From Hatred to Hope: One Man’s 20 Year Journey into the Catholic Faith by Daniel Burke. My first exposure to Catholicism was through an abusive step-father. A few key memories include our home being destroyed end-to-end in a drunken rage, and forensic photographs of my mother after a brutal encounter. My most prominent memory is of gunfire in our home during a shouting match between him and my mother. I was only nine years old. Not the greatest introduction to the faith.
For the first time in my life, I began thinking of the “big picture”: What do I want to do with my life? Who am I? What do I believe? It was about the time I began asking myself these questions that I started attending daily Mass at the local parish, St. Anthony’s Church. Why did I start going to Mass? Today, as a priest I would say that it was God’s prompting, an action of the Holy Spirit. But back then I thought the reason was familiarity. I had been going to Mass there since I was seven, and thanks to scouting, I’d spent plenty of time in this building (more than I ever did in a synagogue).
As I became disillusioned with the Mormons, I became nostalgic for, and then attracted to, the Catholic Church. The lack of passion or spirituality in the ward meetings made me think of the saints, such as Teresa of Ávila and Thérèse of Lisieux, who actually went into a spiritual ecstasy just thinking about Christ. You would never find that in the Mormon church, nor in any Protestant church that I attended. There is simply not that connection to Christ.
I looked at the secular bookstore and found some things written by Clement, Justin Martyr, and a couple of other guys who KNEW THE APOSTLES!!! I was blown away! And here was the kicker, they mentioned the same things as the guy who wrote The Way of a Pilgrim. They talked about the Sacraments, and something else I had never heard, The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It was as if someone had slapped me in the face. What the heck was this? Justin Martyr described in detail what the Early Church gathering looked like. It was nothing like what we in Nashville were calling the Early Church! My curiosity began to germinate.
I also came across people such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians who questioned the deity of Christ. We both appealed to the Scriptures for our beliefs, my interpretation against theirs. I blew this off because I knew that Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, always had believed in the deity of Christ (looking back, it seems I was already appealing to Sacred Tradition, though I didn’t know it at the time). To me the Bible alone doctrine was the other side of the same coin as theological liberalism. It solved nothing, leaving everything in question, and nothing certain.
So we either had to believe God protected His Church’s theology, or we have to cut the Church off right after its birth. Is it possible that these godly men, who were martyred for their faith, could have gotten it that wrong? In the end, we had to admit, that their writings didn’t actually conflict with Scripture; their writings were in conflict with our personal interpretation of Scripture, or rather I should say, the way we had been taught to interpret it.
My father is of Jewish upbringing, and my mother was raised Protestant, but both gave up the practice of any religion when they reached adulthood. Accordingly, I grew up without religious instruction, having limited exposure through relatives both to Judaism and to Protestantism. My fondest childhood memories are of Christmas at the warm and cheerful home of my maternal grandparents. The enormous tree, surrounded by endless presents, was the highlight of my existence, and the usual collection of Christmas carols, some with occasional references to a newborn king, afforded what seemed to be the most fitting orchestration for this annual event.
What shall I render to You, O Lord, for all Your bounty to me? You created me out of nothing, You hold me in existence, You redeemed me by Your Son’s Precious Blood, You adopted me in the Sacrament of Baptism. You have led me to the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church, and through her, You call me into an eternal communion of life and love with You. Truly I can justly thank You, O Lord, only by offering myself to You day by day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in union with the oblation of Your Son.
In seminary the problems we had with Evangelical belief were only exacerbated. From my early days as an Evangelical I had been aware of the many differences in interpreting the Bible and the plethora of Protestant groups all claiming to have the “correct” biblical teaching. This awareness intensified at seminary as we studied various Protestant traditions and their interpretations of the Bible.
Through my history classes I quickly realized that all allegedly “Bible only” groups actually had an extensive extra-biblical tradition for interpreting the Bible. This tradition was influenced by specific ways of reading texts and ways of explaining uncomfortable passages that don’t fit with the system. It was also heavily determined by historical, social, political, theological, and philosophical factors. In many cases Protestant traditions had surreptitiously adapted the traditional teaching of the historic Church.
My theological research at this time was making me aware that even the Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin believed that the Lord’s Supper should be taken weekly. My religious sentiments naturally inclined me to awe and great reverence for God. Contemporary Christian music and contemporary Christian churches were missing something. The awe and reverence were replaced with a shallow emotionalism that just didn’t ring true. Something was missing, but I didn’t know what it was.
On January 24, 1997, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, I was received back into the arms of the Holy Catholic Church. Since I had made a profession of faith in the Presbyterian Church, I now made a renewed profession of faith in all that the Catholic Church teaches. For this I chose to read the profession of the Council of Trent, because it spoke the truth concerning specific errors I had embraced. Then I received the sacraments of Penance, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist.