In 1978, I was ordained a Presbyterian minister (Presbyterian Church in America) and served two churches while I also obtained a doctoral degree in biblical linguistics. Shortly after my ordination, I was preaching a homily on the unity of the Church and stated that the only justification for the Reformation was that the Catholic Church had left the Gospel.
“Most of you are members of the Catholic Church, but others are from other Christian churches and communities, and I greet each one with sincere friendship,” he said. “In spite of divisions among Christians, ‘all those justified by faith through baptism are incorporated into Christ … brothers and sisters in the Lord.’ ”
The Holy Father shook up my life in that moment. It may be difficult to understand why … unless you’ve grown up Lutheran.
Former Orthodox Presbyterian minister Gerald Tritle discusses his journey into the Catholic Church after seeking truth and desiring to be “deep in Scripture, deep in tradition, and deep in history.” Tritle tells the emotional story of his congregation’s reaction to his journey into the Catholic Church.
“From my Navy days fighting terrorism in the Middle East through my years debating politics at Oxford, Christ called me ever closer to His Church and finally into His priesthood.”
Former evangelical Protestant, Monsignor Stuart Swetland, discusses his struggle through many religious issues as he made his journey home to the Catholic Church.
Looking for answers, I sat down with the leader of an “interdenominational” Protestant organization on campus and asked, “Why must we be married in a church? Why can’t a couple just declare that they are married in their dorm room? Where in Scripture does one find the vows? Where in Scripture does it say that we need to exchange rings?”
The answer: Tradition! I couldn’t believe it. The ring on the finger of the Protestant pastor I so admired was not the product of “Bible alone” theology but of tradition, and a Catholic one at that!
Though none that I knew would ever acknowledge it, I had discovered that Protestants held to a tradition not found in the Bible. Starting here, I began to see the inconsistencies of Protestant faith and practice. My “Bible alone” theology had broken down.
So here my investigation began: at the Sacrament of Marriage.
“Within a year after the death of my grandmother, my mother stopped going to the Lutheran Church and started attending the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs). During this time, my father would periodically take us kids to Catholic Mass, where we would all fall fast asleep. There was no Catholic Sunday school, and I really didn’t understand what was happening there.”
In many of the Evangelical Protestant or fundamentalist churches of today, more than twenty percent of the members or regular worshipers can say, “I was raised Catholic.” At banquets or meetings, I recall many times sitting around a table, attempting to meet and learn about the other people sitting with me. Inevitably, someone would say those words. Heads would start nodding seemingly everywhere, and the smiles would begin. Additional words weren’t required, because each of us understood.
During our inquiry into the Catholic Church, we were looking for the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To our dismay, we discovered that Protestants have lost or purposely discarded several major benefits of the New Covenant. What the Catholic Church had recognized as truth was reevaluated by the protesters, who had to make things fit their new “each one is his own authority” belief system.
Who gave them the authority to overrule the Church Fathers? As I studied these, I could see no valid reasons for discarding these truths. Who should make decisions in the Church? Who can be trusted to do it right? Such questions had plagued me for a long time.
“I am a former Protestant minister.” The words sounded as if someone else had spoken them. I was in the office of the pastor of the local Catholic parish. At that moment, I realized that my whole life was defined in terms of what I used to be. A silent wave washed over me: I used to be employed; I used to be a homeowner; I used to be confident and focused.