Last May, I got the chance to speak at a Biola chapel. Here’s the recording of it. Fast forward to 23:40 to watch it.
Before the summer, my friends and I joked that I was “going home” to Catholic Land, and I’m not sure I really noticed how non-figurative our joke was until I got there. (I should mention that the first thing we did after getting to our hotel was walk to the Vatican and hear Pope Francis give a homily and pray the Angelus.)
Mostly I’ll be talking about Rome, because that’s where we spent the most time, but traveling through Italy I never realized how much is here to see. St. Benedict’s first monastery, Sienna (I thought it was in Spain somewhere), the bloody corporal, the conversion place of St. Augustine (didn’t click until here), St. Aquinas’ chair that he taught from, or St. Mark’s bones. And these are just some of the things I didn’t know about.
But before I get into some things that I want to highlight, I just want to mention this. In the spring I tried to go on a mission trip to Italy and was denied because I was Catholic. But man, what if I hadn’t been?! There is literally so much to work with here as far as evangelization. I think one of the most generic principles about spreading the gospel is knowing how to look for opportunities that, like doors, will naturally lead the conversation to Christ and the Faith. Sometimes we give the excuse that no opportunity came during the conversation or that we missed it and couldn’t circle back. Now these are pretty weak excuses basically anywhere in the world, but they’re downright petty if you’re in Rome. Rome: a city with streets named after famous Christians, crosses on all the high points, symbols of the Church on basically anything that isn’t a church itself, and filled with the pealing of church bells and people in habits patrolling the streets. What a place for the New Evangelization to take place. So many touchstones of Christianity that excuses pale.
*Bells for vigil mass are ringing as I’m writing this in the Cinque Terre 🙂
- I was caught off guard with how many things we saw in Rome were from Christian Rome, not Ancient pagan Rome. The years of Roman history that I had taken only covered the history of the ancient Romans and not anything after the Fall of Rome. So it was surprising to find as much if not more of the Eternal City’s attractions were from Christendom as were from the pagan empire. And much of what was from the pagan empire was preserved through the ages because of the Church. For example, the Senate building and the Parthenon were both preserved through the millennia because Catholics transformed their used into places of worship.
- Following from the last surprise, what was fascinating and encouraging to see was the baptism of things pagan. In my junior year of high school, I read Bede’s account of the Church in England. A common event in the history is for pagan worship sites to be “baptized” into Christian Churches. We see this manifest in America almost exclusively in Christian traditions like the Christmas Tree, Easter eggs, and wedding rings, but not so much in actual places. Rome is full of examples. The most prominent is the Parthenon. For those that don’t know, the Parthenon was the temple in Ancient Rome that was dedicated to the worship of all the gods. So when I walked in I expected to see statues of deity around the room, not an altar with a crucifix over it. But low and behold, this ancient center of paganism is now a church with daily services held in it.
- Another thing noticeable around this city is the obelisks. These ancient landmarks for getting around the city have noticeably been topped with crosses. They are all over the place. Brought from Egypt, the obelisks in Rome were a sign of their dominion over the known world and were useful ways of knowing where you were in the city. And as if they were history textbooks themselves, they now show the dominion of Christ over the world and the paganism of these two civilizations by object and location.
- Where else in the world are there prayer chapels at transportation hubs? We had all kinds of transportation during our time there, including train and obviously airplane. In each major station or airport, there were multiple “prayer rooms.” Some of them even had schedules posted for daily group prayer, sometimes twice a day. What an awesome thing for these places to provide. I know so many people (ahem…my sisters) that stress out about traveling. What better remedy could there be for anxiety than a sacred place to talk to God right at the place of your departure.
- It’s 7:45am on a Wednesday, it’s our day to sleep in, and you know what woke me up that morning? Not toilets flushing, not a coffee machine, not girls arguing over time in the bathroom, but church bells. On a Wednesday. And they weren’t ringing every hour, but at 7:45 in the morning and at 8. First, what a blessing it is that the reception of our spiritual food is not limited to one day of the week. Second, what an awesome thing it is that the church in Italy (or at least Florence) has the “audacity” to ring loud bells from the center of the city throughout the work week to announce a daily service. I think if we did something like that in the states we’d probably get sued for a disturbance of the peace, a hate crime, and infringement of the first amendment.
- In relation to this, I loved that the main attractions of most of the cities we visited was a cathedral or basilica. Or even just the fact that there were way more churches in a town than what I’m used to. Take Assisi for example. It’s a very small quaint town, and on our walking tour through it, we stopped in five churches (and not just small ones). And if you know the size of Assisi, that’s a lot per capita, and what’s more is that there were more than five other steeples we didn’t grace with our presence (vis versa if we want to be real here) that were visible over the town.
