Ed. note: This article was co-written by Chris Findley.
As converts to the Catholic Church in the last few years, we have both written and addressed groups about our conversion stories and what led us to the True Faith. We maintain that being Catholic is so much more than knowing the Catechism, the bible, attending Mass and remembering important prayers. Although our paths, motivations and faith journeys have differed, one important area in which we agree is the overlooked attraction of the Truth and Beauty of the Church and why we all have a responsibility to share this with everyone we know.
We have spoken to countless converts over the last few years who consistently describe common motivations which led them into the Church:
1. Big Questions which needed to be answered
2. A Passion for the Truth
3. A Love for Jesus Christ
4. The Positive Influence of a Friend or Loved One
You will rarely find a convert who wouldn’t say being Catholic is a privilege. We both came into the Catholic Church as mature adults and have had our lives transformed by the knowledge that we follow the true church founded by Jesus Christ. The beauty of our faith is shown through an ongoing revelation of new discoveries in the sacraments, prayer, Mass and the mysteries of the Eucharist.
To describe our joy in coming into full Communion of the Catholic Church is to describe a journey into the heart of the Church, into its Truth and Beauty. These are not simply two things at the top of a list of many attractions we had to Catholicism. Rather, they are headings under which everything else falls. All that compelled us toward Rome can be understood as a growing conviction of the truth of the Church and its inherent beauty. If we were to describe the sun, we could say it is bright and hot. However else you may wish to describe it, the sun is bright and hot. So it is with our journey to Catholicism. Everything we discovered about the Church led us deeper into its Truth and Beauty.
The search for Truth may begin in many different places. Both of us came from a place of deep appreciation of the Bible as the Word of God. As we grew as Christians, the nagging search for truth eventually began to speak to us about the churches of which we were a part. How could we take seriously the Bible’s teaching and speak of Biblical authority while rejecting the explicit teaching of Jesus on the Eucharist in John 6? How could we read Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 and not wince as we considered that we were part of 30,000 Protestant denominations all claiming to “do things the Bible way?” How could we ignore the fact that in the name of Truth many of our fellow Christians held opposing viewpoints and all used the Bible to justify their positions? Also, we thought, didn’t the Truth exist prior to our Reformation-birthed denominations? If so, where was it now?
The tragedy of Pontius Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” lies in the fact that THE Truth was standing right before him. Both of us began to long for consistency, unity, and authority that were rooted in Truth which was deeper and more historical. This search eventually led us to Catholicism. To our surprise, it was standing right before us. Consider the clarifying words of Lumen Gentium 8: This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Savior, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd,(74) and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority,(75) which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. (76)
When a person converts to Catholicism there is an almost palpable sense of excitement and enthusiasm about the faith. It is as if one’s faith is completed, made whole by the experience. Many things we were struggling to understand and contemplate began to make sense in the light of the Church’s teaching. Yet, both of us have had the puzzling experience of discovering that a fair number of Catholics do not share this enthusiasm or experience. We both know so many Catholic brothers and sisters who seem to have lost touch with what is special about being Catholic. The faith of their youth or somewhat distant conversion, has turned into a passive Catholicism in their adult years. We have thousands of new converts embracing and entering the Church each year, but we also have thousands leaving over disagreements with Church teaching, lack of understanding of our faith or countless other reasons. With the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, can we find a way to help all Catholics experience a renewal in their faith akin to conversion?
The late Richard John Neuhaus, himself an adult convert from Lutheranism, relates that the convert tends to treat Catholicism as a discovery and the lifelong Catholic treats it as a taken-for-granted reality. He writes that for the long-time Catholic, “The Church is not the journey ahead but the place from which one begins.” (Neuhaus, Catholic Matters, Basic: NY, 2006, 11) As converts we long to be able to share our “discovery” and our enthusiasm and excitement about the Church with those for whom the Church is already their home.
Now, let us pose a delicate question that needs to be asked: Why don’t more Catholics feel this way about the truth and beauty of our faith? This is not a question asked out of judgment, but from a perspective of love and genuine curiosity. There are so many lifelong Catholics whom we admire, respect and appreciate for their deep-seated faith and love of the Church. We owe them our love and gratitude and there is much converts can learn from their experience and wisdom-in fact, we both have mentors from this group.
To understand the answer to our questions, let’s first explore one of the key reasons why Catholics may stray away or fail to see the truth and beauty of the Church: familiarity. Many Catholics have been so immersed in the culture of the Catholic Church over the years that it is very familiar and that familiarity tends to breed apathy. Many of the Catholics we know are indeed proud to be Catholic, but see it as more of a passive rather than a dynamic part of their identity. They have taken all the classes and know the Catholic lexicon. They are familiar with every skeleton in the Diocesan closet going back 5 generations of Bishops. They know the ins and outs of their Church. But in the midst of all their formal training, they have missed the life-changing power of the Gospel within the Church. Pope John Paul I once said, “If the sons of the Church were to be untiring missionaries of the Gospel, there would be a new flowering of holiness and of renewal in this world which thirsts for love and for truth.”
