I know this may be a shock to many of you - it is still to myself in many ways:
I have decided to become Catholic.
Three months ago I was an Evangelical, nondenominational Protestant.
How did I get here?
Questions. Lots of questions, in what was really a five-and-a-half-year journey. Lots of doubts, lots of reading Scripture, lots of hard conversations, lots of submitting everything once again to God and asking Him to lead me...
This post is the answer to that question as told through the story of how I decided to become a Roman Catholic.
Think of this post as you and I, friends, sitting down, and me just returning from a long journey. A journey of which you may have heard snippets, but we are sitting down so I can tell you the full thing.
It's one of those conversations that can easily span an hour or two and is full of questions and tangents (though I hope this is much more concise, focused, and coherent, being written). A conversation in which both of us know that only a one or two sentence answer, in passing, to "How was your journey?" won't do it justice.
And so we find a time, drop other things we could be doing, and sit down to get a chance to fully relate and listen to the longer, more fully able to be expressed, more complete narrative.
That is the framing of this writing. I want to not hold back, dear friends, the conversation and story that I owe and would gladly share personally with so many of you, who have been dear and invaluable church family over the life of my ten-year Christian journey thus far...but time prevents me. (Though I do hope this sparks many more of those conversations - so please don't hesitate to reach out!)
Thus, this writing is the next best thing I can do. I've been writing and rewriting and refining down these words for the last seven weeks, almost night and day (ask my housemates...) and I hope they serve to share all the things I wish I could relate custom and personally to each of you. I hope they capture with less words, even more than a two-hour conversation could, the story of how I made the mind-bending, life-altering decision and soon-to-be conversion from Evangelical nondenominationalism to the Catholic Church.
Friends with ears to hear and love to listen, here is the raw and real story, in my own words:
For years, I never thought once about seriously considering Catholicism. My church was so beautiful, and I learned from them (often in subtle ways or offhand comments) that a lot of the Catholic tradition was full of error, full of works-based salvation, had indiscriminate elements of Paganism and whatever other unbiblical things the Popes and bishops decided to add in over the years, like crazy things about Mary and praying to Saints and purgatory. Without too much thought, I'd built up a pretty solid wall against Catholicism with bricks and stones given to me by my church leaders early on.
Interestingly, my parents actually grew up Catholic but in college found a more inspiring and lived-out faith in Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru), a nondenominational college ministry.
Thus my siblings and I were raised in a wonderful nondenominational Church that I owe so much to: my understanding of the Gospel, my love of Scripture, my joy in worship, my having known many witnesses of the beautiful love of Jesus coming alive and made manifest in Christian community.
So when my sister became Catholic about six years ago...yikes. I thought she was leaving all that was so wonderful of what we grew up with for a version of Christianity that made no sense. I thought she was going over to the stale, lost-their-mind, traditionalist and unbiblical side of the Christian world. I thought she didn't fully understand nor appreciate the faith that we grew up with - the faith as it was so clearly revealed in Scripture.
I loved how my nondenominational Church "cut out all the denominational crap" and just embraced the pure, undefiled Gospel that Scripture presents. The Gospel is all we need, a relationship with Jesus is all we need - why was my sister adding all this questionable stuff to her faith and vowing to believe all these things that made no sense? Well, I decided, I couldn't change her and at the end of the day - if it grows her faith and makes it more alive, well I guess it's better than not believing Jesus at all.
But then, unsettlingly, she told me how she had a powerful God-inspired experience praying to Mary that encouraged her conversion. Whoa. The internal questions got more personal - did I believe her experience of praying to Mary or could I just write it off as her buying into something completely false and made-up? It was a crisis of faith - who did I believe more: my nondenominational church family, or my sister?
I could only believe one or the other.
This was the beginning of humble surrender. This was the beginning of questioning all that I had so simply held onto since growing up. Sola scriptura (the Bible as our only authority for definitively knowing truth). We don't worship Mary. But what if I was wrong? What if my church was wrong? Aren't there an estimated 1.2 billion professing Catholics in the world? So all along I'd been saying me and my local church knew better than them? But wasn't my faith real? Hadn't I seen God work so powerfully through my church? On the other hand - can I so easily invalidate and disbelieve my sister's powerful experience? Do I even know what the Catholic Church really believes?
So, out of respect and love for my sister, I started reading Catholic books for the first time. I was blessed with great works right away: Catholic and Christian by Alan Schreck (which convinced me Catholics were indeed still Christians), If Protestantism is True by Devin Rose (which created some definite first cracks in the wall I'd built up against Catholicism), and The Handbook of Catholic Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli (in which the last chapter helped me see Catholic doctrines as being potentially Bible-based and reasonable).
But, as I told myself, God is so clearly using me where I am. I felt called to be part of my current Christian fellowship where I found so many ways to serve God - I was needed in my Church! God wouldn't make me leave them just so abruptly! Anyways - there's no need for me to become Catholic, even if it was true. I had the gospel and the Bible - everything I needed! I'll investigate it when I have time and interest, but if I ever became Catholic, it would take a miracle of doctrinal transformation.
That's where the Eucharist (the doctrine that the bread and wine of Communion actually become the body and blood of Christ) caught me off guard. It changed the way I read Jesus's words in John chapter 6:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."
And I began to wonder - what if I was missing out on a profound mystery? What if I was missing out on an intimate communion with Christ, in which he miraculously becomes present in humble forms of bread and wine?
It sounded crazy - this idea that Jesus is literally present in the bread and wine. But I couldn't shake the simplest (yet mysterious and repulsive) reading of the words of Christ throughout John 6:
"my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink..."
It didn't read like a metaphor to me, but much more like statements of truth and a command to partake, mirroring the literal eating of manna by the Israelites Jesus references, the literal eating of bread in the feeding of the 5,000 that just miraculously happened, and the literal eating of bread in the institution of Communion at the Last Supper, in which Jesus commands:
"Take, eat; this is my body."
