In 2021, I’m becoming Catholic.
What a scary thing to write and to share.
In an age when organized religion is often looked at with doubt, ridicule, and even hatred; in a time when many “religious” people seem to be aligned with ultra right-wing politics and fanaticism; in the current time, it might seem downright insane to be entering a Church that, to many, seems outdated, legalistic, and filled with scandal.
Why on earth would I decide to become Catholic?
That’s what I’m writing this post to address. I anticipate a lot of people looking askance at me, but this is something I think I *should* share. While it would be easy to keep my religious beliefs private, if they are my true beliefs, then I believe I should be willing to share them with the world.
In truth, I already feel pretty Catholic. I’ve been moving towards the Church for a couple of years now, reading and researching as much as possible. I attend mass (currently virtually). I pray the rosary. I listen to Catholic podcasts. And I’m really loving it.
I’ve been enrolled in a class called RCIA since September; a class for adults considering converting or entering into the Catholic Church. In December I went through my first official Catholic rite, the Rite of Initiation and Welcome. This took place in the church and it is where we as candidates or catechumens, formally indicate our desire to be welcomed into the Catholic Church.
I wanted to sit down and seriously ponder the ‘whys” behind my decision. Why am I becoming Catholic? I want to be able to lay it out; backing up my decision with evidence and facts. Not only do I want to put it into words why I am converting to Catholicism for my own benefit, as something to refer back to time and again, but I want to be able to convey to others the reasoning behind my decision as well.
Am I an expert on Catholicism? :::Laughs in Protestant:::
Heck, no. I am far from it. It is a deep, old religion that I will probably never fully understand. So, no, I definitely don’t understand all of it, and there’s some of it I even still don’t fully agree with (!!), but there’s enough here that I grasp and believe that has convinced me to become Catholic.
This is my story. If you’ve found your way here, welcome and thanks for reading. I hope it interests and inspires you, and maybe helps you, especially if you are among those who are seeking, wondering about Catholicism and conversion, and who simply want to hear the stories of other people who’ve been there.
The Church prides itself on being a faith that is deeply aligned with reason; Catholics aren’t just blindly believing things without rationale and without looking to history. There’s a lot of support and evidence for the things the Church believes. I really appreciate this aspect of the Catholic Church, and it’s one of the things that attracted me.
But why Catholicism and not one of the 40,000+ Protestant denominations out there? Or why not something else entirely?
Well first, I definitely believe in Jesus Christ, that He is the Son of God, died and rose again on the third day and ascended into heaven. I believe that is the key to everything. So for me, that’s where my search began (though you’ll see that I diverted from that belief a lot in my 20s).
While others may struggle a lot with the foundational elements of belief, like whether or not God even exists, etc., for me, it was a question of which church is the church that Jesus instituted; that He wants me to be a part of?
The answer, I eventually came to find, is the Catholic Church. Why? After a lot of research, prayer, and learning over the past year or two, I have concluded this: I believe that the Catholic Church is the original Church that Christ Himself instituted. I think it’s the true Christian Church that has been in existence since Jesus was on this earth and it’s the Church that has passed down directly from the apostles. I think it’s the Church that has the fullness of the Christian faith and it’s the place where I can best connect with God and grow in my relationship with Jesus.
What follows is my personal story and my (ever-evolving and growing) beliefs about the Catholic Church. Again, I am not a Catholic scholar (and at the time of this writing I’m still just a churchless wanderer) so please take my words with a grain of salt. I am writing with my best intentions, but I very well may get a lot of things wrong. (Please see the Catechism and the Bible for accurate info!!)
From Lutheran to Baptist to Agnostic to Catholic (With Some Non-Denominational & Episcopalian Thrown In)
It’s been a 34-year long journey to where I am now. For anyone who is interested (and still reading this far!) I want to share my story of how my religious beliefs formed and morphed over the years.
