Category Archives: Non-denominational

Non-denominational Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Coming to a Conclusion (Part 6 of 6)


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Coming to a Conclusion

“In hindsight, I can draw a pretty straight line in my journey towards the Catholic Church. It began back at that Evangelical youth group not many years after I first encountered Christ, when I realized that the system as I understood it simply didn’t make sense. If we could read our Bibles and interpret them in all sorts of different ways, if we couldn’t come to the same conclusion on life-impacting things like salvation or the definition of marriage, then that system was broken. Maybe it was never what God intended, anyway.

It became clear to me through reading the stories of other Catholic converts, from digging into the history of my faith through the early Church Fathers, and through studying the Reformation that I hadn’t fully understood my place, the place of the Bible, and the role of the Catholic Church in my Christian faith. Having been fair, having done the research, having studied and prayed and wrung my hands, I realized I had no other option than to become Catholic.

But the journey wasn’t all that smooth. I called up the closest Catholic Church and began RCIA, thinking that all Catholic churches were the same. It was the “universal Church” after all, right? The parish we ended up in, however, was rather sleepy. There was nothing for kids, nothing for families, and no real faith formation aspect to parish life. My wife, who had been tangentially along for the journey, made a heartbreaking observation one morning after Mass.

It was the first time she’d attended with me. We were splitting our time between worship services at our non-denominational church and Mass at the local Catholic parish. This particular morning, on the way home, she turned to me in the car and said, with a sly look on her face, “I saw a miracle happen today at Mass!”

I joked, “Honey, that happens every time; it’s called the Real Presence of Christ!” She rolled her eyes and replied, “No, it happened after the priest prayed the Eucharistic prayers. I closed my eyes when he started praying, and when I opened them up again, everyone had their coats on. That way, they could rush out the door as soon as they received the Host!”

I sighed. She was right, and I knew it. At this particular parish, the culture of Drive-Thru Catholicism was rampant, and it depressed us both. How could I be joining a Church that seemed so apathetic? Didn’t they know about the miracle of Christ present in the Mass and how every time the priest celebrates Communion he’s mystically linking us to the Last Supper? Didn’t they realize that we’re singing and praying in the presence of choirs of angels?

I’ve since met and spoken with many converts, and they have shared the same challenge that we faced. The Evangelical church we had attended was bursting at the seams with programming for kids, missions outreach, small group ministries, Bible studies, discussion groups, worship services, and all kinds of activities and programs to engage the congregation in good works. We built each other up as disciples of Christ. But such vibrancy can be difficult to find in Catholic communities. I’ve also learned that sometimes we need to build it up ourselves.

My wife and I did find a parish which took its mission of evangelization seriously and drank deeply from that well every week. She entered the Church the year after me.

There’s something else I’ve learned. As converts, we have special gifts to give to the Catholic Church. We have a perspective and zest for the faith that those who were raised in the Church often find difficult to capture. We’ve also seen what else is out there. With the Eucharist as the focal point, we’ve seen the fruits of robust children’s ministry programming, of youth groups and Bible studies and discussion groups — we’ve seen, firsthand, how these aspects of parish life can help to build up the whole Body of Christ and equip Catholics for their mission. The Catholic Church, in its individual parishes, certainly has work to do here, but it’s work in which converts like us can play a fundamental role. It’s one thing, I think, to become Catholic. It’s quite another to commit to being renewed, every day, as a disciple of Christ — and then to sharing that fire. God willing, that is what we’ll continue to do.”

Love,
Matthew

Non-denominational Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Married & Muddled (Part 5 of 6)


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Quashing Quibbles

I had held preconceived notions about the Catholic Church. However, they were largely unintentional, and they were quickly quashed as I began to read.

Why do Catholic call priests “father,” when Jesus said to call no man “father”? Well, if Jesus meant that literally, what do I call my Dad? And what about the verse where Jesus Himself calls Abraham our “father”?

Why do Catholics pray to saints? They don’t as if the saints are God. But they do believe that after a Christian dies, he is still part of the Body of Christ, and we can continue to pray for each other, to Christ, after we die. It’s either this, or Christ hasn’t conquered death.

Don’t Catholics worship Mary? No. They venerate her, putting her in a place of importance because she’s clearly prefigured in the Old Testament. She is the new Ark of the Covenant and the New Eve. As one of His last acts on the cross, Jesus tells us that she is our “mother” (John 19:25–27).

In the light of good Catholic teaching and an actual reading of what Catholics believe, my objections and misconceptions seemed juvenile. And I felt lazy, silly, for never having tried to understand what Catholics believed before. Now, as I began to get a better grasp, I was astounded at what I was learning.

Here was a Church that claimed authority not to only collect the books of the Bible together, but to interpret them as well. A Church which claimed unity under the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. A Church which drew a straight line from the first Apostles to the bishops of today, claiming an authoritative link to the very words of Christ, who said, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Suddenly, a Catholic Church came into focus that I had no idea existed — a Church which taught that the elements of Communion actually become the Body and Blood of Christ because, I learned, that’s what Jesus says in the Gospel of John (chapter 6). For all our “literal reading” of the Bible, we’d missed one of the most literal parts. Jesus says we have to “eat” His flesh, and when His followers throw up their hands in disgust, He becomes even more graphic, explaining that we have to “gnaw” His flesh! Then, when many of His followers walk away, declaring it a difficult teaching, He does nothing to stop them. Instead of clarifying for His disciples, as He’s often pictured doing, He simply asks, “Do you want to leave, too?”

Even more shocking is the evidence from the early Church Fathers. As a relatively well-educated Evangelical, I’d always been taught to treat my Bible as if it had fallen into my hands directly from its writers’ pens, as if the years between the texts being written and their arriving on my bookshelf simply didn’t exist. But they do exist, and in that time period, lots of important things were being written. Of particular interest are the early Church Fathers. Many of these Church Fathers lived immediately after the Apostles and had important things to say, vital perspectives on the development of the Christian Church.

Shockingly, these early Church Fathers were completely Catholic.

In the Fathers writings, we see ample evidence to believe that they understood Communion as Catholics do today, as the real Body and Blood of Jesus. We find appeals to the Bishop of Rome, lending significant credence to the position of Pope, the successor of Peter, even in the infant Church. We find widespread use of relics, prayers for the dead, and prayers to deceased Christians. We find a particular veneration of Mary, an understanding of infant baptism, and even a version of a worship service which looks shockingly similar to our modern-day Mass.

To my complete surprise, the early Church was Catholic.”

