The eighteenth anniversary of my baptism is fast approaching, and a recent viewing of anti-Catholic propaganda on my Facebook page has led me to decide upon a series of postings on why I left the Baptist denomination to become a Catholic. I am, to be frank, exhausted by the sheer intentional ignorance of so many people about the Catholic Faith. Despite my two masters' degrees in theology and Scripture, there will still be people with no more than a high-school education who will pontificate a contrarian position.
Bring it on.
As I said, this is a first in a series, and in this particular posting I wish to provide my own "top ten" list of why I became a Catholic, in no particular order:
1. The Baptist denomination, as well as every other Protestant denomination, is a product of human imagination. The Catholic Church of today, on the other hand, is descended from the first community of disciples organized by Jesus Christ. As the Psalmist says, "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain" (Ps 127:1).
2. Some Fundamentalists insist that the "true church" remained in hiding from the end of the Apostolic Age until the Protestant Reformation. The evidence of NT manuscripts and the field of textual criticism contradicts this assertion at least five thousand times over. (For you duller ones, it means this: if the "true church" went into hiding, then show me at least one NT manuscript that was created by these supposedly "hidden Christians.")
3. Many Protestants insist that the Bible is a toolkit for becoming a Christian when, in fact, the collection of writings that constitute the Bible were determined to be "inspired" and therefore "canonical" on the basis of ecclesiastical authority. To be a Protestant, then, is to use a Catholic book to engage in antii-Catholicism. That's analogous to using the United States Constitution as a Communist manifesto.
4. No other community claiming the name of "Christian" has maintained Jesus' commitment to the poor and marginalised as much as the Catholic Church. Who could possibly be the Pentecostal counterpart to Mother Theresa of Calcutta or the Baptist counterpart to Francis of Assisi?
5. As a Protestant, I often came across passages in the Bible that was difficult to understand. When I asked my Sunday School teacher or my pastor about these passages, a common rejoinder was "you'll find out when you get to heaven" which, even to my twelve-year-old mind was a plain cop-out. If the Bible is the toolkit for a "personal relationship" with God, why would He even bother to put in a passage that was undecipherable?
6. The radicality of Christian discipleship exhibited by the early martyrs, Desert Fathers, of Sts John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Dominic Guzman, Ignatius Loyola, Edmund Campion, Isaac Jogues, of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, John Cardinal O'Connor, and many others is unmatched by Protestantism. There are, to be sure, towering figures who command even my respect such as John Stott and C.S. Lewis, but for the life of me I cannot find any Protestant spirituality that is comparable to the Imitation of Christ or Christ the Life of the Soul.
7. Protestantism is only one-quarter as old as Christianity itself. Need I really explain this one?
8. The liturgy of the Catholic Church is chock-full of Scripture. When I attended Protestant churches (and anyone can pick this up from your average televangelist), an entire sermon consisted of a long-winded exposition of one to five verses of Scripture. The Catholic liturgy, on the other hand, consists of three Scripture readings on Sundays and a number of Rites that is plentous of allusion to Scripture. Not only that, but the Divine Office--prayed five times a day by clerics--is full of Psalms, Canticles and Readings. To say that "Catholics don't read the Bible"--as one member of my former Baptist church told me even as I carried my copy of the Divine Office with me!--is patently false. Heck, I even run a Bible study camp for Deaf Catholic adults every year in New York!
9. There have been some real idiots for popes and bishops, and I really do mean idiots. That having been said, enter A. J. Tonybee: "...no merely human institution with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight." What would Rabbi Gamaliel say to this? (Cf. Acts 5:34-39).
10. I have met Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church. Since I have become a Catholic, Jesus has consistently beckoned me to follow Him more closely than the day before. He has made His voice clearer with every reading of the Scripture, with every prayer I offer, and every act of charity I show. To not be a Catholic, then, is to abandon Jesus Christ for an idol of my own fashioning.
Okay, okay I lied. I really have eleven reasons off the top of my head, and here is #11:
Almost every exposure to the Protestant "gospel" has been about what God can do for me: get me a pre-booked place in heaven, get me prosperity and wealth, get me the gift of tongues, or whatever. As a Catholic, I know that God offers salvation freely in Jesus Christ, but the Catholic Church has been more interested in what we can give to God--our own lives. In other words, if I had to describe the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism, I'd say that whereas Protestantism asks what God can do for me, Catholicism asks what we can do for God. It's the difference between being selfish and being self-giving.
Stay tuned for more.