My youngest religious education was in the Lutheran church and an Episcopal school. I believed in God, but He wasn’t a big part of my life personally growing up. Maybe a lot of kids feel that way. We’re sort of too young to grasp the importance of such major elements: life, death, salvation. I liked the songs we sang in church. And I liked the donuts they served afterwards.
It wasn’t until I was around 11 or 12 that religion came to the forefront of my life. This is when my mom began taking my sister and I to a Baptist church.
In comparison with the more reserved worship at the Episcopal church, and the downright boring atmosphere of the Lutheran church (sorry, it was), the Baptist church felt alive and vibrant. This pastor was shouting at us! He was excited about God and it was exciting to hear. For the first time, I really learned about sin and the need for salvation and a Savior.
Of course, much of this style of preaching can also be tinged with fear. There’s a reason that Baptists—particularly Southern Baptists—have a reputation for preaching “fire and brimstone.” There is often a lot of emphasis on the threat of hell and how it is what we deserve and are destined to as sinners. This gave me a fair amount of anxiety growing up, and made me feel that I needed to “get saved” multiple times. How could I be sure it took?
The end of Baptist church services generally revolves around “the invitation” or “the altar call.” The Pastor lays out the basics: all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; we all need redemption; this is available through the saving Grace of Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself on the cross in order to offer salvation to the whole world; all you need to do is accept Him into your heart and you will be saved.
As heads are bowed, the pastor will lead any of those who wish to come to Christ in a simple prayer. Congregants are then welcomed to come forward if they would like to speak with someone after the service, or have someone pray with them, etc. Soft music is usually playing during this time and the lights are often dimmed.
As you might imagine, it’s a very emotionally-charged experience. As an emotional person myself, the altar call would actually make my palms sweat and my heart race every single week. But not in a good way.
I felt compelled every week that I had to pray the prayer with the pastor over again or even come forward to the altar. Because maybe my nervousness meant that I wasn’t truly saved, so I’d better do it again right now.
The emotional pull of it always made me feel very tense and I would feel that almost every week. Plus, all the “testimonies” I’d heard from other people in the church made the act of “getting saved” seem like such a huge, life-changing moment. They could always seem to remember “the hour and moment” when they asked Jesus Christ into their heart. They told these stories with deep emotion and awe.
I began to think that if I wasn’t in tears or on my knees, or if I didn’t feel a groundbreaking transformation following the prayer, that it was somehow invalid. I could NOT remember the time or moment of my initial salvation prayer, so which one was it?
Oh, and let’s not forget the pastor’s favorite line. “If you died today, do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt where you would spend eternity?”
No, sir. I don’t. Are there people out there who don’t have any doubt? I personally think that doubt is incredibly common, normal, and even healthy. It’s something I know well, especially as a person with anxiety.
I may never be free of doubt. I may never have full certainty. But I do have hope, and that’s something much better. More on that later.
By the way…I hope I don’t sound bitter writing about this. I’m not saying that these altar calls aren’t well-intentioned, but for someone with anxiety and self-doubt, they are not always the most effective tool to bring people into a relationship with God. In fact, even thinking back on it now makes me feel a little nauseous inside.
Later in high school, my family began attending a non-denominational church, which really was far better suited for our beliefs and personality. Non-denominational churches, if you’re not familiar, aren’t a super far cry from most Baptist churches. They tend to be Bible-based, salvation-focused, and evangelical.
But non-denominational churches are often much more welcoming and contemporary-feeling. The pastors are often young and hip. The sermons are relatable and less hell-tinged. And best of all, non-denominational churches also tend to have great, upbeat praise and worship music, something I’ve always really enjoyed. (Some churches’ worship music these days borders a little too much on a rock concert, but that’s a discussion for a different time.) In short, these don-denominational churches have a feel good vibe. But not enough to keep me there, it seems.
My Wayward Twenties
Somewhere around 19 or 20, I think I made a conscious decision to move away from faith. There were a lot of rules and restrictions from the church that I felt were hard to understand or accept. Things like not drinking were ones I especially struggled with. I was 19 and going to college. I wanted to have a drink! (Spoiler alert: Catholics like wine. Points to Catholicism!)
