I recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of my conversion to Catholicism. When I think back to the time of my conversion, I remember that it was a season of much optimism in the Church. Everyone seemed to feel that we had turned the corner from the unmitigated disaster that was the 1970’s and 80’s and that, under Pope John Paul II, we would soon see the Church restored to her former glory. Every week another Protestant minister was becoming Catholic. I felt I was joining a Church that would be a robust proclaimer and defender of Christian truth and values for the rest of my lifetime.
Now I’ve lived as a Catholic for a quarter of a century, including five years working for a diocese. It’s been an interesting ride, and not what I expected. I felt privileged to come into the Church under Pope John Paul II, and I was literally jumping for joy when Cardinal Ratzinger – my favorite theologian – was elected Pope in 2005. However, in that time I’ve also witnessed scandal after scandal: the priestly abuse crisis, unchallenged homosexuality among the clergy, lukewarm parishes as the norm, false teachings and cowardly actions emanating from all levels of the hierarchy…the list could go on. In many ways, things appear far worse now than at any time in my (admittedly short) lifespan as a Catholic. If I had foreseen 2017 in 1992, would I still have become Catholic?
It’s a legitimate question, and if I were to focus only on the human side of the equation, the honest answer is probably “no.” After all, one of the primary reasons I abandoned Protestantism was that I saw in the Catholic Church a dependable rock upon which I could safely and securely stand in the turbulent waters of modernity. One of my first steps toward Catholicism originated from my frustration with Protestantism’s moral teachings (or lack thereof). I was a member of the United Methodist Church, which endorsed both artificial contraception and abortion. As I surveyed other Protestant denominations, I found none that weren’t caught up in the winds of moral relativism that permeate our modern life. In the Catholic Church, however, I saw a bulwark of moral strength. I admired Pope John Paul II and his willingness to stand for timeless moral principles even in the face of much opposition. If you told me then that a quarter century later Roman synods would be debating non-negotiable issues like adultery under the approving gaze of the Roman Pontiff, I would have wondered if it was worth it to abandon the faith of my youth.
However, when I look at the totality of what it has meant to me to be Catholic, the answer to whether I would still have converted is an unequivocal “yes.”
I Would Still Become Catholic Because…
I would still become Catholic because of the promises of Christ to protect the Church. For me, witnessing the rancorous debates in the Catholic Church over what should be non-debatable topics has been very different than when I was witnessing similar debates inside the Methodist Church. As a Methodist, I was constantly worried that the denomination would continue to abandon traditional morality and embrace every aspect of the sexual revolution (spoiler: they did). I knew this was possible, because I knew Christ had made no promises to protect the Methodist Church from error. However, as a Catholic I’m less anxious. I’m still scandalized when Catholic leaders embrace falsehood and evil, and when they do so it causes untold harm to souls. Yet I know that the Catholic Church herself will not fail and will continue to be Christ’s Church. This reassurance shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to allow falsehood to spread (“It was just a remark on an airplane – what does it matter?”), but it does put things in proper perspective. If you follow the official teachings of the Catholic Church in their totality, you will be saved. Period. No other church, denomination, or religion can say that.
I would still become Catholic because of the Sacraments. Another aspect of the Catholic Church that can never be taken for granted or underestimated is the Sacraments. You could go to a clown Mass celebrated by a transvestite priest (please don’t tell me if this has actually happened), and you would still receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Again, this is not to diminish the scandal involved, but to emphasize that Our Lord will not be denied in his quest for souls and desire to pour out his grace on the world. As a Catholic, I am privileged to encounter Christ regularly in Holy Communion and Confession. I am given graces every day through the Sacrament of Matrimony. These are gifts that infinitely surpass any scandals or weaknesses of Christ’s ministers.
I would still become Catholic because of the witness of the Saints. When I was Protestant, my knowledge of Christian history consisted of the 1st century, the 16th century, and a few people after that, like John Wesley. I didn’t know of the wonderful tapestry of the Saints – those who have testified to the truth of the Church in their lives. When I see the heights of sanctity the Church can produce, I know it must be divinely inspired – no human institution could include such luminous members. I want to be part of the Church that has included St. Peter, St. Athanasius, St. Benedict, Sts. Francis & Claire, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Thérèse of Liseiux, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. And I also note that it seems as if the greatest saints have been produced at times of greatest crisis in the Church or the world. They didn’t live in times of serenity and peace, so why should I expect to? And if the Church can produce such giants of the Faith during times of great scandal, maybe it can change me for the better too.
I would still become Catholic because it is true. I don’t join a religion or denomination or church to join a cult of personality around its leader or because it is scandal-free. I join it because it is true. The Catholic Church teaches truth, and is the only path to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There is only one Church, and it is the Catholic Church. To be a follower of Christ means to be a member of the Catholic Church. To go anywhere else would be to abandon our Lord.
St. Peter said to Our Lord after Christ revealed his teaching on the Eucharist, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). Likewise, when I’m frustrated or scandalized by what I see happening in the Church today, I can only exclaim, “Lord, where shall I go? You have established the Catholic Church as the path to eternal life; and I have believed, and have come to know, that she is the true Church of Christ.”
