Those to whom my Catholic faith is a source of contention most often ask me, ‘Why did you become a Catholic?’ or ‘What is it about the Catholic Church you find so appealing?’
How can I convince someone of the necessity of the Catholic faith?
How do you convince someone that you are not wrong in your beliefs and that, rather than being a divergent means of attaining faith, it is the full means of attaining a relationship with God?
These are not easy answers and I have often found myself struggling with the answers that even the most learned men of the Church offer as an explanation of our faith. Perhaps, having delved into a deep understanding of the different aspects of our faith, I feel encumbered by offering the “milk” answer when I find the “meat” answer so much more powerful and infused with meaning. However, I am trying to remember that it’s easier for people to digest milk and see some sort of relatability to their own means of faith in order for them to relate to ours and to draw them further into a deeper explanation. For the most part, at least in conversation, I have abandoned really trying unless someone wants to know. From there it is simply a conscious effort not to drown them in information.
Looking back at the place I came from (religiously speaking) I can appreciate the zeal and the sincerity with which members of that type of Christianity express their love of Christ. Many times though I find in that expression of faith to be what Thomas Howard calls, ‘the extempore and impromptu [that is] eventually shallow, enervating, and exhausting’. I believe that the explanations and understanding and depth can only go so far since those members have voluntarily masticated their ties with the depth of ancient, historical Christian understanding. “Traditional Christianity” is a dirty, repugnant idea to them.
That is not to say that there are no sincere evangelicals who love the Lord with all their heart, mind, and strength. That is not to say either that there are those who feel a sense of emptiness within their own faith or a longing for something more. From what I have seen, there are many though, even the ones who seem most content in their faith, struggle with a feeling of just ‘not feeling it’ with God and not having an answer or an understanding of how to fill that void in their lives. Without even realizing it, these people seem to be longing for something more that only an emotional feeling of connection with God can suffice.
This is the way I was when I was a Baptist. I would feel the passion and the fire of loving the Lord and then, there wouldn’t be anything. There was no ‘heart’ in it. There was just the routine (a ‘ritual’ if you will) of getting up and going to church. I didn’t “feel” it anymore. Then something would inevitably pop up and I’d feel good again. My pastor even addressed this issue once saying that we are like jars and we are filled to the brim with the joy of God and the reason we don’t get further joy in our Christian walk is because we’re too full to receive anything more and we have to ‘pour out’ some of that joy to others in order to be further filled. I’ll never forget that. Especially because he seemed to be “speaking to where I was in my walk” at that moment, but that I found later seems to be an empty circular like answer. There’s nothing deeper in that form of Christianity for me with which to sustain my soul. It’s just not there. It sounds good, but isn’t there something more than just seeking to be refilled with your own personal sense of joy in the Lord?
In looking at the answers of many evangelicals today, not in an apologetics sense, which is certainly applicable in this instance, but just answers about life and about a relationship with Jesus, I find them now, as I had an inclination of when I was Baptist, of something lacking. Something that’s like a beautiful deep blue sparkling ocean. It’s beautiful on the surface and that’s fine, but if you plumb into the depths of it in ways that are only available if you have the right ‘diving gear’, it makes your faith so much more gorgeous than you’d even have imagined just sitting on the surface.
Using the metaphor of the diving equipment, there are many who will look at it and say, ‘but what do I need the mouthpiece for? What do I need the goggles for? I have the oxygen tank. I have the flippers. I can hold my breath and it’s just as good. I can get what I want without having to use all that extra gear.’ Yes, most certainly you can dive and probably attain great depth, but why not utilize all that has been given you in order to make it the best dive possible? It is only because they have been taught that the gear is superfluous and an unneccesary burden to the diving experience, or that it is the wrong equipment altogether. Even that the people who put the boat out to sea loaded it with the wrong equipment to start with so that one can simply pick and choose what gear to apply to their dive since it is by the dictates of their conscience that decide which pieces to use and discard.
