Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

"Conversion Story" Chapter 6

We were attending the denominational church for a few years when my Mom died unexpectedly. My brother and I took the long drive down together to start to settle her estate. He was beginning his master's degree in preparation for becoming a pastor at my previous charismatic church. I asked him about the statement in the Nicene Creed regarding "baptism for the forgiveness of sins." What did we believe as charismatics? Which baptism did this refer to? Was it the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second experience, was it water baptism? I had started to question my evangelical beliefs that I just took for granted for years without really thinking about them. Once a year we recited the Creed in our church but I realized that I didn't understand or hold to many of the statements in the Creed and was not aware of the fact that it was written by a group of Catholics at a Church Council 1600 years before.

As we went through my mother's personal effects, I found prayer books, rosary beads, Mass cards and all the paraphenalia that I used to think was pagan and idolatrous. I suddenly realized that despite my Mom's lifelong struggles with alcoholism and depression, she really loved God and had a relationship with Him. As my brother and I went through her things I said to him "Hey, what if Mom was right after all and Catholicism is true?" He said "nah." I have no idea where that question came from but I have since realized that my conversion process was beginning then. He was going to toss her rosary beads in the garbage and I said "No, I'll take them home for my wife, she's been leaning Catholic lately."

Even then, something started to stir in me as I carefully removed the beautiful wooden crucifix my parents always had on their wall above their bed and took it home. I realized that for all the contradiction and pain in their lives, their Catholic faith was more important to them than I had thought. That beautiful crucifix now hangs on the wall above our bed.


Even more strange to me was a fairly frequent and almost palpable sense that my Mom was now praying for me! I couldn't explain it, but I felt it and knew it was true. I knew she prayed for me before she died but I had this very strange feeling that her prayers were drawing me back to the Catholic Church. I told my brother about this and I suspect he thought I had totally gone off the rails at this point. I never understood the Communion of Saints nor agreed with it but now I was experiencing the actual application of this communion in my life.

The Methodist church we were attending bought an entire theatre of tickets to see the first screening of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." In the middle of the movie as tears streamed down my face, I knew I had to come home to the church as I saw so graphically displayed His love for me. If He could do this for me, I could overcome my pride and reticence about the Catholic Church and return in obedience to Him. To this day I don't know why or how I came to this conclusion. As far as I know there were no subliminal messages in the movie saying: "Become a Papist" or "You must Cross the Tiber."

My wife continued to long for Mass and I agreed to let her go to Mass as long as she would come with me to the Methodist church on Sunday morning with our boys. She would often watch EWTN (a Catholic Network) and the "Journey Home Program." After seeing some of the conversion stories my interest was piqued. I was astonished to find there was so many former protestants with stories like mine converting to Catholicsm. I asked my wife to get me those Catholic conversion stories of Marcus Grodi, Scott Hahn and others that I had asked her to get rid of 4 years before. She had attempted to show me a Scott Hahn video a few years before this but I found it too dry and Catholic! This time it was as if the veil had been lifted from my eyes and I couldn't put these books down. I read Karl Keating's book "Catholicism and Fundamentalism" and Steve Ray's "Crossing the Tiber." When I read for the first time that it was the Catholic Church that decided on which books and letters should be in the the Bible, that did it for me! I was now very angry that I had been mis-informed for so long by anti-Catholic Protestants and I started to feel remorse for walking away from the Church without ever learning any of its true teachings. I also was angry that I had never met a Catholic in thirty years who could give me these basic true facts about the Catholic Church. I was embarrassed that as a relatively bright person with the ability to obtain a medical degree, I had never considered reading history and instead based my understanding of Church history from a 16-year-old "Bible Scholar" thirty years earlier. How could I be "so smart" and yet be so close-minded about something so important as my faith?

Suddenly, all the troublesome verses I didn't understand as a Protestant came alive with richness and meaning. I realized the Catholics take the Bible more literally than the evangelicals ever had. I always wondered how we got around John 6 when Jesus told us to "eat my body." Protestants insisted it was symbolic but the early church I found out believed that Christ truly became present at the Communion Table. Paul's description in Corinthians also made it clear to me that the Church believed in the real presence of Christ in the "breaking of the bread."

