A Deeper Look at Our Conversion Stories
Featuring Marcus and Marilyn Grodi/
December 6, 2013
Becoming Catholic was never my dream or intent. It is still an all too vivid memory to me, sitting alone at age forty in a half-lit basement, having resigned from my Presbyterian pastorate. I ached for having abandoned the weekly privilege of a pulpit from which to proclaim God’s truth. Would I ever have this privilege again? Will I ever again have a pulpit? Now they estimate that each week, from the “pulpit” of The Journey Home television program, I speak to a potential audience of over a billion viewers and listeners. In one night, I speak to more people than I ever could have in my entire career as a Presbyterian minister. This is the humor of our merciful God. When I was contemplating conversion, I had no idea whatsoever how I would support my family, let alone how I would continue in ministry. But this is getting way ahead of myself.
After sharing my conversion story over and boringly over again dozens of times in the past twenty years, I’ve come to realize shamefully how mechanical it has become in the telling. I’ve got it all worked out, down to every event, person, place, and thing, with each struggle and motive charted and evaluated, leading with creatively inserted humor to build from despairing confusion to joyful completion upon reception into the Catholic Church. This, though, is only part of the story, for as is the case with the hundreds of converts and reverts I have interviewed on The Journey Home, the real journey is usually far too complicated, even embarrassing, to put in a box.
To some extent, I could say that my “journey home” was as equally attributable to personality tendencies as to theological and scriptural apologetics. This is not surprising, since God created each of us uniquely, each with our own set of personality “quirks,” all designed as means by which He can draw us closer to Him and by which He can use us uniquely for His purposes.
Most of us don’t admit to these personality quirks, but mine admittedly had a great part to play in both of my conversions, as an adult to Jesus Christ and then later to His Church. Each of us is a complicated mixture of our own particular genetics, our environment, our divinely implanted soul or self, and our will. These four, plus possibly other factors, come together to make each of us truly unique — particularly in the eyes of our Creator. One might place the definitive cause behind the quirks of my character on having been an only child, the only one of eight siblings who survived childbirth, but the inability of modern psychologists as well as theologians to unite on any one theory of the human person bespeaks to the futility of seeking that one cause behind our individual uniqueness.
Stranger in the Crowd
One of these quirks is that I have always been incurably insecure. Though over the years I have learned to hide this behind an otherwise confident exterior, inside I always feel like a stranger in every crowd. Some write this off to my being an only child; I see this as the unique thorn or cross to bear that God has given me. This quirk always moves me toward isolation — even when all the doors God continually opens for me require an increased involvement with the public. I speak each week to millions of people when, inwardly, I would prefer to be at home on our farm sharing a coffee with my wife, Marilyn, or brush-hogging our twenty-five-acre farm, or fishing with my sons.
This introverted insecurity also, however, leans me a bit towards the neurotic, always assuming, at least initially, that whenever anything goes wrong, it must be my fault. I’ve jokingly said that this is why I have a particular affinity for St. Joseph. The story goes that one evening the Holy Family was sitting around the dinner table, and for a brief second there was a bit of a row. Joseph looked at Jesus and Mary, and said, with one of his few words, “Sorry, it must be me.”
It was another personality quirk, however, that had a more prominent influence on my journey home: an insatiable, often irritable, desire to know “why.” If you want me to do something, I want to know why, or I won’t want to do it. I certainly must have been a pain in the neck to my parents, because they’d say “do it,” and I’d ask, “Why?” or “Why do it this way; why not another way?” If you didn’t give me a good reason, I’d either do it my own way or just give in, but I first had to ask the question.
The reason for sharing these quirks is because describing one’s conversion to the faith is not all cut and dried. Each person is unique, and admittedly our motives are never pure or pristine. I only pray that in, through, and regardless of the cacophony of voices that fill our lives, we can truly and clearly hear the voice of Jesus calling and beckoning us each home.
Looking for Answers
As I mentioned earlier, my entire spiritual pilgrimage can be explained as a result of trying to answer the question “Why?” For example, when I arrived in college, I encountered a culture and lifestyle radically different than what I grew up with. It wasn’t that my Lutheran upbringing hadn’t prepared me to say no to this lifestyle; it’s just that I hadn’t been listening. And so, when faced with the challenges, I asked, “Why?” or maybe, more accurately, “Why not?”
Almost immediately, I found myself with both feet in the fraternity drinking and dating scene, to the point where my life became a walking ad for Bud Light: “Why ask why?” Eventually I became the beer-chugging champion of my university. I was so caught up in it all that I could no longer see anything wrong with it.
