Almost a year ago, I decided to join the Roman Catholic Church. I waited months to tell anyone except my parents, worried my new conversion would fade. It didn’t. This fall I am going through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), and next year I will enter the Church.
I spent my high school career as an evangelical Protestant believing Catholics were superstitious and ignorant of the Bible. Even while attending a Catholic liberal arts college, I challenged my theology professors and despaired about the errors I believed they taught. No matter what kind of Christian I become, I told myself, I will never be Catholic.
But for a long time I had felt disconnected and uneasy at my Protestant church. I longed for what I imagined as the ideal Church—a united body that taught the same truth everywhere, that cared about the poor while defending human life, that believed what Christians had believed from the beginning. I thought I would never find it. I gave up on attending church.
A few months later, I read a book called The Catholic Controversy, by St. Francis de Sales. Targeting Calvinists in 16th-century Europe, De Sales uses Scripture alone to argue for the Catholic Church. Though he died almost 400 years before I was born, De Sales systematically tore apart my assumptions against the Church. I was persuaded.
With a year to gather perspective, I have put together four reasons I decided to convert to the Catholic Church. I hope “U” will find them compelling.
The Church is unified. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to his Father, “I pray not only for [my disciples], but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one…” (John 17:21 New American Bible). Regardless of his followers’ conduct, regardless of corruptions and partisanship, Jesus asserted that he was founding one Church. He did not will us—His Body—to split into warring pieces. Only the Catholic Church has demonstrated this kind of enduring unity.
The Church is universal. Jesus taught that his Church would make disciples “of all nations.” The only Christian tradition that exists on every continent, with one centralized authority to guide it worldwide, is the Catholic Church. Contrast that reality with other traditions, such as Southern Baptists in North America or the Coptic Church in Africa. The word “Catholic” means universal, and there is a reason no other tradition has claimed that title.
The Church is unchanging. If you compare the Church’s teachings from 2,000 years ago to the present, you will find the Church has preserved its essential beliefs over time. No other tradition has displayed such consistency. Protestant theology, for instance, has evolved violently. John Calvin, the French Protestant theologian, taught that a person’s salvation or damnation is fixed according to God’s will and that human choice means nothing. 500 years later, evangelical Protestants have instead made “once saved, always saved” their creed. On this matter and others, it is absurd to think that the Holy Spirit revealed the truth only after 1,500 years of wrangling with errors, especially because Jesus promised in John 16:13 that the Spirit would lead his followers into “all truth.”
The Church has an unbroken connection to the roots of Christianity. Catholics are the only Christians who have always held the historical view of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. Jesus taught that his body was “true bread” and his blood “true drink” (John 6:55). St. Paul likewise said that those who take communion “without discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:29) are in error. These passages indicate that the Church believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist from its beginning.
History recorded in the Book of Acts also corroborates many of the Church’s supposedly extra-biblical teachings. The apostles observed days and times, such as the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Acts 20:6) and Pentecost (Acts 20:16). Councils of elders considered matters of conflict and issued teachings (Acts 15:6). The faith had a central authority based in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:2), and later at Rome, to which disputes were directed. The belongings of saints such as Paul were reported to have healing powers (Acts 19:11-12) granted by God, just as the Church teaches today about relics from saints who led holy lives.
Over the past year I have been thrilled and humbled to recognize these truths, and others too numerous to include in one post. I have learned, in the most profound way, what it means to “join ‘em” if you can’t “beat ‘em.” Because there’s only one Church. And once you see that, you just can’t beat it.
Anthony Otten has published stories in Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Wind, Still: The Journal, and others. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. He lives in Kentucky.
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