Love,
Matthew

Non-denominational Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Married & Muddled (Part 4 of 6)


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

“In the meantime, life took over. Maria and I got married; we bought a house, and she changed careers. The family church we’d been attending, the outgrowth of the student church where we first met, moved in to share a space with an aging Lutheran congregation. Suddenly being in a building meant for worship, as opposed to our old space in a community center, meant we were suddenly much more “traditional.”

There was an altar, although we didn’t use it, and stained glass. There were an organ and pews, and we’d even occasionally see the Lutheran pastor, at the very end of our service. He wore a Roman collar and vestments. Suddenly, my simmering interest in tradition ignited.

Around this time, too, the issue of the meaning and mandate of Christian marriage began to be widely discussed in the Protestant world, with battle lines and hot debates quickly forming. On the topic of marriage, I needed to figure out where I stood, and I wanted to base my beliefs on the Bible. Our little church community was largely undecided, leaving it up to each individual’s own theology. But I didn’t know mine; I hadn’t given it much thought. When I began to dig into the Bible, into commentaries and literature written by everyone from respected theologians to practicing homosexuals, I realized that no one had a clear answer, and nothing made much sense.

Everyone, as far as I could tell, claimed to base their perspective on the Bible, and no one agreed. It was our youth group debate all over again. We could all use the same proof texts and somehow come to widely differing conclusions. With the youth group, it was something as fundamental as how God saved our souls. Now, it was a different question but just as fundamental. The stakes were high, and the answers were equally murky.

How was it that we could all look at the same Scripture and come up with different ideas? How could this be the system for understanding our faith as God intended it? Why was knowing how to follow Christ so confusing? I didn’t get it. There was something flawed in the way we used the Bible and the way we understood our faith.

Once again, I decided to do some digging.

Later on in my journey towards the Catholic Church, I came across a quote by G.K. Chesterton in his book The Catholic Church and Conversion that really hit home. I’ll paraphrase by saying that once you decide to be “fair” to the Catholic Church, you can’t help but convert. In other words, once a person decides to truly dig into the teachings of the Church in a fair, honest, and open way, it inevitably ends in conversion. You can’t help but become Catholic. I’d liken this to a mouse trap, but in this case, the “mouse” lives!

So anyway, I decided I needed to be “fair” to the Catholic Church. After all, I’d learned enough about Catholics from skirting around the edges to know that they believed some fundamentally different things from what I believed, and if they were the same Church that put together the Bible, then they must, I reasoned, still have some claim to authority. I decided that I needed to know exactly what Catholics believed, from authentic Catholic sources.

First, I found a list of books tailor-made for non-Catholic Christians. It included works by Scott Hahn, Steve Ray, and Thomas Howard, as well as some introductory theology by Frank Sheed. It was like turning on a faucet full blast!

To begin with, I had no idea what Catholics actually believed, and hearing about Catholic doctrine, tradition, and beliefs from actual practicing Catholics felt like drawing in a great big mouthful of air after realizing I’d been holding my breath. What I was reading was eye-opening.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Non-denominational, Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Building the Bible, Part 3 of 6


-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Building the Bible

A few things happened in my last couple of years at university that caused the nagging feeling that I was conscious of to grow into something I simply could no longer ignore.

I was working a tedious warehouse job during the summer between my third and fourth years and had heard about this brand new thing called podcasting. Only a few podcasts were available in those days, and I subscribed to one. It was a podcast about movies, television shows, and video games hosted by, it turns out, a priest. Although I don’t know what I’d imagined priests being like, I had assumed that they wouldn’t be real people, interested in hobbies like video games and TV. But through his podcast, the priest exposed me to the fact that Catholics, even Catholic priests, could be real people — and genuine about their faith, as I learned by listening to stories from his life.

Next, I began an internship. It was at the student church I’d attended for years. One day, the pastor called me into his office with an important question. Sitting me down, he asked, “Which is more important: the Bible or Tradition?” Years later, I learned that my pastor friend was on his own journey into rediscovering his former Catholic Faith as he worked on his Master’s degree, and I was his sounding board. But I didn’t know this then.

“The Bible,” I said instinctively, knowing what every kid knows in Sunday School, that the answer is always either “Jesus” or “The Bible.”

“But then who put together the Bible?” he asked earnestly. I was dumbstruck. It was a question I’d never considered.

He went on to explain that the tradition of the Church put the Bible together — that councils attended by bishops authorized by the Catholic Church — the Catholic Church! — lent credibility to the books that appear in our Bibles. It was these councils, led by the Church, that affirmed what would eventually make up our biblical canon. I was incredulous, but he was right. Tradition, he mused out loud, came first. It was responsible for putting the Bible together; therefore, it must be more important. I didn’t argue because I knew he was right. That was where our Bible came from. The original authors didn’t provide a table of contents.

That somewhat banal question, asked by a Protestant pastor, began in earnest a journey I’d been avoiding since my days in the youth group and our predestination scandal. After all, the Bible doesn’t tell us that it’s infallible, that it can be trusted as-is, that it’s the sole rule of faith that we should follow. I knew I believed these things as an Evangelical Protestant and that I’d learned them somewhere. But suddenly they seemed to be premises which were awfully flimsy. Where did the Bible say these things? And how did I know them to be true? To my horror, I didn’t have the answers. I struggled to find them.”

Love,
Matthew

Non-denominational, Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Calvinist Confusion, Part 2 of 6


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Calvinist Confusion

“I knew right away that I’d been given a new lease on life. I had been spared a punishment I deserved. We had bullied that kid, and now that he was grown up and bigger than we were, I had deserved to have my lights punched out by him. Instead, God had sent me the sign I’d asked for, a sign which clearly spared me from the punishment I was due. I knew poetic justice — or mercy — when I saw it. I surrendered my life to Christ, even though I hadn’t the faintest idea what that meant.

I proceeded, then, to do all the classic things that Christian converts did back in the early 2000’s. I bought a T-shirt. I bought a WWJD bracelet and thought it was the coolest secret club ever. And I bought a Bible and began reading at Genesis. By the end of Numbers, I was so bogged down that I gave up, until someone wiser told me that I needed to start with the Gospels. “Beg your pardon?” “With Matthew,” he said. Best of all, I got connected to a great youth group at a local Pentecostal church.

Looking back, I can draw a somewhat straight line from my first encounter with Christ to my running, arms agape, into the embrace of the Catholic Church. But in that moment, it wasn’t so clear.

One of my early memories as a Christian was when Calvinism crept into our youth group conversations. It began innocently enough — someone had read something somewhere — but quickly became a full-blown scandal, with Bible passages being hotly debated over Quarter Pounders at McDonald’s on a Friday night. In retrospect, I’m grateful for how we spent our time — debating theology rather than getting drunk like so many of our high school peers — but the debate nearly tore the youth group apart.

