I've not yet discussed it explicitly here, but I've left a hint or two along the way. It's something I've been meaning to write about for awhile and seeing as the journey will reach a kind of culmination in the coming weeks, I find it fitting to write about it here now.
As the Part 1 portion of the title of this post suggests, this is something I will be writing about over a series of posts, knowing I won't be able to address this subject adequately in a single entry.
Disclaimer: When it comes to matters of faith (and matters of Catholicism in particular), emotions run high. It is a topic on which many have strong bents, preferences, and biases and regarding which particular views are held strongly. In many circles, there is much in the way of fear, misinformation, and outright antagonism when the topic of Catholicism is broached. I do not claim to speak in any official terms about matters Catholic, I claim only to speak for my own experience and journey. That being said, things may be introduced or stated in this series of posts which directly impacted my decision to convert. The purpose of stating these things is not to exact judgment on anyone or to incite anger or division, but only to provide reasoned explanations for why I now freely and deliberately chose to become Catholic.
A note on additional reading/resources: At the end of each post, I will attempt to point to additional resources that were helpful to us in our search.
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By way of providing a little background, allow me to present a bird's-eye view of my upbringing. I was brought up in a Christian home by wonderful, loving, and imperfect parents. I loved Jesus and the Bible from an early age and even in my earliest years, don't doubt the sincerity of that. We went to an evangelical, non-denominational church that was in many respects like extended family. This love for Jesus grew and in my high school years, burst into something new and altogether consuming. I read my Bible almost constantly and knew my life would be centered around my faith.
I went to and graduated from a Christian university and after moving home, continued my involvement in church. I worked with the youth group, led a Bible study, and continued in my personal devotion. It was just three years ago that I met someone who professed what he referred to as Traditional Catholicism which, in practice and in statement of belief, is different from what the majority of Catholics profess today (it would take volumes to explain the differences; the link above provides a good overview). After seriously considering conversion, I came to the conclusion that I could not accept the views of God and Jesus with which I was presented there. And so I returned to my evangelical roots, and was warmly welcomed upon my return.
An unexpected pit-stop
Fast forward to September of 2009. It was Labor Day weekend and James and I (married not quite four months at this point) were making a road trip south primarily to pick up some things he had in storage in the Modesto/Manteca area, but also to visit several friends and acquaintances we had there. We stopped in Redding at a coffee-shop to grab a bite to eat, this stop still about three and a half hours away from our destination. As I waited for our meals, James sat down to someone who, by the telltale collar, was obviously a priest. Another sat with him dressed in black, a novitiate preparing for the priesthood.
James was raised Catholic and left the church when he was 19, having some objections about certain doctrines that appeared to be incompatible with Scripture. But not one to shy away from any theological or intellectual discussion, I wasn't surprised that he chose a seat at a table with two obviously Catholic guests at this coffee house.
Door table at Yak's Koffee
We exchanged the usual pleasantries and launched into a discussion that while neither of us could forget it, we also found that we could not later recall all the specifics. James discussed his background with the church, his passion for the Catholic church when he was growing up, and the reasons why he left. The discussion was spirited, passionate, and sincere amongst the four of us involved. We discussed what it means to be "saved", and I remember feeling like all of us had been challenged. I hadn't ever seen my husband quite so emotional or flustered. But I remember walking away from that discussion the distinct impression that the bulk of the challenge was ours.
They made a lot of good points, I said as we returned to the truck. A lot of them. He didn't disagree.
We talked about it for the remainder of our drive. We knew it was something we had to look into if we were going to be intellectually and spiritually honest. Given our backgrounds, neither of us had been looking for this. Both of us had been burned in our very different experiences of Catholicism, and were understandably a little gun shy about giving it another look. Besides which, we were very newly married and not looking to introduce this kind of huge change so early on.
Upon our return home, the research began. James spent hours reading Scripture, the church fathers, studying the teachings and beliefs of the protestant reformers, and looking at church websites. He found video testimonies both Protestant and Catholic, looked deeply into Catholic doctrine by way of the Catechism, and learned about the differences between how Catholics and Protestants approach the Christian faith. We learned about the Canon of scripture, and authority, and read some of the less commonly known writings from the reformers, many of which turned our stomachs.
This went on for about three weeks. Every day when I came home from work, he'd summarize his findings. More than one day, I remember him saying, This is tearing me apart. It was clear that he was exhausted, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Torn apart seemed an apt enough description.
And so it was. It was tearing us both apart. What we had found was turning our world upside-down.
For further reading:
Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain, and Defend the Catholic Faith by Scott Hahn (Hahn is a former Protestant minister who converted to Catholicism in 1986)
Catechism of the Catholic Church