Eucharist

Before I go much more into my story, I need to address the one theological point that continually drew me back to the RCC: The Eucharist.

Growing up Baptist we did not take the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis. It came along every three or four months, unannounced, and we would miss it from time to time when out of town or busy. When this happened, I would be devastated. Even as a young girl, something about this moment, this supposed symbol, was incredibly powerful for me. I loved hearing the scriptures read, out pastor expound on the night of the Last Supper and the symbolic meaning behind it. Then ushers would pass out the brass plates that carried the tiny, pillow-like crackers and small cups of juice. The Baptized would take their portion and hold it until the moment the pastor instructed us to take each element. We would then reverently consume the bread, the juice in unison. I loved it! We were participating in something, united in this action rather than sitting passively watching a choir sing or a man preach. It was a sample of the liturgy and it pulled at me, drawing me deeper into reality.

When I went to college, I knew I had to find a more formal, liturgical church and I ended up in a very small, super conservative Lutheran church. It was here, in Bible study lead by our pastor, that I learned the deeper meaning behind the Eucharist. So meaningful, in fact, that I wasn’t allowed to participate. The pastor reviewed the reasons (essentially – I wasn’t a member of the church, thus not officially in agreement with their belief about Christ’s Spiritual presence in the elements). I understood, but was incredibly frustrated by this. I eventually ended up attending an Episcopal Church for a little bit just so that I could take communion.

I eventually joined that Lutheran church upon my graduation from college and was delighted to fully participate in their liturgy, uniting myself through this table to the church body. I never really struggled to accept that Christ was present, but I was sure to distinguish between a true physical presence (Transubstantiation – understood to be heretical) and a more spiritual reality (Consubstantiation). Jesus was there, we believed, but it had no effect on the elements.

Post college, and a little church drama later, I found myself in a church in the hipster part of town. They were of no denomination, highly liturgical, and somewhat ambiguous on theological matters. Here the liturgy was in place for the Eucharist, but the reverence was not. At the end of the service the left over bread (which was baked fresh by a member of the congregation each week) was left on a table where the kids, and some adults, would pick pieces off while chatting and hanging out. A friend of mine who had grown up Episcopal asked me one day, “Does it bother you to see them pick at the Body of Christ like that?”

“Yes,” I confessed. I had tried to let it not bother me, but really it did. It seemed horribly wrong, and yet I couldn’t really say why. Another friend had a different perspective, “It’s cute! The kids are approaching Christ, so genuinely.”

Ok, I kind of get that, but still… STILL! It just seemed completely disrespectful.

Tired of so much Theological Ambiguity, I ended up at an Anglican church. It was an open table and a very reverent approach to the Eucharist. After the priest learned your name he would say it to you as he handed you the bread, “K—, This is the body, broken for you.” It was beautiful. I would often cry. They believed in a real presence, just not as real as the Catholic’s did. In a Bible study, the pastor informed us that the theology of Transubstantiation was idolatry. I nodded.

So there I was, I knew the Eucharist was more than a symbol, I knew Christ was present in some way, but how… to what degree? And what did the Bible say? How about the Early Church Fathers?

As I started to read chirch history, I came across a reference to St Ignatius calling the bread  True Flesh (in his Letter to the Smyrnaens). I read the quote to my roommate. “Maybe the Catholics are right,” she offered casually. Maybe they were. I couldn’t let go of it.

So I studied up and found other Church Fathers claiming this. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement, and so on. I searched Catholic writers and websites, looking for more information. Everything pointed to a True Presence.

And of course, most importantly, I looked at The Bible.

John 6 – The Bread of Life Discourse. In it Jesus explains over and over again that he gives us his body and blood and that we must consume it: “This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of this world.” John 6:50-51

Naturally, the crowd is repulsed. He has just multiplied the loaves, he has pointed to himself as the bread of life, referencing the manna in the Old Testament, calls himself the “true bread from heaven” and “The bread of life”. The crowd is disgusted by this idea – this cannibalism. They question him about it, and he doubles down:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and  I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This it he bread that came down from heaven.” John 6:53-37

The disciples grumble. many of them WALK AWAY and abandon their way of life with Christ. If this was a mere symbol would Christ have explained that? If eternal life was so crucial and he was only talking in symbol, as a parable, a dramatic story, wouldn’t he clarify!!?!?!

