“Southern Baptist Seminarian Turns to Rome,” One Year Later

One year ago today I posted my conversion story on author Devin Rose’s blog. Today, I posted the update. Read it below and let me know what you think. Feel free to connect with me on Facebook and Twitter. 

166726_4835704616697_1517373754_nI was scared. Wouldn’t you be? Jobless, living with my parents, gritting my teeth through physical therapy after rotator cuff surgery and . . . Catholic. Now, a year later, I can look back on my conversion and reflect on my awkward but necessary transition to the Catholic Church.

The early days were a thrill, like the adrenaline I used to get from breaking rules at school. I watched Harry Potter and drank a Corona each night for a few days, not because I liked beer but to repudiate Southern’s policy against students drinking alcohol. I stopped reading the Bible for a few weeks too—it had just become too confusing. Even though I’d memorized three books and countless verses, every epistle seemed to cry out against the supposed clarity or “perpiscuity” of scripture, and I needed a break. My parents were gracious enough to lend me their car so I could take a two-week trip to see my grandpa in Arkansas and try to stop thinking.

I visited parishes and priests throughout the trip—Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri—though my most pleasant memories came from Arkansas. A janitor with an Irish accent saw me praying in a dark sanctuary and asked if she could help. An RCIA Director was called and listened intently in her office.  Soon she was handing me a YouCat, Catechism, and  rosary. (I get tears in my eyes thinking about it–I was so vulnerable and the kindness meant so much.) I read beautiful prayers and ate delicious Italian food, cooked by my Catholic grandfather.

Coming home was like stubbing my toe, a jarring call to reality. A futile job search began between pain pills and rotator cuff therapy. After Devin posted my story Elizabeth Scalia quipped, “I bet he becomes a priest,” and I wanted to respond, “You’re probably right.” Becoming Catholic for aspiring evangelical pastors is certainly confusing, because each of us has imagined his vocation including leading a church and being a husband. This tension was on display as I signed up for CatholicMatch.com in June, days after officially being received into the Catholic Church, but immediately stopped using it after being accepted into a program to serve the poor in Harlem for a year. This would be my year to explore and consider being a priest in the future.

Everything changed in July when a young woman responded to my CatholicMatch message, five weeks after I had sent it. Intrigued by the fact that we each had been chaperones at a recent Steubenville conference, we talked and set up a date. “What if you fall in love and then have to leave for Harlem?” a Catholic mentor asked. “I’ll write letters from Harlem, it will be romantic,” I promised.

On our third date, August 2, we sat on the beach and she said “yes” when I asked for permission to pursue her in a godly relationship. Her face filled with shock when I said I was going to cancel Harlem, a week before my flight left, and take my chances on a long-shot job close to home because she was simply stunning and wonderful. Four weeks later I got the job. A month after that I proposed. On June 1st Jackie will be my bride and I swear I’m the luckiest guy in the world.

When I was a freshman in college our Bible study leaders would gather us together at 7pm on Wednesdays and have us share “highs and lows” of the week. Here are my highs and lows in the Catholic Church over the last year.

High- Ecumenism. I still pray “off-the-cuff evangelical style,” read my Protestant ESV Bible, and have grown to appreciate men like Mark Driscoll and Lecrae for the clarity of their message and the courage to preach truth, especially to young men. I’ve stayed close to my evangelical friends too, and there is a mutual respect and trust between us.

Low- Cognitive dissonance. I was unprepared for the extent that basic Catholic truths would not be followed in the day-to-day life of the Catholic Church. It’s bizarre when church-going Catholics don’t consider Holy Days of Obligation obligatory, when many Catholics are likely in mortal sin yet none abstain from the Eucharist.

High- Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. What a blessing to live at the same time as these men. The papal conclave was a thrill and I have been pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction of so many non-Catholics to Francis.

Low- Media outreach. Discussions over whether to use social media, put homily audio/video online, or have a decent website are questions of the last decade. Pope Benedict has invited Christians to use the Internet for God’s glory, while still maintaining time for silence and reflection.

High- Mass. In a world where nothing is revered, where people tweet obscenities at the President and Pope, the Mass is a sanctuary of reverence, of focusing on Christ. The Mass is like a mustache—so counter-cultural it’s cool.

Low- Evangelism. It took me months before I could find a Catholic who sheepishly admitted we should want other people to be Catholic.

High– The Catholic Church. For all of it’s weakness, the gates of Hell will not overcome the Church. I’m here because I love Jesus, and I believe this is where He wants me, taking in the fullness of the Christian faith.

-Anthony

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24 thoughts on ““Southern Baptist Seminarian Turns to Rome,” One Year Later

  1. Love this, especially your highs and lows. Regarding the cognitive dissonance and lack of evangelism, I had been wondering if it was just me! The most passionate Catholics I’ve ever met have been converts to the Church, usually from southern evangelical Protestantism. And they are, often, the only ones who don’t have these issues. But you’re so right, the Gates of Hell will not overcome the True Church 🙂