This lifestyle continued until the summer between my junior and senior years. An avalanche of events got my attention, and within only a few weeks I was a “born-again Christian” driven to save the world. It began in a genetics class, studying the evolutionary development of our senses of sight and hearing. I was being taught that these amazing senses had happened by chance over millions of years through mutations and natural selection. The Holy Spirit used this to spark a few “why” questions: “Wait a second, how could this be true? Does anyone really believe this? The majority of all higher-level living things have two eyes at the same location in the front of their heads: is this merely by chance? Did this arrangement happen over time as a result of natural selection? Is there any evidence of fossils showing humanoids or other animals with eyes at less advantageous locations on their bodies?” I realized that for most of the biologists I was studying under, their God was Time; in other words, given enough time and probability, everything could be explained. All order was a chance result of millions of years of natural selection. Facing the absurdity of this is what drew me back to God.
Following Jesus, But What Church?
Not long after this, at age twenty-one, I experienced a true conversion of faith to Jesus Christ, through the witness of friends, the reading of Scripture, and the preaching and teaching of an Evangelical pastor of a local Congregational church. For the first time in my life, I was actually listening to the Gospel message, and it began changing my life. At this point, my pastor taught me a Proverb that has become my “life verse”: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, / And lean not on your own understanding; / In all your ways acknowledge Him, / And He shall direct your paths” (Prov 3:5–6, New King James Version). Again, though, I began asking, “Why?” Why this local Congregational church, or should I return to my Lutheran upbringing? Why belong to a church at all?
So I visited my childhood Lutheran church, and found two things. The first was positive. As I sat through the familiar Lutheran service, remembering every word of the liturgy, I heard for the first time the Gospel preached there, and I knew that it hadn’t been the church’s fault that I hadn’t grown in my faith; the fault must have been mine. I must not have been listening.
But then I came to another conclusion as I looked down the pew and saw a couple of high school students sitting there, just like I had done, messing around, shooting spit wads, yet at the same time perfectly reciting the liturgy. It struck me that liturgy without an internal change of heart was dead liturgy. Quickly, I turned the blame away from myself to what I concluded was the dead, monotonous liturgy of the Lutheran Church, and left it to become a Congregationalist. I went from one extreme to the other: from a liturgical, creedal church to a nonliturgical, autonomous, democratic church with “No creed but Christ.” Here every individual church was free to decide through congregational vote whatever it wanted to believe or how it wanted to worship.
Not long after this, I graduated college and found myself a plastics engineer for a large chemical company, and another “why” question arose: “Why work?” It wasn’t so much that I was lazy, but my main project as a plastics engineer was to develop a better butter tub. “Why?!” I pictured myself sitting on the edge of heaven, with Jesus asking me, “Well, Son, what did you do in life?” And my response might be, “Well, I developed a better butter tub!” I asked myself, Is this what I want to do with the rest of my life?
Moving towards Ministry
At the same time, I was working in my off-hours with young people in a ministry called Young Life, a powerful ministry in which more than a hundred teens would gather each week in someone’s basement to hear the Gospel. I was a musician who was cutting my teeth on preaching the Gospel message. Over time, I decided that if I were given the choice, I’d rather be in ministry than making better butter tubs, so with the confirmation of my pastor and some of my friends and family (not all!), I sold everything I owned, except my guitar and golf clubs, resigned my engineering job, and went to seminary.
It’s important to understand how different this was than a young Catholic man being sent by his diocese to discern priesthood at a Catholic seminary. No church sent me to seminary; rather, I just decided that God was calling me to go. So, I went to a nondenominational, Evangelical Protestant, independent seminary in New England, where the students represented more than forty-six different denominations.
When I got to seminary, all of a sudden I was inundated with more “why” questions. As a Congregationalist, for whom everything was basically up for grabs — except having anyone tell us what we had to believe — I was confronted by every imaginable theological opinion. After dinner nearly everyday, we would sit around, coffee cups in hand, battling over all the big theological issues: Why do we believe in the divinity of Christ or the Trinity? Or what about predestination: what about the people who lived and died without hearing about the Lord Jesus? If they have never heard, then why are they guilty? Are we indeed in the last days, facing the second coming of Christ, or maybe a “rapture,” as some of my classmates insisted?