This is certainly where I found myself when I was a Baptist. Although I would not have realized that at the time. I was convicted of my faith because that’s how I was taught and raised, but in the very depth of my soul I always longed for something more to faith. Something more to help me with my experience with God. However, I certainly wasn’t looking for a different denomination and I absolutely rejected Catholicism outright. “Mary worshiping idolators” were what they were. Equivalent to the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons. They had created their own dictates of Christianity and turned it into heresy. I was a Baptist and that’s all there was to it. I wanted something more in my soul maybe but I didn’t even know how to go searching for what it might be or to even know how to fully recognize it. I just assumed it was a need and desire for more of God I suppose. Besides I held to the concept that I believe many Baptists hold to. The absolute certainty that we were the ones who got it right. Everyone else was wrong in one way or another and the farther away from Us you were, the more wrong you were. We Baptists had a bit of a superiority complex and it showed. Although, at no time was it even a remote idea in anyone’s head of where anything we had in our own church had come from including the Bible.
After that long path of searching and finally coming home I did find that the path didn’t end there and, far from God allowing me to simply rest at the doorstop, He created circumstances, in the forms of the questions I mentioned at the beginning, to force me to find out for myself what it was that brought me “Home to Rome”. Why be Catholic? I’ll tell you. I’ll try to keep it short, concise, and headed in the direction of “provable” truths in order to allow understanding from those with whom I no longer share a communion fellowship.
First, foremost, top of the list, undeniable reason: History
History is the most viable, most visible, most reasonable, most logical, most undeniable absolute PROOF of Catholic legitimacy. I cannot encourage Christians more strongly than in this context: READ YOUR CHRISTIAN HISTORY!
No man, however good his intentions as a Christian, can ever convince me that his form of Christianity is the valid form established by Christ Jesus because he has not the historical facts of Christian faith behind him.
The ancient, historical, early, Christian church is absolutely, undeniable, indisputably one thing and one thing only: Catholic.
Catholic as we understand her today. Nothing less than that… and regardless of what anti-Catholics today say…. nothing more!
Anyone who will claim the roots of their church lies in the annals of Christian history is either a liar or a fool. They have accepted the deception told by other men who accepted the same deception. Any man who claims this has never read the full textual writings of the early Church Fathers. Oh some will have read parts of them, the parts that support what they believe but no man, no matter how learned, can read the works of the early Church Fathers and the historical facts of the ancient church and her members and insist that they are anything other than Catholic. They can even write off the use of the word ‘catholic’ in ancient writings to its bare meaning which is ‘universal, whole, or complete’ to imply that was simply a term of what the Church Proper was. Indeed, they’re right, but that tends to neglect the entirety of the scope of history in regards to what exactly constituted the Church and what did not nor ever has.
I cannot stress that enough.
Read your history of Christianity.
It will prove your Catholic faith.
There are inevitably those who will question what is termed as the ‘infallibility’ of the first Christians to dictate theological doctrine. These errors in doctrine can be argued to have gone back to the beginning of the faith to the very students of the Apostles. However, keep in mind that some of the Apostles were still alive at the same time as these students were. If the disciples of the Apostles were teaching doctrine contrary to what the Apostles had taught them, they most certainly would have been corrected. The writings of these disciples of the Apostles is extant today and in their writings you find distinctly Catholic doctrine. For instance, Ignatius was a disciple of John the Apostle along with his contemporary Polycarp. Ignatius has many writings extant to this day and his words speak volumes about the beliefs of the early church that mirror present day Catholicism.
If the Church as a whole could not be preserved from error even as soon as the second generations of believers it is not only a sad state of what Christianity is, but it makes a liar of Jesus Christ who said that the gates of hell would not overcome the Church.
Read your history.
The second point is that Catholicism gives one a high outward expression and celebration of the Holy. This is where many Catholics get caught up in trying to explain the Church and usually end up bolster the wrong idea that they’re distracted in their love with elaborate ritual and not with what is truly important. This expression, as opposed to traditional Protestant expression (which came from the Catholic Church), is once again rooted and validated throughout history and is traceable to the earliest Christians. Expressions which are ritual and ceremony, these outward expressions of piety and humility of heart that scandalizes the rest of Christendom and yet are intended to create, by their nature, a way of expressing all that man wishes and feels in his heart to the Living God. Kneeling, ritual, custom, bowing, incense……. all the ‘high brow’ forms of expressive Christian worship was the first thing that caught my attention and brought me to tears.
