Where Else Can I Go? Becoming a Catholic, Or Not.

Where Else Can I Go? Becoming a Catholic, Or Not. January 15, 2015
Photo Credit: David Ohmer.
Photo Credit: David Ohmer.

Ask my wife, I’m not always altogether emotionally stable. It’s no secret. Sometimes I get a little bit intense, and sometimes I get a little bit depressed, and sometimes I struggle. I can honest about that, I’m a human being.

Recently, one of these struggles became an complete existential crisis.

It wasn’t the first time I was stopped in my tracks or the first time I’d harboured serious doubts about this faith journey that I’m on. Likely, it won’t be the last. But I’ve learned a lot of things and each set back has been an incredible opportunity for growth—often profound spiritual growth—so I wanted to share a bit of honest experience with you.

Sometimes I wonder if there’s even any point of continuing on my current trajectory. This was the tenor of the aforementioned existential crisis.

I stood in the backyard, in the dark, praying the rosary and waiting for a pot of soup to cool down in the snow. It was, obviously, an odd configuration of things.

Do I really want to be a Catholic? Do I need to be a Catholic?

These are the sorts of things I think of during existential crises.

I’ve had poor experiences with my RCIA classes. Classes meant to usher in the heathen masses into the most beautiful and profound narrative unfolding over all space and time: The Holy Catholic Church. In my own personal experiences, these classes have been less than edifying. What I mean is, they haven’t been edifying for me—they haven’t been at my pace or met my needs or been what I was hoping they’d be and that’s been a major setback. But I’ve taken it in stride. I’ve taken it as an opportunity, like I said, in the disguise of a setback. This has been God telling me something: It isn’t all about me.

I’m not the centre of the universe, go figure.

Timing is important, too. I’m sure I could rush my acceptance into the Church and beg a priest, anywhere, to admit me into Communion and I’m sure someone with a collar, somewhere, would go for it, but that would be my agenda and on my timeline. Instead, I trust the Lord knows what’s best and that I found this particular RCIA class at this particular Catholic parish for a reason. It’s constantly a setback, but it’s also, constantly, an opportunity for growth—and for faith, and trust, and humility (which I need most of all, amen).

I’ve also felt setback by the experience—the example—of other Catholics.

G.K. Chesterton, Catholic convert from Anglicanism, writes of this exact experience in The Catholic Church and Conversion a book that if you know me and read this blog you will know that I love dearly. Chesterton writes that at a certain point in a Protestant’s conversion the only thing that can really shake them from their path into the Church is, more often than not, the poor example (in words or deeds) of another Catholic.

That’s exactly it.

Hearing, reading, or observing things that those already inside the Church sometimes do, as I get closer to joining, has been a setback as well.

“If he’s a Catholic and that’s what he says about Islam why would I want to be a part of that Church?”

But for all the roadblocks, all the setbacks, all of the difficult circumstances and dark days the blessed words of St. Peter, on whom Catholics believe Christ founded the Church, keep ringing in my ears, “Where else can we go?”

Where else can I go?

I think of this when something sets me back, or stirs me up, or drags me down. If not the Catholic Church, where else could I go?

Because sometimes I wonder if there’s any point in going forward. Sometimes it’s difficult.

I couldn’t be happy as a Protestant, I know this much.

I’ve turned it over in my head every which way and I’m passed that point. I couldn’t do it. First things, my struggles with reconciling how Scripture is interpreted within Protestantism are too great. It doesn’t make sense to me that a loving God, who prayed, in the Person of Jesus, for Christian unity would’ve left us with a Bible that needs interpreting and, in the interpreting, we get so many different conclusions. I can’t figure my way out of that because Protestant denominations differ on enormous issues like the means of salvation and the sanctity of life.

The closest, admittedly, that I’ve come to a solution that seems workable, that seems acceptable, is that proposed by former Anglican bishop N.T. Wright. However, even in his case, when his formula of interpreting Scripture through thematic, contextual reading, community, and scholarship is actually applied it doesn’t work to prevent schism and discord—you need look no further than the desperate status of the Anglican Communion world-wide.

