Turning to Mary
For many, Mary is the last hurdle to "get over"in their journey to the Church. For me, she was the first. In fact, before Catholicism was ever on the radar, I remember prayerfully reading, "all generations will call me blessed", contained in the Magnificat of our Blessed Mother found in Luke 1:48. I thought to myself, "where in my tradition do we call her blessed?" It would seem that Mary was prophesying about the future, a future that I was not a part of. But why? Where could I find a church, that in every generation, preserved the honor of Mary?
Later in my studies, I learned that the dogmas of Mary flow organically from a proper Christology. Marian doctrines safeguard Christology, especially the doctrine of the Incarnation. If Christ is not fully man, then we have no hope of salvation because we have no access to the divine life of God. It is only through the humanity of Christ, provided by Mary by the divine plan of God, that we can share in His divinity and ultimately the life of the Holy Trinity. While one may not find the dogmas explicitly taught in scripture they are certainly not rejected by scripture. Further, if the Church is the "ground and pillar of truth" than it is reasonable to believe them. So, I did.
Turning to the Church
Just months after my daughter was born, I stepped down from teaching theology and actually began working in business. I had been working on an MBA in the evenings, sensing my departure was coming, and so the timing was perfect. This afforded me and my wife the time to go on our own spiritual journey. During this time, I struggled with my personal calling, still believing I was called to ministry but not knowing where I fit. While discerning my call, a Catholic friend of mine whom I respected gave me counsel and offered me a book to read, Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn. I'll never forget, after reading the book in one day, feeling as though the Catholic Church would be my home. The book acted as a theological hand grenade.
I knew, of course, that I had to investigate Hahn's claims with the full force of my intellect. I dusted off Calvin's Institutes, ordered a Catholic Catechism and also ordered Luther's Catechism. I also purchased and or borrowed a dozen other books from prominent Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians alike. For the next months, I spent every waking hour: (1) studying and (2) praying that God would "throw me off this path if it was not of Him." My Pentecostal faith had taught me that God would not give a "scorpion" if I asked for an "egg" (Lk 11:12) and so I concluded that he would not give me a harlot church if I was asking him for His Church.
Turning to the Truth
I had an unorthodox senior year in high school. Your average high school senior parties his last year away. I, rather, studied, prayed, and preached "revivals" my senior year. In college I devoured more and more books, attended to more and more Catholic and Protestant positions on theological issues, and became more and more convinced of the truth of Catholicism. One thing that was disheartening was the general disingenuous way in which Protestant theologians dealt with Catholic positions. At worst, the anti-Catholic Protestants did a horrible job reading both the original sources as well as the supporting literature, air-mailing into a text and grabbing whatever suited their argument. Half the time you could read the next paragraph of the text they were citing to discredit their thesis. The Catholic Catechism or St. Augustine were equal targets of their editorialising. At the best, thoughtful Protestant theologians seemed to make good cases for being Catholic without themselves having the nerve to follow the logical ends of their thought.
Two books had the most significant impact on my conversion. First, Robert Sungenis's book Not By Bread Alone literally caused me to stop going to Protestant church and start attending Mass regularly. In the book, he demonstrates by scripture why penal vicarious atonement is heretical. Having a background in Biblical languages, I could see why the Mass was biblical and how it was truly a sacrifice qua a re-presentation of the One Sacrifice at Calvary. At that time, I had held that position (penal vicarious atonement) and remember being overwhelmed by the fact that if a prayerful student of scripture with a theology degree could be a material heretic, then anyone could. We were going to start going to Mass now and went for over 2 years before coming into the Church. The second book, On the Development of Christian Doctrine, by Blessed John Henry Newman, put the nail in the coffin, so to speak, of my Protestantism. In the book, Blessed Newman, in illustrious detail, depicts the first five centuries of Christianity, and in doing so gives example after example of similarities that the early Church holds with the present day Catholic Church. He ends his discussion of each era with a unique characterization heretics and schismatics would have of the Church. Amazingly, the claims of the heretics and schismatics were just as relevant to the Catholic Church today as they were then!
As a brief tangent to this discussion, I also during my journey had some very concerning epistemological questions. Epistemology is the study of knowledge or knowing. I noticed that at the time the culture and my faith were on parallel tracks for defining truth, or rather that both were congruently making the claim at least implicitly that truth is grounded in the knower. When I say "grounded", I mean "by what" do you hold some knowledge "x". This didn't make sense because I knew that the truth of any object is in the object not in the intellect knowing the object. Truth isn't truth because I believe it, that simply makes it a belief. A belief is true, however, because it is grounded in what is real. As I contemplated this more, I became frustrated because I noticed that as a Protestant I was forced to "make it up every morning", prove every doctrine from scripture, and could never be truly "set free" because I "knew the truth". However, for a Catholic, his/her conviction will not change on infallibly revealed truth on, say birth control, because the ground for that truth is external to his/herself, namely the Church which according to scripture (I Tim 3:15) is where it should be. For a sola scripturist, the moment the ground for their truth (themselves) is challenged sufficiently to have a "moment of conscious", they change position (Eph 4:14). The beauty of the Church is that Truth is not subject to my weak intellect, sinfulness and pride. So, even when my "gut" or "head" or "heart" tells me birth control is "a-ok", I'm wrong. Ah, I'm free! (Jn 8:32). Free from my weak intellect, sinfulness, and pride to reject my "gut, head, or heart" from telling me that Jesus is 50% God, baptism is a symbol, or Mary sinned.
