In the last few months to a year of exploring then joining the Church, I have been asked perhaps 200 times—Why the Catholic Church? Why now? Usually I give a quick answer or fail to answer. Perhaps this is because I could clearly only scratch the surface of this question in over 4,000 words once I actually did try. It can’t be summed up so succinctly for me. Friends and family approached me lovingly and unlovingly, tactfully and offensively, concerned and angry, debating and praying. Thank you for your genuine concern and desire to understand. Hopefully this can give you an idea of my “sudden” change and console your fears that we are so different. While there is time for debate, that is not the intention of this piece. Thank you so much for your concern and aid. Here are just the Top 17 Reasons (in no particular order) I became Catholic in 2017:
1. Vocation-Based Direction
If you’re protestant and spend any amount of time around Catholics, you’ll notice the word vocation come up a lot. In fact, in comes up almost anywhere the word “calling” typically comes up in all Christian circles. Your vocation is your life calling, not just a calling in a moment. Your momentary callings from day to day are typically in line with your overall vocation. Vocation doesn’t just mean your work or job. It refers to the all-encompassing “who” you were created to be and who you are. Any verb can be filled into a sentence on vocation—serve, love, create, join, defend, advocate, innovate, discover…the list cannot end. Another word often attached to vocation is discernment. Discernment is something that is, or should be ongoing in every Christian’s mind. Often, you will hear people say they are discerning their vocation. Frequently this means they are considering joining religious life (priesthood, brotherhood, deaconship, or sisterhood, etc.) or marriage and are taking a time period to pray and think on whether this is their proper next step or not. However, discernment can and should be practiced by everyone with a desire to make decisions with Christ’s intentions in mind. Discernment of vocation is deep, intentional reflection of your purpose and direction. Opportunities will often come your way that just don’t feel right upon further reflection for named or unnamed reasons. This outlook is emphasized in Catholicism to a degree I’ve never seen before. The Holy Spirit is not seen as random as the breeze. “Callings” to trivial choices such as whether or not to get a second helping at dinner are not seen in the same light or with the same language as life-altering motions. You don’t feel as “called” or “not called” to serving a Sunday School class as you do to starting a romantic relationship or accepting a job offer. Small decisions are also important in life and do either stay in line with your vocation or not, but they don’t take the same place in the heart or mind as the focus of vocation that begins as early as First Communion in elementary school.
2. Seriously Caring for The Least of These
My initial interest in the Church came from my shock at the Hands and Feet the Catholics were being in my community. I worked with a lot of churches on caring for preborn children and their families and…er…let me rephrase that. I attempted to work with a lot of churches. Most churches couldn’t be bothered to be associated with a controversial subjects like abortion, single mothers, or premarital sex. I got a lot of closed doors and no call-backs. I got one reference to my local Catholic church and they immediately showered my group in prayer, volunteers, and material aid. I almost questioned it. This help remains consistent to this day. I quickly realized that this was not just my local parish (church), but also every city I visited. As I traveled around the nation, city to city, I saw Catholic church doors open to the homeless. There were constant initiatives to feed the hungry with pantries and kitchens, visit the imprisoned, shelter through Catholic Charities, and meet every need for the disabled, widowed, poor, mentally ill, and everything in-between by the Knights of Columbus and student groups. The Catholic Church was a constant presence at every Supreme Court or abortion facility vigil, fundraiser, or rally I attended. Ages 0 to 101 were involved in these ministries. Few times have I walked into any type of church where this is the consistent case. Never have I been exposed to a denomination of Christianity where this is true in any city I visit. As someone who is motivated by swift justice and serving needs, this was a huge incentive for me to get down to the bottom of what made Catholicism “tick.”
3. View of Suffering
This is so important to me because I did suffer so much in the year of my transition to Catholicism. I came to bitter ends with great relationships I had with people I love very much. My entire career path changed as I was deeply wounded by people I once looked up to for guidance. My boyfriend moved across the country and became my fiancé as we both experienced financial strain. Close friends of mine struggled with death and illness in their families. I struggled through the hardest class of my life as I came upon graduation and had a few short months to decide what to do about my future. My living situations (I moved three times) were not comfortable or healthy. My friends and family were largely very upset about me becoming Catholic, and I was met with a steady stream of harassment about my beliefs. In the grand scheme of things, these were short term troubles and though a lot to handle at once, were not dire situations. But in my worst states, I felt I had nothing. My heroes, my career, my faith, my relationship, my friends, my grades, my finances, my home, my family’s approval…it all felt like it may amount to nothing after very intentional living. I felt I was just trying to make good grades, obey my parents, be a friend in difficult times, listen to the Holy Spirit in my faith journey, be healthy, and make good life choices and coming out with nothing to show for it but heartbreak and closed doors. Of course, by the time 2017 rolled around, my whole world changed and I gained back all the things I had been suffering over and more. The lesson I learned was that I had been viewing suffering the wrong way. I had learned over my years as a Christian that suffering came as a result of my own failure to please God and that I deserved the suffering that came my way. I felt so out of gas because I was working on the assumption that I could do or say something to end the hurting. But I couldn’t. The Church has taught me that suffering comes to even those who live in the Spirit, even sometimes because they do. I learned that I could take my suffering and use it to become more like Jesus. In my mind, a shift was made. Suffering wasn’t always punishment. It often is an opportunity. Prosperity preaching will have you believe the lie that you can speak desires into existence, “claiming” control in the name of God. It says that the good become rich and the poor in spirit remain in poor situations. AKA: You had it coming. This is not the Biblical view of suffering, and it’s not mine either.
