When Pope St. John Paul II Went to Wisconsin

I didn’t even know that the Pope visited a heavily Polish area of Wisconsin when he was still a Cardinal.

But Philip Kosloski did. And he wrote a book about it: In the Footsteps of a Saint: John Paul II’s Visit to Wisconsin.

This book is fun, short, and fascinating to read. Kosloski describes the unlikely chain of events that led John Paul II to spend a day in rural Wisconsin, touring Polish farmers’ land and meeting various civic leaders, some of whom didn’t realize who they were talking to.

foots1JPII’s charisma and kindness shine through in the book, in how attentive and caring he was toward each person he met, in the fact that he went to rural Wisconsin at all, and in the humility he showed when his main speaking engagement there went a little haywire.

Kosloski is from the area and drew from many local sources, including interviewing people who were there and getting photos of the trip. One great part was when some powerful bishops in the U.S. tried to get the trip cancelled so they could have more time with JPII, and the tough Wisconsin prelates put their foot down and demanded that the future pope get to come visit them.

The book is inexpensive on Kindle and if you have any love for John Paul II, you should pick it up.

We Need to Fill Our Father’s House

I just finished a timely book on evangelization by Shaun McAfee called Filling Our Father’s House.

Shaun is a fairly recent convert to Catholicism from Protestantism and brings a needed perspective on what we as Catholics can do to share the gospel, enliven our own lives of faith, as well as that of our parishes.

This book is pithy and insightful. Shaun draws from all the good things that he learned as a Protestant and shows how we as Catholics can adapt and adopt the ideas to become holier and draw others to the Faith.

Testify!

One of the first chapters is on developing your testimony. A testimony is your story of God’s grace in your life.

These things are a big deal in Evangelical Protestantism, but few Catholics are familiar with the term. However, we need not be frightened by it. Think about how God has worked in your life, how you came to believe and how your faith was strengthened, awakened, restored, or found.

Often cradle Catholics feel that they don’t have testimonies, that their lives have been “boring” in this regard. But this is not true; converts are not the only ones with stories, even if theirs often seem more exciting. You do have a story to tell, because everyone does.

shaun1Shaun explains step-by-step how to develop your testimony, find the main theme, and how to make sure that you include oft-forgotten aspects like what life is like for you now as a Catholics.

People are drawn to stories, so thinking about and sharing your testimony is an excellent way to evangelize.

Take and Read

One area Protestants often criticize Catholics about is Bible reading and study. And sometimes they are right. But that is changing.

Shaun encourages us to read the Bible and study it. He goes into the reasons why and also which translations of the Bible are best for which purposes. He then recommends verse memorization as well, something I did as a Protestant but as a Catholic have not seen focused on much.

Understanding the Bible is essential to the Christian life, and it always gives you necessary credibility when discussing the Faith with non-Catholic friends, especially with Protestants. For many Evangelicals, if you are not reading the Bible, then your authenticity as a Christian is suspect.

Know Christ and His Church

Shaun delves into getting to know Jesus, that personal relationship that Protestants stress so frequently but which seems to be missing from the lives of many Catholics.

But he doesn’t stop there; Protestants usually make the mistake of diminishing the role and importance of the Church and our relationship with it. We as Catholics however can and should have a relationship with Christ and a relationship with His Church. Because they are inseparable!

When these relationships are in place and vibrant, we can follow God’s call to build up the Church. Shaun talks about the value of small groups and how you should start one or be involved in one. I can’t agree more. We recently started a couples small group at our parish and have been benefiting from the deepening of our relationships with others and our ability to impact the parish in a positive way.

Small groups are another area where Protestants are ahead of Catholics. We need more Catholics to step up and learn how to start, facilitate, and grow small groups in our parishes. These can be Bible studies, men’s groups, young adult groups, couples groups, or focused around an interest or even common struggle.

Filling Our Father’s House is a much-needed book for our time in the Catholic Church. If we implemented McAfee’s suggestions we would see a huge transformation in our own lives and especially in the life of our parishes. Bravo to him for writing this helpful book!