When familiarity hardens into apathy, it is not uncommon to begin to look for something new and exciting or different to break the perceived monotony. One way this manifests itself is the move toward relativism. This move reduces the role of Truth in one’s life and elevates the idea that ultimate truth is the truth that “works for me.”
This leads to “Cafeteria Catholicism”, a favorite description often used by author Peter Kreeft (a convert himself) to describe those who mistakenly believe you can be an authentic Catholic and also disagree with the teachings of the Church. We will both share with you that we fully accept the teaching of the Magisterium, but that our full understanding of these teachings is a journey that may take us a lifetime to complete. When Catholics begin to doubt the Church’s teachings they become susceptible to the influence of other denominations. If you can question one thing, you will soon question everything. This counter-productive pursuit will only take you further from Christ and the Church He founded. “He who hears you, hears me; he who rejects you rejects me, he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me” – Luke 10: 16
One common observation about new converts is not just their obvious passion, but their hunger for knowledge and understanding of the Church. Remember that we were on a quest when we joined the Church to find the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15- “But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” We read voraciously, spent time with our priests, deacons and anyone we found who could help us learn and went through RCIA classes to immerse ourselves in the faith. Almost three years later we still spend time with our priests and deacons and read everything we can get our hands on that will deepen our faith and understanding of Catholicism. What if all Catholics cultivated a hunger for knowledge and understanding? It is hard for anyone to defend or even fully understand their faith unless they take the time to study it. “For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” -Colossians 1:9
As we conclude and offer some suggestions on experiencing the enthusiasm and appreciation for the Church that is felt by many converts, let’s think about our answers to these questions: Am I lukewarm in my faith? What am I missing in my life? Do I have questions that need to be answered? Do I want to more fully appreciate my faith and don’t know how? Is God truly first in my life, or is he competing for a share of my time? Am I ready to make a firm commitment to change my heart and my mind with regards to how I view the Church? Am I truly happy and if not, why?
Please pray and reflect on the answers to these questions as they affect all of us: converts, reverts and lifelong Catholics alike. We would like to share with you what we have learned (and keep on learning) to be helpful on our faith journeys:
• Prayer is where you start. All of us need to take our burdens and questions to the Lord in prayer to seek guidance and answers. Start and end every day in prayer, go to adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, pray the rosary, do the daily Jesuit Examen, pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, etc.-we can never exhaust the need for a vibrant prayer life.
• Daily surrender and conversion is necessary. We both learned early on our journey into the Church that our surrender to God’s will and our conversion was not a one time event. We must always put His will before our own and experience a “dying of self” in order for Christ to be in charge of our lives.
• Accept and Study our Faith. As we stated earlier, accepting the teaching of our Church is necessary, but so is the knowledge that our full understanding may take time. Trust that two millennia of Church teaching is probably much more reliable than what you or I might conjure up on our own. Go to a parish bible study, take apologetics classes, read the bible and catechism, and read great Catholic authors like Kreeft, Hahn, Howard, Chesterton, Cardinal Dulles, Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II. Understand our faith and be able to defend our faith to others.
• Practice our Faith. Go to frequent reconciliation, attend daily Mass if possible, go before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration frequently, observe all holy days, observe the sacraments…and make sure your family is doing the same. Act with love towards all as Christ taught us and defend all life.
• Spent time with a Priest or Deacon lately? These good men of the church are here to help us. Our Priests are the shepherds of the parish and with the help of our Deacons are available to guide our spiritual growth.
• Privileged, not Entitled. We are all privileged to be part of the Body of Christ in the Catholic Church, but privileges are earned not granted. Our life of faith is the same and it requires dedication, obedience and practice. We must work to earn this privilege and to fully understand the gift we have been given.
We don’t pretend for a minute to have all the answers. All Catholics are susceptible to the challenges we have described and that includes converts as well. Our purpose in writing this article was to reveal what drew us to the Church, share our love and passion for the Faith with those who would benefit from our experience and encourage all Catholics to explore and appreciate the truth, beauty and privilege of being a member of the Catholic Church. Let’s make one of our prayers today about our strong desire for all of us to have a deeper faith and renewed passion for our Church.
About the authors:
Randy Hain converted along with his wife of 14 years and their two sons to the Catholic Church in 2006. He is active in several parish ministries, especially the St. Peter Chanel Business Association, Woodstock Business Conference — Atlanta Chapter, and Eucharistic Adoration. He has been widely published for both his professional and faith-focused articles. Randy is the Associate Editor for Catholic Exchange’s The Integrated Life channel and is a contributing columnist to the Catholic Business Journal.
Chris Findley (chrisfindley.com) is a former Episcopal clergyman and convert to Catholicism. He is editor of home2rome.wordpress.com an online resource for those wanting to learn more about the Catholic Church. Chris has written for numerous publications and is a regular columnist for Catholic Exchange’s The Integrated Life channel. He and his wife Sheryl and their two children, Aidan and Evan, live outside of Nashville, TN.