Why did I write this story? To answer a question posed to me by my mother: “Why did you feel you needed to go to the Catholic Church?” In other words, why did her Christian son, who already had a personal relationship with Jesus, feel drawn to enter the Catholic Church? A good part of my answer lies in the fact that many times, down through the years, I found myself saying, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this?” or, “Why have I never seen that in the Bible?” I want to spare others that pain.
My Protestant Formation
I grew up in Opelika, Alabama, raised in the Southern Baptist Church. I regularly attended church on Sunday mornings and evenings, as well as Wednesday nights. Occasionally, at the Sunday services, we would have communion. When I was small, not yet eight years old, my mom would let me have the bread and grape juice, which I thought was a nice little snack. Then one Sunday, when I was in the third grade, my mom didn’t allow it. She said I needed to be baptized and join the church before I could take part in communion again. She wanted me to understand what it meant and what I was doing. So, soon after that, I made my way down to the front to join the church, mainly so I could have communion. I met with the preacher and gave thought to what I was doing. Then I was baptized, and joined the church, in 1987.
I was active in church youth activities throughout my school years, trying to live according to what I was taught as a Protestant Christian. That is not to say I did not stumble and fall, but I have always taken great comfort in 1 Timothy 1:15: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners.”
As I grew up among Protestant teachings, I can recall conversations that would arise for different reasons about what Catholics taught. These conversations were always between me and another Protestant. Inevitably, we would conclude that what the Catholic Church taught was wrong. I picked up many misconceptions about the Catholic Church that way. I thought they worshiped Mary; I didn’t see the need for the Pope; I saw no need for confession, since I could directly ask Jesus for forgiveness; I thought Catholics had added books to the Bible. I thought the Protestant Reformation was great. I believed in sola Scriptura, once saved always saved, and that there was no need for Purgatory.
Throughout high school, I participated in several youth groups, spanning both the Baptist and Methodist denominations. In the fall of 1996, during my senior year, I started regularly going to another Baptist congregation with one of my friends. I became very involved there and started reading the Bible more on my own. The first time I went to the youth group, I got into a big discussion with my friend’s girlfriend, asking her how could she trust the Bible. How could she know the Bible was translated correctly by the translators? Although at the time I was not really looking for the answer to that question, I started asking myself deeper questions like this.
This also happened to be the moment I met the girl who would eventually become my wife — Heather. As she tells it, she had the feeling that I was the one she was going to marry, but she still thought, “There is no way I am going to marry this guy who is arguing with my friend over the Bible!”
Through my association with the youth group, Heather and I developed a friendship that was maintained throughout college. After high school, I went to a nearby Methodist college to play soccer, while she went to a Baptist college in Birmingham, Alabama. I stayed at the college for a year and a half, and later enrolled in Auburn University. On one occasion at the Methodist college, one of my soccer teammates asked me if I believed in contraception. I answered, “No,” and he responded, “Are you Catholic?” Of course I wasn’t, and I had no idea that the Catholic Church spoke against it. Later on, I found out that, even then, I held several beliefs in common with the Catholic Church.
I continued with the youth groups throughout my student years. We had a couple of great youth leaders. They took us on several mission trips, and I continued to grow in my Protestant faith. I had opportunities to lead the youth group, and I even preached a couple of Sunday evening services. As I studied my faith, I also studied other religions, like the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, just to know why I was not one of them.
All of my understanding and what I taught, when I was given the opportunity, came straight from reading the Bible and praying for the meaning. A couple of verses stood out to me. One was 1 Corinthians 3:2, “I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it.” The other was Hebrews 5:12–15:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”
I understood from these verses that there was a depth to the Gospel. Though it is a simple message, there is a fullness to it that I had not learned. There was food to be eaten, yet I knew I was still drinking milk. I wanted to know what the food was.
My First Mass
A couple of years into college at Auburn, I became involved in a non-denominational college group. At this point, joining the Catholic Church was nowhere on my radar. I went on other mission trips with the group and continued to grow in my faith.
Meanwhile, my friendship with Heather continued to grow and we began dating. It turned out that Heather was half Catholic, or at least that’s what I would tell people. Her father’s side of the family were Catholics. Heather lived with her father and spent time with many of her Catholic family members during college.