All of us believed in Jesus Christ and the infallibility of Scripture, yet we would argue and argue and argue, and never come to an agreement. It never crossed my mind that there could be anything wrong with Scripture or even Protestantism per se; I assumed, given my neurotic personality quirk, that the problem, of course, must be me. I hadn’t prayed enough, or studied enough, or listened enough.
Crisis of Faith
Eventually, I faced a crisis of faith. I read my first “Catholic” book in seminary, by a well-known “Catholic” author (who, unknown to me, was a renegade Catholic theologian), Hans Küng. His book was called On Being a Christian, and one of the reasons he is deemed so dangerous is that he is a superb and convincing writer. As I progressed through the book, I found that he was successfully undercutting the very foundation for my faith, which was the Bible alone. As a result of reading this book, I found that I, as a Bible Christian who believed only what was found in Scripture, no longer had a solid basis upon which to believe in the Trinity or the divinity of Christ.
For three days, I argued with my professors and fellow students, as they tried unsuccessfully to bring me back. I dropped everything and spent literally an entire night combing the New Testament to find proof for the Trinity, but couldn’t because, for one thing, the word “Trinity” is not there.
Then a theology professor pulled me aside and said, “You have to understand: the reason we believe these things is because they are the quasi-unanimous conclusions of the Church throughout the ages. In other words, this is what the majority of Christians, everywhere and in all places, since the beginning of Christianity have believed; so, therefore, we believe it to be true.” At this point, it started to become apparent that most of our doctrines in the Protestant churches were based on democratic theology: most of us believe it, so it must be true.
This assumption held me through seminary, until I graduated and was ordained, and pastored my first church. Then came a host of new “why” questions. For example, Why should I wear a clerical collar? As a Congregationalist, I was free to decide for myself. Since none of my fellow clergymen could give me a good reason, I didn’t, that is unless it was advantageous for me, like when I wanted respect while visiting the hospital or when I wanted reduced rates at the local golf course. Or I asked, “Why do we worship this way? Why this music? Why this order of the worship? Why do we do the Lord’s Supper this way?” In time, I tried everything and changed everything, all with the hope of bringing renewal to everything.
What Is Truth?
With all these changes, and as a Congregationalist with everything up for grabs, I began to question, “Why do we believe what we believe?” In essence, could I be certain that what I was teaching was true? This led me to a long study of the creeds and the history of the Church, and, as a result, I became a Presbyterian. I could no longer remain a pastor in a denomination in which every individual church, every individual Christian, could decide for himself what was true; to me, this was institutionalized Narcissism. So I left this to become a Presbyterian because the Presbyterian Church had two things Congregationalists did not: a Book of Confessions, which contained all the major confessions of the history of the Presbyterian Church, and a Book of Order, which is similar to the Catholic Code of Canon Law.
I considered this a good, trustworthy foundation for my pastoral ministry, so in time, I became an assistant pastor in a medium-sized urban church, then the solo pastor of a small rural church, and finally the senior pastor of a large urban church, with a full-time staff of nine, a burgeoning membership, and an ample budget. As I took on these responsibilities, however, another “why” question arose: “Why was I single?” In Protestant culture, there really is no place for the “gift of celibacy” — it was a gift that nobody wanted. Generally (at least when I was a pastor), if a minister wasn’t married or dating someone, the assumption was that there was something wrong with him. Well, it wasn’t that I had to succumb to the pressure; rather, I knew deep in my heart that I needed this special partner, not merely to share life with, but to help me see the blind sides of my character. In the midst of this discerning, the Lord brought Marilyn, the woman whom I would marry, into my life, which immediately doubled all the “why” questions — particularly because it had never been her dream to be a pastor’s wife.
Becoming a Presbyterian did not answer all of my theological and pastoral “why” questions, far from it. On Monday mornings, as I had been taught in seminary, I would begin preparation for my upcoming Sunday sermon. I first would make a fresh personal translation of the text from Greek or Hebrew, and then fill pages of exegetical study and reflections. Once I had arrived at a tentative conclusion of the meaning of the passage, and a rough outline of my thoughts, only then would I consult with the row of biblical commentaries on my shelf, to make sure my conclusions were on track.
One day, it struck me that every commentary on my shelf had been hand-picked from scholars I liked, with whose theologies I agreed. I, therefore, was checking my conclusions only against people I already agreed with, so, in essence, I was only checking myself against myself! I had protected myself from any way of knowing whether I — or they — were wrong.
