Yesterday, I came across this article by Elizabeth Scalia. In light of the recent Pew Study that shows a decrease in Catholic numbers in the U.S., Scalia is calling on all Catholic bloggers to write about why they will not be leaving the church. And even though Charming Farming isn’t a Catholic blog per se, I am a blogger, and I am Catholic, so here goes….
Oh but wait! First a disclaimer. It’s hard for me to write about why I’m Catholic without writing about why I am no longer Protestant. And since I suspect that the majority of my readership is Protestant, I want to explain that I’m not bashing my spiritual background. I was baptized a Protestant. I learned to read and study and love scripture as a Protestant. I encountered wonderful Christ-like examples as a Protestant. And, most importantly, as a Protestant, I came to know Jesus and to know my need for His loving mercy. I owe a great deal to the many Protestant pastors, teachers, and friends who helped me grow in my relationship with Christ. That said, I am profoundly grateful to have found my way home to the Catholic Church, and I will never leave. I am Catholic and will remain Catholic for two main reasons.
I grew up in a small denomination known as Disciples of Christ. As a kid, I attended Vacation Bible School, summer camps, and revivals with my friends who were Methodist or Baptist. In college I was involved in a campus ministry, attended Bible studies, and worked at Kamp Kanakuk. After college, my husband and I lived and worked briefly at Camp Red Cloud in the beautiful San Juan Mountains of Colorado. In each of these organizations I met many wonderful people, but I also encountered nearly as many interpretations of the Bible and beliefs about Christianity. It was confusing. It was disheartening. It was faith-shaking.
How could so many deeply devoted and sincere people have so many conflicting beliefs? When I expressed my frustration to friends, pastors, or Bible study leaders, I was never given a very satisfactory answer. “Well, we just have to trust the Holy Spirit to lead us in to all truth.” Or “God doesn’t really care about the man-made details. All that matters is that you have a personal relationship with Jesus.” Or “We will just have to do our best and wait until we get to Heaven.” What? None of those answered squared with what I was being taught about the Bible. After all, if all we need to know God is the Bible and Holy Spirit, shouldn’t every sincere believer be getting the same message. How could Martin Luther, John Wesley, Billy Graham, James Dobson, Mother Teresa, and countless others all believe different things? They all love God. They all know Jesus. But they couldn’t all be right. If Luther was so right, why didn’t we all still believe what he did? It made no sense to have an infallible Bible without an infallible interpretation of it!
And then I found the Catholic Church. Thanks be to God, I found the Catholic Church! Long before there was a Bible, there was the Church. The canon of scripture did not just fall out of the sky after Jesus ascended into Heaven. It actually took a few centuries and a couple of church councils, guided by the Holy Spirit, to determine the official canon. In other words, the Catholic Church is the infallible lens through which we read the infallible book that God gave us. Without this, scripture becomes just a matter of personal interpretation, and then it’s to each his own. I am Catholic and I will stay Catholic because it is the only way the Bible makes sense and it is the only logical position form which to defend Christian beliefs.
As a Protestant I was saved. Then I rededicated my life – three or four times. Then I was saved again. And rededicated again. And saved again. I was taught, and I sincerely believed, that If I truly believed and asked Jesus into my heart that I would be saved. The problem, the thing that no one tells you, is that it’s terrifying (and apparently fairly common) to wonder if you actually really and truly believed in the first place (or second or third or forth place). Was I really saved? Had I really wanted Jesus to come into my heart and take over my life when I prayed? If so, why am I doubting now? Why don’t I feel different? Was it just an emotional experience? Does that count? What about my friend who got saved, but has fallen away? Was she really saved or did she just think she was saved – because she seemed pretty sure at the time?…You see my point. It isn’t that Catholicism offered me the guarantee of salvation that Protestantism didn’t. In fact, Catholicism clearly teaches that we must remain faithful to the end. No once saved always saved here. But that doesn’t scare me.
For Catholics salvation it not a one time experience (that’s a lot of pressure), but a journey. And to help us on our journey, God offers us the sacraments. In His infinite goodness, He has given us these channels of His grace, channels that strengthen our faith and enable us to do the good works that keep our faith alive (James 2:14-26).
The sacraments are not, as I used to believe, works that we have to accomplish in order to be saved. Rather they are God’s gift to us. Through the sacraments God comes to us in real and tangible ways – through the waters of baptism; under the appearance of bread and wine; in the person of a priest who listens to our deepest struggles and shames and proclaims to us that God has forgiven us.
I am so grateful for the sacraments because faith alone is too hard. We must cooperate with God in the sacraments, but it is God who does the work. We can proclaim with the father of the possessed boy, “I do believe. Help me with my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). And we know that He will help us. Through the sacraments, my faith in Jesus has grown because He has met me there to help me and to save me and to continue saving me. I am Catholic and will stay Catholic because of the sacrament. Faith alone is not enough – not enough to change me into the person God is calling me to be. I need the grace of the sacraments to help me on my journey.
I tried to keep this short. And in a way I have. I could have given about a zillion other reasons why I am Catholic, why I love being Catholic, and why I will remain Catholic. I guess G.K. Chesterton sums it up best,”…there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”
I welcome your questions, comments, and even your concerns.