Why I Didn’t Choose Eastern Orthodoxy but Instead Became Roman Catholic

The Crucifixion of St. Peter, etching, 1685 by Jan Luyken

Κύριε, ἐλέησον
Χριστέ, ἐλέησον

There are so many reasons why a Protestant would consider becoming an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I nearly did myself. My own journey into the Catholic Church included searching in various directions, but mostly in the direction of history and mystery, which led me to Orthodoxy, but also in the direction of authority and unity, which finally led to Catholicism.

I am no theologian or Church historian. My mind works more like a poet than a philosopher. I am not a logician nor am I a stickler for the minutiae of dogmatic disputes. Nonetheless, Truth (capital T truth) is important to me. And loving Christ, obeying His commandments, seeking holiness and perfection and theosis is everything to me — all things I am sorely bad at doing. My journey, and the decisions I have made along the way, are not criticisms of dear friends who have made different decisions. The best I can do is try to reasonably do my homework, be as humble as I can, and trust God. I believe I am right, or I wouldn’t believe what I believe, but I also know how easy it is to be wrong. And so I humbly offer here my reasons for becoming Catholic rather than Orthodox. I do not claim wisdom, only that by God’s grace did I find the true Church.

I’ve written many posts on this blog about my journey. You can find them by searching some of the topics and tags on the sidebar. One described my visiting a local Orthodox church; a visit that truly inspired me and moved my heart. I have friends that are members at that church. I also found the writings of some Eastern Orthodox authors amazing, especially those of Alexander Schmemann, and especially his book “For the Life of the World.” And I wrote about my struggles with Protestantism and my seeking something far more rooted in tradition than the anemic Evangelical culture I experienced. Finally, being a bit of a cinephile, my favorite filmmaker is the late Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, an artist deeply influenced by the Christian faith of Russia Orthodoxy. His aesthetic and artistic philosophy comes from that faith, it resonates deeply in my soul. Consequently, I was drawn very much to the Orthodox Church.

Eastern Orthodoxy offers a powerful antidote to some of our western culture’s religious ills. But, in the end, I could not make the leap. I had, instead, to first deal with Catholicism head-on. I realized that a key attraction of Orthodoxy for me was that I could get an ancient liturgy, the Church fathers, all the smells and bells, icons, mystery, penance, history, and on and on, and I could still fundamentally be Protestant. In other words, I could get most everything I was seeking (or thought I was seeking) without having to submit to the Pope. I had to confront this and find out what the Catholic Church taught, and if it was the better choice than Eastern Orthodoxy.

I was raised within and formed by a very anti-Catholic culture. I had a lot of fears of even getting slightly close to Catholicism. But I also realized that every negative thing I ever heard about the Church came from enemies of the Church. How would I feel if someone refused to give me a chance to defend myself against slander, claiming they already heard everything they needed to hear from my enemies? I felt convicted that I was being unfair. Even more so, I came to see that the final step was not the logic of an argument, rather it was the attitude of my heart. I began to see that I first must submit to God in all humility before I could sort through the various claims. In short, I realized the fundamental issue, the very crux itself, was whether I was willing to submit or whether I was going to continue to demand my own authority. The last thing I wanted to do was to continue to define and demarcate my faith, based on my own authority, as disunity with other Christians. I needed something transcending my own person to hold me accountable. I also realized I was no longer “protesting,” and therefore I found it absurd to be a Protestant. Rather, I had to turn to God and ask Him to lead me, even in a direction that scared me. My will, not my rationality, was the problem — a problem of the heart forged within me by the Protestant (and American) culture that made me.

In the end, the Catholic Church won me over. In fact, I believe it was God, through Mary, who led me to the Church in spite of my many worries, fears, and struggles. I am not an apologist. As I stated earlier, I am no theologian or logician. I’m a relatively bright guy, but my reasons for becoming Catholic are probably more poetic than apologetic. Catholicism began to form a kind of song in my soul, a resonance that called me home. The question I had to answer was if I willing to hear that tune and follow it. But I had to be clear to myself why I could not settle for Eastern Orthodoxy when it offered so much of what I was looking for, and when so many of my friends found a home there.