Then one Sunday morning, as I was preaching, it struck me that within a thirty-mile radius of my pulpit, there were probably thirty other pastors in thirty other churches — all of us considering the Bible as the sole authority for our faith — who were all teaching different if not contradictory things, possibly on the same text. Which one of us was correct?
Once Saved, Always Saved
As an Evangelically minded Presbyterian Calvinist, I believed and preached “once saved—always saved”: that once a person accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, they have arrived; they are saved by grace through faith alone. And because they have done nothing to earn salvation, there is likewise nothing they can do to lose it. As a pastor, I knew many people who needed to break from debilitating sin, and even more of them who needed to live their faith more radically. Because of my preaching of “once saved—always saved” theology, however, I had no theological grounds to challenge anyone — let alone any real authority to do so.
What really hit the fan for Marilyn and me, however, were the pro-life issues. Marilyn was the director of a crisis pregnancy center, and more often than not she found herself working beside Catholics. Our Presbyterian denomination had democratically decided to lean more and more pro-choice. Then, I discovered that the dues my congregation was paying to the head office of our denomination were funding abortions — for the daughters and wives of ministers — and there was nothing we could do to stop this. But if a person is “once saved—always saved,” what difference to his salvation does it make whether he is pro-choice or pro-life?
Where to Now?
With this, I knew I could no longer be a Presbyterian. How could I stand before my congregation when I knew what their donations were funding — when I knew their mixed views on abortion — and yet, at the same time, enable their complacency because of some decision they had made years before that guaranteed their salvation?
So I began admitting to close pastor friends that I could no longer remain in our particular Presbyterian denomination and began exploring more conservative Presbyterian churches. At the time, there were nine Presbyterian denominations in the U.S., each of which believed it was the truer interpreter of Scripture (I think there are more now). Examining each, I determined that none of them were exactly what I wanted, so I found a book of Christian denominations, three hundred pages of all the different Christian traditions in America. I carefully examined each, rejecting them one by one because something in their theology didn’t fit with mine, until I stopped myself, wondering who I arrogantly thought I was to stand in judgment of these churches? I was playing God, placing myself over all of them!
I received a phone call from a Presbyterian pastor friend out in Kansas City who, in a panic, exclaimed, “Marcus, you can’t leave the church! You must remain loyal, even if all the leaders have become heretics and the church is going down in flames: we need the faithful to remain loyal!” And I answered in words that, at the time, I did not understand — with another “why” question: “If that is true, then why did we leave our last denomination to form this one? And the division before that, and before that, and before that? Why does loyalty to truth require that I stand firm here in this denomination? Why not move on and form a more true church? Because in time, we both know that we would have to move on and form another one and another one, and on into infinity.”
You see, our heritage as Presbyterians was “Reformed and always reforming.” The way we reformed was always through re-forming, starting one new church after another. Even a Protestant source admits that there are over thirty thousand individual denominations in the world today, growing at the rate of one new denomination every five days!
Essentially, though I had no thought about becoming Roman Catholic, I found myself back at the Reformation asking the big “why” question, and frankly this was a bigger can of worms than I wanted to open.
Realizing that if I could not answer the “why” questions about even the least important issues of our faith, let alone the more crucial ones — like what is necessary for salvation — then I had no business standing in the pulpit before anyone. So, I resigned from the pastorate.
I entered a graduate program in molecular biology with the hope of combining my science and theology backgrounds into a career in medical ethics. Soon, I found myself in a research lab assisting in genetic research as a part of the human genome project. This was exciting work, but after a brief time, I found myself asking God, “Why have You brought me here?” And He answered.
One morning after the long drive to campus, I did something I never did: I bought a copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. Sipping coffee, I came across a small ad on the bottom right of the religion page: “Theologian will speak at local Catholic parish: Scott Hahn.” Scott and his wife, Kimberly, had been my classmates at seminary. We had known each other for over fifteen years, but had lost contact since graduation. I had heard through the grapevine that they had become Catholics, but I didn’t believe a word of it. They had been two of the most outspoken, vehement Calvinists on campus, and I had no mental file-folder for them becoming Catholics — for any Protestant minister becoming Catholic! I knew Protestant laity who had become Catholics through marriage, but always presumed they had not known their Protestant faith well enough, or they surely would never have converted.
So when I saw this ad, it piqued my interest: “Was this my old friend Scott Hahn? Did he really become a papist?” and, if so, the big question, “Why?” Or was it possible, and more probable, that he had ostensibly converted so he could clandestinely rescue lost souls from the Catholic Church?
