March 2014 Print

A Homecoming

Interview with a Recent Convert

The Angelus: How would you describe your family at the moment you joined the Church?

Convert: We were devout Protestants who took our faith very seriously, reading the Bible and praying regularly, enjoying a good family life with no deep-seated problems.

The Angelus: What types of religious affiliation did you embrace?

Convert: The first few churches I attended as a child and a young man were Southern Baptist. As I had my Protestant experience of “conversion”, I began attending a Pentecostal church associated with a small denomination. I met my wife as a result of this association. I even studied to become a pastor at a Bible College, and did study in Ministry. I left school to get married. We then became affiliated with a Charismatic group that was part of “The Word of Faith” (health and wealth) movement, and that was the beginning of the end for us. We had a rude awakening as we got to know the leaders involved, the hypocrisy and the greed that was all part of that. We recoiled from that, and that is when we started to search for something more mainstream and we attended again Baptist churches and then Reformed Baptist Churches. If I were to nail my theology down, I would say that I believed the tenets of the Reformed Baptist Church. I was Calvinistic in matters pertaining to salvation, and very Baptistic in matters regarding faith.

The Angelus: You spoke of a “conversion experience” which led to a Pentecostal church. What do you mean by that?

Convert: At the time I would have defined it as “getting saved”. Now I would define it as coming to a place where I realized I had some degree of responsibility regarding faith and beginning to try to live accord to my understanding of the faith. Prior to that, I had not made such a commitment. I was very irreligious; I attended church sporadically, on social events or when invited by someone. As far as making religion an integral part of my life, that was not until I was 16 years of age.

The Angelus: How different or similar are the various Protestant groups?

Convert: By and large, they are very diverse. Of course there are some similarities. All Pro­testants would agree on small, core things: the Virgin birth, the infallibility of Sacred Scripture and other such basic things. But the diversity is much more pronounced. I personally attended churches where “Speaking in Tongues” is seen as immediate and current acts of the Holy Spirit, and others where they would frown on it. Some would hold that smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol is perfectly permissible, others would hold that it is a damnable sin. Even something as basic as the Holy Trinity—they all should believe in it, but that does not mean that they do. There are certain Pentecostal groups that deny the Trinity and would still consider themselves Christians. And unfortunately, many Trinitarian people would consider them to be Christians too, so shallow is their understanding of what it means to be Christian. Belief in the Trinity or not is not so important: everything goes as long as you believe in Jesus.

The Angelus: What was satisfying about them? What was unsatisfactory?

Convert: Some of these churches were very satisfying. There were people who genuinely loved the Lord and loved each other; there was good, open, honest fellowship. It is very rewarding to be around such people.

But also, at times, it was very frustrating whenever a disagreement would arise. Dis­agreement is the very core of Protestantism since it encourages everyone to privately interpret the Scriptures. And so when you have a meeting of ten Protestants, you have at least ten different opinions as to what Sacred Scripture means. And such people are really indifferent and really never raise a doubt. Their thinking is: “I understand that you believe this or that, and so, since that’s what you believe, then that would work very well for you.” And they would just agree to disagree. Now, I am not one of those people. I believe that if something is true, it is true in every time and in every place. And so I would often find myself at odds with many Protestants with whom I would disagree on biblical interpretation because I simply could not agree to disagree. We needed to figure out what is true and wrestle the thing to the ground to find out what is going on. The group leaders would discard the question. For them disagreement on, say, speaking in tongues is not important as long as we love Jesus, so everything is fine.

The Angelus: Do you mean to say that the agreement is on the sentiment, the experience of Jesus, but not on doctrine?

Convert: Exactly! But I could not understand how we could agree about Jesus if we could not agree about what Jesus taught. How do you define that experience? Much of it depends on what Jesus taught and wants me to live by. And so, at times, it was very disheartening and upsetting because of the constant dissension which was essential to being a part of a Protestant church. If you meet a Baptist or a Methodist, it does not mean that you know what they believe. One thing that stood out for us was the oneness of the Catholic doctrine. With Catholics, I know what they are supposed to believe because there is a standard, a dogma. There is a singular teaching of the Catholic Church which all Catholics are obliged to believe.

