Catholic Reverts
Sunday, 02 November 2014 16:09

Catholic Revert: Tom Ponchak

Catholic Revert

Tom Ponchak

Tom Ponchak earned a degree in theology and was involved in ministry in the Catholic Church then left the Church for ten years. After spending time as an evangelical pastor he returned to the Church in 2007. He and his wife, Lisa, live in central Florida with their six children.

I was born into a strong Catholic home. My family was active in our parish. We attended mass in a church that my great grandfather helped to build. I was an altar boy for ten years. My father was a lector, extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, and parish council president. Every week our family occupied the first pew at the front of the church. I was active in my high school youth group. I spent time during my senior year of high school and freshman year of college discerning whether I was called to the priesthood. I attended the Franciscan University of Steubenville to study theology. My academic advisor was none other than famous Catholic convert, Dr. Scott Hahn. After graduating from college I worked as a parish youth minister and a high school religion teacher.

And then I left the Catholic Church.

Reflecting on that time of my life now I often wonder what I was thinking. At the time I felt so sure about the decision. I didn’t leave over disagreements with doctrine. I wasn’t put off by the moral teachings of the Church; in fact, my wife, Lisa, and I continued practicing Natural Family Planning the whole time we were away from the Church. I think my reasons were much more personal and complex. I’ll admit to some rationalizing and over thinking of certain things.

Franciscan University, for those who may not be familiar with the school, is a dynamically Catholic institution. It is not your typical Catholic college. The large majority of students, faculty and staff fully embrace their Catholic faith. There are three daily masses on campus that are well attended. Perpetual Eucharistic adoration is held in a chapel that is a replica of the one built by St. Francis of Assisi. They hold monthly Festivals of Praise, an evening of charismatic praise and worship, to a packed house. Most of the students participate in households, small Christian communities in the dorms similar to fraternities. To say that attending Franciscan University is an intense spiritual, as well as academic, experience is an understatement.

I married Lisa a week after graduation and we immediately we moved to Maryland after I accepted a position as a youth minister of an affluent suburban parish. It was culture shock. We came from such a nourishing, faith-filled community to a place where we received condescending looks (and comments) for getting pregnant during our first year of marriage because we didn’t have the common sense to use contraception. The associate pastor frequently preached a self-help gospel and shared his views that there was no such thing as personal sin and that we really just need to learn to accept ourselves as we are from the pulpit. Spiritual development of the youth was less important than making sure everyone was having fun and feeling good. Meanwhile, we were being neglected by the very parish we came to serve. Lisa had a very difficult pregnancy and we ended up in the hospital for several multi-day stays to combat preterm labor. Not once did we receive a visit from any of the clergy, nor did anyone at the parish office ask how we were doing. Rather, I received a lecture about the importance of being available for coffee and donuts after Sunday masses - while my wife was hospitalized!

We struggled to find any type of community with Catholics who took their faith seriously and not just something done out of obligation. It was hard and painful. Still we were convinced that ministry was our calling. After a year in Maryland we moved to Michigan. I was hired as one of three new religion teachers at the only Catholic high school in the diocese. The prior religion teachers had been relieved of their duties for not being “Catholic enough.” The diocese was looking for teachers who would teach sound, orthodox doctrine and clearly articulate the Church’s moral teachings. For me it sounded like a great fit, and I truly loved teaching. I was able to continue working with young people and trying to impart to them my own zeal for the faith.

Unfortunately, our experience at the local parishes was not as positive. Once again, Lisa and I were longing for community, for a group of peers we could share our lives with and encourage one another in our faith. This continued to prove to be more difficult than we thought. The parishes we attended in town had few young adults. I ran into stubborn opposition from people in leadership in the parishes when trying to help with youth ministry programs. I was actually told by one parish committee person that the goal for youth ministry should be to “create a fun atmosphere so that after these kids leave the Church when they’re in college maybe they’ll remember that they had fun and come back when it’s time to have their kids baptized.”

After three years of looking, but not finding, community and being frustrated at every turn while trying to do ministry both my wife and I were definitely at a low point. We doubted that we would ever be able to do the kind of ministry we felt so strongly that God was calling us to do. We doubted that we would be able to find other committed Catholics who had a real relationship with Jesus and were truly interested in spiritual growth. We were convinced that we needed to find some way of feeding these needs that were not being met in the Church. In September 1996 we reached out to a local non-denominational church that was part of a national fellowship of charismatic, evangelical churches. We met with the pastor and explained that we weren’t looking to leave the Catholic Church, but wanted to hang out with his community for fellowship. It seemed like the perfect fit, we could still attend mass on Sundays and join a small fellowship group during the week that met at the pastor’s house.

We quickly felt a connection with the people gathering for this small group every week. Some were former Catholics, others had come from mainline Protestant denominations, and some had no prior church background at all. When we gathered we focused on how to apply our faith to our lives. People took their faith seriously and were deeply committed to each other and their church. There was a genuine interest in what was going on in each other’s lives from the joys to the struggles, from blessings to needs. Lisa and I immediately felt welcomed and loved. At last we had found a group of fellow believers who we could relate to on a spiritual level and who accepted and support us.

At the same time things continued to be frustrating at our parish and at my job. I always began my religion classes with prayer and would often go around the room asking the students for any intentions. One day a sophomore cheerleader asked for prayer because she had sprained her knee and wouldn’t be able to practice with her squad. From my podium I offered up a prayer asking that the Lord heal her knee along with some prayers for other needs in the class. The next day she came to class excited to share that her knee had been healed. The swelling and pain was gone and she was able to do all her cheerleading moves without difficulty. I took advantage of this little “miracle” to encourage my students to have faith that God wants to be involved in their lives and that they can turn to Him even for what they may think are trivial concerns. I reminded them that God is a good Father who wants to give his children good things if we ask.

About a week later I was summoned to the diocesan office to meet with the chancellor of the diocese. It seems that word had spread around the school about the cheerleader and some parents were calling the diocese to complain about religion teachers healing kids in their classrooms. I explained what happened and how I didn’t even think much of the prayer at the time I was praying. I respectfully pointed out that I didn’t heal anyone, but that if God wanted to answer a prayer then there wasn’t much I could do about that. After all, what’s the point of praying for something if you don’t expect your prayers to be answered? The chancellor listened and then politely asked that I stop praying for healings in my classroom lest anyone be offended or upset! He did allow for the formation of an after school club for such things, but insisted that this had no place in the classroom. At the same time my new evangelical community was asking me to help their church with forming a youth group to guide their teens in becoming disciples and maturing in their faith. The contrast could not have been more obvious.

Christmas of 1996 would be the last time we attended mass. We weren’t quite ready to fully commit to joining this new faith community, but we had grown so tired of the politics and resistance at our parish that we told ourselves we needed a break. We would read the lectionary readings for the week and share with each other our thoughts on the readings on Sunday mornings and listen to some praise and worship music. We were convinced that God was calling us to doing ministry that was incompatible with the local Catholic community. At first we considered moving, but I couldn’t find a job. Our mid-week small group meetings were a source of encouragement and affirmation. We finally decided to walk away from the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday of 1997 and became members of the evangelical congregation we had been spending time with.

This decision was not taken lightly and was not without cost. I knew I would have to resign as a Catholic religion teacher. I decided to stay on for the final couple months of the school year and then not renew my contract. The last thing we wanted to was cause scandal at the school. No one would need to know why I wasn’t returning. I ended up finding a new job in town as an insurance adjuster. Several of our Catholic friends had found out about our decision and would no longer speak to us. It was as if we were being shunned.

By far the hardest part of that choice was telling my family. There was once a time when I had contemplated becoming a priest and now I was leaving the faith. It was the hardest conversation of my life. There were harsh words exchanged, feelings hurt, and many tears. For years this became a source of division between me and the rest of my family. I had often enjoyed staying up late with my father discussing politics and religion over a cold beer and nice cigar. Now, those conversations were off limits. When we talked it was purely superficial. I could see how much pain it was causing my parents, and yet I was so convinced that we were doing the will of God that it didn’t matter.