In a solemn state of mind, reflecting on the prominence of the churches in Assisi (or Italy at large) makes me a little melancholy. If you ever drive down Central Ave in Phoenix AZ, you can see the same number of churches in Assisi on one street if you drive but 30 seconds. However instead of differentiating the buildings by their individual names, you look to the genus denoted on their sign so you can categorize it in the great taxonomy of denominations.
And all this external stuff is great. As to the hearts of the individual parishioners that I saw at daily mass in Monterosso or elsewhere, I can’t speak of their personal walk with God. I’ve heard for years that Europe is overrun with modernism and very secular, and even that the European Christians are as such. But what I do know, is that for a good fire, one needs a fireplace. And Italy is an amazing fireplace.
I stopped blogging last fall cuz life got nuts. I hope that this isn’t the case for everybody, but I think I’ve noticed a pattern in how I approach semesters. The progression of mental states is something like this:
- Back to Determination during the break.
If that list doesn’t make sense here’s some photos from when my friend convinced me to pose in what looked to be a frozen lake.
But I’m feeling the need (and I also now have the time) to jump back into it. So I’m already planning blog posts on Mary, Ecumenism, and probably a bit about when I travel to Italy later this month. But as always I mainly want answer questions that readers have or discuss topics that you want to hear about.
I also have the rest of the theses from my KJV-only friend to answer, so if I don’t get questions, I’m just gonna work on those.
But I just wanted to give a little recap of what’s been going on so far since I last posted. So here we go.
So I mentioned in On Being the Elephant that I had to stop writing until I found a Catholic community of people to support me…more or less. In light of that I actually went and started a Catholic Club at my University. Basically the need I saw was that there are about 90 Catholic students at Biola, but of the 5-6 that I’ve met, they also only know about 2-3 others. At a school of 4,000, that not a lot for a common interest that very communally oriented to begin with.
The club’s name is Ex Aqua (Latin for “out of water”) and that came out of feeling a bit like a fish out of water, because I know belong to the largest group of Christians out there, but at Biola it’s almost flipped. It’s also symbolic of being baptized. The club has three purposes:
- To foster a community of Catholic students at Biola,
- To encourage each other to be positive representatives of the Catholic faith at Biola and beyond,
- To introduce the Catholic voice to the theological discussion at Biola.
The group is really open to everyone (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant), we only ask that those who join have a desire to work towards a greater unity of Christian brethren. The club has a few members so far, but we’ve got a long way to go, so if you’re a Biola student that would be interested in joining, we’d love to welcome you in (shameless self-plug). So anyway that was what I was up to in January.
Sitting at a booth promoting this club, someone came up and put their name down and let me know that she was leading a mission trip to Italy in the summer through the school. This piqued my interest, since as you should know I want to show Christ at the center of the Church to Protestants and nominal Catholics alike, and Europe is full of nominals (or so I’ve heard). So I applied and interviewed for it. But…
Turns out the trip to Italy was partnered through Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ). And they don’t consider Catholics to be Christians. So I got told by Biola that I could go on a mission to East Africa or Macedonia, but I couldn’t go on a gospel proclamation trip in Italy since I believe in “a different gospel.” I decided not to go on another trip, because I didn’t feel like I was being called to them like I was Italy.
Fortunately later in March, the American contacts for Cru came to Biola for our annual Mission’s Conference. I got the chance to sit down for about 2 hours with them and chat about their reasons, but we also chatted about just generic differences between Catholics and Protestants. When it got to the point that the wife (an ex-Catholic) informed me that the Church was trying to get Mary officially placed as a goddess, I knew that this wasn’t going to go anywhere good. It shocks me that even the largest missionary organizations can have hold such a slanderous view of the Church. I think this points to the need for truth in everything even from a pragmatic view, and here’s why. We all know missionaries make a lot of money in their profession…I’m kidding. Given the limited resources that missions have, it seems imperative that those resources (people, money, relief supplies, Bibles, tracts, etc.) be effectively applied. If we start sending missionaries to different churches because we (wrongly, or maybe just with bad information…like Mary as a deity) believe that they aren’t saved, then we’re wasting time and resources on infighting. Of course the constant reminder of the gospel to those who already believe is essential to the mission of the Church, but that is not what we’re talking about when we say to brothers, “If you stay in your church, you’re not going to be saved. Come to my church.” That’s just the paramount manifestation of the spirit of schism.
