Every person’s faith comes from another.
Growing up, my parents took me and my siblings to United Methodist Ebbert Memorial Church in Springfield, OR. It was in their Sunday School classes that I learned about some of the incredible stories and characters of the Bible. My mother read to my younger brother and I from the Bible regularly and encouraged us to follow God’s law.
My four older siblings all went to public schools and I might have done the same. But midway through my 1st grade year in a public elementary school my parents decided to move me to a local Catholic school, Saint Paul Catholic School, and my younger brother followed right behind me when he reached elementary school age.
In elementary school I was mistaken as Catholic by my teachers because, by simply paying attention in class, I often knew more about the Church than the kids from Catholic homes. There was always a class in religion, all-school Mass was held once a month, and they taught us how to pray the rosary. We prayed as a class to begin the day and before we headed off to lunch, there were crucifixes in every room, and the priest of the church to which the school was connected had a visible, friendly presence.
My Protestant parents never talked to me or my brother about Catholicism or why they weren’t Catholic. My dad sometimes jokingly asked us whether the school had taught us any secret Catholic handshakes. My mom enjoyed attending the monthly all-school Masses and did so regularly.
The summer before my 8th grade year, my mother decided to move us from the methodist church to a local baptist church, First Baptist Church of Eugene. It was a larger congregation, had services with contemporary music, and had a thriving youth program. I still remember the first time we attended the main service. The missions pastor was speaking and was so inspirational to me to start taking my faith seriously that I often point to that day as a major turning point in my faith. But I didn’t quite feel comfortable in their middle school group after attending a few times and so I continued to just attend the “big church” services for our first few years there.
When it came time for high school, I stayed on the Catholic school track and followed my friends to the local Catholic high school, Marist High School. While my elementary school was comprised primarily of kids from Catholic families, with kids from non-Catholic families like myself being more of an exception, my high school was much more diverse. It was the most respected private high school in the area and was treated as simply the good private school option by many.
At the beginning of my freshman year they had need of a piano player for their monthly all-school Masses. Although I had taken lessens for years, I had no experience with such playing and certainly had no desire to volunteer myself for such a visible position as a freshman. But a friend mentioned to the teacher in charge of the Mass music that I played the piano, and when the teacher approached me in desperation I agreed to play only for the first Mass of the year.
Well, I loved it. I ended up playing the piano for almost every single school Mass during my high school career there.
Over at the Baptist church, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I first really got involved in their youth program. When I did, I found that the high school pastor, Rudy Herr, was passionate, friendly, and one of the most Christ-like persons I had ever met. I started to grow in my faith in new and exciting ways.
It was also during my sophomore year of high school that I really started reading the Bible for the first time in my life. I had heard Scripture at church and had been taught Bible stories in Sunday school, but I had done very little personal reading of Scripture. For reasons that were fairly unclear even at the time, I felt inspired to start reading a Bible that my mom had gifted to me in middle school.
It absolutely blew me away.
It was so inspiring to me that I kept reading and reading and reading. All day, any free time I had, I was reading the Bible. I kept coming to my Christian friends and my parents with verses that I had never encountered before that I thought were just incredible. (Often they were familiar with the verses already which made me think, “Why hadn’t I heard this stuff before?”) My parents actually started to become worried that I was “going off the deep end”. They told me that I needed to do other things, read others things, other than just the Bible. I assured them that I wasn’t going nuts, but that God was just changing my life.
My Bible had pencil markings on every page and had tons of post-it note markers coming out of the sides. I printed off verses and taped them up all over the walls of my bedroom. I started memorizing verses for the first time in my life.
I can remember vividly the moment when I was sitting in my room, at a little past midnight, finishing the whole Bible for the first time. The Bible had always seemed like this massive tome that was impossible to actually read all the way through. It was a weird feeling having gone through it all. The Bible is indeed finite in words, but is infinite in richness and depth.
Early on in my reading of Scripture, I found myself challenged greatly by its teachings regarding money, poverty, and suffering. The way of a Christian was clearly much more radical than the impression I had been given before. “Blessed are the poor”, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”, “we are… heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory”, “if anyone wants to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me”. These are radical words that continue to challenge – and haunt – me today.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I found myself being led to pray for God to give me new ways to serve Him. One day later that summer I answered the phone and God answered my prayer. A woman from a local Catholic church, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Eugene, had seen me play the piano for my high school. The church was in need of a piano player for its LifeTeen Mass worship team and she wanted to know if I was interested in auditioning. I told her I wasn’t Catholic. She said it wasn’t a problem. I agreed to meet the worship team leader and show them my stuff. They were satisfied with my playing and I was suddenly on a music worship team at a Catholic church.