Once we got through the initial reactions of our friends and family we began to immerse ourselves into the life of our new faith community. We couldn’t have been happier. We finally felt like we were at home; a supportive community and opportunities for doing ministry without having to fight the system were finally opening up before us. I was immediately entrusted with forming their youth ministry program while Lisa began working at a homeless women’s shelter. I was given the opportunity to preach on Sunday mornings to the entire congregation. We began hosting and leading a young adult small group in our home. In no time I had become one of the leaders of the church.

After a couple of years I was offered a church planting internship in Florida within the same association of churches with which we had been involved. It seemed like perfect, divine timing to move us on to our next stage of ministry. We moved to Florida and joined this new congregation. As an unpaid church planting intern I worked full time as an insurance adjuster, but devoted many hours to helping around the church and learning the responsibilities of being a pastor. Once again Lisa and I were given a great deal of favor and immediately began ministry activities. I was afforded greater opportunities to preach and teach. We started a mid-week alternative worship service that combined praise and worship with discussion and visual arts. I started attending regional and national conferences for this association of churches and writing for an emerging church movement magazine.

It may seem odd, but when we left the Catholic Church we still felt a connection to its theology and liturgy. Although we had become frustrated on a personal level with the people in the Church there was still much that we loved about her. We often found ourselves defending Church teaching against misconceptions and prejudices. I was often drafted into the role of apologist for the Church even as a “former” Catholic. I was able to explain topics like Mary, the saints and infallibility in ways that were disarming and resulted in a better understanding and appreciation of the Catholic Church’s doctrine. We also used some of our Catholic background covertly while doing ministry. We taught lectio divina in our small group and introduced ashes and an Ash Wednesday alternative worship service.

Recently my teenage daughter (who now wants to be a nun) asked me how we could have left the Eucharist during those years. This was obviously a big issue for our Catholic friends and my family as well. It was also one of our biggest hurdles to leaving the Church originally. How we got around that is a lesson in the ability of the human mind to rationalize just about anything. I had a degree in Catholic theology from a doctrinally sound university. I had spent hours in Eucharistic adoration. I taught on the Eucharist as a youth minister and religion teacher. How could I have turned my back on the Eucharistic Lord? I was guilty of idolatry. I had desired ministry as the highest good. I had convinced myself, and my wife, that “doing the stuff” that God was calling us to was the most important thing. At first I told myself that giving up the Eucharist was a necessary sacrifice to be able to reach others with the gospel. Then I started rationalizing away the doctrine of transubstantiation. I told myself that the spiritual is more real than the physical, heaven more real than earth. If I wanted Jesus to be really spiritually present, then all I needed was my faith. I misappropriated Eastern Orthodox theology that emphasized mystery to justify my new found position that Jesus really was present, but we just can’t understand how he is present. All it took was some theological cartwheels backed up by blinded zeal to do the ministry I wanted to do.

After a couple of years of interning and assisting, Lisa and I were commissioned to plant a new church in our current hometown of Lakeland, FL. Finally, we had arrived. Now we could build the kind of church we wanted and do the ministry we wanted without having to answer to anyone but ourselves and our hand-picked leadership team. We named our new church Matthew’s House and intended from the start to be an unconventional church. We wanted to start as a house church and remain as a network of house churches as we grew. We wanted to reach out to people who had been turned off or burned out on traditional church. Our new faith community was soon full of pastors’ kids who had grown up and burnt out in church, faculty and staff from the nearby Assemblies of God affiliated college, and some folks who were ready to give up on church altogether.

We felt more strongly than ever that we needed to incorporate more of what we valued and missed from the Catholic Church. We celebrated communion weekly as I used prayers from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. We followed the liturgical seasons and even liturgical colors for our table cloth and candles. I taught how communion was something more than just a symbol. When our third daughter was born I taught about the sacramental nature of baptism and the validity of infant baptism. To my surprise our ragtag group of burned out evangelicals and Pentecostals fully embraced this teaching. I baptized my daughter and several others in those years secretly using the Catholic Rite of Baptism. We studied the Church Fathers and questioned Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura. We studied the communion of saints. The more we introduced our community to various Catholic and Orthodox theology and practices the more they were interested in it, and the more I began to question what I was doing.

I can remember talking to Lisa one day about the direction we were taking our church. I remember thinking that we were just kidding ourselves, that we really weren’t an evangelical church anymore, at least not by conventional terms. At the same time, we felt a deep responsibility for our community. We couldn’t just walk away from them, but we didn’t know if they would be ready to follow us, or where exactly we were going. We started to look into different denominations that might accept our little faith community. We looked at the Eastern Orthodox, the Evangelical Episcopal Church, and even the Old Catholic Church, a schismatic group that split with Rome after the First Vatican Council. On Easter Sunday 2007 we gathered in our home for our Sunday worship. By now we had grown to two house churches but we gathered together as one for Easter. The newspaper had sent their religion correspondent and a photographer to Matthew’s House the week before and that Sunday’s paper had a full color, above the fold, front page picture and story about us. That was our last Easter away from the Catholic Church.

Lisa and I deeply felt that everything we were trying to do were simply attempts at being Catholic without having the honesty to admit it. More than anything we realized that our rationalizations about Jesus being really present in our communion every week couldn’t have been more untrue. Although everyone in our house church loved our communion service, we knew in our spirits what his sacramental presence was like, and we knew that our attempts at recreating that were woefully inadequate. It was like a light finally went on and we realized our hunger for the Eucharistic presence of the Lord. It became an all-consuming desire; we had to return to the Eucharist. We met with the leadership team of Matthew’s House and told them we were stepping down as pastors and returning to the Catholic Church. No one was surprised to hear the news and they all blessed us and encouraged us. When we told those who were meeting in our home they were likewise very supportive. In fact, one family decided to join the local Orthodox Church saying they couldn’t go back to a Protestant one (they just couldn’t agree to the papacy). A young adult from our group decided to become Catholic and I had the honor of being his sponsor. Finally another family also expressed a desire to join the Church. I was allowed to be their RCIA instructor, but they moved out of town before finishing their formation.

Since coming back to the Church we’ve had our share of ups and downs, but I believe that the time we spent away from the Church has given us a fresh perspective and deeper love for her. We learned many lessons with important applications as individual believers and, I believe, for the Church at large. I think the Church is missing opportunities to keep Catholics, call back those who have left, and attract others who are searching for spiritual meaning. I also believe that too many fall into the trap of believing that following God’s will means trying to find out what God wants you to do, rather than becoming who God wants you to be.

I love sharing my love for Christ in and through his Church with others. I love getting my fellow Catholics excited about their faith. Both my wife and I have become actively involved in our parish. We’ve been blessed to help with a dynamic young adult ministry and a Eucharistic adoration ministry that combines adoration with praise, worship and meditation. We’ve even started our own speaking ministry to share our love for Christ and the Church with others. I only hope my story and the lessons I learned can become a blessing for others and for the Church.

To learn more about the Ponchaks or contact them regarding their speaking ministry you can visit Tom’s blog at www.CasualTheology.com and www.mysteriumdei.com or Lisa’s blog at www.BeautifulThorns.com.

If you have found this story helpful in your spiritual journey we hope you will consider sharing it. Have feedback or would like to share your story? Email us at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Published in Catholic Reverts
Sunday, 31 August 2014 20:13

Evangelical Convert: Adam Crawford

Evangelical Convert

Adam Crawford

A lifelong Protestant, Adam came home to the Catholic Church when he was 39 years old. He currently lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California with his wife of 20 years Missy, and their three boys. Adam also blogs at his site, A Faith-Full Life.

Your Starting Point Doesn’t Always Determine Your Conclusion…

Part One - Context

A pastor friend who had heard of my conversion to Catholicism cautioned me that, “Your starting point always determines your conclusion.” Often this is a maxim that I would wholeheartedly agree with. I too have recognized that frequently a faulty conclusion is indeed the result of an erroneous starting point. This certainly seems to be a maxim that can be applied to many endeavors involving human reason and logic – endeavors such as science, mathematics, philosophy, and theology. And yet, while this maxim seems to generally hold true, there are exceptions to the rule. In science for instance, one starts with a hypothesis (starting point) which often must be abandoned during the course of research, since your research may lead you to a very different conclusion indeed. In theology and religion, these exceptions to the rule are most often referred to as conversions – i.e. people whose starting point (like Saul of Tarsus) very much does not determine their conclusion!

