I was in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by wild, rugged snowcapped mountains. The quaint pub I was in, near Loch Ness, was located in the town of Fort William, not too far from Inverness. As I sat there sipping my ridiculously priced (and ridiculously good) glass of scotch, letting the warmth of the drink flow through me, and felt the warmth of the wood fire beside me in our booth, I couldn’t help but think it was one of the most contented moments of my twenty some years on earth. I simply basked in the moment, in the feeling of finally having arrived somewhere I always hoped I would end up.
The feeling was probably enhanced by being the only relatively quiet moment of a break-neck paced two week journey through Ireland and Scotland. As much as we had enjoyed our fellow tour companions, traveling around for days on end with two dozen heavy drinking, karaoke loving, cheery Australians was not as relaxing as one might guess. So, as it was, that glowing, crackling fire beside me and the soft hum of conversation by the bartender and a local across the room felt like the quiet, but still active moments before mass begins. As I neared the end of my glass, my husband returned and sat down with my second glass and his own locally made beer. I looked up at him to offer a blissful smile of gratitude for finally agreeing to accompany me on this trip, but I was caught off guard by the utterly new expression on his usually carefully guarded face. It was wonder I saw.
He had spent his childhood following baseball wherever it called, and it had taken him to different locations across the South. When in a new city or town, however, the entire time was spent playing ball, so he ended up having experienced very little even though he had travelled quite a bit in the United States. There was nothing inherently wrong with his upbringing- he genuinely loved baseball, and doesn’t regret a moment he dedicated to it. Traveling hadn’t been on his radar, though, just like exercise still isn’t on mine. His laser focus on his goal of becoming a professional baseball player had made it difficult for much of anything else to get his attention. I was just thankful I had been able to grab his attention long enough to convince him to walk down the aisle a short four months before this delayed honeymoon. Trying to convince my single-minded, college baseball playing husband that his two weeks of rest over winter break, before the spring season began, would be well spent gallivanting across the British Isles was an understandably hard sell. Plus, the price tag seemed awfully high for something he didn’t actively want to do. I have been known to wear people down, however, and out of sheer desperation to have me shut up, he agreed to go. I think he initially thought of the trip as something he had to simply get through, maybe with a little help of Jameson and Glenfiddich along the way. But somewhere along that way, he had accidentally become an active participant. Somehow, God had used every new thing he had experienced to bring him to a new awareness not just of the world, but of God himself.
I was prepared to recognize this new awareness in him, because I had experienced it myself at fourteen. I was on my first trip out of the United States to Spain and Portugal with my grandfather, who had graciously allowed my mom and me to tag along for a conference. Having grown up Protestant, I had never been exposed to Catholic art and architecture and the ornate cathedrals we visited left me feeling elated. They left me feeling as though I hadn’t just encountered priceless art, but God himself. Little did I know at that time, as I would discover six years later, Jesus was actually uniquely present in those churches, in the tabernacle, beside a hanging lit candle I didn’t know the purpose behind. As I discovered on my first trip, and as I knew my husband was discovering in that very moment in the pub, travel doesn’t just give us a way to conquer a bucket list and impressive photos to post on social media. Travel, as we have experienced it, expands our sense of geography, of time, of the human experience, and of our connectedness with everything on earth, and even in heaven. Ultimately, and even ideally, travel expands our sense of God. Every new food, every conversation, every sight, but especially every person, is an opportunity to experience and encounter God in a new way.
Somehow, travels gives us the ability to become more aware-of ourselves, of others, and of our surroundings. As my husband realized that night, he wasn’t on that trip to simply experience what there was to experience. He was there to realize God was chasing him through every experience. Every sight, taste, and encounter was a new opportunity, an invitation even, to see God. The truth is, when my husband and I travel, and let a place seep into us as we did that night, we can’t help but be changed. Our sense of awe points us to God and our sense of the largeness of the world, humbles us. The more we travel, the more we find to marvel at. Natural beauty, magnificent man-made cathedrals, and even smaller things, like drinking scotch in a cozy pub, are sign posts, directing our attention to a greater reality.
