My daughter, a “cradle convert” in that she entered the Church at the age of 10, is issuing informal “save-the date” invitations to the Easter vigil to her Protestant friends (she attends a large Evangelical Protestant university). We’re hoping to get a small group together on April 19th to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. It’s a fantastic way to introduce people to the Church – after all, the Easter Vigil is Catholicism at her finest! And watching those converts as they enter (or are reconciled to) the Church just might give her friends pause for thought….
Converts have a way of doing that, you know – giving people pause for thought. The first thought that probably pops into your mind when you hear that someone is converting to Catholicism is “why?” – what drew you to the Catholic Church? If you’re a Protestant, and you get the news that someone is “poping,” I’m sure “why?” is the question on your mind, too – why in the world would you become Catholic?? Very often, converts to Catholicism aren’t really allowed to explain their decision to the church they are leaving behind – members of that church all too often do that for them, spreading the impression that their exodus was the result of a less than passionate relationship with Christ. So it tickled me when I came across the conversion of Swedish pastor Ulf Ekman. He was a very prominent charismatic clergyman instrumental in bringing the Word of Faith movement to his native land. Not only did Ekman get the chance to explain his conversion to Catholicism to his church, he got the chance to do it on camera. You can watch it here (interpreted in English) – all 45 glorious minutes of it! Pastor Ekman explained the reasoning behind his (and his wife Birgitta’s) decision to leave his work of 30 years behind and ask to be reconciled to the Church Jesus established (starting 29 minutes into the video):
In the Catholic Church we’ve found a continuity that goes right back to the apostles and Jesus Himself, with a strength and a stability which the gates of hell have not prevailed against. We believe this power and these roots are necessary for the future, and we’re talking about the survival of the Christian world in a cruel future world. We believe that God wants to unite us as one… God’s Spirit was actually drawing us and urging us to join in earnest with the Catholic Church.
The congregation took it well. I didn’t see anyone get up and leave. Perhaps it’s Swedish stoicism, but when the camera cut to the audience they looked pretty composed. In fact, they applauded warmly when he finished, and the pastor who spoke after Pastor Ekman’s sermon assured the congregation that he felt that Ulf and Birgitta were “following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” What I enjoyed the most was the fact that Pastor Ekman told the congregation what he has discovered about Catholics: “how alive their true faith is in Jesus,” “how biblically anchored the Catholic Church is in its classical doctrines,” and that “in their services they use the Scriptures more than we do!” It was quite a blessing that he was allowed to say that, and to explain why he feels that his decision is the right one – that doesn’t always happen.
So, when all else fails, write a book to get your point across! German pastor Andreas Theurer did just that, a book entitled Warum werden wir nicht katholisch? Denkanstöße eines evangelisch-lutherischen Pfarrers (Why Don’t We Become Catholic? Food for Thought from an Evangelical-Lutheran Pastor). Why did Pastor Theurer become Catholic?
The Bible arose from the Church, not the other way around. The deciding criterion is: what has the Church believed since the time of the Apostles?
This decision had no one certain cause, but rather was the result of many years of looking into the doctrines which divide the church; this finally led me to the insight that on all the contested points Catholic teaching agrees with the beliefs of the Apostles. At some point I came to the realization that I no longer had a reason not to become Catholic, and then I naturally had to face the consequences.
Sounds a bit like what Pastor Ekman was saying, doesn’t it? “In the Catholic Church we’ve found a continuity that goes right back to the apostles and Jesus Himself.” When Protestants begin looking into the first few centuries of Christianity, they often come away with a nagging suspicion that something may have gone awry in the doctrines of the Reformers.
My friend “J” – a layperson hoping to be reconciled to the Church later this year – expressed thoughts similar to those of Pastor Theurer’s. When asked what caused him to consider Catholicism, “J” responded:
I think a major factor in my conversion was simply working in the adult world for several years and realising how the real world worked. Issues of authority, hierarchy, organisation…all these became real and I realised Protestantism has no good solution – or rather, its (present) solution seems to look like modern democracy which, I realised, may simply be a reflection of modern prejudice instead of the government that Christ instituted.
Another factor was just growing older and realising that expertise and properly instituted authority matter. I mean, in companies there is no such thing as democracy and no one kicks up a big fuss about it – why should we then assume that the Church founded by Christ had no lines of authority? Why do we assume that the Church Fathers were free to hold whatever theological opinion they wanted to and that no one took action against them? Why do we assume that there was no authority who could judge such things? The more I examined the issue the more I realised that the Catholic picture of reality fit with the facts better than the Protestant one….
Authority, of course, is the central issue here. Protestantism can seem very appealing with its loose organization, if any at all. The YOUCAT succinctly explains why the Church is not, and cannot be, a democracy:
Democracy operates on the principle that all power comes from the people. In the Church, however, all power comes from Christ. That is why the Church has a hierarchical structure.
Kind of hard to argue with that.
The question of authority is definitely a subject that turns people’s mind towards Rome. Blogger Kala Nila had an interesting experience with a pastor who, when he learned of her intention to swim the Tiber, wrote to her: “I can’t believe you’re letting someone else tell you what the Bible says.” As she put it:
The reality is that I have always believed what somebody else taught me. Before I studied Bible in college, I merely trusted those who taught me and I wasn’t aware of all the assumptions that inform our reading of Scripture (and often compromise our correct understanding of it). Even during college, I trusted my Bible professors so I was shaped by their thinking and persuasions. It seems to me that the difference now as a Catholic is that I am listening to and being taught by the Church which Christ founded, the very one that He promised to protect against the powers of hell.
Pretty perceptive, I’d say. The Protestant idea that individual believers are relying on the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth is a mirage. Protestants are being taught by whoever their leaders are, by whatever materials they are given, even by the Bible translation they choose to use (as Pastor N.T. Wright has bemoaned).
So there you have it, out of the mouths of “11th-hour workers,” as Russ Rentler terms us converts and reverts. But remember, as the catechumens undergo the Second Scrutiny this Sunday (the subject is “Light!”), those of you called “early in the morning” (Mt 20:1) also need to prepare a reply. “Why are you Catholic?” is a question everyone needs to be able to answer articulately, not just us converts, as our first pope instructed us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet 3:15). For incisiveness, I think so far no one has beaten blogger George Sipe on this point. He was asked that very question recently – why are you Catholic? – and his response nails it:
For me, it always boils down to one thing, upon which everything else depends. I answered simply “it’s the truth.”
Bravo! The Truth awaits you in the Catholic Church, and He will lead you to Himself. Just ask Him!
On the memorial of St. Cono di Naso
Deo omnis gloria!