Having said that, I wanted to start by providing a bit of context for my conversion story. I was extremely fortunate to be raised in a Christian home by parents who did an excellent job of acquainting me with the Holy Scriptures. Our Christian faith was a very central part of our life and identity as a family. Within our faith, I was exposed to both ends of the spectrum so to speak, both to legalistic and fundamentalist churches that were very dogmatic and certain about everything, and also to more “regular” denominations that were very certain about some things (the necessity of speaking in tongues) but not so certain about others (predestination vs. free will). Over the years, we attended various denominational and non-denominational churches, but they were all characterized by the idea that the bible alone was our only basis for truth, faith, morals, and authority. Many of these churches also tended to interpret Scripture in very literal terms.

Nevertheless, I frequently found myself at odds with the accepted theological beliefs of our Christian friends, many of whom could probably be best described as Evangelical Fundamentalists. As a result, I frequently felt that my own views bordered on the “unorthodox”, leading me to feel that I struggled with issues of faith more than most. In particular, starting when I was about seventeen, I really began to struggle with the idea of the Bible alone. I couldn’t seem to get a good answer as to where this idea had come from or more importantly where the Bible asserted this doctrine. I found myself at odds with the doctrine of sola Scriptura for primarily logical reasons. If it is, “the Bible and the Bible alone” then where does the Bible make this claim? If anything when I studied the Bible I found that it seemed to argue against this idea as it was full of times when God spoke both through direct revelation, and also times when He spoke through others (prophets, priests, judges, kings, etc.) to His people. In Scripture I saw that God revealed Himself through His creation, through His incarnate Son who dwelt among us, through the disciples who, “handed on … what [they] had in turn received:1” (oral tradition), through His Church, etc. Obviously this revelation was inscripturated and preserved for those of us who came later, and Scripture is indeed God’s revelation to us, but this was never the primary means by which God choose to reveal Himself. In other words, He didn’t, with the notable exception of the Ten Commandments, choose to simply drop a written users manual from heaven in order to communicate with us – and even that didn’t end up working so well!

I also encountered many of the problems that come along with a very literalistic interpretation of Scripture. For example, most of the churches we attended failed to take into account the fact that the Bible is ancient Near Eastern literature and comprises a wide variety of literary types. Many pastors also forgot that the author may have intended a meaning that has nothing to do with our modern context. Additionally, I struggled with the ideas of faith alone, faith as somehow opposed to science, and especially the lack of agreement over countless different doctrines. Everyone seemed to understand Scripture in a different way, and it profoundly disturbed me that there seemed to be no way to know with any certainty what the bible meant about anything. The only “solution” proposed for this problem was to learn to accept it. To me this was no solution, and left only a gnawing frustration. The Bible was asserted to be our only guide for all matters of faith and morals, and yet no one agreed on what it meant, and no one else seemed to find this particularly problematic. I wouldn’t have categorized any of these issues as being fundamentally Protestant versus Catholic at that point, as I honestly had very little notion of what Catholics believed. I have since discovered that almost all of what I thought I knew of Catholicism was either flat out wrong, or very misleading.

I should clarify that I bear no ill will towards any of those churches or their people; on the contrary, many of my closest friends, people who are unquestionably fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, are still Protestant. Having said that, I always felt that I stood very much at the fringe in these communities with questions that no one had good answers for. Since I didn’t have any frame of reference at that point to categorize any of these issues as Protestant vs. Catholic, I wound up thinking that these were issues that I had with Christianity in general - issues that most other Christians didn’t share. I felt that my faith was lacking and my views were “unorthodox” Christian views without realizing that they were probably more accurately unorthodox Protestant views. As it turns out, many of my views are entirely orthodox from a Catholic perspective!

When I was nineteen I went to bible college for a year at Western Baptist College in Salem (now Corbin College) with my fiancé, where I majored in youth ministry. The next year we were married, and I quit bible school to work to pay off the bills we had accrued after one year of private Christian college – around $40k for the both of us – and that was 20 years ago! I continued to pursue my theological study on my own, going through countless Protestant theology books and slowly trying to piece together my “own” beliefs out of all the competing theories. I did a lot of study through my early adulthood and was very confident when it came to the claims of Christ, but on countless other issues I kept ending up with different conclusions than everyone else when it came to our faith. I would sit very quietly any time creationism came up for instance because I had views which, from a fundamentalist mindset, would potentially call into question my very salvation. I also found that I had a much greater respect for communion than many of the Christians I worshipped with; for them communion was merely symbolic, and often times entirely optional or only partaken of very erratically. The more I studied Scripture, especially the Bread of Life discourse in John 6, the more I was convinced that there was something more going on - something that wasn’t merely symbolic.

And, increasingly I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with the implications of Scripture as the only measuring stick that we used. Scripture was used to justify everything in peoples lives from their unwise life decisions regarding jobs and finances, to their multiple divorces and remarriages, or even their homosexuality. I’m not saying that we don’t all make mistakes and bad choices, I was just bothered when God and the Bible got blamed for all of them. I also noticed that even when Scripture was interpreted by those who were honestly trying to follow God and to submit to Scripture’s authority in their lives, they invariably arrived at very different conclusions from one another. In other words far from Scripture being the “final authority” it really just opened the floodgates for division and a lack of certainty within the church.

This division within the church – especially when it came to our inability to even agree on what constituted salvation, has always bothered me tremendously. Gradually, I gravitated more and more towards “Bible churches” like Calvary Chapel, and non-denominational churches that refused to take a stand on anything that could be considered remotely divisive, but fundamentally sought to bring people into a personal relationship with Christ. This could be both good (less divisiveness), and bad (a lessened ability to proclaim truth). They basically taught a “relationship with Christ” as the penultimate truth – the only truth which really mattered (No Creed but Christ). Many of the “Bible churches” and non-denominational churches could probably be best summed up by the statement, “Just me, my bible, and Jesus.”

This resulted in churches that were very uncertain about almost everything doctrinally. Churches where no one could say for sure that this is what the Scriptures mean when they said ___________. Churches that tended to start with the assumption that as mere men it was presumptuous for us to think that we as finite beings could be “certain” about the Infinite. And, there is an element of truth to this. God is Infinite and Uncreated, Triune in nature, too Numinous, too Holy, and beyond our comprehension. But ultimately this overall lack of certainty on much of the Protestant side results in the statement, “We can’t really know for sure” or perhaps, “We can’t agree with any degree of certainty on what ought to be sure.” And I was told that we had to be okay with that, because that is the way things are. In fact, those who were most certain about any given doctrine were looked down on as being arrogant and legalists – which often times they were!

Through the years that followed, it seems as if I was always involved in ministry of one kind or another, and as I said, I really enjoyed studying theology and especially teaching others. We moved to Boise, Idaho when I was around thirty, and got involved with a small non-denominational church in Kuna, Idaho called New Beginnings. Our time at New Beginnings was wonderful! Where previously my learning and growth had always been largely up to my own studies and discipline (or lack thereof) I now found myself in a community of believers where I was actually being taught and challenged by others. Many of those in leadership were involved in some manner with Boise Bible College, and one of the founding pastors was a professor there. During our time there, I had the opportunity to take un-accredited classes through Boise Bible college for around two and a half years and I was asked to move into a ministerial role serving as one of the pastors at the church. Feeling led by God to move towards ministry as a full time vocation, I even applied and was accepted into a Masters of Divinity Program through Fuller Seminary. Due to my previous individual studies and my ministerial experience they were willing to make a special provision for me in spite of the fact that I hadn’t completed an undergraduate degree. I was definitely moving along in a certain direction, and for me that direction did not include the Catholic Church!

