June 13, 2012 by eneubauer
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:
- Personality driven pulpit
- 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:
- Christ in the Eucharist / Centrality of Christ in the Mass
- 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.”
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!