Yes, in joy you shall go forth, in peace you shall be brought home; Mountains and hills shall break out in song before you, all trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12 (NAB)
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (NAB)
The pages of Sacred Scripture rustle with hints and wonders, even outright promises, that one day this fallen world will be different. The Written Word informs that not merely our souls might be saved, but our bodies too redeemed together with all of creation.
Questions precede answers and problems before solutions
Returning to my journey into the Catholic Church, first came questions and problems; and only later, answers and solutions. We see something similar in the Gospel. How often we’ve heard that one must understand the bad news before the good news of the Gospel makes any sense. “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners.’” Luke 5:31-32 (NAB). And so, if you see no problems, you will find no answers here.
For years I had been wrestling with issues; and for years, amassing evidence in my mind. It was not until the Hanegraaff-surprise that I stopped to deal with the problem again. Two lingering issues had been Protestant’s Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, I did not wake up one day to see the truth and goodness and beauty of the Catholic Church. That came, but not at first. As with any real journey, it comes in steps and stages. This Spurgeon-taught Calvinist did not rise from bed one Sunday morning and start genuflecting before stepping into the church pew.
My Protestant defenses were down
By the Spring of 2017, I was no longer the anti-Catholic I once was. On our Protestant side of the ledger, I had seen them too much negative evidence. On the Catholic side, there were unexplainable, but very real, positives. The Catholics were so strong on Life issues and family and morality. Then, there was G.K. Chesterton.
Many of you understand completely when I say that my Anglican teacher, C.S. Lewis, for 25 years had provided cool, clear water for my soul, particularly my imagination. G.K. Chesterton, a prolific Roman Catholic writer, however, did the same thing, particularly in my mind. This Apostle of Common Sense tells the truth not only with a unique wit but, sometimes, a baseball bat between the eyes. Calvinistic as I was, even as Chesterton bashed Calvinists, I kept drinking because it was so refreshing and so good. How could the Catholic Church produce someone like Chesterton? Something wasn’t right.
My questions probably took decades to germinate and sprout. Until the questions came into focus, there was no apparent need for the Catholic Church’s answers. Hanegraaff having gone over “to the other side” made me revisit a previous search. I took from my shelf The Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the front cover, I had written the date I started reading it: September 11, 2000 (exactly 17 years to the date I entered the Church). I recall putting it down because I ran into what I thought was a theological brick wall. Looking back, I am ashamed at the sloth and shallowness with which I had treated the issues.
On a lonely outpost, cut off from history
In preparing this post, I came across a bookmarker from Mobile, Alabama’s Christ Anglican Church, dated September 30, 2000. Having just left one of Mobile’s mega-Baptist churches (for reasons too remote and unfocused for this story), no doubt I had been influenced by one of my primary teachers, C.S. Lewis, and so visited the recent break-away from the Episcopal Church. That was the same month and year I started reading the Catholic Catechism. Lewis had impressed upon me that our faith flowed from real facts that really occurred in history. Of course, I knew that, but in his unique way, he brought it home to my imagination.
Looking back, I think there was a feeling that in our Baptist world we were cut off from historic Christianity. It was like we were flying our Christian flag on a lonely little outpost, just a dot on the vast timeline of history. It seemed we were cut off from our roots. Why, in our Protestant world, and professing an ancient faith tied to the facts found in the New Testament, were we having to reinvent the wheel all the time? Was not the Faith once delivered handed down from real people that lived in an age of writing, albeit two millennia ago? Why were we all alone on this hilltop; our flag, as it were, flapping in the breeze? Certainly, this Bible had not just fallen from the sky.
That probably explains, in part, my having picked up The Catechism over seventeen years ago. However, I tend to recall having stumbled at a Marian doctrine, convinced that Rome was wrong and I was right. Now, I am embarrassed and ashamed to think that my effortless “study” (read, “glance”) enabled me to debunk the Catholic Church that traces its origins back to Jesus’ words to Saint Peter in Matthew 16:18. Arrogance and presumption were dark lenses in the glasses I wore.