I’m really interested to hear how the mission went for the Biola team since I know they didn’t have that same mindset of “sheep-stealing.” But this freed up my summer and I looked into possible internships for the summer. Catholic Answers doesn’t have an internship program, but I emailed them anyway asking if they had need of college student for the summer.
Around this time, I also switched majors from Philosophy to Biblical and Theological Studies. I’m not sure about this, but I’m pretty sure I’m the first Catholic B&TS major at Biola. So it should be really interesting to see how it goes. I’m taking Ecclesiology in the fall so that should be fun. I figured that I was doing enough theological study in my free time to just have answers for my friends, that I should just make my hobby my major. I also just want to build bridges between Catholics and Protestants, and as I’ve been telling people, you have to know both riverbanks to build a bridge.
Just after this I got offered the opportunity to speak at a chapel at Biola. (I’ll post the video on here when it gets published). I made up my mind to talk about the brokenness I’ve experienced in the Church but also the hope of reunion that we can hold onto. I probably spent 12 hours preparing that 7 minute speech. Probably 6 out of my own anxiety, and 6 from trying to edit it down to fit the time and content requirements. I say content requirements because the people in charge of chapel said that I could name Cru in my speech. Why? Because they had too close of a relationship with Biola. I didn’t know that testimonials could get so political, but I guess I was wrong. So instead I had to say, “missions organization” and I feared that that would make people think SMU had excluded me, and apparently some people took it that way unfortunately. But I guess that’s the price paid.
Two days after that I was in invited (with a handful of other students) to attend a luncheon with the Board of Trustees. While there I actually got to chat with Biola’s President for about 20 min about my time at Biola as a Catholic. And I talked with his speechwriter, for about another hour. Needless to say I’m really excited to see what happens this next year with denominational diversity at Biola, especially since October marks the 500th Anniversary of the 95 Theses sparking the Reformation.
But that leads to now, and I get to spend the summer working at Catholic Answers, who’s website, get this, is Catholic.com. But they’re the second most visited Catholic site other than the Vatican, and is my dream place to work in the future. I have been blessed beyond my imagination with what I have going this summer, and that time includes a lot of space for studying and blogging. So get ready for more. And as always I’ll try to keep the next ones under 1000 words.
Sidenote: I’m gonna start using Instagram to promote this blog more. So if you’re on Insta go give @recapturingcatholicism
Have an awesome summer!
One of the attributes of America that I find intriguing is the fascination in being “different,” “hipster” if you will. I don’t think that this is different from most people; I think we all have an inherent and flawed fascination with the novel, the new, the modern. It accounts for the success of advertising and its captive consumer culture. I remember (with a smirk) the days when I played competitive soccer and Nike would come out with new colors for the same model cleats every two months or so, at which point the old colors (although no different in make) would drop $40 in price. It’s hilarious.
All this to say, I wonder if we give being different and unique too much hype. To continue with the cleats analogy, some of the guys wearing old Adidas Copas (ancient bare bones cleats) were just as good as those wearing the new Nike Mercurials with all the bells and whistles.
They’re both still cleats. Yes, there are some differences but they are both still soccer cleats. This is their essential attribute and nature. The fact that one is more flashy and novel is of no practical consequence. They’re both still soccer cleats
My point is, being new and different is not all it’s cracked up to be. Going into this semester, I have to wonder if I was riding off of that hype. A rare Catholic in a sea of evangelicals at Biola University. I fell victim to the appeal of being different. And coming to the end of the semester I find myself completely drained.
I was blessed with a supportive community this summer at Younglife that accepted my Christianity as valid, and time spent with them was refreshing and a much needed retreat from a pretty rough year before that. It’s communities like this that give us the support and environment any human needs to first be themselves and then to refine.
This was the energy I was riding into the school year, and now that wave has come to the shore and nothing but foam remains.
I’ve been isolated before, different than those around me. I played soccer with non-Christians, been to classes at a secular college, so I know what means to be a religious minority. But in cases like that I had Christian friends to rely on, or to pass people on to if they had a question I couldn’t answer, and to support me in times where I felt alone. I wasn’t the only Christian people knew. I didn’t carry the sole weight of exemplifying and explaining the Christian faith to the people I knew.
Things are a little different now. While I am in an almost exclusively Christian community at Biola, I am one of the only Catholics I know. According to the school’s statistics, there are about 90 Catholics in our 4,000 undergraduate school; however since the environment is predominately Protestant, not a lot of Catholics feel comfortable identifying as such publicly. I’m one of 2 that has, and I only know 3 other Catholics beside myself. Which is pretty sad if you think about it. It’s very similar to the early Christians hiding in the catacombs during the Roman persecution.