I began to notice elsewhere in the Bible hints of this meaning, such as in Paul's writings:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
1 Cor 10:16
I asked Protestant pastors about John 6 and I found most of them hadn't studied it closely and had never given a sermon on this passage...but they said it couldn't be literal, of course. Their answers seemed more bias to me than a "plain understanding of Scripture". It seemed lacking a potentially profound meaning of Christ being "present in his body" (in all the delightfully overlapping meanings of that phrase), and Christ uniting the Church in a beautiful, deep, profound, tangible, physical way.
It was a doctrine that didn't make sense to me and was even repulsive. Yet the more I learned about it, let go of my own bias, and listened with an open ear to the interpretation that other Christians have had throughout history, the more beauty I was able to discover in it.
But it could still be untrue. But how could I know?
This was the beginning of my unsettlement with the "non" denomination I grew up with. Sure, we had the Gospel, but what if we were missing out on other things Christ himself meant for us to have and know? And how could I be sure that the brand of Christianity I subscribed to was correct about not only the Eucharist but the whole host of things that Christ is and was and commanded to us?
So I began to study Church history more to better see the landscape of Christians' doctrines and lives across history and throughout the world. On and off over the course of about three years I read about many of the Councils and the Heresies and the Creeds and the Schisms. At first my thoughts were "Wow, all of this is so silly. Why did they argue and divide themselves about all these things that don't matter? Couldn't they just agree to disagree and still be part of the same Church?"
I only had to experience one of the "hot-button" issues of our time to quickly backtrack on that idea. It all changed the more I began to consider the divisions, the polarization, and the interplay of politics and religion in American Christianity surrounding these questions:
Are homosexual acts definitively unbiblical?
Should gay marriage be allowed in the church?
There were no shortage of opinions to listen to - I sometimes got lost in arguments from multiple conflicting perspectives. But, through Scripture, reason, and being emotionally detached from either outcome, I came to my interpretation that gay marriage and homosexual acts were clearly unbiblical.
But not all Christians came to that interpretation.
So...did I think those Christians had an incorrect view? Yes.
So...did I think those Christians had a less complete knowledge of what following Christ means? Yes.
Maybe all these "non-core" doctrinal issues in the past weren't so easy to just not care about...
Maybe we, as all Christians who represent Christ and what the Bible says, did need to come to a consensus about all those divisive issues.
And maybe we still need to have authoritative stances on divisive and questionable doctrines and cultural issues now as well!
This dramatically changed how I read my Bible. I began to see divisive and question-worthy issues everywhere. And not just "fringe" issues - some very core to the faith!
Perhaps a few examples will illuminate what was my growing unrest with even "core" issues in need of Church agreement:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
Do we need to get baptized in order to go to heaven? Is that what "unless one is born of water...he cannot enter" means? Or is baptism merely a external symbol of one's internal faith?
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
Wait, what? Are we saved by faith alone or no?
...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
How does one know that they are saved? If I just pray a special prayer and really mean it one time, am I saved forever? Can I lose my salvation?
I realized many passages and doctrinal issues required a correct interpretation and understanding in order to truly follow them, to truly follow the Word of God!
Thus I began to ask with more urgency and more restlessness:
How can I know what the Bible is really saying?
When I had a doctrinal or biblical question, the model of resolving the question was to ask my Evangelical, nondenominational Church pastor. Then the pastor would tell me according to their understanding of the Bible and whatever books, articles, other pastors, or set of doctrines they had been exposed to or grown up with.
The more I encountered conflicts in this model (both between me and them and them with each other), I realized how entirely prone it is to disagreement and conflict! There had to be a better way. In the back of my mind was growing this question of great consequence:
Who can I trust to most correctly interpret the Bible?
Me and my Bible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit? (and trust the Holy Spirit is leading me right where all these other Christians are wrong)
My pastors? (and trust that even if most Christians and most Church history disagrees, that my Pastor is right where they are all wrong)
My favorite collection of authors and bible scholars? (that often disagree with each other and with Church history, and ultimately comes back to my own judgment between them)
No, maybe there was a different way to find correct interpretation than just hope and pray I'm interpreting things all correctly or happening to be exposed to all the right things.
I was losing trust in the Evangelical pastors I looked up to and imitated, even the authors I read (C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, A.W. Tozer, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer do each disagree with each other about some fundamental things...). I was becoming weary and wary of feeling like I had to investigate all these questions I had about Scripture all on my own. I was starting to feel like I had to become a Bible Scholar, a Church Historian, and a Greek and Hebrew language expert to really be confident about my faith and how to live out how the Christian life most like Jesus wants me to live.
It was in this phase of confusion I read two undeniably beautiful books.
Two books also undeniably Catholic.
Kempis and Sales both wrote embarrassingly highly (to me) of the Eucharist, Mary, and the Church's authority, and seemingly wrote of devotion that could bring us to a sinless, completely obedient state of living fully Christ-like within the will of God. What! Could that really be true?
Then I curiously and shockingly read about the life of St. Francis in two books:
Bonaventure and Chesterton wrote of St. Francis's hands being literally pierced like Jesus's by an angel while fasting for forty days, preaching to the birds and animals and them listening and responding, of him tearing off his clothes, renouncing his father, and becoming a beggar with no worldly possessions at all, in a life trusting God completely for daily bread and serving Him with literally everything he had and causing immense Jesus-like miracles again and again.
These books presented faith beyond what I knew or even expected the Christian life could be - so beyond.
All four of these books spoke of expecting miracles, of deep pain over sin, of the highest glories, of being "foolish" for God as an implication of recognizing God's wisdom is above our own, and of God calling us to do crazy things in an incomprehensible submission to his divine will. Things spoken of in my Protestant church, and in the Bible, but I felt I saw them expressed in a fuller way in these books.
And I started to follow God more and more into crazy things in large part with the inspiration of these books:
And by honoring these books and seeing the very real impact they had on my life, I began to honor and respect Catholics more deeply than before. For perhaps, like G.K. Chesterton said, "only the Roman Church could have produced a Saint Francis of Assisi."
But even then I still felt no urgent need to become Catholic. I could still learn from their examples while not being Catholic. Anyhow - I knew God was using me where I was, I was growing in my faith, and I still had all those nasty doctrinal issues to sort out before I could ever in good conscience confess faith in all that "unbiblical stuff".