When I went to visit her, she took me to my first Catholic Mass. I went as an observer, understanding nothing, and concluded that this was not how church should be. Other than attending Mass and having a few conversations with some of Heather’s Catholic relatives when I was in Birmingham, I had no significant contact with the Catholic Church.
At this time, Heather and I decided that we would never be Catholic. It was never an option for me, but Heather had at least thought about it. I remember her having a conversation with my cousin, whose mother was Catholic. They discussed how they concluded that it was not the church for them. Heather mainly objected to the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church’s claim that it was the one true Church. She did not feel one church could have the whole truth. However, Heather did have an appreciation for the Catholic Faith and would often watch the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN). Occasionally, I would watch it with her, particularly the show The Journey Home. In this way, I began to learn subconsciously what the Catholic Church actually taught, as opposed to my previous misconceptions.
Searching for the Right Church
Heather and I married in 2003 and immediately started looking for a church home. We went to various Protestant churches in our area, but could not seem to find one that fit us. At this time, I started coaching the local high school girls’ soccer team, and one of the players invited me to her church to see their drama team. So I went. She attended a Pentecostal church; this was my first experience with Pentecostals. I attended there a few more times and eventually started attending regularly, along with Heather.
During the services, I saw the laying on of hands, anointing of people, anointing of things with oil to give to sick people, and speaking in tongues. I saw things happening there that were only talked about at the Baptist church, but never put into practice. I had heard of the workings of the Spirit, but had never seen them in action in a tangible way. Naturally, coming from my background, I questioned whether all this was authentic. Was it biblical?
I remember reading Acts again. I read about two types of baptisms, one of water and one of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 8:16–17). And I remember thinking, “Why did I never see that before?” For me, Baptism was just a symbol, a public statement of my commitment to follow Christ. I remember thinking, “I didn’t know … I didn’t know!” I was almost in despair. I felt — I don’t want to say I had been deceived — but I felt as if the truth, or at least its fullness, had been withheld from me.
I also would deal from time to time with this thought: “I don’t know the exact moment of when Jesus entered my heart.” Other people knew the exact moment and gave great testimonies, but I couldn’t do that. So I sometimes questioned whether I had Him in me. Therefore, I would pray the Sinner’s Prayer, and I would pray to be baptized with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. It never happened.
A few revelations came out of this experience. I began to understand that there are things in the Bible about which I had misconceptions. I decided that the Pentecostals did not have it all right, nor did the Baptists. I believed that the Baptists taught some truths, and the Pentecostals taught some, too, but no one church had the fullness of the truth. I had an understanding that Jesus meant for there to be only one Church, and that He had established that Church, but I did not believe that that one Church still existed. Though we did not think the Pentecostal church had everything right, they had enough right that we continued to attend there.
Need for Authority
Around 2006, Heather began teaching at a private classical Christian school. The school taught Presbyterian doctrine in matters of religion and used a classical philosophy in matters of education. In her role as a teacher, Heather learned first hand a few principles about authority. She realized that there are circumstances when her students needed to follow her rules, even if they did not understand them. From the authority point of view, she knew she had the students’ best interests in mind. Then, from the students’ perspective, she saw that they were practicing obedience to their authority. Heather recognized how these principles could be applied to a Christian’s life and the Church. Heather could also see how many of the classical education principles applied to the Christian life. She learned how faith and reason are not in conflict with each other. Faith and reason can be used to discern truth. And that one “whole” truth does indeed exist. These newly discovered principles of authority and classical education gave Heather an appreciation of the authority of the Catholic Church and its claim to know the “whole” truth.
A few years after we began regularly attending the Pentecostal church, it went through a pastoral change, and it was not pretty. The local church leaders did not follow the authority of the overseers in going about finding another pastor. Eventually, the overseers sent a couple of pastors for the congregation to hear them preach over a couple of Sundays. Then we had a meeting to vote on the one we preferred. It was not a unanimous decision. When the winning pastor was announced, I remember one lady saying, “God told me to vote for the other pastor. Why would he tell me to vote for the wrong person?” Basically, she was asking, “Who is right when two people believe they are led by the Spirit but are going in opposite directions?” No one had an answer for that.
Through this process, I began to see the importance of having an authority in the Church. Even when you have a committee, there is usually a chairman. As I thought more on this, I thought about how the family is a reflection of the Church. In the family, you have the father, who is the head, then the mother, and the children. I concluded that the Church should have a head, and we, as members, should submit to the authority of the head.