This would be one thing. But since I don’t come from a Catholic background, I don’t have friends back home I can call for help, a family to lean on and go to mass with, or years of knowledge about Catholicism to draw on. In someways I feel like St. Peter, a disciple of Jesus for a short time and then called before the Sanhedrin to be questioned. An illiterate (most likely) fisherman called before an intimidating religious court. I can only pray that the Spirit would grace my witness as it did Peter’s.
It truly is a shame and I think the reality of my minority experience is so out of sync with the reality outside of my life. There are approximately 1.3 billion Catholics in the world, and that makes up a majority of the world’s Christians. But even though my particular church might be made up of a billion, I could count those with whom I actually have a relationship on my ten fingers.
Being the Elephant in the room has been too exhausting for me to do on my own. It’s why I haven’t kept up my blog as vigorously; and until I find a group that can support me, I won’t be posting on the blog.
But before I disappear I have a few things to ask of you, my reader. If you are a Catholic reading this, please pray for the Catholics at Biola, that we might be set free from the fear we live in, and also for the Protestants here that they would see the value in appreciating the first 75% of their Christian history.
If you are a Protestant reading this, my appeal is to your emotions (and I know that’s not a valid appeal, and as a philosophy major this makes me cringe). I hope you can see the real, individual pain that the division of church causes in people’s lives, like myself. It is not just some congregational rivalry; it affects people on a personal level. Please work towards reconciliation both theologically and relationally. One of the really easy ways to do this is to stop using the language of “Christian and Catholic” when you really mean “Protestant and Catholic” (unless of course you really do mean to draw a line, in which case, please use the language of your conviction).
I’ll take this last moment to present a dilemma I find with Protestant culture (and this is an example from Biola, but it is definitely applicable to my experience before college).
Catholics, in the Protestant eye, can often be lumped alongside Mormons, in so far as good works being at least a factor in justification, as religious people that claim to be Christians, but in fact aren’t…and therefore are not saved. I’ve had this said to my face if you doubt that this happens. Biola, my university, has a student mission called EMI (Evangelical Mormon Interactions.) This provides an opportunity for Evangelical Christians and Mormons to hangout and (I’m assuming this happens because I’ve never been involved) witness to their faith. I know that growing up when Mormons would knock on our door, we would not turn them away, but invite them to discuss faith and try to help them see the true Christian gospel.
My dilemma is this: if we, Catholics, are as lost as Mormons, why is the reaction to the Catholic Church scorn and condemnation instead of the outreach and concern extended to Mormons. If we are both lost, reach out to both of us. Our responsibility of evangelism is to all, not just to the ones we choose. And if we are not lost, then why is there scorn and condemnation?
This is the dilemma I will end with. Perhaps I will write again sometime, but I simply can’t keep this up.
Peace be with you,
A brother in Christ.
So if you gathered from my last post or not, my freshman year was filled with a lot of spiritual, emotional, and mental turmoil. I mean to throw everything I’ve talked about on top a typical freshman year was logistically stupid. I realize and acknowledge that now. My dad even warned me not to get too caught up in my inquiries until I’d adjusted to the transition into college.
But…I couldn’t help it. From a very young age I have been known to find a subject (however significant or insignificant it may be) and entrench myself in it. In sixth grade, my mom compared it to a dog who locks their jaw once they bite into something. Choosing my battles and choosing when to fight them is a foreign concept to me.
But amidst all the craziness, I have experienced a feeling of homecoming and belonging like never before. And all of it is so interconnected, I struggle to put into words my experience so that you can understand it. Maybe it’s just one of those things. But I have to try.
First. The Mass. I have tried to explain this to friends before and the best phrase I have come up with is: spiritually logistical. I know, probably doesn’t make that much sense, but hear me out. From earlier posts, you’ll know that I was discontented with my typical, nondenominational service. Why? For 20 minutes we’d sing contemporary worship songs (which I’d had my falling out with,) and then the pastor would preach/teach for the last 40 or so (I had an amazing pastor, and the fact that I was hearing the same things over again was entirely out of his control.) This was typical everywhere I went. However the Mass, on the other hand, is about the same length (an hour,) and is much more complex. For a complete picture of the liturgy of the Mass, I’m sure it’s easy to google. But for now, I will say that the entire point of it is not instruction, like the former, but rather a communion of believers uniting as Christ’s body. To this end, it will always satisfy. I should probably go into more detail, but I think I should dedicate another post to that. In all, I will always redeem the hour I spend at a Catholic mass, whereas that will not always be the case at my old church. Indeed, at least in a logistical sense, I could accomplish my old kind of Sunday with iTunes and a podcast at home or in my car.
