Before Finding Christianity
I didn’t grow up in church and never went consistently until I was twenty-three years old. I attended church only a handful of times growing up and the times I went I don’t recall listening to what was preached, nor did I have any sort of interest in it. Even though my family didn’t attend church, I do remember that at a very young age that my mother taught me the bedtime prayer.
Throughout my young life, I had little to no interest in religion; looking back now I consider myself at that time to have been agnostic. I had no idea who Jesus Christ was, or His relationship with, or as, God, much less any clue about the Trinity.
First Encounters with Protestant Christianity
In my early twenties I started to think about God. I had been married a couple of years and my wife showed an interest in getting back into church. I was working in a foundry around some devoted non-Catholic Christians who constantly talked about their faith. I had a great deal of respect for many of them, especially for a big burly strong guy named Mike whom I admired in many ways and I considered a great role model. On one occasion, he told me he had gone to church the night before and how it was great. I was puzzled by that, thinking to myself how being some place like church could have been a great experience — since my few times ever stepping in a church were anything but something that I considered great. It had always seemed just as time that I would never get back. But his remark stuck in my mind considering I always took what he said seriously because of his integrity and character.
Within the same time frame, my wife was invited to a Baptist church that her cousin was involved in. We decided to attend one morning. The experience was fairly good, though I really had no understanding of Christianity. After that visit my wife continued to want to go to church. I suggested that we go to the church that was directly in front of our house, since it was small and close to our house. She agreed and the following week we attended. The church was Southern Baptist. They were very welcoming and glad to see us. The pastor was an elderly man who taught the adult Sunday school class. The attendance was around twenty members.
Finding Protestant Christianity
In the meantime, the Christian men that I worked around found out that I was beginning to attend church. They started trying to evangelize me. Some gave me literature and some talked about the Bible while encouraging me. I would listen closely when they all talked about church and told stories. Everything seemed a bit scattered but I was trying to put some things together and understand. But things really came to light when a coworker whom I had become friends with told me about how sin came into the world through Adam and Eve and how we inherited it and were in need for a Savior. He continued to tell me about how Jesus came and died for our sins and we have our sins forgiven by believing and submitting to Him. He told me that I needed to pray to God and repent and accept Jesus as my Savior. That night I did, and according to the Southern Baptist point of view I was “saved.”
My coworkers were thrilled for me, and from that time on I started to listen to Sunday school lessons and sermons and I started getting involved in conversations at work about the Bible and Christianity. The coworkers explained what I should do next at church, and that was to walk up front at church and make a profession of faith. I did just that the following Sunday and they scheduled my baptism for the upcoming Wednesday. One of my coworkers came that night and there were some other visitors who were there with some of the members of the church. My wife was re-baptized, even though she had been baptized in the Methodist denomination many years before, because it was something that the Southern Baptist denomination required if you were to join that congregation.
Bible Study and Teaching Sunday School
From that point I became interested in the Bible. I began listening to radio ministries and reading the Bible all the time. I became passionate about Scripture, and I would study our Sunday school lessons the week ahead so I could come in class and thoroughly know the lesson. I discovered Bible commentaries at a Christian bookstore and I got hooked on them. The first book I studied verse by verse was the book of Daniel.
I told my wife that I would probably enjoy teaching Sunday school class, even though getting up in front of people was completely out of my comfort zone, because I am very introverted. But my passion for Scripture was strong and was only gaining momentum. My wife told the pastor’s daughter that I was interested in teaching, and his daughter told him. He was delighted to allow me to take over the class, so I was then in charge of teaching Sunday school to people who had been in church for decades! I was a bit intimidated and I knew I had better be well prepared, so I spent hours a day throughout each week studying the lessons. I came in class so prepared that I basically had my whole lesson and everything I was going to say memorized word for word.
In 1997 my son was born. This was the beginning of one of the greatest things to ever happen to me! I devoted myself to being the best father that I could be. Raising my son and getting involved in church was a wonderful experience.
