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Catholics Come Home: My pilgrims journey to Rome

14

June 13, 2012 by eneubauer

St. Mary’s in New Haven, CT. This is where my family completed the RCIA program.

One really cool aspect of my job is the emails I receive from people responding to our Catholics Come Home campaign.  At Christmas we placed an “ad” on our website where interested individuals could request information about coming home to the Catholic Church.  We received a good response and I continue receiving emails from interested people.

The exciting part about these emails is the stories that accompany them.  People like you and me describing, in a very personal way, their journey to come home to the Catholic Church.  Often they return after a long absence and a series of life situations that have caused them to reevaluate their spiritual journey or need for community.  I too am one of those individuals who came home to the Catholic Church.  Of course my journey to the Catholic Church was not on a return ticket.  After almost 15 years of service as an ordained pastor and missionary within the protestant community, I began my turn towards Rome.

I was raised in a non-religious household although I was spiritually inquisitive as a child.  I had a difficult time as a teenager dealing with the challenges of growing up, short-circuiting many opportunities for success with rebellious behavior.  At 21, I had a “religious experience” during some really dark days in my life.  I was alone relationally and spiritually.  I was searching – for answers and truth.  I found the answers to my problems and the spiritual truth I was looking for in relationship with Jesus Christ.  Just as 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.”  With my initial conversion came dramatic change.

Why did I become Catholic?  As a protestant pastor and missionary I experienced a blessed decade plus of service.  I traveled extensively serving Christ in the U.S. and abroad in 25 nations.  In addition, I had a supportive community who believed in me and was committed to our non-profit work among the marginalized.  But something happened.  I began hearing God’s quiet voice deep within my heart calling me to study the history of religious orders.  That study was accompanied by visiting Catholic churches to sit, pray and reflect.  During this time two things happened.  First, I fell in love with St. Francis.  Second,  I began sensing a deep peace as I spent time within the church building between masses.  This journey coupled with my inquisitive intellectual nature set me on a path towards the Church.

Let me detail some of the reasons why I came home to the Church.

Centrality of Christ:

The Catholic Church, in its theology, liturgical life and even its architectural design, exudes the centrality of Christ.  I remember preaching and teaching around the idea that Christ is our anchor, the central figure from which everything else flows.  Hence, when I began visiting Catholic churches in the quiet hours between masses I realized that everything they do (liturgical life of the community) centers around Christ in the Eucharist.  The difference between Catholics and Protestants, as I saw and experienced it, was this.  The message of Christ as the central figure within Christianity was compromised by two things:

  1. Personality driven pulpit
  2. Interpretation of the “priesthood of the believer”

Protestant church experience and theology is based in a “me” centered spirituality.  In Catholic practice and theological understanding, the Eucharist is central to the life of the community.  Hence, the focus is on two things:

  1. Christ in the Eucharist / Centrality of Christ in the Mass
  2. Communal experience within the Liturgical life of the Church

In addition, the offering of daily mass is an additional living symbol that Christ is the Person from whom we live, move and have our being as Christians.

It was during this time that I had my “epiphany” moment – while sitting in a traditional Roman Catholic parish I realized, after being caught up in the art and architecture of the space, that what I had been preaching regarding the centrality of Christ – Catholics were actually living it and they had the proof!

  • The table of the Lord was the center of the sanctuary
  • Art in the form of Biblical story surrounded the worship space
  • Statues & Imagery – drawing the eye heavenward

Everything, and I mean everything, screamed Christ.

Appeal to History:

While attending Dallas Baptist University I had my first encounter with the life and witness of the Early Church Fathers.  After a semester of studying their writings I had a better understanding of the long history of the Church.  Before this experience my understanding of Church history looked a bit like this:

  • Early Church (NT description)
  • Church of the Recent Past (A review of the past 100 years)
  • Present Church (Following present trends)

I had no real understanding of a Church through the ages as in the unbroken 2000 year history of the Catholic [universal] Church.  It was within this unbroken historical “discovery” that many things began to make sense.  Like,

  • The Church as a “Christ ordained” institution (physical / spiritual)
  • Upon this Rock – Peter as the first Pope
  • Central role of the Eucharist
  • Mary as Mother of God (and significant, historical figure)

This one, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church just began to make sense through the lens of Church history.  This Apostolic Church was clear in scripture and is still manifest today in an unbroken unity.  Not only did it make sense but Christ’s call for me to come home to the Catholic Church became clearer and clearer.  It began to “feel like home.”