"Not now, but maybe at some point," I started telling my sister. "I'm open to it, but I've prayed about it and haven't felt a strong sign from God."
All that changed this past January, faster than I even realized was happening.
First was the growing discomfort with my Church from what I now believe was a Spirit-prompted mounting of all the realizations of the things written previously here about conflicting doctrine and having no way in the nondenominational model to find definitively correct and agreed-upon Bible interpretation.
Second was a realization that God was providing ways he could use me if I became Catholic. In the span of a few short weeks, I discovered I had a friend investigating the Eastern Orthodox Church, two Catholic friends who I deeply wanted to encourage in their faith, and a nephew soon-to-be-born who I could not godparent because I was not Catholic. I had prayed for God to push me toward Catholicism if He did really want me to become Catholic and these were strong indicators to me that just maybe He had a plan, a place, and some hints of a blessed ministry for me there.
Third was the necessary overcoming of all the doctrinal barriers still in the way of me being able to accept all the darn ridiculous things Catholics taught.
And in that third category came into my life a little book, given to me by my sister for Christmas:
By What Authority?
Whoa. I was instantly struck by the title, though I didn't show a hint of that to my sister...this was basically the very question I had been trying to ask all along!
By what authority do we interpret the Scripture?
By what authority do we know how to live out the Christian life?
By what authority do we know the Truth?
Flash forward to January 22, 2017.
The day I decided to become Catholic was not a day I was expecting to become Catholic - maybe another year I thought, another few months at least...
For in my mind, I had that solid wall built up against Catholicism that would have to be fully dismantled before I could ever begin to enter into what was to me such a different expression of my faith.
This wall was built with stones of super hard doubts to crack that had not yet broken: infant baptism, confession to priests, mortal sins, praying to Saints, Mary being sinless, the infallibility of the Pope, the validity of the Apocrypha...
But that day, with one blow, the wall fell.
Back to the end of December, 2016.
I left the book on my shelf for a few weeks. I was reading too many other books, I said. Not now.
One night I couldn't fall asleep, and picked it up. I dropped all my other books soon after.
In the introduction, the author, Mark Shea, himself a convert from Evangelicalism to Catholicism, showed his appreciation and respect for his Evangelical heritage.
...it was my struggle to defend the faith as Evangelical Christianity taught it that helped me see the Faith as Catholic Christianity teaches it, a Faith not only revealed by the Bible but by Sacred Tradition as well. It was my Evangelical love of Scripture that led to my Catholic love of Sacred Tradition...
What did he mean?
I read on.
As I read, I felt my lens changing rapidly about this notion of Tradition - the idea that Christians must accept and honor not just the written Bible alone, but all that was handed down about Jesus orally and beyond just the text of the Bible from generation to generation by the Church. (By Tradition, know that I don't mean style of worship or various other "preferences" like that - it will be defined more clearly as we go here.)
All my restless and unsettled problems with how we know the truth were slowly being brought to a potential answer.
And so I kept reading, in every spare moment, this book. Often stopping to sit and wonder in the conviction of what he was saying.
He said firstly, the Evangelical Church has one big tradition not resting on the authority of Scripture: the Tradition of the Table of Contents (of the Bible itself).
The books we have in our Bibles (and the ones we don't) were accepted or rejected according to whether they did or did not measure up to standards that were based entirely on Sacred Tradition and the divinely delegated authority of the Body of Christ.
What did Mark Shea mean by the "authority of the Body of Christ"? Isn't Christ our only authority through his Word in the Bible? Aren't humans too untrustworthy, fickle, and fallible?
the Chosen People of both the Old Israel and the New preceded their Scriptures...the Church in Acts revered the Scriptures as the word of God and yet still located the supreme decision-making authority, not in the Bible, but in the apostolic Church in union with the total paradosis [historical Tradition, teaching, and doctrine], both written and unwritten...
...the successors to the apostles, so far from speaking of the Body as a "mere human community", instead seemed to take a dizzyingly high view not only of the Body's written and unwritten Sacred Tradition but of the Body itself...
Really though? ...did this match the view of Christ's first followers?
To find out, I turned to the only authority I had learned to fully trust definitively in my life thus far: the Bible itself.
Something crazy happened.
I almost thought that my Bible had changed on me. Almost every time I picked it up after starting to read By What Authority? I began to notice oral/unwritten tradition being talked about all over the place!
To try to bring this to light for you like it was for me, I went back through all the Biblical record of the early church (from Acts to Jude) and collected Scriptures like the ones I started to notice. I encourage you to skim this (filtered-down) set of Bible references or go deeper through the fully-cited passages (instead of the shortened quotes), and see if you see what I now see here. I'm no Bible scholar, but these Scriptures stood out to me as at least worthy of analysis in tackling this central question:
How, according to the Bible, do we know the Truth (especially among conflicting "truths") about Jesus and how to live out the Christian life?
I underline and make notes throughout, as if I'm giving you my notes here. There's a lot - study deeper or quickly skim it to your liking...
Acts 1:8 ("[Jesus before the Ascension:] 'you will receive power...you will be my
Acts 2:42 ("[the believers] devoted themselves to the
Acts 4:33 ("the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul...with great power the apostles were
Acts 6:5-7 ("
Acts 8:12-16 ("
Acts 8:30-31 ("
Acts 14:21-23 ("when they had
Acts 15:1-2 ("after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with [Judean preachers], Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem
Acts 15:24-28 ("[in the apostles and elders' letter to the churches on that question:] '
Acts 16:4-5 ("[Paul, Silas, and Timothy] went on their way through the cities...