The next Sunday afternoon, I drove alone up to Cleveland to hear him. From my experience with visiting theologians, I envisioned a small clutch of people in a small church basement, eating coffee and donuts, listening glass-eyed to a droning professor speaking far over their heads. Instead, I found an immense church, a full parking lot, a standing-room-only sanctuary, with everyone — cameras and stage lights too — focused on my old friend from seminary. I felt myself a complete, maybe unwanted, stranger in my very first visit to a Catholic church. I was astounded as Scott gave an invigorating talk on the “Fourth Cup”, or the Last Supper as the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover meal.
Afterward, Scott was rushed by a crowd of enthusiastic fans. I went over to say hello. He recognized me immediately with, “Hey, what are you doing here? I hope I didn’t offend you!” We couldn’t talk then, but he encouraged me to listen to the (now famous) tape of his conversion, and then call him.
Verses I Never Saw
So I bought the tape, mainly to discover on the long drive home how he had gotten so messed up. I also bought an interesting-sounding book by Karl Keating entitled Catholicism and Fundamentalism. About a half hour into the tape, I had to pull my car over to the side of the road. In just that short period, Scott essentially had provided the answers to the majority of my most disturbing foundational “why” questions. The first of these answers was the first of what I came to call “the verses I never saw.” He told the story of being asked by a friend, “What is the pillar and bulwark of the truth?” Scott had answered, as I would have answered, “the Bible.” His friend responded, “But the Bible says in 1 Timothy 3:15, that the pillar and bulwark of the truth is the Church.” As I listened, I couldn’t recall seeing this in my Bible, so that is why I pulled my car over to the side of the road. I had studied and taught a series of sermons on First Timothy and didn’t remember seeing this verse; however, when I looked, it was there!
St. Paul wrote that “the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” Which church? The Presbyterian Church? Which Presbyterian denomination? My individual congregation? Or Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Pentecostal, etc., etc., denominations? Or which branch of these? But surely not the Catholic Church! And besides, as a Calvinist Protestant, I believed that the true Church was invisible, consisting of true believers all over the world, the membership of which was known only to God.
And at that moment, it struck me: how could an invisible church, known only to God, be the pillar and bulwark of anything?
This didn’t make me Catholic; it made me more confused and ungrounded.
As I listened, Scott clearly demonstrated how the key foundation of our Protestant faith, sola scriptura, was not biblical, nor was it theologically or philosophically sound; in fact, the very Scripture text we used to defend the foundational doctrine, in 2 Timothy 3:14–17, did not actually teach it. St Paul said that all Scripture is profitable for equipping us for good works, but not that it was the sole authority of our faith! In essence, I really had never “seen” these verses either, because I had always read the passages through the lenses of my hidden assumptions.
He pointed out a third verse I had never “seen,” 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (NKJV). Traditions? This verse spoke of the importance of passing on faithfully the Apostolic Tradition, which was received primarily through the spoken word, and only secondarily through epistles when an Apostle could not get to his people to speak to them orally.
Even as I sat there in that car, I realized that there was no church in the world that actually lived out sola scriptura, because every denomination interpreted Scripture through the lenses of their own passed-on tradition, as they interpreted the tradition of the founder of their movements. It was this nearly limitless assortment of traditions that had spawned the cacophony of opinions coming from pulpits every Sunday, including my own.
After listening to Scott’s tape, I found the Protestant foundation of sola fide was also beginning to topple. I never questioned, from the time of my Lutheran catechetical formation, that we are saved by faith alone. Scott, however, drew my attention to another verse I had never “seen,” James 2:24, which states, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (NKJV). This revelation concurred with what I had always known in my conscience to be true: we are not merely “once saved, always saved” through some one-time surrendering statement of faith in Christ. We must live this out by grace in love for the rest of our lives. Again, as St. James wrote, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22, NKJV). Scott pointed out that Luther had added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28, and when challenged, Luther refused to back down, claiming it was assumed in the text.
When I returned home, I didn’t reveal any of this to Marilyn. She already was a bit concerned about my leaving the pastorate to return to school. I didn’t think she would be keen about these new revelations. I closed myself away in my study, but instead of reading my biology assignments, I read Karl Keating’s book from cover to cover, and he provided even more answers to my many “why” questions. His excellent book particularly pointed out that the many “Fundamentalist” assumptions, to which I had long held, owe their formation not to clear biblical foundations but to the “traditions” or opinions of the founders of Evangelical Fundamentalism.