The Angelus: If there is doctrinal dissension, should there not arise some strange practices and “moral” behaviors in Protestant circles that are alien to Catholic morality?

Convert: Indeed, since each Protestant is free to interpret Sacred Scripture as he (or she) wishes, given human sinful nature, many will have no problem watching lascivious movies and others would object to this, and yet would go for something clearly blasphemous. Coming into the Catholic Church, the focus was laid on faith and morality together: if you believe a way, you behave a certain way. To see that in practice in the Catholic Church was a very compelling argument for me. As a Protestant, issues would come up. My children would come to me and ask: “Dad, what do we believe about this, and how do we know that what we believe is true since other people believe something different?” And there would be all these inconsistencies. Whereas now, when issues come up, I answer: “What does the Catholic Church say about this? Because it does not matter what Bobby or Joe says; what matters is the final teaching of the Church on this. Let us find out what the Church teaches and let us obey it.”

The Angelus: What tells you that the universal Catholic Church is right and not wrong?

Convert: The authority of Catholic Church rests on the authority of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has commanded me to hear the Catholic Church on pain of damnation, and if the Catholic Church can teach error, then Jesus Christ has commanded men to hear error and that is ridiculous. He said that He would be with the Catholic Church till the consummation of the world.

The Angelus: What were you looking for that you had never found until you knocked at the door of the Catholic Church?

Convert: It is the consistency of the message, the consistency of the practice together with the doctrine, the authority and irreformable nature of the teaching. Yes, the real thing was the consistency going back 2,000 years, and to look back at the writing of the early Church Fathers and see them talking about the same doctrine, the same practice, and the same structure that I can see in the Catholic Church today. Nothing has changed in over 2,000 years; it was the same from the very foundation. Whereas Protestants can go only back so far, and they have already changed what they were doing five centuries ago. One text made me realize the need of belonging to the Church. It was from St. Cyprian (died 258) speaking of the dissident group which refused to allow the return of apostates to the faith, (they did not change the faith, the doctrine, the structure; they simply refused to recognize the authority of their Bishop), St. Cyprian said, “He no longer has God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.”

The Angelus: Did you have any friends who were instrumental in drawing you to the faith?

Convert: I had experiences with three men in my life to whom I will forever be grateful, that were solid Catholics very well versed in defending the Faith and answering my questions. It was a working weekend that I spent with two of them on the East Coast which led to my conversion. I got to ask them questions, and I realized how reasonable, how scriptural, how historic their answers were. So I came home and started to read the Catholic materials and began to examine the teaching of the catechism.

The Angelus: How long did it take you to visit an SSPX church after the meeting with the two men?

Convert: It took only three weeks. I needed to understand what Catholics believe. Within three weeks, I was thoroughly convinced that I absolutely had to be one. During that time, I did a lot of praying. I described it as a “crisis of faith” because I had spent 24 years knowing what I believed and why I believed it, and I thought I was prepared to defend any of these Protestant issues. And here I am a veteran Protestant confronted with one thing after another and finding that I am wrong and the Catholic Church is right. And I remember very clearly the night sitting on my couch when I realized that I had to become a Catholic. I had just been studying the Eucharist, and I came to realize that Jesus was being literal when He said: “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life in you.” And I had done some study to find out whether, besides the Catholic Church, other churches possessed the real Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and none of them would teach that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ at the Consecration. And so, I suddenly realized that, no matter what else, if I were to save my soul, I absolutely had to be a Catholic. And I remember clearly that moment. It was about two o’clock in the morning because I had been staying up very late reading. And the next thought was: “But what if I cannot convince Lisa and the kids; what if they won’t come with me.” Then I thought: “Well, I will go alone because I have to save my soul.” Thank God they came with me!