Panicking My Way Into Catholicism

Sometime ago I wrote up a fresh take on my conversion from atheism to Christianity and then from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism. Here is that story:

A Proto-Dawkins Is Born

I grew up on Nintendo and television. My parents were both brought up, to varying degrees, in Christian homes, but by college they had abandoned whatever faith they had. So they reared my sister and me atheistically. Oh, they phrased it differently than that: “We want you to choose for yourself what to think,” was the actual line they used. But since we never prayed, never talked about God, never went to church (except a Unitarian one which may as well have been a meeting of the Enlightened Atheists Society), and since from an early age they taught us that we evolved from primordial ooze, unsurprisingly both my sister and I became just like our parents and rejected belief in God.

Being a precocious boy, I soon took atheism to heart and began trying to convert my Christian friends away from their silly beliefs. I recall playing video games with my buddies (who had the misfortune of being Methodists) and asking them why they believed in Jesus. As most other sixth graders would do, they looked at me in utter confusion, mumbled something vaguely about their church, and we continued playing games.

In high school I set out to buttress my non-faith even more, and used the opportunity of having to write a research paper on a topic of my choice to delve more into evolution. I presented my paper to the class, showing all the scientific evidence for the claim that humans ultimately evolved from single-celled organisms. The thinly concealed payload of my report was the implication that believing in a god was ridiculous.

dawk1When my talk was finished, I took questions from my class about it. And I remember one classmate standing up, trembling with emotion, the quietest of my peers, who I had scarcely said five words to in all our years together in school. With a voice quavering, not with fear, surprisingly, but with righteous anger, he said, “Jesus Christ saved me from suicide and I know He is real!” The room went uncomfortably silent, until our teacher hurriedly dispelled the tension by ending the question and answer session. What might have fazed a lesser atheist, I shrugged off like water from a duck’s back. “Hey,” I thought, “if he’s so weak as to need to believe in a magical deity to save him, that’s his problem.”

The last project of my senior year was a book project, and my friend and I chose Dante’s Inferno. Our teacher afforded us quite a bit of creative license on what we would do for the book, so we made up a papier-mâché scale model of hell, complete with all the circles for the different sins people committed. For a personal touch, I stationed my Dungeons and Dragons figures along each circle to represent the demons who inflicted torment on the lost souls.

An uncomfortable thing happened during the presentation we gave to the class of our project: I got quite nervous during the presentation. It wasn’t because of the book’s contents or some fear of eternal punishment; it was instead simply a self-consciousness and anxiousness about the possibility of being humiliated in front of my classmates. While it’s not abnormal to have anxiety about speaking in front of a group, and I had felt such nervousness before, this was a new level of discomfort. I started feeling hot and some perspiration began forming on my brow. Fortunately, our presentation ended before any serious embarrassment could occur, but the whole situation was disconcerting to me. Little did I realize it was just the beginning.

College Atheism…And an Anxiety Disorder

High school graduation came, and off to Texas A&M University I went, with my best friend, Nathan, the same one I did the Dante project with. I had a full scholarship, but my freshman year I applied to be a University Scholar as well. A University Scholar was an honor only open to existing full scholarship holders, a kind of elitist’s elite, given to just fifteen students in each class. Texas A&M was and is a huge school, with an enrollment of around 40,000 when I was there, so this was a prestigious award. It also brought more money with it, which I was always game for. I interviewed and impressed the panel with my urbanity and self-deprecation, most of which was falsely modest garbage. Problem was that every University Scholar was given the responsibility of being an ambassador of the school, and that meant things like regular public speaking.

Every talk produced an increase in anxiety, both before and during the event itself. A similar pattern emerged where my stomach would become unsettled as the day got closer, and then while presenting I would get anxious, my body temperature would rise, cause me to begin visibly perspiring, and lead to feelings of humiliation. I found ways of getting out of as many of these events as I could, but some were unavoidable.

Not being satisfied to confine themselves to public presentations, these anxieties began to spread into other areas of my life. In fact, any social situation. Suddenly, sitting in a classroom during a lecture, eating dinner with friends, going out to a bar—anything where I was around others—became an occasion for the anxieties to take hold. Nausea would wash over me; I’d start sweating and soon have to leave the room on the pretense of using the restroom.

