Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Why I Really Became Catholic
In conversations this past week it was rightly pointed out that last week's post on Why I Became Catholic helped clarify why I was attracted to traditional Christianity but not why I chose Catholicism specifically. What was it about Roman Catholicism that made me say, "Yes! Here is something true that I've found nowhere else"?
If I had to do it over, I would retitle last week's post "Why I left Evangelicalism." I'd like to say for the record that I believe there is a lot of good in Protestant and Evangelical traditions. In fact, I feel part of my personal mission as a Catholic convert is to help Catholics see where we can learn from our Protestant brothers and sisters. But I did reject a lot of tenets in Evangelicalism as I experienced it growing up. And the specifically 'Catholic' things I found in Catholicism were so overwhelmingly good for me to know.
Some reasons I chose Catholicism specifically
The Papacy - I really think it's hard to consider "Catholicism" outside of the figure of the pope. As I was saying to someone recently, the pope is the linchpin that holds Catholicism together as a unified, trustworthy belief system.
A fundamental problem for Protestantism, in my experience, is authority. Why is one denomination more valid than another? How can I trust one interpretation over another? It seems this requires the answers of "my pastor says, the denomination believes, our translation, the King's version, scholars note," and on and on. I didn't find those answers definitive or personally satisfying. But in Catholicism, there is a clear hierarchy of authority. Because Catholics believe Christ instituted the papacy personally with Peter (Matthew 16:17-19), when we're asked "How can you believe X?" we can answer "Because the pope, Christ's representative on earth, said so." Now, that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But when I looked at Scripture and the tradition of the Church, I found the papacy to actually be a great comfort. Theologically, it's a form of assurance.
Vision of Mary - What would a Catholic blog really be without a mention of Mary?? I hope to do a future post on Mariology 101. But unlike the vast majority of reasons I did join the Church, this reason was not logical but experiential. I offer this story as my own experience, and I make no demands for belief one way or another.
"Mary" was something I was just not on board with when I converted. I didn't understand the Catholic belief here (and a ton of other places, let me tell you) but I was given the grace to simply accept that understanding would come with time.
A couple weeks before joining the Church I was growing extremely anxious. Is this the right choice? What if I get it wrong? I really didn't know if I should 'go through with it' and become Catholic. So I went for a walk around campus to pray, and I desperately asked God for a sign. Of course, this is really immature spirituality but it was all I really had at the time. And God had enough mercy to give me what I hoped for.
As I was walking I looked up and stared at a very large oak tree with the sun shining directly behind it. After a few seconds of taking in the beauty of its leaves, I closed my eyes. And there, in my now (non)vision, the sun shining through the leaves had burned a perfect - I mean absolutely perfect - image of Mary. It was unmistakable. Please feel free to be a skeptic. I normally discount such stories myself as wishful thinking. But it was a true experience for me (the only person it was meant to be true for), and I took it as a sign that I really should become Catholic. I've never looked back.
Salvation - I found a lot more history, tradition, theology, and Scripture validating a Catholic understanding of salvation rather than a Protestant one. The world is both physical and spiritual. They go together. And so a view of sacramental grace just made a lot of sense.
Works and action being part of our salvation was also an important belief for me. Christ rarely tells his disciples what to believe (though it's often revealed to them) but he always tells them to do something: follow me. Other times he denounces those with the proper confession but wrong action and affirms those with the wrong profession but the right action. The Catholic view of faith and works affirmed what I felt experientially was true.
Salvation is a process in Catholicism. Protestants tend to view it as an event, which explains why they always want to know when you were saved. But Catholics believe salvation is a constant process of growing in holiness, of uncertainty, and of much stumbling. And, if you're not careful, you could possibly lose your salvation altogether in extreme cases. I think this is a much more difficult view of salvation to live with but I do think it's the right one.