A Love Letter to my Protestant Brothers and Sisters

A couple of Sundays ago, I got a double dosage of the Holy Spirit: Mass at 8am with my two boys and then a visit to my sister’s non-denominational Bible church down the street. It would be an interesting post (at least for a church geek like me) to discuss the similarities and differences. There are certainly many differences, but the similarities are heartening – and substantial.
But anyway, stepping into the service at the Bible church threw me into all sorts of flashbacks. The title of this blog is “Random Catholic Convert”. In case you were wondering, that’s “Random Catholic Convert from Protestantism” – or “Bible church theology” or “evangelicalism”, or “nondenominationalism” or, my favorite, “happy clappy churches”. And in those churches – especially the one I spent the most years at and eventually left for the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) – I’d led the worship music (which normally took up half the service), led Bible studies, was mentored by the leadership and critiqued the pastor’s sermons – I don’t mean sitting around the lunch table burning the pastor back at home. I mean sitting with the pastor himself and going over weekly with other guys where he really shined and what maybe needed to change (it’s not like I had much to offer, but hey, it made me feel important).
I don’t know what I expected walking in to my sister’s church. I guess, ever since we really took the plunge into the Tiber, I’ve been on the defensive. As early as a couple months ago, I’d been sparring with old friends over issues like sola scriptura, papal infallibility, and the early church fathers. I think my protestant friends have given up, largely, trying to argue with me and have, instead, just resorted (to their credit) to just being there for me and my family – the same wonderful friends they always were. They’ll drop comments every now and then about how great it is to be in a loving protestant church and have a protestant community to surround you and turn only to Jesus instead of saints, but I can take positive commentary far better than negative. I, for one, am incredibly grateful for my Bible church upbringing.
So walking into this Bible church brought back the memories – so many good ones. I watched and sang as the worship leader guided the congregation and thought about leading worship at my old church – everything that went into it, all the feelings that come with standing in front of a bunch of people, trying to evoke an emotion of longing and desperation for God. I sat through what feels now like an epically long sermon that was at once funny, endearing, convicting, encouraging, and biblical. I was there during their once-a-month communion at the end – those shiny round plates that held the cups with grape juice and bits of saltine crackers broken up into small pieces that I remember literally from as early as my elementary school days back at PCF in San Bruno. So many good memories.
And I felt….. camaraderie. Camaraderie, and at the same time, longing, not to join their church, but to bring them into mine.
This post is for my protestant friends and family who read this blog, and any other protestant who may stumble onto this: you don’t know what you are missing. I step out on a limb in saying that, I know. I don’t mean to say that the Holy Spirit isn’t working in protestant churches. I don’t mean to say that some of the most godly people I know aren’t protestants. They are indeed godly. I don’t say this with any kind of smugness. I don’t think I’m better than you. I don’t think I’m smarter than you. But I come to you like Andrew coming to Peter: I’ve found Him. I’ve tasted and I’ve seen that the Lord is good, and He’s hanging out with the Catholics.
How do I know this? Well, I don’t of course. It comes down to faith. But I know this much: this last year has been the hardest of my life, but simultaneously the most awesome, peaceful, and joyful year because I have been diving in and drinking up the Catholic faith – specifically in the Eucharist. I have this wellspring of spiritual help and encouragement in Christ, His saints, and His Mass.
If I hadn’t converted, I would have had a wonderful protestant church community. I would have had friends. I would have had family – as I do now. And that is a whole lot. But sometimes life throws you things that knock the foundation right out from under you. And believe me, in the season I’m going through now, it’s this distinctly Catholic faith that is getting me through.
I can argue till I’m spent about the doctrinal issues – the apologetics to defend my faith. The arguments are not hard to find on the internet. But what I know best is what I’ve experienced. Becoming Catholic is not like trying something new. It’s not like making a radical shift from what I used to believe to what I now believe – however different it may be from my former church. Becoming Catholic is like being a protestant – just more so. It’s like when I went down to Argentina at the age of 16 to hang out with my extended family. My parents were immigrants from Argentina and so nearly all the friends and family they grew up knowing are down there. Though I had taken trips growing up, now, with my older analytical mind, I started noticing things about Argentine culture and people that made sense out of my parent’s somewhat un-American view on life. Their way of understanding the family, their bluntness in conversation, and their view of the world got put into a much larger context. I began connecting the dots as I met more cousins and lived in the culture that was their own maybe even more so than the American one.
Becoming Catholic is like that. It’s like meeting your larger family. And in that family there are traditions and ways of doing things that may seem odd, but they are odd in the most natural way. It seems odd at first that Catholics think the bread and wine in communion really become the body and blood of Christ, until you realize they are just taking the words Christ spoke – “This is my body…. this is my blood” – to be true in childlike simplicity and faith. It seems odd that we ask saints to pray for us, until you start to see that it was (and is) practiced by many Jews and Jesus Himself said that no one is dead in God’s eyes. It seems odd that Catholics would take church councils so seriously and stick dogmatically to particular interpretations of Scripture or tradition, until you realize that such beliefs are merely extensions of a belief you’ve probably always had yourself: the belief that the Holy Spirit really does guide the church throughout history.
But it’s not just the fact that the Catholic Church is great that makes me want you to come join us. It’s that the Catholic Church needs you. The percentage of Catholics who actually claim to be Catholic but don’t actually practice and/or don’t hold to Catholic teaching are embarrassingly large. I’ve found people in the Catholic church (especially priests) who are passionate and dedicated to the faith, but this is trending towards becoming an exception. Oftentimes, it’s the converts to Catholicism that become it’s most vocal allies because we see what we’ve been missing all these years. So many protestants already hold to Catholic social teachings, moral teachings, Biblical teachings, and just our general view of the world – oftentimes in a way that puts Catholics themselves (especially in the USA) to shame.
I know a post like this probably won’t convince anybody. And I would never want to downplay the real experience of Christ that any person, not just a Protestant, has when he reaches for Him. But I hope it at least gets you interested. I hope you really consider the Catholic Church and really wrestle with what it teaches, even if you end up disagreeing.
But to anyone who is worried about protestant friends becoming Catholic – or about me specifically becoming Catholic – I promise you, there is enough wealth of spirituality and devotion to Christ for the person looking for it to sustain someone through even the most tempting and trying times in life.
Maybe I sound crazy, but it’s the insanity of a man in love. The Catholic Church has her fair share of wrinkles and grey hairs. She has her share of scandals and mistakes along the way. She is wizened and old having gone through all the ups and downs that history has thrown at her and having been put through all the trials and lessons that have served not only to purify her saints, but to purify her institutions. But she is as beautiful and lovely today as the day she was born on Pentecost because Christ still lives in her. And with her, I am truly home.

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