“I used to think this was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing. It does not work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time. By its order...But now I'm not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life. “ - Dr. Louise Banks, The Arrival
Last night my wife and I were confirmed in the Catholic faith, we received and were sealed by the Holy Spirit, and received the Eucharist for the very first time. Over the last 397 days I’ve written often of the logic and reason and evidentiary claims that make it obvious to me that the Catholic Church was the original true Church of Christ but that’s not really enough. We are emotional beings and as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote (paraphrased): “Knowing the truth is not enough, conversion requires a change of heart.”
My journey was no different. But when and where did it begin? That’s a question I consider frequently and the answer for me changes often as I realize things in my past that steered me in this direction, even if in just a subtle manner. There are moments that are like a refreshing breeze in the midst of a stifling Alabama August afternoon, and then there are moments like your wedding day, or loss of a loved one or the day you see a child born..it’s those moments that reshape your life like an earthquake or hurricane.
In the Spring of 2017, my wife and I were, what I considered to be, staunch protestants. The idea that we would become Catholic would have been laughable. But in that period, our small group disintegrated, we had friends lie to us about why they were leaving and we begged and pleaded for the leadership of the church we attended at the time to help a person we knew who was in need and it was like trying to track down someone who owed me money. It truly felt to me like it was a place of show christianity. Lots of hands raised, praise Jesus worship on Sunday, but when someone truly needed help…no one to be found. It hurt us more than I’ve ever let on.
My wife and I withdrew from that congregation with the intent on just reassessing our denominational allegiance. I had zero intention of swimming the Tiber and it wasn’t even an option on the table at the time.
We decided to just take a break from organized religion for a while as we had trips to Vegas (Yeehaw!!), the Caribbean, D.C. and Europe planned for the next 5 months.
It was on the flight back from Vegas that Ali and I watched the movie “The Arrival”. I’ll skip the plot synopsis but say that the point of the movie was: if you knew exactly where the decisions in your life would lead, would you still make the same choices?
After watching that movie on that flight, I told my wife (paraphrased): “We’ve been through hard times recently. We launched a startup that failed. We’ve had a business partnership and friendship dissolve. We’ve lost our friends. We feel like we’ve been abandoned by our church. We’re not even sure what form of Christianity we believe in anymore, but I know this: our marriage has never been better and I would make all of the same decisions and same mistakes to land right back in this moment with you and my girls.”
I’ve told people that I think this movie is the first thing that really opened my heart to Rome but I’ve never been able to articulate how until now. It was me accepting myself for who I am, as the sum of all of the choices, both good and bad, that I’d made up until that point and realizing that I was fine with it. The acknowledgement, on some level, that even through all the pain and hurt feelings, God was in control and I was still exactly where he wanted me to be. This was one of those refreshing breezes in the Alabama summer that was filling the sails of my ship on a voyage toward Rome, even if I had no idea at the time.
The next sort of subtle moment came in the Fall of that year when I took my wife and daughters to Munich and Paris. We went on a walking tour of the Churches in Munich and several of them were old Catholic Cathedrals. It was a Sunday morning and we went into one during a traditional Latin mass and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. We only stayed for a few moments but it was packed and as I watched the people in there, I saw a devotion that I only thought existed in protestants (little did I know that the devotion of Catholics dwarfs that of most protestants), and I listened to the words being spoken and the music being played and a tear rolled down my face. As I turned to leave, I saw my tour guide cross himself, kiss his crucifix, bow and then lead us out the door.
I saw more churches that day and in Paris I got to see one of the most important Cathedrals in all of Christianity: Notre-Dame, the resting place of Christ’s crown of thorns. Walking through that beautiful building I realized that the Catholics didn’t build these places because they loved to worship idols (as I’d been taught), they built them because they put all of their worldly wealth into worshipping Jesus. It was a moment in which I truly realized that maybe their devotion had been mischaracterized or misunderstood by those who taught me and by myself.
