Sunday, October 20, 2013

Conversion, Part Two

For all the people who were not privy to my thoughts, my choice to become a Catholic might have seemed like an irrational decision made in haste, however that could not be further from the truth. From my earliest memories as a teenager, I started to doubt some of the inconsistencies that I was finding in the Presbyterian faith and the Bible. These questions were not getting answered and, like many teenagers, I drifted away from church - how true was "religion" if every denomination had a different point of view? If one Presbyterian church taught differently from another Presbyterian church in the next community? To my teenage mind, this showed that "religion" was something man-made and not necessary for salvation; to me, it was much more desirable to sleep late on Sundays instead of getting up early, dressing up, and getting bored to death.

As I mentioned in my last posting on my conversion, I was always encouraged to read the bible when growing up. I love all those famous stories to this day and am very thankful that the bible was made part of my life. In the Presbyterian church we always had these little monthly pamphlets called "Our Daily Bread", which offered daily reflections on Scripture; I often enjoyed these. In my experience, Protestants have a love affair with various translations of the Bible - lacking a magisterium that can interpret the Scriptures, I loved to gather together collections of various translations as a way of trying to figure out some of the more challenging passages. I owned the King James Version, the New International Version, and a couple study/student bibles. This experience has left my wife scratching her head as I continue to gather translations of the Bible (this time, Catholic versions such as the New American Bible, the Revised Standard Version, the Ignatius Study Bible, the Knox Version, and the Douay-Rheims version). To me, this is all normal.

I remember my dad reading the Bible - he would have one of those tiny New Testaments on his dashboard that he would flip open if he was sitting in a parking lot waiting for us to get out of Sunday School or something. I remember him once telling me that his favorite book of the Bible was the Gospel of John and he encouraged me to read that. How ironic that years later we'd be arguing over John 6, when Jesus said we had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Still, to this day I find the Gospel of John an amazing and deep theological writing and I am thankful my dad encouraged me to read it over and over. In fact, in my last posting I mentioned reading the beginning of John's gospel in front of the Church - that was thanks to my Dad's encouragement. Again, how ironic that years later I would find out that this same part of John was read at the end of every Mass from the Middle Ages until the reform in 1970. Even as a little boy, standing in front of the Presbyterian church and reading part of John 1, God was calling me to his church through this ancient tradition.

Some people read the bible and leave Catholicism because they've heard a faulty interpretation, but when I read the bible I started to doubt Protestantism and church in general. I remember being filled with curiosity, but was sorely dissatisfied with the answers I had been given. If the Bible placed such an emphasis on the unity of the faith, why are there so many divisions. If we each contradict one another, how can we still consider one another Christians? How come our church didn't come into existence until the 1500s, but we say we practice the true faith of the early Christians? Hundreds of other denominations claim the same thing, but how are we right and they wrong? If Jesus said getting divorced and remarried is committing adultery, why is that accepted in the Protestant world? If Jesus said we should eat his flesh and drink his blood, why do we insist he was speaking symbolically? Why does there seem to be a contradiction between the bible and science? Where did the bible even come from? How come through the entire history of the bible, God seems to constantly reach his people through miracles and angels, but he doesn't do that anymore? I didn't know that in the Catholic world, God continues to reach out to us through miracles, angels, and visions. In the Protestant world, this break with the rest of salvation history was unsatisfactory to me - it didn't make sense. These issues - and various others - kept bouncing around in my head. I wasn't satisfied with any of the answers I was given - many of them were the theological equivalent of, "Because."

By this time I was probably in my mid-teens; I was bored to death by Church and was hoping that this would change if I got more involved. I had been baptized at 14 and a couple years later I was in what they call confirmation. All I can remember from this is that we would gather together with elders from the church and we'd have lessons on the Apostles' Creed. At the end of the series of lessons, we each had to write a summary on what we learned (I wish I had kept a copy). Our essays were submitted to the elders and they and the pastor would decide (based on our essays) if we had a good understanding of Christian beliefs - if so, we were confirmed as full members of the Presbyterian church. Sadly, this did not help me to become more interested in church. A Baptist friend of mine convinced me I was feeling this way because I wasn't "saved" yet. He said all the things I was doing was all well and good, but if I hadn't "accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior" then I still haven't been saved. Instead of asking him how he came up with that, I accepted it and immediately went home from school and composed a prayer to Jesus, asking him to be my personal Lord and Savior. The next day, my friend rejoiced that I had become "born again" and was now definitely going to Heaven.

Of course, things just got worse - church bored me to tears and by the time I reached 18, I stopped going altogether. I tried going back about a year later, but it was very short-lived. I knew I wanted to go to church, but at the same time I saw it as a boring torture. I would eventually convince myself that going to church didn't matter because I still loved Jesus, I would still read the bible (on occasion), and would occasionally pray; I was convinced this was enough. Even still, I felt a great unrest within me. Over the next six or seven years I would search the internet for information on other denominations, still wondering if the problem was that I hadn't found where I "belonged" yet. I would take these online quizzes that would select the "right" denomination for me, but when I was told I should be an "orthodox Quaker", I just laughed and didn't take the results seriously. At one point, I was heavily involved with a pan-Slav organization and it was recommended that I look into Orthodox Christianity - when I visited the website of my nearest Orthodox church and saw icons of saints and the Virgin Mary, I quickly hit the back button and said to myself, "No, that looks too Catholic." I didn't know why Catholicism was off-limits during this soul-searching, but it just was. Still, whenever these many tests would suggest another Protestant denomination, I would then read up on them to see if they were "a match". This would go on periodically over these years - sometimes several times a week or only once or twice a month - but this pull back towards church couldn't be extinguished. Eventually, mainly due to the passing of my grandparents, the Holy Spirit would call me to the Episcopal church in either late 2004 or early 2005.