This is a guest post by Anthony, who one year ago made the announcement that he was leaving an SBC seminary to become Catholic.
I was scared. Wouldn’t you be? Jobless, living with my parents, gritting my teeth through physical therapy after rotator cuff surgery and . . . Catholic. Now, a year later, I can look back on my conversion and reflect on my awkward but necessary transition to the Catholic Church.
The early days were a thrill, like the adrenaline I used to get from breaking rules at school. I watched Harry Potter and drank a Corona each night for a few days, not because I liked beer but to repudiate Southern’s policy against students drinking alcohol. I stopped reading the Bible for a few weeks too—it had just become too confusing. Even though I’d memorized three books and countless verses, every epistle seemed to cry out against the supposed clarity or “perpiscuity” of scripture, and I needed a break. My parents were gracious enough to lend me their car so I could take a two-week trip to see my grandpa in Arkansas and try to stop thinking.
I visited parishes and priests throughout the trip—Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri—though my most pleasant memories came from Arkansas. A janitor with an Irish accent saw me praying in a dark sanctuary and asked if she could help. An RCIA Director was called and listened intently in her office. Soon she was handing me a YouCat, Catechism, and rosary. (I get tears in my eyes thinking about it–I was so vulnerable and the kindness meant so much.) I read beautiful prayers and ate delicious Italian food, cooked by my Catholic grandfather.
Coming home was like stubbing my toe, a jarring call to reality. A futile job search began between pain pills and rotator cuff therapy. After Devin posted my story Elizabeth Scalia quipped, “I bet he becomes a priest,” and I wanted to respond, “You’re probably right.” Becoming Catholic for aspiring evangelical pastors is certainly confusing, because each of us has imagined his vocation including leading a church and being a husband. This tension was on display as I signed up for CatholicMatch.com in June, days after officially being received into the Catholic Church, but immediately stopped using it after being accepted into a program to serve the poor in Harlem for a year. This would be my year to explore and consider being a priest in the future.
Everything changed in July when a young woman responded to my CatholicMatch message, five weeks after I had sent it. Intrigued by the fact that we each had been chaperones at a recent Steubenville conference, we talked and set up a date. “What if you fall in love and then have to leave for Harlem?” a Catholic mentor asked. “I’ll write letters from Harlem, it will be romantic,” I promised.
On our third date, August 2, we sat on the beach and she said “yes” when I asked for permission to pursue her in a godly relationship. Her face filled with shock when I said I was going to cancel Harlem, a week before my flight left, and take my chances on a long-shot job close to home because she was simply stunning and wonderful. Four weeks later I got the job. A month after that I proposed. On June 1st Jackie will be my bride and I swear I’m the luckiest guy in the world.
When I was a freshman in college our Bible study leaders would gather us together at 7pm on Wednesdays and have us share “highs and lows” of the week. Here are my highs and lows in the Catholic Church over the last year.
High- Ecumenism. I still pray “off-the-cuff evangelical style,” read my Protestant ESV Bible, and have grown to appreciate men like Mark Driscoll and Lecrae for the clarity of their message and the courage to preach truth, especially to young men. I’ve stayed close to my evangelical friends too, and there is a mutual respect and trust between us.
Low- Cognitive dissonance. I was unprepared for the extent that basic Catholic truths would not be followed in the day-to-day life of the Catholic Church. It’s bizarre when church-going Catholics don’t consider Holy Days of Obligation obligatory, when virtually everyone in every Mass takes the Eucharist despite plain Catechism teaching against receiving when in mortal sin.
High- Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. What a blessing to live at the same time as these men. The papal conclave was a thrill and I have been pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction of so many non-Catholics to Francis.
Low- Media outreach. Discussions over whether to use social media, put homily audio/video online, or have a decent website are questions of the last decade. Pope Benedict has invited Christians to use the Internet for God’s glory, while still maintaining time for silence and reflection.
High- Mass. In a world where nothing is revered, where people tweet obscenities at the President and Pope, the Mass is a sanctuary of reverence, of focusing on Christ. The Mass is like a mustache—so counter-cultural it’s cool.
Low- Evangelism. It took me months before I could find a Catholic who sheepishly admitted we should want other people to be Catholic. The leaders have been talking about the New Evangelization for half a century, yet many look at their feet and quote something St. Francis never said.
High– The Catholic Church. For all of it’s weakness, the gates of Hell will not overcome the Church. I’m here because I love Jesus, and I believe this is where He wants me, taking in the fullness of the Christian faith.