Part Two - Catholicism and the Reformation

Before moving on I should note that I’ve always been fairly anti-Catholic. Growing up I was raised in a context that was dubious about whether or not Catholics were even saved, and I was even exposed to the occasional fundamentalist who was convinced that the Catholic Church was the beast of Revelation and the Pope was the anti-Christ! If you had suggested to me a few years ago that I would ever be considering a conversion to Catholicism I would have literally laughed in your face. I had not the faintest inkling that the Catholic Church was even a remote consideration. I would have thought it about as likely that I would convert to Islam or Judaism. If asked, I would have probably allowed that there were “real” Christians in the Catholic Church, but probably more at a uninformed lay level, i.e. the people of “simple faith in Christ” who were being led astray by those higher-ups within the Catholic hierarchy.

There was, however, a gradual softening in my attitudes to towards Catholicism over the years. Even as early as junior high I had talked with a gymnastics coach of mine who was a strong Catholic and asked him about prayers offered to Mary and the saints. I was surprised, even at twelve, to find a very reasonable answer given and one I couldn’t easily refute. From that point on prayer to the saints wasn’t something which I personally practiced, but I had begun to understand it and no longer viewed it as “wrong.” Additionally, I had believers in my life who began to expose me to the writings of people like Henri Nouwen, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Merton, and others. I began to realize that some of the authors whom I most admired and who had influenced me the most were either Catholics themselves, or very Catholic in their theology like C.S. Lewis who was a member of the Anglican Church.

As I began to read these Catholic authors, theologians, and philosophers, I discovered that not only were they “Christian” (to my great surprise!) but in many cases profoundly so. They were, in fact, some of the most deeply committed Christians, insightful theologians, and brilliant philosophers I had yet been exposed to. This didn’t change my mind on Catholicism, but it definitely began to soften my previously superior attitude. This exposure in fact softened my anti-Catholic views to the point where I began to suspect the reverse of my earlier position. Namely, that at the “higher levels” of Catholicism there were perhaps some of the very best Christian theologians, apologists, and philosophers. I continued to feel however, that large portions of the Catholic laity didn’t necessarily share this deeper understanding of Christianity. This is sadly probably the case with not just the Catholic Church, but most of church-going Christians in general. As I continued to study Catholicism with a progressively more open attitude I was very surprised to find that much of what I thought I knew about Catholic belief was either flat out wrong, didn’t do justice to the nuances of the position, or was based on “straw-man” arguments. I also discovered that many of the authors I had been reading were converts to the faith. Men like G.K. Chesterton, Peter Kreeft, and Cardinal John Henry Newman who once famously said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” While I am not sure that this is a maxim that would apply to everyone, it was certainly true in my case.

I decided to teach a Church history class at the church I was pastoring at. I wanted to teach it at a collegiate level, and to try and cover a period of time from Christ thru the present in about sixteen weeks of one hour classes plus homework for the students. I wanted to tie each portion of Church history to a particular Christian of that period who had really made a difference in the life of the church. My goal was to give attendees some familiarity with the heroes of the faith since the time of Christ – to provide positive role models who would hopefully inspire our congregation to live lives of heroic virtue themselves. I didn’t think of these “heroes” as saints, nor did I realize that this idea, this communion of saints, was a deeply Catholic one. It was an ambitious undertaking, especially for me as I had never really studied Church history in any sort of intensive way. All of my studies of Church history up to that point had either been broad overviews, or very thorough studies of particular aspects of Church history such as the Reformation, or the early American Revivals. Like most Protestants, for me Church history began in Acts and then in some vague and indefinite way “veered off course” around the time of Constantine. Then there were even vaguer interludes of crusades and inquisitions, with Church history thankfully resuming some 1500 years after Christ with the Protestant Reformation. I had, of course, been acquainted with snippets of Augustine and Aquinas, but had never really understood them to be Catholic. I spent countless hours preparing to teach my class and reading multiple Protestant books on the history of the church. As I studied, for the first time it came home to me that, for the first 1,500 years of Christianity – for fully three quarters of all Christian history – to be Christian was to be Catholic.

All the early church fathers, saints, theologians, etc. were Catholic. There was no other expression of the church until the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. I know that it’s kind of dumb, but this floored me. I had never taken the time to consider it from an intellectual perspective before. From the time of Christ until some 400 years ago there was no question as to whether Catholic theology, teaching, and practice were an authentic expression of Christianity – they were the only expression of Christianity which existed. I shouldn’t say no question, because there have always been heretics and dissenters to the true faith, but heresies aside, the Church was one, holy, apostolic and Catholic until very recently in her history. I will readily admit that reform was needed within the Catholic Church during the time of the Protestant Reformation; but in reality the Church is always and in every age in need of reform because she is composed of sinners such as myself. It is a historical fact, however, that Luther didn’t intend to leave the Catholic church but to reform it. Furthermore, his excommunication from the Catholic Church was for his heresy - not his efforts at reformation. Consider the following quote from Luther himself:

That the Roman Church is more honored by God than all others is not to be doubted. St, Peter and St. Paul, forty-six Popes, some hundreds of thousands of martyrs, have laid down their lives in its communion, having overcome Hell and the world; so that the eyes of God rest on the Roman church with special favor. Though nowadays everything is in a wretched state, it is no ground for separating from the Church. On the contrary, the worse things are going, the more should we hold close to her, for it is not by separating from the Church that we can make her better. We must not separate from God on account of any work of the devil, nor cease to have fellowship with the children of God who are still abiding in the pale of Rome on account of the multitude of the ungodly. There is no sin, no amount of evil, which should be permitted to dissolve the bond of charity or break the bond of unity of the body. For love can do all things, and nothing is difficult to those who are united.2

And this is precisely where I began to have my own problems, because when I began to take a hard look at the five solae of the Protestant Reformation - the reasons which the Protestants gave for leaving the Catholic Church - I found that I disagreed with most of them.

I’ve already covered some of my objections to sola Scriptura, but as a side note, it seems telling that even the fathers of the Reformation who believed in a doctrine of Scripture alone still felt it necessary to write extensively on how to properly interpret Scripture so as to arrive at the same conclusions that they did. For instance, have you ever tried to get through all of Calvin’s institutes?! It was around this time that I came across an interesting quote from the Orthodox Church in America.

“…the Orthodox Church does not accept the notion that everyone can properly interpret the Bible as he or she wants. Some Protestant bodies believe in this, but Orthodoxy does not. We say that the Church has the ability to properly interpret Scripture, and this means that we should study and adopt the interpretations that have been handed down over the 2000 years of the Church’s living history. Given the fact that that which is contained in Scripture is the inspired word of God, revealed to mankind and not to a single individual, no individual has the right or ability to offer ‘the’ definitive interpretation of Scripture.3

I also took issue with Luther’s teachings on sola fide – by faith alone. Justification by faith alone without the necessity of good works seems to contradict the vast majority of Scriptural teaching on the subject. This contradiction between Luther’s theology and Scriptural teaching was emphasized by Luther’s addition of the word “alone” to St. Paul’s declaration in Romans 3:28 that it is by faith that we are justified, and his desire to entirely remove the book of James (which he labeled an Epistle of straw) due to it’s assertion that faith without works is dead. This seemed to be a very inconsistent position for someone who had just affirmed the sufficiency and authority of Scripture alone for all matters of faith and morals!

My problems continued with the doctrine of sola gratia or “grace alone.” Contrary to Catholic teaching that man can cooperate with the graces given him by God, and that works done in Christ can have value; Luther taught that man cannot by any action of his own, even acting under the influence of grace, cooperate with God’s grace in order to “merit” greater graces for himself or others. In Luther’s view, even as Christians our works have no value and are, “as filthy rags.” Since even the good works done in Christ have no value we must rely on God’s grace alone. But this creates serious problems when you consider the inverse of this doctrine; namely that our lack of good works and our sin will also not in any way adversely affect our relationship with God or our salvation.

Consider the following quote from Martin Luther, “If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.4This however stands in stark contrast to St. Paul who writes, “Should we go on sinning that grace may abound? May it never be!5 and, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No sexually immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.6 I also have lesser issues with the two remaining solae which I won’t waste time on here.

