My wife and I did not come to the Catholic Church by way of the same journey, although our paths ran parallel. Our journey began 20 years ago, with our own three-fold denial of Christ’s plan, like Peter before the cock crowed on Good Friday. This was followed by a deep dive into the history of Christianity and a final reorientation toward the Catholic Church. Our journeys, however, shared a common goal: we were both ultimately seeking the Truth.
Meeting Each Other
We grew up in the small town of Bluffton, Ohio, and began dating around 2001, when we were both still in high school. Even as teenagers, we recognized the importance of God and Sunday worship. Julianne’s parents raised her Presbyterian, while my mother raised me Catholic, though my father was Mennonite. We had several cross-country moves throughout our dating and early married years, beginning and ending in Columbus, Ohio, where we currently reside. The foundation of Sunday worship that our parents established stayed with us. Each time we moved, we immediately searched for a place to worship. It was not until our final move back to Ohio in 2014 that Sunday worship became an issue.
Our Nominal Faith
Julianne and I were raised in homes where Christian faith was a part of our lives, but not the center. We called ourselves Christians and worshipped on Sundays, but that was pretty much the extent of it. My childhood home had no crucifixes, no images of Jesus or Mary, and no Bible in plain sight. We never prayed, let alone the family Rosary. Julianne’s family had a slightly more visible faith life, since her parents prayed at meals and were involved with church music and Sunday school. Neither of us knew the Bible nor the basic Christian doctrines. We could not have named the Apostles or told you who wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Though Presbyterian, Julianne could not have explained Calvinist theology. Though Catholic, I could not have named Marian dogmas. I did not even know that Peter was the first Pope.
Where Do We Worship?
In our early dating years, we ran into the dilemma of wanting to be with each other for Sunday worship, but the question was, where do we go? For many years, on the Sundays when we would worship together, we would go to both a Presbyterian service and Catholic Mass on the same day. While on the one hand, it was great to be together and to share this important part of our lives, on the other hand, it was awkward. When Julianne attended Mass with me, she thought she was not allowed to do anything. She would never make the Sign of the Cross, or genuflect, or even kneel. In contrast, the Presbyterian service appeared very passive to me, mostly sitting and just listening. When I went there, I felt nothing, as if I was not even worshipping God. While I couldn’t explain why, Mass just felt holier.In contrast, the Presbyterian service appeared very passive to me, mostly sitting and just listening. When I went there, I felt nothing, as if I was not even worshipping God. While I couldn’t explain why, Mass just felt holier. Click To Tweet
Different but Similar
It felt like Mass was distinctly different because it engaged all the senses: what I saw, what I smelled, what I tasted, what I touched, and what I heard. I saw a crucifix, a tabernacle, statues of Mary, and altar servers. I smelled incense. I tasted a wafer and wine. My hand touched holy water and made the Sign of the Cross. And my ears heard the Scriptures and a brief homily.
However, on a purely surface level, the two faith traditions may appear quite similar. We both professed the Creed, recited the Our Father and a confessional statement, and read from the Bible. The Presbyterian service has an order — a structure — though not the same order as the Catholic Mass.
Ultimately though, if a person does not have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the theological similarities and differences, a kind of religious indifference takes root. That is what happened to us.Ultimately though, if a person does not have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the theological similarities and differences, a kind of religious indifference takes root. Click To Tweet
The First Denial
Eventually, we worshipped at the Presbyterian Church every Sunday and went to Mass only at Christmas and Easter. I continued to abstain from Presbyterian communion, which troubled my wife. She would often try to press me into receiving. For Presbyterians, communion is just a symbol, and for Catholics Holy Communion is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus. However, if someone had challenged me at the time on this point, my only defense would have been that the Last Supper narrative goes something like: “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” So, in 2005, at the Presbyterian Christmas service, I finally fell into religious indifference and made the decision to receive communion (bread and grape juice) for the first time in a Protestant service. Reflecting on this moment, I realize now that I was denying the reality that Jesus calls us into a Communion with His Body and Blood. This was a key moment in our journey of faith; in a sense, we had united ourselves with Peter in denying Jesus the first time (Matthew 26:69–70).