We stayed there soaking up the warmth of the fire, enjoying our drinks, and talking for several hours. We could have stayed longer, but our travel companions decided to come in as well, and the spell was broken. But the awareness stayed. And as we hiked up a mountain on the Isle of Skye the next day, and I watched my husband take in the stunning views at the top, I knew he wasn’t just seeing a pretty sight, he was seeing God.
It is one of the most important days on the liturgical calendar, and I couldn’t even convince myself to get off the couch that Friday. Like the clouds gathering in the sky outside my window, as I sat on the couch, spiritual clouds gathered in my soul. It was an unwelcome, but familiar feeling. I am no stranger to doubt and wrestling with my faith. In fact, I have learned to embrace the struggle and appreciate the fruits of the fight. But Good Friday is not the day I wanted to struggle. Like Christmas, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter have always stirred welcome feelings of faith and passion in me. Instead, this year I felt doubtful and numb.
If I look at a crucifix, I will see a man hanging there, bloody and beaten, leaving no doubt that he suffered. Like the one on the cross, Catholics are meant to embrace suffering. This is something that I found attractive when I first began to study Catholicism. When answers aren’t found and healing isn’t granted, there is not only a theology of suffering to dive into and give meaning to pain, but a God who experienced pain to lean on. This fall will make three years since I entered the Church, and the phrase “offer it up,” is no longer strange to me. I have found the everyday reality of embracing suffering is less comforting in the moments most needed, however. Not because it is actually useless, but because in those moments, I don’t think of how this could be beneficial to me later on. And I wonder how I, riddled with doubt, but warm, fed, and loved by my family, should bring my meager suffering to a God hanging on a cross, bleeding and dying?
I didn’t make it to the church on Good Friday. Doubt or not though, I am sentimental to a fault, and when little else can, tradition motivates me. So on Saturday, our little family dressed up and went to the Easter Vigil mass at 7:00 p.m. We met outside with the other parishioners and after lighting candles, processed into the dark sanctuary, once again filling it with the light that represents Christ. The familiar rituals, the smell of incense, physically set me at ease. I didn’t dwell on my problem in that moment. I just sat there content to be among those who did believe, and I let them believe for me. I watched a baptism and confirmation, and admired the beauty of the words and actions. And just like the little candle I carried into the sanctuary two hours before would not have lit the whole church alone, my soul wasn’t set ablaze again by the little flame that began to burn there. But at that Easter Vigil, a little candle inside was indeed lit. And every Sunday since, I have continued to stand, kneel, sit, cross myself, and recite those beautiful and ancient prayers. And as surely as He rose from the dead, and spring has arrived, belief is once again sprouting in my soul.
I love a good reading list. And it just so happens, putting one together is just as much fun as reading through one. For those interested, I have compiled a list of books, podcasts, and movies that have impacted me spiritually. This list is ecumenically minded, and hopefully will be of value to believers and non-believers, and Protestant and Catholics alike. I find the more voices I let in my life, even those that I don’t agree with, the more I learn and the more I find Him.
The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
This was a recent read, and I’m not sure I have ever been so impacted by a book. It covers it all-social justice, politics, faith, community. C.S Lewis sums up how this book made me feel: “Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself..” You will gain a friend in heaven after reading this one.
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
This one will make you cry, but don’t let that keep you from reading it. This National Book Award Winner has stuck with me. It is Sheldon Vanauken’s memoir of his romance with his wife and their conversion to Christianity through their friendship with C.S. Lewis.
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
I also felt like I had a friend after reading this book. I may not have come to the some of the same conclusions as Rachel, but her struggles with faith, and the origins of some of those struggles, mirror my own.
Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It by Jennifer Fulwiler
I just love her. She is smart, funny, and honest in writing about her conversion to Christianity.
Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis
Can you tell I love C.S. Lewis yet? Yes, this is an entertaining, fictional series. But the last book of the series, The Last Battle, has significantly shaped how I view God.
Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers (Fiction)
Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A Do It Yourself Retreat by Fr. Michael Gaitly
Welcome Homeless by Alan Graham
Radical by David Platt
Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul by Tony Hendra (I give this one at least a PG-13 rating)
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Protestants and Catholics: What Can We Learn From Each Other by Dr. Peter Kreeft
Catholic Christianity by Dr. Peter Kreeft (Easy to read overview of Catholicism and Christianity in general)
Upside Down Podcast
http://www.upsidedownpodcast.com/-This is an ecumenical podcast where three Christian women have “unscripted conversations on spirituality, culture, and God’s Upside Down Kingdom.” Definitely my favorite podcast.
https://onbeing.org/– “The On Being Project is an independent non-profit public life and media initiative. We pursue deep thinking and social courage, moral imagination and joy, to renew inner life, outer life, and life together.”
The Catholic Feminist
https://www.thecatholicfeministpodcast.com/-“A podcast for Jesus-loving women who want to be inspired, involved, and intentional. Each week, we speak with women who are living out their faith in a radical, real way.”
This movie is about Archbishop Oscar Romero who was murdered in El Salvador in 1980. It is a true story about faith and courage and I cannot imagine anyone watching this movie and not being impacted. He has become one of my heroes and I am so excited about the announcement of his upcoming canonization. If you have Amazon Prime, this movie is free.
This Martin Scorsese film will make you uncomfortable and that’s the point. It is based on a true story about missionary priests to Japan when Christianity is outlawed. It brings up some extremely difficult, but important questions. This movie is also included with an Amazon Prime membership.
This is just an incredible true story of a true hero who refuses to compromise his beliefs.
If you have any questions about this list, would like more suggestions, or would like to recommend something to me, please feel free to contact me. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I didn’t include some of my favorites simply because they didn’t fit the theme, but I would be happy to share them if you ask. Happy reading, listening, and watching, my friends!
I sat in the worn, faux leather chair across from her and tried to explain why I felt I needed to be there. I never really had trouble seeking help for my emotional and mental needs from friends and family when I needed it, yet here I was, sitting across from a therapist. I have always had an extreme personality. I used to see things as black and white and gave people little room to mess up in my life. And someone had undeniably messed up, and it had left me anxious and struggling to forgive.
After several sessions, I was given tools to help cope with OCD tendencies. And through those methods, and with the help of my church, I began to see how those tendencies had unfortunately dominated my spiritual life. The rigidity I imposed on myself and others, was not only crippling me emotionally and mentally, but my relationships with people as well. In this particular instance, perhaps it wouldn’t have been the blow it was if I hadn’t expected perfection in the first place. I was justified in my anger at that point, but not in my unforgiving attitude or demands for repentance on my terms.
My approach to spirituality led to unhealthy tendencies. I became hard-hearted and judgmental to preserve my own sanctity at the cost of those around me. But in what way is the meek, humble Savior I adore like that? God humbled himself to walk on earth with us. He drew in the dirt, he turned over tables, and he cried, feasted, celebrated and mourned. He lived perfectly in an imperfect world and did it embracing human emotions-his own and others- fully. If there’s no room in my journey to holiness for other’s imperfections, is there room for a perfect God?
Making this latest post was uncomfortable for me. First, the camera intimidated me. Second, I am exposing a part of my life that only a few friends and family know about. But my comfort and complacency must take a back seat if I want to engage with people on a real, authentic level about important topics affecting us all.
Infertility. Along with me and Reece and Rachel and Tyler, infertility touches 1 in 8 couples in the United States according to the CDC. That number is growing. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, so I’m not going to speculate about why. Even if I don’t know why, I do know people are hurting. And I believe anything that hurts people and therefore God, must also hurt the people of God. We all need to sit around our fellowship tables and our supper tables and have these conversations. We need to tell these stories so we can better serve the people suffering through this who need help and support. If we can’t find an answer to why, we can find an answer to how. How we show love and compassion matters.
Thank you so much to my sweet friend Rachel for doing the hard work of being open and honest. Thank you for having me on your channel!
