07.13.2016 | happenings | comments: 4
In 2010, I became Catholic. “Crossed the Tiber,” as they say, because the Tiber is in Rome. In brief: I was raised Free Methodist, attended eight years of Catholic school, had a crisis of faith born from relational apathy and theological pride, and made a decision to join the Catholic Church, because I had to decide. At the time I saw it too much as a philosophical solution for the problem of doubt; I have found, even better, a remedy for living. The medicine has not been painless, not least of all because I resisted it, but also because it implies change, and change hurts.
Most of my Protestant friends supported my decision to become Catholic. Lots of intelligent people had surprisingly incorrect thoughts about it, like: (1) It doesn’t matter what church you’re in as long as you believe in Jesus; (2) God allowed the Reformation so people could worship their own way; or (3) Just make sure you defy the teaching on contraception! (Yes, really.) (1) was overly minimalistic, and (2) was a very poor explanation to give for Reformation-era suffering. I pray that I reacted to (3) with charity.
At any rate, a number of people thought it was good to become a Catholic if it was God’s plan for me, as if I could turn and respond that God’s plan for them was to stay Methodist or to be a Bible-based Christian. As if the path to God lead out of Rome as easily as into it.
I crossed the Tiber because there was nowhere else to go. A conspiracy of facts narrowed my options. The Church is so preposterous that only the salient facts of history and an encounter with Christ could make one a truly committed Catholic.
What about the other facts? Like being the one in the family who can’t go “directly to God” with his sins? What about hell?
Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, after all. People have asked for my judgment on their Protestant souls. I tell them I’m too worried about my own salvation to guarantee theirs. A deft dodge with a hint of self-deprecation and a subtle stab at blessed assurance. I don’t know, and neither do you. The tension remains until I–God willing–reach paradise and see for myself how wide the net is cast.
But right now, how do I relate to people who’ve pestered me to openly deny the teaching of my Church? The following is not a complete answer, but only a paltry sketch of one.
I fought for this. So did you. A duel between Catholicism and existentialism, which in the end is just nihilism that can’t toss love away. You fought with me against the darkness and the feeling that I had lost my faith and that nothing would change that. You fought with me in tearful, brooding, joyous moments. You wove the Papal flag the whole way.
I almost drowned crossing the Tiber, but I made it. And though you carried the Papal flag, only some of you can now join me at the communion table. Others will ask me about hell or condoms or how you aren’t sure about all this Mary stuff.
There were Catholics at my confirmation–the friend who sponsored me, a couple of others near the front. Free Methodists filled the back row of the Church–almost all family, and one old friend. Another old friend who doesn’t believe in many supernatural things was there near the front. He’d take a bullet for me. Of course he’d go to church.
I fought for this. So did you. There was no other option.
So about that man on the other side?
When I reached Rome, I left a shadow of myself on the other side of the Tiber. He’d shout and plead, advertising “Simple faith!” But I chose my path. I knew what was tenable. Lord, to where else could I go?
Some days I’d feel free, sometimes I’d feel trapped. Sometimes I still feel weird saying “I am Catholic.” Between being raised on the “simple gospel” and the occasional philosophical doubt, it’s no glass slipper. But no other shoe is worth trying.
About a year and a half after my Confirmation, I found myself wanting to avoid what Catholicism meant for me and a wanting to return to that simpler time, desires without an answer because they were the wrong desires. The answer was to deny myself, to deny the easy answer because it was wrong. To follow Christ and follow his pilgrim Church that has no home, not yet.
So I denied myself, and the man on the other side of the river got louder. I got angry. I got angry at Reality. And because what I’d found was real and true and beautiful and I was afraid to lose it, I tried to hurt my echo on the other side and I missed. Instead I hurt some of you.
I went to a Wendy’s once with my old youth pastor, and we talked over the whole mess, the philosophical and personal stuff that came with this territory. He said it was no use crying over spilled milk. I asked, “What if I’m still slipping on the spilled milk?”
Honestly, I walked out on you. I don’t know how I relate to you. I tried getting angry, as if that made any sense. And it hurt people close to me. I know you’ve forgiven me already. Thank you. But how did you?
I certainly can’t go backwards. It’s Jerusalem or bust. If I make it, I pray to see the net cast far and wide. The Eucharist can’t make me a better Christian. But if I’m willing, at least it may mend me and help me on my pilgrimage with this Church on earth.
I can’t tie a pretty theological bow on this essay and call it good. And that’s okay. Pretty bows don’t fit this life and they won’t get me to the next.