The Second Denial
Over the next seven years, I continued to deny Jesus by receiving communion every time the Presbyterian service offered it, which was typically once a month. It was now 2012 and, after 11 years of dating, we finally decided to get married. The question was, should this be a Presbyterian wedding service or a Catholic Nuptial Mass? Having a mother who was Catholic and a father who was Protestant made it all too easy for me to marry a non-Catholic outside the Catholic Church. Our religious indifference led us to think it was all the same. So why not get married where we had been attending for several years? At the time, we did not know that, as a Catholic, I was required by Canon Law to get married in a Catholic sacramental rite unless I received a dispensation from the bishop. By getting married outside the Catholic Church, we had an invalid marriage, and therefore I was not allowed to receive communion at Mass under penalty of grave sin. By beginning our marriage outside of the Catholic Church without a dispensation, we had once again denied Christ His Lordship in our marriage. We had united ourselves with Peter in denying Jesus a second time (Matthew 26:71–72).We finally decided to get married. The question was, should this be a Presbyterian wedding service or a Catholic Nuptial Mass? Click To Tweet
The Third Denial and the Cock Crows
Two years into our marriage, the Presbyterian denomination officially changed its teaching to allow the “ordination” of active homosexuals and same sex “marriage.” We know sacred Scripture is clear (Genesis 19:1–11; Romans 1:18–32; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10). Like many other Presbyterians at the time, we now asked ourselves, “What are we going to do about this?” We could stay in the Presbyterian world and just agree to disagree on this topic, or we could leave. If we stayed, we felt that we would be violating God’s word, and if we left, where would we go? We decided quickly and rather easily. Julianne revoked her Presbyterian membership in 2014. Then we looked at each other and said, “Now what?” We considered another branch of Presbyterianism that had not caved in on the issue of homosexual “marriage” or homosexual clergy. It never crossed our minds to look at the Catholic Church. We still operated under the banner of religious indifference and the assumption that Julianne could not participate when at Mass. We went in search of other Protestant denominations. We had united ourselves with Peter in denying Jesus a third time (Matthew 26:73–74).We considered another branch of Presbyterianism that had not caved in on the issue of homosexual “marriage” or homosexual clergy. It never crossed our minds to look at the Catholic Church. Click To Tweet
We realized that we knew very little about Christianity and began asking why Christians are divided into Catholic and Presbyterian and any number of other denominations. We had spent the first 30 years of our lives as professed Christians but not even knowing the history of Christianity and what it meant to be Catholic or Presbyterian. We now also began asking, “What is the Truth?” It felt like the cock was crowing, and we had rejected the One who is Truth. Then, like Peter, we wept. We felt lost for the first time in our lives (Matthew 26:75).We had spent the first 30 years of our lives as professed Christians but not even knowing the history of Christianity and what it meant to be Catholic or Presbyterian. Click To Tweet
What Is the Truth?
Initially, we began with one question: what is the truth regarding God’s plan for marriage? As we started to see many different Christian denominations teaching opposing beliefs on this one topic, our question about truth expanded. What is the truth on Baptism? Some believe Baptism is necessary for salvation, while others do not. What is the truth on the Eucharist? Is it just a symbol or truly the Body and Blood of Christ? What is the truth on confessing your sins? What is the truth on contraception? We were finally challenging the idea of religious indifference. Catholics, along with Presbyterians, Mennonites, Methodists, and the rest of the Protestant denominations are all professed Christians, but none of them teach the same thing. And even if one of these groups was grounded in Truth, could they, would they eventually stop teaching the Truth like the Presbyterians did by allowing homosexual “ordination” and “marriage”?Catholics, along with Presbyterians, Mennonites, Methodists, and the rest of the Protestant denominations are all professed Christians, but none of them teach the same thing. Click To Tweet
So which Christians are right? What did Jesus intend for his followers? Further troubling us was something Jesus had said. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven.… Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers’” (Matthew 7:21–23 NABRE). Goodness, who was Jesus talking about? Were we part of the group that believed we knew Jesus, but didn’t?
Finding the Truth now became a search of paramount importance. We needed to know what Jesus said about His Church.
The Primacy of Peter as Pope
Jesus spoke about His Church, saying, “And so I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19 NABRE).
I probably heard those words at Mass many times as a child, but I didn’t remember them, let alone understand that this is the key passage in the Bible connecting the Church with the papacy. Peter is given the name “rock.” Jesus establishes him as the rock upon which Christ would build his church. The question was: how do we know this is true?
We essentially took a three-pronged approach in studying this. Was it logical to have a Pope? Was it biblical? Was it historical?
From the logical angle, it made perfect sense. After all, our country has a president; every state has a governor; every city has a mayor; every major sports league has a commissioner; every business has a CEO. It makes logical sense to have a visible leader in any institution.
