Lingering Doubts on the Road to Rome

Lingering Doubts on the Road to Rome April 1, 2015
Photo Credit: Roberto Taddeo.
Photo Credit: Roberto Taddeo.

When I began this blog I still felt like I was a ways from becoming a Catholic. It felt like a far-off dream, a fantasy, and even as I began RCIA classes at the sleepy parish a few blocks from our house it still felt rather unreal. When the soft spoken sister who runs the program first stood up to talk to us about what prayer is I—as a devout, prayerful Protestant for more than half my life—felt a lump in my throat, and a nagging feeling, “Is this really the right road to be going down?”

As Easter approaches and I look towards actually, for real, becoming a Catholic, there is no shortage of lingering doubts.

Chief amongst these doubts is the question, which I had from the beginning, “Am I doing the right thing?”

This perennial doubt is swept away by an emotionally and spiritually fulfilling encounter, like my first experience of the ancient Latin Mass or a particularly intellectually rigorous reading—St. Francis de Sales’s The Catholic Controversy has lately been turning over in my brain. But these doubts, on the other hand, swell up again, to overflowing, after a particularly depressing few days or driven by a sense of loneliness or despair for a difficult situation.

And I ask myself, “Am I doing the right thing?”

My other perennial doubt is one surely wrestled with by every ancient and modern Protestant convert to Catholicism: What if no one else believes?

What if I’m, forever, the lone Catholic.

What if this incredible thing that I’ve found, this Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself and passed on from generation to generation, appeals to no one else—calls in no one else to believe—except for me. What if I’m the only one?

These are my lingering doubts on the road to Rome.

Am I Doing the Right Thing?

From the beginning of my journey I’ve harboured this particularly difficult doubt.

As many of you might know I’ve largely read my way into the Catholic Church. Spurred on by the question a Protestant pastor once asked me I began a journey into Catholicism. A journey which didn’t see me darken the door of a Catholic Church until, really, quite recently. And the experience was life-changing. But I began this journey by reading.

On paper, the Catholic Church, from her most prized authors and scholars, sounds like a field of dreams.

Famous converts like John Henry Cardinal Newman, G.K. Chesterton, Louis Bouyer, and contemporaries like Scott Hahn and Stephen Ray paint a picture of the Catholic Church that leaves the would-be convert like me ready to storm the altar—if only to receive Jesus Christ in actual flesh.

The reality, of course, is slightly more grim.

The reality is that it’s challenging, at least where we live, to find a Catholic community. It’s challenging to find a parish that feels welcoming, bright, and vibrant. My wife and I, in our Protestant community, have got a great thing going. We’ve got a great group of friends, a phenomenal pastoral team, and a larger community of genuinely committed Christians. I’ve struggled, mightily, to find that in the Catholic parishes in our area.

Sure, I’ve certainly seen glimpses, and I’ve been greatly buoyed when I’ve attended other Catholic churches while travelling. But, locally, there have been times of despair.

I know, on paper, and intellectually, that the Catholic Church is all that she says she is. It makes cold, hard sense. But one of these lingering doubts, as my ship finally ports in the Eternal City of Rome, is “Am I doing the right thing?”

“Will I ever find a place that fits?”

Is it better, in the end, to stick with what we know—because what we know is great. And what I’ve seen, so far, amongst the Catholic parishes I’ve visited, are communities that pale in comparison to what we’ve already got.

What If No One Else Believes

My second lingering doubt is naturally related to the first and, naturally, is a doubt that I’m certain has been shared with all the aforementioned Catholic converts before me.

“What if I’m the only one that believes?”

“What if I’m the lone Catholic?”

Friends, the last thing I’m trying to throw here is a pity party, I hope I can make that clear, if nothing else. This journey is something I’m going on, that I’ve chosen (depending on your theology), and I’m fully aware, as difficult as it may be, of the risks and rewards.

That said, it can certainly be lonely.

The lingering doubt in my mind is that maybe, somehow, I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe I’m crazy.

And maybe I am.

Because when you begin, and end, a journey like this. When you discover what seems, to you, to be this incredible hidden treasure of the Catholic Church, you begin to wonder. You begin to ask questions.

“How come nobody else sees what I see?”

“What’s going on?”

It seems to you that the truth is plain as day and you can’t figure out why, once you begin to build the bandwagon, the masses don’t come storming down your door for a place in the parade. Yet, there’s that bandwagon built and assembled and now collecting dust in the driveway.

And it leaves you scratching your head.

But I think of all those Catholic converts. I think, especially, of someone like John Henry Cardinal Newman, who left his high position in the Church of England—who left all his close friends and colleagues to become a Catholic. And, sure, lots followed him and it was, for him, an incredibly gratifying experience. But lots didn’t follow—lots rejected what he espoused as the historical truth—and I’m sure that ate him up inside.

