Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Coming to the Catholic Church: the De and Re of Construction

Hi, my name is Joel and this is my blog.

I promised to write my conversion story for Easter so here it is. Please note that all Protestant buzz words are in italics.
I was an Evangelical. Not just any old evangelical, but the son of two parents who were trained to be Baptist Missionaries. It gets more interesting than that. My GreatGrandfather was a Methodist and his son, my Grandfather, became a Catholic. My father was raised a Catholic and then had a "born again" experience outside the Church and has been a Baptist ever since. I was raised an Evangelical Baptist as a result.

It was Sola Scriptura all the way for me. What else could there be? We knew the Bible was true because it was the Word of God, and as my father says "it is a dangerous game to accept anything that is unbiblical." What else could you possibly need more than the Word of God itself?
Becoming a Christian was really straight forward. You acknowledge your sin, ask Jesus to take it away and come into your heart to be your Personal Lord and Saviour and you are magically and forever a Christian and according to Romans 8:29-30 you were always going to be. If you hadn't said some variation of these words you simply were not a Christian by our definition.
When I met my wife I was 14 years old. We met at a youth group in town and we started to talk. When I found out that she was a Catholic, I asked "but are you a Christian"? She replied that she was, and I further asked "so you have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ"? She replied she did. This confused me at the time because I was sure that being Born Again and being a Catholic were mutually exclusive since this is what I learned from my father.

I started to fall away from Christ
in the last couple of years before I left home for University. There seemed to me to be so many more important things to do that Christianity didn't seem to address in practice. It seemed like missionaries went to other countries and taught them about Jesus and left again, like they didn't need anything else aside from the assurance of Heaven. I always had a leaning to the left and I admired greatly certain Communists, especially Ernesto Guevarra, or “Che” as he is known, because of his extraordinary compassion for simple human beings due to the fact that they were in fact simple human beings. I went further into this doctrine and pushed Christ further away, while at the same time professing Christ with my mouth because this is what was expected of me after all.

When I moved away from home I went to Hamilton, Ontario to go to McMaster. It was here that my mind was awakened to schools of thought and ideas I had never dreamed existed before. I said to myself that I would scrap Christianity altogether, and step back and decide for myself if it was the truth or not, because there was a pile of other things to consider besides Jesus. I met gay people for the first time, and realized that they were indeed people after all, and not sinful monsters who needed to be shunned. It was a dose of perspective that was refreshing and scary at the same time. What had I wasted my time on before?! Think of the things I could have been doing with myself that I had shut out before! I discovered that I really did like drinking myself stupid, smoking cigarettes into the wee hours of the morning, and smoking so much dope my eyes rolled into the back of my head. I had decided that to make myself truly happy, I was going to do things that actually made me happy. It was so elementary to me. 1+1=2 and doing things that made me happy would actually make me happy.

I will spare many of the details of the Hamilton experience because they are not necessary. Here are the important ones.

· I failed out of University because my lifestyle made it impossible to succeed in that environment

· I subsequently failed out of Mohawk College in the Engineering program there as well for the same reasons

· I was broke all the time because I blew my money on smokes and pot and sometimes beer

· I was constantly behind on my rent

· I moved into ever greater squalor each time I moved, and that was often

· I didn’t have any real friends besides one girl and her friends. She was a Wiccan priestess and had suffered a similar fate as me with school. She eventually moved back to Ottawa, where she was from, and I haven’t heard much from her since. She was such a cancer in my life, and I am glad to have had it removed.

I had philosophically dissected the world and realized that there wasn’t much hope of anything outside of myself, so I devoted my life to myself and the things which furthered the goal of pleasing myself

My life had fallen apart as my faith had fallen apart. I could think of no other reason for it’s collapse other that my rejection of faith. What was it really that made me succeed in school, and life, before? I really didn’t think that I had done anything or thought anything too different from when I was at home, except that there was no one around to force me to accept things I found unpalatable and ridiculous. Who was God to say really that there was no reason for existence aside from him?