Acts 20:28-38 ("[Paul's parting words to the Ephesian elders:] 'Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which
Acts 20:35 ("remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" [
Romans 15:14-20 ("you yourselves are...able to instruct one another...I have written to you very boldly by
1 Corinthians 2:2-5 ("my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in
1 Corinthians 2:11-13 ("we impart this in words...taught by the Spirit,
1 Corinthians 3:5 ("What then is Apollos? What is Paul?
1 Corinthians 4:14-21 ("I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel...
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ("I would
2 Corinthians 3:1-6 ("
2 Corinthians 5:18-20 ("in Christ God was...
Galatians 2:4-9 ("he who worked through Peter for his
Ephesians 3:10 ("
Ephesians 4:11-16 ("he gave the
Ephesians 4:20-21 ("the way you learned Christ...you have
Philippians 4:9 ("what you have
Colossians 1:5-8 ("this you have heard before in
1 Thessalonians 1:5 ("
1 Thessalonians 2:13 ("the
1 Thessalonians 3:10 ("we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you
1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 ("you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God...
2 Thessalonians 2:5 ("Do you not remember that
2 Thessalonians 2:15 ("brothers,
2 Thessalonians 3:6 ("keep away from any brother who is...not in accord with
1 Timothy 3:15 ("you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is
2 Timothy 2:2 ("what you have
2 Timothy 2:14 (""as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing
Titus 1:1-3 ("their knowledge of the truth...manifested in [God's] word through the
Titus 1:9-16 ("[elders] must hold firm to the trustworthy word
Titus 2:1 ("teach what accords with sound
Titus 2:15 ("declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all
Hebrews 5:11-6:2 ("About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain...
Hebrews 13:7,17 ("Remember your leaders,
2 Peter 1:12-15 ("I will make every effort so that
2 Peter 1:16-21 ("
2 Peter 2 ("
2 Peter 3:1-2 ("In both of [my letters] I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should
2 Peter 3:14-18 ("our beloved brother
1 John 1:1-4 ("That which was from the beginning [
2 John 1:12 ("Though I have much to write to you,
3 John 1:13-14 ("
...are you seeing what I'm seeing?
I began to realize - I couldn't un-see what I now found again and again written in my beloved Scriptures. Paul and the Epistle writers seemed to constantly be urging and teaching other believers that they know the truth, not by Scripture alone, but also by the spoken teaching of the Church, passed down from the faithful both nearer to Christ in their faith journey and nearer in the proximity of historical time (having lived within or closer to the time of Christ).
What's more, I couldn't find sola scriptura (the idea that the Bible should be our only authority for definitively knowing truth) expressed clearly or thematically in any scripture text.
(A note on Scriptures commonly cited as "prooftexts": 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God be thoroughly equipped for every good work", but being "useful to be thoroughly equipped" is still far from being a statement that Scripture is the only thing needed for knowing all necessary definitive truths about Christ and for knowing how to go about the entire Christian life through every age. 1 Corinthians 4:6 also seems to tell us "not to go beyond what is written", but in the context, refers to a set of cited Scriptures before that verse in Paul's letter and to the specific Church issue Paul is admonishing, that is, of man having humility before God by reserving / deferring final judgment to him.)
What I did find was direct contradiction to the notion of sola scriptura. I looked at our biggest Biblical example of Church conflict: whether circumcision is required for salvation.
It was an issue that had no clearly defined teaching of Christ to draw from. And what was the early Church's solution to finding the truth? Trust that the Holy Spirit would work through the apostles and elders, the authority of the Church, to decide. What's even more interesting is that they ended up going against many clearly spelled-out scriptural commands in the Old Testament, like:
"This is my covenant, which you shall keep...Every male among you shall be circumcised...So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
But as Paul and the Early Church preached:
I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you...For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love...
Thus, the witness of the Early Church in the very words of Scripture itself seemed to me to quite contradict holding the Bible up as the only source of definitive truth.
I thought even more personally about this: How did I come to believe what was true about Jesus and how to live out the Christian life? Was it not primarily through the words of others? Didn't it need to be explained to me what the Trinity means? That Jesus is fully God and fully man? What Old Testament laws we follow and which we don't? And was all that doctrine found clearly defined in Scripture alone?
In fact, I resonated with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:
"Do you understand what you are reading?"
"How can I, unless someone guides me?"
So, being somewhat awakened and seeing hints to the possibility (based in Scripture) that we all, by necessity and design, know and learn truths about Christ outside of just Scripture alone...I turned to the oldest Tradition I had heard about and begun to respect, but still had so many objections to...
And my next question became:
How are the Catholics so sure that their Tradition is the right one?
Shockingly, what I found in the accounts of the early Church in the Bible is what I found expressed even more fully in the Catholic Church's doctrine. In essence it was the answer to the refined question:
How could I be sure that the Church's oral, spoken, lived-out Tradition was passed down correctly and without error or distortions, all the way from the time of Jesus's life to now?
At risk of not communicating it well or clearly, I delegate to words from the Catholic Church itself (and then I will offer expansion on how my mind processed all this):
In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority. Indeed, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.
This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 77-78
This was everything to me in settling this matter of correct Interpretation, legitimate Tradition, and trustworthy Authority. A doctrine that became overridingly compelling. This one doctrine that to me would bring everything together and run a crack right through every stone of objection I had...
Allow me to explain further.
From this newly elucidated view of Tradition and apostolic succession, an exciting set of new questions arose:
If you had a choice between a group of people who met and learned from Jesus directly and a group of people who only read about him, which would you choose to be your Church?
And which group of teachers would you trust to be your authority to interpreting Scripture rightly?
Very quickly, I became excited at the possibility that me learning from "people who met and learned from Jesus directly" was perhaps not so far off from the Catholic Church's doctrine of knowing Truth via apostolic succession.
What do I mean by this? This historical parallel, rooted in Scripture, helped me immensely:
How do Jewish people know they are Jewish?
Because they can trace back their mothers and fathers all the way back in history to one of the sons of Israel. That is how they know they are truly, authentically Jewish.
Can they prove it?
Ignoring the use of blood tests and such, no. They know it by faith. Faith that their ancestors weren't lying to them about who they were, about who God was, about all God revealed to them; they trust that the faithful witnesses who came before them didn't just make up the most important beliefs and heritage that they held as integral and life-giving to their identities in relation to God.
How do Christians know, then, that they are true, authentic Christians?
Well, before I would have said because we have The Word of God (as the Bible) written down and we believe every word of it. But that is not the complete model of the Church (as shown by the many Scriptures above on trusting and submitting to oral, handed-down tradition).
