I guess you might be able to say there were signposts along the way. Perhaps. A good friend of mine describes them as delayed “Epiphanies” – those striking moments of great importance that you somehow miss and can only recognize in retrospect. Yes, it seems they were there. But, whether called signposts or epiphanies, there was clear evidence along my life’s path. I was being called to Catholicism.
Born and raised Lutheran, faith was a central part of my upbringing. Bible stories, prayers at meals, Sunday school and weekly church were all regular parts of our family rhythm. Volunteering with afflicted immigrant families, church picnics and clothing drives brought home the value of a community of faith and the responsibility of those with much to help those with little. Deep conversations regarding right and wrong, heaven and hell, mercy and justice still resonate deeply within me from my childhood. Thoughtful authors such as C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey and Max Lucado all contributed to my firm foundation of faith.
It wasn’t until I met my wife, however, that Catholicism took on a greater role in my life. Cari, after all, was Catholic. Up to that point in my life, it seemed my experience with Catholicism was reduced to an awareness that certain friends believed in God, but went to “C.C.D.” instead of Sunday School, to “Mass” instead of Church, and sometimes prayed to Saints while we prayed directly to Jesus. Effectively, it was “different strokes for different folks”.
Catholicism now took on a different meaning in my life. Cari’s was a solid, quiet and steady faith. While I considered myself faithful and open-minded, my latent biases on prayer to Saints, glorification of Mary, the exclusivity of Communion and the exaltation of Church hierarchy came to the forefront and created quite a bit of tension as we prepared for marriage. So a tenuous compromise was reached. We would marry Catholic and raise our kids Lutheran. We would alternate churches until we had to commit.
But, even though an agreement was reached, there was something about Catholicism that took hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. The more I attended Mass, spoke with the priest, read works of Saints or apologists, and prayed the more I realized I had seriously misunderstood this faith. It was at this point that a thousand moments along my life’s journey suddenly, and in retrospect, had greater significance:
Whether it was the witnessing ornate relief work in Chartres Cathedral or the selfless devotion of Mother Teresa, singing Biebl’s Ave Maria (“Hail Mary”, how did I miss that one?) in Notre Dame Cathedral or looking at Michelangelo’s Holy Family, considering the devotion of Auschwitz Martyr Fr. Maximillian Kolbe or reading a sweet poem by Charles Peguy, and, finally, recognizing the heart-warming majesty of the Catholic Mass from one week to the next – I was truly stunned by what I once failed to appreciate, what I once failed to understand.
Philip Yancey, a wonderful Protestant author, once astutely observed,
“Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
G.K. Chesterton, a British journalist, author and Catholic convert once noted,
“It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment a man ceases to pull against it he feels a tug towards it. The moment he ceases to shout it down he begins to listen to it with pleasure. The moment he tries to be fair to it he begins to be fond of it.”
Evelyn Waugh, a British novelist and Catholic convert, observed:
“The Roman Catholic Church has the unique power of keeping remote control over human souls which have once been part of her. G.K. Chesterton has compared this to the fisherman’s line, which allows the fish the illusion of free play in the water and yet has him by the hook; in his own time the fisherman by a ‘twitch upon the thread’ draws the fish to land.”
In 2010, at Easter Vigil, I was received into the Catholic Church. After a thousand moments, a thousand signposts, a thousand epiphanies, I was humbled and overjoyed to have been dealt, as C.S. Lewis describes conversion, a “blessed defeat”. My hope in writing is to provide you with glimpses of Truth, Goodness and Beauty as I have experienced them. For me, they have been nothing less than Epiphanies. Glorious Epiphanies.