For my senior year of high school I was playing the piano at their LifeTeen Mass every week. I was surprised – and on some level not surprised – to find that several of the other musicians on the worship team were also not Catholic. The church was very welcoming of us and appreciated our service to their community.
I was also on Retreat Team my junior and senior years in high school. This meant that I helped to lead retreats offered by the high school. With the Masses held at retreats, the monthly all-school Masses, extra school Masses on Fridays during Lent, and the LifeTeen Mass every week, there were times during my senior year when I attended Mass four times in a week.
It was in high school that I first started thinking seriously about Catholicism. I wasn’t already Catholic-leaning by any means; but the Catholic Church seemed too an important, influential, and powerful Christian organization to ignore. Despite having been in Catholic schools since 1st grade, there was much I didn’t understand and much that seemed just plain wrong. I tried pinning down various Catholic beliefs, meeting with priests and teachers, and found that I often got vague, incomplete, or contradictory answers. Eventually, someone recommended that I get a hold of a Catechism and look to that as the definitive teachings of the Catholic Church.
There was one particular intuition that served as a driving question for me in my investigations: Christianity is a religion of historical events, and what came out of the early church must be the real Christianity.
The Protestant story of history that I had been taught was that the early Christians were basically Protestants in their beliefs and practices. Then slowly, over several hundred years, Christianity was corrupted by Catholicism until everything came to a head in the Reformation when Christians returned to true, early church Christianity
The Catholic story of history that I had been taught was quite different: the early Christians were Catholic, Christians have always been Catholic, and the Catholic Church today is the continuation of the same church that was founded by Jesus Himself.
This, it seemed to me, was something that could actually be determined by historical investigation. I just needed to read writings from the early Church and see whether they were Catholic or Protestant (sorry Eastern Orthodoxers out there, I was hardly conscious of your existence at all at this time). The only problem is that I had no idea how to go about doing that.
I oscillated between being very open to Catholicism to being very anti-Catholic during this time. I remember one conversation I had with the head of my high school’s Christian ministry department in which I told him that I hadn’t completely made up my mind as to what I thought of Catholicism, but that I thought my ultimate conclusion could only fall into one of three categories: (1) the Catholic Church is wrong enough that I should not associate with it in any way and should probably try to draw Catholics away from it, (2) the Catholic Church has points where it is wrong, but it’s not so bad that I can’t associate with it or that I should evangelize Catholics, or (3) the Catholic Church is the true church and I should better join up.
All the while my faith and relationship with God was growing and developing. I hung out with homeless people in my town, I shared my faith with a truth-seeking admissions interviewer at the University of Chicago, and I was given the privilege by my high school pastor to preach to the 200-person high school group at my church.
High school ended, and I headed off to Wheaton College in the suburbs of Chicago, the so-called “Harvard of the evangelical schools”. The year before I arrived, Wheaton College was in the headlines for not allowing a philosophy professor to remain there after he converted to Catholicism. Although I wasn’t sure exactly what I thought of Catholicism, I commended the college’s courage to actually stand for something in a day and age when to do so was (and sadly still is) looked down upon as a kind of bigotry.
From the get-go I found a serious, passionate, challenging Christian community at Wheaton. My fellow students were kind and fun people to be around, but were also often up for deep and personal theological discussions. We kept each other accountable and encouraged one another in our walks with God. Chapel provided an incredible opportunity to hear from Christian leaders from all over the world. My teachers inspired me both to be a better scholar and a better person.
But I kept thinking about Catholicism. I finally bought my own copy of the Catechism. The quote on the back from Pope John Paul II – “A sure norm for teaching the faith” – brought a sense of relief that I would finally be able to pin down exactly what Catholics believe! I was tired of listening to or reading secondary sources; I would now be able to see for myself what the Church taught in her own words. I started on page one and began reading through the Catechism with a pencil. I began to appreciate and trust the Catechism as at least a place to start when thinking about various topics. I remember once reading part of the section in the Catechism on various sexual sins to my accountability group and that several of the guys thought that it was very insightful.
