I love sharing how God led me to the Catholic Church, not because the story is about me, but because in every way, this story is about God. I never dreamed that I would become Catholic, yet quite unexpectedly I found everything I’ve been looking for in the Catholic Church—of all places. It is impossible to put into words the inner movements of one’s soul, but here is my best account of my journey.
I grew up in a conservative Evangelical family. My faith journey began at an early age through the love, guidance, and prayers of my parents. I am so thankful for the firm foundation my parents gave me in their example of faith and love. They taught me so much, especially the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus, a love for the Scriptures, and a faith that shapes every aspect of one’s life.
I went on to study Bible, Pre-seminary at a Baptist university in Ohio. My time there was rich with good teaching about the Bible and wonderful friends and professors. I felt very alive in my faith and began to deepen in my understanding of God’s grace.
My first crisis of faith began about a year after college. I worked at a homeless shelter my first 2 years out of college, and encountered poverty for the first time. My white, middle-class experience in Evangelicalism seemed disconnected from the poor and the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. I also began asking questions about Scripture at this time, wondering how I could possibly know the meaning of Scripture when there were so many interpretations by seemingly intelligent and Spirit-filled people. I started to read more books from a postmodern perspective, which questioned the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures. During this time I felt like my foundation had all but fallen out, and I mostly felt lost, confused, and alone. I told God quite often that I was not questioning Him or Scripture, but my own interpretation of Scripture.
I remember consciously putting my questions “on hold” for a couple of years so I could get through graduate school. I attended a non-denominational Evangelical church during that time and had a wonderful community there. I had resigned to the idea that my questions would probably stay “on hold.” After I finished grad school, I participated in a 3-year Spiritual Formation program that was taught by Dominican Sisters. As I became more connected to historical Christianity (the 2000+ years of Church history) I realized that there had been other Christians between the time the Bible was written and the Protestant Reformation! I was first drawn to Catholicism by the saints, because they had a deep relationship with God, a rich prayer life, and a love for the poor. The saints had the kind of relationship with God and others that I always wanted. So through the saints, the first reason for my crisis of faith (the Christian response to the poor) was resolved.
At this time, I also had a good friend who was Catholic, and though I had known Christians all my life, there was something different about him. I found that after spending time with him, I would desire to love God and people more. I began asking him some of my questions, and his answers seemed so balanced with truth and love. For about 3 years off and on, we had conversations about the Catholic Church. I was open to learning about Catholicism, but I did not want to become Catholic.
The first, and most crucial issue that compelled me to become Catholic revolved around the issue of authority. Many of my questions about Christianity were a result of the principle of “sola Scriptura.” I had been on both sides of the fence for this one, first believing that my interpretation of Scripture was the most correct and then believing that I could not know the correct interpretation and needed to just focus on the few key aspects of the Gospel that I did know.
The turning point for me was a conversation with my Catholic friend, where I learned that the doctrine of “sola Scriptura” was introduced at the time of the Reformation and was a foreign concept to both Judaism and Christianity. Rather than Scripture alone, the Catholic position is that Scripture is interpreted by Apostolic Tradition, through the teaching authority of the Church called the Magisterium which is guided by the Holy Spirit and preserved from error. There were many reasons this was compelling for me, including that this was the practice of the Church from the beginning, that the Church preceded Scriptures, and the problem of individual interpretation that has resulted in over 25,000 Protestant denominations. So the Scriptures are authoritative and infallible and the Magisterium provides infallible, orthodox interpretation that leads to doctrine.
The issue of authority brought about my second crisis of faith about 2 years ago. It became apparent that I had to resolve some of those questions and decide where I stood on certain issues. This crisis of faith was quite different than the first, because this led somewhere, rather than into confusion and relativism. I felt alone during this time too, but I felt close to God, the saints, and other writers who made a similar journey. I wrote in my journal, “Who does this??” I didn’t personally know a soul who had converted to Catholicism, but I knew that I could not go back. I even researched whether there was a denomination “in between” Catholicism and Protestantism, but even though there was (Anglo-Catholicism) it did not resolve the issue of authority. After I read Scott Hahn’s testimony of his conversion to Catholicism, I realized, “Oh, so people could become Catholic and actually feel glad about it!”
The second important issue that led me to the Church was the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist. A sacrament is a visible sign instituted by Christ of an invisible spiritual reality. As a Protestant, I used to think that God relates to us in a totally spiritual way, almost in a way that is contrary to our nature as humans…that somehow the physical/the body impedes our knowledge of God. Because of this belief, ritual (and the sacramental life) would be viewed as “baggage” that Christ freed us from. So understanding the sacraments as outward signs of inner grace helped me to see that Christianity is actually consistent with natural law and that it makes sense of one’s passage through life. The sacraments also speak to the goodness of God and the reality of the incarnation, that God provides a way to experience Him in a way that is fitting with our humanity.
I began to see that the need for sacrifice which is present in most major religions is evidence of God’s truth as revealed by general revelation. So, I learned to value true religion; that sacrifice is natural to the human experience and most fully revealed in Christ through His Church. Valuing religion helped me to understand that it is in our nature to sacrifice to God, which then underscored the necessity and the mystery of the Mass.