Following are some of my reasons. Needless to say, these are very personal reasons. I say this because I know each of us is on a journey and the big decisions we make in life, though often of a universal nature (Truth, Faith, Religion, etc.), are also uniquely played in each of our lives. Therefore, I can only speak for myself and not for anyone else.

In Protestantism, there is no true authority. As anyone who has taken a critical look at Protestantism knows, Sola Scriptura can only, finally, mean that an individual’s opinion is authoritative, which of course it is not. Every Protestant pastor establishes himself or herself as the authority, offering their interpretations and “applications” of scripture, and church members shop churches like consumers search for restaurants — some search for cheap drive-throughs and others for fine dining, but they all are merely searching according to their preferred tastes and immediate interests. Christianity in America, and much of the world, has become a kind of marketplace complete with producers and consumer, sellers and buyers. It’s a free market economy driven by marketing and business plans. But the Catholic Church has the magisterium, with its Pope and Bishops, handing on and defending the faith. Because it is a hierarchy based on a monarchy it demands submission to its authority which it claims is given by Christ our King. The Catholic argument for the primacy of Peter makes a great deal of sense to me, especially since it seems so clearly based on scripture. Doesn’t the Catholic Church’s interpretation of those scriptures, elevating Peter to the position of primacy, seem best? Individual Catholic churches will have small differences, and many bishops argue with each other over various topics, but they are all in communion with Rome. Every aspect of this is radically foreign to the Protestant’s heart and mind. Both Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism hold to Holy Scripture and Tradition as the sources of Truth and Revelation, but Eastern Orthodoxy, while demanding more authority for itself than any Protestant church, has no true living magisterium, or teaching authority that can supersede and arbitrate between reasonable but different positions on faith and morals, and continue to do so as history unfolds itself. Only the Catholic Church has the living magisterium. Any former Protestant will certainly experience a stronger sense of institutional authority within Eastern Orthodoxy than he did within Protestantism. And that might feel like more than enough; I’m sure for many that was already a tough pill to swallow and I don’t want to downplay that experience. Eastern Orthodoxy certainly has more substantive guardrails than the local Bible church on the corner, but the Orthodox Church is still, at best, a loosely unified church, and at worst a church falsely claiming unity, and perhaps self-deceived in that regard. This is the problem with not having a living magisterium. I came to realize that the question of authority was a huge issue for me personally; bigger than I ever imagined. God was calling me to submit to the authority of His Church on earth. Eastern Orthodoxy was attractive to me precisely because I wouldn’t have to submit in such a total way, perhaps not unless I wanted to become a deacon(?), but even then it would only be submission on a local and/or ethnic/national church level; just another particular church, not the universal Church. I could continue to avoid the pope. Some might take issue with this position, but it seemed clear to me then, and it seems clear to me now that there is no final source of authority in Eastern Orthodoxy, merely submission to one of the self-headed churches and their traditions and interpretations of scripture (however unified they can seem to someone from Protestantland).

To sum this up, because I realize I could be misrepresenting the Eastern Orthodox view (perhaps challenging its self-view) of authority, the real crux of the issue for me was my pride. I was wrapped up in my pride and the Catholic Church more than the Orthodox church confronted me on my pride. I need to be radically humbled and the Catholic Church does that for me. This fact I took as a key piece of evidence.

