by Michael Fraley
In 2000, I was sitting in a mega church with a juice box in my hand, wondering what had gone wrong. The church was having a worship service with a back-to-school theme, and they were trying to shoehorn a communion service into it as well. Thus, the juice box. Even as an evangelical, I took the Lord’s Supper seriously, even though I was taught that it was just a symbol. I didn’t have the words to describe it then, but if I had, I would have called this as a sacrilege. The Lord’s Supper was a holy thing that had been twisted to fit into someone’s Sunday morning program. Good intentions weren’t enough. At the time, I went along with it all, hoping that things would take a turn for the better (they didn’t), but that was a wake up call for me, even if the changes I wanted to see in my worship life were slow in coming.
I was raised in a conservative Pentecostal denomination, so we believed in the moving of the Holy Spirit. People weren’t “slain in the spirit” very often, and I never know of anyone rolling around on the floor. It was a safe, though not terribly exciting place, and I came to faith there as a teen. I had a teacher in high school, a former Catholic who had come to Christ in a Southern Baptist church. In 1980, he challenged me on my Pentecostal beliefs, and I began to study the history of the moving of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people of God.
I had come to the conclusion that if something was true, it was always true in all churches and all historical periods, whether individual people or groups of people believed it or not. With the Lord, I believed that there was “no shadow of turning,” just as James 1:17 said. He didn’t change his mind. The Lord was stable; his grace and his gifts offered throughout the ebb and flow of history. For the most part, the groups I read about were schismatics like the Waldenses, but my research was still carrying me back in time. A name that resonated with me was Irenaeus, a Christian who lived in the second century, and he spoke about the supernatural power of God in his own time. I was intrigued.
Being a constant reader, I eventually found more “missing links” when I ran across a copy of J.B. Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers. More quotes from that Irenaeus fellow followed, but there were also writings from even earlier Christians like Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. I didn’t think of them as “saints” yet, and I certainly didn’t think of them as “Catholic,” but the picture was beginning to pull together for me.
Over the next several years, I would read much of the work written by the saints who lived before the Council of Nicea in the fourth century. If nothing else, I realized that they weren’t quite like any Christians I had ever known before. They believed in baptizing infants and linked their salvation to their baptism. That sounded like heresy to my ears. We only practiced “believer’s baptism,” just as the early Christians did. Or did they? These were early Christians, some of them instructed by the apostles. Could everyone everywhere have misinterpreted the apostles so completely in a matter of just a few decades? That didn’t seem likely, especially when I remembered that Christ had promised that “the gates of Hell will not prevail against my Church.” (Matt. 16:18). Who was I to call my Lord a liar?
Also, many of these writers had been bishops, or at least priests – unfamiliar words in my world. They loved the Lord’s Supper even more than I did, and they seemed to think that there was something supernatural about it. They willingly laid down their lives for this Lord that they loved. Their faith was far from the dead ritual I might have imagined. It was a strong and muscular faith, built to outlast everything thrown against it. Perhaps they were Orthodox, I thought. They certainly lived with a fierce energy and a commitment to the Gospel that was unlike anything Catholic I’d ever encountered.
For many years I found myself in a quandary, enjoying the fellowship of the people in the evangelical church where I worshipped, but also knowing that I needed something that was beyond my reach, just over the horizon. Then, in 2003, I met the woman who would become my wife. She just happened to be a Catholic.
Stunned by the Mass
The real turning point of my faith journey into the Church came when she took me to Mass. I was stunned. I wept as I heard the Creed, which I had studied for years, professed publicly by the entire congregation. I saw the Eucharist celebrated reverently. I heard the words of the ancient Didache pouring out as the hymn “One Bread, One Body.” All of the things that I had spent over twenty years of my life investigating, she had known as part of her everyday world since infancy. I began my RCIA classes that fall, and entered the Church at Easter 2004.
For quite a long time, I felt like a scuba diver loaded down with gear, trying to enter a world that my mermaid swam in effortlessly. She was and is devout, but she didn’t intellectualize her faith. She had no idea who the Early Church Fathers were. She simply believed the teachings of the Church and she lived her faith. I found that to be a beautiful thing.
I realized that I certainly wasn’t entering a perfect Church, but I was entering one that God entrusted with the Truth in its most complete, coherent form. I found a church which agreed with the account in Genesis that God created things that were good, and which used those good and humble elements — water, oil, wheat, and the fruit of the vine — to reach out to us as Sacraments.
I also discovered that the Church was full of heroes, but they sit among the rest of us, on the road to sainthood, and they take us along with them. When I was a teen, I had found Jesus, and as an adult I found myself part of a family, and that he had also given me a mother in the form of his own mother Mary. I had come home.
Michael Fraley is a writer, illustrator, graphic designer and fine artist who lives with his wife in Fort Wayne, Indiana.Fraley is a writer, illustrator, graphic designer and fine artist who lives with his wife in Fort Wayne, Indiana.