Willis walked into his local grocery store and began strolling up and down the aisles searching for inspiration for supper that evening. He was hungry after a long day of class and work and he wanted something he could prepare quickly. He was single, and had recently moved away for college, so he had no one to cook for but himself. He also no longer had to endure his mother insisting he eat his greens and shoving fire and brimstone sermons down his throat about processed foods. “Stay out of the middle aisles, honey. That’s where the temptations are,” her voice echoed in his head. He smiled to himself, remembering, and then defiantly turned and strutted down the frozen food aisle, embracing his independence. He didn’t intend to totally discard all the motherly wisdom he had absorbed over the years, but he also did not share his mother’s belief that gluten was the source of all illness in the world.
He settled on an organic, roasted vegetable pizza, simultaneously appeasing his mother’s voice and his own. The following week he went back after work one evening and was able to walk straight to the frozen food aisle with no lingering hesitation. This time he chose a conventional, meat lovers’ pizza. It was half the price, further justifying the decision in his mind. The next week, he ate frozen pizza two nights. Within a month, every supper Willis ate came from the frozen food aisle or could be cooked in a microwave. When Willis came home for Christmas, six months after leaving home, he had gained a total of fifteen pounds and had suffered from several colds already that winter. By the time Willis left college four years later, he had established a pattern for an unhealthy lifestyle. He gained a total of fifty pounds over four years, and because he lacked energy, he ceased to maintain an active lifestyle. He justified his decisions by appealing to his right to decide how he wanted to live his life.
Eating strictly junk food did not kill Willis. The food he ate contained just enough nutritional value to keep him alive and minimally nourished, but he wasn’t receiving all the nutrients healthy foods potentially offered him. Willis decided to neglect his mother’s restrictive dietary standard and embrace his own standard, based on his own wants. He sorted through foods only selecting the ones he cared for and rejecting the ones he had difficulty stomaching. This resulted in a different, but still radical way of viewing food that was slowly causing Willis’ health to deteriorate.
Organized religion in Christianity plays the role of the sometimes annoyingly restrictive mother in our spiritual life. Religion can be abused, smacked over heads leaving lumps that hurt like hell and need time to heal. Religion requires prudence, but that is not the point of this particular story, because it can also nourish us, in ways only fruits and vegetables can. Picking and choosing what we do and don’t want out of religion amounts to only eating junk food and receiving minimal nourishment. The less pleasant aspects of organized religion such as sacrifice, repentance, and service, are the vegetables and fruit we need for our faith to remain healthy and sustainable over a lifetime. And, ultimately, it is what is required for salvation. If Willis doesn’t have to listen to anyone else, only his own wants, why they would he chose a quinoa and kale salad over a hamburger and fries? Madness. Religion without spirituality is dead, sure, but spirituality without religion can more often than not be fruitless.
Following his rejection of additional authorities on food, Willis was doomed to make more and more unhealthy decisions. Left to our own devices we will succumb purely to our own wants. We apply this to daily life in other ways like government, but are bound and determined to keep religion from confining us. The “I am spiritual, not religious” mantra of today is ultimately leading society as a whole down an unhealthy path. In the end, the appeal of being able to choose only white bread over wheat bread if we want will prove to be of no nutritional value and leave us in a worse place than when we started. We will settle for unchallenging homilies/sermons, we will trade in computer screens for pastors, and couches for community. We will sacrifice work, responsibility, and effort for entertainment and fancy lighting. We will take all the nourishment out of Christianity until it eventually starves to death.
I’m on the Blessed Is She blog today discussing how to experience peace in our lives this Advent.
“The seed of peace was planted when we began our conversion journey, whenever that was and continues to be. This means that as our relationship with Jesus grows, so will the amount of peace we experience. We know from Jesus’ example that this does not mean we will be granted a life free from turmoil and strife. But we will know unshakeable peace as we walk through difficult situations because we know Who we belong to and where we are going.”
