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Our conversion to the Catholic Church was a big deal. It’s a major change; there are things I used to be pretty sure about that I definitely don’t believe anymore, like the bit about the Pope being the Antichrist.
Yeah, I don’t think that anymore.
But I do still have:
The Gospel. This is the #1 thing that Protestant friends said to us: “You are denying the Gospel.”
As a Catholic, I believe that Jesus paid for my sins on the cross, and that the only way to get to heaven is through His sacrifice. My good works? They are valuable. They are meritorious, even. But where do they, and any merit they manage to hold, come from?
Jesus. All of it. Absolutely everything. Full stop.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.” (Italics original).
And, “With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.” (Both from Part 3, Section 1, Chapter 3, Article 2).
I don’t mean to oversimplify the huge justification divide between Catholics and Protestants. It’s a tough subject. For some meatier treatment, try this article by Jimmy Akin. He really digs into the issues, and is good at translating Catholic/Protestant terminology. He does have an inexpensive little ebook out on the subject, as well, though I have not read it. Or, try this blog post: Do Catholics Believe in Justification by Faith Alone?
It’s common for Protestants to think that Catholic converts have left their first love behind. That a true and simple faith and trust in Jesus has faded, or never really was, and been replaced by a thirst for “smells and bells.” That a soul now dying is desperately trying to fill the void with empty ritual. That’s how I used to see those who left the Reformed faith for Rome.
This could not be further from the truth. I’ve written before about how Catholic rituals are far from empty; all I can really say about this now is that, while conflict and confusion drove me to the doors of the Catholic Church, Jesus pulled me inside. His presence in the Eucharist, in particular, is compelling.
Mary and the saints don’t detract from faith in Christ – they strengthen it, grow it. We have a huge family to pray for us and cheer us on. But it’s all about Jesus.
I get just as much Bible in the Catholic Church as I did in my Protestant tradition. Maybe more. The Mass is full of Bible – absolutely packed with it. Catholic piety is always coming back to the Bible.
We still sing the Psalms. They are sung or chanted in the Mass, and we still sing them at home, too. We also have all our old favorite hymns back – for a number of years, we only sang psalms out of Sola Scriptura scruples. We sing Charles Wesley, even. It’s lovely.
Which leads me to something less tangible. In becoming Catholic, there has been a feeling of uniting the good things from different times in my life, and the different church traditions, drawn together into a whole. This is hard to describe. It’s as though parts of myself that I laid aside in my journey toward being ever more Presbyterian, I got back, without losing the true growth that happened from being part of that rich tradition.
I haven’t finished processing this one yet. I’m curious if any of my fellow converts resonate with what I’m saying?
Openness to Life
I like to say that I was always a Catholic waiting to happen, I just never knew. This is one of the many reasons why.
Funnily enough, one thing that didn’t change a bit is our position on contraception and welcoming children. So many people struggle with that one, but it was a natural fit for us. We entered the church with 8 children, and now people tend to see us and assume we’re old hands at the Catholic thing.
At least, until Alex tries to genuflect. Then the game is up, I’m afraid. The kid fell clean over the other day.
As I wrote in my Lenten reflection, there is a real sense in which I felt that I did give up my very self in this process.
But there is another way in which I did not. I think when people convert from one tradition to another, it can be tempting to look at them and feel like they are not even the same person anymore. Like there are no longer any commonalities.
This, I’m sure, happens. But most of the time, peoples is peoples, as Pete used to say. (Muppets. Of course.) I’m the same person I’ve always been. I just learned some stuff I didn’t know before, and really, did the same thing I’ve always done – run headlong into the next adventure. There are some ways, as I alluded to in #5, in which I actually feel more freely myself than I have in years.
For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.
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