Monday, May 02, 2005


Wayfaring Strangers, Part 7

(Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

Any Catholics Out There?
I'm beginning to wonder if blogging about our study of Catholicism was a good idea. It may not have been. I anticipated two kinds of responses to the items I'd post: One kind of response I anticipated would be arguments against Catholicism that devout protestants often makeā€¦ but I'd also hoped for and expected to get notes of encouragement from Catholics and other Catholic converts. So far, I've gotten plenty of e-mail and comments from people who dislike, mistrust, and-or hate the Catholic church, and I've yet to hear from a single person with anything good to say about it. The dialogues have been expansive and informative and helpful, but entirely one-sided.

One of our friends from the blogosphere wrote to us about the annulment of our previous marriages, concerned that by having those marriages annulled would send a negative message to our children from those marriages. That concern troubled Wendy and I greatly, and we looked into it. After talking to Father Ken, we were able to put that concern to rest, as he assured us that the church wouldn't view the children as "illegitimate." Legitimacy and illegitimacy, he told us, are legal terms that wouldn't apply to our family with regard to the church. That put the issue to rest for Wendy and I, although we were certainly glad to have had the issue raised and to have had the opportunity to look into it. We talked about it and we agree that having our marriages annulled through the church wouldn't do any more psychological or spiritual damage to our kids than the fact that we are legally divorced from our ex-spouses. It's all in how we handle it as a family, and we believe that we can handle it positively. We trust ourselves.

Catholicism is still an option that we are exploring, with hopes that it will be the right one for us. We aren't 100% certain at this point, but we are hopeful. Nonetheless, Wendy and I both feel, strongly that evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity is not for us. It's a dead faith to both of us. We get nothing out of it. We both need tangibility, sacrament, history and ritual. We both want and desire the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, the guidance of the Saints, and the observation of Catholic Holy days and the council of a parish priest. We hope that there are no theological road-blocks that will absolutely prevent our involvement in the Catholic church, because right now it is very desirable for both of us. Speaking entirely for myself, the more friends and family attack the church, the more desirable it becomes for me. I have to ask myself, what is it about Catholicism that is so threatening to protestants? Why is it that I've been the target of so much protestant proselyting but never once encountered a pushy Catholic? Why is it that so many of the protestants I know have approached me as someone they hope to save from the brink of destruction, yet they never seem willing to waste their efforts on life-long Catholics? Why is it so important to some of the protestants I know that they keep me in a faith that I find spiritually suffocating? I can only refer to Christ, who in Matthew 23:15, said "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves." Gehenna means hell.

At the last protestant church Wendy and I attended, we were introduced to the concept of typology, a kind of theology that involves looking at the Old Testament as historical allegory for the New Testament. That concept made the Old Testament live and breathe for me, in a way it never has before. In the past, the God of the Old Testament has seemed angry, foreign, and totally unrelatable to the human condition. Through typology, I was able to see the stories of the Old Testament as an example of what our relationship with God would have been like, had we stayed under the law of the Old Covenant. With the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, we have a totally different relationship with God; one that makes God and godly living desirable and inspirational and rewarding to me. I told the preacher at the church we were attending how much I enjoyed typology, and how it had made the Old Testament so real to me, and he cautioned me to be very careful. He warned me not to take typology too far, that it was possible to see too much in it. That warning struck me as odd. Now that I'm studying Catholicism, I'm learning the importance of typology in Catholic faith. It is an important way of explaining the theology of Mary, along with other sacred Catholic beliefs. I believe that the preacher who introduced me to typology was worried that if I dug too deep, without him to tell me how to interpret what I was learning, that I'd eventually work my way to Catholicism. I believe that he discouraged me from pursuing typology because he didn't want to lose a member of his "team" to Catholicism. In short, I believe that he consciously discouraged me from exploring my own relationship with God because he was more concerned about my relationship with his church. When Wendy and I made the decision to study Catholicism, we wrote him a long, heart-felt, emotional letter explaining how much his guidence and friendship had meant to us, and that we hoped he'd support our decision to study another faith. He never wrote back.

I suppose I'll keep blogging about our study of Catholicism, but I really hope that I hear from a Catholic or two with a word of encouragement. It's difficult to remain positive and focused on my studies when all I hear is insistence that I'm doing the wrong thing by trying to learn about the world's oldest Christian church. As my friend Jamie has said to me before, "Catholics make the worst Catholic apologists." It may be that I'll never convert, but will learn enough and internalize enough that God will be able to use me as a tool to correct the distortions of Catholicism that I've encountered all of my life.

Darrell -- I'm all covered up, like everyone else, with family life, work and blogging. But I continue to drop in an read your posts on Catholocism as much as possible.

I grew up mostly in Louisiana, where there are lots of Catholics. My youngest brother and sister attended Catholic schools after the public education system got so bad. Many of my friends were Catholic. My oldest sister converted to marry a Catholic. So Catholicism is familiar to me, even though I'm not well-versed in it's tenets.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the religion primarily because over the years I've watched people a lot smarter than me convert to it. I'm getting so old that I've forgotten for sure who those people were -- I believe James Schlesinger (former Sec. of Defense) and David Bloom (journalist who died in first days of the invasion of Iraq) were both converts. If not them, it was someone else that impressed me. Anyway, my point is that they saw some truth that drew them in. So that's earned my respect.

I think the main thing that is troubling for non-Catholics is the idea of control from the top -- a Pope -- as opposed to a more bottom-up approach. But my understanding is superficial.

Wishing you the best in your spiritual journey.
Thanks, Salt Lick, for the comment. I'd have e-mailed you this note, but I don't have an e-mail addy for you. Since I posted last, I HAVE had some sympathetic e-mail from Catholics, and from the non-Catholic side, too. I'm glad to hear from Protestants who wish us the best and don't see the Catholic church as the "road to Hell." It means a lot to me to get support from the perspective of others in the brotherhood of Christianity.
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