Ordained as Deacon and Called to Preach
By this time I was offered the opportunity to be a deacon. I was ordained as a deacon and became even more involved. I remember when I felt God call me to preach. It was an overwhelming feeling in which I felt this was what God wanted me to do. Again, knowing that I was not a good speaker and having a fear to be in front of groups of people was terrifying, I realized I had to trust God and follow this path wherever it took me. I remember when I told my coworkers about being called to preach. I was actually expecting an awkward moment of them looking at me like I was crazy, but they were supportive and encouraged me to listen to the Lord. I then knew that I had to try to make up for my lack of smooth talking with a firm knowledge of Scripture. This even intensified my Scripture study greatly. But as I studied and learned Fundamentalist doctrines and exegesis, I subconsciously had some things that were not quite adding up in my mind such as how the Bible was put together and why there were so many different denominations using the Bible but having so many major differences. I did read a short explanation from a book that was written by a Protestant and there was a mention of the books being decided by bishops centuries after the New Testament books were written, as well as a mention of some Jews defining the Old Testament nearly a century after Christianity was established. I remember being a bit shaken that the Bible I was taught to regard as the complete authority to my faith was put together by “bishops,” a term that I was not quite familiar with in Baptist circles, and that the Old Testament was decided by Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah. This created more questions in my mind that I did not begin to really investigate until years later. In some ways I convinced myself that it was something that I failed to understand and I gave my belief system the benefit of the doubt. But it continued to stick in my mind ever since.
Around the year 2000, the foundry that I worked at was shutting down, and I got a job at the YMCA. It was a good experience because working with the public helped me prepare to be around lots of people, plus I met some wonderful people who also were supportive of my calling. I met many good Christians along with preachers and pastors who gave me helpful advice. This continued to reassure me that I was going the direction that God wanted me to go
Enrolled in a Bible Institute
I knew that I needed to get some sort of training if I was going to keep moving on with this calling, so I signed up to a Bible Institute and started taking classes. It was an Independent Baptist minded school that was similar to the Southern Baptist denomination I was attending, but they were more rigid about certain things such as they used only the King James Version of the Bible. Some things were annoying to me, especially the nitpicking about very minor things. But overall it was a good experience and I learned some things about ministry. This King James only mindset was annoying to me because they were quite defensive about it and critical of the NIV translation I was carrying along with any other translations. So this led me to study about translations and I learned how and why modern translations were different. This research led me into a study on Bible manuscripts and I became very interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the field of textual criticism. I studied Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin because I saw this struggle within Protestantism that was drawing lines of authority through Bible translations. I look back now that this was happening because they had no apostolic authority, but congregations relied upon their own understanding of the Bible, and in some cases upon their understanding of a specific Bible translation. To me this was a weak argument and I found myself searching for an authority that I was beginning to realize had to be outside of the Bible alone. But my understanding of this dilemma was not coming to light right away because I was in the process of training for ministry and being involved in church that I didn’t have the time to tackle something like this with my full undivided attention, so I gradually learned bits and pieces through time.
I met a man at the YMCA who was active in a large Southern Baptist church that was growing leaps and bounds. He described how his pastor was amazing, how the members were close-knit, and how his Sunday school class was always doing things together. I told him I was teaching Sunday school and that I felt God was calling me to preach. The more we talked over time the more I wanted to be a part of that environment. The church we were going to was so small and the congregation was dwindling away, and my son had no program to be in that would get him involved with other kids. He was the only young child there. The more I thought about it and discussed it with my wife, the more convinced we were to go visit my friend’s church. When we visited, everything that we saw we liked. They had a huge children’s program, the pastor was a great speaker, and there were lots of people our age. We decided to change churches. I told my old pastor that we were leaving, and I felt bad because he was surprised and hurt. Our departure seemed to hurt some of the members as well. It was a hard decision to make but we had to do it.
We started attending the new church and Sunday school. It wasn’t long until we officially joined. The church was growing so quickly that the Sunday school classes started getting too full. The Sunday school teacher asked me if I would teach his class for him from time to time. I did and before I knew it I was asked to teach a class. I agreed and I started teaching. I became involved in other things such as an evangelizing team and serving as a chaplain at a local hospital.
Asked to Preach
I was talking to the pastor one day and I mentioned about how I sensed that God was calling me to preach. I was shocked when he asked me to preach while he was going to be gone one weekend. I agreed and worked hard on preparing a sermon. The day came and the crowd was large, probably at least five hundred people, but God comforted me, and I preached and everything went well. From that time on I had pastors from other churches ask me to come and speak at their churches. It seemed like everything was falling into place.