The question of authority, as stated above, is inextricably linked with unity. Although some try to claim that Eastern Orthodoxy is unified, it is not. In fact, it is quite fragmented and has been for centuries. Eastern Orthodoxy has divided along numerous ethnic and nationalistic lines; different but also similar to Protestant denominations. In my own town, I was faced with whether I would join the local Serbian Orthodox church or the local Greek Orthodox church. They are different churches, not merely different parishes. As a Protestant, I was used to having such decisions before me, but my soul was longing for something else. As a Protestant, Eastern Orthodoxy offered more unity (or seemed to) than I was familiar with, and therefore it attracted me, but in the end I wanted even greater unity. I couldn’t settle for partial unity. I didn’t believe the Holy Spirit would abandon the body of Christ to so much disunity for so long on such a scale. (Of course, I could be terribly wrong.) I didn’t want to sort through the battles between Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox. I didn’t want to accept the αὐτοκεφαλία of a hydra-headed animal as a work of the Holy Spirit. I realized that Protestantism had trained me to accept disunity as a “natural” way of the Church, and I absolutely wanted no part of it. I felt the need to flee from disunity. Perhaps I was oversensitive, but I wanted a Church that could contain various rites and expressions of the faith, but was still in total unity with itself, transcending and judging national and ethnic boundaries, structurally bound together by a visible Vicar of Christ. I just found Eastern Orthodoxy far less unified than some try to present it (see the video below for more details). Of course, Catholicism has a lot of issues, a ton of internal squabbles, and many Catholics do not get along, but we are in communion nonetheless. We share in the table of our Lord, in His body and blood, and in our shared creed and dogmas regardless of the many other ways we can find ourselves struggling to be in unity. I also realized that most Catholic liturgical rites are, in fact, much like, or even exactly like those of the Eastern Orthodox churches. If I wanted, I could go to a church not too far away, pastored by a friend of mine, that uses the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It is an Eastern Rite Catholic church in full communion with the Pope. It’s possible to have something quite “eastern” within the Catholic Church if that’s one’s preference.

Although many Catholics today, including many churchmen, take a very lax view of divorce, remarriage, and receiving Holy Communion while in a state of grave sin, the Catholic Church does, in fact, officially teach that divorce and remarriage is forbidden, and that receiving Holy Communion in such a state is a mortal sin. The Orthodox Church, however, officially has a less strict position. It’s not uncommon to say the Orthodox Church blesses the first marriage, performs the second, tolerates the third, and forbids the fourth. I have come to believe this position contradicts the direct teaching of Christ. I do not mean to speak lightly of the real struggles many couples have in marriage, but I believe the official position of the Catholic Church is far superior to that of the Eastern Orthodox; it is, in fact, orthodox while the Orthodox position is not. In fact, there are even different positions within Easter Orthodoxy given the lack of magisterial unity. But marriage may just be the defining issue of our age. Attacking marriage and the priesthood have become, I am convinced, the number one targets in the overall game plan of the Evil One to destroy the Church. Marriage was instituted by God as the means by which He educates mankind about His relationship with us. Marriage is fundamental to the story of salvation. God is the ultimate educator and marriage is His great analogical example for us. In this light, it is the Catholic Church that has the best chance to be the bulwark against these attacks of the Devil. There are many faithful Christians within the various branches of Eastern Orthodoxy, but institutionally it is the Catholic Church that is the primary instrument on earth in Christ’s hands to do battle against the principalities of darkness and evil. It is also the one institution most clearly under attack on every front, including from within. This alone should be a testament to the primacy of the Catholic Church, and was one of the clear and visible signs that finally drew me through its doors.

Authority, unity, and the profound issue of divorce and remarriage stand as primary touchstones for why I didn’t jump into Eastern Orthodoxy. But there are other reasons. The Catholic Church is truly catholic and global, it is also western in western countries. I am a child of so-called western culture. There is a fascinating and mysterious element to Eastern Orthodoxy that I find attractive because of its foreignness. But there is a kind of false fit with who I am. I felt my curiosity with Eastern Orthodoxy was due, in large part, because it felt extra mysterious to this west-coast white-toast American, and thus it felt radically non-Protestant. That attracted me, but I needed more substance than feelings. The Catholic Church has been more readily able to culturally adapt as it has spread around the world than Eastern Orthodoxy. This means I can be in unity with Catholics around the world, sharing in the same liturgy with them any day of the week, and yet find an appropriate cultural fit between the cult and the culture in which God placed me, and they with theirs.

Also, the Catholic Church more fully and properly venerates the Mother of our Lord. Mary has become an increasingly important person in my faith, drawing me closer to her Son. Eastern Orthodoxy tends to see Catholics as taking this devotion too far. I disagree. Catholic teaching on Mary is the clearest, most biblical, and most meaningful to the lives of the faithful than any other teaching.

Another issue that seems to come up is the filioque. This is a theological and historical issue having to do with the creed, and it’s easy to find overviews of the issue online if you’re curious. In looking into it for myself, I found it not only thin in substance but it strikes me as a rather cheap excuse for any Eastern Orthodox Christian to cling to as a reason for not becoming Catholic.

