It was the end of the spring semester of our senior year at the evangelical school Wheaton College when my wife and I plus four other students stood in front of the congregation at St. Michael parish, said we believed everything taught by the Catholic Church to be revealed by God, received the Body and Blood of Our Lord, and left the Mass full members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
That was almost four years ago. Just last month, I flew out to Ohio to tell Marcus Grodi, host of the EWTN show The Journey Home, and his viewers what convinced me to do it. The episode aired yesterday evening and can be viewed above.
My interview is not an apologetic for the Catholic faith. I point to some arguments, but don’t delve too much into the details. I cite personal reasons and accidents of my personal history that ended up being influential. It’s thoroughly my story, but one I hope could nonetheless strengthen Catholics in their faith – and maybe pique the interest of non-Catholics.
But if it’s too long to watch (it’s almost an hour!), here’s a list of 6 key factors that led me to the Church.
I wanted to follow Jesus. How am I supposed to do that? This was my driving question.
I wasn’t content with following Jesus on my own terms, I wanted to “worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4.24) This compelled me to read Scripture, study Church history, and carefully examine serious claims to the Christian faith – which included the Catholic Church.
2) Faithful Catholics
It’s easy for Protestants to see so many nominal Catholics and write the Church off as “dead religion.” There are certainly lots of nominal Catholics (there are lots of nominal Protestants, too), but from my time in Catholic schools growing up I also knew there were many faithful Catholics.
I’m not talking about Catholics who had the whole Bible memorized or could explain every Catholic dogma. I’m talking about Catholics who sincerely wanted to follow Christ, who took Scripture seriously, and had a real prayer life.
That didn’t prove the Catholic faith – there are faithful adherents to any religion – but it did mean I couldn’t write off Catholicism so easily.
3) The Mass
As a student at Catholic schools 1st through 12th grade, I went to Mass regularly from an early age. With so much exposure, I lacked many common Protestant prejudices about it. I knew that, far from being some sort of dead ritual, the Mass was a beautiful, mysterious, sacred thing – and that was before I understood the theology of the Mass or believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
When I left my Catholic high school and went off to Wheaton College, I no longer was being forced to go to Mass for the first time in a long time. I’d only go to Mass if I wanted to. I wasn’t Catholic, so why would I? But I couldn’t shake it. I found myself regularly feeling drawn to go back to Mass. Looking back, I may have been Catholic spiritually before I was Catholic doctrinally (confirming the old principle lex orandi, lex credendi).
4) The Bible
As an evangelical Christian, I was already convinced that the Bible is the Word of God. When I started reading it seriously for the first time in high school, I was surprised that it didn’t always seem to line up with what I was being taught by my fellow evangelicals.
Saved by faith alone? Jesus and Paul seemed to talk a lot about being judged by how we live. (Mt 25.31-46, Rom 2.6-11, et al.) We only need to confess our sins straight to God? Then why did Jesus give his Apostles the power to give and withhold forgiveness? (John 20.22-23)
And where did Scripture teach sola scriptura? Since Scripture doesn’t tell us which books are inspired, how did Christians determine the canon? And what happens when sincere Christian intractably disagree on how Scripture should be interpreted?
Evangelical Protestantism didn’t seem to account for all of Scripture, and sola scriptura didn’t seem to work. Catholicism, on the other hand, had good answers to all of these questions.