Back then, I couldn’t figure out how we were all looking at the same passages of Scripture and coming to different conclusions. How did this make sense? And why would God make the Bible so confusing, open to so many interpretations? In the end, it was a vicious debate, and more than one of my friends walked away from church back then, convinced by the Word of God that they weren’t amongst the “elect.” It was painful to see, and it’s painful to think about it now. I made it through, but I’d never forget the confusion caused by all of us trying, on our own, to interpret our Bibles.

I began university by attending a vibrant student church that met on campus at the University of Waterloo. I remember the first time I went, seeing a lineup of 200 students snaking down the sidewalk outside the campus nightclub. It was Monday night, and the church was to meet at seven o’clock.

Truly, I owe a lot to my years at that student church. Over the course of my university career, I was very involved with the church, from small groups, to setup and decorations, to sound and video production. Through friendships forged at the church, I met a beautiful woman named Maria, who later became my wife. I dug into my faith like never before, faced with a couple of questions I just couldn’t work out.

The first came from reading C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. In it, Lewis presents a picture of the afterlife which looks a lot like purgatory. Instead of dying and suddenly being in the glorified presence of Christ and the angels, the souls of the Christian deceased slowly make their way towards God on a bus ride towards the light, through a dark and solemn land. Thinking about what I had read, I realized that Lewis’s picture of heaven, and how we transition there, made a lot more sense than mine. I’d been raised, theologically, to believe that when I died, no matter what I had done in this life, I would instantly be face to face with Christ. My sins, of course, would be wiped away, and I’d be ready to be in His presence immediately.

But that never made sense to me. When I thought about it, I wondered how would I get ready? After all, I wouldn’t suddenly be free of all my bad moods, my hurts, and hangups the minute I died. How could I bring those things with me into heaven? Lewis’s analogy of the long, slow journey by bus made much more sense. I began to understand how Purgatory could be an opportunity to prepare my heart and mind to see God. But it didn’t fit into my Evangelical theology, and that would bother me for quite a while.

I had a similar experience with Confession. It occurred to me, after encountering a passage about it in a Bible study, that we didn’t do Confession. We were told to, right there in black and white in our Bibles, but we didn’t, and I couldn’t understand why. When I asked around — my peers, my pastor, and wise people that I trusted — no one seemed to know. We just didn’t do it, and no one knew why. Like my view of the afterlife, which didn’t jibe with what I’d been taught to believe, the confusion over Confession was something I just couldn’t shake off.”

Love,
Matthew

Non-denominational, Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Part 1 of 6


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

“I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada in a wonderful, loving family: my sister, my Mom and Dad, and a cat we’d adopted from the pound. It was an idyllic, carefree upbringing in a home that I affectionately describe as “Christian without Christ.” That is, we were morally Christians, raised with a strong sense of right and wrong, of kindness and generosity, and of doing to each other what we’d have done to us — we just didn’t know much about Jesus.

To be fair, we did go to church a few times. It was a tiny United Church which, in Canada, is an amalgamation of several mainline denominations that merged in the 1920s. Their teaching presented a rather watered-down version of Christianity, with Christ largely out of the picture. But I wouldn’t have picked up on such nuances in those days. Instead, my memory of attending church was the childhood anxiety that I might accidentally rip off too big a chunk of bread when we went forward for communion, that and the resentment I felt when Dad got to stay home watching The Three Stooges in his pajamas while Mom packed my sister and me into the family station wagon.

It was in high school that I finally “met Christ,” and it happened in a strange way: by encountering an alleged Wiccan. I met this Wiccan at a campfire get-together with friends. It was the beginning of summer, and we were hanging out, celebrating the end of our first year of high school. The Wiccan kid, a couple of years older than the rest of us and a friend of a friend, stood out immediately with his long hair and earthy wardrobe, and I was instantly drawn to the way he talked, the content of his speech. At one point that night, he said, “Did you guys know that everything is connected and that there’s more to life than just us?”

To the ears of an unchurched, irreligious fifteen-year-old, that sounded like high philosophy, and I was hooked. I hadn’t thought those thoughts before. Suddenly faced with the reality that, yes, there was more out there than just us, that there was, probably, a greater power, something holding everything together — I was suddenly taken with the idea. I remember rushing home that night, firing up my computer, and trying desperately to find something, anything, on the Internet about Wiccans. In those days before Google, the search was fruitless. Everything I found contradicted everything else, and nothing seemed straightforward.

But it was then that I considered God. I’d heard of Him, of course, at church, but I didn’t have a clue where to begin my search for Him. Still, I knew I wanted to search, so I said a prayer. I prayed, “God if you’re there and you can accept me, send me a sign.” Incredibly, for reasons I still don’t understand, I knew that if God were real, if He were out there, I’d have to approach Him in holy fear. Although I knew nothing about sin — the concept was foreign to me at that stage — I knew that I wasn’t exactly “worthy” of God and needed a measure of forgiveness. It wasn’t long before I received my answer.

Later that week, I was walking home with a friend. We rounded a corner and came face to face with a boy we had teased years earlier. We were nerdy kids, but we had found someone even nerdier to bully — the neighbour of a friend who now was all grown up and much taller than we were. My friend, never the bravest of our crew, took off running and left me alone on the street with this kid who, it was clear, was looking for a fight. I could tell he was on drugs; he looked angry, and I was quaking in my shoes. When he cocked back a fist and said, “Where do you think you’re going?” I panicked and shouted, “There!” pointing to a house just up the block. At that exact moment, completely by happenstance, a woman pulled back the curtain at one of the windows and peered out at us. The boy knew instantly that he was caught. He panicked and ran away. I went the opposite way and ran home, saved by the woman in the window — and by the grace of God.”

Love,
Matthew

Mary & the Rosary lead Non-denominational pastor: Part 4 of 4


-by Anne Barber, Anne was born in Haddonfield, NJ. From age seven, she began traveling the world with her parents, as her father’s jobs with the US government took them to live in Germany, Iran, and Brazil. Later, she received a BS from San Diego State University with a double major: Zoology and Spanish, and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami School of Law. She still holds an active law license in Florida. The same year she entered law school, Anne completed her studies for ordination through the Evangelical Church Alliance. She began leading mission trips to Cuba twice a year for 8 years beginning in 2003, completing a total of 16 trips. In 2004, Anne was one of the founders of My Father’s House, a nondenominational church in Ellenton, FL, and pastored for 12 years. During this time, she was a regular contributor to the clergy column, Faith & Values, in the Bradenton Herald. Her journey into the Catholic Church began in 2016.

