Let me start off by saying… converting to Catholicism was not easy, it was not something that I initially wanted, it was painful (socially), I was ostricised by my Christian community, I was mocked, insulted, and ridiculed, yet I thank God every day for helping me to hear His call. We all have serious moments of “counting the cost,” but as you’ll read in my story, I never thought that I’d have to count the cost of losing my Christian friends because of my deepend love and devotion to Christ.
I’ll talk about my journey in two sections: 1. how (process) I became Catholic, and 2. why I became Catholic.
How (process) I became Catholic:
My conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism informally started in late of 2013, officially began on March 13, 2015, and became fully realized on June 4, 2017 on the Feast of Pentecost.
The first conversation that I had about Catholicism was in the mailroom at Multnomah University with my great friend, Lisa. She had a friend who was converting to Catholicism, and she expressed great concern. I remember her asking about our (Protestant) Eucharistic (communion) theology, and why we didn’t agree with Catholicism. I don’t remember much of my response, but I do remember telling her, “That’s not what we believe.” These conversations continued for the next year or so, and one day I remember thinking, “Everything I know about Catholicism was told to me by people who disagreed with Catholics. Maybe I should actually talk with a Catholic and listen to what they have to say.” So, that’s what I did. I asked Lisa if I could go with her to Vespers, which is just a fancy word for evening prayer… it was the most beautiful thing that I had ever experienced! [Here’s one of the songs that we sang if you’d like to listen: Salve Regina] After Vespers, I got to spend time with the Catholic people there and the priest, and here are a couple of my first observations:
- It surprised me to learn that Catholics laugh.
- If you’re Catholic, this may sound ridiculous, but Protestants usually think of Catholics as solemn, stoic, and bland.
- Priests are just normal people.
- I expected the two priests that I met, Fr. Luan (affectionately known as “Padre”) and Fr. Mark, to be robotic dispensers of religiosity, but they were loving, intelligent, and fun. Here’s an AWESOME video of Fr. Mark juggling… FIRE!!! (about 1:30 into the video, he almost lights himself on fire)
Now, another interesting fact at this point is that I was finishing my bachelor’s degree at a Protestant Bible college (Majors in Bible/Theology, Pastoral Ministries, and Ancient Semitic Languages), and I had just been accepted into a Protestant Seminary to get my Masters of Divinity. Awkward… I know! With all these Protestant theological resources at my fingertips, I started asking my professors for their opinions/help. The first professor that I asked said, “Zach, the fact that you’re even considering being Catholic, I doubt you ever actually knew Jesus.” This response would define the next two years of my spiritual journey. Here are some other responses that I received:
- Theology Professor: “So, you’re telling me that you went to bible college, started seminary, and then left the faith?”
- Theology Professor: “Look everyone! We have a Papist in our presence!” If you don’t know, a “Papist” is someone who submits to the authority of the Papacy (Pope). This was done in a very public place, and was intended to mock me… the other people joined in.
- Theology Professor: “What makes you think people actually support you? How supportive can anyone be if they’re not willing to convert themselves?”
At this point, I started attending RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), which is similar to a year-long membership course. I was excited to attend RCIA classes… until I actually started, but probably not for the reason that your thinking. My reason… pride. I had gone through four years of specialized biblical/theological training and felt that these courses were too basic for me. The people in this class were dealing with the idea of whether God exists or not, and I was dealing with issues regarding soteriological orthopraxy. Again, ridiculous… I know. During class one day, we were discussing something that seemed below my intellectual prowess, and burst out and said, “What is the theological position of the Catholic Church on its essence, because according to my theology… you’re not necessary!” [The reason that I said that he wasn’t necessary is because in Protestant theology, a pastor isn’t instrinsic to the eclesiality. Meaning, church is church even if a pastor isn’t there.] Then the priest, Fr. John Boyle, responded to me in his posh British accent, “Oh poor me… I’m not necessary. I might as well go off and cry.” What a perfect response! He deescalated my inappropriate outburst and changed the air in the room from tense to humorous… although, I didn’t see it that way at the time. As a result, I got frustrated and stopped going to class.
Even though I stopped attending class, that didn’t stop my conquest to better understand Catholicism and my attendance at Vespers. At this point in my journey, I had to deal with something that was much more challenging than I expected. I realized that I hadn’t truly given Catholicism a fair chance, and the reason was that I was still biased. The paradigm that I viewed ideologies was biased toward Protestantism, which didn’t have room for anything Catholic. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried not to be biased, but it’s harder than you think. If you think that you’ve actually tried it, how many times has your opinion been changed by an ideology that is completely antithetical to your own?
At this point in the process, I started talking to my friends about my thoughts on Catholicism, and I found a mixed response. During a conversation with a friend, he asked, “Zach, doesn’t it bother you that we’ll never be able to take communion together?” Disunity within Christianity was the thing on his mind, but not to the conclusion of reunification, but rather continued disunity. I said, “You have no idea how much I’m bothered by the disunity in Christianity, but there comes a point where my relationship with the Lord is much more important than friendship with you.” This was the moment that I began to recognize that I was confused about my Christian tradition. Was I Protestant or Catholic? At the time, I thought that I had the best of both worlds, but later on, I found that straddling the fence was the worst place to be. Meaning, I was not yet in full communtion with the Catholic Church, and my Protestant communities were beginning to reject me.
