A Response to My Return to Catholicism
This recent response to my conversion to Catholicism was thoughtful and fairly non- polemic. I interposed my comments in italics. The comments were used with permission from e mail and this does not represent an actual conversation which occurred in "real time."
I’ll admit, I usually see the reverse: former Catholics getting a zeal for God from being exposed to an evangelical church. Usually that’s because they never “felt” God before, found church boring/irrelevant, etc. Your situation, though not unique, you must admit is rare. (But not wrong in and of itself, either.)
No it actually isn't rare. There are many evangelical pastors and Christians converting to Catholicism in the US on a regular basis, so much so that a network/community of converts has formed to assist them in their conversion process as well as help financially as they all lose their livelihood as a result of their conversions. Also, conversion to Catholicism from other religions has been publicized in several famous stories. I have included a few on the following link.
Since I met you at “Faith Charismatic Church,” I’ve noticed something in you that I can only describe as an “unsettled soul.”
I agree, I don’t think I have ever been completely comfortable there and I guess it was obvious. I would hope though in the spirit of Christian collegiality that you wouldn't totally write me off as an” unsettled soul” and at least consider the following thoughts. Because often unsettled souls are unsettled for a reason!
I saw you leave and go to a main-line Protestant church after you left us, reasons for which were unclear, though I can assume it might have been to escape the “hoopla” you described. That’s fine, charismatic stuff isn’t for everyone, I know that. But when you reverted to Catholicism just a few years after that, my first reaction was, “What are you running from?” Now, obviously I don’t know you that well but I couldn’t help think that. You see, all Catholics I’ve known (my entire family) like the comfort of the Catholic Church because very little is asked of them (they think so, anyway). Go to Mass when you can, pray only when you need help… that’s their walk with God.
It is not uncommon to base one’s view of any religion in light of past personal experiences with that religion and in particular family situations. I too was extremely anti-Catholic based on what I had seen from nominal church goers and my own family upbringing. However, there are 2000 years of godly Catholic folk who have lived heroic lives for God and some of whom have changed the course of human history through their writings and lives sacrificed for the Gospel.
Having seen your zeal, though, I can see you’re not looking to be just a nominal Catholic.
I have been looking for truth and it has led to quite a surprise that has been there all the time!
However, I still can’t help but continue to think about my first thought. I guess what I’m trying to say to you – what I would say to anyone, really – is that you need to make sure you’re always running towards God, and not running away from something else.
I hope and pray that I am running towards God with all my might. I attend Mass daily, pray more than I ever have, and spend a lot of time reading Catholic theology, devotional literature, etc. The Scriptures have come alive for me in way that I believe is supernatural. God has drawn me closer to Him than I have ever been in many years. My marriage is better than it ever has been and God has given me victory over areas of sin in my life that I haven't had victory over in 35 years through the Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Now that being said I hope I don’t fall into boasting, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed...."
I say this because, in very short order, you have begun to believe some very hard-to-swallow doctrines that for 35 years you didn’t agree with.
It's not that I didn't agree with all of them. Quite frankly, as a young teenager, I didn’t give a lot of thought to them, much to my shame. My theological training was based on what I heard from very biased untrained "Bible experts” at 14 years of age. I studied in the school of Jack T. Chick, a well known ultra-fundamentalist who has now been shunned by the evangelical community for fabricating false and misleading material to malign the Catholic Church. My text book of theology was his cartoon tracts and the people teaching our Bible studies were ex-Catholics who had never lived out their Catholic faith (Just like me) Quite frankly, I didn't think much about doctrine because my spirituality was based on what felt good to me or “seemed” right. It wasn't about the pursuit of truth.
Now you’re shouting them (hard to swallow doctrines) from the rooftops! (that’s tongue in cheek, by the way.) I had an issue with your belief in purgatory now, especially since you said no doctrine from the Church would counter Scripture – but purgatory was a doctrine created to be used in the selling of indulgences! It wasn’t a long-standing belief then, it was a new one.
I am glad you mentioned Purgatory since it is fairly easy doctrine to prove historically as well as scripturally. Augustine from the fourth century wrote about it in his City of God. The catacombs of the believers from the 1st century made mention of them praying for the souls of those who had died. This was a practice that was very comfortable to the early predominantly Jewish Church since their scriptures talked about it. To be intellectually honest we have to at least acknowledge the fact that the early Christian Church prayed for "dead" people as well as believed in Purgatory (the early church fathers referred to it as Limbo). Check the original sources and decide for yourself. I have enclosed a fairly simplified look at the doctrine of purgatory with several scripture references. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 3:4-5 is very difficult to understand without a belief in Purgatory. As a famous non-Catholic Christian once wrote:
“Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.' CS LEWIS in Letters to Malcolm.