Disappointing News

I completed my RCIA classes. I had finally procured a new pastor for My Father’s House. But when the Easter Vigil was a week away, I was still waiting for an annulment of the marriage to my first husband, whom I had divorced 40 years prior. I received on Monday the call saying that it was granted, and I fully expected to enter the church that Saturday night. However, Father Jim (who was serving in his first pastorate), didn’t quite know what to do with me, since he was waiting for the bishop’s instruction. There was an unresolved question of whether, as the former pastor of an Evangelical church, I needed to completely disassociate myself from that congregation — whose church building is located on the small farm where I live. Since no answer was forthcoming, I was sorely disappointed not to be permitted to enter the Catholic Church at the 2017 Easter Vigil.

It was then that I contacted the Coming Home Network, asking for assistance. Jim Anderson, a pastoral care coordinator, reviewed my situation and said he believed that, as long as the congregation knew I was no longer the pastor, and I refrained from participating in the communion there, he knew of no rule against a former pastor continuing to attend his or her prior church, especially if the ex-pastor’s spouse still attended there. I then wrote a letter to the bishop, stating my cause, and asking him to please allow Father Jim to bring me into the Church. But there was no response.

Time passed, and I grew despondent, feeling rejected and crushed. Never had I wanted anything more in my life, and I felt the blessing was torn from me at the last minute. I stopped attending Mass. After two months, I contacted Jim Anderson again, and he suggested that I see another priest for a second opinion.

Finally I am Catholic!

At the end of August, I met with Father Bernie at Holy Cross Catholic parish in Palmetto, FL. He was a seasoned priest and agreed with Jim Anderson’s assessment. He was happy to baptize me (as I had no certificates, photos, or other first-hand proof of my baptism as a baby), and on October 6, 2017, at the Mass of Our Lady of the Rosary, I was baptized into the Catholic Church and received the Eucharist for the first time. I was content to wait for the 2018 Easter Vigil to be confirmed. I regard both events as the two most important days of my life. Unfortunately, my husband, by now quite upset that I continued to be serious about entering the Catholic Church, refused to be present at either event.

I spent a year at Holy Cross, where I joined the Legion of Mary and played the flute at the Saturday Mass. Additionally, since the first statue I painted had turned out beautifully, I continued to paint concrete statues of Mary, and gave them away to different people in both parishes. (To date, I have painted 13 statues of Mary and eight statues of different saints.)

On October 6, 2018, again on the day of Our Lady of the Rosary, I returned to my initial Catholic parish, St. Frances Cabrini in Parrish, FL, and the first priest I had ever met, Father Jim. That is where I currently attend.

My journey is ongoing, and not without heartache, family upheaval, and occasionally wavering faith. But my Catholic family continually upholds me in prayer. Some of my sisters in the Legion of Mary have been my strongest lifeline in the face of unexpected and emotionally painful trials, which threatened to derail me from following my new Catholic Faith.

But there is absolutely no turning back. When Jesus calls — or sends Mary to bring someone to where He wants that person to be — truly, how can we refuse to go?

Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last and the last will be first.” – Mark 10:29-31 NAB

Love,
Matthew

Mary & the Rosary lead Non-denominational pastor: Part 2 of 4


-by Anne Barber, Anne was born in Haddonfield, NJ. From age seven, she began traveling the world with her parents, as her father’s jobs with the US government took them to live in Germany, Iran, and Brazil. Later, she received a BS from San Diego State University with a double major: Zoology and Spanish, and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami School of Law. She still holds an active law license in Florida. The same year she entered law school, Anne completed her studies for ordination through the Evangelical Church Alliance. She began leading mission trips to Cuba twice a year for 8 years beginning in 2003, completing a total of 16 trips. In 2004, Anne was one of the founders of My Father’s House, a nondenominational church in Ellenton, FL, and pastored for 12 years. During this time, she was a regular contributor to the clergy column, Faith & Values, in the Bradenton Herald. Her journey into the Catholic Church began in 2016.

The Honeymoon

For the next eight and a half months, I attended two morning Masses each week, followed by my RCIA classes, as well as the Saturday afternoon Mass. I joined the parish, received my own envelopes, and began contributing weekly.

I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the first month of my journey, then numerous books on Mary, the Fathers of the Church, and testimonies of other Protestants who had found the truth of the Catholic Church — all this while still pastoring my little flock at My Father’s House. I had asked the Lord early on, “Do you want me to leave my church?” to which He replied, “I don’t want you to leave, I want you to lead.”

So I began teaching many of the principles I was learning in RCIA to my church, even transcribing some of the homilies (sermons) that I heard on EWTN and preaching them to my congregation. At St. Frances’ thrift store, I purchased rosaries, and with their parents’ permission, gave them out to the youth group in My Father’s House. The church pew Bibles were replaced with NAB Catholic Bibles, and each child was presented with an NAB Youth Bible to keep. I now wore a crucifix around my neck, together with a hidden Miraculous Medal of Mary. I wrote my last article as the Rev. Anne Barber for the Bradenton Herald, published on September 17, 2016, entitled “Protestants Should Try Reading Missing Old Testament Books.”

Meantime, at the Catholic church, I experienced profound joy, love, and the same wonder and excitement I had experienced when I met Christ for the first time 40 years prior. Now I was meeting Him anew through Mary. What happiness I felt! No one on the outside could discourage me. The more I attended Mass, and the more people I met, at some point I lost my fear of being recognized as a local pastor, and just let myself become a member of the St. Frances congregation. Within months I knew 25 people by their names.

Then, in November of 2016, tragedy struck at St. Frances, with the accidental death of Father David. I had been in his office the Thursday before, then attended his last Mass on the Saturday prior to his death. We had talked for an hour, during which I shared with him my experience of Mary. He agreed to come and preach at My Father’s House in January of 2017. I felt a real kinship with this elderly priest.

In his Saturday homily, two days after that conversation, Father David spoke of Christ being crucified between two thieves. He walked back and forth across the sanctuary (altar area) as he spoke, and as I watched him intently, I saw a pink-rimmed aura appear all around him. As he walked, the aura remained with him. The last words of his homily were, “Today you shall be with Me in paradise!” And he gestured broadly to the large crucifix on the wall behind him. When Father David consecrated the Eucharist, I remarked to Georgia, seated next to me, that I felt there was something extremely holy about him that afternoon. When he held up the host, still surrounded by a pink aura, I wished I could take a photograph so that I could try painting it later. Four days after that Mass, our beloved Father David died in a freak accident.