Every Sunday, I attened Mass in the morning, and Vespers in the evening. I remember one evening after Vespers, we (everyone who was at Vespers) were having dinner in the event hall, and I started crying. I wasn’t crying out of joy, but out of fear and anger. I was crying because I could no longer deny the truth of the Catholic Church, and I could no longer deny that God was calling me to become Catholic. As I said before, I did not go willingly to Catholicism, and I was hesitent to the day of my confirmation.
Soon after this, I started attending RCIA once again, and to cut a long story short… I got angry again and stopped going. Yes, here we go again. By this point in my journey, I needed to become Catholic, but I hated the process. My priest kept telling me “no,” which frusterated me, and I began to interpret that “no,” as a rejection from God. So, I went to talk to my priest about it, and he said, “Zach, you can’t even be obedient in the one thing that I’ve asked you to do [RCIA], so why should I trust that this is actually something that you want to do?” He had a point. I threw myself back into RCIA, and on June 2, 2017 I entered into full communtion with the Catholic Church.
One of the most beautiful things that I experienced on that day, other than entering into the Church, was that so many of my firends and professors, who disagreed with me, attended my confirmation. We are one Church. We may disagree with each other’s tradition, but we are one.
Why I became Catholic:
I’m sure you can guess this, but I became Catholic because I believe that it is the Church that Christ founded, I trust His promise that He will not allow His church to fail, and, my subjective response, because I found that I am much more devout follower of Jesus as a Catholic than I ever was as a Protestant.
One thing that has always frusterated me, when I was a Protestant, was the concensus of how we worshipped on Sunday (this can be applied more generally to how we worship God). The worship songs were ego-centric, our commitment to the faith was based on the specific local community that we were a part of, and we were so fickle in our spiritual life. Meaning, we weren’t happy with Sunday service unless we left feeling good, we were only committed to this community if they did the things that we liked, and we were only going to worship God based on the quality of life that we was living. This isn’t true for all people, but at the core of our behavior, this was how we responded. (For referece, you can read about this in my blog: Tradition, Liturgy, and Worship: An Ecumenical Dialogue). I always believed liturgy to be rote responses devoid of personal interaction. I recently had a friend ask, “How could you think that you love God when you go to ‘church’ and say the same exact prayers over and over. God wants to hear form YOU!” My response is, of course God wants to hear from me, but when did I become the expert on knowing how God wants to be worshipped. I have found liturgy to be the most freeing. Liturgy requires humility because it is a recognition that our faith is not something that we take, but it was given to us. Therefore, we worship God based on the traditions of the church, and not based on what makes me feel good. When I was a Protestant, it felt like I was in a dark room (liturgy), and I was too afraid to move from my spot in the room for fear of offending God. When I became Catholic, it felt like I walked out into an open pasture. The boundries were clearly marked, and it gave me the freedom to worship God as He desired.
The second thing that frusterated me was our oversimplification of our beliefs. (Here are a couple posts on The Eucharist: Why it’s More than a Symbol, and Orthopraxy: A Critique of Oversimplified Theology). When it came to communion, we had no idea what we believed, and understanding of our faith was always watered down. Reason and logic were considered unfruitful, and for some denominatoins, you are mocked for having an education because, “God’s grace is sufficient to teach you what you need to know in the right time.” Yes, God is capable of doing that, but as beings made in His image, He expects us to actually employ those gifts (i.e. logic, reason, intelligence, etc.). Now, don’t misunderstand me, theological concepts are capable to being reduced to help children and new christians better understand them, but as a state in one of my blogs,
Yes, I concede that God lovingly receives ignorant forms of worship when we are young in the faith. Like children who accidentally wet themselves when being potty trained, we don’t fault them in their endeavor of learning continence, but nobody thinks that it’s cute when a mature and capable adult soils themselves. Yes, God evaluates the heart, but He notes that a mature Christian should not be offering Him the same sacrifices as a child. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Life after becoming Catholic has been wonderful, despite the challenges. Some of my social rejection has alleviated, but much of it has intensified. My grandmother continues to ask, “Do you ever think about becoming a Christian again?” An uncle of mine, who I had tried to get in contact with for over 15 years called earlier this year, and instead of catching up and getting to know each other again, he berated me for over an hour telling me that I had left the faith. The first thing that he said to me when I answered the phone was, “So, I hear you’re Catholic.” I still have friends who think that I’ve left the faith, friends who accuse me of what they think I believe (i.e worshipping Mary (The Virgin Mary: A Catholic Perspective), but I have friends, like this person, who say, “Zach, I think you’ve left the faith… but I can’t deny your love for Jesus.” Yes! They may disagree with me, but at least he sees my love for Jesus. I became Catholic because of my love for God, which has resulted in a deeper love for people.
Ubi Caritas Est Vera, Deus Ibi Est
(Where true charity is, God is there.)
[There will be a number of people/traditions writing on this same topic, so that you can read there perspective, too!]
Chad (Eastern Orthodox): The Road Home: Why Orthodoxy Chose Me
Tony (Protestant): Coming Soon
Lisa (Catholic): Why I’m Catholic: My Answer is Always Jesus