Insomnia, Depression, and Failing Ministry
And then I was stricken with insomnia. It came upon me quickly and was not letting up but only getting worse. No matter how hard I prayed and begged God to help me I was not getting any relief. I got to the point where it was affecting my health and concentration and my anxiety only made it worse. I realized that it was hurting my ability to prepare and teach Sunday school class and about everything else I did. I started sinking into depression. I knew that I was not going to be able to keep up with work and the entire ministry that I was involved in. I chose to quit as chaplain. It seemed that some people did not understand what I was going through. When I tried to explain to some people about my insomnia I would get kneejerk replies like “then get to bed earlier” or awkward and confused looks. I really didn’t understand it either, nor did I understand depression and anxiety, so it was very frustrating. It wasn’t long before I had to give up other ministerial obligations because I just kept sinking lower. Fortunately my wife had a better understanding of what I was going through and she suggested I needed to go to the doctor. At the time I really didn’t know how the doctor could help, but I started to really consider it because I was very desperate.
Prior to going to the doctor, it seemed like my Sunday school class was thinning out, because there was a couple of families who had a major rift over issues concerning a partnership they were involved in together that was not related to church or Sunday school. They went their separate ways and that led them to a transition that affected their Sunday school attendance. While their involvement in the class was in limbo, two other families were going through some personal struggles and their attendances were hit and miss. Finally, one Sunday nobody showed up. This seemed to be the writing on the wall that I had to make a change and to focus on my own problems. My wife and I left that morning and I felt defeated.
Changed Church Again
I stepped down as Sunday school teacher. Then one Wednesday night I attended a church that I was invited to by a pastor friend whom I had met at the YMCA. It was a Church of God, and like the Baptist church I had been going to, it was growing quite rapidly. Many similar things were going on such as membership growth and building projects. At this time my perspective began to change and I started to question some things about Christianity as I knew it. Since I had a lot more spare time on my hands with no more ministry commitments, I had time to do what I love most, which is studying Scripture. This also gave me a chance to focus on some unresolved questions I had concerning authority.
After going to the Church of God for a while, I began to get annoyed about some things, and I started questioning the purpose of going to church period. This church was developing the “mega church” mentality by following the latest trends of praise and worship with high levels of clapping, dancing, raising hands, new gadgetry, concert-like worship services, etc. Some services were focused mainly around the latest building projects and getting the congregation convinced to give extra donations to fund these projects. I also began to notice that church growth that was going on in this church and the other churches that were getting bigger was not so much of people “getting saved,” but rather people leaving other churches and joining the ones with the latest trends. As smaller churches were dying off, the members would leave and start going to the ones with momentum. It seemed like these churches were competing with each other like businesses. One of the things that bothered me the most was the dancing and clapping during church services. I have no problems if that is how people like to express themselves, but I do not appreciate others expecting me to do it, especially in church. I remember going to these services and the congregation getting worked up and people looking at me like I was a stick in the mud. There was one time when someone behind me sort of tapped me on the back of the head in order to try get me motivated to join in the “worship.” It was very uncomfortable and awkward for me. In a way I had always felt like I could get more out of doing my own worship at home because church services as a Baptist, and especially the Church of God did not provide me with anything more than what I could do at home. I could listen to any inspiring music at home. I could listen to any sermon at home from TV or radio. Being an introvert I could avoid the uncomfortable feeling I get when I am around a crowd of people.
The Search for Authority and First Steps to Catholicism
Some of the other things that I started questioning were how Christianity no longer seemed like what I read about in the New Testament where Christians were of one accord. I could be talking with ten different Christians and we all could have completely different views on important issues that should be non-negotiable. Discussing and dialoging with other Christians seemed to become a battle of who could quote more Scripture to back up their position, and even if you had what you felt was a more sound and Scripturally grounded position, others could just simply say that they interpret those passages differently, and still nothing fruitful would be accomplished. After having these kinds of experiences I had a subconscious yearning for some kind of authority that went beyond Scripture, since Christians were interpreting it the way they wanted. So I remember searching for it, and I started studying apocryphal writings, old Jewish writings such as those found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, Gnostic writings, etc. I purchased a Catholic Bible because I knew that Catholics had extra books that were not found in the Protestant Bibles that I had always studied. I dug really deep into these writings looking for some kind of clue that would lead me to what I was looking for. I started reading First and Second Maccabees and was impressed and then I moved on to Tobit and the other books in the deuterocanon. I remember thinking to myself that I did not see any reason why these books could not be inspired.