I attended his viewing, the vigil, the funeral, and the interment of his ashes. This was now my church, my priest, my sorrowing church family, and I cried with the rest of them. The funeral was unlike any I had ever attended: The Knights of Columbus led the casket down the aisle, and every priest in the diocese who could come was dressed in white, standing in the sanctuary. The bishop looked entirely regal, walking down the center aisle with his crosier (shepherd’s staff) in hand. The shared testimonies from the priests and family members brought both laughter and tears. Finally, it was time to go forward for the Eucharist. I was in the line for the Bishop and was thrilled to receive his blessing.

The memory of that funeral stayed with me for weeks. I had never experienced anything like it. There really is nothing quite like the beauty and kindred spirit of the Catholic family. I truly felt that I belonged. I was eagerly looking forward to the evening of the Saturday before Easter, when new converts are received into the Church, and I too could experience my Savior in the Eucharist.

Meanwhile, back at My Father’s House, I was busily trying to put things in order so that I could step back from the pulpit. With the church located in a chapel on our farm, it wasn’t easy to find a replacement who would be content to preach in a semi-hidden location down a semi-paved road. Additionally, I was bringing a new perspective to my sermons that I knew the next pastor probably wouldn’t bring.

Around this same time, I bought a concrete statue of Mary as a Christmas present for my friend Gloria, bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t have one for myself, as my congregation probably wouldn’t tolerate it. But at the statue store that day I encountered a four-foot stone statue of Mary, Our Lady of Grace, at a greatly reduced price. My husband encouraged me to go ahead and get her. After she was delivered, I put her in the back of the carport so I could paint her without anyone seeing her. I had never painted on concrete before, and it was quite a challenge. But after two months, she was perfect: the snake was an awesome rattlesnake with a nasty green eye, and Mary was painted in gold, brown, and white, with a crown of 12 stars on her head and a rosary in her hand.

Even my husband liked the statue and built a concrete platform to install her in the garden area in front of our home, just to the left of the chapel. In December, three of us struggled to move the 500 pound Mary statue to her new home. I put a solar light in front to illuminate her at night. I was so pleased with how she looked. But my happiness was short-lived.”

Love,
Matthew

Mary & the Rosary lead Non-denominational pastor: Part 1 of 4


-for greater detail, please click on the image


-by Anne Barber, Anne was born in Haddonfield, NJ. From age seven, she began traveling the world with her parents, as her father’s jobs with the US government took them to live in Germany, Iran, and Brazil. Later, she received a BS from San Diego State University with a double major: Zoology and Spanish, and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami School of Law. She still holds an active law license in Florida. The same year she entered law school, Anne completed her studies for ordination through the Evangelical Church Alliance. She began leading mission trips to Cuba twice a year for 8 years beginning in 2003, completing a total of 16 trips. In 2004, Anne was one of the founders of My Father’s House, a nondenominational church in Ellenton, FL, and pastored for 12 years. During this time, she was a regular contributor to the clergy column, Faith & Values, in the Bradenton Herald. Her journey into the Catholic Church began in 2016.

How It Began

In early August 2016, my life suddenly changed — irrevocably and forever. It began on the night I picked up a rosary and a “How to Pray the Rosary” pamphlet, sat in the candlelight on my front porch, and prayed it for the first time. From the first prayer, tears began to roll down my cheeks. As I stumbled over — then embraced — the sentence, “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” I felt a distinct motherly presence next to me. Unseen, yet comforting, consoling, inviting. I remember saying, “Mary, if you’re there, I could sure use a mother.” And a response came, “I chose you.”

Since 2004, I had pastored My Father’s House, an Evangelical church in Ellenton, and later Parrish, Florida. I am also an attorney and a licensed member of the Florida Bar. I had never given Catholicism even a passing thought. But I had a number of rosaries in my house, thanks to my dear friend, Gloria Martinez, who had worked for me for 10 years. Gloria was a devoted Catholic woman who truly lived her faith. Over the years, she obligingly provided me with rosaries. First I asked her for a red rosary to hang in my red car. Then a blue one to hang on a blue stained glass mirror. Then rosaries for friends who saw mine and wanted one. Of course, they were only for decoration, since I absolutely did not believe Mary was anything more than Jesus’ earthly mother.

Like most evangelicals, I believed Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. But I also believed Mary had at least seven other children with Joseph after Jesus was born (Matthew 13:55–56). I felt the title “Mother of God” bordered on blasphemy.

Now, sitting on my porch, speaking to the warm presence I felt near me, I was immediately able to put all my prior concepts about Mary aside. They simply didn’t matter any more. What mattered was that she had apparently entered my life, and I decided to let her show me who she was.

I had discovered the EWTN Catholic television network, and had begun watching the programs. Soon I ordered a painting from their Catalogue, one of Mary holding the infant Jesus and a lamb in her arms, entitled Innocence. I also ordered two books by Mother Angelica. I put the painting on my bedroom wall, where any parishioners entering my home would not see it.

One night, as I sat on the bed, reading one of Mother Angelica’s books, I looked up at the painting, and it seemed as if I saw one of Mary’s hands move. I kept watching, and it did move! So did her head, as she bent down toward the baby. Then her mouth opened as if she were speaking to the child. (However, I heard no sounds.) Following this, it seemed His head turned up to look at her. Finally, she appeared to sway back and forth as if rocking the baby and the lamb, with her dress clearly blowing in the wind!

What?! I was so startled that I took off my glasses and put them on again. Surely this was some sort of optical illusion. But no, the painting began to move again. Now I was frightened! Was there something evil about this painting? Was this woman about to step out of the painting into my bedroom? Was God displeased that I had been talking to Mary? That I had hung the painting? I prayed to God that it would stop moving. It sort of did, but I felt there was still an entity in my room, and it scared me.

The next day, I tried to contact Gloria, to ask her about it, but I couldn’t get in touch with her. That night, the painting moved again. This time, the lamb also opened its mouth, as if it were bleating, and the baby’s face turned red, as if he had been awakened and was about to cry. The third night, too, the painting moved as if it were a living scene, and rays of light shone out from the painting into the room. Absolutely shocking!

I decided, then and there, that I either needed a psychiatrist or a priest! The following day, I visited a local Catholic church, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Parrish, FL. My husband, Bob, and I had been there before to visit their thrift store. Afterwards, on one or two occasions, we entered the empty sanctuary to see the artwork and statuary. I’d even given a donation to light a candle for prayer requests. 

On the day after the third evening of seeing the painting of Mary come alive, Bob accompanied me to St. Frances’ thrift store, and I asked one of the workers how I could learn more about the Catholic Church. The thrift store lady kindly informed me that RCIA classes were beginning the following week, and if I was interested, I should visit the office. She explained these were classes for adults inquiring about the Roman Catholic Faith, and that taking the classes did not mean I had to become Catholic.