I found sola scriptura lending itself to be easy to "make up" or "discover" new and erroneous interpretations of the Bible, or throw away doctrines or interpretations of Scripture that "don't make sense" to me, my pastor, or our modern era's ears, and making it easy to find or start a new denomination to suit the interpretation that makes the most intuitive sense to us (where our intuition is frequently formed by sociological factors) or worse: interpretations that make us feel good about our version of God.
What I find so much more plausible and wholesome is a faith that is received in succession and submission to what was received by those before me, all the way back to the apostles themselves and most concretely, to Christ.
A faith that doesn't leave out the tough stuff, the crazy miracles, and the mysteries of God.
In fact, Pope means "Father" and through these Fathers of the Church, I believe that just like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob handed down what God taught them (notably before anything was written down in the Law) the Fathers of the Church handed down what Jesus, as the Word of God, taught them (even before the Bible was officially canonized and defined).
Yes, the Jews in those early days knew God's commands and how to offer sacrifices, even before Moses was given the Law and before the Torah was written!
In the same way the earliest second generation of Christians had no New Testament. They had only oral tradition - what they had heard from the apostles' spoken and written (yet not canonized in book form) words.
Was that second generation's faith invalid with only the spoken and loosely written word? No! Of course not.
So was oral tradition later completely replaced by Scripture? What about the majority of history when most everyone was illiterate and they literally couldn't read the Bible for themselves? Is their faith invalid just because they couldn't read and study the written word on their own? No! They trusted what was spoken and taught to them.
What about even much of the world today, who may not have time or capability or enough education to read and study on their own the Scriptures to fully understand and interpret them for themselves? Is each of their faiths invalid for relying on primarily spoken teaching and imitating the example of others (assuming it is good teaching and example)?
No! There is no hint in Scripture that literacy or education is required to have an authentic faith. Only many hints to the opposite effect, that "faith comes by hearing" (Romans 10:17), and that "what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me [Paul speaking] - practice these things" (Philippians 4:9).
Perhaps the gospel is even by nature a truth passed down that goes beyond being confined to mere words on a fixed set of pages, but is translated again and again faithfully into the lives of each generation of the Church. Perhaps not only Christ was incarnated as the Word, but his followers, who imitate him, also enflesh the Word of the Gospel in the Body of the Church. Perhaps as we Evangelicals believed, God had the power to preserve not only his Bible from distortion, but his apostolic family as well...preserving and presenting to each generation a grand tapestry of truth, woven from and into the words, actions, and inexplicable power in the lives of the faithful, sown by Christ and guided along by His Spirit till the end of time.
This was the crack that ran through every stone for me: perhaps Scripture alone couldn't contain all that Christ taught, did, and was. Perhaps, as the Gospel of John ends with,
...there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Perhaps oral tradition wasn't replaced, but still was and is necessary as a primary mode of God's unchanging (yet still being clarified in new ways to each era) revelation to mankind. Necessary to contain, reveal, and hand on from generation to generation the fullness of who Christ was and the implications of his life, death, and resurrection for our lives, our sanctification, and our salvation.
Even so...I wasn't content there.
I began to ask, what about those earliest generations of Christians? What did they pass down as the teachings of Christ? What kinds of things did they, as the most proximate in time to Jesus's life yet born after his Ascension, say and teach as Truth?
By What Authority? opened my eyes to some of those words of the early Church Fathers (I admit I am no historian and still have much reading to do here). And I discovered...their words seemed to be so...Catholic.
To my shock, those early Christians spoke clearly about oral Tradition and apostolic succession:
The Apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent from God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles from Christ. ... Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers.
Clement, Letter to the Corinthians 42.1-4 (written around 96 AD)
It is possible, then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times; men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics [being Gnostics] rave about.
[speaking about the church in Rome:] The blessed Apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the Church [of Rome], they handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus. Paul makes mention of this Linus in the Epistle to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the Apostles, Clement was chosen... In this order, and by the teaching of the Apostles handed down in the Church, the preaching of the truth has come down to us.
Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3.3.1-3 (written around 180 AD)
You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery [local church priests] as you would the Apostles.
Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8.1 (written around 107 AD)
And what's more, I also discovered the Eucharist (that early skepticism of mine) was believed among many in the early Church:
For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but...the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.
Justin Martyr, First Apology 65 (written around 150 AD)
So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Athanasius, Sermon to the Newly Baptized (written around 373 AD)
What then could I make of all these things? Of this authority and truth I had so sought? Had I found it? Had this restless search, like Noah's dove, finally found solid ground within a sea of doubts?
The Bible speaks multiple times of having "two or three witnesses" (e.g. 2 Corinthians 13:1) to be able to make a decision on a matter. Here, the witnesses of present-day Catholicism, the early Church Fathers, and the early Church as recorded in the Bible itself all seemed to speak out against my Protestant sola scriptura way of knowing the Truth.
And all three witnesses spoke in favor of oral tradition being a valid and critical means of knowing the Truth.
Through my eyes slowly being opened to the time of believers between the "Bible times" and now, I began to see myself as not within just a faith journey between me, my Bible and my local church, but between all those things held within a greater, expansive, profound and preserved unity of definitively knowing and thus being able to declare with confidence what is Truth.
Here was the unity I sought within all my unrest about the conflicting state of different interpretations and authorities on Scripture:
Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.
And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.
As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 81-82
Here was the authority, in the unbroken apostolic succession and handing down of truth, within only (often through authoritative and definitive resolution of Church conflicts) that unity could be made possible. A profound unity resonating across cultures, across borders, and across time.
For if "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Cor 1:25), than not by my own wisdom, background, experiences, and interpretation of Scripture alone could I now be left to follow God.
It now could be that I follow God by both the foolishness (of which some Catholic doctrines appear at first and still today, but so does the gospel) and the wisdom (beautiful wisdom that I know is so beyond me as I take it all in) of God and of Christ, as preserved in the "one, holy, catholic [meaning: 'universal'], and apostolic Church".