But it wasn’t only that. I just, as they say….fell away. (The Baptist might call this being “backslidden.”) My faith faded and became either something relegated to the very back burner or something I just ignored. As my 20s progressed, I became more or less agnostic. There was never a point where I completely didn’t believe in God, but I wasn’t sure for a long time if it was the God of the Bible, or if it was a person/entity at all.
Was God a force? Was he in everything? Was he part of nature? Were all religions right and all ultimately worshiping the same God? I explored all of those thoughts over the years.
And really, my twenties were not wayward. They were fairly typical twenties by today’s modern standards. But I do regret some things I did then. I wonder if things would have been better if I had still had my faith? They would likely have been vastly different. But I loved my 20s and so in a lot of ways I wouldn’t change anything. I’m not sure if that’s right or wrong. Plus, without taking the path I took I never would have ended up where I am today.
So it is all fated and meant to be? Was this all part of God’s plan? Those are big, heavy questions. Questions for an entirely different blog post. And to be honest, I don’t have the answers right now.
One thing is true, though. If my life hadn’t followed the course it did, I would likely not have met and fell in love with my (then agnostic) husband.
Love as a Path to Belief
I met my husband Nathan in 2011. Without a doubt, meeting him has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. (Finally, here is something I have no doubts about!)
We met in a hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland, both traveling around and seeking adventures. We had an immediate connection, and even though our paths separated within just 3 days of meeting, we kept in touch via social media. We met up again later in London and then when we were both back in the US, and began a relationship from there.
There was a lot we had in common, but for the sake of this article’s focus, let’s talk about our religious similarities. Well, really there were none, except we both grew up religious and left it behind in our 20’s. But while I had grown up Baptist, Nathan had grown up Catholic.
We would talk about religion together on and off over the years. Especially because, despite being nominally “non-believers,” both of us still had a ton of doubts, questions, and confusion. And no matter where you end up faith-wise, the hold of religious upbringing is incredibly strong.
I honestly don’t remember the content of our conversations about God back in those days, but I do know that I had some objections to Catholicism. And what is so interesting is Nathan, even while claiming not to be Catholic, would defend the Church much of the time! I found myself doing it too, but on behalf of Protestant/Evangelical beliefs. This is further proof that the religion you’re raised in really sticks with you.
On occasion, Nathan and I would debate some Catholic ideas. Purgatory? Praying to Mary? Saints? These were all things that were not just foreign to me, but had actually been suggested to be downright evil. Yep, that’s right. The Baptist Church tends to be pretty anti-Catholic, and though it wasn’t the main subject for Sunday sermons, I seem to remember the Catholic Church being referred to as “the whore of Babylon” more than once. Yikes.
Some Baptists and Protestant denominations lean very far in the opposite direction of Catholicism, claiming that Catholics are idol-worshippers or are even dabbling in evil or the occult. If nothing else, they are people who don’t get their faith from the Bible and who are trying to “earn their way into heaven” with “good works.”
These were all things I’d heard or been told over time. And while they didn’t turn me fiercely against Catholicism, I thought that Evangelical Protestantism—Faith based on the “Bible alone” and Grace alone—was 100% the way to go. I definitely had some ingrained ideas about what it meant to be Catholic.
These were the types of discussions Nathan and I had on occasion, even as we still considered ourselves pretty agnostic.
Fast forward to 2016. We got married in April of that year. We were super in love. Super happy.
Around that time, we weren’t attending a church or anything, but one day we ended up talking and discovered we’d both come to a very similar realization. We were each starting to believe in God again. The reason? Love.
We both had determined, separately, that if a love as wonderful and meaningful as ours could exist, it logically followed that there had to be a God who had created such an incredible gift. If God could see fit to create each of us and bring us together, we believed he was real. In loving each other so deeply, we were finding that our beliefs were being stirred and slowly, oh so slowly, renewed.
Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt
At some point in 2019, we decided to try a Bible church near where we were living. Well that certainly was a transformational experience. I think that was the first time I gave serious thought to becoming Catholic.
The Bible Church was essentially a Baptist Church, and at the end of the service came the expected altar call, with the familiar words about being certain beyond a shadow of a doubt where you would spend eternity. Suffice it to say, both Nathan and I came home incredibly anxious. We got to talking.
At some point, he mentioned that Catholicism doesn’t emphasize any sort of assurance or certainty. Instead, he told me, Catholics have a reasonable hope of Heaven. Ultimately, no one can say whether or not he is going to heaven as only God can judge and is in control. In some ways, this unknowing seems a bit scary, but really, the need not to have absolute certainty is incredibly refreshing and reassuring. No doubts? I can’t buy that. But genuine hope, with all its dimensions and angles, makes so much more sense to me. (And somehow seems more reverent, as well).
That was the tiny spark that got me interested in reading about Catholicism. I started off just reading the stories of other converts from Protestantism. The Coming Home Network is a great resource for that. I was honestly shocked to see how very many converts there have been from Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, and many other denominations. I felt comforted by their stories and invigorated to see that the Catholic Church regularly draws people in.
That day, I wrote to an old high school friend who I knew had converted to Catholicism. When I messaged her, I realized she and I had actually discussed Catholicism previously, way back in 2015! So perhaps the seed of my interest in the Church truly started then.
We had discussed an article Why Do So Many Millennials Become Catholic? which resonated with me. They talked about Tolkien! C.S. Lewis! Protestants disillusioned with Protestantism! It may have been this article which sparked my first thoughts about Catholicism.
But back to 2019.
I began reading lots of conversion stories and then some theological stuff–nothing too deep or heavy. Mostly, I started with the things that were most basic: how did I know the Catholic Church was the true, original church and not one of the many Protestant denominations? That question lead me to where I am today.
Arguments and Evidence for Catholicism
Here is where my story probably loses its chronology, as I’ve absorbed so much over the past few years. I want to share some of the things I have discovered that turned me more and more towards the Church. I’ll also share some of the books I read that helped the most. For a true dive into history, scripture, and tradition, I recommend reading those books and others; I’m barely going to scratch the surface. There’s way way way too much to say here about each of these aspects, and I’m definitely going to botch the explanations. (It should be also noted that I am VERY much still learning.)
Some discoveries and where you can find more research about each one follow. These were some things that were obstacles for me along my conversion path (some more than others), but a few of them are simply common Protestant objections, so I’ve included those as well.
The Catholic Church goes right back to the apostles
Jesus declared that Peter was the rock of His Church and gave Him and the apostles authority. This authority has been handed down through an unbroken line of successors to the present day Church. Love that.
In this way, you can trace the Catholic Church back to Jesus; essentially back to the year 33. Comparatively, each of the Protestant denominations had their beginnings more than 1500 years later. It’s difficult to imagine that Christians simply “had it wrong” for a few centuries.
- How Old is Your Church?
- 20 Biblical Evidences for the Primacy of St. Peter
- Matthew 16: 18-19
- Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church by Steve Ray
The teachings of the Catholic Church are maintained and evidenced by the Church Fathers
Where do all of our beliefs come from? The Bible as we know it was not in existence when Jesus walked the earth, so how did his disciples learn? Oral tradition. They heard what He taught them and then passed it down to the next generation. Did you know there are tons and tons of writings by the early Church Fathers? They were those who learned directly from the apostles and down through the ages. Their writings are phenomenal and show the consistency of Catholic belief right from the very beginning until the present day.
Faith Alone and Bible Alone (Scripture Alone) are Protestant Inventions
One of my biggest obstacles for considering becoming Catholic was understanding and dismantling these ideas. They are the hallmarks of Protestantism, sola fide and sola scriptura. They mean, respectively, “faith alone” and “scripture alone.”
Basically, Protestants believe that everything we need to know about faith, God, and salvation can be found in the Bible. Scripture alone. This means that there is no need for any external forces or tradition. We can find 100% of our answers in the Word of God.