We went to the church office. Bob is a retired Lutheran Pastor, now pastoring a Community Church part time. He loves to “talk shop” with other clergy, and asked to see the priest. The retired priest in residence, Father David, graciously made time for him, and the two of them went to a conference room. I spoke with the secretary, meanwhile, asking her about the RCIA classes. She immediately recognized me from my photo in the Bradenton Herald, for which I wrote an occasional article for the Pastors’ “Faith Matters” section. “You want to know about the classes for yourself?” she asked incredulously.

Next, I spoke with the woman in charge of parish education, and cried when I related my experience with the Rosary. When I told her of the moving picture of Mary, she didn’t react adversely, but explained what an “apparition of Mary” was. It was if I were being propelled quickly in this new direction. I didn’t know it then, but Mary had taken me firmly by the hand and was leading me step by step to her Son in the Eucharist.

I was assigned a wonderful RCIA teacher, Georgia, who agreed to teach me privately, so as to not expose me to folk in the community who might know who I was. (“To prevent scandal,” she said.) My husband was nonplussed, having decided I was going through some sort of “phase” that would pass. He even agreed to attend a morning Mass or two with me.

Georgia suggested she attend daily Mass twice a week with me, to answer any questions, and afterwards, we could meet for class. The second Mass Bob and I attended was on a Tuesday. For the Eucharist, Georgia explained that I could go forward, cross my arms when I got to the priest, and receive a blessing. I happily did so. After Father spoke the blessing over me, I felt like an anointing had been poured on me. I could physically feel a warm, weighty substance on the top of my head. When I got back to my seat, I said to Georgia, “I felt something. I can’t move.” She replied, “God is pouring out His graces on you.” I knew right then that there had to be something profoundly different about the Catholic Communion and began intensely desiring to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist.

The Mass ended with a novena to the Virgin Mary. Bob could barely tolerate listening to it and later reiterated the Protestant view on what he termed “Catholic heresies.” I didn’t care. Something had happened to me, and I wasn’t going to fight it. I knew that God was sending me in this direction and that I would become Catholic. Not because of the Church’s great theology, or because the Fathers of the Church were convincing, or because I had thoroughly analyzed my experiences in light of scientific evidence, or because I understood anything intellectually. Simply put, I had met Mary. She had made herself known to me, crept into my heart, and I was already prepared to follow her anywhere she led me.”

The Cost of Discipleship: Bethany & Scott Moelker


SCOTT MOELKER is a Catholic elementary school teacher who lives in Toronto, Ontario with his wife and two daughters. He is interested in theology, he enjoys board games, and he occasionally blogs. His blog is at iesusetecclesia.wordpress.com

I was born into a family of faithful Canadian Christians, with my parents and much of my extended family belonging to the Christian Reformed Church. Baptized as an infant and instructed in the Christian Faith from a very young age, I cannot remember a time when Jesus was not my Lord, although I did not always serve Him well. Growing up, I was blessed to live abroad in England for two years, attending secular, Catholic, and Protestant schools. By the time I had graduated from high school, while I was a professing member of the Christian Reformed Church, I had spent significant time in a Methodist Church and also in a Christian Missionary Alliance Church. This wide range of experience gave me a broader perspective of Christianity.

While in school in England, I had been bullied physically and verbally for being a Christian. This served to make me stubbornly committed to my faith and also caused me to develop a thorough understanding and intellectual defense of my faith. I took 1 Peter 3:15 (NRSV) to heart: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you” — although I ought to have been gentle and respectful as well (see 1 Peter 3:16). I normally argued to prove someone wrong, not out of love. I also had the same battle that every teenage boy must go through with lust. Nevertheless, I became very independent, constantly researching and reading about the Christian Faith.

Most of my time in high school took place in the government-funded Catholic system in Ontario. This was my first exposure to Catholicism. I spent my time correcting teachers who were “cafeteria Catholics” and paying little attention to teachers who were faithful Catholics. At first, I saw the failings of Catholics as symptomatic of their false faith and failings of Protestants as aberrations. Then I spent my last year of school in a Protestant school and came to realize that teens in both systems were checking out of faith, and I couldn’t see spiritual laxity as a unique feature of Catholicism. I learned a valuable lesson about understanding others and the tendency we all have to magnify the faults of “outsiders.”

Maturing in Faith

After high school, I attended Redeemer University College, starting in 2008. There, I quickly became aware that, while my intellectual faith was absolute, my emotional faith was lackluster. I served God and professed a love for Him, but I often felt that He was a rather hard master and that faith was a joyless endeavor, only rewarded in the afterlife. I had developed vices of lust and pride, but God worked in me through a Baptist church that I and many of my friends attended while away at school. The contemporary music and their practice of individual communion appealed to me (a general period when people could come forward as they wished for communion). Attending this church helped me to become a joyful, spiritually vibrant person who loved God, and it enabled me to begin dealing with some of my vices. This was also where I met my wife, Bethany.

While there, I finally became acutely aware of my non-conformist attitude. I had not really thought about the fact that my theological views did not correlate with a particular Christian group in my life. I didn’t agree with the Calvinism of my childhood, but I didn’t agree with Baptist theology, either. Calvin’s views seemed to undermine the narrative of Scripture and the character of God in an attempt to protect God’s sovereignty; it didn’t fit in with “For God so loved the world” (see John 3:16). On the other hand, I supported infant baptism; I loved creeds, and I felt the church institution ought to be more comprehensive than the local church, none of which were Baptist hallmarks.

I wasn’t even sure I agreed with my current corner of Protestantism. I would have called myself an evangelical, but by this I meant primarily an allegiance to “historic Christianity.” I was working on a double major in theology and history at the university, and this fed into deeper questions about my own faith. “Where is sola Scriptura in the Bible?” I asked a professor of mine on a whim. He admitted that he did not know. Still, I had nowhere else to go; I certainly did not agree with the Mormon missionaries or Jehovah’s Witnesses who would come knocking at the door.

Seeking Out Catholics

Small Catholic or quasi-Catholic practices had infiltrated my personal life, possibly from my days in Catholic schools. I oc- casionally made the Sign of the Cross before praying. I began to teach myself Latin in my second year of university, praying John Calvin’s motto as a rote prayer every morning: Cor meum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere. (My heart I offer, Lord, promptly and sincerely.) I nearly ended up at a Catholic youth outing, declining with genuine disappointment due to a prior engagement.