The paradox of Christians who said "the sinner's prayer" and continued to actively live sinful lives always bothered me, but Catholic theology made it clear that our earthly performance was important for salvation, but not the basis for it, as I had wrongly been taught they believed. This was further brought home to me when I now re-read Matthew 25 and realized that Christ himself said the only difference between the sheep (heaven- bound) and the goats (hell-bound) was what they did or didn't do! I now realized that after 30 years of Bible study, the sinner's prayer wasn't mentioned in the Scriptures as the "formula for salvation." The concept of venial and mortal sins made a lot of sense to me. How could a "white lie" really have the same temporal and eternal consequences as murder? That always bothered me. The concept of the Communion of Saints which is in the Creed of Catholic and Protestants alike also became meaningful to me for the first time in my life. As I mentioned earlier, I had this distinct impression that my Mom who had died a year earlier was interceding for me and praying me back to the Church. The Catholic Church has always taught that when a person dies they can continue to pray for those left behind, and since the "fervent effectual prayers of a righteous man availeth much" how much more now that they are in heaven beholding the face of God!

We started counseling with a local parish priest who led us back to the Catholic Church. At my first confession in over 35 years, tears started to fall as I heard those sweet words of absolution as if they were spoken from Christ himself. We then made our marriage vows before the Church and together we received Christ in the Eucharist. Jesus was saying to me "You have found what you have always been looking for and I am right here with you." As I knelt and prayed after receiving Him, I knew that I could never be closer to Him in this life than I was right then. The frustration of all those years of searching for Him and trying to find him outside of His church was over. I had finally come home.

Despite my lack of emotionalism, I have cried more tears of joy in the past two years than in most of my years of charismatic church life! I often choke up telling others about Christ in the Eucharist and often become teary-eyed thinking about how kind He is to have brought us back to His Church. My wife and I have experienced a spiritual oneness in our marriage that can only be described as supernatural. Before, we were always on opposite pages regarding spiritual issues and now not only are we on the same page; we can't stop turning the pages together! I often chastise myself for leaving the Church as a young person but I am thankful for those years away because they prepared me to appreciate the Church and the Sacraments all the more.

My heart aches for my ex-Catholic brothers and sisters who like me had left the truth of the Catholic Church without ever understanding it. I am grateful for the inspiration and encouragement to "follow hard after God" that I learned from my devout Protestant brothers. In particular, the charismatic Christians I have been privileged to know over the years have a devotion and love for God and one another that is truly amazing. I believe if they could only see the tremendous gift of His Real Presence in His Church they would fall on their face before Him in the Eucharist. Their insatiable hunger for the presence of Christ could finally be completely satisfied on a daily basis in receiving him in the Eucharist. Father Benedict Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal has said that the many church ladies from Black Pentecostal churches in the Bronx come to Eucharistic Adoration because they know their "“sweet Lord Jesus" is there. I know my brethren would do the same once they discover He is truly present with us in the Eucharist.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome home! Rejoice--a brother has been found!
(a 35+ year convert)

May 06, 2006 1:36 PM  
Anonymous theo said...

Thanks for sharing that truly inspiring story.

If I understand you correctly, of the Catholics you'd associated with in the course of your time away from full communion with the Church, you'd not met any who could tell you about the history and truth of Christianity's doctrinal formation, the origins of Biblical cannon, and their implications.

It is true that many Catholics are not mindful of history in general or theological history in particular, but I hope your disappointment in them fades. After all, scholarship is not a prerequisite for salvation-- Look at the crucified thief who asked only that Jesus remember him (bring into present company with) when He came into his kingdom. This is not to say that living the Christian life without chatechisis is a good idea.

Regardless, it might be that you had encountered these truths in practice (As St, Francis advised: preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words); or you might even have heard the words; but for you, your "fullness of time" had not yet come.

With peace,

theo

May 08, 2006 10:42 AM  
Anonymous theo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

May 08, 2006 10:42 AM  

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