No, again he reinforces it.

Simon Peter says he cannot leave because He has the words of eternal life.

The disciples confirm it.

This is also why we are warned against taking it in an improper manner in 1 Corinthians 11. If it was just a symbol then anyone should participate!

The Early Church Fathers (some of whom were taught directly by the disciples) wrote that this is indeed Christ’s flesh and they witnessed to it with their lives.

This is the True Bread that brings us True Fulfillment. It brings grace, unity. It draws us together. It is the Source and Summit of our faith and the purpose of the Mass.

I love that we come together and sing and pray as a body. That we worship. But what I love the most is that we come together, hands stretched out, and receive the body and the blood, proclaiming our common heritage as sons and daughters of God, receiving Christ!

From time to time I attend Mass at a nearby church that is not to my aesthetic. It is a bit on the folksy side – there’s an off key band that plays terrible music (Tambourines! Ugh!) and the building is quite unattractive. I have never been able to locate the Tabernacle.

Often I am fighting my own frustration with the experience. I have forgotten my true purpose in attending. I am confessing my judgmental feelings, constantly asking for forgiveness, distracted by the unattractiveness of the space, the wobbly voice.

Then I approach the Alter. I take Christ. And I am at peace. I am reminded the purpose. I am here for Him. I am here to unite in His passion, to remember that He loved me (everyone!!) so much that He would die a horrible death to reconcile the world. I am united to these people through my faith, this love, this adoption.

This is everything.

 

For resources: I love the book THE FATHERS KNOW BEST by Jimmy Akin also WHEN THE CHURCH WAS YOUNG by Marcellino D’Ambrosio. 

Take time to research far and wide. Catholic.com is helpful. And of course read the Bible and look at the Catechism. There is so much out there.

Growing Discontent

I quietly listened to the radio for months, never once mentioning my thoughts to my dairy. Distraction had come in the form of a small health scare over the summer. The first mention of my Catholic curiosity is a short entry on September 10, 2013:

“Had a beautiful experience this morning with music. As I drove to piano lessons I listened to recording of nuns singing hymns. This was inspired by the discovery of the Dominican Sisters of Mary from Ann Arbor Michigan. They recorded their mass and hymns. I turned the choral music up loud and went on my way. My car was no longer a vehicle getting me from point A to B in crazy traffic. It was a space of beauty and worship. Suddenly I felt as if I was no longer in the traffic and yet I could see it, the chaos of the morning commute all around me. It was very special and so incredible. I relayed this to my mom, she suggested quite seriously that I become a nun. Honestly I sometimes wish I could. We both laughed as I am quite independent and not Catholic.”

I had discovered the Dominican Sisters because the Austin American Statesman had written an article about their music and their plans to build outside of Austin. Being a musician and lover of classical music, I started to listen to their CD. The beauty of the music, the Latin, the reverence filled a hole that had long begun to grow inside my heart.

An incredible discontent with the Protestant church had been festering inside of me. Festering is the only word appropriate for the issue. I was increasingly angry with the trend chasing, constant changing, and Millennial obsessed churches. Music was loud and obnoxious and not all that different from pop music. Church life seemed to be more focused on becoming awesome for God and going on grand adventures, than being the humble servant the Bible calls us to be.

I began to bemoan the loss of the neighborhood church, cracks of Catholic ideas on Tradition peeking through in my personal writings. “Everything is constantly changing because in this set up [modern worship/mega church styles] you have to be cutting edge in order to keep the people coming. In a liturgical neighborhood church model the format is soaked in decades, even centuries or millennia of traditions. That constant beauty and ordinariness and freedom… I’m positive this model is not perfect, none are, but I strongly believe it produces a healthier environment. They are grounded in their tradition and do not need to ‘market’ church or Jesus.” (Oct 25, 2013).