  2. Man, I appreciate your honesty and true-to-self ideals. Our stories are actually opposites, in that I was born and raised a RC and converted to Baptist at age 24 and now I am ordained, etc. Please bear with me as I make 3 observations to your post “High/Low” section:
    1. “Low- Cognitive dissonance. I was unprepared for the extent that basic Catholic truths would not be followed in the day-to-day life of the Catholic Church. It’s bizarre when church-going Catholics don’t consider Holy Days of Obligation obligatory, when virtually everyone in every Mass takes the Eucharist despite plain Catechism teaching against receiving when in mortal sin.”
    COMMENT: “Do as I say not as I do” philosophy is not an uncommon trait of any tradition; however, it is preeminent in the RCC. It was when I belonged and it is even more prevalent today. It comes down to what “am I to do” in relation to the dictates of a church. You saw the same thing in Baptists, I am sure. But within RCC circles, the papal pronouncements, Magisterium interpretations, canon laws, etc.
    2. “High- Mass. In a world where nothing is revered, where people tweet obscenities at the President and Pope, the Mass is a sanctuary of reverence, of focusing on Christ. The Mass is like a mustache—so counter-cultural it’s cool.”
    COMMENT: For years, the Mass (actually pre-Mass time) was a point of great inspiration and meditation for me. Even as a SBC Pastor, whenever I spoke of the Catholic Church, I was very careful to give accolades to them for the reverential awe that encapsulated the sanctuary. the lit candle in the red candle holder suspended from the ceiling was a reminder of the presence of the Eucharist. However, a recent experience at a RCC was shocking — sounded like a Baptist church with chattering, backslapping, and so on. What happened to the time of silent confession and meditation?
    3. “Low- Evangelism. It took me months before I could find a Catholic who sheepishly admitted we should want other people to be Catholic. The leaders have been talking about the New Evangelization for half a century, yet many look at their feet and quote something St. Francis never said.”
    COMMENT: Consider the rate of conversions by birth as opposed to adult conversions — without any empirical data to present, I still believe I am on solid turf to say that it is of such magnitude that
    the New Evangelism will have little effect as to true growth. Another point here is that most of the New Evangelism bloggers are converts like Devon Rose, Brent Stubbs, Jimmy Akin, Canterbury Tales just to name a few. One of the draw backs is that these, and most Catholic theologians, speak in a language most people (without advanced degrees) can understand. Aquinas, Plato, Aristotle, logic/reason, Tradition/tradition, and a sprinkling of Scripture (no perspicuity).

    In closing, consider very carefully the total effect can have. Read the Council of Trent works, question the “historical record” for accuracy, and never stop seeking the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Peace

  3. Anthony- I converted from the Southern Baptist church to the RCC about 5 years ago. I spent a couple years studying the Scriptures and the writings of the early church fathers. I focused on sola fide and sola Scriptura. It was a no-brainer. The toughest time for me was right after I completed RCIA. It was like falling off a cliff, going from an incredible high because I had discovered the true church that Christ founded (and I was VERY anti-Catholic as a Baptist) to a low than can only be compared to a lonely depression. I have learned that these highs and lows are part of the journey. Last night, my son was confirmed- a HUGE high. Congrats on your conversion to the Catholic faith and your engagement!!

    • I experienced the same thing many years ago. I have since realized why this happened. There was an intense loneliness after entering the Church because of the lack of discipleship that is expected of Catholics. Catholics just don’t know any better. It’s a terrific shame. Don’t let go of the truth-seeking honesty that brought you to the Church, and don’t let go of the fellowship that you have with others. If you do, you will waste much time in your spiritual walk with God. I know that now.

    • PS. Be aware that there’s a parallel language that’s used with Catholics. Catholics are very efficient with words and use symbols in language almost exclusively which conceals commitment and intention very well. It’s a cultural thing. Make sure you ask questions and get definitions during discussions so you know what’s really being talked about or you can be hauled up short or led toward meaninglessness pretty quickly. And make it clear you want to talk about Jesus Christ and purpose. Otherwise you’ll also waste an enormous amount of time going around a strange little merry go round of meaning. I’ve been Catholic for almost 30 years now, and I have no intention of leaving, but I’ve learned a great deal.

  4. As a former anglican priest of an evagelical bent i can relate to these observations. I am now a married catholic priest but earn my income driving bus and my wife works.

    • Fr. John,
      How do you manage the whole evangelical bent? Many Catholics find this a very difficult area to negotiate. This isn’t an idle question. I’m an evangelical Catholic convert, and I’ve been Catholic for many years. I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand “cradle Catholics.” LOL

  5. So thankful to hear your story, Anthony. I came into the church in December after about 6 years of studying. Initially it was to prove to myself what was wrong about the Catholic Church. I have been a born again believer since the age of 15 loving Jesus our Lord and growing, studying and leading Bible Studies alongside my husband for many years. Predictably, the more I studied and read to disprove Catholic doctrine, the disagreeing points on my list began to fall one by one. I now love Catholicism and the truth and Truth of the Church Jesus gave to us.
    My comment to you is to agree full heartedly on your low of cognitive dissonance and your high on the Mass. My encouragement, hopefully, to you is that the disconnect of perhaps many Catholics does not dissuade me of the truth and beauty of Catholicism. Although it does sadden me. In fact, this has strengthened my love for these people and my prayers for them and me, a sinner, as we all journey toward heaven as our destination. I do see the tide turning with better catechesis and new fervor in the faith of many. One example is the wonderful Bible study I participate in every week where women (yes Catholic women) are absorbing the Scriptures like sponges with excitement and love for Jesus.
    Prayers for your journey, Anthony, and for your vocation of marriage. God is good!

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  7. Great update. I am still praying for you and your bride, and hope to meet you some day.
    Welcome home !

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  9. This is very thought provoking. Thank you for being so honest and open during your spiritual journey!! That takes much humbleness, and an openness to be used. Perhaps this IS your mission field. May you and your beautiful bride (yes, I am biased) be very blessed as you grow in your love for and knowledge of each other and of God.

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