The process of becoming Catholic took place over the course of at least four years, and it began much before I knew anything was beginning.
I was a very serious evangelical Christian, in love with the Lord and desiring to do whatever God asked of me. I knew God must come before anything and anyone else, so I took seriously the reading of Scripture, worship, and engagement in a community of Christians. I also took seriously the call to care for those in need, and I sought to involve myself in whatever ministries I could find, that I might serve Christ in those around me and others might see Jesus through me. There was an intense longing to encounter Christ and to know that I was doing His work at whatever cost.
When I entered my evangelical university, I found myself in a small classical liberal arts college in which we read Great Books and learned from professors of different Christian faith traditions. It was a place where we sought truth together and learned to understand one another and those we read on their own terms. So, when I learned from those professors and students who were everything in Protestantism—from evangelical to Presbyterian and Anglican—to Catholic and Orthodox, my world grew, as I encountered other Christians whose faith in practice looked much different than my own. People talked about the salvific nature of baptism, Mary, and purgatory, among other things, and I learned to understand that there was authentic faith in Christ that accompanied these flavors of Christianity so foreign to me.
During my studies, I searched the Scriptures and found myself with many questions. I asked myself, “What does it mean to have faith and to live that faith in Christ?” I remember sitting at a table with my boyfriend (now husband), finding myself in tears as I read Jesus’ words, because I simply did not know how I was to receive them. If I took Jesus at His word, was I saved? Did I really have faith? Fellow evangelicals had told me things like, “If you really have faith, you will live like you have faith,” but what did that look like? I did not know what Jesus expected of me. I prayed, and I read the Bible, and I went to church, but I still did not know what it meant to enter into the life and faith of the Church that was so close to Jesus. I felt so disconnected from the kind of faith given to the Apostles by Christ Himself, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was missing it altogether.
When it came time to do a research project in my New Testament class my freshman year of college, I set out to understand something of the early church, and narrowed this down to how the Lord’s Supper was viewed in the first few centuries of the Church. I distinctly remember reading accounts of people risking their lives to take the consecrated bread and wine to those bound to their homes, and I thought to myself, “There is no way people were risking their lives like this, some dying, to bring the bread and wine to those stuck at home if it really is only to remember Jesus’ death.” I knew there had to be more to this than what I was told growing up. And I knew that, at the very least, if Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” we really must “Do this in remembrance of Him” every time we gathered. Why would we not take time out every week to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us? It simply did not make sense.
When I asked my pastor why communion was not offered every week, he responded that it was more special if it was only offered once a month; if it was offered every week, it would become routine, a ritual to get through. But if that was the reasoning, why go to church every week? And why sing songs every week? This was routine. Singing worship songs every week was a ritual, and people (myself included) did not always realize what they were singing. But nevertheless, we sang anyway, and we went to church, and this was good. This was important to Christian life, and my pastor, of course, encouraged weekly attendance at church. Unsatisfied, I was still left with the question, “Why not have communion every week?”
Looking at Scripture, I suddenly could not help but notice the language surrounding Jesus’ Body and Blood. For example, in John 6, if Jesus did not actuallymean that people must eat His Body and drink His Blood to have eternal life, then he let so many people walk away for nothing. This was not just a metaphor for Christ as our sustenance. Rather, Jesus meant we would actually eat and drink Him, and that was why it was such a problem when people were abusing the Lord’s Supper as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11. I could not understand why people would reject this beautiful gift of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. I found that Protestants had numerous differing views on the eucharist, its importance varying across the myriad of denominations. Realizing this, I grew increasingly discontent with the typical evangelical interpretation of the Lord’s Supper. My frustrations grew as this gift was repeatedly tossed aside and mistreated.
This was the beginning of my end in Protestantism, and a key move towards my entrance into the Catholic Church. However, I did not go straight there, as I was still adamantly against the Catholic Church. First, I found myself becoming Lutheran in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, where we called ourselves Evangelical Catholics and thought ourselves to be more Catholic than Catholics themselves.
Part Two coming soon…