Second. Unity. It has always been a concern of mine that Christianity is so split up. To put it bluntly, a father of one family is a good father, a father of hundreds of families is a scoundrel. I think the fact we are so divided mocks our testimony of the ONE true God. God is not just the Judge, just the Healer, just the Friend, just the Wise One; He is all of these and so much more, and I believe his unified character should be modeled in a unified character in Christianity. I see this best embodied in the Catholic church, which has a high regard of the intellectual, experiential, spiritual, formalized, and personal aspects that I see singled out in other denominations. Saying the Creed in unison with my parish and praying the Lord’s Prayer while holding the hands of the strangers next to me, knowing the whole time that a billion others are doing the same across the world. These things. This is unity I have never before experienced. This is the first time I have ever really felt connected to Christians as a part of the body. The irony is that I rarely know more than 10 people in a parish, if that; whereas at my old church I would know probably more than 100. But I no longer have to church hop. My church has “campuses” everywhere. All of them the same (of course with their own cultural vibe determined by who attends.) I will never have to spend time researching a church’s doctrinal statement (if they even have one) to be sure I’m in the right place, or find a pastor who isn’t boring. These things are set for me and do away with the chaos resulting from so many denominations.
Third. Continuity. THE RIGHT CHURCH IS NOT THE ONE WE MAKE, IT’S THE ONE GOD MAKES!! I’m not used to liturgy, it’s not how I grew up, but a church is not the right church if it follows everything Andrew wants. In one way, I see liturgy as being a little restricting and at sometimes boring; in another, I see it as beautiful and unifying. The truth is not a machination of our fantasies, but rather the reality we must align with. Sure it’d be nice to have great contemporary worship songs written in entire theological accuracy that everyone can participate in and focus on good words of praise instead of catchy riffs, but sadly that usually isn’t the case. So I put aside my classic American consumerism and obsession with novelty, and settled for the traditional, but tried and true, way of doing things. Peter Kreeft, the author of my favorite book whom I late found out transistioned to Catholicism in college like myself, tells a story in his testimony that he was in a lecture about disproving Catholicism and he asked his teacher that if he and his Catholic friend were to travel back in time to the first century, which of them would feel more at home. Of course his professor said the Protestant would, but after reading the Apostolic Fathers, Athanasius, and Augustine, Kreeft determined that they were most definitely Catholic. Luckily, I got to read these books for one of my college courses in my freshman year and came to the same concluision he did.
(Yes, I’m going over 1000 this time.)
Fourth. The Eucharist. Communion always meant something special to me before my transition, definitely much more than just a symbol. Indeed, one of the things I was looking for in a church when I went to college was one that had communion weekly. It was sure depressing when I had to refrain until Easter. But oh man, there MUST be something spiritual about the Eucharist. To be honest, I haven’t studied the systematic theological workings behind transubstantiation, but I still get butterflies every time I approach the Body and the Blood. I’ll definitely write more about this later, but for now know that this minute of my week I look forward to more than anything else.
These things have sustained me through this year and continue to assure me of my decision.
Since my confirmation, my security in being “different” than most of my world has only grown, even though I still encounter the hate and ostracizing that goes along with it. This past summer I served again on a Younglife Summer Staff, and they were the first people that I really felt fully accepted that my Christianity as a Catholic was valid. Being built up by these friends is part of the reason I have the courage to write these things today.
But I’m still obsessed with this beautiful thing called Catholicism, and very much still have my teeth clenched shut on it. I actually chose Dominic as my confirmation name, because St. Dominic was the founder of the Order of Preachers and also since he was named because his mother had a dream of a hound from God during her pregnancy. Dominic is short for Dominicanis which those who know Latin will know it means “Hound of the Lord.”
This concludes my story, and I will turn to writing more about actual topics. I would love to hear from you, my reader, what you’d like to hear about. Anything from, “Hey what’s up with the ‘extra’ books?” to “What’s the point of confession?” is fair game. Even if you have a stereotype of Catholics, let me know. You’re probably partially right, but there is usually more to it.
Thank you for reading!
So I was coming home, right?
If you read my little prayer from the last post, you know I was pretty worried about this. I told two of my best friends about my new area of inquiry and one of them reacted as I feared (asking about all the areas that we Protestants think are antiquated and incorrect: Mary and the saints, works, the pope, etc.) and one asked me this, “Is Jesus still your Savior?” I said of course and he replied, “I don’t know that much about Catholicism, but as long as your answer stays “yes” to that question, have at it.”