Significant Figures:

Even before I became a Catholic I had a particular interest in the life of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity.  I worked with them, even as a Protestant, in Comayagua, Honduras and spent many hours reading their history.  It was during this time that I spoke with a Sister in the Missionaries of Charity relating to my questions about the Church.  She was of Indian descent and kind disposition.  Over a two year period we began a series of discussions relating to the questions I had about the Catholic Church.  She was always kind, encouraging and good at creating space so that I had plenty of time for conversation and reflection.  At the end of each session Sister would say, “Keep your eyes on Jesus and He will lead you to the truth.”  I took her admonition to heart and eventually came home.

Similarly, I had a fascination with Pope John Paul II during my time of discovery.  I had always respected him greatly and during the time close to his death I could not stop watching the T.V. coverage.  I watched more hours of T.V. during his final days, death and the election of his successor than I care to admit.  But for some reason I could not stay away.  At one point there was an interview with one of the nuns who was praying over his body during those final hours and she recalled her interaction with JPII.

“At my first encounter with the Holy Father he asked me about my vocation as a nun and our specific calling.  I stated that we were called to pray for the glorification of God and the reunification of the Church.”

At this I was amazed.  I had always had a personal fascination with the general disunity within all branches of Christianity.  In addition, I too longed for the day when we would be unified in one expression of Christ in the earth.  As an idealist, I did not see this longing as a purely spiritual manifestation, but a real one in the present time and in our physical world.  It was this deep, inner-longing that this nun brought to life with her words and the action of her prayer.  I identified with her in that moment – a kind of connection I had never felt before.  Again, it was as if a “higher authority” was calling me into a new space.  Calling me home.

There is more – much more, but suffice it to say – these were some key reasons for my conversion.  As a disclaimer: This story represents my experience and in no way is meant to reflect negatively of the genuine belief of my Protestant friends.  I just happen to see things from a different perspective today – one in which I believe is the fullness of Christian expression and evidenced by Acts 2:42-47 and the ongoing history of the Catholic Church.  May God bless our collective journey towards Him.

To God Be the Glory!

14 thoughts on “Catholics Come Home: My pilgrims journey to Rome

  1. Bruce Hafemeister says:

    Eric – Thank you for sharing your story. Studying the Church History was something that also let me see that the Catholic Church was for me.

  2. Scott Himes says:

    Eric, I really enjoy reading about the journey you’ve been on. I’d love to hear more about how your view of the “priesthood of the believer” has changed as you’ve journeyed to the Catholic Church.

    • eneubauer says:

      Scott,

      http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/10/priesthood-of-believers

      I am providing a link to an article from a reformed theologian regarding the Priesthood of Believers. While I do not agree with all of his conclusions I will highlight an area that I think he states with serious clairity and was part of my personal, pastoral experience.

      Quote:

      “Unfortunately, the priesthood of the faithful in both its Protestant and Catholic forms has been corroded by fusion with modern individualism. While no denomination sanctions this fusion, strains in popular Protestantism, especially American Protestantism, have taken “priesthood of believers” to mean that every believer has an absolute right of private judgment about morals and doctrine, the liberty to interpret the Bible with complete autonomy.

      “Priesthood of believers” means that believers can do very well without attachment to any church, thank you very much. Each believer is a church unto himself. Renouncing Rome’s one Pope, Protestantism has created thousands.”

      In relation to Catholic teaching I reference the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1546-47) to distinguish the technical differences between the common priesthood of the baptized and the ministerial priesthood – which I will note “is at the service of the common priesthood.”

      In short, because “‘Christ, hight priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church ‘a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.’ The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly.” “The ministerial or hierarchial priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.”

      The differ essentially in this way. The common priesthood is “exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace — a life of faith, hope and charity…according to the Spirit,” while the ministerial priesthood, “is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians…and…is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church.”

      Hence, the Biblical development of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

      At the end of the day the First Things article speaks to the problem, within Protestant thought and practice when it speaks to the idea that each [individual] believer “has an absollute right of private judgement about morals and doctrine – interpreting the Bible with complete autonomy.” I found this idea expressed consistantly throughout my pastoral career. Interestingly – you may want to conduct a survey and ask those you lead, “what is your interpretative methodology in relation to Biblical interpretation?” I have found that many don’t even have a good interpretative strategy according to what was taught in my protestant, theological classes. In light of this reality – it is easy to radicalize the priesthood of the believe and misunderstand the Bible in isolation from good standards of Bible interpretation and the community.