Underneath these active changes, an intellectual realignment had taken place. I expressed horror when a United Reformed friend told me he felt that all Catholics were damned to hell. How could that be, when they professed faith in Jesus Christ — the sole requirement for salvation in Protestantism? I also argued for the Sacrament of Confession, though mostly on practical grounds. In one theology class, I argued that the medieval Catholic Church had legitimate reasons to restrict Bible translation. I corrected a Pentecostal classmate who thought that Catholics worshipped the dead. Though I was not actively thinking about it, my interest in history deepened my understanding of Catholicism.

For one of my final classes, I chose to write a paper about interdenominational conversion stories. I wondered why I had trouble finding good Catholic to Protestant stories, while the reverse were a dime a dozen. “Catholic to Protestant stories all seem to involve Catholics who go through a ‘spiritual, not religious’ or ‘atheist’ phase and then get rescued by an evangelical,” I complained. “I can’t find a good conversion story involving a well-catechized Catholic.” My professor opined that new Protestants were just so happy to find the truth that they didn’t have to write a book about it, but this seemed a rather weak explanation to me. I nearly bought a Scott Hahn book at this time; little did I realize that I would be reading his story and many others only two years later.

I was studying to become a teacher and in my final year ended up with a spare elective slot that needed to be filled with an education class. I noticed that a class on teaching the Catholic faith was available and promptly enrolled. As a non-Catholic, I could not teach in a Catholic school, but I was free to “waste my time on a useless class” (as some of my friends told me). I had a very good time in that class, with wonderful classmates and a great professor named Lina. I even went to Mass once with a Protestant friend, whom I had convinced to join me in the class, along with our significant others. Conversion was not on my mind. I told curious friends that my choice was for “personal edification.”

At the end of the class, Lina gave everyone a rosary. I thought mine rather fetching, with its black beads and silvery chain links, but I didn’t (yet!) have a use for it. I ended up keeping it in my pocket as a physical reminder to be a man of prayer. I soon got used to carrying it everywhere with me.

We Teach Best What We Need to Learn Most

After graduation, Bethany and I were hired to work overseas in a small Christian school. This school operated on a shoestring budget. The couple who had started it had good hearts and wanted to provide English curriculum to students who would go on to study abroad. Despite the pure intentions of the couple running the school, they had chosen to use a cheap, popular American homeschooling curriculum that was downright horrible.

I was irritated, though somewhat bemused, to see that the program’s textbook on the history of education taught that “from ad 500 to 1500 were the Dark Ages, when there was no light of knowledge or understanding” and that the light of faith actually went out during that time. The book then described Martin Luther as a busy builder of schools who started an economic renaissance in Germany that lifted it over the next two hundred years into a period of economic prosperity — as well as rediscovering the true faith while spending time “withdrawn from society.”

I didn’t give those textbooks much more thought until a number of months into teaching. One of our students asked my wife about the cartoons in her books. These cartoons tried to show an idealized world for the child to imitate. In these cartoons, black and white people generally went to separate schools. The student was upset and said she thought that was mean. Bethany agreed and told me. I was horrified.

I took as many textbooks home as I could and read through the Social Studies collection. As I read, I became outraged. Among other, greater problems unrelated to this story was a special hatred for Catholics. Catholics were often simply written out of history. Sometimes, prominent Catholics, like St. Francis Xavier or Christopher Columbus, were adopted and simply presented as though they were Protestant Christians. Other times, Catholics were introduced as villains. The section on Spanish activity in the New World basically repeated old, wartime anti-Spanish propaganda. They described Catholicism as an empty, ritualistic religion started in the eighth century, a religion that does not strengthen the economy like Protestantism does.

The true faith was presented as a federation of independent Bible believers who understood God’s will by simply changing the pronouns in the Bible to insert oneself into the passage being read. This was not how I had been taught to understand the Bible, and I knew from my theology classes that we needed history to defend the canon and understand certain problematic Bible passages.

These books prompted a crisis of faith. I could not accept their version of history or faith and wanted to show exactly how it was wrong. On what basis did I judge that program’s particular version of sola Scriptura to be wrong? I had to explain and justify my use of history and my use of Scripture to myself.

At the same time, my sympathy for how badly Catholics were maligned by this curriculum caused me to become keenly aware that I was using many Catholic things in my teaching practice. I had a prayer box in my classroom. I talked about fasting for Lent and got the school to celebrate Holy Week. One of my students told me that I spent too much time on history and the Church in Bible class. In a chapel message on prayer, I taught my students the Sign of the Cross and used pictures that included a statue of Mary and a young man clasping a rosary. I even showed them my rosary, telling them that I kept it to remind me to pray but did not use it.

Then, for two Sundays in a row at the end of the school year, while I was in church singing, I felt very close to God. I felt very strongly that I ought to become Catholic. I was unsure why I was feeling this way, but I had always been of the opinion that, since Jesus is the truth, we need not fear anything. So I signed up for an account on the Catholic Answers forums and pulled out a massive package of printouts that Lina had given me while I was in teacher’s college.

The first thing I read was a set of quotes about the Eucharist. I was floored. Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, the Council of Nicaea, Augustine … the list of quotes read like a Who’s Who of the early Church and unequivocally taught with one voice that, when we receive Communion, we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. By way of example, Ignatius was taught by the Apostles, and his use of all four Gospels forms part of the Christian argument for the New Testament canon. Yet he wrote: “They [heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6).

After I recovered from my shock, I began to question. “Well,” I thought, “it’s quite possible these quotes were taken out of context.” I downloaded the public domain copy of Philip Schaff’s translations of the Church Fathers. They were not out of context.

“Well,” I thought, “it’s still possible that this has no real Scriptural support.” Poking around on Catholic Answers led me to examine John 6, and I could not escape the clear message that Jesus gave there. “Score one for the Catholics,” I thought — and the truly scary part was it had not even been a contest.

Coming Out Catholic

I began to systematically investigate everything I had against the Catholic Church. I could see a series of developments in my personal faith that I knew could not lead to Protestant answers, but I prayed for God Himself to move me. On Catholic Answers, an individual contacted me out of the blue, offering to buy me any Scott Hahn books that I wanted. I asked for Hail, Holy Queen and Rome Sweet Home, and he graciously sent them to me without question, an answer to prayer. I was amazed by how cogent Hail, Holy Queen was. I had asked for it because I thought the Catholic approach to Mary was perhaps their most indefensible position. Yet here were sensible, scriptural answers!

Bethany and I went through several Ascension Press studies:

Pillar I: The Creed, Epic: An Adventure Through Church History,and Oremus: A Guide to Catholic Prayer. They were beautiful and, as far as we could tell, true. At this point, we were certain that we would become Catholic, although we could not go to a Catholic church due to the status of Catholicism in the country where we were working. We also had to consider the potential impact on our young students, many of whom were new Christians. So we agreed that we would delay our final decision until we returned to Canada.

