A Question from the Banks of the Tiber

I have a hypothesis about this blog, and frankly I’m not sure whether Frank agrees. My hypothesis is, this blog is most compelling for people near the banks of the Tiber, meaning (a) recent converts, (b) those considering converting, or (c) cradle Catholics who have left the Church and wonder, maybe secretly, about returning.
There’s a simple reason for my hypothesis. Frank and I are both recent converts. We were on the other side of the river not so very long ago. We were standing, to take another metaphor, in C.S. Lewis’s “hall out of which doors open into several rooms.” For more on this, see Frank’s first post on Mere Christianity.

But out of that hallway and onto the bank—Frank and I, having just arrived on the Vatican side of the river, remember clearly what the view looked like from the other bank—and how beautiful the Vatican City side is upon arrival. We have a certain perspective that resonates with (a), (b), and (c). And some of the questions that perplexed or motivated us seem to matter particularly to these three groups of readers.

One of these questions, that of the liturgy, elicited many comments in the past week. I posted on it several times, including here and here. New converts (a) love the fullness of the Catholic liturgy, even as we wonder about the new Missal. Those who think of converting (b) wonder about giving up their own liturgy, like the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Those who left the Church but might come back (c) may wonder why Vatican II tossed the Latin Mass overboard.

So here’s my question to you: What’s your question? What’s your issue? What is or was the issue that is most central to your personal choice about which side of the Tiber you want to be on? Or to return to Lewis’s metaphor, if you are standing in the hallway, what does the Catholic door look like to you? What about it attracts (attracted) you? What troubles (troubled) you?

Does your question concern:

  1. the liturgy?
  2. the Bible (whether Catholicism is “bible-believing,” as Frank wrote)?
  3. the authority of the Pope and Catholic bishops?
  4. the Church’s position on social issues?
  5. something else?

Here’s my answer, a quick one, I promise. I didn’t have any questions the day I stumbled into St. Mary Star of the Sea and pulled down my first kneeler. But I suppose if I had dug deep I would have answered (4), the Church’s position on social issues. Not because I had thought deeply about life, traditional marriage, and the like, but only because the magnetic pull of our secular culture is so powerful, I was afraid to break its hold over me, to stand apart from it. I cannot walk through the corridors of the mall, or pass the display windows of Victoria’s Secret or Brooks Brothers or Abercrombie & Fitch without feeling that magnetic power. I cannot step into a political discussion at a cocktail party in some liberal precincts around Boston without feeling alone. I cannot pick up the Boston Globe or switch on the network news without remembering that to choose Catholicism is the most countercultural choice I ever made.

Now that I’ve made the choice, or it made me, the magnetic field is reversed. Ironically, the Church’s position on social issues—its distinct countercultural stance—is precisely one of the most compelling reasons I remain a Catholic. Go figure!

But I promised you quick. What’s your answer?

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  • Anonymous

    Quick answer… number five.

  • Webster Bull

    Anonymous, I hope you'll be back to elaborate . . . !

  • Anonymous

    You nailed it! Catholicism is so countercultural and liberating. I used to be pulled in every direction the world wanted me to go in…television, books & movies. Since re-discovering the truth and beauty of the Church, my life has been much more at peace.

  • Anonymous

    Ironically, I have found that many "practicing" Catholics are no where near Rome at all. Obedience is required, and Americans, especially, tend to want to obey only themselves. I believe that that is especially what is "countercultural" about Roman Catholicism, and is the reason that there are so many "Cafeteria Catholics" in the pews, receiving Communion. I applaud those Catholics who despite Culture, obey the Church anyway, and believe what She believes. I was one of those "practicing" Catholics for over 30 years. But recognizing my unrepentant heresy, excommunicated myself. Now I stand indeed on the other side of the Tiber, closer to Rome than I ever was as a Roman Catholic.

  • To Anonymous 9:24< Huh?! "Closer to Rome than I ever was as a Roman Catholic?" Care to elaborate?