Fear became my constant companion. Fear of enduring humiliation in front of others and their opinion of me sinking. Fear of their disgust if they found out I had these problems. A vicious cycle had formed, where the anxious feelings would manifest in embarrassing outward signs feeding back to amplify the anxiety even more. I couldn’t figure out how to break the cycle, even though I “knew” that my fears were unreasonable, just thought processes in my brain going haywire. No one knew that anything was wrong with me. I hid it well. But the pressure of keeping up a pleasant façade on my crumbling life intensified as each week passed.

anxiIt was now my junior year. I was studying electrical engineering and took an internship for a semester at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. I met the other interns and knew that they were planning various social activities, but I studiously avoided going to any of them, fearing more attacks of extreme anxiety. Apparently they noticed this, as one day I was sitting in the cafeteria somewhat close to them, and overheard one of them say, “Look over there: it’s ‘Anti’; he doesn’t do anything with us.” I knew intuitively that “anti” meant antisocial. Wow, here I was, a young man who had never lacked friends, who had always gotten along with others, being talked of as a weird loner.

I did my work and tried to avoid going to meetings. I even asked one of my coworkers to give my project’s presentation at the end of the semester, so I could avoid speaking in public. One day, the anxieties had been particularly bad, and when I went home, the fears started spiraling out of control in my mind. Cascade after cascade of panicked thoughts shoved their way into the forefront of my consciousness. I tried to put them away but couldn’t. They were too strong. One fed into another and then back around, a self-perpetuating cycle of anxiety. “I’m going to have to quit school, and I’ll never finish my degree, and I’ll have to live with my mom or be a bum on the streets, because I won’t be able to work, so I’ll never have a wife or a good life.” My head was pounding; my stomach was upside-down, and I went to the mirror to look at myself and try to get a hold on things. Instead of just seeing my reflection, a surreal feeling swept over me and I seemed to be looking at myself looking at myself, a kind of third-person disconnection.

After thirty minutes of this terror, the panic subsided. I thought for sure this was what people meant by having a nervous breakdown. Later I learned though that I was having “panic attacks.” Along with the ever-increasing anxieties, these panic attacks became a weekly occurrence. They would strike at any time, at any place. I lived in constant fear of them, which of course worked to bring them about even more frequently, another painful self-reinforcing cycle.

With nothing left to lose, I decided to tell someone—my mom—about my anxiety problem. Like any good mother, she was very concerned about me and patiently listened to me dump out years of living with this pain. She found a psychologist for me to see, and I humbled myself and went to see them. To my great relief, there was a name for my problems: depression and social anxiety with panic disorder. Beautiful! Never before had I been so excited to be diagnosed. Eagerly I asked her, “Okay, so where’s the pill I take to make this better?”

But there was no pill. At least, nothing that could get to the root of what was going on. Nonetheless, she prescribed me an anti-anxiety medication and had me start on a program called cognitive behavioral therapy. This consisted of breathing exercises, positive thinking routines, and other intellectual and physical tactics to try to control the fears. I embarked about this regimen with gusto, hopeful and optimistic that my problems would soon lessen.

But they didn’t lessen. They continued getting worse. The pills and therapy weren’t working, even after months of trying. I was in trouble, and began to finally despair. My own mental tricks hadn’t work; professional help wasn’t working. Medication did little. Life was filled with constant dread, and death started to look inviting. Driving home from one of the last days of my internship, I watched the cars from oncoming traffic whiz past me, hoping that one would swerve into my lane and end my life. I was too afraid to take my own life, but if someone else ended it for me, leaving my obituary without the shame of suicide, I would have embraced it.

Pascal’s Wager, Out of Necessity

When I got home, my thoughts turned to a group of friends of mine back in college, all Christians. I had gotten to know them from my classes, particularly Steven, who was also an engineering major. Now, I had always thought Christianity was stupid and that Christians were deluded. I had never seen a miracle or anything that defied the laws of physics. I saw no reason to believe in God, and I had debated with these Christian friends many times in the previous few years. Now, however, I wasn’t thinking of debating them. I was only thinking of how much peace I knew they had in their lives. Not a fake peace or plastic happiness, but a deep contentment and joy.

I saw on my bookshelf an Old King James Bible, given to me by my Evangelical cousins when I was ten years old. Though I was a militant atheist, I had always kept this Bible—even an atheist thinks twice before trashing one, especially one given as a gift by family members. I pulled it out, and I started reading it that night. Along with it, I tossed up the first prayer of my life to the God I didn’t believe in: “Lord, supposedly this book is your word. I don’t believe in you, but I am in trouble and need help. If you are real, help me.”

