On Monday, May 11th, 2009, I decided to become a Roman Catholic.
The pin-pointing of a particular date and “conversion moment” may sound a little Protestant (even evangelical) of me, but it was far from a road to Damascus experience. It was more like the road to the Whipsnade Zoo. If I may be permitted to reference the conversion story of our beloved C.S. Lewis:
I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. “Emotional” is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.
–Surprised by Joy
Like Lewis, I was on a relatively unimportant car trip, mine from home to my job as an actor with a touring children’s theatre company. It was about 7:00 in the morning, and I was just at the start of my 20-minute drive. Rolling down a gentle, forest-shaded road near my Baltimore apartment, I was thinking about states in life, vocations, and what I could and could not do if I joined the Church. I had the thought, “Well, I’ll just wait and see what I decide about joining the Church. Option A is open to me if I determine the Church has the authority it claims to have, and Option B is open to me if I determine the Church doesn’t have that authority.” My next thought was, “Wait. I already believe it has that authority.” It was at that moment that I realized that my spirit had already submitted to the claim of the Church upon me some time ago, and was simply waiting for the rest of my mind and heart to catch up.
I was raised in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a mainline Protestant denomination. I was baptized around my 14th birthday, at the same time I was confirmed, because the church we attended in Texas when I was a child practiced adult baptism only (I don’t remember its denomination). In confirmation class, I remember learning about total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints (the five points of Calvinism, i.e. TULIP). The idea of limited atonement (that Christ died only for the elect, not for everyone) didn’t seem quite fair to me, but my pastor gave me what I now know is an Arminian understanding of atonement and of predestination. (He basically said that God is like a parent who knows that, given a choice between peas and carrots, you will choose peas, because he knows that you hate carrots. He doesn’t make you choose the peas, he just knows that you will.)
I love my church (especially the bagpipes on Heritage Sunday!), but it always bothered me a little that the Presbyterian Church and other Protestant churches came out of schism. I respect the reformers for taking a stand on conscience, but there were also reformers who stayed in the Church and worked from within, and since the Body of Christ is meant to be whole, it always made a little sad. But I had never even thought of leaving my church until I came to Loyola College, a Jesuit institution, as a doctoral student in clinical psychology.
This is Part 1 in a multi-part series of my journey into the Catholic Church. Next up: Jesuits and C.S. Lewis.