Turns out, the Bible doesn’t say anywhere that it is the only source of truth. In fact it says much to suggest the opposite.
In Catholicism, it is both Scripture and Tradition that have passed on the faith and reveal God’s truth.
As for sola fide: the idea of faith alone suggests that it is only our faith in Jesus that saves us. There is nothing we can do to gain or earn salvation. Actually, Catholics quite agree with this when it comes to our justification. But it’s not the end of the story. There’s also sanctification that has to follow. And we have to do something to participate in the process, right? Even “accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior” requires something of you as a person. You have to do the accepting. This is much the Catholic thought, on its most basic basic level, because there are other elements of living a moral life and progressing towards Holiness and towards eternity. It involves perseverance and “working out your faith with fear and trembling.” It’s not a one and done deal, and it requires something from the individual.
I’m sure I am describing it terribly. This statement from the Council of Trent says it a bit better:
“For faith, unless hope and charity are added thereto, neither unites one perfectly with Christ nor makes one a living member of his body” (Trent, VI, ch. 7)
Read more here:
- Justification Sola Fide
- Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church by Steve Ray.
We need an authority to help us interpret scripture
This point kind of veers off from the point above. Even if every single thing we needed to know for salvation was found in the text of the bible, how do we know if we’re interpreting it correctly? Biblical interpretations can run the gamut (hello, cults) so who is the voice of truth? Even if we assert that the Holy Spirit is leading us into discernment and truth, how does it follow that Christians are lead to so many different conclusions?
In short, how have so many different interpretations of things in the Bible come to be? How do you explain the thousands upon thousands of denominations, divided by doctrinal differences that most often come down to differing Biblical interpretation?
To me, the idea of the Magisterium makes SO much sense. The Magisterium is “the church’s authority or office to give authentic interpretation of the Word of God, “whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition.”
This makes sense because it promotes a unity of belief. It also is completely logical given that Bibles (and literacy) were not readily available until the invention of the printing press in 1440. What did people DO before that? This clearly supports not only a need for an interpreting body and an authority, but also a need for Tradition!
Jesus clearly put the fullness of Faith into the Church
Christ wanted their to be one visible, true Church in unity. God did not want division among His people, and that is why he instituted not just scriptures but a Church for the people to belong to.
The Saints are awesome
Protestantism is missing out by not recognizing saints. These people–real people, just like you and me–are fantastic models of holiness. Their lives and stories are nothing short of incredible. They give us so much to admire and to imitate, and they continually point us toward Jesus and strengthen us along the way.
Common Objections to Catholicism (aka Myths About Catholicism)
There’s a bit more to say on the subject of my Catholic conversion. At this point, you might have a lot of questions. And maybe even some objections. Again, I’m no scholar, but I, too, struggled with some of the beliefs of the Catholic Church…or at least, what I mistakenly thought them to be. As Fulton Sheen states so eloquently:
“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”Fulton J. Sheen
To put it plainly, people who hate Catholicism tend to know very little about what it actually entails. There are a ton of misconceptions and myths about the Catholic Church, and I used to subscribe to many of them myself! But as I studied and researched, the truth of each one became clear. It’s incredible to me now to see how some Catholic myths are perpetuated, as I’ve found the Church to be practicing the opposite of what it is supposed to be practicing. For the record, no one is worshipping Mary in the Catholic Church!
Overall, I have found the Church to be loving, faithful, and Christ-focused. And in many ways, more Christian than the Protestant Churches of my past.
Doesn’t Catholicism focus on “earning” your way into Heaven?
I definitely heard growing up that Catholics focus on works and “earning salvation.” This could not be further from the truth! Catholics 100% believe that we are granted eternal life fully through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. But Catholics place a great deal of importance on doing good works…in other words, being a light in the darkness of the world. This is one of the strongest points for my desire to convert to Catholicism. I’ve actually found that Catholic Church emphasizes helping the world much more than the Protestant Churches did. Catholics are all about feeding the poor, healing the sick, helping the downtrodden….
