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A Married Priest - Part IX

My explanations of how I, a married man, was approved by the pope for ordination to the priesthood grew naturally into an account of how and why I came to seek full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. It is time to bring the story to a close. I'm grateful to those of you who had the patience to follow the story.
I have had to reach back into my childhood, to speak of long spiritual struggles, to give account of my growing conviction about the sacramental nature of the gospel, to name certain “Catholic moments” providentially granted. I have had to recall my struggles as a Lutheran pastor against the many forces that have progressively “emptied out” contemporary Protestantism of its “Catholic” content – driving many of us toward Catholicism. My conversion was painfully slow, and it continues still. I will close this series with a few final reflections on the story.
Not My Courage but Hers
I have written mostly in the singular voice. But, of course, there is another who shared the journey. Janet's account would be the same but different. Her faith is simpler and stronger than mine. She would, of course, speak about my influence upon her. However, in the end it was hers upon me that was determinative. It takes courage to turn one's life upside down, to leave your home and your livelihood, and set out for the “far country” with no real practical assurances. It is hard to cause pain to friends and family members. And in the end, when it became a matter of conscience that we be Catholics, I froze and delayed; I talked and talked but could not act. It was Janet who quietly and definitively said: “We have no choice; it is time.”
Freedom from Choice
Sometimes I am asked the question this way: “Why did you decide to be a Catholic?” But truly, we did not decide. It was simply decided. The only question was, would we obey? This is the mystery of promise, of the vow, of the force of truth, of love: you are set free from free choice. This is why St. Paul could call himself a “slave of Christ” and then go on to write so passionately about freedom in Christ.
The Gift of the Popes
I have explained in part viii of this series how I first came to read the writings of Pope John Paul II. Through him I began to study the words and actions of several of the popes that preceded him in the 20th Century. I came to marvel at the intellectual brilliance and spiritual depth of these writings – especially their constant attention to Scripture. I remember once saying to a group of Lutheran pastors: “If the pope of Rome interprets Holy Scripture with such depth and understanding, it going to get harder and harder for us “Bible-based” Protestants to stay out of the Catholic Church. Inside and outside the Church, there is a lot of silly, shallow talk about the popes. “This pope is liberal while that one is conservative, etc. The fact is these categories, so fixed in our public discourse, are entirely inadequate to understand the Catholic Faith and those who protect it. If I ever write “Reading My Way to Rome” – the authors at the top of the list will be the remarkable recent popes, including the intellectual giant, Benedict XVI.
What Have I Learned?
On my way to Catholicism, I have lived and worshiped in two protestant communions. I was educated among Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglican, and Roman Catholics. None of my life-long Christian friends are Catholic. What have I learned? I have come to “know in my bones” the sadness and deprivations of Christian division. I have learned that when the Church is divided, there is a fracturing of Christian Truth, a dispersion of spiritual gifts. I have learned that in the loss of the “separated brethren” the Catholic Church herself suffers. But I have also learned that the Catholic Church is not one “denomination’ among others. She is “Mother Church” and the separated church cannot be fully “Church” in separation from her. It can be argued that the upheavals of the 16th Century had to happen; it is true that the need for Church reform was urgent. Many felt they had to abandon the Catholic ship and set out in their various Protestant life boats. But it is past time for the life boats to return to the Ship (the image is not my own). Whatever was good in the original Protestant movements has now been internalized by the Catholic Church. This is what I hope my conversion says: division is a contradiction of Christian love. And it’s time for Protestants to come home.

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