I think the greatest and most influential discovery I came upon was at a public library when I stumbled across a collection of the early Church Fathers. I had never seen or heard of these ancient writings, and I was barely familiar with any of the names of these men, with the exception of St. Augustine, though I had really no idea who he was. I decided to check one of the volumes out and look at it at home, and that volume turned out to be St. Ambrose’s writings on the sacraments. I flipped through it and read over the table of contents and indexes to find a place of interest to start reading, which led me to read about Baptism. As a Baptist who only believed Baptism was only an outward sign that did nothing but show that you are publically accepting Jesus as your Savior, I was interested to see what this fourth-century Christian had to say about Baptism. But as I started reading I noticed that this writer had a much different view on Baptism, and I was impressed because everything he explained he backed up with Scripture. It all was making sense and I was unable to refute Ambrose’s points because he put all the Scriptures in context and the arguments he made were strong, which I found to be not the norm for many of the writers I was used to reading who would take a few passages that supported their doctrine and try to dance around any passages that would appear to be in conflict with it, then twist, spin and stretch it to mean something that would fit their interpretation. I continued to read St. Ambrose’s work on the sacraments and I knew that I was on to something. I started checking out other volumes from the library of this series of the Church Fathers and I continued to be impressed. Then once I came across the volume of the Apostolic Fathers I was well into my turning point to somewhere, and it was beginning to look like Catholicism. Many of these writers of the Fathers of the Church were bishops, not of denominations, but of the Catholic Church, which in those days was THE CHURCH. Even those writers who were centuries apart believed the same things concerning binding doctrinal issues, and it looked nothing like what I was acquainted with in the Christianity that I had known, where there were not only Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, etc., but many different denominations within them that were so different from among each other, and even groups who called themselves non-denominational but were actually denominations that appear to be lax about doctrinal conviction. I found that the Church Fathers, from the eight century to the ones that went all the way back to apostolic times and who were taught by the Apostles, were of the same mold. I noticed a pattern of Christian belief and teaching that was preserved from generation to generation and from century to century. This was around 2004 and I began seriously studying Catholicism. It was a matter of time that I realized that there is a big difference between what people say the Catholic Church teaches and believes compared to what the Church actually teaches and believes. Hearing it from the horse’s mouth turned out to be much different than hearing it from those who opposed the Church.
I came across EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) on television. This was obviously God’s timing and I started watching Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Fr. John Corapi, daily Mass, etc. Then I found the Journey Home Program with host Marcus Grodi, where guests from various faith backgrounds tell their story about their journey to the Catholic Church and their conversion. This became one of my favorite shows on television! I found myself having much in common with many of the guests on the show. I was reassured that I was on the right track and was not the only Baptist to feel drawn towards Catholicism. I also found a wonderful website called Catholic Answers, which has excellent resources that clearly explain many things about the Catholic Faith in tracts and articles, and the best discussion forum I have ever seen. There were many Catholics on the forum that were helpful, and after all these years I have stayed on the forum and tried to provide the same kind of help I received.
At this point I had a feeling that I was destined to become Catholic. I started to notice more negative remarks concerning the Catholic Church from people that had never before caught my attention. Some of my friends and acquaintances whom I had lots of conversations with about the Bible and had good relationships with were quite anti-Catholic. I didn’t tell them what I was discovering about Catholicism and that I was working my way to becoming Catholic. Basically I avoided opportunities that would lead to it, and I found myself keeping conversations with them few and far between. Right or wrong, I felt like being passive and avoiding the potential to get into debates with friends who would never have understood what I was doing and who would probably have gotten bent out of shape if I had told them, was the probably the best route for me to have taken. I look back and I am glad I handled it that way even though I drifted apart from them and it never really was the same anytime I was around them. But it was early on in my journey and I was still trying to grasp it all, and having friends and people I cared about either shunning me or treat me like an apostate was something I felt would have been unproductive during that time and more hurtful outcomes than just simply keeping my distance. I felt that their emotions and mine as well would have probably been something that would have completely burnt bridges between us.
