Saturday, November 11, 2006

My Return to the Faith of my youth

October 4, 2006

My Journey Back to the Catholic Faith

This is a “short” summary (much more could be told indeed) of events that led me, after nearly 35 years, to renew commitment to the Roman Catholic Faith just one year ago today, a process that actually began during Lent of 2004, and culminated with my reception of the sacrament of Confirmation during the Easter Vigil Mass on April 15, 2006:

1) In spring of 2004 I saw the most stirring movie I had ever seen, promoted by Catholics and Protestants alike, “The Passion of the Christ”. Besides stunning me to tears and then utter silence, even after seeing it twice, the Catholic origins of this movie and those involved (produced by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus), definitely planted a “seed”—A small beacon of light that told me we all truly belonged together, and that those few who would question the Christianity of these two devout men could not possibly be right. In short, I at least instinctively realized that truly committed Catholics could also indeed be a “real” Christians as well! It now seems silly to me, but, although I always had known some Catholics who were very committed to Christ, I did not realize, nor had I been taught clearly (even during my Catholic years and formation when much younger) that being Catholic and having a personal relationship with Christ was supposed to be the norm and not the exception.
2) Although I had renewed the habit of daily prayer and Bible reading around 5 years ago, when I became part of a very lively and evangelical local Methodist church after a number of years of not being in any church regularly (and in fact exploring quite extensively other alternative forms of spirituality such as Tarot, astrology and other similar paths), I still found the need to dig deeper into the Word of God, especially after watching the Passion film. I bought many books, teaching CDs, and listened almost constantly to a Christian (however not Catholic) talk radio station in town and learned much about the Bible in ways I had never even studied during 4 years of Bible College or 12 years of ministry through the Assemblies of God. My hunger kept growing to learn more, but I was troubled by the hyper Calvinistic teachings constantly being reiterated such as God choosing only certain people to be saved by “election”, for example, and also the heavy anti-Catholic sentiments I heard from many of these very educated and respected teachers who had far better Bible backgrounds than me. Something was wrong here.
3) For the first time since I “came out” as a gay man in 1991-92, I also found myself questioning the true “gay agenda” I was hearing about so often. It seemed to have quietly moved from true tolerance of another’s lifestyle to almost a forced approval, and this really came to a head just over a year ago when I attended a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) sponsored rally at the State Capitol about the proposed marriage protection amendment. I initially went there to lend my support, and found myself leaving in the middle of the rally after a speaker representing a prominent GLBT lobbying group in Minnesota gave what seemed to me almost a “hate speech” on the Bible, her point being that “authentic” people of faith had no right to believe differently than she did! It gradually became more and more clear to me, both through this and other such incidents, that, although I have a gay orientation, I could not continue standing with the ideals of a subculture that had so much animosity to another group I also belonged to, and that being Bible believing committed Christians! I felt extremely torn about this, but realized that both sides were feeding and fueling the anger of the other, and began to believe this would never be settled either through legislation or the courts. I started to feel like the proverbial “man without a country”, but I had always, all the years I was “out”, very sincerely told God that if it ever came to a point like this I knew I would choose Him over a lifestyle that was for this world only. It isn’t that I suddenly thought all gay people were wrong on every issue, didn’t deserve basic rights, or were condemned inevitably to hell, but I did know that, if I was ever to be effective in my own walk with God and sharing Him with others, I might have to seriously consider making a lifetime commitment of celibacy, no matter what my personal views might be. I actually was not far from this anyway, as I had not dated in some years, but I had always kept that door open, just in case the “right” guy came along. Somewhere in the path to this decision I read a book called “Beyond Gay” by David Morrison, a former gay activist who had become evangelical and then turned—you guessed it—Catholic! He shared some concepts I had never heard before, a sort of middle of the road approach to what he and the Catholic Church call “same sex attraction”. His belief is that celibacy is necessary in order to be in obedience to the Church, but that celibacy does NOT necessarily mean trying to “be straight”—he, in fact still shares a home with his former partner and the love of his life, but, in his words, has “worked through the codependency” they once shared as partners, and they live platonically as best friends, having done so for years now. While that approach might not work for all, it was an option no one on either side of the issue had ever even suggested to me in the past. He further taught, also in agreement with the Church, that chastity and holiness were God’s requirements, whether gay or straight, and that centering oneself around a person’s sexual identity tended to be the wrong “center” in the first place, since we were literally created to love and serve God as the true innermost core of our lives. Ironically, after 12 years in the ministry followed by 15 years in the GLBT world, I had come to nearly identical conclusions, but did not realize anyone else had! Suddenly I “had a country” once more, and yet again received another nudge towards the Catholic Church, by someone who had been down a very similar path, both in his faith walk as well as his political and personal insights into the GLBT landscape and where it was headed.
4) Nearly simultaneous to this, in my other continued studies, I became strangely gripped with the story of 5 evangelical Protestant missionaries from the United States who, as young men in their 20s and 30s, were murdered in Ecuador by a tribe they were attempting to reach with the Gospel during early 1956 (2 weeks after I was born, to be exact). While a huge news splash at the time, it was later largely forgotten, but I recalled as a newly committed Christian in my teens and also as a young adult reading some of these stories, and my former mother in law had in fact even gone to Northwestern College with one of the missionary couples involved! I learned that a documentary had been made in 2004, “Beyond the Gates of Splendor”, and that a follow up Hollywood production by the name of “The End of the Spear” was being released in early 2006. By this time it was summer of 2005, and I was buying up every book written about this gripping and heroic tale, and re-reading them with a different set of lenses than I had many years earlier. One of the most amazing parts of the story was that Rachel Saint, a sister of Nate Saint, who was one of the martyred missionaries, and Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of Jim Elliot, another in this amazing group of 5 brave men, along with their little girl Valerie, had actually gone in to live with this tribe and eventually reached them for Christ, so their family members’ blood had indeed not been spilled in vain— and a tribe that had once been one of the most violent in all of known history had, in a few short years, become instead one of the most peaceful because of the love and forgiveness of these 2 amazing women! During my hours of research and reading on all of this, however, I discovered something both a bit unsettling and yet intriguing to me—Elisabeth Elliot’s brother Thomas Howard, the former chief editor of the leading evangelical publication “Christianity Today” and a well known Christian leader in his own right, had become Roman Catholic! Knowing the heritage he had, being connected to one of the most well known and admired Protestant families in America, I was utterly taken aback to think he would choose to convert purely on his own, thinking maybe he had married a Catholic Christian, or some other more “justifiable” reason, but I did a bit more digging, and found that he had indeed truly come to believe in the teachings and ideals of traditional Catholicism, and even had written a book called “Evangelicalism Isn’t Enough”, as well as several others about his own journey to the Faith.
5) Although still not yet even considering, at least consciously, a comeback to Catholicism for myself, I did not doubt Dr. Howard’s sincerity or commitment to Christ, but I did find myself very full of questions. I found myself watching EWTN (Eternal Word), which is the Catholic cable television station), and, surprisingly, liking much of what I saw. I found an almost total absence of the kind of bigoted bashing I had been hearing from much of the “religious right” (as well as a few fairly opinionated liberals, I might add), and yet noticed a very fervent and, yes, personal, commitment to Christ and to true holiness from the priests, sisters and dedicated laypersons who had various programs on the station. In short, I saw a far more balanced approach to life in general. One program was particularly captivating as well as challenging to my mind. It was called “The Journey Home”, hosted by Marcus Grodi, a former minister (Presbyterian) turned Catholic, and each week his guests included those who had indeed either come back to the Church or who had found their way to it after much prayer and study. I also learned that Thomas Howard and his wife had even been guests on this show in the past! Another thing I learned was that that Catholic Church had a new and revised official Catechism, which was very comprehensive and basically a systematic theology of the entire core of current Catholic belief and practice—over 800 pages worth in fact—I bought one, and found myself studying nightly, Bible in one hand, as it were, and Catechism in the other. Question after question I had started out with began to fade away, and I recall realizing finally, as I had long since begun to suspect but until then had not been able to put into words even to myself, that a “true Catholic” who really followed his or her faith as outlined in the Catechism was indeed a “true Christian” in the most evangelical sense as well, even if somewhat different terminology was used! As I stated earlier, I always had known that some Catholics were Christians, but I did not really until that point believe that Catholicism honestly taught correct Christianity “from the top”, so to speak. In other words, I believed they were Christians in spite of Rome, not because of Rome—now I learned I had been wrong about this my entire adult life! I had also heard of another former Calvinist minister by the name of Scott Hahn, who was now a noted Catholic theologian, and began reading a book by him and his wife Kimberly—“Rome Sweet Home”—and, while skeptical, page by page I saw that many of his points were compelling. I read the book in nearly one sitting, and, after nearly throwing it across the room a few times in both fear and frustration, I finally recognized one night that I really could be Catholic again—and should be. The very next morning, October 4, 2005, I went to Reconciliation (confession) for the first time since high school and re-entered the Church of my upbringing. I am not saying it has not had it rocky moments, and there are still unanswered questions, but I know I am “Home where I Belong”, as the old Gospel song goes, and, through a strange and totally unexpected set of circumstances, met, in person, both Scott Hahn and Jim Caviezel within a week of becoming Catholic again! Then, only one week after that event, I was at another seminar and met Steve Saint, who is the son of Nate Saint, one of the missionaries who died 50 years ago, and I had indeed come full circle. Only God could have pulled that off! By the way, the “right” guy did indeed come along, and His Name is Jesus Christ, who I love and adore with all of my heart and soul. I do not need another. It is definitely good to be home.