I have felt, throughout my time learning about Catholicism, that this Faith demands more of the person. It demands that your heart truly change, and that you actively work towards holiness and goodness.
Aren’t you worshipping Mary and the Saints? Why pray to them?
Mary and the Saints are such a blessing. They are our friends, our family. Much like you would ask a friend to pray for you, that is literally what is happening when people “pray to” the Saints. They are asking for their intercession. Asking for them to pray on their behalf and bring their entreaties to God. When understood in this way, doesn’t it make so much sense? And after all, the prayers of the righteous availeth much (James 5:16). How much more powerful could the intercession of a Saint or the Blessed Mother be?!
Isn’t their only one intercessor between God and Man, Jesus Christ? Why confess to a Priest?
Speaking of intercessors…. one of the hardest things for me to accept in converting to Catholicism is the Sacrament of Confession. Indeed, all of the Sacraments are somewhat hard to grasp, but I’m working on it. I understand now that Sacraments are God’s gift to the Church. Because we are physical people in physical bodies, He gives us physical ways to receive His graces. It’s kind of awesome.
But yes, confession. Scary, right?! I haven’t gone to one yet, so I’ll report back, but from what I hear, the experience can be incredible. In confession, the Priest is acting in persona Christi, or, in the person of Christ. So, in actual fact, you are confessing to Christ, but the Priest is standing in for Him. I have heard this is a powerful Sacrament that provides much relief and grace. And while I do not understand it fully, I’m going on Faith; believing that God gave us confession for a reason and as a gift.
Isn’t the Catholic Church old fashioned and behind the times?
Maybe in some ways, yes. However, it is comforting to see a Church that has had unwavering positions on a variety of subjects for hundreds of thousands of years. Even haters gotta respect that a little bit!
Isn’t the Church filled with abusive priests and scandal?
Without a doubt some heinous things have occurred in the Catholic Church. But, heinous things have occurred in all churches. (Even ones I attended). People are evil. People are terrible. And yes, the Catholic Church, filled with people, is, inevitably, filled with sinners.
But that’s exactly it: people are fallible. People are sinful and downright evil. So yes, there have been abominable events in Catholic history. But you cannot judge the whole Church by the failings of some. If anything, this goes to prove how much we all need God. Despite these moral failings, I do still believe the Catholic Church holds the fullness of the Christian Faith.
Isn’t the Church overly legalistic and filled with rules?
So this, for me, is one of my final stumbling blocks on the path towards Catholic conversion. Sometimes, I do find it hard to submit to the authority of the Church.
The rules, my God, the RULES!
It can feel so oppressive and controlling. Why should ANYONE or ANYTHING tell me how to live my life?
But this is one thing I simply must take on Faith. And because I love God. And This is His Church. So if this is His Church, it’s the one I will follow, the one I will respect, and the one I will submit to, as much as my independent, self-motivated will wants to resist.
And most of all, I DO believe God is Love. So anything He has put in place: the Church, the Church’s rules, dogma, etc. I must belive it is for my good—for the good of all mankind. What feels like rules and legalism must have been designed for me to live my best and holiest life. For now, that has to be enough for me.
And so, I am becoming Catholic.
Since moving toward Catholicism, I have found my faith growing in ways it has never before in the past. My relationship with Jesus is deepening, and I’m also developing a love for Mary, His mother, who always points us to Her son and draws us closer to Him. I’m looking forward to the experience of diving even more into my faith and into the beauty and mystery of the Catholic Church.
More recommended reading:
- Mere Christianity, or literally anything by C.S.Lewis
- The Protestant’s Dilemma: How the Reformation’s Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism by Devin Rose
- Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism by Scott and Kimberly Hahn
- Surprised By Truth: 11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic by Patrick Madrid
- Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Church Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft
- The Catholic Answers Podcast
- Ascension Presents YouTube Channel – especially all videos featuring Father Mike Schmitz