This may surprise you, but your father was not always Catholic. In fact, I grew up very Protestant, although I was not aware I was protesting anything. I was baptized in first grade with my dad, mom, and sisters at a Presbyterian church. In middle school and high school, I attended a non-denominational megachurch on Sunday mornings, a methodist church on Sunday evenings, and a Baptist church on Wednesday nights for youth group. The non-denominational church we went to claimed to be a biblical and “seeker-friendly” church, but the pastor seemed only to talk about sex or tithing, neither of which seemed very seeker friendly to me. The biggest spiritual influence on my life growing up was not church, but an interdenominational Christian camp in Colorado. It was there that I really learned the value of reading the Scriptures daily and having people in my life to keep me accountable for my actions.
When I went to college and entered into my young adult years, I further explored Christianity by being part of various non-denominational groups: reformed churches, prayer groups, house churches, charismatic churches, a Christian fraternity, and a discipleship school. I am thankful to God for allowing me to experience each of these different streams because I learned a very key truth that has stuck with me to this day; Jesus is my friend and he wants me to have a personal relationship with him. Because of this focus, I eventually decided to spend time alone with Jesus rather than going to church. On most Sundays, I would go to a pond by myself to read Scripture and pray to God. It was at this pond where I asked God, “What is the Church? Please show me your Church.” I would read passages like 1 Peter 5:5 that said, “Likewise, you that are younger, be subject to the elders,” and I was greatly distressed. “Lord,” I asked, “who are my elders? Who do I need to submit to?” Many other questions pertaining to the Church were triggered in my mind during this time at the pond. Thus began my journey toward the Catholic Church. But it wasn’t for another year that I began to explore Catholicism.
After a year of visiting churches off and on with friends, and continuing this conversation with God at the pond, I started having some dynamic, thought-provoking conversations with a friend who, at the time, had just finished studying at a reformed Protestant seminary. After he had studied the writings of the Early Church Fathers, he became interested in Eastern Orthodoxy. Formerly, he too had been part of the same charismatic church where I had done my discipleship school, though we did not know each other at that time. Both of us had been a part of that church because we were seeking to be part of the Church as we saw it in the book of Acts. My friend said something to me that really resonated with me. He said, “I know that you have been seeking to be part of the early Church… and I think I’ve found it… it still exists.” he then told me about the apostles appointing successors as overseers, or bishops, and that, through the laying on of hands, this apostolic succession had continued through the ages. I learned how the Church was essentially one Church for the first thousand years of Christendom until the Great Schism between the East and West around 1054 AD. Our conversations evolved from Eastern Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism after discovering these things.
My friend also invited me to an Anglican Church since they too claimed apostolic succession and celebrated Mass in a similar way to the Roman Catholic Church. It was at my Anglican Church that I first encountered a liturgy where the climax of the service was not some person’s preaching, but rather communion. This blew me away and spoke to me profoundly. I began to learn the special significance the early Church had placed on the Eucharist through the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin Martyr, and the Didache. The early Church began to look a lot more Catholic than I had ever thought before. I then started to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and it completely destroyed my former misconceptions of Catholicism by letting me see the beauty of the Church with her rich history, philosophy, and theology. I met a Catholic priest who told me to take R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) at my local parish if I were truly interested in exploring Catholicism. I probably started the class 50/50 as to whether I would join the Catholic Church. It took about 6 months for that percentage to go up to 100%. While taking these classes, I tried my hardest to find loopholes or faults in the theology of the Catholic Church and I could not. The Lord seemed to be drawing me deeper and deeper into his Holy Catholic Church. Every anti-Catholic book or article I would read only made me want to become Catholic even more. I put together a list of people who had influenced my spiritual life in my formative years to get their input on this journey toward Catholicism, and a vast majority of these Protestant leaders were supportive and prayed that the Lord would continue to lead me.
The Lord led me right into the arms of our Mother, the Church. I was finally gaining more clarity on the questions I had asked while I was at the pond. The Lord had answered me in a way that I never would have expected, but it was an answer nonetheless. The truth is that I had become part of the Catholic Church when I was baptized in first grade in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Yet it wasn’t until my mid-twenties when I got confirmed that I was able to recognize this catholicity from my past. After confirmation, I was catapulted into an even deeper fullness and understanding of the faith that had been once and for all handed on to the saints (Jude 3).
My heart for you, my son, is that you would draw upon the deep wells of our Catholic faith to gain even greater intimacy with your heavenly Father. May he enrich your own journey into the Sacred Heart of Jesus as you encounter the Body of Christ, his Church.