The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was something I accepted on an intellectual level very early on in my journey. I couldn’t understand how this doctrine was missing from my Christian experience when it had been so central to the early Church, virtually undisputed for the first 1000 years. It also seemed clear from John 6 that Jesus spoke about eating His blood and drinking His flesh in a literal way; in fact He emphasized it so much that many of His disciples turned away at that point—and He did not try to stop them. In the Mass, the love and goodness of God is so evident. Through the power of the Holy Spirit the once and for all sacrifice of Christ is re-presented and He gives of Himself fully to us in love. We can participate in this sacrifice by uniting our own life with His. As the sacrificial lamb is consumed in the Old Covenant, so do we in the New Covenant consume the sacrificial Lamb of God every time we receive the Eucharist.
I used to view Catholics as “almost there”…like they were so close with the Gospel, yet so far away. Many Protestants have the misconception that the Catholic understanding of the Gospel is based on “works righteousness” and earning their way to heaven (and it is true that some Catholics mistakenly do believe this). For several years I struggled with the “faith alone” view of the Gospel, because this teaching did not seem consistent with the whole counsel of Scripture. As I began to go deeper into studying the Gospel, I was overwhelmed by how good and loving God is. Once I began to understand the importance of the free will to love God (or anyone for that matter) and God’s desire for all to be saved, I was able to see how good and loving all God’s interactions with us are. The whole idea of salvation being based on the validity of a conversion experience or having the right set of beliefs did not seem to make sense. Now I understand the importance of what we do and how we live, in addition to what we believe.
It was so freeing to know that God desires us to be good and gives us the grace to be good. The more we are directed to the Good, the more we become most fully human, our wills become more aligned with His, and we somehow get to participate in the goodness of Christ for our salvation and the salvation of the world The best summary of our response to the Gospel could be described as faith working in love (Gal. 5:6)—always and only through the goodness and grace of God through Christ.
I also tell people that the Church’s teaching on life is very compelling, though more of a confirmation of the authority of the Church than my main reason for being Catholic. In the spiritual formation program, I began to understand that union with God is our ultimate destiny and the very purpose of salvation. While Protestants and Catholics share the doctrine of the Trinity, I had never read much about the Trinity and how we are invited to share in the life of God—the eternal exchange of love and life. I came to better understand the sacramentality of our bodies—that they reveal in a visible way what is invisible: that we are created for union. The sacrament of marriage and the act of sexual union within marriage allow husbands and wives to participate in the life-giving power of love. And anything that blocks that exchange of total, self-giving love blocks the grace of God that flows through the sacrament of marriage. I found that the Catholic position on contraception and other sexual issues were not just a set of “do’s and don’ts” but a beautiful exposition of the dignity of the human person, based on age-old, Scripturally based teaching and deepened further in the special revelation of the Blessed Trinity.
o as I was learning all of this, I needed to tell my family and friends that I was considering becoming Catholic. This created much anxiety and pain for me to know how hurtful this would be to my family and how others’ would perceive this decision. My family and friends were very gracious in their responses to me and I understood that their responses were out of love and concern for me. After almost 2 full years of intense prayer and study, I knew that I was more than ready to become Catholic, and in that to submit to the Church and participate fully in the sacramental life.
It wasn’t until I was initiated in the Church and received first Holy Communion that the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist became more than an intellectual understanding. I feel like I understand in a deeper way how much the Lord loves and knows me (body and soul), and gives Himself fully to me. I experience the grace that flows from the Eucharist, helping me to fully give my life back to Jesus and to others.
During my journey, I encountered the truth in the Catholic Church both on a subjective and objective level. I found as I began “thinking more Catholic” I experienced a significant change in my spirituality, thoughts, actions, prayer life, etc. and could see every aspect of my life as spiritual. Any goodness I did was through God’s grace by participation in Christ’s goodness, and any suffering I experienced could be offered up to participate in Christ’s sufferings, and therefore mystically participate in the salvation of others. I could deepen in my faith not only through conversational prayer and Bible study, but through contemplative prayer, meditation on Christ and the mysteries of His passion, and growth in the virtues. As I experienced this inner conversion, I needed to make sure that what I was learning was objectively true and not just something that brought change in my spirit because it was novel or different. It seemed that in every issue I studied, I found a goodness, beauty and truth that was both consistent with natural law and special revelation through the Word of God.
I am Catholic now because I believe that the fullness of truth is found in the Catholic Church, founded by our Lord. And to have an intimate relationship with Jesus and participate in the life of the Trinity most fully, I need to be in communion with His Church and experience Him in the most intimate way possible—in the Eucharist. There is so much more I could write, but I will wrap up with one of my favorite quotes from St. Therese of Lisieux: Your love [O my God,] has gone before me, and it has grown with me, and now it is an abyss whose depths I cannot fathom…I ask Jesus to draw me into the flames of his love, to unite me so closely to him that he live and act in me. I feel that the more the fire love burns within my heart, the more I shall say, “Draw me.”
_ Julia Roberts