4. A Journey of Salvation
In the worldview of Catholicism, salvation is not a destination. It is a lifelong journey. The steps towards salvation are still the same as my non-denominational Sunday school ABC’s: Accept, Believe, Choose. Or as my favorite protestant leader, Judah Smith, says, “Belong, Believe, Behave.” You were already designed to be with Christ by birth, accepting Him and His role in your life is a first cognizant step, believing in His teachings comes next, and behavior following full knowledge of a Christ-like lifestyle leads to the refining of one for Heaven. Salvation isn’t a one-time occurrence. It’s a lifelong trek that’s both personal and in cohesion with fellow believers. And no, deeds don’t get you a “heaven guarantee,” but a life on track with Christ does necessarily produce good works.
5. Emphasis on Prayer Relationship
I’ve heard it more times than I can count. “Catholicism doesn’t leave room for a personal relationship.” I truly cannot think of anything more personal and individualistic than prayer. Something fantastic about my road to Catholicism has been all the types of prayer I became exposed to in the last year. Of course, there are more types and methods for prayer to list and describe than anyone reading this probably has time for, but I’ll hit some of my favorites. Repetitive, memorized prayer through the rosary, Our Father, or other remembered prayers has done so much in my life. I used to wonder how anyone could actually connect with reciting words. However, reflecting on the life of Jesus during a rosary or focusing on an Our Father word by word has brought me to tears. I’ve needed the words of the Lord’s prayer in bite sized chunks, and I’ve needed to slow down and sip in the mysteries of Christ’s life over and over until I feel peace. Novenas, 9 days of prayer with special intention, have been very important for specific petitions I have about life choices or the healing of others. Spending dedicated time every day at the same time of the day for a specific reason clears my mind and helps me find the voice and power of Jesus. Prayer with candle is good for my learning style. I can light a candle, lifting up a prayer with the flame, and spending time in front of the flickering light spilling out my intentions. Adoration, oh, adoration. I can walk into church during or after work and just speak with Jesus on my knees. I can see him at the altar and tell him everything on my heart. The physical interaction with prayer with beads, candles, images, etc. draw me into a 360 degree focus. You certainly don’t need anything to pray and can access prayer any moment you wish—I often pray on my morning commute for protection and the stresses of the day. These different avenues certainly make for a rich, healthy prayer life.
This was a hard one for me: confession. I waited until the week of confirmation for my first confession. I dreaded a person being out there walking around with the knowledge of all my sins. I much preferred confessing my sins on paper or in my head in the dark comfort of my bed. Reflecting on one’s sins in private is certainly an essential component of a walk. However, the confession of sins to a priest, sitting in for Christ as the apostles did, is truly liberating. When darkness in your mind is freed from pen and paper to words out loud, they become hard to ignore. All of the sudden, when I know I will need to examine my conscience and say out loud what it is I’m doing or failing to do with words, actions, and thoughts…it gets real. I truly have less desire to sin. This isn’t to say I am now sinless, but I am more aware when I do fall short. I can’t wiggle my brain out of acknowledging what I’ve done. In Catholicism, it’s very serious and a sin in itself to hold onto sin without confessing and continue to receive communion. Because I want communion so badly, I really end up thinking of the cost of sin much more severely. It literally separates me from Christ. And just like that, age old habits of mine seem just not as important. All it took was a better system of accountability.
