I’ve wanted to write this post for a while, but hadn’t because the last thing I want to do is offend anyone or start a theological debate. However, I’m going to share, because I hope it’s as obvious for you as it is for me to see that God’s story is bigger and better than I could have ever imagined. And when I had almost given up hope that I would ever make sense of my faith again, God reminded me that His love is relentless, and, Protestant or Catholic, He will never give up on me.
I went to a Baptist church with my family for the first 10 years of my life until we switched to a non-denominational church that I attended through high school. I am eternally, eternally grateful for parents who taught me what it meant to have a real relationship with Jesus-one that went beyond church walls and wasn’t bound by legalism.
After high school, I went to an Evangelical university called Biola. I took 10 theology classes there, went to chapel three times a week, and to church on the weekends. While it was true to some extent that I lived in a “Christian bubble” for 4 years, I also know those years were incredibly spiritually formative. For 2 years at Biola I was a Resident Assistant, and periodically my boss suggested various Christian authors he thought might resonate with me. His recommendations were usually spot-on, and I enjoyed Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton’s writings the most. I found it a strange coincidence that they were both Catholic.
Fast forward a few months: I graduated college, moved back to Texas, and just as I was getting involved with a local evangelical church, I decided to move to Ireland for a year. I met Carlos, who grew up Catholic, the 3rd day I was there. The first few months after I met Carlos were really confusing, because he was nothing like the typical guy at Biola with exactly the same background as me and I wasn’t sure if I should date him because I wasn’t Catholic and he wasn’t Protestant. Throughout all the confusing first months, however, I always felt a strange peace-that God knew exactly what He was doing, putting us together, and that even if we had a lot of issues to work through, everything would be alright in the end.
Soon after meeting him, I went to my very first Catholic mass at St. Francis Xavier church in Dublin. Though I liked it, I wasn’t ready or even considering becoming Catholic. Carlos and I actually went to a solid Protestant church together during our time in Ireland that we both enjoyed, but from time to time went to mass. Each time I went, I kept expecting some huge heretical issue to come up that I disagreed with, or the congregation to bust out in Mary-worship, but it never happened. I heard the gospel preached and I saw a deep reverence for God in the traditions that I had never seen in my Evangelical upbringing. (I should also note that the Protestant church in Dublin, Immanuel, employed liturgy and traditions, which I really loved).
Fast-forward a few more months, and I was back in Texas attending the same evangelical church as I had before Ireland. However, I missed the reverence and simplicity of both churches in Ireland, and felt overwhelmed and restless every time I went. This was a confusing time. Sometimes I felt guilty and like I was disappointing God for feeling confused.
Enter Angela Blake. I met Angela at Biola. I remember talking to her on the phone about a year ago-during my period of confusion-and she told me she was becoming Orthodox. This couldn’t have been more helpful for me, because I trust both Angela and her now-husband immensely. They are solid believers in Jesus and both very intelligent. I knew that if they could leave the Evangelical church, then maybe I could too-that maybe this was all a part of God’s plan.
About that time I prayed that if God wanted me to start going to another church (Orthodox or Catholic) I would have to reconcile several theological issues. In June, I spent a month in Playa del Carmen. Literally the only church I ever saw in my 4 weeks there was a Catholic church right across the street from where I was staying. For 4 weeks I went to mass there, and felt surprisingly at peace. At this point, I still had a lot of hesitations about being Catholic, but I felt like I needed to face them. How would I know if I actually disagreed with their theology if I didn’t experience it myself?
After Playa del Carmen, I spent the rest of the summer in Texas. I had pretty much stopped going to my evangelical church at this point, and I went to mass in Spanish several times with my dad. We also went to an Orthodox service, and while I liked it, I still couldn’t get Catholicism off my mind. I also started reading about it. One day, I went to the library and checked out 3 books about Catholic theology. I remember asking myself, “Am I crazy for wanting to maybe become Catholic?” I still had so many doubts, but I felt compelled to keep searching.
At this point I was planning on moving to Mexico at the end of the summer. At the very least, I wanted to be more familiar with Catholicism because I knew I would encounter it on a daily basis. The week before I moved, I went to Angela’s wedding in her Orthodox church. I talked to my friend Shannon that weekend (who grew up Catholic and I trust immensely) that I thought I might want to be Catholic. She gave me lots of good advice, but the thing I remember the most is when she told me, “I think it’s okay.”
I moved to Mexico and was honestly planning on going to an evangelical church until I learned more about Catholicism. The problem was, Carlos didn’t really know of any evangelical churches, and I didn’t know many other people at this point. We started going to a Catholic church instead, and I loved it. Around Christmastime, when I had already been here for 4 months and had been to an evangelical church once, I realized that I would probably be Catholic.
There were a lot of theological issues with the Catholic church I thought I disagreed with-saints, confession, and infant baptism being a few. If Biola taught me anything, it’s that theology is profoundly important. However, the research I have done, the people I have talked to, and certainly the work of the Holy Spirit have all left me amazed that those theological issues have been reconciled in my heart (if you’re interested in details, let me know).
It’s January 2014, and I’m an attendee of the Catholic church. Every time I go to mass, I’m amazed at the joy and peace in my heart. I love saying the Lord’s Prayer, I love sitting down and standing up, and I love reciting the creeds. There’s still a lot I want and need to learn, and I know the Catholic church is far from perfect, but I am trusting God that it will all come in time.
I must continually remind myself that tradition and a posture of reverence mean absolutely nothing if my heart is not humble. That going to a Catholic church won’t automatically transform my relationship with God-the infrastructure might be conducive to my spiritual growth, but I have to still die to myself. That at the end of the day, it’s not about Protestantism or Catholicism or our differences-it’s about God and His glory. That God’s love is much, much bigger than theological differences and denominational boundaries, and there is absolutely nothing that can separate me from it.