If God was trying to write me a love letter—something I’ve heard Christians say about their Scriptures—the Bible was an odd way to do it. I began in Genesis. It started innocuously enough: world is created; people are made; they disobey God, get kicked out of garden. But from there things seemed to just get really strange: this person begat that person; tower of Babel; people live for hundreds of years; big flood kills almost everyone. It was almost like you needed a guide to the Bible to make sense of any of it. My King James version didn’t have that, and that language was full of thees and thous.

pasca1Unsurprisingly, at least to me at the time, after one week of saying that short prayer each evening and reading the Bible, I felt no diminishing of my anxieties at all. But I was a practical guy. I’d spent twenty years or so in atheism; I could at least give God a month. The truth is, I didn’t know what faith was. How do you get it? Where does it come from? I knew it wasn’t something that I could manufacture. Some people seemed born with it, or at least they received it early on from their parents. I received atheism, scientism, and materialism from my parents. We never said even one prayer growing up. Faith may as well have been on Mars.

One thing was certain: God was my last shot. I had tried everything, for years, and none of it had worked. The anxiety disorder just got worse and worse. Panic attacks were thrown in for good measure, and I realized that agoraphobia—an intense fear of having a panic attack in place where you cannot escape—had also begun to take hold of me. God either existed and would choose to do something to help me…or not. And if not, then that was it. Send me off to the morgue, because death was better than the life I had.

The second week of Bible reading and praying caused a blip on my radar. Oh, nothing I actually read in the Bible: I was still in the first two books, where strange people with even stranger names were having children, fighting battles, and being turned into pillars of salt. But I noticed that my fears that week had been reduced a bit. Not daring to get excited, since I figured random fluctuations could just as easily have caused the improvement, I soldiered on in my reading and praying. Sometimes I expanded the short prayer a bit to throw in a few other thoughts. But the whole exercise was still so foreign, and my self-consciousness at the fact that I was doing it still so great, that I kept them brief. If God is God then he doesn’t need me to go on and on about my problems.

The next week held the gains from the previous, even if no further improvement was shown. But I also felt the twinge of something in me that could almost be described as the precursor to the introduction to the beginnings of faith. Maybe one of the huge walls I had erected against believing in God weakened ever so slightly. Whatever it was, it gave me a little hope that maybe this was working. Whether “this” was Jesus or just some temporary placebo effect of prayer, I couldn’t yet say. Time would tell.

And it did. I kept plowing through book after book of the Bible, reading maybe ten chapters a day. It’s not that I was a great scholar or believed it—definitely not—but the fact that much of it was incomprehensible allowed me to skim through lots of parts without worrying about what I might be missing. The Bible is long, after all, and if God wanted to tell me something important I’m sure He would put it in multiple places throughout. Throughout these weeks, my fears slowly lessened. And I sensed that I had a tiny amount of faith growing in me.

My internship mercifully ended, and I went back to school for the summer. Most students head home during this time, but one of my Christian friends, Bryan, was sticking around, so we roomed together. Bryan and Steven had been roommates, but before Steven left for his youth pastor internship, I told him that I was reading the Bible. I wasn’t willing to tell him about my anxieties yet, but I wanted him to know that I was checking the whole Christianity thing out. He must have been secretly thrilled, and no doubt had been praying for me for a long time, because sure enough just a few days later he bought me a brand new Bible—New International Version (NIV)—that was in modern English and had helpful little study notes all over the place, presumably in attempt to help bewildered readers like me makes sense of it.

An Atheist Goes to Church

Bryan invited me to go to church with him, and I reluctantly agreed. I wasn’t averse to church per se, but I was averse to any social setting that involved lots of people and having to sit in the middle of a pew with no way to easily get out in case I had a panic attack. Still, I knew Jesus started a Church at some point and that Baptists were somehow part of it, so I may as well go and see what it’s all about. And we went. I worked it out to be able to sit at the end of the pew, near the exit, so I was at least less uncomfortable than I otherwise would have been. Everyone is standing; now we’re singing songs to God. I know none of them and have barely said a few prayers to God, much less sung songs about Him for thirty minutes. Once that ended, the pastor got up and gave the sermon. That also lasted about thirty minutes. Near as I could tell, during that whole time he only covered three verses, and they were all from the New Testament. I was still in the Old one, so this was new to me. At the end of the service, the pastor told everyone to bow their heads and pray, and he started talking, asking if anyone wants to put their trust in Jesus to come forward. I know now that this is an “altar call,” but at the time I didn’t know it was a regular thing they always did.

