What Do These Articles Say?
So first off, I wanted to discuss the articles I linked above. (Now, there's more going on with these articles than what I write, so if you want, pop over to those pages and read them in their entirety. I just wanted to highlight a few portions.)
I know Young Evangelicals Are Getting High by Rebecca VanDoodewaard of The Christian Pundit has been making its rounds around the Catholic/faithful blogosphere. She writes about how evangelical Protestant youth have converted to the Catholic Church at an alarming rate. She credits this partially to the fact that churches have resorted to a watered-down faith, which is not really focused on Truth. There is mention made of Jesus Christ, but there are also "cool" youth groups, a jeans-friendly dress code and the touch-feely, sappy Mr. Rogers-like air which too often permeates church walls. [Now, the Protestant churches to which I belonged did not really have these "auras" about them (mostly because the average age of a congregant was 55), but I did observe a lot of "look how current we are" churches when I was a teenager continuing into adulthood.] The author draws a distinction between this type of church and the type of church people are really after: the former invites the world to get cozy in the pews, while the latter seeks something the world cannot offer, namely theology. The youth are sick of being babied, of being given a cookie and a pat on the head, told to return to their playthings. It's about time we've been weaned off spiritual milk to feast on sanctifying meat. For young people who have received the necessities of faith—those who have been instructed on history, prayers and doctrine—conversion seemingly occurs less. Instead of being attracted to holy water and Gregorian Chant, they find those things unnecessary or even meaningless.
In Why Evangelicals Are No More Evangelical Than When They Call for the Abandonment of Evangelicalism, A Christian Thing's contributor Churl examines an article about the need to abandon Evangelicalism and argues that this push is a bit of a cliche. Since the Evangelical movement is often a rebellious one, one which says, "These rules aren't what the Church is about and this history has gone off the rails; instead, we need to focus on relationships," the movement away from evangelicalism is...evangelicalistic again. Instead, the author argues, evangelicals should not abandon their history but embrace history of "nothing less than a 2000 year old church." Continual movements away from our history would seem to discredit all those who came before us who lived and died for the faith.
From the same blog, Chinglican At Table writes What I Do Not Mean by the Catholic Thing, in which he explains the way he has heard a lot of Catholic converts talk about their conversion. "Unlike the format of rocked-out worship songs followed by a lengthy sermon, Catholicism (it is said) has liturgy, a call-and-response between people and priest," he begins. At times, he echos VanDoodewaard's concerns: modern evangelical worship doesn't seem to hold a candle to the ancient, incense-laced liturgy of the Catholic Church. Catholicism is the PhD candidate defending his dissertation while evangelicalism is the bright-eyed Freshman (my own example). Why are Protestants attracted to the Catholic Church? Well, no one likes a schism, for one. It is natural to want to be a collective group which worships together: that's part of what the Church is. The author writes:
"This is, of course, why you have to laugh when an evangelical tells you they became Catholic for substantive confessional reasons.... Take, for example, the typical conversion narrative that an evangelical Protestant might rehearse: tired of the market commodification of evangelical Protestantism, they became Catholic to practice a fuller form of the faith. This narrative, however, raises all sorts of questions. For one thing, don't Catholics also participate in the market commodification of their own faith at times?"What Are My Immediate Thoughts?
These articles offer interesting perspectives on the matter and my thoughts were particularly provoked by the last article. Do we really convert because we mean to mend the centuries-old tear in the tapestry that is the Church? Sure, that is an excellent desire to have: Christians should be united. However, I would never say that that is the full story. I do understand the way evangelical Protestantism may become when it goes off the rails with its own market commodification, and agree when he points out that Catholicism can follow this track as well. There is no use scoffing at certain aspects or accidents of Protestantism if we entertain the same aspects or accidents in Catholicism.
As VanDoodewaard discusses, these aspects or accidents can actually be a big deal. She doesn't care so much that we've gone from listening to Tobymac to Matt Maher and "isn't that such a hypocritical stance?". Instead, she finds that so many things add up which all contribute to a generally watered-down faith, as if the youth cannot be trusted with the truth. She even makes the distinction: conversion occurs away from these churches, not from the ones which richly supply the youth with an understanding of history and theology.
What if, Churl asks, evangelical Protestant groups move away from history, even from their own history? Funnily (to me, anyway), they repeat history to make this move. If there is no call for mere revision, if we're to ignore a chunk of time, how difficult do we make it for ourselves in having to start over? Is the past truly all bad?
How Does This Assessment Match My Own Experience?
While and after converting, I became keenly aware of the differences between Protestant and Catholic faith. Of course I would be: why would I bother converting otherwise? I therefore noticed things like: "The music at Mass is generally grander, traditional and ancient, while the music at my Protestant church was generally lighter, familiar and contemporary." or "No one's up and chatting before Mass like was common practice back home." These "small" things all add up to make you realize just how strange worship can seem to someone new to either house of the faith. Perhaps we become snooty: a Catholic says, "I've put away the things of a child. I've grown up," while a Protestant replies, "I became as a child to enter the kingdom of Heaven. I don't need the rules." Really, what happens is we start sounding like grumpy old men and naive college students. We can go back and forth for hours, but we aren't addressing the real issue: why?
