Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why Did I Convert To Roman Catholicism?

Why Roman Catholicism?

I live in an area of the country known as the “Bible Belt.” My hometown, Ruston, has jokingly been called the “buckle of the Bible Belt” by some of its citizens. South Louisiana is known for the Catholic Church, but the Northern part of the state is known for Protestant Churches. Every street corner seems to have a Southern Baptist Church, United Methodist Church, Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church, or some other Christiana Church. I feel as if I’ve been part of too many of these denominations. I have been on a long, arduous pilgrimage of faith, and it has brought me to the Roman Catholic Church. Since making my decision to convert to Catholicism I’ve been asked for a reason why. This post is an effort to lay some of the details out for you, though I will be overly simplistic. The journey was not easy, and the thought process was not as clear or immediate as I may present it. It has been an organic experience of growth for me.

Roman Catholicism is often misunderstood, treated with suspicion or contempt, and viewed as second class Christianity, at best, by many Christians in the Bible Belt. Its ritual, theology, and ethics are strange to many people. Misunderstanding about the Communion of Saints, the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the devotional and theological life of the Church, and confusion about the priesthood and role of the Pope turn many people away from the Church before they give her a fair look. My purpose here is not to offer an apology for Roman Catholicism. Many better educated, and more thoughtful persons, have already written books about this subject. This article is about my reasons for becoming Roman Catholic.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says

819 "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth"273 are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements."274 Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him,275 and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."276

Every religion, and every Christian Community, maintains something of the truth which points to Christ and compels us toward Catholic unity. We are each created in the image of God, and though we are wounded by sin, we are not so harmed that we completely loose the imprint of God on our nature. Therefore, we as individuals, and as individuals which comprise communities of faith, maintain enough of the truth within us that we are capable of being drawn to the fullness of truth which is contained in the Catholic Church. My experience of faith has been that everything I have learned in other Christian Communities, has pointed me toward the completeness of the faith which subsists in the Catholic Church. This realization has been slow, and only wrought by the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, but I have been able to look back, and now look forward, and see that I have been on the Road to Rome for a very long time and I owe a great deal to the faith communities and faithful persons I have encountered on this pilgrimage. I have spent time as a Southern Baptist, Presbyterian in the Presbyterian Church in America, and I have most recently left a parish in the Episcopal Church. So I have been able to become Roman Catholic thanks to the faithfulness of these churches and the faithful people that have helped me become who I am. Rather than criticize these communities for what may be lacking in them, I will rather point the reader toward those things in the Catholic Church which compelled me toward unity.

Let me first advise the reader that many of the contrasts which exist between the Presbyterian and Baptists churches with the Catholic Church, do not necessarily exist between Rome and the Anglican Communion. I feel that my time in the Episcopal Church has especially prepared me the most to become Roman Catholic. Outwardly, the Anglican Communion has historically been the most similar church to Rome, which separated from Rome following the Reformation. In the Episcopal Church I gained a solid footing and understanding of the need for Apostolic Order and Succession, the Seven Sacraments, the Communion of the Saints, and many other things which people would naturally associate with the Roman Catholic Church. Their absence in the list of those things which draw me to the Catholic Church is not because I am naive of these crucial issues, but rather because I already have a strong appreciation for them, and feel they are magnified or made complete with my unity to the See of St. Peter. So why Rome?

Rome offers assurance of authority in the Church, clarity of faith and theology, universal appeal, and has stood the test of time.

Authority is something that perhaps you don’t know what you have until it is gone, or if you never had it in your life, it is both welcome and strange. The Magisterium, or the Churches teaching authority, especially found in her bishops in communion with the Pope, offers a rock of stability to the faithful. I’ve been in churches where the leaders around the denomination do not share a common faith, and are not bound to hold to certain standards, and thus when crisis arises there is no recourse of action and decisions, if they are reached, are long and complicated. It is a relief to know that in the Catholic Church the successor of St. Peter stand as the symbol and sign of unity in the Church and protector of the faith once delivered. It is a comfort to know that if a member or portion of the Church goes beyond the realm of what is true, then there is recourse to secure their safe return to faithfulness, or their sanction for continued novelty. While the Church is organic, and will grow and change, these changes are not to such an extent that what comes after the change will be fundamentally different from what was before. That would be mutation. Rather, when something organic changes characteristics this is considered growth and maturity, and what comes afterward is not fundamentally different from what was before. The maturing process in the life of a person is akin to this. A body grows and develops in different ways, but when you look at the photo of an infant, and then see the grown adult in front of you a resemblance can be seen and you can know that these are the same person. My experience has been that outside of Catholicism, other communities of the faithful are not afforded the same comfort and security to know that their church will not, through democratic means, veer off and make radical changes to the faith or practices of their religion.