If only everyone was so gracious and humble as him.
I remember sneaking out of the house to talk to one of the local parishes about my questions. The lady there recommended I buy the book Catholicism for Dummies (which I did) but by the end of our conversation she handed me a devotion version of the Catholic Catechism. To be completely honest, I found the renowned yellow cover to be the more helpful and to the point in my search for truth.
That Sunday, somehow I skipped my church service and snuck into my first mass. I expected the liturgy, yet I think the only bit I knew was the Lord’s prayer and the Apostle’s Creed. On the way out, I remember walking by and shaking the priest’s hand. He paused and said one word, “Welcome.”
At this point of the summer, the unified, traditional aspect of the Catholic Church was more attractive than ever. Same-sex marriage had just been legalized in America and evangelical churches everywhere went nuts. And by nuts I don’t mean they raged about it and protested (well some did) but that they became unpredictable. One church said it would preform same-sex weddings and welcome them into the church. One church walked the streets with signs saying, “God hates gays,” or trying to apply levitical law and advocating for the genocide of LGBTQ. It was chaos. One church said this, the other said the opposite. One can only imagine the desparation in trying to find a church that was rock solid in protecting the marriage covenant and the unconditional love that God has for all of us sinners.
My parents found out. I mean it’s pretty hard to hide a bright yellow textbook from your mom. I then had to tell my dad. We still laugh at his reaction. He said, “At least you aren’t telling me you lost your faith or got some girl pregnant.” He asked the same question my friend did and satisfied with my answer, left it at that. The only variance was that he felt he should read up, because he is my dad anyway. I eventually told my sisters and they (having celebrated Reformation Day with me for years at our school) had no response. I’d love some day to actually talk with them about the joy and homecoming I have since found, but I fear it would be disrespectful to my parents to initiate those conversations.
I left to go to college at Biola University, an interdenominational university. It requires its students to sign a statement of faith, which I did the previous winter. I checked what I had signed and found it to be consistent with beliefs I was looking into. So my mind was at rest…for a time.
Going there I was pretty hesitant to even mention that I was looking into Catholicism. I looked up stats from two years ago and apparently only 2.5% Biolans were Catholic. And let me tell you, that feels like an exagerrated percentage. While at Biola for my freshman year, I met two (…TWO!!!) other Catholics.
I got involved in RCIA at the nearest parish (RCIA is like the class you participate in while discerning whether to become a member of the Catholic Church) and it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy because it was so easy. I mean we were given Bibles and a post-it note and then told to put it on page 10…the Table of Contents!!! I was the only one there for religious convictions; most of the others wanted to learn more about the church they grew up in, or see what their spouse believed, or get confirmed so they could sponsor someone. Of course me being the single young man that I was, I was asked repeatedly to consider becoming a priest. HAHAHAHA! Can you imagine?! This was at the first class! I wasn’t even Catholic at this point.
But life was lonely. I felt that I had to keep this hidden from friends at school. For instance, I remember asking my friends to drop me off at mass on their way to their church. When I got out, one of their other friends said, “Wait? Are you a Catholic person or something?” I quickly replied, “Yes! Have fun at your evangelical service or something.” Later on, the night I spoke on the panel in Vlog-1, I was on a very casual date and I remember intentionally checking that she wasn’t coming to chapel that night. Why? Because this was something I was made to feel ashamed of. I didn’t want to mess up my chances, you know? Catholics are free game at Biola and I felt it. Even one of my better friends there considers me a Christian solely because he knows my beliefs aren’t fully aligned with Rome’s (…yet, I’m still studying.)
I had to wrestle with a lot of doctrine on my own. My questions started to go beyond the extent of the class I was in or my sponsor’s knowledge. When the leader of the RCIA class met my sponsor he said to her, “Good luck with this one.” Regardless, I was under the constant pressure to personally defend Rome to my friends.
This was the evening of the first day. My chaos had been burst open by light, but the process was not yet complete. If this post seeems dark or sad to you, it’s supposed to be. But morning will come in the next, and last, post about my story.
So back to my month on Summer Staff. I mentioned a friend coming out of nowhere and a voice telling me to do something unconventional PARTLY for the sake of a Star Wars pun, but also because it’s true. A lot of things happened at camp that totally blew my world to bits. Little Death Star bits.