I’ve spoken to many Protestant friends who have agreed with me on various aspects of my objections to the five solae, but then say that those aren’t the reasons why they reject Catholicism. They have their own reasons! Maybe they reject Catholicism because of its teaching of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist – but Luther and Calvin still believed in this after their split from the Catholic Church. In fact this doctrine was the reason for the first of the divisions which have plagued the Protestant movement for the last 500 years, this one occurring between Luther and Zwingli. Or perhaps they have issues with Catholicism due to the veneration of Mary and the saints, but Luther himself continued to highly venerate Mary saying among other things,“[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. ..She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough.7 John Calvin said, “It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor.” and Zwingli said, “I esteem immensely the Mother of God” and “The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow.”

Often my Protestant friends don’t realize how many “Catholic” beliefs and practices were held by the fathers of the Reformation. Not because they were Catholic beliefs, but rather because they were the historic, orthodox, and Scriptural positions of Christians from the time of Christ forward! For instance, they often don’t realize that the fathers of the Reformation believed in the necessity of baptism for salvation, that they practiced infant baptism, and that they taught that there was no salvation outside of the Church. Granted, they took that doctrine to mean their church rather than the Catholic Church as we see in Calvin’s remarks, “Herman has, if I am not mistaken, in good faith returned to the fellowship of the Church. He has confessed that outside the Church there is no salvation, and that the true Church is with us. Therefore, it was defection when he belonged to a sect separated from it.8 Nevertheless, this was the historic Christian position – not just of the Catholic Church but also of the fathers of the Reformation.

The bottom line was the more I looked at it, the more it seemed as if, The objections to Catholicism that the Reformers initially held weren’t objections that I shared, and the objections that my friends held weren’t objections that the early Reformers shared!

This led me to begin to study what the early Church actually believed when it came to Sacred Tradition, confession, the Eucharist, the communion of the saints, and other “Catholic” positions. To my shock I found that virtually all Catholic doctrine found its roots in the teachings of the early Church – and almost all of it is attested to within the first two hundred years after Christ! There has obviously been an ongoing process of defining doctrine along with the refinement and development of that doctrine, but I was shocked at just how many “Catholic” doctrines were actually early Church doctrines. {As a side note, I highly recommend Jimmy Akin’s book The Fathers Know Best which arranges more than 900 quotes from the early Church Fathers by topic.} This destroyed my previous assumption that somehow around the time of Constantine or shortly thereafter, the church was led into error, probably largely due to Roman influence, and that human reason and meaningless church tradition gradually replaced the true authority of the Scriptures. Instead, I was forced to ask the question, “If the early Church was wrong – was she wrong from the very start? If not, why have we dispensed with so much of what the early Church believed, practiced, and taught based on the say so of Martin Luther and other Protestant Reformers?” This is still following the tradition of men – just men of much more recent descent.

And that is fundamentally my problem. There are logical inconsistencies with the argument on the Protestant side that I just can’t seem to resolve. You have men arguing against the authority of the Catholic Church and for the authority of Scripture alone, but ultimately all they are saying is that they have the right to authoritative interpretation and the Church doesn’t. This requires us to believe that God didn’t work through His Church to teach right doctrine and properly interpret Scripture, but instead we must believe that God has worked through Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other “Reformers” to teach right doctrine and properly interpret scripture. Protestants assert that the Reformation was divinely ordered and necessitated a split from the Church which Christ founded, but most of them don’t even agree with the theology or doctrines of the original Reformers. And, in the end, I just couldn’t seem to find a logically consistent argument for the split from the historic Catholic Church.

Part Three - Conversion

Even though I was raised being told that we couldn’t be certain about a great many things, I was also raised to believe that truth was absolute. If that seems like somewhat of a contradiction - well, it seemed that way to me as well. The absolute nature of truth comes from the premise that truth conforms to a fundamental reality of which God is the foundation. If truth conforms to reality at a fundamental level, then by definition it is both certain and absolute. That means that truth isn’t relative in spite of the morally (and now religiously) relative society that we live in, because truth by its very nature excludes. Not in a negative sense, but in the sense that two diametrically opposed things can’t both be true at the same time. Sometimes, people will object asking whether mere men can even apprehend the truth. While it should be admitted that just because absolute truth exists, this doesn’t mean that it can be apprehended with certainty. But, I would point out that this is the same slippery slope which leads to agnosticism. The agnostic position is primarily the acknowledgement that God may exist, but that we can’t know for sure – i.e. that we can’t have certainty. For me, introducing divine revelation into the equation really helps to answer the question of whether we can know and apprehend truth.

This lack of certainty has always bothered me intellectually, but it began to bother me in increasingly more pragmatic ways as well. As a young man, my father had the unfortunate job of trying to answer all my questions about sexuality. Incidentally he did a very admirable job – he would schedule entire weekend get-aways with each of his kids out in a cabin in the woods just in order to “have the talk.” Certain things were very clear – no sex outside of marriage. Other things were much less clear. Is masturbation right or wrong? My dad explained that he was raised having been taught that masturbation was a sin. However, James Dobson, an Evangelical Christian psychologist said that masturbation was natural and not a sin. Who was right? He wasn’t sure, and so he couldn’t present me with a certain answer. These same issues plagued me many years later when I became a father and began to have “the talk” with my boys. I found myself struggling with the same questions that my father had, namely, “What do I tell them?” Lengthy conversations with bible college professors and friends who were pastors, led in turn to lengthy conversations with my sons which amounted to reservations, warnings, cautions, and a whole lot of “I don’t know”. Probably better if you try not to; but it’s only natural. I don’t want you to feel guilty, but you really have to watch out for lust. On the other hand, I’d rather have you manage your lust in that way than actually have sex outside of marriage…

This lack of certainty began to bother me even more profoundly when I became a pastor. To have others ask me questions and to only be able to give them multiple options to choose from while pointing out the pros and cons of each position was incredibly frustrating. To have to say, “We can’t really know for sure…” and to find it as deeply unsatisfying as they did even as I tried to convince them that, “that’s just the way things are” was for me completely unacceptable. It felt wrong. It felt untrue. I was not sure that I was willing to accept the premise that we can’t be certain. That it was somehow “wrong” or simplistic and naive to desire certainty.

To me this issue of truth and certainty seems to be a fundamental difference between the Protestant and the Catholic. Within my Protestant upbringing there was no “certainty” on what constitutes and is necessary for salvation. Whether salvation can be lost. Whether baptism is necessary. Whether baptism and communion are Sacramental. Whether or not Sacraments exist at all. Whether works are necessary in addition to faith, and the list goes on and on. And I found it unacceptable to be unable to answer our congregation with any degree of certainty on not just these basic issues of faith, but also questions of morality as well. Is masturbation wrong? Is birth control wrong? Is divorce and remarriage okay? What about homosexuality? For me, the answer cannot be, “I don’t know” or, “well, let me tell you what I think…” This is unacceptable to me as both a father and as one who was shepherding God’s people.

So, do I believe that we can know everything with certainty? Not remotely. Do I believe that we should be able to articulate what is necessary for salvation and to live a life which is pleasing to God? I do. Do I believe that we should be able to declare with all Christians everywhere the historic Creeds of Christendom, confident that they are true and certain summaries of our faith? I do.

We had moved to Northern California and I had taken a new job – largely so that I could begin to work on my Mdiv at Fuller’s Sacramento campus, and all of a sudden I found myself at the proverbial crossroads of life. I had taken a step of faith and moved with my family so that I could get my degree and pursue full-time vocational ministry, and now I was seriously considering not only the claims of the Catholic Church, but also what claims that Church may have on my life. I found myself reflecting on a passage from Saint Mark’s Gospel where Christ commands the disciples to go before Him by boat to Bethsaida. They obey but are forced to fight the wind and the waves all night long before Christ comes to them around 3am walking on the water. He comforts them, calms the wind and the waves, and they proceed together to the other side of the lake where they come to land at Gennesarat9. Did you catch that? He tells them to go to a certain place, allows them to struggle all night to try and get to where He directed them to go, and then comes to them and brings them somewhere else entirely. No comment is made, no explanation is given.

