Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Three Stories (Or, What on Earth I Think I'm Doing)


Yesterday, a dear friend visited our house and cooked us dinner.  Our little group had a fantastically lovely evening, full of uproarious laughter. 

After talking with my friend, I realized that nearly every single person I've told about my decision to become Catholic has seemed quizzically curious, and asked to hear my reasons at some point.  

So I've thought some about how best to describe what my "reasons" are.  The thing is, there are really three stories surrounding my conversion.  Without any of them, I feel my decision makes little sense.
They are:
  1. The History (the vital sequence of events in my past, large and small, that led me to this point)
  2. The Theological Story (the rational, left-brain reasons I'm becoming Catholic)
  3. The Heart Story (the story of my heart's journey from its first indifferent glance to its current joyful aching for communion with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church)

In the coming days, I plan to tell each story, leading to a comprehensive whole that outlines where I stand now.  (This is, of course, dependent on my free time. My medical school interviews have begun, so I've been quite distracted.)

First, the History.

As I've explained, I was raised in a conservative Protestant denomination, the Church of Christ.  I learned that the Scriptures were God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, and instruction in righteousness, so that we might be thoroughly equipped. (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17)  I was taught that the Scriptures were the only way a person could truly know God, so we'd better be quite studious in this regard.  As a result, I have read the entire Bible cover-to-cover, parts of it dozens of times.  There are probably Bible verses I have read or heard read thousands of times.

The Church of Christ aims to restore New Testament Christianity.  Therefore, they have no creed but the Scriptures, as they believe the early church did.  They have no governing body.  They believe that no doctrine can be defended apart from the Scriptures, and that no such thing should be attempted.  As such, they resist strongly all "man-made doctrine" that can't be supported from the Scriptures in a way reminiscent of a mathematical proof. (Hypothesis: baptism for forgiveness of sins.  Invoke Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21... Therefore, baptism is for forgiveness of sins.  QED.)

I have come to believe that the Church of Christ (and similar groups) are the epitome of sola scriptura, its conclusion and natural end. Their view is almost perfectly that which results if the New Testament is taken alone and used to construct a coherent faith. I find this dedication and persistence so admirable, their earnestness and thoroughness with regard to the faith something each Christian would be well-served to cultivate. 
As I studied, I began to privately hold a number of beliefs that did not line up completely with traditional Church of Christ belief.  For example, I have believed in some type of transubstantiation for many years now, and I believed in the power of deceased Christians to help us through prayer.  I do not believe instrumental worship is wrong.

When I came to college, I realized that differing opinions abound in the "real world".  I found myself re-reading the familiar passages and finding completely new interpretations. For example, my first college boyfriend, an agnostic, related how he had always seen the story of the woman caught in adultery as Jesus condemning the death penalty.  I had to admit that the point made sense.  Was it the only way to read it?  No.  Could I see both of them simultaneously?  Yes...
Suddenly, I could see multiple possible interpretations for so many of the verses I had known, loved, and memorized (book, chapter, and verse). I found myself floundering on a number of points of doctrine, wondering what interpretation Jesus meant, and how much weight I should give my own conscience's opinion as (possibly) the conduit of the Holy Spirit's guidance.  If the Bible commands that I should not even eat with Christians who commit sexual sin, how do I overcome my guilt for alienating them? Should I?  Or have "times changed"?  How was I to tell the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, calling me to greater righteousness from my own opinions?  How could I be sure enough for something so important

My freshman year, I met a lovely girl named Jamie.  We met at a Church of Christ student group retreat during the first week of college, and became fast friends.  We talked about boys, family, school, our faith.  Boys.  Faith.  Over the next two years, Jamie would help me through some of my hardest times in college.  
Because we were so close, I watched her and talked with her as she began wondering about Catholicism.  We discussed and debated points of doctrine, and she always patiently explained the teaching of the Catholic church to me.  I greatly admire her ability to explain deeply theological complexities simply, with good humor, to someone who just didn't get the Catholic thing at all.  Never one to meekly ignore the tough questions, she posed me numerous questions about faith, the Bible, and orthodoxy.
I attended Mass with her a couple of times.  She gave me the best advice for visitors to Mass I have ever heard:
  1. Don't take the Eucharist.  That's sacrilege. Just stay in your seat, or go up and receive a blessing, 
  2. Don't do anything you don't know what it means, and
  3. Don't do anything you're not comfortable with.
On Easter of our freshman year, Jamie became Catholic.  Even after her conversion, she continued to learn and to share freely with me about it. When we met at her apartment to cook supper, she would always ask if I wanted to pray for us this time.  I would always decline, and she would smile, bow her head, and recite some prayer, often the Lord's Prayer, and often in Latin. 

After our sophomore year, Jamie moved away to be nearer her parents.  (She seems happy now, where she transferred.  I still miss her deeply, and often wish I could talk to her about some question or other I thought of that day.  Someday, someday.)

