Having spent some quality time with my Dutch Catholic priest Catholicism had, like I said, become somewhat normalized. There were things I heard—explanations from Father Roderick—that I shook my head at, or tentatively disagreed with, but Catholicism became more real. It wasn’t as strange as it used to be; after all, if this priest could be serious about his faith, and he was, then maybe there was more to it than met the eye. I was warming up to the idea, but I still held a myriad of wild misconceptions.
That’s when I met some Catholics.
The first Catholic I met was Paul.
It was shortly after my exposure to Father Roderick’s Catholic faith that I moved into a new off-campus apartment with some friends from church. After learning that the housemate upstairs was a Catholic I was immediately interested and often waited—a bit stalker-like—for an invitation upstairs to chat. To my dismay it didn’t happen very often and although it seemed like we had a lot of common interests at first blush as I got to know more about him I realized that a lot of what repelled me from Catholicism was what he valued the most.
It was over coffee, if I remember correctly, that he told me that the medal he wore around his neck meant he could bypass purgatory.
I misunderstood him, I’m sure of it now, but at the time I thought it was a repulsive and superstitious faith he held. It was a faith, for my housemate, of strict black and white rules and order. I wear this medal, I go to heaven. It was that rigid structure that appealed to him, I learned through conversation. It seemed, at the time, to be more of a personality choice than anything else. He was a strict, rules-based guy and his was a strict, rules-based faith.
The second Catholic I met was John, a fellow Political Science student. I don’t remember how John and I first started talking but I do remember, distinctly, noticing him in our first-year classes. He’d come in, take a seat near the front, open his notebook, and then fall promptly asleep for the entire lecture.
John and I didn’t talk, however, until sometime in third year. By then our huge lectures had shrunk down to much smaller, upper year-sized classes and everyone got to know everyone else. I don’t know what first drew John and I together but it could’ve likely been over notes—my notes—for a lecture John napped through. In any case, we began to sit together, chat after class, and even take in some pub time together in the student bar on campus.
I learned that John was a Catholic, born and raised, and he learned that I was an evangelical Protestant. Eventually, we struck a deal. I’d bring him to a Monday night meeting of the on-campus student church I’d been attending and he bring me to Mass. After taking in the Protestant worship service he commented on how much singing there was. After attending Mass I was just confused.
It turns out that the second Catholic I’d meet wouldn’t be a great example either. As a Protestant I took my faith seriously, it was what moved and sustained me. As a Catholic John did not. I know now that it’s easy to be judgmental and more difficult to find the subtleties and nuance in a person’s character and behaviour but at the time my Catholic friend who slept around and drank to excess on weekends demonstrated a faith that, like Paul, wasn’t very compelling either.
The third Catholic I met was a Protestant pastor.
Sometime not too long after meeting Paul and James I met Dan. As the pastor of the on-campus student church moved full-time to the church plant we’d be attending, a new pastor was hired to fill his role. Dan was a masterful scholar. With what seemed like an endless array of degrees under his belt Dan brought a historically-grounded, scholarly approach to his sermons at the student church and we immediately hit it off. When I was fortunate enough to land a paid summer internship with the student church, working alongside Dan for two full months, I couldn’t have been happier.
Unlike Paul with his faith of rules and ritual, Dan was about as laid back as you could get. He was easy going. I think chill would probably be the best word. Unlike John with his lip service but wild lifestyle Dan was an evangelical pastor, mature and rich with integrity. So when I learned that Dan was raised Catholic I was surprised.
With my interest in Catholicism already piqued Dan was a sounding board for some of the casual questions that I had. It was, back then, nothing serious. It was a passing interest and Dan was well-spoken and well-versed. Eventually though it wasn’t even a question I had, it was something that he said to me. It was a seed he planted one day as I sat across from him in his office that set in motion a chain of events that would ultimately lead me to the Catholic church.