  • Tap

    There are plenty of those who say they are Catholic but its in name only. They don't go to Church on Sunday, they haven't seen the confessional in years, they are secular in thought and deed. Many didn't even marry in the Church they wanted to spare the family the expense by having a quick pronoucement at city hall. They baptize their children for grandparent sake but if you ask what are you? they say they are Catholic.None of my kids are regulars, they are Catholic because I had them baptized, they had CCD but I taught them at home too, they had all their sacraments, one married in the church, one married over in Nevada, one is living with her girlfriend and the other is still home..the only thing parents can do is pray for their children to be enlightened.Iam hoping for a St Paul experience for my #3 daughter and my son. I think they are going to literally be told by God directly to get over themselves and get with the original program.Amen?

  • I came into the Church and my husband returned over 23 years ago when we saw the Anglican tradition destroying itself. But, we were in Latin America. Coming back to the States, the Church was a shock: dissent, sloppy liturgy, but it was still THE CHURCH, so we stayed. Now, getting a little older, how about #1 and #5: restoring a beautiful, worshipful liturgy in the vernacular and catechising to repair the damage of dissent.

  • I am one of those "Anglicans", although I did not grow up Anglican. I was raised Baptist/Evangelical Free. My mother was raised Catholic and my Dad methodist, though neither had faith at the time and eventually found faith in the Pentecostal movement. Very anti-Catholic. Half of my siblings believe the pope to be the anti-Christ and the RCC the Whore of Babylon. However, 5 years ago my Dad and step-mom began attending a reformed church that recited the creeds, and I began to really appreciate the historicity found in the creeds. I wanted to find a similarly "creedal" church back up at college. My friend told me about his Anglican church. So I started going with him.Said "friend" and I started dating shortly thereafter. A year later something started drawing us apart and he finally "confessed" one day that he felt like God was calling him to the Catholic church. Through this tough experience I was forced to look at what I really believed – especially when he had arguments that I couldn't answer and actually made sense to me. 5 months later I was reading every Scott Hahn book I could get my hands on, talking to any Catholic friend or family member I could find (a whole 3 people), and trying to find answers. It was St. Ignatius of Antioch that finally convinced me.However, two years later I am still not Catholic. There was a falling out with my family over beliefs of a different nature (I haven't been very open with them about studying Catholicism, though they all know b/c they read my blog). My husband and I were married without my family there b/c of these disputes. And this is one reason I am not Catholic right now. It would drive a further wedge between my family and I. Our beliefs are already so different, that to join a "religion" they don't even view as Christian would devastate them.Another reason is that my husband is not sure anymore. His reason is probably number 4. We know we cannot be unequally yoked and for one of us to be Catholic and not the other is not something we can do. So I must let my passions rest aside and be content where I am. For both my husband and my family. This is how the Lord has asked me to honor my husband and my father at this time in my life.

  • Ironically the main issue with my parents was over "authority". Their authority. They essentially believe that my Dad=God in my life until I am married. But I got very flustered over "interpretation of scripture" and how the 5 pastors and clergy members I sought wisdom from didn't agree with my dad and his 5 elders and deacons. I quickly began to recognize the need for authority within the church. I actually began to crave that authority because I knew what my father was telling me was not true.

  • What compelled me to come back home to the Church was the irrevocable call to Truth. Every time I tested the Church, it was she who held the Truth and the world who proved to be in error. Mother Church, after each testing, still stood serene and beautiful, her hand outstretched to me offering comfort and refuge while the world and I were the worse for wear, our wounds bleeding. It took me 16 years of testing her to decide that I could trust her, but the Bride is faithful to Christ and now so am I.

  • Anonymous

    I was in a Jesuit college when Vatican II happened. Suddenly several of the priests either were laicized or laicized themselves and married former nuns. Many of the priests wanted to be addressed by first names. I struggled. Later, when I was in the military, I had two experiences within a short time at two different churches (RC) wherein the priest blamed Eve, and all women, for all the ills of the earth. I struggled, and went to Sunday Mass intermittently. The final straw was an Easter Mass that was noisy, chaotic, irreverent and totally in English with all the handshaking and backslapping attendant upon the "sign of peace". I find the loss of Latin a loss of mystery, dignity, reverence and peace. Mass as Social Gathering, totally lacking in respect for the occasion and in any vestige of peace and silence and comfort, simply leaves me without a place to go. I recently asked the local priest if he knew of a fairly local church where Mass was in Latin. His response was to give me a disdainful look and say "Oh, so you're one of THOSE, are you?" Not very encouraging for one who is looking for the way back. Please remember me in your prayers. God bless.