And I think of those contemporaries, giants in Catholic scholarship like Scott Hahn who, along with his wife, left a lineage of devout Protestant pastors and ministers. Scott Hahn, whose wife Kimberley dreamed of being the wife of a Protestant pastor and ministering together, as a team. And I think, how do you follow your convictions and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and make a break from that? From a life so deeply entrenched in Protestantism. And what does that feel like when no one else follows you? When your father and mother and sisters and brothers and your close relations remain Protestant.

Do you ask yourself, “What’s going on?”

Do you think, “Am I crazy?”

What Remains of the Road to Rome

I don’t know the answers.

When it comes down to it, I really don’t know.

But I do know this. I do know that this journey has been undoubtedly driven by the Holy Spirit. There have been times of devastating and difficult lows, but times of great highs. There have been challenging experiences but, equally, edifying encounters. I’ve felt down trodden but I’ve also felt incredibly uplifted. And God has been there, throughout in signs and miracles and an overwhelming peace.

I still don’t know how we’ll find some place that feels right. A Catholic community that could rival the great thing we’ve got going on now in our Protestant home. It’s going to be difficult, but it’s clear to me that God has placed me on this journey, and there’s no turning back. At the bottom of everything, this is where the rubber meets that road—this is where I must surrender, and ultimately trust God to get us through the rest of it.

Likewise, I think I’ll go on feeling crazy for, truly, God knows how long. Maybe forever. Because, ultimately, it’s God who has to lead His people back home. I, as an instrument, can do little more of write, and live. I feel that, truly, like Rome is Home. Like all of this has unfolded with unbelievable beauty and clarity. I feel that in the Catholic Church I’ve found an unparalleled theology that encompasses everything. A completely coherent worldview that I found nowhere else—nowhere at all. I’ve found, in Catholicism, a faith that, I’ve said before, is intellectually, historically, spiritually, and aesthetically compelling.

And I’m ever so compelled.

But I can compel no one else, not on my own.

In desperate times I come to God in prayer. I pray more often than I used to—more often by a long shot—but still not enough. But, in desperate times, many of us (at least the kind of folks who would read something like this) are driven to the very feet of our Lord. Lately, I’m driven to the Rosary in those times and it’s been a source of unspeakable power and peace. I can’t begin to say, truly.

And this prayer too, an ancient Catholic one befitting of this Passion Week, “Lord Jesus Christ, crucified, have mercy on me.”

As these doubts linger, and linger they do, that is my prayer. For mercy. For peace.

For the journey.

For God knows what comes next.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Anna Davidson

    I’m right there with you wondering if this is the right thing to do. We had our RCIA rehearsal last night for the next 3 days, and I still have doubts… Trying just to pray…

  • Hey Albert! I messaged you on your Cordial facebook page, but didn’t hear back! Those doubts you expressed were my own as well, but I can tell you that while there will always be struggle, God also provided for me in ways I never would have expected! I hope you read my story sometime at my site, some of it may resonate with you!

  • Christopher Schaefer

    “The reality is that it’s challenging, at least where we live, to find a Catholic community. It’s challenging to find a parish that feels welcoming, bright, and vibrant.”

    As a pre-Vatican II “cradle Catholic” I can vouch for the difficulty of finding such a parish. In earlier times, parishes often were run as “sacrament factories”, with no effort made to create a sense of community. Catholics, at least here in the USA, felt duty-bound to attend the parish of the particular geographic boundary in which they lived. For ethnic parishes, that particular ethnic identity often filled the “community building” gap. However, Protestants have many decades more experience than we do with such simple “community building” activities as “after-Sunday-service coffee hour”.

    This slowly is changing. Catholic parishes now realize that as attendance declines, they no longer can rely on “Sunday Mass obligation” to attract members. Also, there has been a huge gap in catechesis over the past 50 years. The result is that converts typically know MUCH more about the Catholic faith than do most Catholics, giving even greater validity to the old saying “a convert is more Catholic than a Catholic”. (I know: I’m married to one!)

    I nevertheless have great hope for the future. Newly ordained priests “tend” to be much more prayerful and devout than many who were ordained during the collapse of the seminary system in the 1960s-1980s. Many of these younger priests also have a great interest in rediscovering their lost heritage—such as the Latin Mass. As you perhaps discovered, the Traditional Latin Mass, for all its imperfections, is much more specific in laying out the teachings of the Catholic Church re what the Mass actually is. The 1969 version of the Mass, on the other hand, merely “implies” that one knows these teachings—the result being that fewer Catholics truly know what we believe is “made present in an unbloody manner”—yet not “repeated”, as many Protestant reformers misunderstood to be the Church’s teaching.

    I hope you at least will consider joining our “virtual online Catholic community” as you help build “real-time” Catholic community: http://awestruck.tv/

  • Grant

    Dear Albert thank you for your thoughtful blog. As Easter fast approaches i’m entering the church myself . Doubts have been part of my entire journey yet I plough through knowing deep down i’m on the right path, God Bless you Sir.

  • Churrinche

    I think doubts are a part of the life of every christian here in this world and that we have to trust in God. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to follow the advice of st. Peter on 1 Peter 5, 7.