Biblically, God had always chosen a leader for his people in the Old Covenant, starting with Abraham, then Moses, and then onto David. If this was evident in the Old Covenant, then why would it be any different in the New Covenant? It would seem a natural progression that God would continue to provide a visible leader in the New Covenant. However, studying Matthew 16 in English only was not enough to convince us. This passage was set in a different time, place, and culture, and in the languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Studying Matthew 16 in biblical context made all the difference for us and opened our eyes to what the Apostles would have understood when they heard Jesus say those words to Peter. For example, in the language Jesus spoke, the word for “Peter” and “rock” are exactly the same word. Furthermore, understanding the Jewish context of “the keys” and “binding and loosing” opened our eyes to the continuity between the Kingdom of David and the Kingdom of Jesus.
Was our logic and biblical interpretation wrong or did that match what history had to say? Studying the history of Christianity, especially the first few hundred years, and in particular reading the three-volume set Faith of the Early Fathers by William Jurgens made all the difference for us. The historical evidence is very clear. The church Jesus gave us was the Catholic Church, and He indeed gave us a Pope to guide it.Studying the history of Christianity, especially the first few hundred years, and in particular reading the three-volume set Faith of the Early Fathers by William Jurgens made all the difference for us. The historical evidence is very… Click To Tweet
One early Church Father that really impacted us was St. Cyprian of Carthage. In writing The Unity of the Catholic Church in the year 251, he said, “A primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair.… If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he should desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?”In writing The Unity of the Catholic Church in the year 251, he said, A primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair.… If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine… Click To Tweet
But reading the words of St. Cyprian still did not make me want to return to the Catholic Church or make Julianne want to convert. We wanted to understand the history of Christianity, which also meant understanding how Protestantism began. When and why did the Presbyterian denomination come into being? When and why did the Mennonite denomination start? Why do Protestants reject the Pope? This led us to study the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, when Protestantism first began.
Sola Scriptura, Nothing but the Bible and Me
Through studying the Reformation, we learned that sola Scriptura was invented in the 1500s by Martin Luther. It is the theory that states that the Bible is the sole authority of Christian faith and that we do not need Church Tradition or a Magisterium. In short, we can just read the Bible and decide for ourselves what it means and how to live the Christian life.
Because neither of us had ever heard of sola Scriptura, we decided to study this from the same three-pronged approach that we used to study the validity of the papacy. Was it logical, biblical and historical?Even after the New Testament was written, it is not like Christians were walking around with Bibles in their hands. Sola Scriptura fails the test from an accessibility standpoint because the printing press was not developed until the… Click To Tweet
Was sola Scriptura logical? We found one issue after another with it, starting with the fact that Jesus never told the apostles to write anything down, and the New Testament was not even completed until roughly 60 years after Christ’s death. How could the first Christians practice sola Scriptura when the New Testament did not even exist! Even after the New Testament was written, it is not like Christians were walking around with Bibles in their hands. Sola Scriptura fails the test from an accessibility standpoint because the printing press was not developed until the mid-1400s. For centuries after that, there were poor literacy rates around the world because people didn’t immediately learn how to read the moment the printing press was able to roll out Bibles.Jesus never told the apostles to write anything down, and the New Testament was not even completed until roughly 60 years after Christ’s death. How could the first Christians practice sola Scriptura when the New Testament did not even… Click To Tweet
Sola Scriptura is illogical, but is it biblical? Through studying the Bible, we came to realize that the Bible itself does not establish sola Scriptura. The verse that comes closest to supporting sola Scriptura is 2 Timothy 3:16–17 which says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Notice it says, “All scripture is profitable” and not “Only scripture is definitive.” And furthermore, what does St. Paul mean by “all scripture?” St. Timothy tells us in verse 15, “from childhood you have been acquainted with the Sacred Writings.” When Timothy was a child, the only Scripture that existed was the Old Testament! Mark is perhaps the first Gospel to be written, and that didn’t happen until 60 AD, the approximate year that St. Paul was writing to Timothy. The other Gospels were written after that, perhaps as late as 90 to 100 AD.
Even though sola Scriptura was illogical and unbiblical, we still wanted to know how it stood up to history. Through studying the history of the canon of the Bible, we came to see that many books and letters were written by early Christians, but only certain ones found their way into the Bible. Our question was why? What did the Bible say about which books should be in the Bible? We discovered that not one page of the Bible contains a table of contents. The books of the Bible do not tell you which books should be in the Bible! So how did they get in there? We have a Bible today because the Catholic Church gave us the Bible starting with Pope Damasus I and the Council of Rome in 382 AD, and the canon was reaffirmed by the Councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD).