7. Consistency of Core Beliefs
As someone often involved in policy and politics, this is so important to me. Consistency, brought together by the Catechism, lays a foundation for every believer to have a consistent worldview. The Church respects Life, Marriage, Earth, Humans, Human Rights, and the Common Good of mankind among other things. This seems simple, but apparently it isn’t. Spend two seconds on Facebook or the news. Many denominations have found ways to tip-toe around hard stances to take in evolving culture, but the Catholic church puts it all out there. And it’s not optional. Point blank, if you’re Catholic and advocate for policies that don’t honor the sanctity of life, marriage, human rights, and the like, you’re just wrong. The Vatican won’t and can’t wake up one day and redefine Life away from conception to natural death, for instance. Now, Catholics may widely vary in their beliefs of the best method to achieve these ends, but these basic tenants are non-negotiable. If you would like to share an anecdote about a Catholic person or politician you know who advocates or believes this or that, they’re just wrong. All we can do is pray they return to the teachings of the Church. The Church doesn’t stray from core beliefs because God doesn’t change Truth. I love waking up and going to sleep each day knowing what my church believes and knows to be true.
8. Acknowledgement and Acceptance of the Unknown
I never heard the word “mystery” come up so much until I started attending mass. There is the mystery of faith, the Paschal mystery, the mysteries of the rosary— the Glorious Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, the Luminous mysteries, and the Joyful mysteries. These mysteries aren’t an unintellectual way of shrugging off the history and facts surrounding our faith. They are an acknowledgment that we often do not know how miracles and wonders actually come to be but through God. I appreciate this openness and acknowledgement of the unknown because it doesn’t try to concretely define things we cannot truly know in this lifetime. We are not final determinants of where people go when they die, we do not fully grasp the many mysteries of the world, and that’s okay. One instance in which this is particularly important is when loved ones pass away. I had a great grandma that passed away when I was young. I distinctly remember it being said with good intentions that it was too bad she wasn’t in heaven because of the state of her faith. How absurd to be a young girl and hear how your great grandma is definitely in hell! In reality, we can pray for her soul and do what we can to help people reconcile with their faith on earth, but it isn’t going to be known in this lifetime what exactly happens after their final moments pass. Catholicism leaves room for possibilities after death that I’m not sure many denominations do. We can project and interject all we want—we don’t really know the state of anyone’s soul or the judgement passed upon them. We just trust that it’s righteous and in line with a Perfect Plan. We must do due diligence to understand and grasp as much as we can at all times, but we must not feel overwhelmed with the burden of having all the answers. I quite enjoy a good mystery myself.
9. The Priesthood
This was the hardest thing for me. It was my last hang-up and objection to the Church. Growing up Protestant, I really couldn’t understand how there were people without families leading churches. Every church I have ever belonged to had a pastor with at least two kids, usually four or more. How could they really lead families without one themselves? How do they last their whole lives without wives? And what about the history of abuse? Wasn’t that a result of chastity? Do I really “need a man to get to God?” These are huge, valid concerns. I’ll explain unconventionally by starting at the moment I changed my heart about the priesthood. My good friend (and later, my sponsor) famously bombards people in religious life until they will either take a photo, bless us, or join us somewhere. This particular time, she won us some seminarians to join us for lunch by Catholic University in DC. It was a great time for me to ask questions and actually meet seminarians. But what actually struck me was a comment made: “What I love is that the Church is a priest’s flock. They don’t have two flocks and can focus on the one.” It seems simple, but it really soaked in for me. All week it rang in my mind. And I thought back to all the pastors I had in my lifetime. Many of them had hurt me, made me feel abandoned, failed to answer my questions, etc. not because they were jerks but because they had families of their own to tend to. Now, I have a father wherever I go. I feel at home so many places. It’s literally a priest’s full time job to make time for me. In RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), one priest told us that he’s often the only one available to midnight calls to sick or dying people. Sometimes non-Catholics even call on priests because they will come at a moment’s notice. I could write a whole separate page answering how I came to answers on all my concerns over the priesthood, but the realization of the fathers I have was definitely my most important discovery.
10. Categorical Views of Sins and Sacraments
I already held certain things like marriage and baptism to be very sacred, but I didn’t have the concept of the sacraments before my Catholic expedition. Viewing Sacraments as more than an event or stage of life has increased my reverence for these sacred actions. When marriage, penance, baptism, confirmation, communion, anointing of the sick, and the priesthood are brought into the picture, the conversation changes. These are Sacraments, not just important moments. They bring us in union with Christ. Therefore, the religious law and outlook on these Sacraments are treated so. Sins are categorized as either venial or mortal/grave. This was confusing to me at first, but has come to be so useful in understanding my weaknesses. Because grave sin involves the full knowledge and intention of sin, I know when I’ve committed it. An examination of conscience helps me identify what venial sins creep up in my day to day life and build up bad habits. At first, all these categories seemed baffling and unnecessary. Now, they guide me through the joys and sorrows of life and help me appropriately respond to each instead of eyeballing my way through the highs and lows.
As someone who loves symbolism in film, art, and literature, I find symbolism in general speaks to me. Step into a Catholic church, find the entire Bible in items. From the shape of the sanctuary, to the placements of three throughout the church, to the windows, statues, signs, liturgy, and lower case t traditions, Genesis to Revelation can be found. Meaning is in every crevice of the sanctuary.
