My father was a Lutheran minister in the Erzgebirge, a small city in southern Saxony, Germany when I was born in 1988. Erzgebirge, set on the Czech Republic border, is one of the most Protestant regions in the former German Democratic Republic and all the family on my father’s side came from this region. My grandfather was a Lutheran deacon and evangelist; old photographs with him and Billy Graham exist. He decided as a fourteen-year-old boy in a trench in France to give his live to Christ and serve Him with all his life. His parents were members of the Bekennende Kirche (translated literally as “Confessing Church”), the part of the Lutheran Church that did not collaborate with Hitler and his mob (unlike the Deutsche Kirche through which the Nazis propagandized Martin Luther as a German hero). My parents couldn’t go to high school, because they didn’t join the FDJ (Free German Youth, the youth group of the socialist regime). Growing up in this setting, I always saw (and still see) my family as very faithful disciples of Christ, and I love them for it. I am eternally grateful, since I probably wouldn’t be a Christian if it weren’t for my parents. Although the seed was planted, it was still up to me to make the choice to live a radical life for Christ.
However, my parents left that church after moving to Berlin in the mid-1990s. The denomination began to entertain some moral changes that my parents viewed as questionable, (such as gay “marriage” and abortion). Therefore, I grew up in a “free church” environment, but the Lutheran heritage of my family always was present. After some years, when I was about sixteen, I was not happy in the church my family was attending at the time. The whole service was mainly a forty-minute lecture of our pastor (that I didn’t find terribly interesting or informative). I began looking around for another church, but didn’t find one that fit. The theological discussions always seemed to be about the same topics, like Predestination or infant baptism. I wanted to go deeper.
By 2008, I ended up alone and without a church. I was very unhappy and, in retrospect, would say that my faith was dead. I didn’t read the Bible and seldom prayed. I still considered myself a Christian and sometimes went to services.
The nagging problem that leads to disunity…
One of the main problems I continued to face in my search for a new church was the issue of sola Scriptura. I saw the flaws in the issue, but felt I didn’t have a better explanation. (I never even thought about looking into the beliefs the Catholic Church; I considered Catholics to be Christians, but I just didn’t really know any Catholics). I inherited my parents’ evangelical view of Scripture: Scripture is the only authority. Therefore, when investigating new ideas, I would have to come up with everything myself from Scripture. I didn’t have any alternative, since all Protestants had different teachings and most theories I learned had flaws. The only thing that seemed logical to me was Calvinism, but this also only works if you eliminate half of the Bible (the part about God being loving). Now, the problem was: there were so many people smarter than I, who could read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew, but even they could not seem to agree on any issue. How could I, a common layman, solve those problems? And why should I? Why couldn’t the church come up with a consistent belief over the last 500 years? Lutheranism couldn’t be the answer, since they were entertaining strange moral teachings, which were clearly unbiblical.
The other problem I was noticing was in the area of worship. To be honest, I still consider most of the worship services in which I participated to be “spiritual contraception” — they all have fun, but no impregnation is happening. “Free praying” mostly resulted in the same phrases being used and reduced the quality of the prayers quite significantly.
My heart’s desire was for God and more of Him, but I also knew there was something else missing. As a Protestant, naturally I thought the “something missing” would be a wife. Thank God all smart and pious girls were not interested, because now I know this was my calling from God for a religious life. The Protestant solution would have been to become a minister, but somehow I knew this could not be my calling. I had always dreamt of martyrdom or at least a sacrifice for Christ that meant something, like my father’s had. But without persecution this is quite difficult (I didn’t feel as though getting rejected for annoying people with the Gospel could count as martyrdom).
During this phase of my journey, I met two believing Catholics. One was my neighbor, a convert from the Anglican Church (he was from Cambridge). and the other was a fellow student who grew up Catholic. I didn’t begin considering Catholicism at that time; however, through their faithful example, they did help me realize that there was nothing wrong with Catholics.
My first encounter with the Mass
In fall of 2010, I moved to Chemnitz, Saxony to work on my master’s degree in electrical engineering. I knew something had to change with regards to my faith, because it couldn’t continue to go on like it had. My grandfather was born and raised in Chemnitz, so I decided to go to a Lutheran church. It is common knowledge that the Saxon Lutheran Church is the most conservative in Germany (at least in the countryside) — but not in Chemnitz I found out! I got the impression that the minister of the parish I began attending would rather have been a socialist politician if he had only been a better speaker! The preaching was really off-putting (more about social issues than the Gospel) and the black robes worn during worship gave the ambiance of a funeral.