Maybe Bryan hoped I would go forward, but there wasn’t a chance in hell of that. I was doing all I could just to keep my anxieties in check so I wouldn’t bolt out the door, much less walk down the aisle in front of five hundred people and tell them about Jesus and me. No altar call for me that day, but I survived going to church, and that was a victory.

alt1That summer, I continued reading the Bible and praying, as well as talking to Bryan about things. I was still pretty rough around the edges, so sometimes I would deliberately use profanity just to get a rise out of him. He was a good guy, basketball player, but also about as Southern Baptist conservative as you can get. Though he wasn’t planning on going into ministry like Steven was, he certainly knew a lot more about Jesus and the Bible than I did. By the end of the summer, I had almost finished the entire Bible. From going to church, I “got” that the problem of humanity was that we are sinners and need Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. I had also learned that the official way to procure this forgiveness was by praying a certain kind of prayer—the exact words weren’t important, but the idea was—admitting to Christ that I was a sinner and asking for forgiveness, so that He would enter my heart and be my savior. So, one night I prayed “the prayer.” It’s called the sinner’s prayer in many circles. I felt a little better after doing it, but I wasn’t quite sure that anything had really changed. My faith was still slowly growing. I was learning more about God. I was going to church.

That fall semester, Steven and my other Christian friends returned to school, and that’s when things really got cranked up a notch. We started doing Bible studies together. My friends explained things to me about God, faith, the Bible, justification, salvation, other Christian denominations, the whole nine yards. More importantly, it was during this time that my faith overwhelmed my doubts. It was like opening the floodgates of faith and hope. My anxieties were diminishing noticeably, even though objectively speaking they were still quite strong. Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough of reading the Bible, learning about Paul (the Baptist’s greatest hero next to Jesus), and talking to my Christian friends about my newfound discoveries. They were thrilled, and understandably so, since I used to be their theological enemy.

Floodgates of Faith

The following year, my senior one in college, centered around our Baptist church. I volunteered to help out poor kids in the bad part of town; we put on a camp for them and many of them “got saved” by the end of it. On Sundays my friends and I first went to the regular church service and then to Sunday school and then to another praise and worship music service after that. We did Bible studies every week and read Christian books together. Eventually, after being convicted from the Scriptures, I wanted to get baptized. Sure, I knew it didn’t do anything, but it was the public proclamation of the fact that I had put my trust in Jesus. So, the following Sunday I positioned myself in just the right pew to make for an easy altar call walk. And when the time came, with everyone bowing their heads in prayer, I went up to the front and told the pastor I wanted to be baptized. He announced it to the congregation and everyone cheered. I was a hero! This was good.

A few weeks later I was baptized by the youth minister, full immersion, in front of the whole church. It was terrifying and thrilling at the same time. My parents both came, which meant a lot to me. My dad later informed me that he was okay with my faith because he also had “found religion in college.” Given how he brought me up—with no faith whatsoever—I wasn’t sure what he meant by saying that, but I got the sentiment if nothing else.

floo1From that point, life just got better and better. The anxieties were on the run. I had hope for a good life again, and an eternal future of love. Jesus was my friend and brother and Lord. The Holy Spirit was inside me, bearing His fruit and giving me His gifts. And God the Father loved me.

I would have liked nothing better than to have remained in this state of contentment.

But I had one Catholic friend.

I should say, I had one Catholic friend who practiced his faith. I had lots of Catholic friends who lived about like I had done as an atheist. They weren’t very good marketing for Catholicism and in fact confirmed my Baptist biases that the Catholic Church wasn’t a true Christian Faith. But Gerardo was different: he was a practicing Catholic, and, most perplexingly, he really seemed to believe in Jesus.

Like my Baptist friends, he was thrilled that I had left atheism and embraced faith in God. He was less thrilled, however, with my choice to become a Baptist, especially since he felt I hadn’t given Roman Catholicism a fair shot.

And he was right: I had not spent three years gathering together all evidence for and against each different Christian group, weighing them on the scales and making a scientific decision. That’s not possible. And it’s not possible to run a controlled experiment on your life, either, first choosing one thing at one point in time and simultaneously seeing what would have happened if you had chosen another. No, we have to live our life in real-time and often make decisions based on emotional factors, or social ones, in addition to intellectual arguments.

Catholicism’s Challenge

Gerardo and I went to lunch one afternoon, and he spent the time trying to tease out the differences in our beliefs and show me that the Catholic Church was true. I wasn’t buying it. The Catholic Church believed Mary was sinless and the Bible said that all had sinned. Case closed. Obvious contradiction. There were many more things, from bishops and popes and priests to rituals and weird customs, all of which seemed foreign to my Baptist beliefs, but the Mary stuff was more than enough to discount Catholicism right out of the gate.

