At first I didn’t want to go down this road and continue studying. After seeing that my trust in Sacred Scripture meant I was also trusting a decision (a tradition) that came from the Catholic Church this journey now seemed different. It was one thing to study a little church history, to read a few conversion stories, and to read a little about doctrines related to baptism and the Eucharist. It was quite another to purposely and objectively examine the doctrines of the Catholic faith. I wanted to turn back and claim ignorance.
Why? Because of the real possibility that this road might lead to Rome. I couldn’t imagine becoming Catholic. The stigma attached to my perceptions of the Catholic Church was enough to make me want to turn and run. There is a well-known quote by Bishop Fulton Sheen that explains why I felt this way.
There are not 100 who hate the Catholic Church. But, there are millions who hate what they mistakenly think the Catholic Church believes.
That was me. While I can’t say that I hated the Catholic Church, I strongly disagreed with much of what I thought the Catholic Church believed.
At this point the easy choice would have been to listen to our friends who at different times told us things like: “So what if it was the Catholic Church that canonized scripture. It’s obvious the church is irrelevant to today’s society. It’s a dead church, it’s antiquated. And what could you possibly get out of that dead liturgy?…”
But…and this is a big but… The Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me stop. Every time I started to talk myself out of going down this road the Holy Spirit would remind me of how I’d been wrong the doctrine of sola scriptura; how it was unscriptural and led to confusion and relativistic truth among Christians. Then He’d gently ask me, “What else could you be wrong about?”
No, the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to let me off the hook (neither was my husband).
To give you an idea of how resistant I was to studying Catholicism, in an effort to scare Scott I told him that if we became Catholic we might end up with a dozen kids. Now for anyone who knows Scott’s story, they know this was a scare tactic made in desperation. Scott (and I share this with his permission) spent many years afraid of becoming a father and providing for a family. My act of desperation was not one of my finer moments – especially because I’d gladly take a dozen kids if God would give them to me now.
The scare tactic didn’t work. Scott’s response: “We owe it to ourselves and to Claire to be sure of what we believe and why we believe it.” To which I replied, “But what if…”
Now Scott was no fan of the Catholic Church either–raised in the Bible belt he’d been exposed to many of the same teachings about the church that I had. But, he wasn’t as convinced of the reformed theology that I’d embraced for most of my life. Nor was as swayed by his emotions; he was able to be more objective.
So, he chose the road less traveled (at least the road less traveled in our circle of friends). I, with the nudging of the Holy Spirit, followed his lead.
Meanwhile, my parents were miles ahead of us (further than I ever intended to go). They’d decided to join a program similar to RCIA at a local Catholic Church. This class was designed for baptized believers who were interested in learning more about the Catholic faith and potentially choosing to become Catholic. So much for our effectiveness at those Sunday dinner debates.
The Rite of Christian Initiation is an ancient rite that dates back to the 1st century. In the early Church, persons wanting to become Christian lived in a small Christian community to learn their way of life. There was a structured apprenticeship of the person in training. This process became known as the “catechumenate”. After sometimes years of learning and praying with the community, the person (called a catechumen) was baptized by the community into Christ.
You may recall that by this time we’d stopped going to church on Sundays. On the first Sunday of Lent my parents asked us if we wanted to go to Mass. Because we had no place else to go we said yes. Despite my fears and reservations about Catholicism I was actually looking forward to going to Mass during Lent.
One of the things I enjoyed about the Episcopal Church was the liturgical calendar. I especially liked Lent and the emphasis on fasting, prayer and repentance for the 40 or so days before Easter. After leaving the Episcopal Church I always missed the seasons of the liturgical year. In the Protestant churches I attended Easter always seemed to “creep” up on us. It came and went with little more than a special play or celebration the week before. I felt this way about Advent and Christmas as well. The celebration of these holidays (“holy” days) seemed to be lacking in terms of our spiritual preparation.
While away at college I found an Episcopal Church for Maunday Thursday and Good Friday services. I didn’t keep this up after Scott and I married. However, it’s somewhat telling that while away on a speech and debate trip in 2000, during what is commonly referred to as Holy Week, I again found my way back to these liturgical services.
Given my background, I guess I expected to feel very comfortable and at home at the Mass with my parents. But, that was not the case.
[Tomorrow, my experience at the Mass]