None of this, however, was making me “Catholic” — just more confused. So I called Scott. I met with him and others, posing every “why” question that rose to the surface and debating all aspects of Catholic doctrine, practice, and devotions that ran cross-grain to my Protestant sensibilities.
Then I read a book by John Henry Newman, entitled Apologia pro Vita Sua. I had never heard of this famous nineteenth-century Anglican clergy convert priest until well on into my journey. Once I heard about this universally respected autobiography of his conversion, however, I had to read it. Although his journey was completely different than mine, it was mine. His testimony convinced me that I could no longer be a Protestant. He helped me to realize that, even though the sixteenth-century Catholic Church and culture desperately needed renewal, the schismatic reaction of the Reformation was not the answer, for it had only led to a myriad of more splinters, leading only to confusion.
I could no longer be Protestant, but I couldn’t be Catholic! Even though I had to turn from (metanoia) my Protestant assumptions and background, I was not yet comfortable turning toward the pervasive strangeness of Catholicism: not just the unfamiliar and uncomfortable doctrines concerning purgatory and Mary; or the unappealing statues and artwork; or the seemingly bizarre devotions to supposed apparitions; or the “superstitious” use of sacramentals, like sticking green scapulars between mattresses to convert family members or the burying of St. Joseph statues to sell homes. No, what concerned me most was trusting my faith to the Church’s Magisterium in union with a pope in Rome. All of this ran cross-current to both my Protestant and my “American” sensibilities!
Upon This Rock
I realized that everything came down to one basic doctrine; even the validity of our belief in the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, which cannot be proved through sola scriptura, all came down to a belief in the trustworthy authority of Peter, the bishop of Rome. It became obvious to me, the more I studied history, that it was to the authority, and often the courage, of the bishop of Rome as the successor of Peter that we owe all that we now have and believe in Christendom. Certainly, behind him was the protection, guidance, and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, yet at the center of all historic Christianity was the pope. Not the Scriptures, as I previously assumed, for if it wasn’t for the historical union of the bishops of the Church in union with the bishop of Rome, there would be no canon of Scriptures that we now call the Bible; there would be no doctrines of the Trinity or divinity of Christ, and there would be no Christendom, for if it wasn’t for the Crusades, we would all have long been Muslims.
Realizing this, I read every single book I could find on the authority of the pope. It was through another book by John Henry Newman, however, that I finally became convinced. He himself had been desperately trying to find an alternative to becoming Catholic, to prove from history that Anglicanism was the true “middle way” between Protestantism and Catholicism. His book An Essay on the Development of Doctrine was the result. The conclusion of this book in the end convinced Newman to become Catholic. And, likewise, it did me.
There is far too much in the book to summarize here, but basically there were twelve pages in the middle of the book, about the development of the papacy, that brought me “home.” It is not so amazing that the authority of the papacy didn’t become clear until the third century, given the constant persecutions of the first three centuries, in which most of the bishops of Rome were martyred. There are lots of things we will never know about the first centuries of the Church because it was mostly underground, in hiding. Once the persecutions ceased under Constantine, however, the structure of the Church, as recorded in the writings of the early Church Fathers, became clearly apparent, under the authority of the bishop of Rome. Most significantly, however, the authority of the pope was clearly recognized across the Church before the canon of the Scriptures and the Trinity were finally defined in the fourth century, and before the divinity of Christ was formally defined in the fifth century. The acceptance of the pope as the authoritative predecessor of the Apostle Peter predated our unified beliefs in the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the Bible, and without the unifying presence of the pope overseeing the early councils, Christendom would have had none of these doctrines.
With this, I was ready to become Catholic, and, fortunately by that time, so was Marilyn. At first, she was hesitant to accept all that I was discovering, but her heart had already been so opened to the Catholic Church through her pro-life convictions and work that it didn’t take long for her to become as excited as I was about what we were discovering together. Her reading of two particular books — Tom Howard’s Evangelical Is Not Enough and Thomas Merton’s Seven-Storey Mountain — had particularly closed the deal for her, as well as the amazingly convincing truth of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
So, as a result of God’s mercy and grace, Marilyn and I entered the Catholic Church together with our two oldest sons in December 1992. It was then that I fully realized the truth of that Proverb I had memorized so many years before. By grace, I had trusted Him, and also by grace, I had been open to challenging the ways I had always “leaned on my own understanding.” In the end, God has proven that He will indeed “direct our paths,” for through His mercy and love, He has brought us home to the Catholic Church.