Plenty of groups of Christians can read Scripture contextually, consult scholars, and pray earnestly about it and still come to different conclusions. Thoughtfully applying Wright’s formula—as good as it is—doesn’t provide Protestants with a way out of the difficult, murky waters of Scriptural interpretation and authority.

Where else can I go?

Likewise, as a Protestant on the way to Catholicism I’ve been swept away by Catholic forms of worship and devotion. The beauty and reverence of the Mass is something I’ve never even close to experienced on a Protestant Sunday morning. The appeal and simple beauty of the rosary, the missal, lectionary, the liturgial calendar, the rich symbolism of worship, and the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s been precisely these things that have gotten me through dark times and difficult moments as I struggle along on this journey. It’s been a particularly moving Mass, at a particularly disappointing time, that has taught me that giving up would be foolish (and that pressing on is the answer). Ironically, it’s been Jesus moving through the Catholic stuff, in the midst of my doubts about Catholicism as a whole, that has brought me through.

Finally, it’s the uniquely Catholic theology that I’ve learned too much about, that resonates too strongly, to be able to abandon it at this stage of the game. It’s theology I was never able to understand or reconcile as a Protestant: Confession, the Communion of Saints, Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, the Bread and Wine Discourse, Justification, and Paul’s discussion of our works being proven in fire (and its purgatorial implications). As bizarre as some of this Catholic theology may sound to the ears of my readers—and God bless you for reading it—it’s the stuff that’s begun to be woven into my way of thinking. It’s stuff that’s become well-tread territory, and deeply rooted in my understanding of my faith. It’s stuff I would’ve scoffed at even a year ago but it’s also the stuff, like confession, for example, that I’ve been puzzled about for years as a Protestant.

In Catholicism is a satisfying and edifying solution to these theological conundrums. So, where else could I go?

On those difficult days, and in those challenging moments, I do find myself wondering what all this is for. I’ve come close, and I’ll come close again, to quitting, but there has always been something—I believe it’s a Someone, more likely—that’s been ushering me along. When I think of giving up, of giving in, I think about what it would mean and how I could be satisfied and how I could feel OK with myself and my decision and I can’t. I can’t remain a Protestant even, in those moments, when I desperately want to, when it would be much easier socially, emotionally, and relationally—when I’m set back and set to stumble and challenged.

Instead, the Lord leads me on and through those difficult times; in spite of the poor catechises at my parish church, in spite of the poor examples of Catholic piety, in spite of my own doubts and the emotional roller coaster of bleak, dark winter days. I’ve never been in such a strange place with my faith, a place of sometimes frustration, but a place of deep certainty. A place where I’m vexed, on the one hand, but encouraged on the other. A place where I know I can’t go back, but going forward seems an insanity sometimes.

As I finish the first draft of this article the clock approaches six. The bells from the church down the street where the Lord dwells in the tabernacle, as I write, will ring the Angelus, a reminder and call to prayer. I’m going to go and open the window, let the frigid winter air in, so I can hear them ring more clearly.

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  • Greg

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention orthodoxy. It seems to meet your main inspirations, beauty, reverence, depth and history. All of these,even more so (imo).

  • Hang in there. We are far from a perfect community and the perfection we are called to but hopefully we move, in fits and starts toward He who is perfect and someday will rejoice in that fullness of encounter. The Church will lead us to Him.

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  • Marcus

    I admire you for this blog.

    I made the biggest mistake a Protestant could make also. I read the Church Fathers. I learned about all the misconceptions. I began praying the rosary. My heart lit aflame. Now I can’t imagine staying Protestant. Therein lies the problem. I am active and attached to my church. The pastor has known me since birth. My grandparents are pastors at an associated church. My wife was raised in an abusive Catholic home, a pray or get beaten kind of situation. This is the Catholicism she knows and she swears she will never return. I haven’t even told her of my discoveries and new faith. I don’t know how.