On that Decision Day, processing all the above, I thought of a memory from my days serving in various nondenominational churches, now with a deeper significance:
At multiple churches I often would help with the handing out of Communion. After everyone had taken their pieces of bread, we would go out of the worship space, and into the back with the rest of what was leftover. One day, I noticed a church leader, with that unconsumed bread and wine, throw the rest of it into the trash.
Beginning to believe in the Eucharist, it pained me to ponder this memory. What if Christ was being thrown away! I hoped to God that Jesus wasn't present in that bread!
This memory notably struck my mind on that Decision Day, and planted the seed of a challenging thought, a greater depth to that moment, a possibility becoming truth through faith, that ached my heart:
I was living my Christian life in a greater church "nondenomination" that could possibly be throwing parts of Christ away, though perhaps through no immediate fault of their own. Perhaps the church leaders throughout my life had never been taught or exposed to these other interpretations I was mulling over and investigating.
But nontheless it was a definite and real possibility - that life-giving parts of Christ were being left out of our church, our denomination, and out of all the lives of the believers therein, being withheld! It was possible, I thought, especially with:
The parts of Christ that may be hardest to digest.
The parts that may upset us or make us uncomfortable.
The parts of Christ that must be received with an open hand and teachable spirit.
The parts of the mystery of Christ that exist in both the lofty beautiful sense and the annoyingly impossible-to-prove-to-people sense.
The parts of Christ that appear as repulsive or unintelligent or foolish to us.
What if my Church family was missing out (unknowingly) or throwing out these parts (blindly) of Him, Jesus, who is so sacred to us and loved by us! Who we sang almost every Sunday about wanting more and more of Him, that He would increase His presence in our lives, and so proclaimed over and over in song and word and deed that we wanted to grow closer to Him and know Him always and increasingly more fully !
My Evangelical brothers and sisters - I love you. You have taught me, cared for me, raised me in so many of the ways of Jesus.
Truly, my salvation was first grasped, and embraced, and grown in the Evangelical Church.
In a sense I owe everything to my Evangelical upbringing.
In another sense I owe nothing to it...because I owe everything to Jesus, and through him is the source of everything good (and all we do is pass on what we receive to each other).
And for the fullness of Him, I realized finally and firmly on that Decision Day that I had to painfully leave my Evangelical family in one sense (In another very true sense, my Evangelical church family is and always will be my family, know that!) - to necessarily leave and go to Catholicism if I was to ever lay hold of those parts of Christ that I now believed in, which only rested with the Catholic Church and understanding and treatment of the Scriptures I so loved.
It was a day of no more "not now", no more "maybe soon", and no more "but God is using me where I am"...
I had to become Catholic if only to fall deeper and deeper in committed love with Jesus by not letting any piece of him get thrown out, embracing even the parts of Him I didn't fully understand, and the parts of him that I realized I may never even fully understand this side of heaven.
It was like I was becoming Christian all over again.
I didn't understand everything. I had good excuses to not follow. I had existing doubts.
But I had seen enough.
Seen enough to know that just like that glorious moment/period when someone first surrenders their life to Christ, I didn't understand all but understood enough to know...He's worth everything.
I realized that I fully believed on that day that the Bible needs authoritative interpretation, that Tradition and apostolic succession provide and preserve that correct interpretation, and all this beautifully holds the Church together in precious unity of faith.
And with everything I had been shown, I knew in that moment that I had no other option in good conscience but to follow Jesus all the way into the Catholic Church.
These words are from the last page of Mark Shea's book, that I read with tears in my eyes at what was probably the precise moment of my Wall Against Catholicism completely crumbling:
In the end, I found I gave up nothing of what my own native Evangelicalism had always affirmed; rather, I gave up only the things we have mistakenly denied. I found that my little kernel of Bible-only wheat, once dead, put down roots as deep as the whole of Sacred Tradition and grew up under the towering sky of Catholic light into a Christian faith far stronger, greener, and more fruitful than ever before-and into one more rooted in the inspired Scripture than it ever was. I found that my Evangelical love of the word of God grew stronger than ever when rooted in the rich soil of apostles, martyrs, saints, and doctors [people who were significant contributors to doctrine] of the Church.
I found that the Catholic Faith loved Jesus Christ...in a way that gently but firmly insisted on the reality that the revelation who is Christ remains with and in, not merely the Bible, but his people till the end of the age. In this, she agreed completely with the apostolic witness, which not only told us that "all Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Tim 3:16) but likewise made clear that the Church is God-breathed too (John 20:21-23)...
[Right here, I looked up John 20:21-23 to check this: "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.'"]
...such an inheritance could not be contained in any book, however inspired."
Fullness. Inheritance. Revelation. Authority. God-breathed.
In these ending paragraphs of the book that had so shaken my mind, body, heart, soul...
In a mysterious way, through these paragraphs, I believe truly that a special grace was given me to not only understand all that I have taken so many words here to try to explain about this journey...
But to finally accept it.
A million thoughts flooded my mind.
"Augh. This will be so hard. I barely know any Catholics. What if my Protestant friends don't understand? What if they look down on me? What if all the Catholics I meet are deadbeat Christians? What if my spiritual growth suffers from the seeming monotony and deadness of American Catholics? What if..."
But I knew Jesus takes no excuses or unfounded speculative rationalizations - if we have sought and found the truth, the next necessary step is that we must let go to truly take hold. We must...
Lay down our pride.
Lay down our fears.
Lay down our objections.
"But God...can you show me one more sign?"
I figured since this journey started by wrestling with Scripture, perhaps Scripture would lead me to the final resolution and peace about this decision that I so sought in that moment.
I had noticed Mark Shea quote Ephesians several times toward the end of the book. So I read through Ephesians hoping for a sign from God...
[God] put all things in subjection under [Christ's] feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
The church as the body that contains the fullness of Christ! High words that rang true with the fullness I felt Catholicism revealed...but not enough to be my "sign". I kept reading.
So then...you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
The Church being built upon the foundation of the apostles! Talk of the Church being one holy temple where everyone is "built together"! Well...Protestants could still use this to talk about the Bible founded on the apostles and being the "invisible but united Church body", hmm...not enough. I kept reading.