One of the key references was from the book of Maccabees that was in the original Canon of Scripture up until 1500's when Luther chose to take it out because it didn't support his doctrines. Incidentally, he wanted to remove the Book of James as well as Hebrews because he didn’t think they were inspired either.
You can’t look back now and say, “Well, they were right; they just did it the wrong way.” Because here’s the problem: anyone can read the Bible and find exactly what they are looking for.
Exactly my point too! That's why we need a Church to help us understand the Bible. There are currently over 33,000 protestant sects and denominations and about 100 or more a year currently being formed due to "private interpretation of Scripture." The pillar and foundation of truth is the Church, (1 Tim 3:15) not our personal interpretation of the Bible.
An atheist will read the OT and see an angry God who authorizes slaughter of women and children. A Mormon reads that one line about another flock, and the Book of Mormon is validated. Obviously, I’m not comparing Catholics to atheists and Mormons,
(I hope not, I don't think St. Augustine, St Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, and GK. Chesterton, John Henry Cardinal Newman, Mother Theresa, and John Paul 2 would fit there)
but I hope you see the analogy. I won’t lie that I have theological problems with the Catholic Church, but I in no way invalidate the core belief: Jesus is the Savior of the world, and it is through His shed blood that a believer in Him is free of sin.
But, it is only through the Catholic Church that you and I have come to know these wonderful truths! There were no portable Bibles around for 1500 years, so the Church empowered by the Holy Spirit had to be the source of Truth. Most of the world was not literate.
That is why I can call you a brother, even if we disagree on other issues. And as such, that means we can share in communion because of a shared core belief. I know many Catholics who claim they cannot share in communion with other Christians because they don’t share the belief of transubstantiation. I hope you are not now one of them. The enemy seeks to divide, why help him? Christians who share the core beliefs (Divinity of Jesus, His death and resurrection, etc.) should in no way have any reasons why they cannot commune with one another. And I will have words with anyone who says otherwise, because it is a lie from the enemy. If you want to believe Jesus is actually the Bread while I don’t, what’s the difference?
The difference is that not believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the” breaking of the bread” is in opposition to Scripture as well as 1500 years of church history. Jesus lost a lot of followers that day when he told them to eat his body and drink his blood. This Scripture alone, John Chapter 6, almost single-handedly made me convert once I put off my pre-conceived notions of what communion was. The early church (Catholic Church) has never held any belief other than that Christ truly gives us his body and blood whenever the Mass is celebrated.
He said to do this in memory of Him.
The language in the original texts here is anamnesis, which meant to the hearers "to make present" When they heard this they (early Christians) believed Christ was again being made present under the appearance of Bread and Wine. The problem here may be in our definition of the word "communion". I have communion with you in a fellowship sense but receiving the Eucharist as the Church believes is very different. When the Church broke bread and celebrated Communion, the teaching of the apostles was that Christ was being made physically present but appearing as bread and wine. Paul talks about this in Corinthians. If the Eucharist was symbolic, why then did Paul warn that people would die or get sick if they did not discern it appropriately? "....This cup we bless is it not the cup of the Blood of Christ?" For 1500 years, there was never a question of what Communion was and how it should be taken. The same church that gave us the Bible is the same church that has always believed and continues to believe that Communion is actually the Real Presence of Christ.
It’s the only fear I have for you guys. I don’t care that you’re Catholic now, you still believe in Jesus, that’s all that matters to me. But in the attempt to draw closer to God, don’t run the risk of alienating the rest of the Body – for we are all one Body. Share in the commonalities, don’t emphasize the differences.
It is not my goal to emphasize the differences or cause divisions, but hope to share information that I have discovered regarding the Church, that many Protestant Christians have not been informed of. In all the years of studying the Bible and pursuing God as a Protestant, I never looked into the actual historical record of how the early church practiced their faith. There is a large volume of writing from the first few centuries of the church with some of the authors being 2nd generation apostles ie. They were taught by John. All of these writings, though not considered inspired by the Canon of the Catholic Church are still very valuable as they provide a historical snapshot of how the Early Christians worshipped and believed. Once I started reading segments from these “Church Fathers,” I was convinced that the early church was distinctly Catholic in doctrine and practice.
PS: Don’t take my word for all of the above. If you want to pursue this further, watch The Journey Home on EWTN at 8 PM EST on Mondays. They have been interviewing Catholic converts (many Evangelical and Charismatic Pastors) for the past 9 years.