By my papist friend didn’t give up. The next time he met he pointed to my Bible and said: “How do you know that that is the exact set of books that God inspired, no more and no less?”

pop1Now, this was a tricky question I thought, and I hadn’t spent too much time on it. I had read much about the Bible, how well it fit together, how one book reinforced and even fulfilled another, how they quoted each other, and so on. But I didn’t have a full defense of the Protestant canon (such as the set of books is called) prepared that day. I was confident, however, of finding a compelling answer, for every time my new faith had been challenged by someone or some argument, I had done research and discovered solid answers. I had no fear that that would not be the case with the canon of Scripture. So I told Gerardo to let me look into it, and I would get back with him.

I went back home to my apartment and began searching. I talked to my Protestant friends and asked them about it: “Why do Catholics have seven books that we don’t?” And they answered in various ways: “Those books were added in the sixteenth century; they have obvious falsehoods, historical errors, and myths in them; evil things are condoned in them.” That sounded good, but coming from atheism and reading the entire (Protestant) Bible from cover to cover multiple times, I had also run into certain (apparent) contradictions, errors, and myths—all in the sixty-six books Protestants claim are the only inspired ones. I sensed some special pleading was going on from my Protestant friends here.

Undeterred, I went online, did a search, and started reading some of the more popular Protestant apologetics blogs. The internet had really taken off while I was in college, and by this time just about anything could be found online. I read the Protestant arguments for the canon…but I also found the Catholic arguments for theirs. And they both seemed cogent to me. I could see how either one could be true. Worse, I encountered a passage in one of the seven Catholic books (the “deuterocanonicals” as they’re called) that smacked of pure Christological prophecy.[i] Sure, a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while, but these verses were too accurate to be lucky guesses.

The Protestant’s Dilemma

After weeks of studying, I realized that Protestantism had a problem. We believed that God has inspired sixty-six books to be written, and this was the sole infallible rule of our faith. But we didn’t believe that God had protected any other discernment of the early Church from error. I was looking for the principled reason for believing that God would protect the Church’s discernment of the canon from error, but nothing else, for He let the Church fall into corruption on baptism, the Eucharist, the priesthood, veneration of the saints, the Mass, and on and on.

Further, if He just inspired those books to be written but then didn’t guide someone else to know that those were the right books, we were still up a creek! We needed a sixty-seventh action by God that would point to the sixty-six books and say: “Those are the ones!” Unfortunately, the history of the canon’s discernment was anything but that simple and obvious. Christians over the course of three hundred years proposed lists of books, debated and argued about them, while slowly the true canon crystallized. Did God protect those men from error? My Protestant faith answered “no.” Because the Church had fallen into error by the second or third century, so there was no reason to think it had God’s special protection from error.

dileI’d always been a logical thinker, so this inconsistency bothered me. My Evangelical friends didn’t seem to have a problem with it, but I attributed that in larger part to the fact that they had grown up in Protestantism with their particular set of biblical books. I was already biased strongly toward Protestantism, but I hadn’t been one long enough to not see that a big fat ad hoc leap was at the bottom of my newly found beliefs. I may as well become a Mormon and just make the ad hoc decision that the Book of Mormon was true and Joseph Smith was a prophet. Without a principled reason it was all up for grabs.

I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I loved my church too much, loved my friends too much, and most of all, loved Jesus too much to offend Him by becoming a Catholic. There must be a way out of the dilemma, an answer that Protestantism had for accepting the canon that it did.

Summer came again, the last one before I would graduate at the end of the fall semester. And once again most of my friend left for internships. One friend remained, however: a highly intellectual Baptist friend named Jeremy. He was a fierce debater, a burly football player, and one of the most genuine guys I’d ever met.

One chapter of the Bible had continued to haunt me: Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Interestingly, this is the one chapter in the Bible that is nothing but Jesus’ own words. And only John recorded it. He prayed that we would be one, perfectly one, as He and the Father are one. Over and over He repeated that. Clearly, unity in the truth was important to Christ, and so it was important to me. Jeremy and I continued going to church, and for the first time I noticed—or rather was disturbed by—the fact that a large Presbyterian church sat a stone’s throw away from our Baptist mega-church. When I asked him, Jeremy admitted that he didn’t know what they believed or how we differed from them in our doctrines. I didn’t know either. But I did know that we didn’t worship with them, weren’t friends with them, and though we assumed that we agreed with them on many things, had no real idea about whether it was so. We were certainly not “perfectly one” with them, as Jesus had prayed. And we weren’t doing anything to remedy the situation.