  3. Donna Gail Brinlee says:

    Eric, Thank you for the work you do on behalf of our faith. I grew up in a Protestant church. My family was very active: my father a deacon and Sunday school teacher, my mother ran sound and did the weekly bulletin, and I was the full-time accompanist from the time I was 11 years old. My father did an amazing job teaching me the scriptures but there was still something missing. About 10 years ago, a good friend of mine requested my help in the music ministry at the Catholic church. It took me 10 years to discover that the piece that was missing was my belonging to a bigger picture…that of the catholic community. This past year, I went through the RCIA program and it was amazing to see how all of dad’s teachings came to life and suddenly made sense. I could write my dissertation on “Why I became Catholic,” but bottom line, all of the random stories you hear about cult activity, worship of Mary, worship of idols, etc.within the Catholic faith are simply not true. It took 10 years of participating in the catholic community activities and weekly masses to prepare me to take the first step in becoming a member of the body. It is one of the best things I have ever done.

    • eneubauer says:

      Donna,

      Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your journey with (us). I am so excited about what God is doing in and through your life. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Him and enjoy our new life in His Church.

  4. Daniel Butler says:

    As always dear brother, I am delighted to share life and faith with you, to hear your story and to know that we walk together, albeit with a bit too much distance between. I miss those early morning praying the Hours together! Happy Fathers Day and Blessings to your lovely wife and kids. We love you guys!

  5. Hi Eric and thanks for posting this. This was an interesting read and a truly fascinating journey for you. Question from your post. I noticed one bullet that I question…•Mary as Mother of God (and significant, historical figure)

    Did you mean Mary as Mother of Jesus?

    • Aaron says:

      Hi there. Catholicism does indeed teach that Mary is the Mother of God. As you say, Mary is the Mother of Jesus. We both agree Jesus is God. Ergo, Mary is the Mother of God.

      Now by saying this, we do not mean that Jesus’ soul only began when Mary was made pregnant by the coming of the HS. We do not mean that Mary’s relationship towards God the Father or God the HS is as a mother (indeed, Mary is the spouse of the HS and daughter of God the Father). But we do specifically mean that Mary is the mother of Jesus – not just Jesus’ humanity – but Jesus, who is both God and man. There are some people that try to say that Mary is the mother of Jesus’ humanity but not Jesus’ divinity. This makes for heresy regarding Jesus’ own nature though (saying Jesus’ humanity and divinity can be separated). Thus the Church’s teaching regarding this principally upholds the true teaching regarding the nature of Christ (i.e. hypostatic union).

      • eneubauer says:

        Here are some thoughts based on your question / concern:

        1.) “Mary did not create the divine person of Jesus, who existed with the Father from all eternity. “In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos)” (CCC, No. 495). As St. John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we have seen His glory: The glory of an only Son coming from the Father filled with enduring love” (Jn 1:14).”

        2. “On June 22, 431, the Council of Ephesus convened to settle this argument. The Council declared, “If anyone does not confess that the Emmanuel is truly God and therefore that the holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Theotokos) (since she begot according to the flesh the Word of God made flesh), anathema sit.” Therefore, the Council officially recognized that Jesus is one person, with two natures–human and divine–united in a true union. Second, Ephesus affirmed that our Blessed Mother can rightfully be called the Mother of God. Mary is not Mother of God, the Father, or Mother of God, the Holy Spirit; rather, she is Mother of God, the Son–Jesus Christ. The Council of Ephesus declared Nestorius a heretic, and the Emperor Theodosius ordered him deposed and exiled. (Interestingly, a small Nestorian Church still exists in Iraq, Iran and Syria.)”

        Answers came from an article prepared by:
        Fr. Saunders is president of Notre Dame Institute and associate pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria.

    • eneubauer says:

      Thank you for your kind words. It has been a fascinating journey and one of the best things that has ever happened for me and my entire family. We have been called home to the Church, are truly blessed and excited about what the future holds. I am truly filled with passion for His Church in the earth and believe we have so much to celebrate and be grateful for even in the midst of all the challenges and sin.

      Grateful.

  6. […] clarity how blessed I have been to have been born and raised Catholic.  Eric’s story, Catholics Come Home: My Pilgrim’s Journey to Rome is just such a tale and a marvelous painting of how God reels in seekers of Truth. Roman Catholic […]

  7. evanscove says:

    I’m a former charismatic evangelical who came into the Church several years ago, so I can relate to your story. God bless you as you grow in the faith and work to lead others into the Church!

    Evan

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