I think the first “hurricane” type moment was later in 2017. I was talking to a former friend of mine. He’s a pastor whom I used to respect very much. We were discussing a special election in Alabama for a senate seat. It was an absolute media circus. One of the candidates was an old man who many people viewed as being crazy. He was accused of sex crimes from 40+ years ago in the weeks preceding the election. The other candidate was a man who claims to be a Christian but also supports abortion up until the moment of birth. This was one of those elections where there really was no good choice except making no choice at all and if my pastor friend had taken that stance and promoted that stance and encouraged his congregation to take that stance, my story may have turned out differently, but he didn’t. He told me bluntly: “I’m pulling for the [pro-abortion candidate]”.
I was stunned.
My honest first reaction was “What the hell is wrong with you!?!? What he publicly supports is no more aligned with Christianity than what the other guy is accused of. Tell your congregation to sit it out but for the love of all that is Holy do NOT tell them to vote for a baby killer!!!”
I truly believe, it was that day, that being a protestant died in me.
If it was possible, I felt even more alone. I believed that God loved me and I believed that Jesus died for my sins, but I knew that there was absolutely no way that the Jesus Christ of the Bible could align himself with excluding good Christians from the body, abortionists and refusing to help those in need. It would be like Jesus answering Pilate’s question of “What is truth?” with a “yeah you’re right..all truth is relative”.
Early in the fall of 2017, we learned that my wife was pregnant. Just before Christmas we found out it was going to be a boy. We had two girls previously. I love my daughters very much and because of raising them I learned that I’m not a very patient man. I figured God didn’t give me a son because I’m not patient enough to raise one.
When we found out that it was a boy, I felt like God was pouring out a blessing upon me. A blessing that maybe I didn’t deserve but a blessing none-the-less and maybe it was a sign that something was changed or changing in me.
In 2017, there was one last moment that I think was more like a subtle breeze than a hurricane but it was important none-the-less. On December 31, 2017, we were driving around looking for a protestant church to attend. It was a Sunday, but every single one was closed. No services. Having a party was more important than worshipping the Lord. While I was disappointed that day I look back and I know it was God keeping us in the isolation to which he had placed us. He was keeping our ship steered to where it needed to be.
In that disappointment, I decided to make a non-vanity filled new years resolution: I would spent every day of 2018 reading my Bible and in prayer.
“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” - James 4:8
And I did.
On February 19th, I awoke at 4 am with a desperation to ask a Catholic friend some questions about the teachings of Rome. I found answers that were VERY Biblical about everything from Justification to Mary to the Eucharist and even to the Pope.
It was 6 days later, on a Sunday afternoon. I was sitting in the living room in my favorite leather chair. The sun was shining in through the front windows and bathed the foyer and the floor around me in warm sunlight. The room felt different. I had just finished reading Scott Hahn’s The Fourth Cup and it was at that moment that I was no longer a believer or a hoper in Christianity, but I was a “KNOWER”. It was that moment upon which God had shown me the truth, the real absolute eternal truth, about his creation and his son and the history and purpose of the Church and I have never felt so loved in my entire life.
You see to “believe” means something different to the first century Christians. They believed even up until the point of being a martyr. Why did they have such strong “faith”? Because they KNEW it was true, because they witnessed it first hand.
God gave me the knowledge of the truth of Catholicism and it completely redefined who I am. I am no longer timid about sharing my faith and if it requires, I’d die for it. Not because I “believe” it to be true, but because I KNOW it to be true.
I don’t know if I’ll write any more blog posts. My journey to Rome is complete and there is no going back. I’ve received 3 sacraments now and with each one, each time, I fall more and more in love with Jesus and the original form of Christianity. Each one has the power to eliminate the sin from our lives and to draw us more in union with him.
My “faith” is real and factual and has a concrete substance. It is no longer a mental idea or just a theology but a mode of living and centering my life around what is most important: Him.
My prayer this Easter is that all of you will find it in your heart to forgive me for the words I have written that may have caused you pain or anger but that you also realize the truth of what I’ve told you. I pray that you will also ask God to show you the truth and that you’d be willing to follow it to whatever end it leads you, even if that means swimming across the river and submitting to the authority of the Bishop of Rome.
Peace Be With You & Happy Easter! HE IS RISEN!!