Friday, May 6, 2011

I think I'm turning Catholic

Huh. So I think I'm turning Catholic.

My first encounter with Catholicism was not a positive one. When I was younger, I asked a girl if she was Christian. She replied: "No, I'm not Christian! I'm Catholic." Again, not exactly a positive experience.

My second encounter with Catholicism was quite a bit better. It was at a religion and economics conference, where I finally met an adult Catholic who knew about his faith and doctrine, and could explain why. His brief clarification on the subject of the saints resolved that issue before it even became a major objection for me.

Over my college life I met a number of other Catholics. The ones who actively identified themselves that way tended to be doctrinally orthodox and intellectually active, so I respected them a good deal. I even knew one friend who 'converted' to Catholicism in his senior year of college. At the time, however, I viewed it as I might view a switch between Baptist and Lutheran, not as a particularly noteworthy event.

When I was 17 I had my big spiritual experience, and the life of my faith has been (for lack of a better word) quite lively ever since. My primary mode of worship was in theology; my primary mode of pursuing God was by reason. I don't believe it's objectively better or worse than other modes (as Scripture tells us, "love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength") but it worked quite well for me.

Near the end of last year, however, I discovered something that came as quite a shock. My theology was over 50% Catholic. Without quite realizing it, my faith had developed within a substantially Catholic framework. I think I can blame C.S. Lewis -- the ostensibly Anglican but universally Christian apologist whose works are acclaimed by Protestants yet informed by a thoroughgoing Catholic worldview.

At this point I was not Catholic, for there remained quite a few hold-outs of Protestant doctrine. But at that moment I realized I needed to take Catholicism and Catholic doctrines seriously.

So I began my investigation, and my objections starting tumbling, one by one. The initial realization had begun with the Eucharist, and thanks to my earlier experiences I already had a firm grasp of the Saints. Mary was a bigger stumbling-block, so I started in on the Marian doctrines next.

The next step was the Catholic teachings on Salvation. I knew of the whole "faith v. works" debate from the Reformation years, and my instincts on the matter were entirely Protestant. But when I finally understood the Catholic perspective, I found it impossible to maintain my objection to it. Ironically, the same books that led Luther to reject Catholic teachings (Romans and Galatians) for me actually paved the way to the Catholic Church in this matter.

The next step was the Catholic understanding of the Church. Predictably, as I was a Protestant, my primary objections were to Tradition and to the Magisterium. On the other hand, my theology had been rooted for some time in a kind of traditionalism (mostly thanks to C.S. Lewis), so these elements had a sort of instinctive appeal for me. Nevertheless, these doctrines took the longest to accept.

In the end, out of a few dozen objections I'd started with several months before, I was reduced to very few. The two doctrinal points were the Marian doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and the ecclesial doctrine of papal infallibility. The other was much broader: the insistence on non-Christological doctrine as prerequisites for participation in the Eucharist. Over the next several weeks of focused study, these objections fell as well.

I don't fully understanding Catholicism -- if I imagined I did, I should be ashamed of my conceit. Nor do I deny that there are many sins committed and many errors believed by Catholics. Moreover, I can hardly deny that the Catholic culture is anything but foreign to me. But these are not objections. I question whether full understanding is ever in our grasp, I am hardly surprised to find that people sin, and my cultural shock will no doubt be overcome in time.

It boils down to this: the doctrinal objections that would keep me away have fallen like dominoes. My acceptance of Catholicism at this point seems like a matter of intellectual honesty.

I write this note as an open invitation. I will begin the formal process of becoming Catholic next week, by starting RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes at the parish. But while I can hardly help but treat it as a foregone conclusion, I don't want to ignore potential difficulties. If you have major objections to Catholic doctrine, I would love to hear them. I will continue posting my notes on Catholicism, and will continue to explore the themes and topics discussed in this note. But I trust in others to see where I am blind and to catch where I miss.

No comments:

Post a Comment