    I don’t have a single Catholic relative. Most are completely anti-Catholic. My heart is torn in two because I feel I will lose my family and possibly my marriage. My pastor, a lifelong mentor and father figure, will be hurt beyond words. But yet, I can’t stop reading and praying. I know God is leading me this way but for the life of me I can’t understand why He would want this. I have three small children who I know my wife will not want to raise Catholic. My heart hurts all day, and prayer helps, the rosary helps, but I want full communion with the Church, and I don’t know how to make this decision.

    You are brave for doing this. Do not turn back. My name is Marcus. Pray that God can give me the courage to go on, and some guidance on how to do this.

    • Michael

      > I know God is leading me this way but for the life of me I can’t understand why

      > He would want this.

      Because His desire is that you be fully united with Him in the unity of the Trinity for all eternity. His love is boundless. He wants to share that ocean of love with you…face to face, in person, in heaven. You don’t want to lose friends or family; that shows you have a great love for them. Love is godly. However, you must love God above all. The words of Jesus in Matthew 10 may help:

      [32] Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. [33] But he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven. [34] Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. [35] For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

      Note: [35] “I came to set a man at variance”: Not that this was the end or design of the coming of our Saviour; but that his coming and his doctrine would have this effect, by reason of the obstinate resistance that many would make, and of their persecuting all such as should adhere to him.

      [36] And a man’ s enemies shall be they of his own household. [37] He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. [38] And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me. [39] He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it. [40] He that receiveth you, receiveth me: and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.

      I suggest learning the Catholic faith well, in order to answer the inevitable questions you will be asked. Remind your wife that her negative experience was at the hands of men, not God. (Maybe she could use the experience as a reminder of how *not* to share the faith with others, you know, as a child from an abusive family vows never to treat their own children in the same way.) Jesus teaches above all to love God and neighbor. So she may have been on the receiving end of a person who was not living the Catholic faith as the person should have been. However, the Church itself cannot be blamed. The Church is the body of Christ; Christ is the head. You can’t have the Christ, the head of the body, without His body. The Church is also the bride of Christ. You can’t divorce the bride from the bridegroom. His Church is for all people of all time. That’s why it is called Catholic (universal). I’ve gone on longer than I intended. Take from this what is useful. I’ll include you in my rosary intentions tonight.

      http://drbo.org/x/d?b=drb&bk=47&ch=10&l=37#x

  • JoyInTheLord

    It’s wonderful that it is He Himself Who is prodding you on, not the DRE, nor the RCIA staff, nor your RCIA sponsor, nor the parish priest. Sometimes, it is also the Enemy who is planting these seeds of doubt in your head. But in all cases, what I see here is that it is the Lord Who is really calling you home to His Home. Many souls depend on YOUR conversion and so expect it to be a tug of war. It isn’t worth it if it is handed to you on a silver platter.

    To Marcus, know that I will pray for you and for your intentions especially tomorrow, on the day of Our Lord’s Death on the Cross.

  • Amie

    It’s remarkable. I perhaps have the opposite entry into the Catholic Church. I was born Catholic, raised Catholic, and am a grown full member of the Church. On top of that, I have generations of ancestors who were devote members of the Church as well. I even have two cousins who are on the path to Priesthood. I have from the very beginning have had an overwhelming positive experience. However, I have found myself in those dark places before. I have questioned my faith and God. I have asked, why am I here? What have I done? Particularly, preparing for my Confirmation-I was told you must question, you must explore, you must make your faith your own… or do not take this final step into the full communion with the Church. And on my darkest days, my response to those inner doubts and questions was the same as you’re, the same as Peter’s.

    Where else can I go?

    Despite it all, my heart it certain that I can be nothing else than Catholic and I strive to be a better Catholic so that all that see me know the Goodness my faith brings me.

    I am not Catholic because of my experiences or family or history, though they have helped, I am Catholic because my heart’s Truth could not stand any other way. I am Catholic because I am.