And then I found interesting that whenever people think of the “Church” they think of Catholicism. If our society has issues with Christianity, with its positions on marriage, sexuality, gender, etc, it always looks to the Catholic Church to see what it says. Our world so desperately wants the Catholic Church to change its positions on nearly every dogma and doctrine. For the most part, our society doesn’t care about what the Eastern Orthodox think, on any topic really. And few Protestants care all that much if another of their fold converts to Eastern Orthodoxy, perhaps they slightly tilt their head in confusion, but they practically foam at the mouth if that conversion is to Catholicism. This says a lot, strongly implying that in the grand design, and deep within the hearts of even the most unrepentant men, it is the Catholic Church that stands as the visible body of Christ in the world, even to those who deny every one of its claims, and the world knows it has to deal with that. If they hated Christ first, they will hate His followers even more, and they hate the Catholic Church more than any other institution on earth.

Finally, if I am honest, I did not choose the Catholic Church. Rather, and not to be trite, but it chose me. I was called, impelled, and even compelled into it. If I had chosen Eastern Orthodoxy I would have been merely fleeing Protestantism. I no longer wanted to be a heretic. Yes, I wanted a truly apostolic Church, and I do see the Eastern Orthodox churches descending from the apostolic tradition, but this longing within me wouldn’t let me settle for second best. In the end, my choice was no choice but to become Catholic. And continuing in honesty, it has not been easy. The Catholic Church is filled with sinners (me included) and has been ravaged by modernism, wicked bishops, unfaithful priests, sexual abuse and institutional coverups, financial corruption, rank idiocy, and numerous devious attacks by the Evil One, but this has only convinced me that the Catholic Church is the true body of Christ, for these hard facts merely confirm her core teachings through and through. We are truly sinners in need of a savior. We are a wayward bride continually being called back from harlotry to the all-loving bridegroom. More than any other church, and more than any institution on earth, the Catholic Church relentlessly experiences the most persecution from without as well as from within. This can only come from the Devil who wants to destroy the Church. And only this level of attack, combined with the Church’s resilient survival, could be part of God’s ultimate plan of salvation, presented to us in the prophetic words of scripture and the words of Our Lady. The Catholic Church is both the earthly means of our salvation and stands as the greatest visible example of why we so desperately need salvation from our sin, the world, and the Devil.

Do all these reasons for why I personally chose the Catholic Church over Eastern Orthodoxy mean all Eastern Orthodox Christians are wrong? I can’t say. Or I don’t want to say. I’m sure some are wrong, but perhaps not all. Each person’s journey is different, and where God has them is His prerogative. For many converts it was a huge personal decision to leave Protestantism and enter the Orthodox Church. I certainly do not doubt their faith. I would just say to former Protestants who made the big move to Orthodoxy that you might want to consider if you have truly moved far enough. Could it be that you changed the form without actually changing some core Protestant positions? Did you get history and mystery but are avoiding authority? Are you holding on to a desire for your own authority and wanting, perhaps subconsciously, to retain the “right” to your own biblical interpretations? Was the move to Orthodoxy the easier choice than Catholicism? If yes, why? Are you still clinging to your own authority, or perhaps to more of an aesthetic change, or now you don’t want to give up your community, or could it be you’re still basing your decision on that funny inner feeling so common to Protestants? I am not judging but seriously asking because all these reasons I had to wrestle with myself. And I realize any kind of change, especially this kind of change, is extremely difficult, complex, and fraught with all sorts of issues.

And I ask for forgiveness if I have misrepresented the Orthodox Church. I do realize there is far more complexity than I am able or willing to deal with in this post. Although, at this point in my own journey of faith, I have no interest in arguing about it. I’ll leave that to others. I am working too hard, and failing too often, at just becoming a good Catholic.

May God bless you.

Lastly, this post was sparked, in part, by this video below. It’s well worth taking the time to listen.


A year in: Some observations from a Catholic toddler

photo (8)

As of today it’s been one year year since I entered the Catholic Church. I am still a baby Catholic. I’m still in diapers. There is so much to learn. My motto is, “Once a Catholic, eventually a Catholic.” Slowly, but surely I’m becoming more Catholic. I figured after one year I would take a look back and describe a bit of what I have seen and see today. I will begin with a little history.