The Angelus: That was going to be my next question: You are speaking of your own conversion, but what about your wife and kids?

Convert: I was visited by a grace which I did not deserve. As I was studying and leaning towards the Catholic Faith, I really did not expect such a warm welcome. She expressed her concern, but said she knew how seriously I took my faith and the Scriptures. Then if I would be drawn into that direction, she owed me at least the courtesy of hearing what I had to say and studying it with me to see whether it were true.

The Angelus: What did she say after that?

Convert: It did not take her very long. I proposed questions to her like: “Where in Scripture do we read that we need to believe in ‘Scripture alone’?” And she began to bring up this verse and that verse, which explained that the Scriptures were useful, but they never said that it was all that was necessary. From time to time, she said to me that there is no denying that this Catholic position or that Catholic position is true. After a while it started to add up. She was confronted by what she had believed and what she was not aware of being the truth which was what the Catholic Church had said all along. Over a period of a couple of weeks, I said that I had made an appointment with a priest and asked her whether she would go with me, and she said that she would. I wanted to seek out some type of traditional church. I knew that some churches were traditional and others were not. So I did a Google search for a traditional Catholic Church near my home and the SSPX mission name came up.

The Angelus: Did you not feel alien attending the Mass in Latin?

Convert: No, I never felt any kind of hesitancy, resistance, or being out of place. I had done enough reading before attending my first Mass: I understood why the Mass was in Latin. I understood its singleness, its oneness. I recognized that this is a common language spoken all over the world. If you look up the names of plants in scientific journals, the names are always in Latin and nobody thinks it is weird. I thought it was beautiful and untouched and part of something that stretched back a lot further than anything I had been a part of before. If there was any discomfort with my children, it probably did not last more than a couple of weeks. They understood the purpose behind it and were ready to embrace it. Interestingly enough, both my daughters were taking classical Latin, and it was neat for them to recognize some of the words and phrases.

The Angelus: What about your friends, your social life and job?

Convert: Coincidentally or providentially, my boss was one of those two men who were instrumental in my conversion. He was very pleasantly surprised when I told him that we were going to Mass. But in my social life, it was a lot more rocky! For instance, there are people who pretty much dropped us off from their list as we talked about conversion, who had been very close to us for many years. But, looking back, we knew which friends it would be who would shut us out. We had kind of prepared ourselves for it. We did realize the cost, but we realized that the cost did not count. It did not matter; we knew that what we were doing was to save our souls. And, by the same token, two whole families have converted as a result of hearing our testimony and conversion story and arguing for the Faith. That is very rewarding.

The Angelus: What did preparing for baptism mean to you?

Convert: When many Protestants use the term “born again” they are referring to that moment of conversion when they think that they were “saved” by a profession of faith. At the moment when he gives himself to Jesus with all his heart, Jesus forgives all of his sins, he is “born again” and “saved”. As I was reading that “challenge” by, I was struck by John, Chapter 3, when Jesus speaks of “being born again”. He speaks very clearly of being born of water and of the Spirit. And so, when I realized that the Catholic Church teaches that water baptism is the act of being born again by having original sin and actual sins washed away by the water of baptism, I was blown away. I thought, “Wow! Being baptized is being ‘born again’!”

Then I simply came to see that after receiving that water, all these sins are taken away and gone: a person is a brand new creature that was not there before, free from original sin and from actual sin. I began asking the question: Was my baptism valid? Have I ever had my sins washed away? Am I sitting here with all of my sins still against me? Then if baptism washes away all of your sins, there has to be a method in place for getting rid of sin after you have been baptized because people continue to sin. They have to be forgiven and washed clean of that sin, which led me to the study of confession and penance.

The Angelus: This must have been a very humbling awakening.