  • Why I am not (yet) across the Tiber: I currently believe that the latin church claims too much for itself in the way of infallibility and the authority of the hierarchy. It is very reasonable to attain a certain degree of skepticism toward ecclesial authority after reading the Bible and church history. I remain on the Anglican side of the divide because its historic Articles of Religion take a more measured view of the church over time; Article XXI provides that councils of the church "(forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God), they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture." It is this perspective that causes me to hesitate in the face of pronouncements like that of Vatican I concerning papal infallibility and those of the Pope concerning Mary's immaculate conception and assumption. All that being noted, I look around at the Anglican Communion and know that it is unlikely to prevail against the gates of hell. By way of contrast, the last two Popes have obviously been men of God, and have been spiritual inspirations to me and sources of much (if not all) of the sanctification that has taken place in my life over the last few decades. I feel that I will one day cross the Tiber, and I ask for your prayers in the meantime to help me address the concern(s) I noted above.And thanks for your blog! Your effort is much appreciated.

  • Anonymous

    From the Anonymous Heretic to Frank:My point is that as a former Roman Catholic, I was "in" the Church, but not "of" the Church. As a child of, shall we say, "Cafeteria Catholics", I was poorly educated in the Faith both at home and at CCD class. It was only when, as an adult, I strove to get "serious" about my faith, that I realized that my beliefs were not consistent with the Roman Catholic Faith. Heresy being a major sin, and yet respecting Catholic law, I had no choice but to excommunicate myself.After more study of both Religion and of my own soul, I found my home in Eastern Orthodoxy. However, it's the "taking it seriously" part that brings me back to the banks of the Tiber. I now far better appreciate the Liturgy (East & West), the Sacraments, the Saints, Prayer, Salvation, and the Catholic Christian Life than I ever did as a "practicing" Roman Catholic.I remain a heretic (or at best a schismatic). Forgive me for such, and pray that my soul may be saved despite my sinfulness. Pray also that the schisms of East and west may at long last be healed. The Bridge over the Tiber is, after all, not so wide.

  • Webster Bull

    I cannot answer these comments except to say, thank you all. These personal accounts are moving and, each in its way, inspiring.

  • Anonymous

    We were a couple of beat-up Episcopalians in a smallish community. When I started having panic attacks in church my spouse knew we needed a change. From the moment we entered our new Catholic home I felt safe and very comforted.The reasons that drove us from the Episcopal Church to the Catholic Church were not the same reasons we became confirmed. I love sitting next to my spouse of 46 years during the service. We are finally on the same page. As a cradle Episcopalian I missed the BCP as I prayed the Daily Office. But now that I've found the Daily Office (Anglican) for Catholic use I'm really happy.

  • Anonymous 2:14PMTry this on for size:Tridentine Catholic Latin Mass

  • And I believe this is what Anonymous 9:38 is referring to:Book of Divine Worship

  • I believe this blog does attract those who are considering conversion. I, like Michelle, am in the situation of being quite convinced but balancing that with a spouse who doesn't feel likewise convinced. It is frustrating to desire both unity in Christ's Church and in the home and to sense that you can only attain one.My approach has been to step up my discipline in my prayer life. My fervent prayer is that my devotion will yield positive changes in my life. The example of the faithful has always been the most visible witness to the transforming power of Christ. Persevere always.

  • Webster, I agree that this blog is likely to be very appealing to those near the banks of the Tiber. It's certainly true in my case; as one already part way across, I'm really interested in the conversion stories of others, and find it most helpful to compare experiences with those who share a similar perspective.As to what's my question: I would have to say doctrine. Many years ago I went to an Episcopal seminary (I was never ordained though) and there I learned about Christian orthodoxy — what we called "the faith once delivered to the saints," which I'm assuming is the same thing that the Catholic Church calls "the deposit of faith" — the teaching that was handed down from Christ to the Apostles to the bishops down through the centuries. I've watched the Episcopal Church fall away from that faith while the Catholic Church holds firmly to it. And adherence to the apostolic faith is, I believe, the foundation for right liturgy, interpretation of Scripture, church authority, positions on social issues, and so forth.