The next day I got honest with myself in my hunt for the right church. “I don’t always know what I want but I’d rather agonize over finding it than settle. I think I am in this period of my faith. I am not sure what kind of church I want but I’ll know it when I get there. At least I have a rough idea of the denomination I want to be apart of. Anglicanism is full of rich tradition and history… I am not worried that there will be a sudden change in format. Plus, from what I understand, the theology is Biblical. Hopefully I don’t find something theologically off base that throws me off the course. But I have to admit that deep down I want to be Catholic…I am very ‘Catholic Curious’ but I do have issues with theology about Mary and the Saints. But their institution intrigues me. I love the idea of priest and monks and nuns. I love the security of their history. There’s no change they would suddenly veer off track. Until end times of course. From what I understand, the False Prophet will be a bad pope but I am not 100% positive about that. I  think the Anglican Church will do. We will see.”

The rest of the fall was a struggle to commit to church. I agonized over it – flipping back and forth between a Mega Church and the Anglicans. The Mega Church was passionate about Jesus and talked a lot about missions, but the pace, the music, the search for “relevance” exhausted me. I longed for beauty but not at the expense of Jesus’ call to the hard stuff – the mission work, the sacrifice, the Bible Study.

The desire for community and connection with not just my fellow worshippers but also the leadership of the church lead me to the Anglicans. I was able to meet the pastors and have conversations with them and not feel like I was imposing on them or keeping them from the thousands of other members who wanted their attention. I admitted a little of my struggle to the pastor and he recommended I read Beyond Smells and Bells , a book explaining various liturgical practices.

I read it in a few days and thanks to Amazon, I quickly downloaded two or three other recommended books, including a book explaining the liturgy from a Catholic perspective, written by a former Protestant. Suddenly I was reading Catholic Apologetics. Downloading them to my kindle (I prefer actual books) in order to hid my secret longing.

On January 1 I wrote – “Life is strange. Jan 1 finds me devouring book on Catholic apologetics. I have read 2 both written by former Protestants, in 3 days. Ever since Pope Emeritus Benedict retired I have had an increasing fascination with the Catholic church. I cried when I saw the white smoke at the Vatican a few weeks later. Something in my heart stirred. But I am a Protestant and quickly remind myself that Catholicism is seeped in superstition and idol worship. During all of this I found myself listening more and more to Catholic Radio – mainly because they talked authentically about sin and grace and works. They were honest and reverent. I felt that most evangelical radio was cheesy and often silly. Unusually upbeat no matter what. I also started listening to the recording of some nuns from Ann Arbor… I found as I listened to the priest and lay Catholics that much of the ‘heretical’ ‘works based’ Catholic teaching I had been taught by Protestants were actually not true. I found the Catholic to be honest, grace-filled, Christ focused, sin acknowledging, hard working, good works doing people. I was intrigued. Then on Dec 30 I randomly felt a strong urge to learn more about Catholic theology. I also randomly found a cheap book on Amazon called If Protestantism is True. I downloaded it and read it within 36 hours.”

In this book I had answers to questions I had always had but was never able put into words. It lit a fire and I began to read constantly, searching and searching and searching.

Catholic Radio

In September of 2011 I had purchased a barely used sports car. My Mini Cooper had died on me. I had it towed to the local BMW dealership and traded it in for a sleek, light blue sports car with less than 20,000 miles on it. It was one of three used cars on the lot. The previous owner had purchased it but then decided she wanted a Mini instead and traded it in. She must have prepaid for a couple years of Sirius XM radio, because I had it long after the typical “trial period”.

At the time I didn’t think much of it, but discovering “The Catholic Channel” on Sirius XM would end up become a key player in my spiritual journey. Another small, seemingly trivial moment that carried with it eternal consequences.

I was flipping through the news channels and scrolled a few channels too far. In reality, I landed on just the right station and heard a priest reviewing the news. If I remember if it was Fr. Jonathan Morris, who was a program director for the station. I don’t even remember what they were discussing, but I listened. And listened. And listened. Every moment I was in my car I was listening, analyzing, and wondering why the pope resigned. I would listen on the way to work and while I ran errands and on the way home.