This is when things started to turn. After an unfortunate incident involving too much vodka and some decongestants (it was a total accident and I was just careless), I awoke face down on my bed in a very bad way. If I had fallen on my back, I would simply not be here. Why did I survive? Why had I been given a second chance? Plenty of other people who lived like I did, died from similar incidents, Jimmy Hendrix to name one. I was frightened because I was convinced that I would have had to answer for everything I had done. I was also frustrated with the thought because at the time I refused to accept the fact that there was really someone to answer to, let alone a reason for having to answer to anything.

I started to do some serious thinking. The only thing that I could say for sure the whole time before and during this time was that I simply could not accept that everything evolved, on its own, out of nothing. Both metaphysically and intellectually this was something I could not accept. Metaphysically for no other reason than something inside me recognized the handiwork of a designer when I saw it. I could not accept unassisted evolution intellectually because if you have a closed system of anything, it tends towards increasing randomness and thus increasing Entropy. Increasing the order of the arrangement of atoms and molecules required ever increasing inputs of energy and control that I could not see ever having existed without something infusing the energy into the system in real-time. The bottom line was that there was a creative force in the universe, and that I was a product of that force, whether it was some Great Spirit or the Triune God of Christianity or whatever else it could have been.

It was around this time that my long-term, long-distance girlfriend (who would become my wife later on) was having difficulty medically speaking and I was not there to care for her, because I lived too far away. I was really worried about her condition, so I went to the only place that spoke to me, which was the Cathedral of Christ the King in Hamilton; it is the Catholic diocese center for the Hamilton area. I was not a Catholic by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought that it would be a quiet place in the middle of the day to collect my thoughts about my girlfriend and to ask God, if he existed, to help her because she had not rejected him as I had, and it was not fair for her to suffer for my issues. How could she not though? I am not an island as I had hoped I was to some extent, and everything I did, both positive and negative, was having an effect on her whether it was obvious or not. A deacon of the Catholic Church was in the sanctuary and came to talk to me. I told him I was not a Catholic and told him what I was concerned about. He told me he would pray for my girlfriend, and this honestly comforted me a great deal. He also asked me why I was in a Catholic Church if I didn’t believe in it. I had no real answer for him other than the Cathedral of Christ the King is on the Highway 403 and is only the most visible church in the city from the downtown area and by McMaster. However, I felt at the time, that there was some other force at work that I didn’t know about and that I didn’t want to recognize anyway.

After this time, I did some more thinking. If the Universe was an infinite expanse (even if the material had a boundary there was no conceivable boundary of everything), there was likely an infinite being. This was not a necessary conclusion however until later. In comparison to infinity, the finite is relative to zero. This is a first principle of calculus. Therefore, in comparison to the infinity of the universe, human beings mean squat. I was shocked to find I actually meant nothing. Now, even the lifestyle I was living was void of meaning, if I in fact did not mean anything. However, I was sure I did mean something because I did not die before. The only conclusion I found was that I meant something to an infinite being. This was necessary because if everything finite is relative to nothing in the scope of infinity then the only thing that really mattered was infinity itself. It was the only comparable thing.
Also, if I had really mattered in the scope if an infinite universe, the infinite would not have mattered at all or there would have been no need for an infinity at all. However, I knew that in the scope of infinity, people meant nothing, but in fact we really did matter. This is when it struck me that there was an infinite being and he was God, because we mattered to him and therefore we really do matter. We don’t matter so therefore God matters, however we matter to God so we matter. Therefore we matter for the very reason that we mean nothing in the scope of the universe. In our not meaning anything, God means everything and because we matter to God we matter at all.

What a revolution this was to me! A total paradox is the only infinite truth there is. Why? Because if it really makes no sense, it tells me that a finite human did not make it up, but was rather revealed by a higher source of infinite wisdom. As the author G.K. Chesterton says, (in paraphrase) the only way to stay truly sane is to believe in mystery, because by making one thing incomprehensible, everything else is comprehensible in the light of that which we do not comprehend. People who strive for reason only are lunatics. Lunatics are not unreasonable at all; for instance, they know exactly why they believe, that the whole world is out to get them. Their logic is impossible to argue except to say that there is something outside the logic that they do not comprehend, which disproves their insane claim.
This is one reason why I decided to join the Catholic Church.