My One Stumbling Block
With all these wonderful things going on and my zeal and passion for Catholicism growing, I found a stumbling block that was hard for me to comprehend. It was not anything doctrinally, because I had reached that point where I believed that the Catholic Church was the Church that Christ established, and since it was the Church that Christ established then I had no problem believing anything that the Church taught. But my biggest stumbling block was Catholics I had starting meeting. Many of them did not seem to have any passion for Catholicism nor did they know much about their Faith. I was so used to having excitement filled conversations with my Protestant brethren about the Bible and about God, but anytime I would try to engage with Catholics about Catholicism and the Bible I would almost always get a “deer in the headlights” look of surprise and confusion. I would find that they were Catholic and I would be excited and hopeful that I would receive some helpful words of wisdom or encouragement, but would leave feeling very disappointed and discouraged, because their lives and actions often did not reflect the Catholicism that I was learning about. I was puzzled how they had something like the Catholic Church and not be excited about it. But thankfully I had encountered the Catholics from the Catholic Answers forum that were different, and they also helped me to learn to cope with it and understand it better. Soon I realized that it should not be a stumbling block for me but rather a challenge that I had to face and to make sure that I would later seek people who were looking at Catholicism and to show zeal and excitement for the faith and to encourage them and make them feel welcome. Too often people can’t get past these stumbling blocks and they let the bad examples drive them away from the greater good that exists, especially when there are plenty of the good examples and even the special people like the Mother Teresa’s and John Paul II’s out there.
RCIA and Conversion
In 2005 I signed up for RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which is a process that introduces inquirers to the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church, and is usually the first step a person takes to become a Catholic. I went through the class but for personal reasons I did not become Catholic at that point. But my passion and zeal were still there and I knew that it was a matter of time. I continued to study and also go to Mass, and the following year I took RCIA again and was received into the Catholic Church in 2006. My wife did not feel the same draw to the Catholic Church but she does come to Mass with me from time to time. As a Catholic, I have striven to learn more about my faith and to grow in zeal. I have never had a moment where I have doubted my decision. I have had my own struggles with being the Catholic that I need to be, and out of my own weaknesses there are times that I have not lived up to it, but I know very well that those are my own failings, and not a failing with Catholicism.
Since my conversion, I have tried to provide resources for Catholics in order to have them available for learning Scripture and the faith. My passion for the early Church Fathers and Medieval expositors has given me the drive to create websites with ancient and Medieval commentaries on the Bible. I have also published books and facilitated translation projects to have ancient and medieval Bible commentaries translated into English.
Becoming Catholic has given me the feeling of being home. I feel like I am now a part of the Church that we read about in the Bible that was established by Jesus Himself. I have discovered that unbroken chain of apostolic continuity and the 2000 years of tradition given by my brothers and sisters in Christ.
There are some very important issues that I found answered by Catholicism.
- The search for the need of authority outside of the Bible. After years of discussions with numerous people from different denominations with many different understandings of important elements of doctrine, I found that the Catholic Church completely solved this issue for me. The Catholic Church has an unbroken chain of succession of apostolic authority that goes all the way back to the Apostles who were appointed by Jesus. This has ensured that non-negotiable doctrine has been preserved and articulated for application for each generation that faces new and different problems the world brings. And when it comes to the Bible, which Protestants usually hold as the complete authority to their faith, I now understand that it was the Catholic Church who put the Bible together in the first place and decided what books would be a part of the canon and what would not. Christianity came before the Bible and the Bible is a product of Christianity, not Christianity a product of the Bible, as what I think some Protestants sort of subconsciously assume.
- Church service that provides something that I can’t get from home. In my non-Catholic experience in church, there was nothing that an introvert such as myself could participate in church that I could not get at home, such as preaching, music, prayer, Bible study, etc. Being an introvert, crowds of people does nothing for me other than mentally exhaust me and leads me to some anxiety and awkwardness. I can get preaching, music, prayer and all that stuff at home through radio, TV, and Internet. But in the Catholic Church I get to participate in the Eucharist, where the bread and wine become the true Body and Blood of Christ, which is something that cannot be accomplished on my own at home. This gives church attendance a whole new purpose!
So why did God call me to preach, which I believe was an authentic calling even to this day, if He had no intention for it panning out? I believe He did that in order for me to go through the experiences that I needed to go through that would allow me to see more closely the shortcomings and weaknesses of the systems of Protestantism. And I also believe that through this calling I studied and researched much more intensely things that I may not have ever studied otherwise. This journey and path that I was on was very sufficient for me to find the path to the Catholic Church. Any other path may have never led me to where God ultimately wanted me to go.