I get to camp and, at least at Younglife camps, they typically have a session devotional for everyone serving on Summer Staff, Work Crew, and what not. The Bible verses were all from Paul’s epistles and his vision for how believers worked and lived together, so of course there was a huge theme of unity throughout. One of the girls on staff was a Catholic, as I found out sooner than later, and in light of our devotions on unity I had to accept her as a Christian because there was no doubt in mind that she desired to be like Christ to others and that she had a very personal relationship with him.
I think the tipping point that got the ball rolling was a late night discussion some of us staffers were having about being raised in the church. At one point, it got to bashing liturgy and the high church denominations that had more “ritual” or rigidity. And I surprised myself by speaking up and defending liturgy. I remember saying that at least they were careful and intentional with what they preached and professed, while definitely still posing a danger of taking it all for granted. Dang, I attended a megachurch at that time and I stood up for the high church, really?!
Next, my introversion kicked in. I know. God uses literally anything. Being a DJ at Younglife camp and being an introvert gets a little crazy after awhile. I remember it was about the second week and it was the easy day for us working A/V and all that. I literally didn’t have to be anywhere until 1pm. But I woke up at 6:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep. I felt God calling me to come hang out with Him in the club room (the big room where the kids gather for like the night talk and everything.) It was empty all day and so I turned on some choral music (I did choir up through high school) and turned the lights down quite a bit and just sat…and then kneeled…and then ended up prostrate overwhelmed in my fear of Him. He has never been more revealed to me as awesome Creator, ultimate Judge, and sovereign King than in those few hours I spent surrounded by the stillness, the darkness, and the harmonious reverberations of his praise.
In the deep peace of those moments, I was interrupted twice. Both times a good friend walked in and said, “Ahh this is creepy!” One snapped the lights on, one just simply walked out.
No, this is beautiful; this is reverence; this is peace. Over the course of the rest of camp it became evident that this high-paced, revival, hype energy was idealized and was the bar for fitting in and what it meant to be on fire for God. I, on the other hand, see nothing wrong with silence and the reflective spirituality that I got to experience that day. The negative reactions of my friends to my makeshift sanctuary had a reverse effect on me and made me appreciate solemn reverence even more.
On that same day, led by the Holy Spirit, I thought might go check the Younglife bookstore for any book relating to Catholicism in any way. THE YOUNGLIFE BOOKSTORE!! For those of you unfamiliar with Younglife, it’s a parachurch organization whose mission is to introduce kids to a relationship with Christ. So it’s not necessarily anti-Catholic, but the camp atmosphere is definitely more welcoming of an Evangelical or Pentecostal approach to ministry and conversion. Only a crazy person would go in to that bookstore expecting to find something relating to Catholicism amongst books like Love Does, The Message, and Younglife’s version of the Gideon Bible: The Journey.
This why I say the Holy Spirit led me. For those of you who know me, you know that I am extremely cautious to presume to know the actions of the Holy Spirit, but there is no doubt in my mind that this was the Spirit’s work. On the shelf was a youth Catholic bible. A Catholic bible. I, of course, picked it up and bought it on the spot. It was the last and only one they had in stock and had put it on the shelf that morning. Dang……..
I sought out that Catholic girl and grilled her with questions only revealing how ignorant I was about sacraments, salvation, and reverence. I think the only thing I corrected her on was that C.S. Lewis wasn’t Catholic. And dang, if she thought that, how divergent could our views be? Multiple times, I think, we pushed the curfew hour talking about it. (Dear Summer Staff Coordinator, I’m sorry. I was just trying to find the truth.)
I had ingrained in my head the phrase we all hear, “Some Catholics are Christians.” Or differentiating things by saying this is “Christian” and this is “Catholic” as if they were something entirely different. She flipped it on me, “Some Protestants are Christians.” Yep, true that. If being involved in Younglife has taught me anything it’s Matthew 7:21,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
My analytical brain started forcing this question on my soul. “If Protestant (the root word is protest) means not-Catholic, then the question ‘why am I not Catholic?’ must be answered.” If I am to participate in hindering Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17 and Paul’s constant exhortations, I better have an amazing reason.
…I rarely journal. I hate routine. But when I left camp I wrote this down,
“God, what are you trying to tell me about Catholicism? So many things on this camp have brought it into my consideration and thoughts in general. …(list of the stuff above)… All of it seems so real. Where do I go from here? How do I respect the process of Catholicism and at the same time make an immediate change of practice? How much do I talk to my family about it? What will my relationships with my church friends look like? Give me your guidance and peace.”
And as I went home…I reached 1000 words.