Tiber Jumper said...

Richard!! Thanks for sharing your moving story. There are some parallels in our story that are beyond belief! I was sitting in a theater watching the Passion (our methodist church bought the tickets)
In the middle of the movie with tears streaming down my face, I knew I had to return to the church of my youth. Wow is that weird or what, as a former charismtic, we can relate to this kinda stuff. catholics were the original charismatics anyway.
Welcome to the blogosphere. Your testimony is compelling and needs to be shared!!!

and also with you said...

Hey Richard!

Welcome Home, and welcome to blogdom! We have much in common...I was once a Baptist pastor...once involved in homosexuality...deeply moved by the Ecuadorian martyrs and The End of the Spear (see my Feb 2006 archives for some interesting debates on the topic)...and very joyfully back in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Every blessing to you as you continue to write and grow closer to Christ.

David B. said...

Thank you for providing your story. I was hanging on every word. I am a Methodist pastor's son who became Catholic along with my brother in 2004. It is always inspiring to read the stories of others making a similar journey. God bless you!

Stephanie said...

What a courageous and moving story! I'm a fundamentalist turned Catholic's amazing how all those little things add up and point us Home isn't it? Gotta love seeing how the Holy Spirit moves and works in our lives. Welcome Home!!

Jeff Tan said...

Welcome home, Richard! Thank you very much for the inspiration!