Looking back over my journals, I did not write at all about the start of this journey. I barely mention the resignation. But I will never forget the feeling of embarrassment I felt after weeks of listening to the radio.

In between the announcement and the actual resignation, I realized that a lot of the Protestant myths surrounding Catholics were incorrect. I do not believe these myths were necessarily taught by Catholic hating heathens who wished to do harm (though I have encountered a few people like that), but I had a feeling that much of what was passed along to me had been merely passed along by the previous teacher, and to them by their teacher. Maybe intellectual laziness prevented people from really diving into the information they had been given. I know I swallowed it whole, without any outside research, and I proudly proclaimed it as fact.

And now, this radio station was destroying my world view. Each day I heard scripture read, the Gospel proclaimed, and Jesus glorified. My previous understanding had been that Catholics really only care about Mary and the Saints and that they never read the Bible and that they only care about their traditions and institutions, putting their ritual above all else. What I found was quite the opposite!

The truth was unnerving. It is a horrible feeling to realize that you have strongly believed something so grossly incorrect. My mind raced to my few Catholic friends – how sad I was to have misunderstood their faith. And how patient and graceful they had been with me.

This experience did not immediately lead me into the Church – the discovery of the Catholic’s love of Jesus and Scripture did not instantly negate the misunderstandings I had about Mary, the Saints, and the Pope among other things. But it began a quest to correct my misunderstandings.

Catalyst

Throughout our lives there are huge moments that, when they happen, you know your world is changed for ever. They are marked by celebrations and photos and parties. Graduations, job changes, moving cities, marriages, babies, deaths. These are the obvious life changers. But we often don’t pay attention to the small moments that set you on a course that will completely disrupt your plans. These moments do not announce themselves. You may dismiss them or ignore them completely. They may seem to affect another country or group of people, but not you. You are just a curious bystander watching a clip on the TV.

And that is where my conversion journey begins. In front of the TV on February 11, 2013.

I don’t know why this particular news story caught my eye. I wasn’t Catholic. I was raised Southern Baptist and in college I attended a Lutheran church (I always had a soft spot for formal ceremony – liturgy was particularly beautiful to me). Between the two denominations I gathered a lot of misinformation about Catholics – at worst they were pagan idol worshippers led by a anti-christ pope – at best they were misguided, but well meaning people leaning on man’s traditions and superstitions.

Either way, they weren’t really Christians.

So why did this news of a Pope’s resignation catch my Protestant eye? Why would I, someone who had agreed to Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia have my head turned by the decisions of the man who lead the Roman Church?  Looking back I believe it was the Holy Spirit stirring something within my Truth-seeking heart.

I watched the news off and on all day, absorbing headlines and hot takes on Twitter. The main stream news had theories in abundance. And I had my own (I thought I had such vast understanding of the Catholic Church and Her intricacies from my short catechesis from one Lutheran church). But the information I was finding from the major networks was not enough, and they were focusing on scandals and health scares and somehow I felt like this wasn’t the real deal.

That evening, I got into my car and stumbled across the Sirius XM Catholic Channel. The fact that I had satellite radio was a small miracle (detailed in the post “The Radio”). I listened to the commentary as often as I was in my car, which thankfully was quite a bit. I had a long commute to work and my job involved running a lot of errands.

I never did understand why the Pope removed himself from the Chair of Peter but I did find something far more important. I was a young woman who, typical of my generation, floated from church to church searching for heaven knows what, but I knew that I wasn’t searching for the Catholic Church. My spiritual journey up until that point had been somewhat anti-Catholic. I had been taught a variety of facts about the church from pastors and friends who were not Catholic. I would soon find out that these facts were not facts at all, but opinions and misunderstanding. I would find something I didn’t ever expect to find and something that would lead me on an wonderful journey to Truth and Beauty and ultimately to a deep love for my Savior.