As I have described elsewhere, my background is a mix of Baptist/Evangelical/Reformed. I was born into a Christian family, and being a Christian has always been a part of me. But anti-Catholic sentiment runs deep for many with my kind of background, and while I struggled with my “version” of Christianity, I also had to struggle with Catholicism before I could enter the Church. It took me about seven years of struggling before I finally took the plunge on September 29, 2013 at the 10:30 AM Mass, where, before all those present, I said the words: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” Naturally, this was a big deal for me. But did that make me Catholic? Well, yes, it did. But also it did not. I still have so much to learn, to incorporate into my life, that I feel like a door has been opened to a wondrous, overwhelming world, a world that amazes me, but I still have only just stepped across the threshold.

What has this year been like? First, my three children all entered the Church at Easter. This was a great joy for me. The two eldest were baptized, confirmed, and had their first communion. The youngest was baptized and will go through the more typical Catholic “process” of first communion later, and then confirmation when he is older. My wife has not entered the Church, and is currently not making plans to do so. Life has been rather overwhelming for her the past couple of years, and adding “one more thing” is a lot to ask, especially since the issues and questions that were burning in my heart, and what led me to the Church, are not yet burning in her’s. It is critical for each of us to go where the Spirit leads us, and the Spirit has not yet led my wife to the Church in the same way He has for me. I am not worried. We are all in God’s hands. But it is sometimes difficult for me.

Becoming Catholic has not solved all my problems. I did not expect it to. I’ve been a Christian too long to have that kind of perspective. Nor has being Catholic changed my life all that much. I’ve been a follower of Christ my whole life, and becoming Catholic came about because following Christ is a big deal to me. And I still fail to be a good disciple as a Catholic as I was as a Protestant. But, being Catholic has pointed my life in a somewhat different direction. There is a different focus in Catholicism than in Protestantism. If it is possible to sum up that focus, I should say that in Catholicism I find a greater connection with the Church as a whole body through time and space, a greater emphasis on pursuing holiness, an equal value placed on doctrine and living rightly, a genuine though struggling unity in diversity, and a stronger sense of the cultic in worship. All of this comes about, I think, because of the Real Presence, a more biblical anthropology, and a full embracing of the historical Church and a typological understanding of Scripture.

So what have I observed, learned, and/or confirmed, in this past year? Below is my list, in no particular order:

