Every few months, it seemed, my husband and I would express serious concern about being Lutheran—spiritual, theological, and historical—and we would talk and search for answers to our questions about Lutheranism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. It was intimidating to think about leaving Protestantism, which was much more comfortable and known to both of us, but nevertheless we desired to know what was true, whatever that would mean. Somehow our questioning would settle down and we would tell ourselves it was okay to stay Lutheran; however, the concerns we both raised never really went away, for something inevitably would bring back our same doubts and new ones months later. I distinctly remember hearing an Orthodox priest speak at our university in the fall of our senior year and leaving telling my husband, “We just cannot stay Lutheran. We have to become Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.” I do not remember any particular thing the priest said, except that I knew something truly was missing from our Lutheran faith that could not be ignored any longer.
The pressure was on to decide what to do. After my graduation in the winter, we were expecting our first child who we intended to baptize as a baby, so he would be baptized either Lutheran, Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox. Those first few months, we tried, really tried, to find all the reasons to stay Lutheran. We did not want to be people who grew dissatisfied with whatever place we were in, so we sought to find Lutheranism compelling, but something had changed. Any of the strengths Lutheranism claimed over Catholicism and Orthodoxy turned to straw and could not hold against the ancient Church. I even watched a lecture many Lutherans point to for a great apologetic against becoming Orthodox, thinking that would give me something to grapple with for a while. However, that had the opposite effect on me, leaving me more convinced that we must leave.
Lutherans pride themselves on consoling the conscience, but after hearing about conscience over and over again, all I could think was, “I don’t have faith so that my conscience can be consoled. I have faith because Christ offers Himself to me and I love Him; what ought my response be to Him?” There must be more to faith than simply trying to make me feel better in my last days, or there is not much to this faith at all. And anyway, anyone who says Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism cannot offer comfort to the dying does not understand Orthodox or Catholics.
When I read Max Weber’s work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism for school, I had a moment when I was tempted to despair, because I was reading how much Protestantism changed and evolved over time, How could any of Protestantism be right? How could any of it be the true Church, the way Christ intended it? The changes in various denominations and their theologies and practices were all way too arbitrary; I could no longer take seriously Protestantism’s claim to truth.
While confessional Lutheranism was not as radical in its reforms, unlike much of the rest of Protestantism, I could not separate it from the rest. Luther was the one who sparked all the change, going far beyond reforming the Church when he broke away from her, removed books from the Biblical canon, changed words of Scripture, and developed his own theology. He broke away and set the trend for everyone else to go their separate ways—all compelled by their own subjective conscience.
All of this leads me to say that I realized the need for authority and unity in the Church, and this was to be found in the Catholic Church. I saw the unity in the Church among the great diversity within it in all the ways Catholic faith is expressed, from people like St. Francis of Assisi to St. Thomas Aquinas. The Catholic Church has saints, both ancient and modern, something totally lacking in Lutheranism which either did not recognize saints today or could not produce them, which was quite concerning to us. We loved also that the Church spans the whole world; we could go to mass nearly anywhere, worship with fellow Christians, and all be part of the same Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
There are often a few typical barriers to those thinking about entering the Church. For some, Mary is one, but since learning more about how Catholics and Orthodox think about and venerate Mary a few years ago, I found devotion to Mary to be quite attractive. It made sense to me for Mary to be a focal person in one’s Christian life. She is one to emulate for her great love of Christ, and as one who is the temple of God, for she bore Him when she carried God in her womb.
As a Protestant, I was not entirely sure what to think about praying to Mary or of the Immaculate Conception, but once I read the Catholic catechism, things started to make sense, and I came to find these things not only beautiful, but very good and true, bearing fruit in the world now and throughout history. She is the new Eve who said “yes” to God and brought Life into the world rather than Death. We pray to her, because she is a mediator, going to God on our behalf as demonstrated in the Wedding at Cana. Why wouldn’t we want her, the Mother of God, to intercede for us? It is not that we cannot go to Christ Himself, but we are offered her as our Mother, again by Jesus Himself when he tells John, “Behold, your Mother” (Jn. 19:27) and Mary, “Woman, behold your son” (Jn. 19:26). She is Mother of the Church. Our Father in Heaven provides everything we need, including a Mother.
The other barrier is often purgatory, but if we believe we must truly become holy (as opposed to being declared holy), then God provides us with a place to be sanctified, to actually become holy, that we might see Him and not die.
My husband and I thought about all these things in our decision to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. We no longer wanted to be separated brethren, always comparing ourselves to the Catholics, looking in from the outside. We wanted the real thing, and we desired the faith passed down to us from Christ Himself. We desired the sacraments He instituted in the Church to sustain us here on earth until we meet Him in Heaven.
Christ has truly changed me upon embracing Him in the Church. Until I was actually in the Catholic Church, I had no idea just how rich the Catholic faith really is and how much I was missing. While evangelical, my desire for relationship with Christ was present, but there was no tangible way for this to be worked out, so I was left to try to feel love for Christ and know I had faith. While Lutheran, my love for the eucharist and Christ truly present in the world grew, but my prayer life was sorely lacking. Thus, an intimate relationship with Jesus faded along with any serious response to His call to total transformation into his likeness. How beautiful it is that God gives us the Church where we encounter Him, strengthening us and moving us to love.