After my post last week, a friend urged me to share the story of why Zachary and I decided to become Catholic. So, I am sharing a letter I wrote to another friend who was curious about our transition last year, right before we took the plunge. I pray it answers some questions and yields good conversation.
Like I said in my previous message, thank you for your question. I have prayed that the Lord would use our time of transition as a place for good conversations with fellow Christians who want to know more about what we are doing and why. So, thank you.
First of all, let me start by saying how thankful I am--oh how thankful!--to have grown up at Fellowship Bible Church, where the Word of God is so highly valued. I learned so much through the children's ministry, youth ministry, and Sunday teachings that I am still reaping the fruit from. The love that I have for the Word of God is the fruit of seeds sown in my heart by people at FBC. What a gift!
Why are we entering the Catholic Church? The story starts in 1987 at Odessa Bible Church. The pastor believed in taking communion weekly, and my parents enjoyed this practice. I was curious about it, and one week I asked to take communion. My parents said no, but later that day they explained the gospel to me and I prayed to receive Jesus. The next week, as the elements of communion passed by as usual, I reached out to take it. My parents stopped me because they didn't think that I had really understood the week before, but I loudly proclaimed for all to hear, "I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and I want to take communion!" And they let me from that day on. :)
I have always been drawn to communion. There is something so beautiful and mysterious about it. As I grew up reading the Word, I was struck with the teachings about communion and was convinced that we are urged to take it weekly, or as often as we meet. When I went off to college, I searched for a church that took communion weekly, and that introduced me to what are called 'liturgical churches.'
A liturgical church follows the Church calendar. This means that it orients itself around the key events in the Church and in the Scripture instead of the secular year. The Church year begins with Advent (4 weeks before Christmas), when we gather to remember the longing of the world for Jesus's first coming as we prepare our hearts with fasting and prayer for his second coming. Then we have Christmas (which is one of the longest feasts--12 days long! Dec 25-Jan 5). We celebrate the baptism of Jesus and the visitation of the wise men and then we come into the season of Lent. Lent is a period of 40 days when we orient our hearts toward God by dedicating ourselves to him in a specific way, usually by fasting from something. The idea of fasting is to let your hunger (physical or spiritual) drive you into intimacy with Jesus. Then we celebrate Holy Week (starting with Palm Sunday) and then the cross on Good Friday, and Easter Sunday for the Resurrection. For 40 days we remember Jesus teaching his disciples and then we celebrate the Ascension, followed 10 days later by Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit. After Pentecost, we enter a season called Ordinary time, when we grow in love and good deeds as we follow Jesus diligently. It is a cycle repeated every year, without fail. And as we walk through the events on the Church calendar, we are drawn deeper into the story of God's redeeming love, the rhythm of His heart, and the drama of redemption. I love it!
The Catholic Church offers communion every day, which we are so excited for! We love meeting Jesus in the body and the blood. It feeds us in a mysterious and amazing way.
The Catholic Church is not a different religion from the Christianity practiced at FBC and other faithful Protestant churches. We are all Christians, but our traditions in worship are what are very different. But there are standards to which Christian orthodoxy (a word which comes from the Greek and means "right belief") is held--they are called the Creeds. There are 2 traditional creeds, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed. Both were agreed upon in the early Church to encapsulate what you must believe to be a Christian. We recite the Nicene Creed every week during our church service (called 'mass'), and it prepares our hearts to listen to the teaching of the priest and make sure that he is teaching things faithful to what Christians have historically believed. You can read more about the creeds by Googling them, but I will share the Nicene Creed with you. I think you will find that it is solidly orthodox--it is not Scripture, but every part of it is taken from the Word of God.
The Nicene Creed
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages,
God from God, Light from Light,
True God from True God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial (of the same substance) with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation,
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored (worshipped) and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic (when lowercase, this means 'universal') and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Growing up here in East Texas, I have encountered (and believed) a lot of misconceptions about the Catholic Church. One main thing is the idea that Catholics believe that salvation is by works. While this may be commonly believed by a lot of Christians (not merely by Catholics), this is not what the Catholic Church teaches. Salvation is by faith through grace. Yes, there is an emphasis on good deeds, but that is a response to the love of God shown to us through Jesus's sacrificial love on the cross, not to earn our way to God.
A practice that I have noticed makes a lot of Protestants uncomfortable is the idea of praying to the saints (those who have died in Jesus Christ and who live with Him now in heaven). If you take the word "pray" and look at its roots in English, it originally meant "to ask." In Shakespeare and other older English texts, someone might beg someone by saying, "I pray thee!" Catholics make the distinction that prayer is not worship. Let me frame it this way: if in Christ, our physical death does not mean the death of our souls but rather that the Christian lives in heaven with Jesus, then death is not an end. Catholics believe that in Hebrews 12, the 'great cloud of witnesses' are those who have died in Christ, who are cheering us on. Just like we ask our friends and family who are with us on earth to pray for us, we can also ask our friends and family who are alive with Jesus in heaven to pray for us. Yes, we could just go directly to Jesus, and that is such a honor and privilege--the throne of grace is open to us at all times! But just as I'm sure you have seen power in the prayers of other Christians on earth on your behalf, so Catholics believe that the prayers of Christians in heaven can have powerful and effective prayers. Catholics believe that death does not separate us, even if it does hinder some of our communication. But the important thing is that prayer is not worship.
Another misconception about the Catholic Church is that Catholics worship Mary because they honor her. Many people are uncomfortable because Catholics often ask Mary to pray for them. But like I explained above, the idea is that Mary is our sister in Christ and can intercede for us. We do honor Mary--she is blessed among women (Luke 1:42). She is the first Christian! Her 'yes' to God opened her womb for the Incarnation of God as man! This is a huge deal, and we celebrate it weekly. Mary was at the cross when Jesus died. From her life and example we have so much to learn, and I believe that she prays for us. I believe that heaven is filled with Christians praying for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
As Zachary and I have journeyed toward this big transition, we have continually sought the prayer and counsel of close friends. It is a very big step to become Catholic. It has affected just about every facet of our lives. But over and over again, as we have prayed about it, we have sensed the Holy Spirit drawing us to this part of His family. We pray that we can be a small bridge of relationship between Protestants and Catholics, Messianic Christians and Orthodox Christians. We pray that what Jesus asked for on the night He was betrayed would come to be: that we will be one just as He and the Father are One. We fervently pray for unity in the Church--Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Messianic--so that we can see Jesus come back and claim His place as King.
Thank you for your concern and your willingness to understand where we are coming from. It is an honor to share with you, and if I have said anything that doesn't make sense or if you need more clarification, please do ask!
Please pray for us! And may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ abound to you.