  • Catholics are sinners. I knew this long before I became a Catholic, probably since I was a youth and first became aware of the prevalence of sin. Regardless, a new convert can’t help but be excited to have “arrived”, drop one’s bags, and look around. Lo and behold, a bunch of sinners. Thank God I will not be alone. And a good reason to never stop praying.
  • Catholicism is richer than Protestantism. Some of my greatest loves were instilled in me by my Protestant training. I love God, the Bible, Truth, prayer, and the Christian worldview. However, the more I learn about Catholicism, the more it looks like a feast compared to the simple meal of Protestantism. I don’t think this can be explained very well to a Protestant. One has to come to the feast ready to eat to understand.
  • Everyday Catholicism has the potential to be a lot more beautiful than it typically is. I hear all the time that one of the great evangelical tools the Catholic Church has is the rich beauty of its treasures. True, but one has to mostly look to the past for those. Where is the great modern emphasis on beauty? There isn’t much, sadly. This is a product of modernity. The first culprit is the Mass. There is an inherent beauty in the Mass because of what it is and accomplishes, but I believe we are called to make it beautiful as well. Creating a beautiful Mass is an act of worship. I fear most churches don’t place much emphasis on beauty.
  • The stereotypical “guitars and bongos” are stereotypical for a reason. What is typical will eventually become stereotypical. I had heard of the awful guitars and bongos masses, and then I walked into my local parish church (the one we go to now) and there were guitars and bongos. The reality is, however, our music team is good, and I like what they do. I do have issues with some of the music choices, though.
  • I “discovered” the Divine Office. Years ago I began praying the rosary. I have not been consistent, but praying it was part of my journey into the Church. I should pray it more. However, in the past year I have been praying the Psalms most mornings. I use the Christian Prayer breviary. I love it. Nourishment to my soul.
  • They will want you to join groups. I almost joined the Secular Franciscans. They are a great group. However, once you join it’s for life (though there is a lengthy process to enter). Truth is, on becoming Catholic, I wanted to get more involved, and I didn’t know what was available, and so I was encouraged by my RCIA director, who is also a member of the Franciscans, to join up. But I came to realize that my interests are elsewhere, at least for now. I also realized I just don’t have the time for those things right now. Perhaps a book club would be better now. Perhaps Communion and Liberation. I can say that I’m a bit surprised that I’m now on the Pastoral Council. I think they want someone who is young (!! I’m nearly 50, so that says something of the average age of the council) and someone who brings a different perspective (a convert).
  • I will get to confession more often. This is an area of failure for me at the moment. I would like to go every two weeks, but alas…
  • Catholicism is a land of factions. Coming from factious Protestantland, I love the unity of the Catholic Church, and yet… there still is a lot of disunity within the Church. There is political disunity, theological disunity (within limits, or course), disunity of praxis, etc. However, I love that Catholics still come together for Mass, around the communion table, still accept the magisterium and pope (even if some grumble), and are committed to remain Catholic in some manner. There are a host of issues in all this, and plenty of Catholics are not truly Christian it would seem, but, in general, schism is looked down on. This is a point of hope.
  • Priests need our prayer. I see priests as being rather amazing. A priest is not like a Protestant minister, who is more like an entrepreneur building his business, pushing his brand, selling his product. No, priests are more like servants, and I can see the joy and weariness in their eyes. I do not envy priests. They have a lot to do, and they have to deal with all the ugliness of sinful parishioners. They are also targets for spiritual warfare. Pray for your priest.
  • Parishes need volunteers. I can’t think of any typical parish that is not underfunded and understaffed. Show up on on Sunday and Mass will happen, and all will seem fine; the church is still there, Mass still goes on, no problems, right? There is so much that goes on behind the scenes, and so many activities and projects that need to get done. Most of this is done by volunteers.
  • A local parish church is a good place to be. There is always the temptation to find the hippest, most happening church to attend. This is much easier for Protestants since, at least, they usually have such a church somewhere in your geography. Catholics maybe not so much, but there may be the big downtown church that’s further away than your dumpy little church down the street from your house. Go to the dumpy church. Become a part of your parish. Pray for your priest. Volunteer where you can. Don’t judge those around you. Take the advice of J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • Protestant friends and family don’t know how to respond. In some corners a Protestant who converts will face harsh and vitriolic responses from their Protestant family and friends, even outright rejection and shunning. This happens. But more often there is silence. One converts and friends and family say nothing; they don’t bring it up, don’t ask questions, seem generally incurious. Perhaps they don’t want to know, or care to know, or are afraid to know. Perhaps they just don’t want to open what they think is a Pandora’s box of issues and think it’s best to stay quiet. They are probably right. Whatever the reason, it is interesting. But pray for them. Pray that you would have something to say for why you are Catholic. Pray they let their curiosity, however small, get the better of them and they start wondering a bit more.
  • Conversion stories are still important. I read a lot of conversion stories prior to entering the Church. These helped me sort out issues, answer questions, and generally provided me support. But after coming into the Church I still find them important. Testimonials remind us of what is good and right about the choices we have made. We really never stop converting.
  • Many modern Catholic hymns suck. I am not critiquing modern Catholic hymns from a Protestant perspective. I don’t like modern Protestant hymns either. But the Catholic ones are worse for some reason. I have written on this site more than once about music, so I won’t go into it much here. But one observation: Why do so many of the boomers seem to like these hymns, even singing some of the worst ones from memory, joyfully singing them? I don’t think it’s a matter of me not being able to appreciate them. I think they are bad now, and have always been bad. To like them is to be broken in some way (broken sensibilities, broken idea of authentic worship, broken idea of beauty, I don’t really know). Is the “me generation” predisposed to like this stuff? When people criticize the post-Vatican II Church, do they mean a church caught in a boomer-vortex? Is it just a matter of time, then, before we can get on with something better?
  • Many Catholics dress like slobs for Mass. I came into the Church primarily because of the Real Presence at Mass. A great deal of my conversion came through reading, and not going to Mass. I was surprised, therefore, at how unimpressed with the Real Presence many Catholics seem to be. We are made to honor God, when we don’t it damages us, makes us less than we are. Again, this goes back to the “freedoms” originally embraced by the boomer generation (and now embedded into our modern psyches) that were supposed to strip away all that was “inauthentic” and embrace something more “authentic” than traditions and conformity ever could. Are we more authentic wearing graphic t-shirts and shorts to church rather than dressing up? What have we lost?
  • Catholic Church web sites are generally bad. Catholicism suffers from poor marketing. Sometimes I think this is a good thing – it’s good for churches not to get too caught up in flashy marketing. Still, one way to tell potential visitors to your church (seekers looking for a parish) that this parish is basically for the elderly only is by having a web 1.0 website. This may sound harsh, but how one’s church presents itself to the world includes how it makes itself known to inquirers, and these days it’s through modern communication technologies. The young (and now middle-aged) have been using the latest communications technologies with ease for years now. To some degree, remember, the medium is the message. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that a web site should be beautiful. Most I’ve seen are not.
  • A lot of parishes are run by, and cater mostly to, the elderly. Perhaps this is because the elderly might have more wisdom than the young, and thus value volunteering in their parishes. It also means that parishes will often have the kind of look and feel most liked by the older generation and not so much by the young. Perhaps the best solution is for a church to seem timeless. I’m not sure how that would look or feel, however. And my parish would never survive if not for the generous and loving care offered by its elderly members. Pray for them too.
  • There are Catholics everywhere, but you wouldn’t know it. For years I only knew Protestants. I couldn’t tell you of anyone I knew who might be Catholic. Now that I am Catholic I keep running into people everywhere who are. I think Catholics tend to be rather silent about their faith. I don’t think they should be.
  • Catholic culture is both like and unlike Protestant culture. Duh. But it is interesting to see some of the same kinds of light-weight, vague, feel-good theology promoted by Catholic parishioners as is by most average Protestants. There is also plenty of love for chintzy and smarmy art, bad Christian movies, and mediocre pop-Jesus music. On the other hand, one finds individuals in both “camps” that seek the finer things, stand for beauty, strive from truth and goodness, and live their lives in service to others. In my experience there are more possibilities for the finer things from within Catholicism because it has no trouble drawing on all of Church history.

