For the past 9.5 years I’ve been sorta planning to become Catholic, or struggling with it, or debating about it. I tried RCIA, and bailed right before Easter. I’ve read the Catechism, certain passages again and again. Went on retreats. Had big debates about Catholicism/Protestantism, with people coming from both traditions. Et cetera, etc. etc.
Finally last February I decided to join next Easter. I told my family, I was set.
And then, this summer, I realized I couldn’t. I’ve said that before, but deep down I was planning to become Catholic, someday. Some day I’d scrape up the gumption, tie my head into the right knot, convince myself just enough to swear the oaths without perjury, jump in and swim the Tiber.
But now I’m certain I never will ‘swim the Tiber’. I am certain with a calm, peaceful certainty. I know I am a Protestant with the same certainty that I know I am a woman. I was born a protestant, and I’ll die a protestant. That is how it will be. It is who I am, and I know it now.
It is very simple, really. You see, if I was an atheist or a Hindu, then the transition, the shift from:
Atheism –> Catholic Christianity
Hinduism –> Catholic Christianity
would not entail a rejection of Protestant Christianity. This conversion would not be a rejection of the faith of Luther or Calvin or Abraham Kuiper or John Teselle. But a “conversion” from:
Protestant Christianity –> Catholic Christianity
by its very nature, would entail precisely such a rejection.
And the honest truth is, I don’t think Luther was wrong. (OK, yeah, very wrong about his attitude to Jews and Peasants and the purported anti-christ and the Mass), but he was not wrong about a very fundamental thing: that the Bride of Christ, the Church, ultimately answers to God Alone. Not the upper echelons of her own administration. That an individual soul doesn’t “need” the higher administration folks to reach God, to hear His voice, to do what is right and just. Actually, sometimes (unfortunately too often) an individual soul has to ignore and disobey the upper administration folks to reach God, to hear His voice, and to do what is right and just.
And the truth of the matter is, no matter how I hem or haw around the issue, that is the truth of it. No matter how much I like papal teachings or can criticize the many errors of Calvinism… I still believe that.
But wait, you are thinking, most Catholics don’t believe that about the upper administration anymore. Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae and JP2’s Catechism teach that too, the importance of the individual conscience. So if they teach that now, then you can believe all that and be a good Catholic. Right? OK, that is fine, but you were born Catholic. To be a Catholic Christian, you don’t have to embrace everything some pope said in the sixteenth century, or some bull from the thirteenth century. But if I “convert” from Protestant Christian –> Catholic Christian, I am by the very fact of my “conversion”, categorically saying that that the sixteenth-century Protestant offshoot was wrong for being an offshoot. Oh, I know they were wrong about so many things, their iconoclasm, their state churches, their occasional defamation/blasphemy of sacred things, and their surrenders to rationalism and (what would become) materialist modernism and naked individualism… But they were not wrong for listening to God’s voice within their interior temple, their conscience, rather than the upper administration. Perhaps they were wrong about so many other things, ok. But they were right about that.
If you are a Catholic Christian nowadays, you can believe that too, and it is fine. But you aren’t making the shift from protestant–>catholic, you aren’t renouncing the protestant reformation/schism because you never had an affiliation to it.
But I do. And for me… I would have to “convert”. I don’t even like using that word. Going between different strands of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox) shouldn’t be called “converting” anyway. It is not. We all have the same Christ.
So that is the long and short of it. My blood and bones are protestant, because I believe that the interior conscience is categorically more sacred than any ecclesiastical authority, and that is just the way it is. I’ll always admire and respect Catholicism all my life. I’ll always feel that longing for their sacraments, as I kneel in the pew and watch others take and eat.
But we worship the same Christ, and we are more together than we admit, even now. And we will all admit our togetherness when we are finally all gathered together in Him, “up there.”