This post is a part of the Patheos Catholic Channel series, “Catholicity: Identity and Its Discontents.” Read more here.
I used to be a Christian.
As a fifteen year-old, my conversion to Christianity was something radical. Out of all the stories that we tell ourselves, about ourselves, this was one of the ones that defined me.
I was a Christian.
And I was the whole kit and caboodle: a sinner right down to the core but trying hard. I read my Bible and prayed; I went to youth group and then a student church in university and I was soundly embedded and involved in both. As an adult, the number of activities my wife and I were involved with in our Evangelical church ran the gamut from small group ministry to sitting on the Missions Committee (and everything in between).
My decision, then, to become Catholic was significant.
It was a decided break from something that deeply defined me; from the Christianity that I’d known since I’d first known about Christianity.
It was scary.
My journey was both long and short and I’ve written about it elsewhere but suffice to say I read my way into the Church. First, through material written by Protestants, then by Catholics themselves, and then back to the foundational documents of the Christian faith: the Church Fathers, the history of the Reformation, the Councils of Trent and Vatican II.
I was an intellectual Catholic long before I became one in practice.
But it was the actual becoming Catholic that was frightening.
The history, the catholicity, the ritual and sacredness drew me in like a breadcrumbs along a trail but once I got there—once I stood inside my very first Catholic church—it was terrifying.
Amongst, mainly, Catholics who had grown up in the Church I felt like a complete novice, and I was. Despite everything I’d read I didn’t know (or I forgot) when to sit, kneel, or stand during the Mass. I forgot the responses and their order. I’d make mistakes praying the Rosary or the Creeds.
It was all so daunting; so much stuff to know and learn.
Stuff other Catholics knew through osmosis I had to learn through painstaking practice and repetition.
I was, in a large sense, starting from scratch again.
Becoming a Catholic came with both its perils and rewards.
To be sure, it was daunting. It was like learning a whole new language after having grown up and mastered one already; it was an immersion experience.And it wasn’t without its share of frustrations.
As an Evangelical teenager, a newer Christian convert, we’d held certain pejorative views about Catholics. I’ve written before that it was the local Catholic high school where the non-Catholic teenager would find the best weed and, sadly, the girls most likely to put out. Those Catholics had a reputation and, I discovered, these bad reputations weren’t always unwarranted.
Becoming a Catholic meant inheriting that, too.
(There are bad Catholics.)
But becoming a Catholic was like coming home too.
After sitting on the rocky banks of the river it was that moment of finally slipping my canoe into the stream. And what a stream.
As daunting as the rituals might’ve been, as out of place as I felt (and sometimes still feel) amongst the language of the Church, it was also magical.
It was, after all, this ancient language—these ancient rituals—which drew me, by the Holy Spirit, into the Catholic Church. These are incredible, beautiful, and historic things and it’s that link, that connection with the most ancient Church, which I found so remarkable.
It is central to my Catholic identity: a Christianity with a long, long lineage.
My brilliant wife said something the other day about what compels her about our Catholic faith. She said it’s comforting to know that “someone smarter than [us]” has thought all this through.
That we, confidently, stand on the shoulders of two thousand year old theological tradition.
That’s a comfortable thought. The kind of comfort of coming home.
My Catholic identity, for better or for worse, is something I, as a convert, am constantly evaluating (and re-evaluating). It’s something which is, still, so ever-present in my mind.
Because I did make a decided break with the way in which I used to identify myself and in the stories we inevitably tell ourselves about ourselves this was an important link; a chapter still writing itself.
I used to be a Christian.
Just a Christian.
I became a Catholic and, as I slipped my canoe into that stream which flows right from the very Early Church to today, became more of a Christian than I’d ever been before.
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