Myth becomes fact
I grew up hearing and believing Sacred Scripture. As a law student, I began to study the evidence for the authenticity and reliability of Scripture, and was overwhelmed. I knew our faith was a faith married to the facts of history. The message of the cross is a convergence of facts and eternal realities. As my teacher explained,
“The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.”
Myth became fact, an essay published in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, C. S. Lewis.
Do we have Sacraments or not?
Back to Protestant’s two Sacraments. Instead of means of grace, I found baptisms and the Lord’s Supper as sources of unrest. Ultimately, they became graces that led me home to Rome. Over the years, I had an uneasiness at church during these Sacraments. When, during Communion, I heard the pastor say something like “this is just a symbol” or “this is just a picture”, I found myself inwardly cringing. The dismissive “just a” seemed contrary to Sacred Scripture. Similar negations accompanied baptisms. Aren’t the Sacraments of Holy Scripture pregnant with meaning? Our Protestant tradition seemed to convey that the Sacraments meant nothing, or at least very little.
I was suspicious of the reductionism and rationalism. Do not misunderstand. I know that our faith, itself a gift, is supported by abundant evidence sufficient for our rational mind. Long ago, during and since law school, I studied apologetics and the authenticity of the Scriptures. The evidence is abundant. However, I know based on those same Scriptures we do not have a faith deduced from rationalistic principles. Our faith has been revealed and passed down.
Returning to Holy Communion, something seemed wrong. I found myself silently praying that I receive the Bread and the Wine in the fullest sense in which Jesus meant the words. Similarly, the pastor’s explanations during baptisms were in the same vein as Communion. It was as if we were to be careful to understand that nothing was really going on during the Sacraments. It was just a picture of some other reality that happened at some other time and in some other place.
Nagging problems required answers. Still, I did not suspect the Catholic Church to have the answers. It would be some time before the light of Scripture broke through the fog. It would happen. Above, Saint John the Apostle tells us so beautifully that the Eternal God took on flesh and blood and dwelt among us. I believe C.S. Lewis, the Anglican who Roman Catholics and Calvinistic Presbyterians both enigmatically claim as their own, helped me make the connection between the truths of the Incarnation and the way God meets us in the Sacraments – – in a very real (not merely spiritual) way. Our Protestant tradition’s negation of things eternal to the merely spiritual, notwithstanding our Lord’s Incarnation and our own flesh and blood, did not fit. Maybe C.S. Lewis can slake your thirst as he did mine, awakening the imagination and making the connection:
“The thought at the back of all this negative spirituality is really one forbidden to Christians. They, of all men, must not conceive spiritual joy and worth as things that need to be rescued or tenderly protected from time and place and matter and the senses. Their God is the God of corn and oil and wine. He is the glad Creator. He has become Himself incarnate. The Sacraments have been instituted. Certain spiritual gifts are offered us only on condition that we perform certain bodily acts. After that we cannot really be in doubt of His intention. To shrink back from all that can be called Nature into negative spirituality is as if we ran away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires. But behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?’ Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body? These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world- shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else— since He has retained His own charger—should we accompany Him?”
Miracles, Chap. 16, C.S. Lewis
I was not yet home. In addition to these, there were other problems, and very serious, before I would see the truth and goodness and beauty in the Catholic Church. I hope to trace some of those lines in the posts to follow. Thank you for reading. God bless you as you seek to say Yes to Him today.
AS FOR ME, I KNOW THAT MY VINDICATOR LIVES, AND THAT HE WILL AT LAST STAND FORTH UPON THE DUST. THIS WILL HAPPEN WHEN MY SKIN HAS BEEN STRIPPED OFF, AND FROM MY FLESH I WILL SEE GOD: I WILL SEE FOR MYSELF, MY OWN EYES, NOT ANOTHER’S, WILL BEHOLD HIM: MY INMOST BEING IS CONSUMED WITH LONGING. JOB 19:25-27 (NAB)