Convert: Indeed, I realized that I was in a lot of trouble whether my baptism was valid or not. Even if I had been validly baptized and rid of original sin, I still was carrying all the sins I had committed afterward because I had never made a confession and had never been absolved of my sins. And the likelihood that I could claim anything like perfect contrition would be zero in my estimation… because I know myself. It was very humbling to realize I am cloaked in sin and there is nothing I can do about it. I cannot get rid of it and I cannot come clean of it, and if I die in the state I am in, I cannot go to heaven. So, when we joined the Church at the Easter Vigil, it was such a profound experience to make our first confession, to be baptized and to be able to receive the Lord’s Body, and know—not wonder, not hope, not think—but absolutely know that my sins were washed away, that I was in the truth, in the faith and had a real hope of salvation.

The Angelus: What did the preparation for baptism consist of?

Convert: We were working through one or two chapters of My Catholic Faith every evening and praying the Rosary, and so there was that real sense of taking what we were learning and practicing it at the same time. As we were working through each of these doctrines in the catechism, we would go to the Internet to look for other examples of other teachings correlative to those dogmas. It was a sort of a crash course, and we jumped in feet first.

The Angelus: Did it change your life style at home much, with the children, on the natural level as well as a certain understanding of Christian virtues?

Convert: It really did. It has taught me to realize many things I was handling wrongly as a parent and a husband. I realized that these things were out of shape. We began to seek out an understanding of the Church on intimacy between the spouses and the role of parents towards the children, disciplining children and all of this. With my Protestant background, man in the home is king of the family, the boss in a stern and unquestionable sense. The family exists to reflect the glory of the father. These are Puritanical and Calvinistic views. Now, within Catholicism, the strong role of the father figure is taking a different aspect: he is not so much the tyrant, but one who uses influence rather than force. As for the children, they are children and far from perfect. Yet I see a tendency toward things Catholic and toward wanting to know the faith. When at Christmas time we asked for what they request, it was very touching to hear one of them say: “I would like a statue of St. Rita.”

The Angelus: Would you describe the ceremony and circumstances of your baptism?

Convert: The Easter liturgy is a very solemn ceremony. Baptism fits in like a glove. Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Christ coming out of the grave. Likewise, baptism makes the soul rise from the dead spiritually, and somewhat echoes the Easter resurrection.

For my family and myself, the Easter Vigil was like a home-coming and being at peace with God. It was finally knowing that I was where God wanted me. The parishioners were truly wonderful because people often think they should believe certain things and they say that they do, but when they actually react in real life, you realize how they actually believe. And so, to see the way the parishioners from all local chapels responded to our Baptism, the seriousness and awe with which they reacted to it, all this spoke a great deal of what they really believe about it. It was very touching, it was like becoming a part of the family.

The Angelus: Were there many changes in your Christian life after a whole year as converts?

Convert: We have just begun to associate with people who attend church where we relocated for my work. The other night, we were at a parishioner’s home, had a blast, dinner, stayed up late, good discussion, good time, discussing matters of faith, home and job. Recently we wanted to organize a party, spoke to the pastor of the church, and invited some kids of the church. There is more a sense of that parochial parish life, and we plug into that, and of course attending Mass as frequently as we can, going to adoration when available. The kids need that support of friends.

The Angelus: Any last comment?

Convert: I was probably the most unlikely Catholic anybody would have known, and it is amazing to think that He would convert me and use me to convert my family, and through it, my extended family and friends. I think of St. Paul (I Corinthians, ch. 1) saying that God has not chosen the glorious things of the world, but the weak and foolish things, because I was as anti-Catholic as anyone could be. Bishop Sheen said that there were not one hundred persons in America who hated the Catholic Church, but there were millions who hated what they mistakenly thought the Church to be. I was one of those millions. I had a very clear picture of what I thought the Catholic Church was, and I truly hated it. But things changed when I came to realize that not only is it not what I thought it was, but I began to realize the beauty of the Catholic Church.