Interestingly enough, the Catholic church was nearer to my home than the Lutheran one. When I looked out my window, I could see the Catholic church’s tower surmounted by a beautiful golden cross. As unhappy as I was at the Lutheran church, in November 2010, I decided to attend my first Catholic Mass. It is a neo-romantic church, quite simple, but beautiful; Lutheran churches look quite the same, so this was nothing new. It was the liturgy that took me aback. It was a normal Mass, but I didn’t know any better. What I experienced was all so fascinating. I was so amazed when I saw everyone kneel, even if I didn’t know Christ was truly present in the Catholic Eucharist, it reminded me that each man shall kneel before God! At one point, suddenly everyone around me began wishing me the peace of Christ — and I knew they meant it. Then we knelt down again and everyone spoke these words: “Lord, I am not worthy…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” My soul needed that. I didn’t cry, but I wasn’t far from it!
Throughout that first Mass, I was thinking: you can celebrate like that? It was amazing: on one hand, you have a God who is feared, not some meek diety, who is merely “there” for you, and on the other hand, you are really able to feel how He loves you and blesses you. I knew that of course, but I never felt it that way. Thus, I started attending Catholic Mass.
After my third Mass, I went to the chaplain, a Salesian of Don Bosco, and asked him if I could learn more about the Catholic Church and we set a time to meet. Ironically, that happened to be October 31 — Reformation Sunday. This is the day I started learning about the Catholic Faith.
The priest and I began meeting. I asked that poor priest about everything and everything made so much sense to me! Since I wasn’t really in a church prior to this discernment and had been taught that the Bible alone should be the source of all truth, I had neither anti-Catholic, nor very Protestant views, but rather that I had to figure everything out on my own from Scripture. Therefore, I wanted to know where I could find Catholic teachings in the Bible. Tradition? It made sense to accept Catholic Tradition, since the Church defined the canon of the New Testament, which was accepted through tradition by all Bible-believing Christians. But what about sola fide? I read James 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? Jesus said, “This is my body,” so of course! I was so amazed by the depth of Catholic teaching that I started reading a lot of Catholic books. I was fascinated by books like the Catechism and Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. I didn’t have to come up with everything myself — I could trust those books! And it all made so much sense.
Though still not completely understanding the Mass, I loved it. In one Mass, you go to all the important parts of your faith and take so much home with you — even if the preaching is bad (which it never was)! I think God allowed me to go through a time of despair, so I was ready for my conversion. After a half of a year, I attended my first Easter Vigil. After that night I knew: this was the Church. It was the Church I have always longed for without even knowing it.
Shortly afterwards, I made my first Confession. This sacrament is amazing. As a Protestant, I always confessed privately. There were some things in my life I never confessed openly and I always thought they were forgiven, but how could I know? But after telling the priest and hearing those words of absolution, I knew those sins were finally gone. Away! I knew it!
During this time, I made some very good friends who are devout Lutherans. If I would have met them earlier in my journey, I would probably now be a Lutheran Protestant. I think God played His part in that.
But there is one downside to my journey: my parents. When I went home and told my mother that I was to become Catholic, she just replied, “Well, you can leave again.” My parents did not attend my confirmation, since they just didn’t care. By God’s grace, I wasn’t alone. I was received into the Church in an evening Mass during the 2011 Feast of Christ the King, about one year after I first set foot into a Catholic church. A Catholic, student-friend came to be the witness of my conversion and my former neighbor came with his wife (who converted a year after me) to be my godfather.
The year before entering the Church was so amazing, because my faith was alive again. Before, I was passive and depressed; but, by learning the Catholic Faith, I discovered so much beauty. After becoming Catholic I realized: this is just the beginning. By visiting a monastery, I understood what my old desire was all about. God is calling me to something. I am currently discerning different religious orders. God so perfectly orchestrated the timing leading up to my conversion to the Catholic Church that I know He will be faithful and show me my path. He will send me on an adventure and I am so excited to see where He will lead me. Thanks be to God, my Shepherd, who led me through the darkest valley and literally anointed my head with oil!