The Adventure of Catholic Faith

The Adventure of Catholic Faith December 18, 2021

I have an adventurous 16-year-old son. He recently expressed his desire for adventure to my wife.

Son: I have a lot of things I want to do.

Wife: Yeah, like what? (Imagining the pursuit of many academic and lifetime achievements…)

S: I don’t want to die and leave any adventures behind.

W: You mean a bucket list?

S: Exactly. I want to go sky diving. Fight a black belt with my bare hands — I’d definitely win. I want to hunt. Like, kill a bear with a knife.

W: How about the five knives a bear has on each of its paws?

S: I just don’t want to have any regrets in life.

W: We don’t have enough health insurance for your bucket list, son.

Aside from the fact that this is a hilarious conversation, it also demonstrates an important point. My son desires adventure, challenging and dangerous adventure for sure, but adventure, nonetheless. Why? He does not want to have any regrets in life. He wants to live life to the fullest. What is his view of Christianity?

The Desire for Adventurous Faith

Does he (and youth like him) think Christianity an adventure? Shouldn’t the Church tap into this desire for adventure? Moreover, the Church must do better to help the youth understand of the value the treasure they have as a birthright – their pearl of great price. They need value their faith to risk all it.

The Long Way Round

A little on my backstory. I am a convert to the Catholic Church. Raised with no faith tradition, I had no idea who Jesus was, and what he did for me. My family was also highly dysfunctional. I witnessed alcoholism and drug use firsthand, and early in my life. A rebel in my family was someone who did the good. I heard the Gospel for the first time at fifteen. Ironically, through a friend of mine named Paul. Paul came by my cousin’s apartment (where I lived after my family dissolved in divorce) and played roleplaying games with us. After, he showed us Christian music videos (in 1988 the lack of music quality did not help his case) and talked to us about Jesus. He mostly spoke to my cousins while I looked on, except for the one time he turned to me…

“Dennis, do you know that Jesus loves you and died for your sins?”

Stunned, I just stared at him in silence. My cousins seemed to mostly tolerate Paul, so I did not want to draw attention to myself. That night I prayed to Jesus for the first time but kept this to myself. I prayed that Jesus would touch my cousins’ hearts and the courage to tell Paul what Jesus was doing in my heart. God answered my prayer on August 28th, 1988 (I later found out as a Catholic that August 28th is the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo).

The Adventure Begins…

On August 28th, 1988, my cousin Brian and I were invited by Paul to a “concert” at Calvary Chapel Downey. With nothing to do, and not old enough to drive, my mom drove us. Honestly, the “concert” was not good, but there was an altar call. For those not familiar with this term, an altar call is when a preacher (usually an Evangelical Christian of some kind) invites people up to the “altar” to “accept” Jesus into their heart. To my shock and amazement, Brian went up. I soon followed.

The Intellectual Adventure

Fast forward to 2000. After many years of faith and study of Reformed theology, I found myself in a group of budding intellectuals at Iowa State University. We started an Iowa State version of C.S. Lewis’ Socratic Club. Our goal was simple: invite people from all philosophical and theological backgrounds to discuss their views and encourage intellectual dialogue devoid of polemics and emotion. Our efforts had mixed results, but it was the impetus behind the effort that led me to the Catholic Church. It was an unwritten rule among our group that one could not truly hope to persuade anyone of the falsehood of their positions unless one truly understood those positions as much as, or more than, those that hold them. An anti-Catholic at the time, I took it upon myself to tackle Catholicism in the hope to rescue those in her deceptive grip.

The Catholic Adventure

Where did I start? At the beginning of Church history with writers known as “The Early Church Fathers.” I read Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Irenaeus of Lyon, and others. I enrolled in classes at Iowa State in Catholic Studies. The local parish (St. Thomas Aquinas) endowed a Chair of Catholic Studies that brought in different Catholic scholars to teach Catholic-themed classes at the university. As I read, one glaring fact kept coming up – an absence of my theology from the historical record, except in instances where they agreed with the Catholic Church.

As a Reformed Protestant, I believed in the solas: sola fide, sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola deo gloria, and solo Christo (by faith alone, by scripture alone, by grace alone, by God’s glory alone, by Christ alone). The more I read the Early Fathers, the more I was confronted that two of the foundational solas did not exist in the early Church: sola fide and sola scriptura. These revelations led to a theological crossroads. Either the Church fell immediately after the death of the last Apostle (100 AD) or the Church I sought to destroy was the Church established by Christ. I believed God’s words in Matthew 16:18 that “the gates of hell” would not prevail against Christ’s Church, therefore the Church could not fall. I entered the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil in April of 2001.