But neither of us could separate conviction from lifestyle. We started with our private life. As a young Protestant couple, we were using a contraceptive pill. Now, based mostly on my wife’s convictions after reading Rome Sweet Home, we gave up using it and prayed God would not bless us with children too quickly. She almost immediately began to feel better both physically and spiritually.

Next came disclosing our growing certainty to some good friends. My first experience was very good. An elder at our church was starting a Bible study on the Church. I wanted to join because I wanted another Protestant perspective, but I thought it only fair to disclose my intentions to him before joining. I did not want to derail his group with my presence and questions. He was welcoming, and at the end of the study, I still felt Catholics were absolutely right. This dear brother, rather than trying to dissuade me, started lending me Catholic movies such as Keys to the Kingdom and The Scarlet and the Black.

My wife and I were members of a small group of young people that met to watch and discuss episodes of Wayne Grudem’s 20 Christian Basics. We enjoyed the food and discussions. Telling them that we were becoming Catholic, however, did not go smoothly. The coming-out experience included the whole range of reactions. One individual looked as though she would cry. Another looked horrified. Others were curious. We started having very spirited discussions, which made some group members uncomfortable. So for the peace of the group, we decided to stop attending.

Our position really became difficult when it came time to tell our families. When we told my father-in-law on Skype, he got up and walked out. Bethany was in tears. (He has since apologized; we caught him off guard and unprepared.) The same day, we broke it to my family. They took it pretty well, but my sister was very disappointed. Her first response was: “You’re going to go to Catholic churches to evangelize them, right?” and her second, “Well, we’ll see how long that lasts.”

More complications emerged. I needed to find a teaching job back home in Canada. I did not feel called to work in non-religious schools. As an “unconfirmed Catholic,” I was not eligible to work in a Catholic school. As an “informal Catholic,” however, many Protestant schools would not hire me. I wanted to work in an ecumenical Christian environment. At length, I was offered a position at a small Classical Christian school that had started up only the year before.

Protestant Problems

After returning to Canada, we settled in Toronto. Teacher training for my school began in late August 2015, where I was faced with an immediate problem. It turned out that this Classical Christian school was better described as a Protestant school. Despite the fact that I had said, “My wife and I are thinking of becoming Catholics and will be attending a Catholic church” and had given them a written list of books I’d read in the past year, including Hail, Holy Queen, Rome Sweet Home, Evangelical is not Enough, The Protestant’s Dilemma, and Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church, my interviewer now said he felt “misled.” My interviewer had believed that I was just trying different churches rather than seriously becoming Catholic. When they discovered I was serious, I was asked many questions about whether I prayed to the Pope and how my relationship with Mary was. I was told that many members of their church did not like Catholics and my interviewer would never have hired me if he had known I was a “confirmed Catholic.” They did, however, agree to honor my contract.

I was asked to meet regularly with a Protestant pastor, wear nothing Catholic, describe my commitment to Catholicism as tenuously as was honest, and avoid all mention of the Church with the kids I was teaching. My parents felt that once the school knew that I loved the Lord, they would no longer care where I went to church. They loyally encouraged me to make the best of it. In January, however, I met with the principal, who confirmed that though I had taught well and he trusted me, they were not willing to have a Catholic teacher in the school. I would need a new job, and they would need a new teacher. When he prayed for new hires during staff devotions in the spring, he prayed against making a hiring mistake using martial imagery, so that they would not have “an enemy in their midst.” This pointed prayer was not directed at me but still hurt.

Every school event seemed fraught with danger. Before I had been warned, one of my coworkers asked where I attended church, and on hearing that I went to a Catholic church and was converting because I had investigated Catholic theology, she was very upset. She told me that she knew many women damaged by Catholicism and that one of them had all sorts of stories about priests coming over and getting drunk on her father’s wine.

It was a difficult start, and had God not provided the strength, we might not have made it.

The Fullness of Truth

In the midst of these difficulties, the great joy of the year was the long, slow joy of realizing that we were becoming Catholic. Bethany had a great consolation those first months of feeling that, when we were at Mass, all was right in the world. I had the consolation of my wife’s unflinching support and accompaniment. Readings from the beautiful Liturgy of the Hours became a treasured part of our daily routine. I prayed the Rosary every day while walking to work, picturing all the angels and saints as walking with me. I expected the Protestant pastor I was asked to meet with to try to change my mind, but he did not. I began to look forward to meeting with him. Midway through the school year, I told some of my other coworkers about my situation, and they seemed shocked that I was being dismissed for my Catholic faith.

Only a stone’s throw away from our house was an excellent Catholic church, Holy Family. Our parish had many priests because it was attached to a seminary, and the first homily we heard there referenced the priest’s background as an evangelical Protestant. We met with Father Michael and related our odd story to him. He gave us some Catholic materials and checked to see that we had a Bible, that we knew we could not receive Communion, and that we were not using birth control. Then he signed us up for RCIA class, which he taught. Later, we met another young Catholic couple because one of the couples had attended my university. Their friendship was a great help.

I had to begin searching for work again. I had many of the same problems as before: I was not formally Catholic, however firm my intentions might be. Despite this, a wonderful Catholic school in Dawson Creek, British Columbia offered me a position. This took a great weight off our shoulders, knowing that God had provided well for our future in the Catholic Church.

The most nerve-wracking part of preparing for reception into the Church was certainly First Confession. It was one thing to know that Jesus wanted me to confess my sins. It was quite another thing to actually prepare a list of my sins and confess them in the presence of another human being. Fortunately, Jesus gave me the strength to go through with it. After I completed my penance, my sponsor said, “Now you’re clean.” Amazingly, I did feel thoroughly clean, and I wanted to stay like that forever. I felt like I was floating on a cloud.

At the Easter Vigil itself, I was blessed to have my immediate family and my sister’s fiancé attend to support us. They came and took us out to dinner to celebrate before the Easter Vigil. It was a long Mass, and our traditional church used a good deal of Latin, which was hard for them to understand, but the great number of Scripture readings made an impression on my mother. As for Bethany and me, it was the most beautiful Easter celebration we’d ever seen, full of solemn majesty. With three other members of our RCIA class, we were received into full communion with the Church and partook of Jesus’ Body and Blood for the first time.

Since then, we have been blessed with the birth of our daughter, Jessica. She was baptized only a few months after we were received into the Church. We had the great joy of having both our families attend the baptism. Then, it was time to say goodbye to Toronto and our parish and move across the country to begin our new life.

Although life will contain many more adventures and trials, we are thankful. The Lord has called us to the fullness of truth in His Church. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NRSV).”

Love,
Matthew