Last Advent I was seven months pregnant. Maybe I was too self-absorbed at the time focusing on my numerous pregnancy ailments, but I did not take time to reflect on that unique moment in my life as the advent of my son and the advent of Mary’s son coincided. I simply wanted the end of my pregnancy to come, and the beginning of our life as a family of three to begin. Even as I neglected the opportunity to experience Advent in a particular way last year, I am better prepared to experience it more deeply this year because now I know the value of waiting, of enduring, of anticipation.
This year I will wait during this season quietly and patiently with Mary, not because we share the same physical state of pregnancy, but because I know what awaits us on the other side. I am joining her as one who has already experienced the pain and ultimate joy of birth. I will wait with her full of hope because I know what is on the other side. Redemption.
I loved dinosaurs growing up. When someone would offer to read me a story, I would pick out my dinosaur encyclopedia. I wore boys’ dinosaur pajamas and my first dream job was to be a paleontologist. But at some point in elementary school, whether due to someone’s comments or just general Bible Belt culture, tension developed between my love of dinosaurs and my faith. I became aware that many people around me did not believe in certain theories or facts about dinosaurs that I did. They did not believe the earth was 65 million years old, that the Big Bang may have happened, or that humans did not exist until millions of years after the dinosaurs became extinct. They cited as evidence for their disbelief the creation account in Genesis. I, wanting to be a good Christian, decided that I had to choose between my faith and my love of dinosaurs and science. I gave up my dream of becoming a paleontologist, became afraid of science that challenged my faith, and accepted (or at least told myself that I did) the belief that Genesis was to be interpreted literally.
It was not until college that I was freed from this debilitating approach to science and faith. During a difficult spiritual season my first year of college, I read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. It amazed me how reasonable this Christian seemed! In fact, he appealed to reason in his book to show the reality of Christianity. He had sincere faith, but it was also an informed faith. I soon found out, unsurprisingly, he did not adhere to a literal interpretation of Genesis. I decided that if a man of faith like C.S. Lewis could be a proponent of both faith and science, so could I. I became a secret theistic evolutionist. Seriously, I was scared to tell anyone! Gradually, I became more open about my beliefs when asked, but I still felt as though some people didn’t think I had faith as sincere as theirs because of my beliefs. The struggle for peace in this area of my life continued and ended up playing a significant role in my journey to the Catholic Church.
I recently wrote about my struggles with truth and my eventual conversion to Catholicism. My conversion helped me finally reconcile my intellect and my faith. I wanted so badly to be a follower of Jesus, but it seemed like I had to shove parts of who I was aside to do so. But as I wrestled with this, something was becoming apparent to me. Sacrifice involves the end or death of something. Surrender involves a cease in resistance and submission to authority. God didn’t want me to sacrifice my reason and my intellect to follow him. All he wanted was for me to surrender my reason and intellect it to him! I had falsely believed religious truth was simply spiritual and did not involve the physical (see Hebrews 11:1). This meant I had to accept all aspects of faith without help, guideposts, signs, or evidence. How wrong I was! Evidence of his glory and his presence are all around us in nature and in science. In fact, creation is supposed to aid us in our discovery of the divine (see Romans 1:20). He created all matter, therefore, he actually created science. He would never allow us to discover things in his creation that contradict him. Our perceptions about him may be expanded, but his ultimate purpose, his glory, will never be thwarted. For example, Genesis teaches us that God was not created but is the creator of the heavens and the earth. I believe this truth is Genesis’ primary purpose. It is meant to give us spiritual and even historical insight but not necessarily scientific insight. It is important to note that when Genesis was written thousands of years ago, the authors did not have the scientific knowledge we do now. Evolution gives insight into the processes God used. It does not make Genesis any less important. Actually, Genesis fills in gaps that science can never fill. Science will never be able to prove how something came from nothing, but Genesis tells us about an infinite, uncreated being. See how beautifully science and faith can complement each other when they are not seen as contradictory!
All of the earth proclaims God’s glory, the processes and the products of creation. If we knew everything about God, we wouldn’t need him. But how great a grace he grants those with a doubting heart like mine when he gives us glimpses of his glory through science. It is a shame I wasted years not giving him glory for all of the good in his creation. So, today, I praise him for the dinosaurs.
“Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159.
P.S. I would like to make it clear that my family never pushed me in either direction concerning the two interpretations of Genesis. My decision as a kid to reject some parts of science was due to other religious and educational influences.
It has been almost two years since my last post. What a wild two years! Reece and I were married, I graduated from WCU, and we entered the Catholic Church. As you can see, blogging was pushed to the side for good reason, but hopefully I can get back into posting more regularly. Although I did not originally write this to post on here, I decided to anyway because it is about such an important part of my life now.
Acts 8:26-40 RSV
26 But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert road. 27 And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Can’dace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: “As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.” 34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus. 36 And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?”37 * [No text] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azo’tus, and passing on he preached the gospel to all the towns till he came to Caesare’a.
I never imagined as a twenty-two year old, American, married, and now Catholic girl I would be able to identify so closely with a first century Ethiopian eunuch. I was raised in a wonderful and faithful Methodist family, however, in high school I began church hopping, or, more appropriately, denomination hopping. I cannot think of the reason I began to visit other churches other than the fact that almost none of my friends were Methodist. Most of my friends were either Baptist or Pentecostal. I continued this pattern when I began college, but this flaky approach to church would prove unable to handle the spiritual problems I was about to encounter. Almost immediately after I began college in 2012, I, too, began asking the Ethiopian’s question, “How can I understand unless someone guides me?” As all my beliefs were challenged in my classes and by new friends, I became overwhelmed by my inability to deeply understand Scripture. Simple truths in scripture were plain to me, such as the Christian’s call to remain joyful and content in all circumstances; however, when deep theological questions would arise in my life such as “Are works necessary for salvation?” or “Is infant baptism valid?” I felt woefully incapable of reaching a definitive answer.
Many questions I asked seemed to have multiple answers. For example, in one passage Paul tells us it is by faith we are saved, yet in another James tells us we are not saved by faith alone (see Ephesians 2:8 and James 2:24). I did not just feel I had inadequate knowledge and wisdom to correctly interpret scripture. I knew my tools were inadequate. So, I reached out and engaged in conversations with Protestant leaders I respected on different topics like baptism, salvation, and the Holy Spirit. Instead of helping, these conversations further confused me. These men and women of faith all provided me with different answers, and they all supported their claims with Scripture. They insisted their versions of doctrine were true, but also told me that the other people I had discussed these matters with, even those who differed, were saved because they believed in Jesus.
My confusion turned into despair. None of the Protestant denominations I had grown up attending seemed to be able to give answers that satisfied me. I didn’t really even know what all my questions were, but something about my faith was not clicking. I would read texts such as “the spirit is not the author of confusion,” ( see 1 Corinthians 14:33) and since I was clearly deeply confused, I concluded I must not have the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, I reasoned if I did not have the Holy Spirit, I could not be saved. My doubts were coupled with a tendency towards relativism. I tried to convince myself these questions I asked did not matter as long as I knew Jesus. If I knew Jesus, then I was OK because all other questions about baptism, authority, and church structure were secondary. This line of thinking did not comfort me in the end because many of the questions directly related to the basic question of who is and isn’t saved. This led to doubts of even the existence of God. I frequently felt depressed and as if any effort to grow in my faith was useless because I couldn’t be sure I was going about it the correct way. I gave up on truth.
My faith was being severely tested and my thoughts became borderline agnostic. I rarely went to church, and when I did, it felt like emotional torture. Up until this point in my life I was like the Ethiopian eunuch struggling to understand with only a book to guide me. Then, as the Lord sent Phillip to the eunuch, he sent a messenger to me in the form of a history professor during the fall semester of 2013. This man was not only a brilliant professor but a very godly man. One day, without ever mentioning his own personal faith, he gave a lecture about the pursuit of truth and how it has been lost as the main pursuit in academic circles. He provided the class with his explanation for why relativism has progressed so quickly in the past five hundred years, the Protestant Reformation.