Pope and the Eucharist
Around this time, my wife was seriously considering converting to Catholicism. She began looking more into what the Catholic Church taught, due to some decisions that were being made in the Episcopal Church regarding homosexuality. Heather questioned by what authority they were making these decisions and how faith and reason played into that process. Since the Episcopal Church was a Protestant church, we both questioned how these decisions might affect our own church. Would our church make similar decisions in the future? If so, what would guide their decision making process? We were not confident that our denomination would hold to a traditional teaching on marriage.
Heather began studying what the Catholic Church taught about homosexuality and marriage, and she looked more closely into the authority of the Catholic Church and the Pope. Through her studies, I was being exposed to ever more Catholic doctrine. I began to understand why the Catholic Church had a Pope and why he is considered their head. This led me to read Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus calls Simon “Peter” (16:18). I learned that the name Peter means “rock.” Why would Jesus elsewhere call Peter the “rock,” then — as Protestants claim — not be referring to him as the “rock” in this conversation? By this reasoning, I reconciled with the idea of a Pope. But I didn’t jump ship on that account. We stayed at the Pentecostal church and supported the new pastor for a few years. However, Heather did start attending Catholic Mass regularly on her own. By 2009, Heather had reached the point that she was ready to move over to the Catholic Church, so she went through the RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) classes and was confirmed in 2010.
Eventually, some of our friends started leaving our Pentecostal church. Then we started looking for another church home. By this time, we had two small children. While we were church shopping, Heather was attending Mass regularly and continued to watch EWTN. Coincidentally, some of my other misconceptions were being cleared up through various things I heard on EWTN, especially things I heard on The Journey Home. I was now no longer appalled by the Catholic Church.
I was, however, bothered by the fact that I was not allowed to receive Communion. I would go to Mass with Heather and facetiously tell her that I was going to go up for Communion. She would say, “You’d better not!”
Because of this prohibition, I started looking into why Catholics erroneously thought the bread and wine was the Body and Blood of Christ, not just a symbol as I believed. I finally read John 6. Previously, all my understanding had come from the readings directly about the Last Supper. After reading John 6, I found myself again in despair, like when I learned about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I remember thinking, “Why have I never seen this before!” I had been one of the many disciples who left that day because of Jesus’ “hard teaching.” I finally saw biblical evidence that Jesus meant that the bread and wine are, in fact, His Body and Blood. I understood then it was more than a symbol.
I had found biblical support for the Pope and for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It was important that I see the biblical support for these teachings because I still believed in sola Scriptura.
The next issue that I dealt with was Mary. To me, Mary was “simply” the mother of Jesus. I believed she was a virgin until Jesus was born. After that, it would be reasonable that she and Joseph would have had sex. After all, they were married. But more pressing than her perpetual virginity was the idea that Catholics worshiped her, or prayed to her, or whatever they wanted to call it. Whatever they did, I saw no reason for it, because I could pray directly to Jesus. One thing I had noticed during the Mass was that Mary wasn’t mentioned. The Mass was all about Jesus — which was odd, because it seemed that the Mass ought to have included prayers to Mary, since (as I thought) they worshipped her.
But just how important was Mary? Does she have a place in a believer’s life? I went back to my understanding of the family, and how the family is a reflection of the Church. I knew the father was Jesus. I knew the children were all believers. But I had never given a thought about the mother.
It began to make sense that Mary is the mother of the Church. I was even blessed with a vision of Mary in a dream. She appeared before me in a radiant image. She said nothing; she was just there before me, and I felt this overwhelming joy. I began to see how important the mother of Jesus was. My mother is important to me. I would like to think that I honor her in my life. So I could see how Mary deserved honor. Mary, who had been chosen by God out of all the people that have ever existed and will ever exist to be the mother of our perfect Lord and Savior, Jesus! She deserves much honor! And this honor that she is given is not the same as the worship that Catholics give Jesus.