Looking back, I feel very certain that I was following the leading of Christ when I applied to seminary and moved my family to California. He just hadn’t told me yet where He was truly leading me and why.

Coming to the point of actual conversion (for lack of a better word) was unbelievably difficult. Not because of doubts – for the first time in my life I was receiving answers to my previously unanswerable questions! The difficulty was instead in accepting the words of Christ who said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.10 The difficulty was in forsaking friends and family and church for the sake of Christ. Of letting go of my plans and dreams and desires and giving them to Jesus. Of trusting Him to lead me even when I didn’t know where my final destination would be, or why the journey there had become so difficult.

Throughout this process, our friends and family were incredibly gracious, but they were also very concerned for our wellbeing. They were much like I was before I began to truly study Catholic teaching; they had many misunderstandings about Catholicism, and many wrong notions. As I have remarked on my homepage, “It is often difficult to describe to others all the individual steps taken along the path which have brought you along the way to where you are today. Many have perhaps misunderstood my decision as a leaving behind of one thing for something else, when in reality the experience has been one of adding to, not of taking away – of entering into the fullness of the Christian Faith. There have been many who have asked me why I felt that it was necessary to enter into the Catholic Church; and I cannot find a more perfect answer than that of G.K. Chesterton who wrote that, “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” I would add that for me, there was also the indescribable joy of finding my home – of coming home to the place where I belong.”

For me the process was one of intensive study for almost two years before I finally told my wife that I needed to begin attending Mass and exploring for myself the claims of the Catholic Church. I promised her that I would continue to go to church with her and the kids, but that I could no longer resist God’s pull in my life towards Catholicism. When I said that, I honestly didn’t know if she would agree to attend Mass with me or not! But she was willing to go for my sake, and for six months we attended a local non-denominational church in the morning and St. Teresa of Avila’s parish in the evening as a family. My kids really got a lot of church during that time! Missy and I both agreed that we would enroll in RCIA classes (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), and nine months later we were received together into the Catholic Church on Easter Vigil of 2013. I can honestly say that that Easter Vigil service was one of the most profound and joyful experiences of my life!

All of this isn’t to say that I no longer have any questions at all or that I am under some delusion as to the Catholic Church being perfect. She has obviously had her share of failings and problems over the years and will continue to do so, maybe even more so now that I am a member! There have been priests who were dismal failures, bishops and Popes who were motivated by greed, selfishness, and a desire for power rather than love. The Church has done things both amazing and horrific in the name of God. But…she is Christ’s bride, made holy and without blemish by Christ Himself and by the righteous deeds of His saints11. And like all brides, she has been joined to Him that the two may become one flesh. And it is through this incarnational mystery that we, the bride of Christ, become in that marital union of one flesh, the very body of Christ, with He Himself as our head12.

You see, for me, the balance has shifted to the point where I can no longer in good conscience consider myself Protestant. As I pointed out in my post Sola Scriptura ~ An Anachronism:

“I have a sizable problem with any theory that proposes itself in contradiction to the words of Christ who said, “And I tell you,…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.13Every Christian denomination which has since split from that Church, has essentially proposed some variation of the theory above. Namely that Christ was wrong; His Church was not preserved by Him, the gates of Hell did prevail against it, and it has now become necessary to split from the Church which He founded and start an entirely new church in order to return to the original teachings of Christ…”

I have come to the conviction that it was indeed Christ who founded His Church - not Luther, or Calvin, or Zwingli, or the King of England, or John and Charles Wesley, or Joseph Smith, or Chuck Smith, or anyone else since that time. I have decided to trust in the plain words of Christ preserved in the Scriptures for us. I have, as a matter of fact, decided that when He guaranteed His Church that He would be with her always – even to the very end of the age; and that when He promised her that He would preserve her against the very gates of Hell14 - He meant it. I have decided that if I am to be His disciple then I should begin with obedience, and in obedience, belong to the Church that He established. And finally, I have decided that Christ is not into polygamy – He desires only one bride.

I will leave you with the words of G.K. Chesterton who wrote, “It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment a man ceases to pull against it he feels a tug towards it. The moment he ceases to shout it down he begins to listen to it with pleasure. The moment he tries to be fair to it he begins to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair.”

Adam works for Permobil and TiLite providing custom complex power and manual wheelchairs for individuals with disabilities. He and his family are active members of St. Teresa of Avila’s Parish in Auburn, CA. He also enjoys blogging at his siteA Faith-Full Life.

Adam Crawford Recommended Reading:

  • The Fathers Know Best - Jimmy Akin
  • Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic - Patrick Madrid

  • The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth - Scott Hahn

Adam Crawford Recommended CD’s:

  • The Lord’s Supper - John Michael Talbot
  • All The People Said Amen - Matt Maher

1“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

2 Martin Luther – An Instruction on Certain Articles: Late February 1519

3 Orthodox Church in America Website

4 A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg (Segment) Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores from: Dr. Martin Luther’s Saemmtliche Schriften Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15,cols. 2585-2590.

5 Romans 6:1-2

6 Ephesians 5:3-6

7 Martin Luther – Sermon, Christmas, 1531

8 John Calvin – Letters of John Calvin, trans. M. Gilchrist, ed. J.Bonnet, New Y­ork: Burt Franklin, 1972,

I: 110-111.

9 Mark 6:45-53

10 Matthew 10:34-39

11 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27, “…and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Revelation 19:7-9

12 “He is the head of the body, the church;” Colossians 1:18a, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” 24, “These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.” 2:17-19

13 Matthew 16:18

14 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

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Published in Evangelical
Monday, 05 May 2014 00:45

Agnostic Convert: Whitney Belprez

Agnostic Convert

Whitney Belprez

Whitney Belprez was received into the Catholic Church in 2008 in Grand Rapids, MI. She and her husband own & operate Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy in Lowell, Michigan (www.twosparrowsfarm.com) She also blogs at www.simplylivingloving.com

I grew up in a home that was politely Protestant yet sometimes hostile towards organized religion. My younger brother and I were baptized in a interdenominational church when I was 5, and though I remember occasionally attending Sunday School, most religious endeavors and efforts had ceased by the time I was in elementary school. I always felt a curiosity toward my friends and classmates who were from families of faith, but generally didn’t feel left out – all but one of my friends came from fairly non-religious families. I entered high school externally indifferent about the existence of God, and even professed some strong agnostic beliefs, but deep down I never lost this feeling that there was something more.

Whether by Divine Providence, or just good luck, I exclusively dated Catholic guys throughout high school (interestingly enough, all of French Canadian descent). Through them, I was introduced to the world of Catholicism – it was mysterious, sensual, and completely foreign to me. The first time I ever entered a Catholic church was to attend Mass with my boyfriend and his family when I was still in high school. As his family sat and unfolded the kneelers I said, “Oh wow! Footrests!” I honestly thought the church had footrests installed and had no idea that they were used to kneel in prayer. Needless to say, his family didn’t find it very amusing!

Even when I wasn’t dating a Catholic, I still thought about the Church and somehow felt drawn there from time to time. I remember feeling something physically different about being in a Catholic church than any other church I had ever been in. I remember feeling warmth, comfort, peace, and calm wash over me as I would sit silently. I loved the way the candles flickered and gently illuminated the mesmerizing statues of Mary. It would be years before my heart was open enough to identify that physical feeling with Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist, and even longer before I recognized Mary as my mother, gently and patiently calling her child into her Son's waiting arms.

Late in high school, I went through a series of trials that included a serious medical condition complicated by the end of my parents’ 20-year marriage. At this time, I met the man whom I would eventually marry. He was, of course, a cradle Catholic and French Canadian, but something was different about his faith – and especially his family’s.

Meeting my future husband’s family proved difficult and challenging to everything I had come to believe and think. However, never had I seen people live their faith in a more authentic way. Not one of them claimed to be superior or holy in any way, but they joyfully answered the call to pick up their cross and follow Christ, even when it made them unpopular, foolish, and counter-cultural. I certainly didn’t agree with what they believed, or necessarily how they chose to live their life – but I deeply respected how authentically they attempted to live their Catholic faith. I was hooked.

