[Note: This post made my husband nervous. He says I'm pontificating. He's right; but I'm only pontificating as much as a simple wife & mother is allowed; while I've read way more People magazines than Aquinas or Augustine, I base my religious understanding on the Bible, the Catechism, a handful of simple apologetics books, and conversations with those who know more than me; I share what's below because it has brought me great happiness & I hope it will spark discussions with other moms about what really matters (I can handle only so many pregnancy and potty training talks ...)] I'm rarely asked about my Catholicism. When I became Catholic, even super close family members never asked "why." Sometimes this hurt my feelings as I'd hear their assumptions after they trickled down the gossip line. Many of them thought I joined a cult. I was surprised then that they didn't yell "stop." No, they didn't yell at all. They were quiet. I don't mean to throw a pity party. Not at all. I simply mean to remark on how off-limits religion is, especially within families.
So when I am asked as I was recently via email by an old friend or when religion comes up naturally and happily as it did in the park today with a new friend (who feels like an old friend) I'm thrilled to jabber.
So I thought I'd cc you all on my response to Shannon when she asked "What led you to Catholicism?" Here goes:
You asked about our communion with the Catholic Church. Whew, what a question ... but one I'm so glad you asked. In a day in age where religion & politics are off limits, I don't usually get a chance to share about my/ our journey. You are so kind to ask. I'll try to be brief & send you a book (Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn) that shares a Presbyterian minister’s conversion & deals with the basic claims of the Catholic Church.
I’ll share just the tip of the iceberg: A few years ago, by God's profound grace and mercy, my husband Pete picked up a few books on Catholic apologetics (he's a doctor -- a math, science, numbers guy heavily addicted to information & getting to the bottom of every issue). At the time, we had, like typical Evangelical Gen X'ers, been through about 5 churches in only 3 years of marriage -- always looking for the "perfect fit" -- where our views of "the Church" in Scripture were made manifest in a community that fit our style.
The apologetics material (one book being Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn) forced us to deal with many issues but I’ll limit myself to the three tenets of the Protestant Reformation and their failings:
Sola Gratia: "By Grace Alone": Just kidding about failings; no disagreement here. This is the only tenet of the Reformation that Catholics and Protestants agree on. We are saved by grace. This is why we Baptize babies & retarded folk who are not yet able to make an act of faith -- because our Covenant with our Lord begins by Grace).
Sola Fide: "By Faith Alone": Like I said, what about the babies and retarded folk? I mean NO disrespect, but only to make a point. How can we be justified by faith alone if many are unable to have faith. Here, we partly disagree with the Reformers; in that faith is only required for salvation if the person is capable of faith.
Sola Scriptura: "By Scripture Alone": Here we completely disagree with the well-intentioned reformers. Sorry, Martin Luther, but Christ did not ascend and drop a book from the sky (“Clunk!”) and say, “Here you go folks; figure it out for yourselves.” Rather, Jesus established a visible Church (Matthew 16: 18 “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.”) This Church, which from early on began calling itself “Catholicos” or “Catholic” meaning worldwide, is the only visible institution that has outlasted every civilization, power & authority for over 2000 years. Its tradition “breathed forth” the cannon of Scripture in its councils in the 3rd and 4th centuries. This point served to be the major unraveling of my Protestantism. I had always been taught that the “Word of God” was the Bible and that it alone was the “final authority” in my life on matters of faith and reason. How could I continue to believe that when I was suddenly confronted by the body who brought forth Scripture (or rather, who decided which books were in fact “Scripture.”) Furthermore, the Bible itself never so much makes such a grand claim. Yes, 2 Timothy 3: 16 asserts “All Scripture is God- breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, etc. …” but in 1 Timothy 3: 15, St. Paul refers to the Church as the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” And furthermore, what did folk read before Gutenberg’s printing press made the first print Bible in the 1500’s (not to mention that most of them were illiterate to boot).
So that’s the tip of the iceberg. I call it Sarah leaving Protestantism (this doesn’t mean I’ve given up the beauty of my childhood faith – the personal piety, the worship music, etc -- I take it all with me into and under the authority of the Church). The rest of the iceberg would be called Sarah becoming Catholic. This whole process began in the fall of 2003. It was two years later that I entered the Church with my first Holy Communion and Confession. To this day, however, I’m still becoming Catholic.
The process was and is difficult at times but I can’t imagine where I’d be without the support of the Church and her Sacraments in my life. My marriage is so much fuller and my prayer life has become the focus of my personal “walk.” Through the Church’s teaching I more fully realize what it means to carry one’s cross, but through her graces I’m also given the help to do so.
Much Love and thanks for your interest,
PS: (just one last thing – I can’t resist) You can see that the 3 tenets lead to the next key issue of “authority.” I’ll let you tackle that on your own with one question in mind: if your “final authority” in life is the Bible, whose interpretation of the Bible are you heeding? Your own? Your Pastor’s? Oprah’s? Dr. Phil’s? And if the Bible does not need interpretation or a final arbiter (which for me has become the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic body who birthed it) than why are there more than 25,000 (and counting) different Protestant denominations registered with the US government? Jesus said time and again that his people would be “one” and that the world would “know us by our love.” It only makes sense (and there is profound biblical evidence) that Christ established a visible body first on Peter and the Apostles that would grow via apostolic succession, like an acorn into an Oak tree, into what we have today: A Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and Layman working together to the glory of His Name and His Kingdom.
PSS: AHHHH!! I’m out of control but I promise this is the last one. So where does that leave you in the eyes of the Church, my dear old Protestant friend? You are considered “Separated Brethren” -- “Separate,” yes, but “Brethren” no less. We share a common Baptism. You have the truth but not the fullness of the truth. It would be as if your whole diet consisted of fries and diet coke and I simply pointed out the existence of cheeseburgers. So don’t be annoyed. You like to eat, right? Rome Sweet Home should arrive in a few days. If I haven’t completely annoyed you and if you’re interested it will be a good place to start. Be well & God Bless. Sarah