    I also think that conversion is where we clearly face the mystery of God’s grace and men’s response. Why do i see things so clearly and the people around me not?

    And, of course, to find a good place into the Church is not easy. Not for the converts, not for cradle catholics. It has been really hard for me to find a place where i could help in something, and to find a good confessor; but meanwhile God never failed me. The Church is not only parishes; maybe God has in mind for you something else, maybe to join a certain charism within the Church.

    ¡Blessings! (excuse my english, again).

  • Dear Albert,

    a couple of thoughts and a resource (from a fellow convert – I’ve been in the Church for over 20 years now):

    1) Fear is not from the Lord. “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (II Tim. 1:7). Or one that jumped out at me just now, from when the disciples fell trembling with fear during the Transfiguration – “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” (Matt. 17:6-7).

    2) Great fellowship and warmth are good things, and yes, they are things that a lot of Catholic parishes seem to lack. But following the Lord isn’t about looking for the things that please US. (And you’ll be surprised how much good, quiet fellowship there really is in a Catholic parish, if you only decide to jump in and get involved in whatever is going on – there’s always SOMETHING).

    3) Speaking directly to your fears, especially the second one – head on over to the Coming Home Network International at http://chnetwork.org/converts/ – you will find 63 PAGES just of video interviews with converts to the Catholic Church (plus many more pages of written conversion stories). This is a wonderful resource not only for reassurance but for strengthening your Catholic faith (no matter how long you’ve been a Catholic).

    The Lord bless you, brother! He is risen!

    Jeri-Lynn Woods

  • D.T.

    Welcome home, brother. You are in the right place and even though it’s not always the most friendly and comforting place, it’s His place, and that’s all that matters.

  • We all have doubts. We all do less than we should. Think of how many apostles stood at the foot of the Cross. The first pope denied he even knew Christ three times. It’s been said the closer saints get to sanctification the more they fear damnation.

    As a Cradle Catholic I must confess most of my time in the Church was spent in isolation. My “Personal Relationship With Jesus” was just that. I went to Sunday Mass because it’s a requirement and didn’t really care how many others were there. One hour a week satisfied my obligation, so I thought.

    Recently I’ve come to appreciated the value in fellowship. The early Church depended on it. Soldiers are always stronger when they stick together and in this spiritual battle, this Church Militant, it will be won as a group not individuals. Cardinal Burke has endorsed a new Holy League in response to our secular challenges.

    Despite all the criticisms there was certainly much more community in the Church prior to Vatican II. Sadly, in many parishes today the only fellowship to be found is with the social justice committee or ‘reform’ (aka dissident) groups. This is due partly to a generational revolt the Baby Boomers instilled in our worship. There is no greater irony then watching those who suffered under Hitler’s regime give the ‘Sign Of Peace’ during Mass that John Lennon stole from Winston Churchill. Imagine, indeed.

    In nature a forest fire often serves a purpose. It destroys to create new growth. In many parishes today there are signs of hope. They are usually small and you have to seek them out. They are the green saplings springing to life among the fallen, blackened old trees. They are the pro-life groups, the rosary clubs, the Latin Mass communities, the orthodox men’s groups, the seminarians, the future. This should come as no surprise since our Saviour told us the gates of Hell will not prevail.

    In this spiritual battle, war was declared when the most powerful angel declared, “I will not serve.” He took one third of the other angels (who all knew the face of God) with him. What I fear is upon my Judgement Day, when our most merciful judge asks me, “What did you do with the talents I gave you?” I don’t have a sufficient answer. Would I say to Him, “Well, I just didn’t feel enough fellowship in the Church, so I didn’t do much.”? Would I say, “I disagreed with certain teachings of the Church you created, so I didn’t do much.”? If that happens then the great deceiver, the tempter, the snake wins.

    We are called to become saints. If you sense a lacking of fellowship in the Church then create some. If you feel the need for more prayer then pray. Study the motivation of the saints – they recognized needs and created solutions. They built up the Church from the foundation laid at Matthew 16. In every Church crisis many opportunities exist for sanctification. Let us seek them out and serve Him. We can never match what Christ did for us but we can at least make an effort to use the talents He gave us to help save souls.

    Satan tried to create doubt in Jesus. If he has that audacity then is it any wonder he tempts us?

  • Fabio

    I felt so close to you while reading this. I pray that you may find fullness of peace in Christ, and that you may taste his love in the Sacraments you will soon receive!

  • JoyInTheLord

    Well, I jumped to this one after reading the first 2 blogs in February. I’m gaining ground.

    Here’s a prayer for you and for all those doubting these few hours remaining…

    Let nothing disturb you,

    Let nothing frighten you,

    All things are passing away:

    God never changes.

    Patience obtains all things

    Whoever has God lacks nothing;

    God alone suffices.

    — St. Teresa of Avila

  • Diane

    Albert, thank you for sharing. I know the road to Rome is hard especially for converts but at the same time it’s also the most rewarding for you because you chose this path willingly. I pray for and all other converts who struggle with this. May God bless your journey.