“It is mere cavil that objects that this sort of thing is ‘highbrow.’ It has nothing to do with brows, or with tastes or anything else. Only a sorry provincialism actually insists on camp-meeting songs, folk songs, or songs of personal testimony over the Te Deum because these songs are somehow more ‘relevant.’ Relevance itself, in this light, becomes a pitiable thing. What is the touchstone of relevance: subjective sentiments or seventeen centuries of Christian worship?”
The third point is the Eucharist. You can escape the ritual and routine and ‘high brow’ ceremony of Catholicism, but you can’t get a Eucharistic celebration anywhere like what you get in the Catholic Church. The argument inevitably rears its head of what exactly the Eucharist consists of or what it’s referred to… be it Communion, Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper…. It ranges from literal changing to nothing more than a symbol. The idea of such a radical difference of belief from nothing more than a spiritual symbol of what Christ did for us to the belief that the elements remain but the substance is changed came to me very slowly. It’s difficult to wrap your head around the idea when you’re brought up to believe everything elemental is unchangeable outside of a miracle (and as everyone knows miracles are rare occurrences – at least I thought). It would be a long time coming to see that there is a miracle happening every single Sunday. People will say it is impossible because there is no visible proof of a change. However, there was also no proof of Christ’s divinity on mere visible examination either. I would encourage the reader to examine John 6 for themselves as well as 1 Corinthians 10 & 11 in light of the possibility that Christ would give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink.
The fourth point is another Sacrament I came to slowly as well. Confession. The second ‘height of scandal’ for non-Christians. I always thought, even when in RCIA, that ‘oh well, I just won’t do that part.’ I really did. Fortunately, at the church I was involved in at the time the priest took an entire Saturday for our RCIA class to really delve into the Sacrament of Reconciliation, what it means, what it’s truly about, and the emphasis that the priest, under pain of excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church cannot divulge things revealed in Confession except by permission of the penitent. Not even psychiatrists can give that kind of guarantee. Human beings have the innate desire to confess their wrongs or problems to other human beings. They have been given a desire to tell their secrets to others. It’s the entire point behind the old saying, ‘Confession is good for the soul.’ There is no better way to express sins from the soul than to speak them out to an individual who has the Apostolic power to bind or loose (cf John 20:22,23; John 5:16) and to receive the grace which pours itself from the Sacrament and, if for nothing more than to ‘get it off your chest’ is – at the very least – cathartic.
The argument of the latter two points brings up a contention of belief. While it can be argued, and has been, ad nauseum whether these Sacraments are necessary, true, valid, or whatever the case may be, it stands to reason, for me, that when one examines the truth of history and the understanding that all that was initially taught in the Church has always existed from the beginning of Christianity, and that it can be verifiably traced down through history, from the mouths of the Apostles to the present day (with almost 300 years without a compiled Bible nonetheless) then one has to conclude that the Catholic Church’s teachings are correct. If the logic of history convinces you, then their explanations of the interpretation of the Bible are going to be given more credence, especially when you study both explanations and one seems a straightforward response to the clear meaning of Biblical texts and another explanation that brutally mutilates and does a disservice to the meaning of the texts.
Above all, over and over again, it must be emphasized that Christian history is the way to go. It’s a very heavy read, but Eusebius’ Church History is a thorough retelling of the history of the early church from the Apostles on into the 4th century. Read the writings of the Church Fathers intact, not through anyone else’s lens of belief. Things get lost that way. Read the unfiltered words of the Fathers themselves. You will find the Catholic Church in their accounts. You can get Faith of the Early Fathers by William Jurgens or you can go to this link and read some for yourself, but, much like tackling the Bible for the first time, that can be overwhelming. I would also recommend Thomas Howard’s Evangelical Is Not Enough because he explains the difference and the reasons for choosing a more ‘traditional’ route in a language as beautifully expressed as something from CS Lewis.
There are many other subjects that came up in my path to Catholicism and my own arguments against them were as passionate as the ones I hear today, but I assure you that I didn’t just walk up the aisle of the Catholic Church one Sunday and decide to be a Catholic. I didn’t even stop at just going through RCIA. There are many reasons why I not only chose to become Catholic, but much more importantly, why I choose to stay Catholic. If you have any questions, just ask me, I’ll do my best to answer them.
God Bless you wherever you stand.