Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Becoming Catholic Part 1

I recently sent out an e-mail to most of my relatives which explains some of the key ideas that led me to believe the claims of the Catholic Church. It's too long, even by this blog's standards, to publish as one entry, so I'll break it into parts.

Part 1:

Dear Family,

As you may have heard, after seven years of attending Catholic Mass, I have entered the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church is probably one of the most hated, misunderstood, and lied about organizations in the world, and Catholics have a long history of failings which justify some of the anger. Despite the failings of its members, I have truly come to love the Catholic Church and her teachings, so I would like to give a brief explanation for my conversion (though conversion is not the right word, since I was Christian, and am still Christian).

Obviously, my initial interaction with the Catholic Church was linked to the fact that I married a Catholic woman. But, while that may have opened the door, I am not one of those cases of, "I was going to the Catholic Church every week anyway, so I thought, what the heck, I might as well join," nor did I see all the robes and incense, and say, "Ooh, fancy, I'm gonna join this church." Frankly, I was usually more bored at Catholic Mass than I had been at Protestant services (I get bored too easy, just like most folks these days. I suspect it's too much TV), and I didn't really begin to appreciate the robes and incense until I began to appreciate the Church and its connection to Christians of antiquity.

My journey felt long, and sometimes painful. But it was always filled with prayer, and sometimes I ran into strange coincidences, which probably don't mean much to anyone else, but seemed to show me God's hand pulling strings.

Really, there were hundreds of questions that needed answering before I could believe in the claims of the Catholic Church, but I will try to give a brief explanation of the most important factors.

First, as obvious as this sounds, I don't think many people take it seriously: I believe that if there is One True Visible Church, founded by Jesus Christ, One Church given the authority to teach, then I should belong to that Church. It does not matter if I like their music. It doesn't matter if the local pastor is a good speaker. It doesn't matter if the pews are filled with unfriendly people who spend more time drinking than reading the Bible. And, though it pains me, it doesn't matter if it causes a separation in belief with your family (of course for me the move was between separation from my wife to separation from my parents). What matters is the truth. I should follow the truth. And if I don't like the music, the preaching, or the congregation, I must step forward to help make things better within this true Church.

Of course that says nothing to show that the Catholic Church may be this "One True Visible Church," but unless someone is willing to accept that they must follow God to the Truth, even if it isn't fun, then no amount of explaining will matter. I once read a story of an atheist who said, "I will not believe in God unless I see a miracle with my own eyes." He later saw a miracle, but then he said, "I will not believe in God, even if I see a miracle with my own eyes."

I will not discuss, at this time, my reasons for believing in Christianity and in the scriptures in the first place, so the discussion will only be about the decision between Catholicism and Protestantism. (I will note, though, that I tend to have a skeptical nature, so I went through a period of strong uncertainty during college. Luckily, I am not so one-sided in my skepticism as most, so I was even more skeptical of the claims of the irreligious).

In brief, my core thinking on the matter can be summed up in these points:

1. Without even looking at specific theological issues, the Catholic Church has certain advantages on its side: it out-dates all Protestant denominations, it is still the world's largest denomination, it is in agreement with the (also ancient, and for some reason, less hated) Eastern Orthodox Churches on most doctrines (including the belief that the Bishop of Rome has a degree of primacy), and the Catholic Church is responsible for passing down the Bible upon which Protestants rest everything.

Thus, I believe Catholicism is worthy of serious investigation, and I also tend to think it should be given a degree of "benefit-of-the-doubt." It seems that the one who shows up first should get to speak first, so we should try to consider the validity of Catholic interpretations of scripture without letting our Protestant traditions cause us to deny them outright. Yet, as Protestants, most of us never really learn what we are protesting against. Of course it can be painful to confront the possibility that you were wrong in a fully open and honest way. It is not something that will likely be done overnight, because our prejudices interfere even when we do not recognize them (I think I'm still prejudiced against certain Catholic practices and ways-of-talking). We must try to remember that we were raised in a society that has a strong history of Protestantism and a current culture of secularism, both of which are often hostile toward Catholicism, so if Catholicism was in fact true, then to a degree, everything we know is wrong.

[continuted in Part 2]

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