I reached a point where I believed the Catholic Church taught enough right doctrine that I was able to say I could submit to its authority. I recalled that having faith is what being a Christian is about. So I was ready to say, “I accept what I have learned from the Catholic Church to be truth, and I believe the Catholic Church will answer my other questions in due time.” I entered RCIA in the fall of 2011. Through the RCIA classes, many of my other misconceptions were cleared up. Some of those still had to do with Mary. In particular, the idea of praying to her and other saints. It was explained to me that praying to Mary and saints is not worship of them. It is more like asking a friend to pray for you, a very holy friend. And having pictures and statues of Mary and the saints is not for worship purposes, but they serve as reminders of them, just as the pictures of relatives that we display in our houses helps us to remember them, not to worship them.
Through RCIA, I learned that the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura does not really hold up, especially if you look back past the Reformation. If you believe in the Bible, then you believe that at some point the Church had the authority to put that Bible together. The authority to teach the things the Church taught before the Bible was compiled, and then at some point to compile the Bible, had to come from somewhere. I believe that authority was held by the early Church Fathers. Each week at RCIA, I would learn a new truth in contradistinction to a misconception that I had held. I began to understand the commitment I would make when I joined the Catholic Church. I saw that I would be entering a covenant when I joined the Catholic Church, a covenant like the one I entered into when I married Heather. I would be in full union with the Church, the Body of Christ. I entered that covenant at Easter 2012.
Sharing my Faith
Following my confirmation, I have grown into a deeper understanding of the basics of the Catholic Church. I had finally found the table with the food I had been searching for all those years. Unfortunately, I did not immediately sit down and begin eating. At first, I just nibbled. Then my cousin, Kimberly, who has her own great story to tell, married Paul, who was Catholic but had left the Church. They both had had their life struggles and were now trying to grow as Christians by attending Protestant churches. As I mentioned, I understood my union with the Church to be a covenant; therefore, I believed Paul was in the same covenant, but was not honoring it. I felt convicted about talking to him about why he left the Church.
But I kept delaying that conversation because I felt we did not know each other well enough. Finally, in February 2018, my 105-year-old grandmother entered the final days of her earthly journey. She was admitted to an end-of-life care home, and family members were able to stay by her side continuously. Kimberly and Paul came to stay with her, and so did I. In those circumstances, we quickly built a bond.
I opened the conversation at dinner one night. Paul shared with me his life journey. It was a complete prodigal child story. Well, almost complete. I learned that he had never actually been confirmed in the Church, and that he and Kimberly were still searching for the “right church.” So I shared what I knew about the Catholic Church, in hopes that he might consider returning home. They revealed that they had begun to look at the Catholic Church and had discovered that they agreed with some of the Church’s teachings, such as the teaching on the Eucharist. I left the conversation with great hope that a seed of faith that seemed to be there had been watered. The next month, Kimberly sent me an email, explaining how she had been studying about the Catholic Church. A few months later, she and Paul started attending Mass. Soon, I was honored to be Paul’s sponsor when he was confirmed in the Church in February 2019.
Through our conversations and emails, in which we discussed Catholicism, I found great joy in sharing my faith. I have had the opportunity to share the faith with a number of other friends and family, including my mother. My desire is to share the full truth.
I came to know Jesus as a Protestant; however, I was not taught the full truth of Jesus. I am reminded of the verse John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This is what the Catholic Church offers through her teachings and through the sacraments, not just life in Christ but an abundant life in Christ! As I share my faith, I am sharing the fullness of the gospel.
Hope for the Future
In November of 2018, our fourth child was born, and I had the opportunity to take some time off work to help with the care of the baby. During this time, I started watching old Journey Home episodes. Through these, I have learned in greater detail the teachings of the Church. The host and the guests on The Journey Home program often reference books or are authors themselves. While watching the shows, I developed a book list that I have started to read through to gain more knowledge about the Church and Jesus. In this way, I am becoming better prepared to give an “account for the hope that is in me!”
It is clear to me that all the Church’s teachings point one toward a closer relationship with Jesus. I have realized that I do not need to know the exact moment I met Jesus. I do not know the exact moment I first spoke to my wife, either; however, I do know I have come to know and love her more each day. And I know our relationship will continue to grow each day. This is how it is with Jesus. I know and love Him more each day. I do not know how the relationship began, but I know how it will end — or I should say, never end. I believe we are all longing to be closer to Jesus, whether we recognize that longing to be for Jesus or not. I believe that longing is fulfilled through the Catholic Faith. I hope to light a path to the Church for others so they may come closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.