The other reason I joined the Catholic Church was that I had discovered the Eucharist and believed that the Real Presence of Jesus Christ is actually trans-substantially present. I found this out by being open to the idea enough to eat it, and it was amazing. I told my girlfriend what had happened and she was amazed and delighted at what God was doing in my life, but informed me that the Eucharist is for baptized and confirmed Catholics only. She explained that because it is Jesus in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity that we couldn't be handing it out without due care and diligence as we had done at my old Baptist Church. I instantly understood as I now knew that Jesus was there.
At the time, it seemed to me to be the most unreasonable choice there was in the entire universe, and therefore the highest source of infinite truth. I was confirmed at Saint Patrick's Roman Catholic Church on the 10th of April 2004 and I have never regretted it.

This was only the start of my Journey however. There were no spiritual pat answers given to me by the RCC, so I had to search for the answers myself. I had to make the effort to go to church to seek him instead of awaiting some vision or revelation from Him. I had to do the work. Part of my journey was also the realization that the Sacraments of the Catholic Church were not empty rituals as I had thought before, but filled with meaning and purpose. So much so, I could not comprehend it’s scope. I think that this is partly what James meant in his letter by saying that faith without works is dead. The Sacraments are the doing part of the faith. The ritual is designed to act out a particular part of the faith; it is a vehicle for us to actually DO Christianity and to meet Christ in a real and personal way in the act. James writes that through the doing, the faith is brought to completion and that there is no life in faith that has nothing acted upon for it’s completion.

So how does St. Patrick fit in to all this? Simply put, we have similar stories to a point. St. Patrick was a boy when Irish pirates kidnapped him from his Scottish home and took him away to slavery. When he escaped he returned home, and subsequently found the Gospel. Newly converted, he returned to Ireland and converted practically the whole island, and in so doing, founded one of the most enduring and fiercely Catholic nations in history.
When I was a boy, I left home in Jesus and found myself in slavery to myself. When I escaped and returned home, I found myself in the Holy Catholic Church of Christ because of his Gospel and the Eucharist. I am then reminded by Saint Patrick of the need to go to those who have wronged me and be the Gospel for them.

I have learned so much about the Church since. I have crossed some serious hurdles in my faith journey including but not limited to the following: the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her immaculate conception, her assumption into heaven, the communion of saints, infant baptism, realizing the untruth of the "rapture" theology, the Oral Tradition of the Church among others.

This is my story and I am glad to be Catholic now. The grace of God in the Sacraments is an untold blessing.
I hope you have a blessed Easter season, as I'm sure I will. I'm turning 3 as a Catholic this year.




Glenn Bolas, Sydney, Australia said...

Happy 3rd Anniversary, brother!

I too was a Baptist. My journey was quite different to yours (not as much sowing of wild oats) but, as it turns out, we were received into the Church on exactly the same day. Its been 3 years for me as well this Easter. :) I rejoice with you therefore. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Anonymous said...

Welcome home, Joel! Happy 3rd anniversary -- so nice to have a new brother in faith. And even nicer to hear of my patron saint's involvement in your journey! You know what they say, you can't beat the Irish! Anyway, welcome home, and as they used to say Latine, "Ad multos et faustissimus annos"! Happy Easter to you, your sister, Patricia Gonzalez, Hudson, Quebec

J and J said...

Thanks Glenn! Funny that you were confirmed on the same day as I was and from a similar background! You wanna know something weirder? My Father was born in Wollongong. I don't know how close you are to the 'Gong, but it's still an amazing string of coincidences

God Bless you!
P.S. Go Swans!

J and J said...

Thanks Patricia, God bless you too. As far as I know, there is only one thing that can beat the Irish, and that's a Scotsman with a burr in his kilt. I know this from experience (see profile pic)

In Christ Jesus

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is a powerful testimony! God bless you and your family.

Viderunt oculi miei salutare eum.
(My own eyes have seen His salvation.)