  • The church my family attended while I was in high school had a schism. While I was in college, I started to explore different denominations of the Christian faith. The Church's emphasis on unity and it's inextricable connection to authority led me to decide that the Catholic Church is the true Church Christ founded.

  • What brought me back (as a revert) a few years back was the liturgy, and realizing what the Mass REALLY was.But I'm intrigued by a question you didn't mention, that I see my father (born, raised, and still Southern Baptist) wrestling with as he considers coming into the Church: How do you finally discern "THE CALL"? That's his biggest hangup right now. He feels he WANTS to be in the Church, and he is at peace with the doctrinal and liturgical questions, but he says he's still waiting for a bolt-of-lightning-like "call."Did one or both of you have that moment when you really felt "the call?" Or was it a slow evolution that eventually made the need for the bolt of lightning less important? How did your discernment impact you, and vice-versa?

  • it was a low evangelical church, btw. Christian and Missionary Alliance-Vietnamese chapter.

  • "The church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners." Angelo Roncalli–perhaps better known as John XXIII

  • Oldonariel, For us, rather than a "Call" it was more a push or even a shove towards the Church. AnneG

  • For most of us who came into the Catholic Church after spending time in our ecclesial communities, there is a mourning period. One where we mourn the disunity of our Church, and the brokenness in which we all bear.

  • EPG

    Laura R. wrote (in part) – "And adherence to the apostolic faith is, I believe, the foundation for right liturgy, interpretation of Scripture, church authority, positions on social issues, and so forth."I think you're right Laura. The problem is, of course, that _most_ Christian bodies would agree with this statement, but would disagree with how to apply it. For example, the serious Evangelical bodies are all about claiming that _they_ hold to the original apostolic faith, and claim that much of what the Catholic Church has consists of additions and/or corruptions that have piled on over the centuries. Now, to use Webster's analogy, I'm hanging out of the banks of the Tiber, because, ironically, my old Episcopal Church no longer seems content with the faith of the Apostles, but seems convinced that it is a new voice of prophecy, especially in what it sees as social justice issues. The Evangelicals have (IMHO) pared away too much, especially a sacramental awareness. Which pretty much leaves the Catholics and the Orthodox.

  • Grace

    A little over two years ago I sat in a nondenominational church service. Mostly expats from English-speaking countries.The person bringing the message that day announced a moment of silence to honor the vets– it was November 11th.Somebody shouted out against this, that it was political, was what was happening in Iraq freedom, etc, etc, very disturbingin more than one way. The thought popped into my head, "This would never happen in a Catholic church." Although I had neverbeen to a Mass in my life. I had already stumbled onto Lifesitnews a few months before and had also learned that Tolkien was a Catholic. Now that impressed me!I began to learn through the internet.What drew me?The Holy Spirit.Tolkien.(probably CS Lewis paved the way)The reverence in Catholic worship.The holiness during Mass.The history.The pro-life movement.It is a complete way of life.The theology held together.The Catechism. Nobody else has anything like it.The early Fathers.The Truth.The communion of saints.Our Mother Mary.Jesus Christ.The unity.The authority.One particular Catholic woman who reached out to me on a Catholic forum.The charity on the forum.The intelligence of Catholics I met online.The great Catholic theologians.The beauty of the liturgy, the churches, the art.It is universal.It is apostolic.The Truth.The Truth is Jesus.Christ and the Catholic Church are one and the same. (Joan of Arc, I think).

  • Webster Bull

    More great comments here, ending with Grace's wonderful litany of so many things to be thankful for. As I commented elsewhere, my first 100 posts or so did nothing more than fill in Grace's list in my personal terms. Thanks all!