12. Reverence for Communion
I recall myself, just two years ago, telling my good Catholic friend that I liked the informality of communion at my church. I liked that I could have a meal like Jesus did anywhere at any time, even with three people in the woods (technically still true). However, I explained that my view of communion was symbolic and an imitation of what Jesus shared with the Disciples. Now that I have an understanding of Jesus being The Eucharist, my approach to communion is so different. The first time I attended a mass, my heart longed for it. I became so suddenly aware of its significance in a way I never had before. It would be more than a year later that I had my First Communion. Every Sunday, and every adoration, I stared at the host preparing my heart for this Meal. Now, I understand the veil, celebration of mass, and receiving on the tongue. I think about how I long for it every day. I think a lot harder before I escape to sin because I don’t want to forfeit that connection.
13. Potent Homilies
The more I attended mass, the more the sermon taking the whole church time got under my skin. “Church shopping” becomes necessary because one needs to find a church with a pastor who gives sermons they connect with most. Messages are spiced up with humor, cool effects, and long anecdotes. With a homily at a Catholic church, it must be brief and form a quick connection with the day’s scripture readings. Because of this, the message is potent. The priest must get right to the point, sometimes with controversial statements of truth in line with the Church. Priests tend to be highly intelligent and often put this to use with references that are equally understandable and stimulating. I recall an especially great homily I heard before RCIA that employed Natural Law at length. Homilies, more often than not, cause me to desire to learn more—not wandering my mind to the point of the message. There’s less room for showboating or entertainment via the altar.
14. Scripture Focus
Much to the surprise of a Protestant, mass is scripture enriched! Not only are there two readings and a Gospel read in every service, but scripture influences every motion, image, and action. Uncovering the layers of origin of scripture at a mass is so deep that some might even say it’s like an onion—or a parfait. Everybody loves parfaits. If you move past my Shrek jokes…you’ll see the significance of the placement of hands, movements of the head, and position of body changes throughout the mass, telling the story of scripture. Just when I think I understand the origin of something, the narrative grows deeper. This truly touches on Catholicism being a lifelong journey.
15. The Lives of Saints
I don’t really know how I made it through life without the example of the saints. I had always looked up to Saint Joan of Arc, but I never really got her significance other than a neat story in history. Now, I learn of the incredible sufferings, sacrifices, and lives of saints, and I grow richer in my own life. These people answered the call of God in their lives. Why didn’t I know about them before? Many saints didn’t start out saintly and have amazing journeys of sanctification. Many died tragically. All help me in different aspects of my life. The saints exemplify virtues that the Church holds in high esteem, such as Justice and Truth. In the past year, I’ve grown so fond of St. Joseph the Worker, who reminds me to be excellent in my work as though for Christ and keep God’s Will in my heart as I choose a professional path. St. Rose of Lima gives me something to strive for in humility. The list goes on. The intercession of saints has expanded my family so much, that I always feel surrounded. I can think of a saint for every situation. My family grows with each passing day! What a rich heritage we have in Christ!
16. Use of Talents
Catholicism truly emphasizes the employment of one’s talents. This feeds into the major theme of following one’s vocation. The talents and natural gifts that make you you are designed to fit your vocation. Remember that you were woven in your mother’s womb and created for such a time as this! We are all en route to sainthood when we fully employ our strengths. This is not unique to Catholicism, however, it is surely emphasized to a greater extent. In fact, not using your talents, as I’ve learned in my Magnificat (devotion), can lead to sin. This often ties in to failing to take interest in the world, its current events and disasters—which also falls into a stronger compulsion to care for the least of these. Failing to offer aid to the ailing world around you through your natural abilities can lead to some disastrous effects. I’ve never viewed my talents as much of a responsibility and compliment to God as I do now.
17. Being Home Anywhere
Today was a good example of this. Long story short, I accidently ended up at a Spanish mass today. But I wasn’t lost during service! No, I’m not fluent in Spanish. The order of the mass is universal, so with only a few minor differences, I can follow along wherever I am—even in another language! I love talking to my friends across the country and them commenting on that day’s First Reading. We read the same thing. The whole world meditates on the same scripture, and a homily is derived from the day’s passage by every priest. When I travel, I always have a familiar place to land. There’s no awkwardness in the perhaps dozen churches I’ve visited because we are strangers united by a common celebration of mass. I guess that’s why they call it “coming home.”
Pro-Tip: I didn’t write this at the first move in a long winded debate. I am confident that my blog post will not solve the age-old divide between Catholicism and Protestantism or the rest of the world. I am answering a question I get on a weekly or daily basis—Why Catholicism? Why now?