Meanwhile, I was inspired by my philosophy intro class with Dr. Jay Wood to study philosophy further. It was in my philosophy classes that I was first exposed to pre-Reformation Christian writings. Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas – these were names with which I was hardly familiar before I had come to college. As I studied early church and medieval thinkers, I saw that they were, of course, all Catholic. Augustine and Anselm were both bishops in the Catholic Church. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican monk. They quoted as Scripture from “those books Catholics added to the Bible”. They believed in the sacraments and in the authority of the Church.
Now that I was attending an evangelical school, I was no longer regularly attending Catholic Mass, which I had done so for most of my life. Every so often I found myself missing the depth of the Mass and desiring to attend one. Although I would always go into a Mass excited to be back, I often left feeling empty or disappointed. Where was the life? I wasn’t even taking communion and it sometimes seemed like I was the most serious worshiper there. When I actually sang the hymns, some people looked at me funny, while others smiled and seemed encouraged to start singing themselves.
I always attended church on Sundays somewhere, but where I went changed from year to year. Wheaton really emphasized the importance of getting involved in a church community. “Wheaton is not a church,” professors reminded us. I began my freshman year intent on not “church shopping”. I picked a non-denominational church within walking distance of my school two weeks into my first semester and became a Sunday school teacher. When I came back to school as a sophomore, I decided to start going with a few friends to another non-denominational church. At this church, they occasionally recited the Nicene Creed except that the line regarding the church was changed to: “We believe in one holy, universal church.” (I know “catholic” means “universal”, but where’s “apostolic”? I mentioned this to one of the pastors once. He seemed to indicate that it was a mistake, but the next time we recited the creed the same omission remained. Wheaton College makes the same omission in their Statement of Faith.) My junior year, I began attending a conservative Anglican church that had broken from the Episcopal Church. They had the liturgy, a passionate rector, and a thriving community filled with life. The depth of this high church community was refreshing compared to the shallowness I had often found at the low church communities of which I had been previously a part.
At the beginning of my junior year, I got the idea to read the Church councils – all of them, starting at the beginning (a project I am still working on). So I went to the library, found them online, and printed them all off except for Vatican II (for that I bought a book). I read the first few councils and took notes. I marked every time they referred to tradition, scripture, and the pope. They referred to their own authority and quoted previous councils authoritatively. This was a very different kind of thinking than sola scriptura Protestantism.
I also felt led to go to teachers and church leaders in the area who I respected and ask them the question, “Why are you not Catholic?” This led to many very surprising conversations. I found many teachers to be at least very sympathetic to Catholicism, if not interested in Catholicism themselves. In one particularly shocking conversation, I spoke with a pastor of a large, thriving church in the area – a church attended by several members of Wheaton College’s faculty and staff – who told me that he thought that the Catholic Church was indeed the fullest manifestation of God’s church on earth, that the Pope is our Holy Father with whom we should all be in communion, that he was not in full communion with the Pope as he should, and that it was his hope – if not just mere belief – that his church would eventually re-commune with Rome! He saw himself as a weigh station for evangelicals on their way to the Catholic Church. He recommended Catholic writers and encouraged me to convert. I also found that many other students at Wheaton College had interest in Catholicism. The Catholic Church is in more places that many people would guess…
In the spring of my junior year I had a class with a smart guy named Landon DePasquale. Though the son of a professor in the graduate school at Wheaton College, Landon was in the midst of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), or the process by which an adult can join the Catholic Church. Through his study of pre-Reformation Christianity, he had eventually converted to Catholicism. We became friends, talked a lot about Catholicism, and I watched him be received at Easter Vigil 2009. He answered many of my questions, pointed me in the direction of more reading, and encouraged me in my search.
Through conversations and my own research I was led to read other early Church writings. They only confirmed what I had already read: the early Church was Catholic. The papacy was not an invention of the 6th century as many Protestants claim – it couldn’t be since, as an example, the 2nd century theologian Irenaeus defended against the Gnostic heresy by pointing to the preeminent authority of the church in Rome with which all other churches in the world must agree (Against Heresies 3.3.1-3).
