me the rationale of a number of Catholic doctrines I had misunderstood or rejected without further inquiry. He took me to a lecture by convert Scott Hahn. His lecture highlighted a number of dawning realizations for me.
I realized that the Bible itself nowhere claimed to be a stand-alone authoritative book; in fact it said rather that the Church was the "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). I realized the authority of the Catholic and Orthodox bishops throughout Christian history corresponded to the constitution of the first-century apostolic Church and that there was no reason to believe that they ever intended for this authority to be transferred into a book. I realized the New Testament was a collection of books canonized by the Catholic Church, and that this canon could be defended by nothing less than a belief in the authority of that Church as derived from Christ's promise to lead it into all truth (Jn 16:13). I realized that key Christian doctrines like the Trinity, are at best, vaguely hinted at in scripture and were in fact developments which were either divinely sanctioned or great additions to scripture-only Christianity. I realized that when each interpreted scripture himself, the result was a chaos of thousands of sects with contradictory teachings.
I realized I realized the idea of sola scriptura and the denial of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist were later inventions which were not even conceived in the first millennium of Christianity. I realized that Jesus was very clear about eating his flesh and drinking his blood (cf. Jn 6:25-60) and Protestant attempts to spiritualize his words were simply bad exegesis. I realized that Jesus was no less clear about building his Church on Peter and Protestant attempts to make this refer to Peter's confession were clear examples of distortion and bad-faith in the existentialist sense. I realized that Christ gave his apostles the authority to forgive sins (20:23), and it was impossible for Protestant exegetes to do anything with this verse but to say that whatever it did mean, it surely didn't mean what the Catholic Church believes it to mean. In time, I made a list of about 75 points of controversy, researched each until I was satisfied, and finally concluded I had no good reason not to be a Catholic. In fact, I wanted desperately to become one. And I have, praise be to God!
The reasons I chose the Catholic Church in 1998 and the reasons why I remain joyfully within her today are myriad. I've mentioned just a few. They could easily fill a book, or several. They can all be summed up, however, in a few words: I am convinced that this Church alone is that Church established directly by Jesus Christ before his ascension. It has been said that there is only one right reason to convert to Catholicism, namely the belief that its claims are true. I heartily agree.
All roads, I believe, lead to Rome if followed with the requisite determination and God's blessing. I can think of at least seven paths or approaches which were significant in my conversion:
1) the Patristic approach, which shows that the doctrines of today’s Catholic Church are those of the ancient Church and not those of modern sects, Protestant or otherwise;
2) the development approach, which shows that revealed doctrine must have an organ for authoritatively legitimizing or rejecting developments, which the Catholic Church alone has possessed since the time of Christ;
3) the antecedent expectations approach, which shows that the Catholic Church best corresponds to an a priori list of expected characteristics of a true church;
4) the scriptural approach, which shows that Catholic doctrine not only is consistent with scripture but also offers explanations for scriptural passages which non-Catholics are at pains to explain;
5) the doctrines approach, which shows that the individual Catholic doctrines, each considered separately on its own merits, are reasonable and well-substantiated.
6) the Notes of the Church approach, which shows the Catholic Church alone corresponds to the Church identified in the Nicene Creed as "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic."
7) the untenable alternatives approach, which shows that the non-Catholic alternatives for preserving Christian unity and objective doctrine are practically ineffective and/or philosophically untenable, including sobornost (i.e. charitable relations between bishops in the Eastern Orthodox churches) and sola scriptura (i.e. the scriptures alone in the Protestant churches).
As Newman and Chesterton both observed, the mind is convinced not by a single deductive argument, but by numerous arguments, deductive and inductive, which all converge on a single conclusion. For me, the convergence of these seven roads on a fixed point, the Catholic Church, was decisive. In the end, just as St. Peter said to Christ, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68), so too, we are prompted to say to Peter’s successor, “Where else could we possibly go? You alone have unity and catholicity and apostolicity and historical continuity and agreement with the scriptures and the sacraments and capacity for developments all in one.”
I'd love to discuss any of these points with anyone who is interested. May the peace of Christ be with you!
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