The Roman Catholic Church is clear concerning faith and theology. As a Protestant I felt I was constantly on a search for truth. I had to be a hyper-Berean. Because there was no center of authority, I was free to read, listen, and experiment with a variety of theological ideas in order to arrive at what I felt was truth. It was quite subjective. In the Roman Catholic Church I am free to take up the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, read it, and be secure in the fact that this is what my Church teaches and has concluded to be the true faith. They will also stand behind it and support it because it is the faith they stand upon. Gone are the days of wondering through various theological traditions searching for the truth. The truth has been revealed to the world in the person of Jesus Christ and His Church, and it is a comfort to know that this Church has spoken clearly, and with authority, about what is orthodox and what is beyond the realm of orthodoxy. Some people may feel I have given up my intellectual freedom, learned to no longer think for myself, or submitted myself to brain wash. No, rather I feel I was intellectually, and faithfully, able to work through various theological positions, searching for the truth for this past decade, and when I finally was able to use my limited theological and historical knowledge to better understand the Catholic Church I was able to recognize in her what it is that I have been striving for and looking for. The principal “We do not understand to believe, we believe to understand” is one I have constantly been learning to apply. I cannot provide an ample defense of the Catholic Faith for you, or give you an air tight reasoning for my conversion to the Catholic Faith, but I do believe that I am being pulled here by the Spirit of God, and he will teach me all things in her.

I feel Catholicism has universal appeal…no pun intended. Many churches go to other cultures and successfully start missions and thrive among indigenous peoples. I feel that is something beautiful in other Christian traditions which have been maintained since schisms have occurred. Yet, I feel that Catholicism has done this especially well. Local traditions, musical practices, and holidays have been redeemed or Christianized and brought into the local and universal practices of the Church. The Catholic Church has been able to recognize what is good and worth preserving from other faith traditions and also from indigenous customs and practice, and incorporate that into the faith and practice of the Church. There has been unity in the Church and also an extraordinary amount of variety, liberty, and diversity in the Church, and this has not torn the fabric of the Church because it has the Magisterium to hold it together. Other Christian communities seek to have the same ability to be unified and diverse but the fabric soon begins to come to pieces because there is no authority to hold things together. Catholicism is also more counter culture than anything else I’ve been part of. To say I am Roman Catholic immediately tells someone what my Church teaches and practices. There is no confusion about “What kind of Roman Catholic are you?” Yes, there are great fault lines within the Church, and subjects about which Roman Catholics are divided, but there is no confusion about the authoritative teaching of the Church about these same matters. This sort of clarity and authority runs counter to human pride, division, and sin.

Finally, the Roman Catholic Church has stood the test of time. I am a student of history and I am clearly able to look over the breadth and depth of time and see the Catholic Church standing there through the rise and fall of nations, through persecution and reformation, as well as through secularization and materialism. Other Christian communities derive everything from this mother Church. The very context of their theological language and framework for thought is inherited from Rome, at its foundational levels. In those Christian traditions which outwardly appear to be closer to Roman Catholicism than the rest, their liturgical and Ecclesiological underpinnings are derived from the Catholic Church. Every Protestant group emphasizes some nuance of the faith that the Roman Catholic Church embodies as a whole, and in one context. Everything that is true in the Christian faith is found in Roman Catholicism.

These are some of the many reasons why I am now a convert to the Catholic Church. Though my thoughts are not perfect, as I am not, and despite my weaknesses, these are nevertheless real reasons for my conversion. I hope this helps you better understand why my spiritual pilgrimage has now landed me on the Roman Road.

B. J. Kennedy


Anonymous said...

Bravo, my good man. Good luck and God Bless you on your Journey to Rome.

+In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti

Seth Miller said...

Hey man, you have a cool blog going! This is good stuff.