The Catholic Birthright is an Adventure

If you have stayed with this entry thus far, thank you! I went into great detail to show that all who are Catholic are not so by birthright. Some of us took the long way around. It could be said that we cherish it more, having discovered it for ourselves, many times despite ourselves. To us converts, Catholicism is like the pearl of great price mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 13:46. To see those given this pearl as a birthright to then go and toss it away in indifference saddens me greatly. They throwaway something so dear mostly out of ignorance.

Those who leave behind Catholicism leave more than a building. They leave behind the foundation of Western Civilization itself. The Catholic Church produced the works of St. Augustine, St. Anselm, and St. Aquinas, the artistic works of Michael Angelo, Leonardo DaVinci, and the musical genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Furthermore, the Church discovered the Big Bang Theory (Georges Lemaître), founded the scientific discipline of genetics (Gregor Mendel), and a model of the universe (Nicolaus Copernicus). In the Church’s deposit of literature we find such classics as Dante’s Devine Comedy and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In architecture, the Church is unparalleled in beauty when one considers the Duomo in Milan and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Church’s rich ethical tradition of Natural Law IS the foundation of all modern democracies.

Sacramental Adventure

The aforementioned wonders of the Catholic Church are a mere icing on the cake that God has given to the world through His Church. The greatest gift the Church gives the world is Jesus Himself in the Eucharist. In the Catholic Church Jesus is given every day in the Eucharist. In bread and wine, the risen Jesus nourishes His people with His body and blood. Christ also provides six other Sacraments through his Church by which He touches the world. A Sacrament is when God uses the stuff of matter, for humans are made of matter, to produce a spiritual effect. For example, the waters of baptism for the initial forgiveness of sins. The Lord also uses oil for Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick, hands for holy orders, the priest for Confession, and men and women for Matrimony. These too are the birthright of all baptized Catholics.

The History of Adventurous Faith

In the first three centuries of the Church, there were multiple periods of persecution. Christians were branded as atheists (denial of the state gods and the divinity of the emperor) by Roman officials and could be brought before a local magistrate to either renounce their faith by sacrificing to the emperor or suffer death in martyrdom. Despite this ever-present threat, the Church continued to grow exponentially throughout the Roman Empire. This fact comes across as counterintuitive. Why would people continue to join a movement that demanded individual holiness and would often lead to physical suffer and death? The answer is in the question. People on the outside of the Church witnessed the change in their neighbors due to their new faith, and those same neighbors’ willingness to die, instead of weakening the truth of their claims, served to convince those on the outside the validity of their neighbor’s claims.

Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and the Church of Rome the center of Western Christianity, the mantle of adventure was passed on to the bold missionaries that took Christ’s message beyond the borders of what was once Rome. Among these were St. Augustine of Canterbury—“the Apostle to the English”—St. Patrick for the Irish, and St. Francis Xavier for Asia. All experienced trials and hardships but continued anyway. Their efforts were rewarded with mass conversions and the spread of the kingdom of God.

The Challenge of Adventurous Faith

As demonstrated, our youth have been handed a pearl of great price. They have a responsibility in their Baptism that is sealed in their Confirmation to take hold of their faith and change the world. If asked, I bet they also long for the Church to challenge them and send them on an adventure of faith. My son desires this adventure regardless of the source. The Church has an opportunity to provide this kind adventure and our youth are ready to take up this opportunity and run with it.

If the Church fails to provide challenge and does not demand more of our youth, they will leave. I think its worth a try.

Catholic Adventure Opportunities

FOCUS Missions FOCUS provides college students who seek to deepen their faith an opportunity to work with Catholics across the world. What I like about this organization is that it works with established Catholic organizations. It is not a “one-and-done” experience, but a continual mission that has roots.

Catholic Mission Trips Incorporated Catholic Mission Trips, Inc is another adventure opportunity. What is nice about this organization is that they offer both domestic and international opportunities. The opportunities seem inclined to be more “labor intensive” than evangelistic in nature.

Life Teen Missions Life Teen Missions’ focus is primarily a summer ministry at camps around the US and Haiti. Summer camp ministry is an amazing opportunity for youth to share their faith while also having an adventure.

St. Theresa Camp Nothing screams adventure like the Alaskan wilderness. Okay, this is only an hour North of Anchorage, but it is still in Alaska. This camp offers summer camp for most school aged children, camp helper opportunities for those ages 14-18, and camp staff positions (counselors, lifeguards, and support staff). Speaking from personal experience, I worked at a non-denominational camp in Alaska (Solid Rock Bible Camp) right out of high school and it was one of the greatest experiences of my young life.

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