So this is the first post on my blog about Catholicism. Ahh. Yikes. Big step. I think I should start my blog with the story of how I got to this place in my life (DON’T WORRY! Not my full testimony.) I won’t give much intro to what my blog is about or why I’m writing, you can read that in my About page. But without further ado, vaminos!
So the story really starts after my senior year of high school, but that was only possible because of things before that shaped me into who I am. I grew up going to Baptist churches which all turned into “nondenominational” or “community” churches when those first became a fad. I did Awana’s and all that stuff little kids do. I am so grateful for how intentional my parents were in how they steeped my education in the Bible and Christian perspective. I went to the same private Christian school K-12 (and not one of those ones where you send your kids to shape up, but like everyone had to be “Christian” and be a member in a church somewhere.) So I grew up with a ton of Christian education and biblical training. At some point in 7th grade, I actually had the Westminster Shorter Catechism memorized for my current Bible class. I discovered later, the original Westminster Confession denounced the pope as the Antichrist and the Roman Church as the Whore of Babylon from Revelation. Ironic.
One interesting thing to me as I grew up was how split the church was. At my school, our Christian-school “Halloween” was celebrated as Reformation Day, where we did skits of Martin Luther courageously standing up to the corrupt papacy and had a carnival that taught the younger students “all” about the Reformation and the antiquated, corrupt Church of Rome. So you could maybe say I grew up a little prejudiced. Just maybe. I look back on it now and I wonder,”How could we so joyously celebrate the biggest rift in church ever?” But denominations always puzzled me. I constantly was asking why my friends (who were still Protestant) went to different churches if we were all Christians. I thought the fact that I went to a megachurch was great because there was a larger unified Christian body.
That brings me to my senior year of high school. I was struggling with going to church on Sunday. Why? I simply had heard all the messages coming from the pulpit. I mean if you go to a Christian school where you had a very faith-integrated education in almost every subject, go to youth group and church all your life, have a personal interest in apologetics and Bible study, there’s only so much new stuff that can be preached to a congregation. I asked my teacher who also helped mentor me a little during high school, “Am I doing church wrong?” He said not necessarily, but he encouraged me to find God in the experience of going to church, not exclusively the teaching from up front. I tried that but I really only found that kind of experience in the worship period at the beginning and end, and yet there’s a good 30-40 minutes where I have to sit and listen to lessons I’ve heard before.
The other thing about my senior year was that I joined up with our youth worship team. I had a refreshed joy in playing the piano/keyboard, and after a little additional learning, I got to experience leading worship for the first time. It also bolstered my efforts to find God in the experience of church, and like I mentioned before, I was really only finding Him in the worship.
My favorite memory of leading worship was when our youth pastor let me play this absolute fire intro riff I had written for I Am by Crowder. It had the delay, the verb, we added some drums, it almost sounded like an intro to a U2 song. We started the song and everyone started clapping to the beat. It was just me and the drums. I felt like a rockstar. Shouts and cheers from our rather large youth group. We finished our set. When I walked off stage, I had just so much happiness welling inside me. It didn’t take long before my introspective nature started to analyze why. Not long after that, I felt like crap. How could I think so arrogantly about myself and my abilities on some keys? Isn’t the whole point to point to the One who deserves our praise? I quickly became skeptical of worship (that is, the part that involves us singing songs) and began to see things like lyrics that weren’t totally theologically accurate. For example…(and I’ll probably do a separate article on “worship” later)…the song that goes, “set a fire down in my soul, that I can’t contain, that I can’t control.” As much as I find it beautiful that someone is on fire for God, I also find it beautiful when Christians practice the fruit of the Spirit, including SELF CONTROL!! Things like these irk the hell out of me. But to come to a point, I then lost my last real hold on going to church for more than the fact that the Bible tells me it’s good and I should.
Senior year. Done. Finished. Fin. I’m off to college, right? Nope. I got a last minute opportunity to serve on Summer Staff at a Younglife camp. And that’s when my world paradigm made like the Death Star.
I can’t say it was one thing that made me reconsider my comfortable world of secession, but it was more like a bunch of things, like a friend who helped me out of nowhere, a voice in my head that pushed me to do something unconventional, that eventually got that photon torpedo to hit its target. And yes, I am a nerd. Deal with it.
I’m at almost 1000 words right now and I am contemplating the appropriate length of a blog post, because at this point we’re at the good stuff, but there’s so much of it I don’t want you, my magnanimous reader, to miss any because you’re tired. One of my editors (friend with an opinion) is telling me I should take a break here. So next week I’ll pick right back up where we left off and talk about the New Hope…
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