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications. He is the author of eight books, including Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him.” (John 6,68-71)
Speaking about the first Judas,… makes me think about the last Judas!
Your story warms my heart. But I’m confused by your comment that JPII would turn things around after the disaster of the 70s and 80s. Recall that JPII ascended to the papacy in 1978. I think his kissing of the Koran, Assisi meetings and whole hog embrace of Vatican II weakened the Church in a profound way. The promotion of rock star persona, ignoring of pedastry and pedophilia are black marks on his papacy. Twenty five years of bad liturgy on the world stage also resulted in Catholics leaving in droves. Holy and avuncular “Lolek” was certainly a mixed bag.
I am speaking of the perception of the time, in which most orthodox Catholics saw JPII as the hero who would straighten things out. He had incredible popularity and influence in the 1990’s.
I appreciate your article, Mr. Sammons. The combox here and at other Catholic websites has its crowd that wants to pin all problems of the Church on JPII. I doubt that Pearl of York could have handled being a priest while living under the occupation of Nazi Germany and suffering under Communism.
You are right, I probably could not. He suffered terribly, as did ALL Poles. But what does that have to do with the scandal of kissing the Koran, turning a blind eye to Maciel, encouraging abominable liturgy, etc. You’re arguing like a Modernist using non sequiturs. https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fassets.nydailynews.com%2Fpolopoly_fs%2F1.1769628.1398489890!%2Fimg%2FhttpImage%2Fimage.jpg_gen%2Fderivatives%2Farticle_750%2Flife27n-4-web.jpg&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nydailynews.com%2Fnews%2Fworld%2Fpope-afar-instantly-adored-life-john-paul-ii-article-1.1769658&docid=ROfNb9MOA3xY-M&tbnid=FLVxaEBXC5EvGM%3A&vet=1&w=750&h=955&hl=en-us&client=safari&bih=559&biw=375&q=jpii%20in%20the%20quarry&ved=0ahUKEwiOiI-AmbTSAhUBGGMKHSMgADUQMwgnKAwwDA&iact=mrc&uact=8
Pictured above: The Quarrymen. Nice that “Lolek” wears his scapular no matter what.
For those of you who don’t know, Lolek is the endearing name pope St John Paul was known as in his youth.
Popularity yes. Influence, not so much. Most Catholics considered him a benign Old World Uncle figure, but didn’t listen to a word he said. Including me at the time!
It took the magnificent Benedict to set me straight. It’s as if I woke from a 25 year slumber.
Certainly we can all think of many great things done by Pope John Paul II, but can you imagine Pope Leo XIII kissing a Koran?
The reason I steered clear of the Catholic Church for decades was that I believed it was religion of universalism and I thought religious indifferentism was a more or less a dogma of the faith. Pope John Paul II didn’t do anything to alter that opinion.
He did, however…appoint and ordain Bishop and make Cardinal a certain Argentine Jesuit…….
John Paul II kissing the Koran bothers me a lot! Its too bad other than that he is pretty darn saintly!
Have you seen the Assisi meeting, he brought syncretism and indifferentism to the Catholic Church, it was disgraceful- the crowning moment was kissing the execrable Koran.
Have to say, inspiring words and well put. The boat may rock, it may even hit big waves, it may even seem we’re on the Titanic, yet you stay on it, cause it’s Our Lord’s boat. We can’t steer the boat directly, that’s for sure, only the captain can do that. But we, lowly passengers, surely won’t jump off into the ocean of sin and death. It’s the only one that’ll take us to the harbor of redemption. You, my friend, are an inspiration to me. Keep fighting the good fight!
The more timely question is would you have a legitimate chance of becoming a Catholic today. I feel sorry for anyone who seeks to join the Church led by Francis. It seems like a matter of chance to find a good priest, good diocese, good RCIA program and good parish. These are crucial to proper formation. How can an apostate lead anyone into the True Faith? I think a moment has been lost, especially with the passing of Mother Angelica, who was the great evangelist of our day. Pray for the catechumens and their sponsors, that they are led to the Truth and not into the lie. It is truly a time of great sorrow.
In regards to chance in finding a good parish, RCIA program, etc. Yes, those are important… but even more important is the desire for truth of the one coming in. I entered the church 7 years ago this upcoming Easter. The parish I entered is conservative Novus Ordo to the max. JP2 was the greatest saint and Pope Benedict a living, breathing doctor of the church. The liturgy needed to be reverent, but the occasional Marty Haugen was an opportunity for a little purgatory on earth. And now I’m a traditional catholic doing everything I can to fight this crisis. A seminarian (to be ordained in May) I just met was received into the Church 10 years ago in a parish with little if nothing good to speak of. And he (while fine with the NO mass) seems to be an orthodox, faithful catholic man we should be happy to have as a priest.
Yes, good formation is necessary. But God is not limited by this. I’m certain things are a bit different now. But the parish I was received into would be much better to come into now (at least 1 TLM a month on first Fridays, kneeling at the altar rail for communion is common and encouraged, etc.) Our Lord is bigger than the pope. I say this not to diminish to crisis, but instead to emphasize the sovereignty and goodness of Our Lord. He will not be stopped.