It finally made sense why Protestant denominations did not believe or teach the same doctrines and morals. They were following sola Scriptura; therefore, they could interpret Scripture any way they wanted. If they chose to allow homosexual “ordinations” and “marriages,” then they were justified in doing so based on how they interpreted the Bible. This type of authority seemed absurd to us because it meant that every Protestant denomination could teach whatever it wanted to, contradict one another, and even change those teachings again whenever it felt like it.
The great Anglican convert GK Chesterton once said, “We don’t need a church that moves with the world, we need a church that moves the world!” Protestant denominations were moving with the world, changing their teachings based on what the world and society dictated. Chesterton would also go on to say, “We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong!” Chesterton eventually learned that the church he was speaking of was indeed the Catholic Church. We, too, eventually learned that this was what we needed. We learned that the Catholic Church has certain dogmas and doctrines that are unchangeable, no matter what the world believes. Even the Pope himself cannot reverse dogmas and doctrines, because they are divinely revealed by God and thus cannot be revoked.
We had now found the Truth. Finding it led Julianne, in 2017, to decide to join RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. I had already decided to return home to the Catholic Church, but because this was a journey together, I went with her to every RCIA class.
Letting St. Peter Lead
When I made the decision to come back, I knew I had to return to Confession first. I vividly remember my first Confession at age seven. But after that, my memories of going to Confession were few and far between. Frequent Confession was not practiced in our household, and in college I stopped going altogether. I do not remember making a conscious decision to stop going. It’s not like I woke up one day and said: I’m going to stop going to Confession. I just slowly stopped thinking about it.
I returned to Confession on December 13th, 2017, and I made sure I was the last person in line because I knew it would take a long time to confess 15 years of sins! The name of the priest in the confessional that day just happened to be Fr. Peter. Julianne’s first Confession was with Fr. Peter as well. We had denied Christ like Peter, but now we were coming to the Church upon the rock of Peter. Everything had come full circle, in more ways than one.
For my penance this time, I had to show up for Mass three days in a row and not receive Holy Communion. So, I had to go to Mass on Thursday, December 14th through Saturday, December 16th, but all three times I was not to receive Holy Communion. The next day, Sunday, December 17th, was my birthday, and I could finally receive Holy Communion again!
Four months later, Julianne completed RCIA and was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2018. Easter Sunday night, I was at home, going through a box of religious stuff from my childhood, things my mom had just given me. My first Bible, first prayer books, baptismal candle, and certificates of all the Sacraments I had received. When I looked at the certificate showing the date of my first Confession, when I was seven years old, the date said December 13th, 1990.
I had been away from the confessional for almost half of my life, but now I had made my way home. The previous years of intense studying, praying, and late nights of anger, astonishment, excitement, sadness, tears, and laughs had led me to this moment. I knew the Truth. I was home.I had been away from the confessional for almost half of my life, but now I had made my way home. Click To Tweet
The final hurdle for Julianne was the Eucharist. Typology was the key to understanding Mary as the New Eve, the Ark of the New Covenant, and Queen Mother. So, too, typology was the key to understanding the Eucharist. The new Exodus, the new Passover, and the new Manna all showed the fulfillment of these Old Testament types in the Last Supper. But even with the biblical evidence to support the Eucharist as truly the Body and Blood of Jesus, Julianne needed more. In addition to reading The Fourth Cup by Scott Hahn and Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Dr. Brant Pitre, on Thanksgiving Day 2017, I gave Julianne a book on eucharistic miracles. As Julianne read story after story of moments in history when the bread and wine turned into literal flesh and blood during Mass — in locations all over the world, century after century — the last doubts faded away. Julianne was ready to become Catholic!
She still had one smaller hurdle to overcome before being accepted into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil in 2018. She had to tell her parents and siblings she was becoming Catholic! She wrote them a letter the week before the Easter Vigil, and being the supportive, loving family that they are, they showed up and sat through the entire three-hour Vigil Mass as Julianne was confirmed and received the Body and Blood of Jesus for the first time. I watched my wife receive Jesus for the first time sacramentally, and I was in tears. I had offended Jesus by walking away from Him, but He had been faithful to bring us to Him by way of so many graces.I watched my wife receive Jesus for the first time sacramentally, and I was in tears. I had offended Jesus by walking away from Him, but He had been faithful to bring us to Him by way of so many graces. Click To Tweet
We often reflect on our search for Truth and realize that everything comes back to authority: The authority of the Church, guided by the Pope — or the authority of the Bible, guided by each individual person’s interpretation. We had found the Truth through the legitimate authority of the Catholic Church. Jesus Christ had established her with that authority 2,000 years ago. Even this was logical, biblical, and historical.