Monday, October 8, 2012

In Defense Of My Catholic Shenanigans

It's not easy being Catholic you know. 

I have to go to Confession, can't use contraception, and must go to Church every Sunday. The horror! But seriously, it's not exactly convenient. 

Here's the thing, being Catholic for me was a choice that I chose because I had every reason to choose it. I was a Protestant since I "trusted Jesus Christ as my lord and savior" when I was 18. Then on my way to the Catholic church I was involved in all sorts of shenanigans. I started to dissent. 

First off, I couldn't stand using crackers and little plastic cups of grape juice every first Sunday of the month for communion. Secondly, Church was like a concert with a conference-esque talk in between. Along with the funky lights and the fancy flat screens, the lack of intellectual depth in the sermons were annoying. 

I'm just being honest and maybe I sound like a pompous you-know-what, but I can't help that I felt that way. I wasn't being prideful. I just couldn't stand the self-help talk every Sunday because I knew Christianity was more real than that. 

Then I read Thomas Aquinas and my expression was...

Is this guy really Catholic? So faithful, so devout, so...umm...Christian? He knew the Bible, he knew theology, philosophy, and all that good stuff and still defended the Church's Marian dogmas!

"Nonsense," I screamed. 

But that was all I had. No counter. Just annoyance to the nth degree. Why? Because I loved Aquinas and he was a damn Catholic and Catholics are idol worshippers who put Mary on a peddle stool and don't know the Bible. 

Then I read Augustine and...

This guy is Catholic too? Ah heck no! I delighted in reading Augustine until I found out he was a good Catholic. What's up with all the good guys, why are they all Catholic? 

This question ate away at me. Then I read John 6 and it was at this point that I was like...

And the rest followed. You see, I believed Jesus and that is ultimately why I am a Catholic. Everything in me knew deep down that the Eucharist (what we commonly call communion) was the center of Christian life and worship. And when I reflected on it and asked myself what Church celebrated the Eucharist in this way, I discovered it was the Church I grew up in—the Catholic church. 

I had come to believe that Jesus really meant what He said when He said:

“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. (Jn. 6:53-56)

Compare that to..."This is my body" and "This is my blood" speaking about the bread and wine. Wait, wait, wait. So Jesus just said I have to eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life and be raised up and then he said that the bread was his body and the wine was his blood...

So I thought to myself, "What Church believes that Jesus is really present in the bread and wine?" Then I started to become Catholic. For real G. I didn't become Catholic because I had some deep intellectual awakening that proved my protestant logic wrong (okay, maybe a little bit), but because I believed Jesus in everything He said. 

The rest was an intellectual thing. It didn't help that I was part of a fundamentalist church called Calvary Chapel where there is an unacknowledged spirit of anti-intellectualism. But I'm not being Mr. Intellectual Superior here, I'm just saying that a little critical thinking wouldn't kill anybody. 

Besides all that, what I really had an intellectual problem with was the two fundamental doctrines of Protestanism. The first was, "The Bible Alone" as the sole and final rule of faith. The second was, "Faith alone" for salvation. 

The first is by the far the most important tenant of Protestantism. It was called into question when I was in a conversation with my friend about Catholicism when I was still a Protestant and told him, "I believe in the Bible alone," to which he responded, "Where is 'the Bible alone' in the Bible?" 

To which I had no answer. 

I went home frantically searching my Bible to find evidence for this fundamental Protestant tenet of faith, but I was found wanting. My only hope was 2 Timothy 3:16 - 

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Aha! But not really. This didn't establish "the Bible alone," it merely established that Scripture is "useful" or "profitable" for these things. Even still, when Paul wrote this particular passage, he was speaking about the Old Testament. Surely the Old Testament alone didn't count for all Scripture.

All of the arguments from Protestants to establish "the Bible alone" were weak and found wanting. What's more is that without this principle, there is no reason to accept any church in Protestantism as an authority. There was always much talk about "submitting" to your church leaders, but why? If the Bible is my ultimate authority, why should I submit to a pastors particular interpretation of the Bible? If the Bible was the foundation of truth, then why submit to any church when I could read it for myself and come up with my own interpretation?

Then I read 1 Timothy 3:15 -

"...if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth."

Say whaaat?! The Church is the pillar and foundation of truth? Yes, that is what Holy Scripture tells me and what Tradition has always said. But, which Church?

That's when all sorts of buffoonery starts happening in your brain. 

You walk into your Protestant church on Sunday and all of the sudden you don't feel very exicited. You want to go to a Catholic church but everything inside of your rebels against the idea of ever stepping foot in the Catholic church.

I lost that battle obviously. I couldn't hold it in anymore. It was like what G.K. Chesterton said:

“It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair.”

It was a love affair alright. I found myself thinking about her all of the time and wanting to sneak off on Sundays to go sit in the back of the church and experience the liturgy of the Mass. I was secretly in love with the Church.

It would be an injustice to not mention the role of N.T. Wright in all of this. N.T. Wright is an intellectual titan by today's standards. Do a wikipedia search for some background, but his insights made an incredible impact on my theological and intellectual journey to Catholicism.

N.T. Wright probably doesn't know it, but he took me by the hand and dropped me off in Rome. He might not approve of such a notion, but it's true. I'm not the first or the last person to have that happen to them.

He took every pillar of my evangelical fundamentalist logic down with an academic prowess and poetic prose that I simply couldn't refute. It was biblical, well reasoned, and obvious once he pointed it out.

Then I went on a search for a new church. The only option seemed to be the Episcopalian church which was the American wing of Anglicanism, the tradition that N.T. Wright was a part of. That's when I went on a camping trip with my good Catholic friend.

He conveniently brought with him some audio to listen to in the car and a man by the name of Scott Hahn said something that played on the strings of my Catholic leaning heart.

He was a former Protestant converted to Catholicism and on his journey to the Catholic faith he came to a decision point—he had to change churches too.

That's when he mentioned he thought he should become Episcopalian after coming to the same conclusions that I came to. Then he threw down a line of defense for not being Episcopalian that compelled me to go home and start getting some answers.

Then, my good friends, I decided it was over.

This is not a perfect conversion story and it certainly doesn't contain all of the details, but it gets the point across. I became Catholic because I couldn't help it and to me, that's a good defense of my position. 

In reality, I know you might not feel compelled to come to the same conclusions, but I'm leaving room to write more about it in the following posts. I hope you'll stay tuned. 

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