And my younger brother, fully aware of the madness that is the Francis pontificate, wants to enter the church.
Hi Jafin – All excellent points from your perspective, and your brother is lucky to have a brother such as you to guide them. And yet, not all brothers have a good example to advise them, we should pray for them if they seek the Truth in a Church shepherded by Francis. That there is a thirst for the Truth is wonderful but that does not guarantee that one will find life giving waters to drink from when the course one takes leads through the wilderness through which the Church now wanders. This is the tragedy of these times, that souls are being lost, within the Church. There is absolutely no Salvation outside the Church, but is there a viable path to Salvation inside the Church through following the path Pope Francis blazes?
Exactly. Our Lord will not be stopped. Very glad to hear about you and your brother. 🙂
Thank God for vocations to the priesthood. Pray hard for them. Thank you for this testimony. It is so encouraging!! Amen.
Awesome article, Eric. Thank you. Yes, for all these reasons plus one more: the Holy Spirit has led us home. It would be harder today, I think, because of Francis and his “make a mess theology” — but Our Lord still beckons, “Come, follow me.”
Thank you Eric. As a convert of only two years with a recent divorce from a second “marriage”, it’s been heart-breaking for me both personally and spiritually speaking.
Good for you. A solid faith is not ruined by the sins of others.
Dear Eo just what I neede to hear. Thank you.
We can derive such immense encouragement and support from former Protestants who have come to embrace the Catholic Church as the One True faith and Ark of Salvation for all humanity. My sincere thanks to you, Mr. Eric Sammons.
Especially when it is easy to excuse not to become Catholic. Our clergy are not the best role models today….well the public faces at least. Lots of wonderful priests that nobody probably knows about. Of course they are more concerned with preaching and giving authentic Catholic liturgy and teachings.
Indeed, when many would not merely “find excuses” but be repelled by the very thought of any personal association with the Catholic Church. This lamentable state of affairs has been the objective of the powers of hell for two thousand years.
I see a lot of Croatian flags in the picture!
Majority of Croats are still faithful Catholics.
In spite of Medjugorje!
What do you mean?
Medjugorje is in Croatia, and, by all indications, is a false apparition. Pilgrimages there have been suppressed by the CDF, the local bishop (who has full and total jurisdiction) has condemned it. If you read the messages, it is quite clear that it is not the voice of Our Lady we hear. And yet Croatia is holding the faith. So it’s in spite of Medjugorje’s influence.
Medjugorje is not in Croatia. It is in Bosnia & Herzegovina. (Although it is inhabited by Croats)
I am aware of all you have said. However, the final judgment has not been made yet. I myself have not also made my mind about id definitively. Medjugorje is not that important for us as it may seem. Now we have battle with left social democrats who are trying to legalize LGBT, abortion, etc… as elsewhere in the west!
Lots of people (young) are turning to TLM as well, so there is a hope for us!
A youngish Croatian-American priest heard my confession this past Saturday at the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore. One of the very best confessors I’ve had in a long time.
While at times it appears the Church is in the hands of the devil we must remember that the devil is in the hands of God. Mysterious are the ways of the the Lord.
According to CARA, the number of people received into full communion each year has declined by about 1/3 since the author became Catholic. It seems that the Church’s case has been made less significantly compelling to other Christians over time.
There is not a dimes worth of difference between the theology of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. The theology of Francis is grounded upon his conciliar predecessors as clearly explained by Fr. Thomas Rosica who in a talk given in New York explained that the overarching principle uniting Francis and all counciliar popes is the belief in the evolution of dogma. The belief that dogma has perennial truths mixed with historical accretions that must necessarily be refined away in our search for truth; that there exists a disjunction between truth and how it is dogmatically expressed. They all hold that the pope is the Rule of Faith who can interpret dogma in any non-literal sense he chooses. They hold that the search for truth is more real than its possession. Archbishop Georg Gänswein has also said the any differences between Francis/Bergoglio and Benedictg/Ratzinger are merely cosmetic; differences of style and not of substance. Francis suffers no inhibitions of conscience from a traditional theological formation. Everything he learned was from modern Jesuits after Vatican II. He has taken the same modernist first principles of his predecessors a little further down the same road that they traveled. There will never be a public correction offered by Benedict/Ratzinger to anything Francis has said or done because he has and can have no objections. He can have no grounds for objections.
It will not be until Catholics recover the truth that the Rule of Faith is Dogma and not the pope that any defense and restoration of the Faith is possible. Only then will they realize that our immemorial ecclesiastical traditions are what makes it possible to know and communicate the Faith to others because they are not and never have been matters of mere discipline subject to the free and independent will of the legislator.
This is where we all are meant to be. He calls us all home to Him and the fullness of His Teachings in the Catholic Church. We are rent in two but we remain His. There is no sense in abandoning Our Sweet Saviour, in this His second Crucifixion. Until He comes again, we remain. Amen.
Many things that the Pope says are strange but some of the things that he says are actually correct. I’m praying and hoping that Pope Francis becomes a great and truthful Pope because he could be the best weapon against those that have spent many years destroying the truth.