All Protestant churches and people claimed they were simply trying to follow the Bible by the power of the Holy Spirit. But this had not led to unity; rather, greater and greater disunity seemed to be the fruit of our efforts. Now then, the reality of sin is one explanation for it, but God knew we were sinners and so, if He wanted us to be one, must have overcome that problem. If He had done so, it certainly wasn’t evident from within Protestantism. The Mormons had an answer that went something like: “the Church went belly-up for about seventeen hundred years until God restored her authority and priesthood in the 1820s.” If that were true, the logical step would be to become Mormon and then you would be in the fullness of the truth. The Catholics had a similar, yet more plausible answer: “God founded the Church and has protected her from error in her teachings, and that Church subsists today in the Catholic Church.”

I had to give the Catholics credit: they wove a compelling narrative. Their claim that God protected the Church from error allowed them to answer the canon of Scripture question without resorting to an ad hoc leap. It also trumped the Mormons who asserted that the Church of Christ went apostate less than a century after the Apostles died—hardly something the Holy Spirit would have allowed. Of course, whether that claim was true or not was a different story, but it was at least one that I had to start exploring in more depth.

Jeremy and I continued our discussions. I began playing the Catholic side and testing arguments against him. He realized that this was an intellectual exercise, and we both got into the debates. Eventually I took up the question that for me was another elephant in the Catholic living room: contraception.

Contraception, Why Not!

When I learned that the Catholic Church condemned contraception, I nearly fell out of my chair. Finally, here was an issue whether Catholicism ruled itself out of any sane person’s consideration. For who on earth is against contraception? Are we all supposed to have twenty children? Ridiculous. But nonetheless, because the Catholic Church had come up with surprisingly strong arguments on other issues I had studied, I wanted to know what it said about this issue.

To my surprise, I discovered that Catholicism had a storehouse of arguments against contraception, from theological to philosophical to biological. It was like jumping into a battle scene with a pistol ready to fire, only to find ten tanks and twenty fighter jets standing against you. The Catholic answers made sense, even though I didn’t want to believe it. Still, I realized that I had imported my secular upbringing, for which contraception was an unquestioned assumption, into my Christian life. The world endorsed contraception as the greatest thing in the twentieth century. Should it surprise me that perhaps it wasn’t what it was cracked up to be?

devinheadshotThis investigation sparked many others. I explored the Catholic arguments concerning Marian dogmas, papal infallibility, celibacy, pornography, the sacraments, the Protestant Reformation, and on and on. I always found Catholicism’s answers to be at least thought-provoking, and more often than not compelling.

Summer ended, and my other three Evangelical roommates returned to school. Wanting to give them one more chance to show me where I was going wrong, I began bringing up all these issues with them, from the canon to contraception. Mostly, they were simply stunned that I was bringing up these topics. “Of course contraception is a good thing,” they stammered. “We accept the books of the Bible because they’re true. Why are you questioning God’s Word?” I realized that they did not have good counter-arguments, nor did the best Protestant apologists I had found on the internet. It seemed that the unthinkable was true: the Catholic Church was what she claimed to be.

The Catholic Church It Is

With some trepidation, in my last semester of school, I started the classes to become Catholic (known as RCIA). Everything I had thought was confirmed: the Church was ancient and true, guided by the Spirit of God, full of beauty and wonder. It was the fulfillment of my Protestant beliefs, perfecting them and putting them in their proper context. The saints became my companions; the Bible opened up through the light of the Apostolic Tradition. I met Jesus at the Mass and got to know Him like never before.

Light years away from atheism, I discovered that not only was God real but that He was active in the world and had set His Church as a beacon of hope and truth in a world of darkness and despair. Out of depths I cried out to Him, and He reached down His hand to help me. He even got into the mud with me to pull me out. And, not satisfied that I had found some of the truth, He then led me into its fullness in the Catholic Church. Eleven years later, I have never once looked back or regretted my decision. Instead, all my studies of history and theology, and all my experiences have continued to confirm the truth of Catholicism.

[i] Wisdom 2