Until the fifteenth century, most people in Europe, and especially Christians in Western Europe, believed Truth existed and that Truth resided in the Church. There was no question of which church, or which doctrine was true because there was only one church in Western Europe, the Catholic Church. Many of the clergy in Germany during the fifteenth century had become corrupt, and the Church in Germany was badly in need of reform. A monk named Martin Luther took it upon himself to begin this reform. His initial goal was simply reform, not separation from the Catholic Church. However, as Luther’s campaign for reform gained power, it quickly became a protest against the Catholic Church as a whole, rather than the corrupt individuals. Luther decided to reject the Catholic Church’s authority, but he needed to replace it with a new source of authority, leading him to declare an already authoritative source, the Bible, as his sole authority in matters of faith. However, by doing this, Luther made himself rather than the Bible his sole authority in matters of faith. This is because the Bible must be interpreted. Otherwise, the Bible is simply literature. Someone or something must give it meaning. So, in this manner Luther became his own authority on matters of faith. This doctrine of sola scriptura or “scripture alone” quickly crumbled as Luther’s followers realized what this new doctrine actually meant. If each individual reader is responsible for deciding what scripture means, and if he or she interprets it differently than Luther, then that reader is not bound to follow Luther. Consequently, this first split has resulted in tens of thousands of new denominations and interpretations of which I found myself sorting through attempting to determine which could tell me how to be a true disciple of Jesus.
After class, I visited this professor and explained to him my distress over the Bible and distress over my faith in general. I explained to him I believed in Jesus, but I didn’t know why I believed the Bible was the way to Jesus other than my parents and pastor told me so. I then heard for the first time the story of the formation of the Church and the subsequent formation of the canon of scripture. I began to see how difficult it is to understand scripture apart from this context, hence my difficulty in understanding the Bible. When Christ came, he established the Church. He never instructed his followers to write a New Testament or even mentioned a Bible. So why do we have one? More importantly, why do we believe it is the inspired word of God or even the correct books? The Church decided we needed one and Jesus gave the church authority. And with this authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the church compiled the canon of Scripture we have today. If the church didn’t have the authority from God to do so, then the Bible cannot be trusted. But God did give authority. Therefore, if one accepts the authority of scripture, one must accept the authority of the Church. The question then is which church? Only one church existed when the Bible was compiled, the universal, or Catholic Church.
After this meeting, I resumed my search for truth. I felt for awhile that seeking truth sounded rather arrogant. But I simply desired to seek the Lord and know his will. He told his disciples the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth ( see John 16:13). So, I went looking for it, all of it. It seems that Jesus cares a great deal that we should not live in confusion like I did, but with hope, faith, and love. I had known the most essential truth- Jesus is my Savior, but that couldn’t have been the whole truth. Jesus didn’t just come to give me a ticket to heaven but to make me holy and help others to become holy so we can help his kingdom come on earth. I needed to know how to do that. I wanted to know where and what Christ’s church really was and after a year long period of study with the campus minister, I discovered it was the Catholic Church. My decision to become Catholic was as simple as deciding I believed the Catholic Church had the authority to help me understand what it is Christ desires for me to do. Of course I had reservations about topics like Purgatory, Mary, the saints, and confession, but ultimately it didn’t matter because I now believe the Catholic Church has the authority to decide what the truth is on those matters. Although the issue of authority first led me to inquire about the Catholic Church, further study of the other teachings I had originally been so confused about, like baptism and the relationship between works and faith, revealed answers that not only spoke to me spiritually but also set me at ease intellectually.
This quest was uncomfortable for me and also those around me, particularly my husband who was my fiancé at the time. But I was spurred onward in my quest by one of my heroes C.S. Lewis: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” I had experienced the despair of possessing little to no truth. I was comforted after three years of searching when I entered into the Catholic Church on November 22, 2015 with my husband, Reece. I was comforted spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. That day, I found the Lord in bread and wine. In this way, even an illiterate person, who may never have seen a Bible, can encounter the Lord. He has healed my soul, and like the Ethiopian I go along my way rejoicing.