"The unexamined life is not worth living," so why get caught up in all the mess, when you could instead be asking, "Why?" For me, as a convert, why convert to the Catholic Church? Why did I in the past and why do I continually try to live according to the faith which has been handed down?
Two years ago, one of the university parish priest gave a homily asking just this question. Why was he Catholic instead of some other faith? Well, he believed in God, so that certainly narrowed it down. What did the Catholic Church have specifically? Apostolic succession. It was an important factor for him, and should be for anyone who hasn't examined the history of their church. He took comfort in being able to trace the line of priests—he was ordained by this man, who was ordained by the next, who was ordained by the next...—all the way to St. Peter. He believed that the priesthood instituted by Christ continued throughout the years to reach him and would continue to those after him. It isn't just about mending division by hopping the river between Protestantism and Catholicism: it is about uniting oneself to the Church of Christ, the one He gave to us.
Still, there was more to my conversion than just that (perfectly good) reason. All the little differences were adding up. One of the first things I asked about the Catholic Church was "What and why are the differences?" Catholics said they believed in God, but in my Protestant circles, we never considered them as holding the same faith. Seemingly, more youth left the Catholic Church ("I was born Catholic, but I don't really believe any of it anymore.") than left Protestant churches. That was the extent of my knowledge. I didn't realize for some time that for all the differences I could point out (they have saints; they seem like a solemn bunch; Mary's supposed to be important for some reason, right?), I was clueless about the answers. I could never tell you why Catholics believed what they did, which is why I sought that information out.
I've asked questions, reflected on my freshman year of college and recounted the glorious highlights. Above all, the thing which has resonated with me the most, the reason I usually go to when someone asks why I converted, is that Catholicism holds the truth. Now, you could say these words in a very easy, almost off-handed way. Maybe that is what it sounds like to some people when I say it, mixed with a sense of self-righteousness or said far too simply, depending on the audience. Maybe it wouldn't be enough to convince my bishop that I was ready to convert, but there is so much wrapped up in that statement.
Why would music at Mass seem grander? Why would the noise from the congregation be only shuffles and coughs instead of friendly banter? Why do Catholics kneel and at times lay flat, process through the streets, have churches decked out in abundant ornamentation? Why do women wear veils, why do men go forward for communion on bent knee (instead of passing out bread while going down the aisles), and why can't you find a cry room in some churches?
There is more to Catholic Mass than gathering with other believers. There is more to Catholic Mass than singing nice songs. There is more to Catholic Mass than hearing the Word of God proclaimed and discussed. At Mass you receive the Word of God, fully and wholly in the Blessed Sacrament. Unlike any other group of Christians, Catholics believe that bread and wine are transformed at the consecration into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that at His last supper with the disciples in the upper room, He instituted the Eucharist. We believe Him when He said:
"I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world. ... Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink is blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live forever." [St. John 6:48-52,54-59]For Catholics, Communion isn't merely a symbol of what took place in the upper room the night Jesus was betrayed. Catholics believe that, when the words of consecration are said, Jesus is present in a way which no other faith believes. Catholics believe that Jesus was not Incarnate just to die for us, but to offer Himself to us each day in love, to live in us. Therefore, each day when we approach the altar, we bow. Each time we partake of the Eucharist, we do so humbly. Each song we sing is in praise to Him who is before us. We adorn the altar with flowers and candles, don nice apparel and stay quiet out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament.
This belief is the belief of all beliefs. It is the reason for every "unusual" action and, I believe, the only matter which truly separates us. Everything else Protestants find wrong with Catholicism or Catholics find wrong with Protestantism pales in comparison: the saints, Mary's immaculate conception, Purgatory, the style of music played, the "cool"-ness, the "rules," the grumpy elder and naive youngster dilemma... We can discuss those matters and fall on either side or in any gray areas. We can say we converted to practice a fuller form of the faith or because we wanted to get away from the Mr. Rogers churches or because our temperament is better suited toward quiet worship. The rock of all my other beliefs is the Eucharist. The Eucharist changes everything. The Eucharist is why I need the Catholic Church.
It is a hard belief to swallow. After Jesus spoke, the Jews talked among themselves: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" "This saying is hard, and who can hear it?" Jesus turns to his disciples, saying, "Doth this scandalize you?" He knew it was received in shock, in confusion and soon in denial. St. John writes, "After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him." Jesus lost followers from what He said. He does not chase after them, telling them it was only a symbol or that he was speaking metaphorically. He lets them leave. They understood what he said and it was too much. It was fine to be on board when Jesus was talking about taking care of the poor or telling the Samaritan woman that she was right to say she had no husband because she had five husbands, but this saying was too much. He then turns to the twelve and asks, "Will you also go away?" St. Peter speaks for the group, saying, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou has the words of eternal life."
Why convert? St. Peter's words are my words when I answer. "Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life."