This story appears in the May 2016 issue of the Catholic East Texas magazine.
I had a really typical, happy, nurturing evangelical Christian upbringing in Tyler. My family is involved in ministry and I was around the church a lot. I would say I definitely have had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as long as I can remember.
I think this movement toward Catholicism began when I was just 12 years old. I went on a retreat that really stressed the importance of reading the Bible every day. It’s a habit that started then and I keep it up to this day. We espoused what I would call a Baptist theology of faith alone, the idea that salvation is one-time event brought about by personal faith in Jesus. Afterwards, while one might commit sin, God did not see this sin, but rather saw only His Son. As I read the Bible intently, I began to become very uneasy about this theology. I read clearly in the book of James that, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” I read in the Gospels about judgement, and I compared it to what I heard from the pulpit every Sunday, and I just couldn’t reconcile these things. Scripture was clearly telling me that I would be judged for my conduct and actions on earth, and that having faith in Jesus did not mean this wouldn’t happen. I remember the unease I felt over this for a long time.
This turmoil came to the surface when we began to study the Protestant Reformation in earnest in the Christian high school I attended. In addition to the writings of Martin Luther, my teacher presented excerpts from the Council of Trent for us to read. The Council of Trent was the assembly of Catholic Bishops which first met in 1545 to deal with the questions raised by Luther in the Reformation. Luther proposed the idea that man is saved by “faith alone”, and the council took up the question to answer it.
As I read the excerpts, I thought, “Exactly! This is what I’ve been thinking.” I found myself, based upon my time spent reading the Bible, agreeing with the Catholics instead of the Protestants. I have to point out what a good teacher I had, and what a fair-minded person he was to present both sides of this important issue.
Now, at the time, I considered this to be an interesting curiosity, since I knew that on a whole host of issues, Catholics were clearly wrong. They worshiped Mary and had un-biblical customs, and were superstitious and I wasn’t thinking of having anything to do with the modern Catholic Church.
My curiosity was strong, however, and so I went on to read the entire Council of Trent on my own. I was looking at it through evangelical lenses, that the only way to know truth is through the Bible, but as I read it hit me that there was something called Church history, and Catholics had been writing about their beliefs all along.
I started researching the early Church, at first just by reading articles on Wikipedia, and my prejudices started to fall. I didn’t actually know any Catholics so I couldn’t ask any actual people about these things, but I did have the internet. I branched out to Catholic Answers, Catholic.org, Catholic blogs, and I also read Protestant sources which sought to refute the Catholic position. I took it all in. A lot of the sources were totally one-sided, but with some experience it’s easy to realize that, and you can always find the opposite opinion to consider.
I think I must have read hundreds if not thousands of articles about Catholicism online.
I was genuinely frightened to discuss this with my parents, but I really had no reason to be. I guess that’s how it always goes with conversion, you feel a great need to work this out for yourself and be sure about what you’re doing before you tell the people closest to you. They were a little confused at first, but we talked about it and they were wonderful to me. We all went and consulted with non-Catholic people at the church and school, including the teacher who originally showed me the Council of Trent, who are very knowledgeable in Church history. They were all supportive of my investigation. They assured me I was doing this for the right reason, and they gave me more issues and arguments to consider. They also challenged me to go to a real Catholic Mass, and see it for myself. I did, and of course it was foreign at first, but I love how Catholic worship engages me fully, in all my senses.
I think it’s important to point out that as a non-Catholic youth investigating Catholicism, I received genuinely honest intellectual support from the adults in my life. It made me appreciate my parents and my teachers a lot.
So, with my parents’ permission, I joined the RCIA classes at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. My dad came to the classes with me, to keep tabs on what I was learning, and my parents were at Easter Vigil when I was baptized and confirmed. No, they don’t agree with everything I have done, but they also know that if I had not become Catholic, I would definitely feel that I was disobeying God. Now that I’m in college in Houston and I’m working in Catholic youth ministry, they congratulate me for working to bring Jesus to kids and make a difference in people’s lives.
Along the way, a few issues really stand out to me as pivotal for my conversion. I already knew from experience that people could interpret the Bible to mean almost whatever they wanted, since it’s not explicit on a lot of topics. Growing up in a church which was a kind of a free-market of ideas about theology had turned me off. Long before I began to consider becoming Catholic, I was tired of the idea that amassing Bible verses in support of a theological opinion is how you determined the truth.
Some people get very upset at the idea of objective truth, that one needs to confirm their beliefs to the teaching of the Church, but to me this is logical and I see the evidence for this approach in Scripture. Jesus was certainly gracious, and kind, but He never said “oh, that’s a neat opinion, you should go with that.” No, He always taught with authority, and that authoritative teaching excluded other opinions. When He said “This is my body,” no one was left free to disagree that it wasn’t. When I looked at Church history, I saw that the Church was not founded to work via opinion, and it never worked that way. It was established upon the authority Christ gave to the Apostles and they gave to the pope and bishops.
Really, I think what I can tell anyone about conversion is to be curious. If you are interested in becoming Catholic, or if you are Catholic and you want to go deeper, look things up. Read. Dig. Pray about it, then read some more. If you do everything with a desire to please God, He’s going to lead you on the right path. God may call you to uproot yourself from what you know, and it may be difficult, but it will be so rewarding. All of this information is right at our fingertips, let’s use it to draw close to God.
Jeremy is currently attending the University of Houston.