In order to have the time to deal with my epistemological dilemma and to reach the aforementioned conclusion, I decided that some of my questions required more extant research. I sold some property, used the funds to take off work, and moved from Florida to Texas to study graduate philosophy at the University of Dallas. It was there that I would answer my questions, and on November 23, 2008, my wife and I were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Our children were baptized a few months later.
As a former Pentecostal-evangelical, I am passionate about the fact that the Pentecostal/charismatic renewal can be tied to Christian unity. For one, a Protestant can't see their church as Apostolic in any real sense. A Protestant Church sees their church as congregational, democratic, or independent, not Apostolic. However, a charismatic/Pentecostal church believes that they are connected to the Apostolic church in virtue of their charism. To think that what happened then should be happening now is a Catholic way of thinking, and even more, to limit the work of the Holy Spirit to the apostolic times is only a Protestant way of thinking.
Secondly, to believe that God uses matter as a conduit of grace is important too. The Pentecostal/charismatic renewal primarily occurred in non-sacramental churches. These churches are far more divorced from the historic Christian view of the sacraments as one might find in Anglican, Lutheran or Presbyterian churches. Those churches have readily accessible symbols of their Catholic heritage. The charismatic movement can be seen as a way for the Holy Spirit to reach out to those Christians who have, by no fault of their own, become alienated from all signs of the Catholic Church. Think of the modern church with a cafe, stadium seating, and a rock concert up front. These churches are devoid of all historical Christian symbols. Third, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement generally brought with it an increased awareness of the necessity of holiness. Sadly, the emphasis of personal holiness has declined in Pentecostal/charismatic circles in the last 20 years and I suspect without the Church as its ground of truth will continue down the slippery slope of libertinism.
There is a fourth effect of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement: a longing for God's presence. However, without the Blessed Sacrament, one is left to conjure God's presence in order to "feel" close to Him. In my experience, I noticed a general "those who got it" and "those who didn't" phenomena. This grieved me a lot. I knew God was a God of mercy and grace and it didn't seem fair that only spiritual juggernauts could "feel the spirit" and those who were less inclined were on the outside looking in or were forced to "fake it"--raising your hands as long as the person next to you, falling into silence, shouting, or generally just copying the people around you.
Everything a charismatic/Pentecostal longs for is fulfilled in the Eucharist. Their deep longing to encounter God is ONLY satisfied in the Eucharist. When I partook of our Lord for the first time I knew two things: (1) I had only tasted bread and juice before
and (2) This was as close to Jesus as I could ever come. As I sat there kneeling in silent prayer, I wept in my hand for at that moment the satisfying of every "all night prayer vigil", 2-hour worship service, tarrying, etc., was completely satisfied. I hungered and thirsted for righteousness and I was filled! I wasn't turned away formy lack of spirituality not knowing why I wasn't in the "in crowd" that "felt it". It was so beautiful to watch young and old, poor and rich, theologian and simpleton, come down and receive our Lord. This was truly the place of grace; a religion built upon the mercy of God.
If you are reading this and long for Jesus--come home to His Church. Outside of his Church we are left to beg like the Syrophoneician woman in Matthew 15, but it should not be so. Healing is the "children's bread". Christ in the Eucharist offers us the healing we need for our souls, for those that "eat my flesh and drink of my blood have eternal life" (John 6:54). The "bread which comes down from heaven" is the only thing that will truly satisfy your longing heart. Think about your spiritual experiences. Have they really satisfied you? I know this saying is hard, but we must not be like some of his disciples who at hearing his words "withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore" (John 6:66). If you are a charismatic/Pentecostal, I know you want to "walk with him along life's narrow way". Like the disciples your heart is "burning for him" (Luke 24:32), but even when Christ himself preached the Gospel to them, their eyes were not truly open until he "took the bread, blessed it ("this is my body"), and gave it to them" (Luke 24:31). At their realizing he vanished from their sight. Now, too, our Lord is not in sight, but his Apostles through their successors the Bishops are present to us; and "where the Bishop is so is the Eucharist" (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrneans, 8). Where the Eucharist is so is the satisfaction of our burning hearts, the quenching of our every thirst, the object of our greatest desire.
If you are Catholic and reading this, I hope this motivates you to share your faith with your separated Pentecostal/charismatic brothers and sisters. Although extrinsically their enthusiasm may seem attractive to you, we have what they want. We should not be ashamed of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It is the source and summit of our faith. "The faith once, delivered, to the saints" (Jude 3).
Brent Stubbs lives with his wife Danielle and 4 children (Leah, Dean, Jude, and Gemma) in central Florida. He works as the Department Chair for Adult Education. For apologetics, more about his story, and book reviews, visit www.almostnotcatholic.com