Fast forward nearly a year, to March of my junior year, when I began dating my boyfriend.  Boyfriend is Catholic, though he wasn't raised Catholic.  He converted when he was quite young as a pupil in Catholic elementary school.  
Boyfriend is a quite liberal Catholic and expressly does not care whether I am Catholic or Protestant.  However, his very presence in my life began resurrecting Jamie's questions, which I had mostly buried to deal with later.  
  • What is the Bible?  How did it come to be?  How did it reach its current form?
  • What does the Catholic Church think about itself?  About the Faith?  About the Pope?
  • What does very early Church history say about the doctrines and practices of the Church?
  • What does the Bible say about Peter?
  • What did Peter say about himself thereafter?
  • What does the Bible say about the Church? What does the Church say about the Bible?
Many of the people I have told about my plans have asked if I am converting for Boyfriend.  I explain about Jamie, and explain that Boyfriend is the catalyst for all this, but not the reason itself.

Honestly, he is probably part of the reason, and I don't think much of anything I can do will change that. 

However, that doesn't make the questions go away.  They're still there, and because of Boyfriend, they've all woken up and begun pounding on my door.  I still have to answer them, and the real reason I'm becoming Catholic is that the answers have completely blown my mind.  

Well, that will have to be all for tonight.  I will try my best to have the second story up within a few days.  

As always, God be with you.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thoughts from Mass - 8/8/2010


The last two Sundays, I have attended Mass at the other Catholic church in town with my boyfriend and his friends.  The church they attend is within walking distance of the college campus, and so consists mostly of college kids.  The one I attend is mostly families, which is something I like about it.

More than that, though, I attend the other Catholic church because I felt it would be a distraction to an honest investigation of Catholicism to sit beside my boyfriend in Mass.

It is.

But I enjoy the service all the same.  It's absolutely beautiful standing beside the man I love, both of us holding our hands up with the rest of the assembly, singing the Lord's Prayer together with the Church.  I find my thoughts wandering from us to the rest of the world, who will all read the same Scriptures today, repeat the Lord's Prayer together today, proclaim the mystery* together, and receive the Eucharist together today all over the world. But more on that later.
(*proclaim the mystery of faith - all say, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.")

So, the Mass.

Today I was struck with the beautiful mystery of the Catholic faith.  There are so many connections that I'd never noted before.

For example, I'm beginning to understand Mary as sort of a first symbol of the Church.  She was the first person to ever be devoted to Christ. The Bible says she was "full of grace", which the Catholic church believes means that she was filled with God's grace even from infancy.  In all of human history, God could have chosen any woman to be the mother of Jesus, and he chose Mary.

I also cried again today during Communion.  I would like to discuss that in more detail later, so I'll leave it for now.

I also plan to write a post about my journey to Catholicism, both in terms of the actual events and in terms of the structure of my belief changes that led me to this.  But it's getting quite late here, so I'll postpone that discussion as well.

God be with you.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Rationality in Joy

One of the more notable changes of the last three or four months since I started exploring Catholicism is how excited I am for Mass. Just now, lying in bed, I thought,

"Tomorrow's Friday, so one more day of work before the weekend."

And then in pure, giddy joy, "So Sunday is almost here. Mass is on Sunday! It's almost here!"

In high school, I became more and more cynical about my home church. Convinced that none of the members really understood me, I became isolated. I felt like a stranger, an outcast in my own church.
Eventually, it got so bad that I became angry, inexplicably but powerfully. My anger seemed like a swarm of killer bees, appearing suddenly, for no clear reason, and intimidating everything else in its path. My disdain grew and grew until I was reliably testy on Sunday afternoons. Before I left for college, I kept count of how many more church services I would have to attend, marking them off one by one.

In college, I continued to attend church services, though I reduced my attendance from three services per week to two, then one. Even then I often overslept, skipped church, or left early.

I find it fascinating, then, that I'm so eager for Mass. When I leave each Sunday, a twinge of melancholy arrives that an entire week must go by before I can return. I find myself wondering on Tuesday morning how many days I have left before Mass. Sometimes I go to the Catholic church near campus during the week, to pray, reflect, and simply be in the room where the Church at other times gathers and the Lord is present.

I hate to factor my feelings into my judgement about Catholicism. After all, the allure of the novel can be powerful.

But it's hard to think rationally when I'm just so excited.

Thursday, August 5, 2010



I'm musing on becoming Catholic.


Hello.  I'm Sarah.  I am a college senior from Texas.  I have spent the last three years studying mathematics and preparing to attend medical school in Fall 2011.  My college days have all been very interesting, but the purpose of this blog is to chronicle my faith's movement towards orthodoxy.

You see, I was raised in the Church of Christ. The Church of Christ believes most fundamentally that the Bible (Genesis through Revelation, 66 books) is the literal, inspired Word of God and the complete and only foundation of all Christian faith and truth.

It has no central leadership.  Each local church is led by elders, older men selected to guide the local gathering. It has no catechism and no formal creed or statement of belief.  No belief that contradicts the Bible is considered valid, no matter who espouses it or the reasoning behind the belief.  Wikipedia's article about the Churches of Christ summarizes this belief system quite well.

My upbringing in the Churches of Christ was exemplary.  I have read the entire Bible, parts of it dozens of times. Religion was discussed frequently in my family, with a strong emphasis on using the Bible and one's reasoning to discover the one, objective truth. I have nothing but admiration for the sincerity and earnestness with which members of the Churches of Christ seek the truth as they see it.

So why am I here, musing about Catholicism?  Why have I found myself unable in good conscience to take communion? Why do I repeatedly find myself kneeling in the Catholic church in town, praying desperately?

I guess we'll find out.