Around this same period of time, I made the seemingly innocuous decision to drop my math class my final semester of my senior year of high school, instead electing to take a Comparative Religion course that one English teacher at my high school offered. I fell in love with learning about the sacred writings, traditions, and practices of the world’s great faith traditions. So much so, that I declared a Religious Studies major in college the following Fall and devoted all of my time to discovering the world of religion that I was so ignorant to as a child. I had no idea what I would do with this degree, but I had found something I loved and trusted that the money would somehow follow (which it did).

The Fall of my freshman year in college, I was wrestling with whether or not I should pursue joining the Church; at this point, I had been attending Mass on a regular basis and had come to believe the core tenets of the faith. I had prayed, read Scripture, and was discovering the Catechism of the Catholic Church but finally decided that I was perfectly comfortable attending Mass, and even marrying in the Catholic Church, but not “making it official.” This was a decision that had taken me several months to come to, though I never felt any pressure from anyone in my "Catholic cohort,” and for this I was (and am) immensely grateful. Within days of making the decision to not enter the Church I woke up one morning and knew that God was inviting me to become Catholic - I knew it like I know that I love my daughter. It was the most real, physical feeling I had on my heart and felt in my whole body – I can’t explain it any more than I knew with my entire being what God was asking of me.

After this realization, I immediately started my parish’s R.C.I.A. program. I found the process at my parish to be very prayer-filled and spiritual, but was frustrated when no one provided any real answers to my questions about the Church, many of which included the “W.O.C.A.H.” topics (as I’ve heard them called): Women’s Ordination, Contraception, Abortion, and Homosexuality. Beyond that, I had questions of heaven, hell, purgatory, salvation, grace, the Sacraments (did I really need to confess my sins to a priest?), the list went on and on. I was so thankful that I had the Catechism that at least gave me the “official” Church teaching and could point me to other resources to help me, and it was truly my desire for the Eucharist that kept pulling me all the way to the Easter Vigil. I know this is a difficult issue for many people, but, oddly enough, it never was for me. I had felt an inexplicable physical difference between Catholic churches and Protestant churches - God’s grace had finally broken into my heart and I realized that the physical reaction I was having was Christ calling to me to Him in the Eucharist. After that realization, I yearned and desired to commune with him in that physical way.

At the Easter Vigil in 2008, I was fully received into the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I felt so blessed and joyful that God had led me home to the Catholic Church. Looking back, I was probably unprepared to be fully received into the Church that spring, but God’s wisdom and mercy are infinite, and my new faith played a key role in the development and growth of my (now) husband and I.

Becoming Catholic strengthened my relationship with my (now) husband, whose passion for the Church was ignited by my interest, and he began to rediscover his faith as an adult and take ownership of it. The summer after my reception into the Church, my boyfriend and I decided to move in together. His family was, of course, not supportive of us living together before marriage and my family thought we were young but had no moral problem with the decision. As Catholics, my husband and I knew what the Church taught about premarital sex, cohabitation, and contraception but had no understanding of the theology behind it. Though my fascination and love of the Church had grown, I still had no regard for the Church’s teachings on this matter. No one at our parish, including our priest, seemed to have any objection to our situation and lifestyle choice.

Though I would never admit it at the time, I had increasingly felt uncomfortable living together and engaging in premarital sex, though my discomfort was tempered when we became engaged just a few months after moving in together. Even though I wasn’t ready to listen, God was patiently and quietly directing us to a more moral choice - making the best of our less-than-perfect (or prayerful!) decisions.

We married a little more than a year after I become Catholic in the same church in which I was received into the Church. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful Sacrament, but once again I was disappointed with the lack of sacramental preparation we experienced - we were required to attend a one-day retreat through the Diocese, which was conversational fodder for our trip home. It was a concern when we discovered that many of the couples in our group had never discussed many of the retreat topics – finances, prayer life, family size, etc. We felt much more prepared for marriage, comparatively, yet not once did anyone even mention things like Theology of the Body or Natural Family Planning. It was quietly assumed that everyone was probably having premarital sex, contracepting, and cohabitating, and that seemed to be perfectly acceptable.

Our first year of marriage passed by generally uneventful – nothing seemed to have changed after getting married. We were living just like we did before, but we had just gotten a lot of gifts and a great big party. Around the time of our anniversary, I began feeling uncomfortable because I increasingly felt that God was asking us to stop using artificial contraception. Again, I can only describe it as this tangible, physical feeling that my entire being knew what God was asking of us (yet my will still wouldn’t obey!). I was put on the pill at 15 for irregular periods, like many young women are, and had continued to be on every brand and dose imaginable. My husband still saw no moral reason why we should stop using hormonal birth control, especially since he did not want to become pregnant until we were in a better financial position. I visited my doctor because I was experiencing excessive pain and bleeding from uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts, which he reluctantly said were probably a side effect of the prolonged hormonal contraception. This was enough to convince my husband to go off the pill.

Still, we had no idea how to practice Natural Family Planning - by God’s grace, my sister-in-law was (and is) an NFP instructor and when I quietly approached her about learning NFP she graciously, and without judgment, gave me all the resources I needed to transition to NFP. The entire year after I stopped taking the Pill was very difficult for us. It took my body a full six months to begin ovulating again, and it wasn’t until my body purged itself of all the synthetic hormones that had built up from years of taking the pill did I fully realize how damaging it had been to my entire being - body and spirit.

After we stopped contracepting, I had never felt healthier in my entire life – the cysts and fibroids had disappeared, my cycles were completely regular, and my migraines had become almost non-existent. I fell in love with the body that God created for me! As a woman, I felt that society and the medical profession had only ever told me that something was wrong with my body and that it was never good enough – finally I reveled in the fact that God had created a perfect and beautiful body that worked without always being on some prescription! My self-esteem and confidence soared – all because God was quietly and patiently leading me.

To challenge us even more, however, my husband and I felt clearly called to be more open to life in our marriage. We had only been married about 18 months at this point, and we had both finished college but my husband had been struggling to find consistent work and I was the primary breadwinner. We were living paycheck to paycheck, yet we had a lovely rental house, two working cars and always enough money for groceries. Not exactly what we wanted – but just what we needed. Yet, for several months we felt that we should be open to the possibility of a child. This was frightening, uncharted territory for both of us, and required a radical obedience to His call. Once again, I felt Christ calling me to be foolish in the eyes of the world so I could grow in holiness in the eyes of the Lord.

Using the gift of NFP, we conceived in Spring 2011. Our life immediately became more difficult and burdensome. Money was tight; our relationship was strained for many weeks, and my body was desperately trying to adjust to supporting the new life within me. God's ways are not always our own and we had so much to think and pray about. During those weeks of darkness, God truly carried us both.

However, God gave me such a gift in teaching me to embrace my femininity and my incredible ability to cooperate in His creation through bringing new life into the world. I chose to use a midwife and give birth at home, because of the confidence God gave me in my body's abilities. Our daughter, Cecilia Catherine was born on December 1, 2011 at 11:35 p.m. in our living room. Minutes after she was born, snow began gently falling outside and two of my best friends were there quietly praying a Rosary, supporting our new family. My husband had helped to catch Cecilia and we basked in the glory and perfection of our newborn daughter. She is the most beautiful gift I have ever been given and I believe with all my heart that she is not truly mine - all children are on loan to us from God and we have the responsibility of making sure they are returned to Him.

There’s a saying that reality is stranger than fiction, and I believe this is always true when we walk through our life with the Lord. In my personal journey, there are two lessons He is continually teaching me through His Church: trust and obey. Always. Because He is God and I am not. I have given up asking for what I want because I know it’s a useless endeavor with Him. Instead, I only ask for the strength to do His Will, whatever that may be. And I am so much happier for it – He offers us true happiness and true freedom if we only listen to the wisdom of His Church. Following the Way of the Cross is not easy, comfortable, or always pleasant, but the Eternal Creator always knows what is best for us - radical love, trust, and obedience to the Living God that is Love.