  • I am a cradle Catholic, but when I was in college, I drifted away from the Church and when I came back, it was in a charismatic setting that made little of some Catholic doctrines. Also, I really wanted the fellowship that I saw in some small, Protestant non-denominational communities.What kept me from ever breaking with the Church, and eventually brought me back to a Catholic life that was more faithful to the teaching of the Church was a)the Eucharist, b)the Eucharist, c) the Eucharist, d) Mary and the Pope.AMDG

  • EPG, you're right of course that other church bodies claim that they are the ones who hold to the apostolic faith while Catholicism has gone astray. Then you get into issues of authority, and it seems to me that, for anyone with a sense of true Christian history, the Catholic Church must eventually come out the winner.Your experience seems to have been much the same as mine. The really galling thing about the recent history of the Episcopal Church is that they're throwing away apostolic teaching and tradition as fast as they can (while resolutely hanging onto their claim to Apostolic Succesion in priestly orders).Grace, I also loved your litany of what has drawn you into the Church.

  • personal choice about which side of the Tiber you want to be on? Huh?Catholic isn't what I do. Catholic isn't what I think or believe.Catholic is who I am, it is a state of being. I cannot be anything but who and what I am.

  • You may already be familiar with this —Why I am a Catholicby Father Joseph Ratzinger (1971)We can think of the Catholic Church by comparing it to the moon, not only for the relationship between moon and woman (as mother), but also because the moon does not have its own light. It receives light from the sun, without which it would be in total darkness. The moon shines, but its light is not its own. Lunar probes and astronauts have seen that the moon is nothing but a rocky and desert-like wasteland. They saw rock and sand, the reality quite different from the image we held about it from antiquity. The moon is by and of itself nothing but rock and sand, but it does reflect light. Is this not an exact image of the Church? Whoever explores it and digs into it with a probe will discover, as in the moon, nothing but desert, sand and rock – the weaknesses of mankind seen as dust, stones, waste. But the decisive fact is that even if she is nothing but sand and stones, she is also Light, by virtue of the Lord. I am a Catholic because I believe that now as in the past, and independent of us, the Lord stands behind the Church, and we cannot be near Him without staying within His Church. I belong to the Catholic Church because despite everything, I believe that it is His Church, not “ours.” It is the Church which, despite all the human weaknesses present in her, brings us to Jesus Christ. Only through the Church can I receive Him as a living and powerful reality, here and now. Without the Church, the image of Christ would evaporate, it would crumble, it would disappear. And what would become of mankind deprived of Christ? I am in the Church for the same reasons that I am a Christian. Because one cannot believe, in isolation. Faith is possible in communion with other believers. Faith by its very nature is a force that binds. And this faith must be ecclesial, or it is not faith at all. And just as one does not believe, in isolation, but only in communion with others, neither can one have faith out of one’s own initiative or invention. I remain in the Church because I believe that faith, realizable only in the Church and not against her, is a true necessity for the human being and for the world. I remain in the Church because only the faith the Church professes can save man. The great ideal of our generation is a society free of tyranny, suffering and injustice. In this world, suffering does not come only from inequalities in material wealth and power. There are those who would have us believe that we can realize our humanity without mastery of self, without the patience of surrender and the effort to overcome difficulties; that it is not necessary to make any sacrifice to keep compromises which we accept, nor to bear with patience the constant tension between what should be and what actually is. In reality, man can only be saved through the Cross and the acceptance of one’s own suffering as well as those of the world, which find their resolution in the Passion of the Lord. Only thus can man become free. All the other “offers at a better price” can only end in failure. Love is not simply aesthetic and uncritical. The only possibility to change man in a positive sense is to love him truly by transforming him gradually from who he is to who he can be. That is what the Church can do.

  • Webster Bull

    Flexo, Many thanks for this. Many. I had not read it before. I am publishing it as a post of its own. Can you tell me where it is from? Thank you.

  • I got it from the Papa Ratzinger Forum website. The link should take you to it.

  • Sandy

    I actually understand this. It is why I stay in the Grand Hall for now. I see the human institutions as a weakness and it is why I stay separate.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anonymous posted:But recognizing my unrepentant heresy, excommunicated myself. Now I stand indeed on the other side of the Tiber, closer to Rome than I ever was as a Roman Catholic.