Editors Note: In his conversion story, Thirst for Reverence, Karl Erickson described his journey home to the Catholic Church. Here he shares how the obstacles were met and resolved in his heart.
I’d like to address six areas that were pivotal in my acceptance of the Catholic Church as the one and true church established by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the first pope, Saint Peter. Some were more of an initial hurdle than others, but they all held important meaning along our journey.
1. Sola Scriptura
First, Sola Scriptura is pretty easily sent on its way. Do we accept that each person must interpret every Scripture passage on his own? This seemed to be sending our Episcopalian friends toward moral entropy. How can the Holy Spirit be guiding different churches in opposite interpretative directions regarding identical Scripture passages? We felt there must be an authority somewhere to assist church members in understanding the Bible, because the moral anchors were certainly breaking loose within many Protestant denominations.
2. Birth Control
Second, with the Anglican adoption of birth control at the Lambeth Conference in 1930 and the brief Protestant love affair with eugenics, we are left with Protestant denominations that recognize abortion as a grave sin, but they don't see the moral similarity between birth control and abortion. Every other denomination is blown by the winds of societal and cultural change. Granted, some great Evangelical thinkers such as Amy Laura Hall are starting to ask the tough questions, but where is the consistency of reason and truth most readily found in regards to the Culture of Death, which is tearing our world apart—spiritually, morally, and demographically?
3. The Papacy
Third, non-Catholics frequently misunderstand and misconstrue the value and purpose of our pope. As we learned, Catholics don’t believe that everything the pope utters is infallible. We are not bound, for example, to follow his personal preferences. Only when the pope speaks "ex cathedra" are his statements taken as infallible by the Catholic Church, and this has only been used two or three times in the life of the Church. Furthermore, this does not represent a trust in the pope so much as it represents a trust that God won’t permit his Church to fall into error. More and more Protestant churches appear to be heading straight for moral relativism as gravely warned against by the great Anglican writer C. S. Lewis.
4. Christian Unity
Fourth, the Bible calls us repeatedly to unity. Did we have sufficient reason to stay apart from the Catholic Church? How is it preferred that the mystical body of Christ be divided so many thousands of times in the different denominations of the day? The Protestant churches seem like injured cells endlessly dividing and replicating themselves. This is precisely what Saint Paul was warning Christians to avoid in order that we might reflect Christian unity to the world. We should all consider ourselves members of a broken family, and its time we came back together.
5. The Real Presence
Fifth, before joining the Catholic Church, we were the first to always insist upon a literal interpretation of Scripture, but we balked at applying a literal interpretation to John 6, which describes the Eucharist as the actual body and blood of Christ. It seems that the disciples were deeply troubled by our Lord’s words. If it were a symbol alone, it would not have been a challenging teaching at all, and Jesus would have clarified his meaning to the disciples. In fact, if his followers had so badly misunderstood, it would have been unlike Jesus to refrain from a deeper explanation of something so critical and central to our Christian walk. Nowhere in Scripture is the Eucharistic mystery given the characterization of a symbol, and the early church also did not treat it as symbolic in nature. The early church fathers also recognized the Real Presence as central in their understanding of the Eucharist. We were convinced.
Sixth, who is Mary? When my wife and I were studying in preparation to join the Catholic Church, the concept of Mary was one of the hardest ideas to get our minds around. Coming from the Evangelical tradition, most of the new concepts we learned were simply a result of a more logical and consistent interpretation of Scripture. Although the verses are clearly there, understanding Mary required something beyond Biblical interpretation and it was not easy. Slowly it began to make sense, and I recognized that praying to Mary was not the same as worshiping Mary. Instead, it was more along the lines of talking to a close and respected friend.
When my eyes were opened to the truth of Mary, I was profoundly grateful for the opportunity to see her clearly for who she was and is today. This Catholic understanding of Mary hinges on an acceptance of her as the new Eve. Where Eve disobeyed God’s call, Mary listened attentively and obeyed in a spirit of selfless love. As Protestants we might have carelessly declared many of these Marian beliefs to be meaningless and extra-biblical concepts that have no value to Christianity. Yet, there are core beliefs all Christians share which are likewise not clearly defined in the Bible. The Trinity, for instance, is never spelled out in so many words, but its truth is made abundantly clear through a careful reading of the Bible and the wisdom of the saints who came before us. We were learning about tradition.
Karl Bjorn Erickson lives in Salem, Oregon, with his wife and two children. He has written two children’s books, Tristan’s Travels and Toupee Mice. He is one of the founding members of the Catholic Writers’ Guild. His website is www.karlerickson.com.