Whitney Belprez was received into the Catholic Church in 2008 in Grand Rapids, MI. She and her husband own & operate Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy in Lowell, Michigan (www.twosparrowsfarm.com) She also blogs at www.simplylivingloving.com

If you have found this story helpful in your spiritual journey we hope you will consider sharing it. Have feedback or would like to share your story? Email us at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Whitney Belprez’s Recommended Reading

Published in Agnostic
Sunday, 09 March 2014 14:20

Lutheran Convert: Jewels Green

Catholic Convert

Jewels Green

Raised Lutheran, convert Jewels Green is a former abortion clinic worker turned ardent human rights advocate.

I grew up fatherless in a multigenerational household. Being surrounded by extended family – all the time – was a great comfort to me as an only child, as was attending Sunday School every week at the ELCA Lutheran church where my mother and her seven siblings were all baptized, where I was baptized, and where later my three sons would all be baptized as well.

I loved Sunday School and singing in the children's choir at church. The music of worship always made me feel happy, at peace, and closer to God. My favorite hymns of childhood still bring me such joy. I remember in one of the classrooms at Sunday School hung a beautiful painting of Jesus, surrounded by children, and I thought “it would be wonderful if He were my dad!” When the teacher explained that He was my spiritual Father, well, that suited me perfectly.

As the years went on, I embarked upon a bumpy road through a stage of adolescent rebellion, though I still went to Sunday school. I attended every Sunday, even with a shaved head and heavy black eyeliner – until I was sixteen. That's when my faith got shaky, then disappeared completely for a spell. I'd ‘fallen in with the wrong crowd’, which meant I'd fallen out of my religion.

Published in Lutheran
Sunday, 04 November 2012 22:54

New Age Convert: Cari Donaldson

New Age Convert

Cari Donaldson

After being raised Presbyterian Cari became involved in the new age movement while attending Michigan State. Cari Donaldson is a wife and homeschooling mother of six residing in Connecticut.

There are parallels between conversion stories and birth stories. Both start with a tiny seed, planted in darkness, result in the birth of a new creation, and involve blood, sweat and tears. And while I resisted writing the story of my conversion to Catholicism for a long time, it seems fitting that when I finally did so, it would be toward the end of my sixth pregnancy.

While writing this has involved slightly less blood than the birth of my children, it was accompanied by yelling and tears. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to convey your experience with the Word when it refuses to fit nicely into any words. So I ask you, like all mothers presenting their newborn to the public for the first time, please overlook defects of style and appearance, and focus instead on the potential, the innocence, the love that created, sustained, and labored to bring the finished product into the world.

Published in New Age

Evangelical Convert

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a convert to the Catholic faith who entered the Church in 1983. Her apostolate, Loaves and Fishes, is dedicated to teaching, evangelism and prayer through word and song.

I was baptized Catholic, but raised, Confirmed and Communicated in the Episcopal Church because my parents had both been divorced and remarried. My mother and I attended a Billy Graham Crusade the summer before I entered the 6th grade. That event introduced us to a personal relationship with Jesus which led to our joining an Evangelical Free church with a choir, Bible studies, and a dynamic youth ministry. I graduated from a Catholic girls' High School. Then, I left home for college.

When I became a Roman Catholic, I became the unimaginable—at least what had been up until that point, unimaginable to me. There was no reason to make a drastic move like that. After all, I had Christ. I certainly didn't need anything else. Both faith and Scripture were in my back pocket. Aside from my ambitions and goals, Jesus was the focus of my life. In my teens, it was easy for me to believe that even my unquenchable drive for success, somehow, served Him. Freelancing faith seemed like the best of this world and the next. But a series of experiences over the course of five years added up to convince me otherwise, so much so, that on the Vigil of Easter in 1983, at St. Paul's Church, as a senior at Harvard, I came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

Published in Evangelical
Monday, 23 April 2012 22:55

Baptist Convert: Todd Meade

Baptist Convert

Todd Meade

Todd is a former Southern Baptist who converted to the Catholic Church in 1999, four years after graduating from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He now lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife Wendy and their two young children, and works in the field of social services. He and his family are parishioners at St. Bernadette Catholic Church.

A Southern Baptist Liberty University alumni becomes Catholic

Every spiritual life is a journey. Mine began in Warner Robins, Georgia in 1971. I was born into a good Methodist family and had a strong Christian foundation laid for me in childhood. But unfortunately, as is all too common, during my teenage years I drifted away somewhat from this good foundation and was lukewarm at best towards Christianity. I still attended weekly church services and youth group activities, but my interests were mainly in having fun with my friends and having a spiritual life was far from my mind.

Published in Baptist
Tuesday, 17 April 2012 23:09

Evangelical Convert: Russell Stutler

Evangelical Convert

Russell Stutler

On August 14, 2011, at the age of 54, Russell Stutler joined the Catholic Church after being an evangelical Protestant his entire life. Russell currently resides in Tokyo, Japan.

I was raised in a Protestant Christian home in Akron, Ohio, and we went to church every Sunday. During my childhood my family changed churches several times. We went to the Lutheran Church, Church of the Nazarene (where I promised God I would become a missionary someday), United Methodist Church (where I was baptized), Presbyterian Church, and a non-denominational evangelical mega-church called the Chapel in University Park where I became a member in my early 20s. It was a great teaching church, and I studied the Bible and memorized parts of it, which was the norm for members of that church. I studied New Testament Greek on my own so I could get at the underlying nuances in the text. I was very active in fellowship and evangelism programs, and my sense of calling to be a missionary was re-kindled there. I even went to Japan on a summer missionary program in 1983.

Published in Evangelical
Tuesday, 14 February 2012 11:27

Jehovah's Witness Convert: Lou Everett

Jehovah's Witness Convert

Lou Everett, Jr.

Lou Everett was one of Jehovah's Witnesses for more than 14 years. During that time, he served as a full-time minister as well as other major roles within the congregation. Lou's journey to the Catholic Church was truly a rough road traveled.

From Jehovah's Witnesses to Catholicism: My Journey

In 2005, I find myself inside a Catholic church for midnight mass. My future wife, born and raised in the Catholic Church, by my side; silently showing me something that I never thought I'd see or feel. At the age of 31, a realization set in that I never would have expected to occur – thus begins another part of my journey to the Church, my home.

Peering back into my childhood, I realize that my journey actually began as a child. My father was in the military so our family traveled around quite a bit. I was born in San Francisco, California while my father was stationed there in the Army in 1974. Both of my parents are 'cradle' Catholics and had very different experiences with the Catholic Church. Throughout the various moves from place to place, my parents were contacted by Jehovah's Witnesses. Their message seemed to touch my parents enough to eventually become baptized in 1984 as Jehovah's Witnesses.

Published in Jehovah's Witness
Tuesday, 24 January 2012 01:13

Eclectic Convert: Shane Kapler

Eclectic Convert

Shane Kapler

Born into a nominal Catholic family, Shane was only 13 when he experienced a profound crisis of faith. Judaism, the New Age, Billy Graham, the charismatic movement - all play a part in this teenage story of God's grace and fully embracing the Catholic Faith.

Taken to School by the Spirit (and the Bride)

Why am I Catholic? There's a loaded question. In The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center I gave the 116,000 word response. I realize you're pressed for time however, so let me give you the "A,B,G,Z" version as opposed to the "A through Z"! Let me start by telling you why I am a Christian. My story begins in grade school, with a classmate's question:

"Do Jewish people believe in Jesus?" At first, I couldn't believe he'd asked that. I saw our religion teacher roll her eyes; you would think that a seventh grader at a Catholic school would have known the answer. Our hostess at Congregation Shaar Emeth was very gracious though, "We reformed Jews believe Jesus was a prophet. We do not, however, believe that he was the Messiah. When we read our Scriptures, what Christians call the 'Old Testament,' we don't see Jesus in the prophecies. We interpret them differently and believe that Messiah is still to come. Another way our belief differs from Christians is that we don't believe God will become human. Messiah will be a human being just like you and I." Of course Jewish people didn't believe Jesus was the Messiah; didn't everyone know that?

Published in Eclectic
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