What do you make of his story?
Just one verse each day.
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.
5) The Early Church
Christianity is not a religion based on human discovery or insight into the universe, it’s based on divine revelation given to humanity at a particular point in history, namely, through Christ and his Apostles in the 1st century. This means the true Christian faith comes from the 1st century, not, say, the 16th century.
The story of history I had been told by Protestants was that Jesus, his Apostles, and the early Church were basically Protestant in their beliefs and practices, that things were slowly corrupted into Catholicism during the medieval period, and that the Protestant Reformers took things back to how they were in the early Church. The Catholic story of history is of course that Catholicism was the faith from the very beginning and that Protestantism is a later innovation.
In studying the early Church fathers, whose writings are available online for free, it was clear to me that the early Church was indeed Catholic and that the most important aspects of Protestantism were later innovations foreign to most of Christian history.
The last major factor I’ll mention here was morality. The Church’s social teachings are an underappreciated gift to the world, and the Church is well-known for her strong pro-life stance, but the teaching that had the biggest impact on both me and my wife is one of her most controversial: her rejection of contraception.
We got engaged our junior year with the plan to get married the summer before our senior year. While researching what kind of contraception to use, we decided to give Humanae Vitae a read just to be more informed about the issue in general, and were surprised to find its arguments very compelling.
I’ve explained the full story of our conversion on this issue elsewhere, but suffice it to say that once we were both convinced that contraception was immoral, it greatly shook our confidence in Protestantism. With the exception of individuals and small communities, virtually all Protestants abandoned the long-standing historic Christian opposition to contraception in the mid-20th century. How could Protestantism be true Christianity if it couldn’t even maintain it’s own moral teachings, but instead had accepted grave sexual perversion? Compare that to the miracle of the Catholic papacy in the 20th century maintaining the traditional stance despite overwhelming pressure from both within and without the Church to change it, and it makes a person wonder if the pope really is the successor of St. Peter, the Rock on whom Christ said he would build his Church.
Back to the Beginning
All of these factors, and others, coalesced until it was clear that I needed to join the Catholic Church. Which brings me back to the first reason I listed above, Jesus. It wasn’t that I simply thought joining the Catholic Church was a good thing for me to do, and it wasn’t just something I happened to want to do (though of course it was both of those things in part); joining the Catholic Church was what I was convinced I had to do if I wanted to follow Jesus.
And I did want to follow Jesus. So I joined the Catholic Church. And in the last four years, praise the Lord, I’ve only been further confirmed that it was the right thing to do.
Brantly Milleganis an Assistant Editor for Aleteia. He is also Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Second Nature, Co-Director of the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity, and is working on a M.A. in Theology at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. He lives with his wife and children in South St. Paul, MN. His personal website is brantlymillegan.com.