I then got to Ephesians chapter 3 and verses 14-21, which I had memorized at one point, mainly for one verse as I learned thus:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask for or imagine...
This verse had become to me perhaps my "life verse" so to speak - so many times I had asked God to do more than I could ask for or imagine in tough seasons of life. And after each and every season I would come back to this verse to know and praise that God had indeed done so much more than I could have ever predicted or ever conceived would happen...
And now it was this verse God would use again:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask for or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
"To him be glory in the church"...
This was it.
It struck me because when I first memorized it, I actually wanted to memorize it wrong.
I actually wanted to take out the words "in the church". The glory should only be in Christ! What does the Church have to do with his saving grace or his all-powerful power? He doesn't need the church!
Or so I thought. Or so I was uncomfortable with thinking.
It is hard to explain the significance of me running into this verse at the very moment when I was realizing all that I had never realized the church could be.
...could be worthy of bearing His glory.
And I wanted to take that out.
I wanted to remove from Scripture what I did not understand.
This struck my heart like a bullet.
And that moment killed my Bible-only faith as I knelt on the ground in sudden realization, and with not a shortage of tears, embraced the Church for the glory that God meant it to have in my life.
"Throughout all generations..."
"For ever and ever!"
In that moment there was no turning back.
I had decided to follow Jesus...
...all the way into his glory-bearing Catholic Church.
As with all my posts, I pray God uses this beyond what I know - more than I could ask for or imagine, you could say.
I'm so excited to enter in and be One and in full communion with all that the body of the Catholic Church offers to my longing, hungry, and thirsty soul.
I am awakened, in a new way. I am found, in a new place. Brought into a rushing water of life that flows from Christ himself on the Cross. A blessed unity. A trustworthy authority. A familiar friend smiles with delight as my eyes fill again and again with tears since that day and I begin to see his Bride more fully, more undivided, more wrapped in the light of truth, holiness, and the peace of an unshakable kingdom made manifest even now, even here. A foundation and a rock against which the gates of Hell will never prevail. Greater hints of the everlasting made physical. More fully present signs of the miraculous nature of God. Expanded participation in the paradoxical and eternal realities that daily sustain and propel my being as a Christian further up and further into the mysteries no mind can fully imagine or comprehend. I can already feel the lifeblood of Christ himself increasingly rushing into my Christian life from this sacred body.
Love is patient.
Love does not insist on its own way.
Without faith rooted in love that surrenders,
we can never know God.
The fear, the trust,
of the Lord
is the beginning of wisdom,
the beginning of knowing the truest God-created way to live our lives
as his Creations
in His Image
for His Eternal Glory.
To God be the glory. In the Church. And in Christ Jesus.
And seeing all God's people in this bright new way,
(a trembling, tearful, surrendering, all-embracing)
So be it.
There is joy in all that I have said to you in this post. There is also heart-rending agony.
An overwhelming majority of the Christians I know and love right now are Protestant, and it is so hard to feel like I am leaving them in so many ways. And speaking honestly, sometimes it feels awfully like I am tearing apart the Church I love.
But I take heart. Because by a healthy tearing-apart, the muscles of the body, by the miraculous nature of God, are brought back together stronger than before.
Oh, how I long for this!
All I want to be in the body of Christ from here on out is a joint. Simply a ligament or tendon that connects two parts of the body so that they can work together. I know for sure that right now, I am the only person who goes to and knows people at both the Protestant and Catholic Churches directly across the street from each other at the intersection of Bellefield and Bayard in my part of Pittsburgh. But you know what's also at that intersection?
My cross to bear as I walk this road and build this bridge over the walls that divide us.
All I can do is pray, faithfully yield to the work of the Lord in each moment of this continuing journey of following Jesus, and be open to how He may use me to encourage, serve, and connect my family on both sides of that bridge.
My hands are open to all that God is about to bring to you and I through this journey, my dear, dear family.
Are your hands open?
Seriously - I challenge you dear brother, dear sister, to remember God is big. We are small. We are only part of a big thing by following His ways, and not our own ways.
I urge you, that if anything in this post has spoken to you, if any questions I had are questions for you too, if any doubts I have had helped you see how places where my journey led me just might be regions to explore for what you've been searching and longing for too...don't let that go. Pray through those things with an open heart. Search the Scriptures while trying on new lenses of interpretation to see which bring clarity. Talk to those you trust. Ask uncomfortable questions not knowing the answer until you find what you seek, until you find God-given resolution...
If only for the sake of your spiritual growth, I urge you this. Your nearness to Christ. Your strengthening in your faith. Your ability to declare truth confidently. Your ability to be fed by a greater spiritual nourishment to your hungry and thirsty bones, and to offer that fullness to others.
And then doubly, for the unity of the Church. For our love across Church walls to more begin to model Christ's unity with the Father. For the sake of our united witness to the world.
And so I plant seeds with this post that others may water and God may bring life to. But like the gospel, in good conscience, all I can do is proclaim and bear witness to what I have been shown and experienced to be true. I cannot decide for you what you do with all I have written here.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to join me at the very least in these two things I believe all Christians are called to:
Holding those two principles from the very beginning of this journey of questioning led me to, in the end, let go of the parts of my identity and doctrines and beliefs that weren't truly part of Christ and take hold of a Church that takes greater and fuller hold of all that Christ was, said, and did.
I pray you won't live your Christian life with any beautiful and glorious and life-giving pieces of Jesus unknowingly left in the trash, left waiting behind that wall, or calling out for your faith journey to come closer...through what may surely be a fiery trial of questioning, investigation, and humility...where it may be hard and painfully tear at you from all sides, but where Jesus will never leave you or forsake you...where Jesus himself will surely be ready to so embrace you in a fuller, more powerful, more completely inward and outward faith, a faith more united with the whole Christian body across time and space, united as one people of God...this all waiting on the other side of that wall, through that fire, and in those pieces that until then, lay tragically hidden to your Christian life.