Truth is, I didn’t want to end up at my parish. I was hoping for a larger church where I could be a bit more anonymous. I also wanted a church near a university with theological classes and a good college ministry that I could get involved with. I didn’t want a neighborhood parish with “ordinary” people. I didn’t want a parish with a bad web site, bongos, modern architecture, etc., etc. I look back on all that and realize I was foolish. We should be careful in making these kinds of distinctions. Still, I want to encourage beauty in my parish.

And I am more glad than ever I made the journey into the Church.

Pope Saint John Paul II on the call to conversion

From Pope John Paul II’s 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer), section 46:

The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Spirit who opens people’s hearts so that they can believe in Christ and “confess him” (cf. 1 Cor 12:3); of those who draw near to him through faith Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:44).

From the outset, conversion is expressed in faith which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God’s gift. At the same time, it gives rise to a dynamic and lifelong process which demands a continual turning away from “life according to the flesh” to “life according to the Spirit” (cf. Rom 8:3-13). Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple.

The Church calls all people to this conversion, following the example of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4), as well as the example of Christ himself, who “after John was arrested,…came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God and saying: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel'” (Mk 1:14-15).

Nowadays the call to conversion which missionaries address to non-Christians is put into question or passed over in silence. It is seen as an act of “proselytizing”; it is claimed that it is enough to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion, that it is enough to build communities capable of working for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity. What is overlooked is that every person has the right to hear the “Good News” of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling. This lofty reality is expressed in the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God,” and in the unconscious but ardent desire of the woman: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst” (Jn 4:10, 15).

Do not put into question, pass over, or overlook the call to conversion. Call them to that faith “which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God’s gift.” A faith that is “a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith.” Call them to that. And know this: You too are called to conversion. This moment, and every moment henceforth, you are called to a total and radical following of Christ.

Of course, most of us are not proclaiming the word of God. Most of us are not seeking to bring the Gospel to the people we know, meet every day, work with, etc. I know I fail at this miserably. And I too am not living a total and radical faith.