While my interest in Catholicism was becoming more serious, so was my relationship with my then girlfriend Krista. She was studying abroad in France for the semester, and we stayed in touch through video chats on the internet. She had long been aware of my interest in Catholicism, and I continued to share with her what I was learning and thinking. That spring break I flew out to France to propose to her, and she accepted the ring. As our lives were further drawn closer together, she was drawn further into what at that point had largely been my own personal investigation of Catholicism.
Our upcoming marriage prompted us to discuss the issue of contraception for the first time. Both of us had hardly thought about it all. We both assumed we would use some form of contraception; that’s what people do. We weren’t ready for kids, and besides, we wanted some time for ourselves in our marriage before kids. The decision to get married was completely separated from the decision to start a family in my mind. Since we were both against abortion, any abortifacient was ruled out. Research was needed to determine what kinds of contraception were not abortifacient, and then what kind among those was something with which we were both comfortable.
I remembered from my time in Catholic schools that the Catholic Church believed that the use of contraception was immoral. I didn’t really know why, but I thought we should read what they had to say. I asked Krista if we could both read Humanae Vitae and talk about it together and she agreed. We both found Humanae Vitae very compelling, Krista in particular.
The nail in the coffin for me in accepting the Catholic view on contraception was learning that it was actually also the historic, orthodox Christian view as well – all Christian denominations had condemned contraception for all of Christian history until the mid-20th century.
Realizing that virtually all Protestant churches, and most individual Protestants, had clearly gone the wrong way on a moral issue relating to something as grave as the marriage bed further shook my confidence in Protestantism and strengthened my confidence in the Catholic Church, as it did for Krista as well.
That summer I read a little book published by Penguin entitled Early Christian Writings. This was recommended to me by my friend Landon and was cited by him as the book that jump started his conversion to Catholicism. It was in that book that I read Ignatius of Antioch, an early 2nd century bishop of Antioch, among others, for the first time. Again, they were all very explicitly Catholic in their theology and practice. The historical evidence was mounting. There was no denying it: the early church was Catholic.
Krista and I were married at the end of that summer just before our senior year started. We quickly conceived our first child.
When my new wife and I returned to school for our senior year in the fall, we started the RCIA program at St. Michael’s parish in Wheaton. We both weren’t quite ready to enter the Church yet, but we thought we might be ready by the spring and that in the very least it would be a way to learn more.
It was also during the fall semester that I read the documents of Vatican II. I found them, as well as other pieces of Catholic theology I was reading, to be not only good theology but beautiful theology. Catholic theology is beautiful. The words that Catholics use in their theology are beautiful. The visions of God, of humanity, and of history they cast are beautiful. The spirit in which their theology is written is beautiful. The way they interpret Scripture is beautiful. It’s all beautiful, which makes it all the more compelling.
By the end of the year, we both found ourselves ever more ready to accept the Catholic Church and all that it teaches. And it was in the beginning of January that we started this blog. The spring semester was a time of further deepening and accepting of our faith.
We were received fully into the Catholic Church at St. Michael’s church in Wheaton at Easter Vigil Mass 2010.
We both graduated from Wheaton College on May 9th, 2010, myself with a degree in Philosophy, and Krista with a degree in French.
At present, I am working part-time on a Master of Arts of Theology at the St Paul Seminary School of Divinity, a part of theUniversity of St Thomas in St Paul, MN. Krista stays home and cares for our two children, Elijah and Adelaide.
We both have a heart for evangelicals. So many evangelicals love God and desire so strongly to follow after Jesus with everything they have. They have much to bring to and teach the Catholic Church. We hope that God can use our long involvement and deep connectedness to evangelicalism to be a force for true ecumenism between evangelicals and Catholics.
It is by the grace of God in Christ that we have come this far, and it is by the grace of God in Christ that we continue to learn and grow in our faith. Soli Deo Gloria
::Brantly and his beautiful wife Krista are both Catholic 20-somethings that got married while they were still in college. So far they’ve been blessed with two cute kids, Elijah and Adelaide.Although they both grew up in Protestant churches, they were both fully received into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil 2010 about a month before graduating from Wheaton College, the so-called “Harvard of evangelical schools”.At present, Brantly is working part-time on a Master of Arts of Theology at the St Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St Paul, MN.Aside from spending time with family and friends, he enjoys reading, playing the piano, and the show LOST. Brantly can be found blogging at Young, Evangelical and Catholic.::