And again, we can't be blamed for what we don't know, as I'm sure many of my Evangelical family exist now like I was at the beginning - having no idea what the Catholic Church really believes and proclaims. There is no condemnation for those of you starting there. But once we've heard a true and loving witness, the choice, the possibility, is awakened.
I love you and Jesus Christ too much to simply throw away truth for love's sake, but for love's sake do I hold firmly to this fullest truth I have found, yes, in the Catholic Church. I cannot deny for a moment all these life-giving parts of Him I have discovered and only just begun to embrace since that Decision Day.
Do know that you can find me in the corner of the Catholic Church that stays closest to, will never stop loving, will never stop talking to, and will never forsake, my beloved Protestant, Evangelical, nondenominational family. I love you so much and will never leave you or forsake you.
Therefore, my tough and heart-wrenching work as a bridge-builder begins most concretely with this post. Building bridges of understanding and love across our denominational walls, that some of you will, I am praying in hope, break down and cross over to be a part of this one unified body. I know some of you reading this now will join me in this work and build bridges alongside me and better than either of us could do alone. I'm foolish if I think I could ever do this alone in any sense. I need you. You need us. We all need the fullest, purest, even solid flesh of Christ himself to equip us in this work, this work that we do together with Him, in Him, and through Him. I've found a Church where the united work of the Christ's body is indeed possible between, among, across, and through all of my family in Christ.
And so I will not rest until my life's work before me as a joint in this Church body is done, for I know now that it is not a hopeless work. It is a work that Jesus himself prayed for:
"I do not [pray] for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word [Note: not the Apostles' words, but future believers' word], that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
That they may all be one...so that the world may believe...
Please forgive me, an imperfect man, if I have spoken unlovingly in any way in this post. The easiest thing would be for me to not share these things, and quietly leave my Evangelical church, and keep it only to me and my Catholic community...but just like by withholding the Gospel from those outside the Church, I know that withholding my testimony about the beauty and love and unity I have found possible and real in the Catholic Church would be a sin and an offense to all that Jesus has shown me through this journey.
So in the spirit of love, I hope even this imperfect and perhaps not-edited-enough post may bless you. I hope that this is the beginning of many fruitful conversations, many life-giving questionings, and many Christ-honoring journeys of yours, my dear readers, dear friends, dear family.
And I hope that in all we say and do that we can remain kind and gentle just as my sister so lovingly and humbly and patiently was to me throughout my entire journey.
My prayer is that the grace and fullness of Christ be increasingly manifest in us all through our faith working itself out in love, for the glory of the one true God, who gives generously all things to his children, made known through his beloved Church by the power of His Spirit, through God's beloved Son who gave himself for our sake.
Perhaps this all resonates with you. Perhaps for the very first time Catholicism seems plausible to you. Perhaps you think I'm deceived and delusional for becoming Catholic. But if you made it this far, it is hopefully more of the former two things, and I would hope not to leave you without anything tangible and actionable to do or delve into next.
First, talk to someone. Talk to your church friends and pastors in your current denomination and within your church home, brothers and sisters who are hopefully understanding of you wrestling through these issues and wanting to solidify your faith's basis, deepen your understanding of Christ, and at the very least to better love our Catholic brothers and sisters. Talk to me if you are comfortable, I'd be more than excited. Or don't be afraid also to perhaps start conversations with a Catholic friend or a local Catholic priest or deacon.
Honestly, there were so many people vital in my journey but I do deeply regret in the process not sharing it, wrestling with it, and simply receiving it alongside more of my Church family, or being too afraid of talking honestly with both Catholics and non-Catholics about it. I did things far too "solo" in fear of not being able to trust others in the Church, and I hope you learn from my mistakes, and talk to and share with a wide variety of people of varying backgrounds in the Church as you investigate and question all this.
Secondly, do pursue serious investigation, even if slowly at first. It took me years - I imagine it may surely take time for you as well. I read a lot of words early on that could've very well convinced me, but it would and did take many more words and thinking for my eventually peaceful decision to grow roots and finally sink in. Everyone's road is different, but mine certainly involved a lot of books, so I have heavy dose of them to recommend and share with you.
Of course, I highly recommend:
And the books I initially read on this journey:
I also recommend the books that showed me the beauty of the Catholic Church's life and teachings, as I mentioned:
I additionally have to mention another book that to me was a totally gripping, moving, and theologically awakening conversion story (a Protestant pastor who became Catholic) that very much helped and encouraged my journey after my Decision Day and contributed to parts of this post:
Thirdly, in all this, especially if you have never stepped foot in a Catholic Church, there's nothing like experiencing the living Church. If you go with me, I'll be thrilled to explain to you all that is happening - the what-is-happening of it all and the beautiful whys behind every bit of it. Otherwise, try to find someone you know to go with that is an excited and faithful Catholic.
If no one near you fits that description that you know well enough, you can also turn like I did to good books to explain the beauty of Mass and the Church's traditions, both uppercase and lowercase T traditions (and do still go to an actual Mass to see the real thing too!):
There's so much else I could mention, things I'm only beginning to discover (future blog posts are coming for sure...). Try praying Catholic prayers. Read about Church history. Learn about the life of Christians in eras of history you know least about. Read biographies of those Christians. Ask your parents (or "spiritual parents") why they are in the denomination they are in. Learn about about the origins of your own denomination, what things different denominations claim and where they all came from.
Mine is only one journey in seeking how to live out my Christian life. There's many ways I still fall short in my understanding of the way, truth, and the life we have in Christ. I hope something in these words leads you further along in yours.
One thing I know - the same God works in us all who is a good and faithful God that "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." May we be led into the most full and life-giving knowledge of the truth by the guidance of the Spirit and through the promise of our Lord:
"Ask, and it will be given to you;
seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you."
and know too, that
"You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."
It's really still only the beginning of each of our very long journeys of knowing Christ. And the invitation to each of us still beckons day by day to know and love him more deeply. May our hearts be seeking, humble hearts.
May the Lord be with you in this journey.
Lift up your hearts to Him.
Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God, with our whole being.
May all this serve to the glorifying of the Lord by our lives and making Him more greatly known and proclaimed to the world.
Peace be with you, friend.