After leaving the Episcopal (Anglican) church for scriptural reasons that I explained in last week’s blog, I came to the Catholic Church. Here is my personal story of what I found.
I remember leaving St Peter and St Paul, my last pastorate in the Anglican church. I had a week to move out of my office, so by Friday of that week I was pretty much done, and so I was looking forward to the weekend, as moving is always so much fun! I had yet to renounce my orders in the Anglican Church, but having been convicted by scripture and called by God to the Catholic Church, Stephanie and I had no intention of going to an Anglican service that Sunday. So we went to St Stephen’s Catholic in Weatherford.
I was prepared. I knew that the Catholic Church was short on clergy, so the pastor might be rushed, english might not be his first language, and we would have to get used to a new liturgy. When we got to the church, all those concerns didn’t matter. Not that those issues went away, they just did not matter. We walked in and knew that we were home. The pastor, Fr Mike, was an Irishman who has a God given talent of making all feel welcome. Everything was just so peaceful. Stephanie and I knew that we had made the right choice. But this was simply a feeling, and I know that all feeling pass; it was the life of a Catholic that was the true gift that God was about to give us.
The first step of any future Catholic is to enroll in an RCIA (Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults) class. We had a team of four people teaching the class, all lay. Four people who had answered a call to teach neophytes the faith, they cared about Jesus’ great commission. Every week from mid September to late May they would meet on Wednesday nights and have an hour and a half class. I soon noticed that this was not a voluntary class, there were no exceptions ( even for those who had a masters in divinity!). In most denominations, including Anglican, such an “intro” class is voluntary, not in the Catholic Church. These guys were prepared and knew their stuff. Over the weeks the class became a family of sorts. People who once spread out over the large meeting hall were now sitting together and asking each other how the week had gone, the class became a fellowship very quickly. We looked forward to Wednesday nights. RCIA was not a requirement, it had become a pleasure.
We got used to going to mass on Saturday nights, and to St Timothy’s Catholic (Ordinariate) on Sunday mornings. As we came out of mass one Saturday evening, there was a group of men handing out forms to all the men exiting the church. They were asking for men to become Knights. I had heard of the Knight of Columbus and was eager to join. As I became active in the council, I found that the Knights met monthly and planned and executed many charitable events, as well as helped with whatever Fr. Mike needed. We put on fish fry’s for the parish in lent, we brought awareness to the horrors of abortion by having a walk for life, and we had fundraisers that helped us give to local charities. The knights opened for me a door to providing charity to the community. To offer charity is often too big of a job for one person, we need to have groups come together to help the needy, the knights are just such a group.
Worship, education and charity towards others, this is a Christian life. But there is one more surprise that awaited me in the Catholic Church; confession. Of course I knew coming in that Catholics were expected to go to confession. We had the Anglican version of sacramental confession in the Anglican church, but this was different. In the Anglican church, the famous phrase, all may, some should, none must, permeates the church’s teaching on confession. This created a sporadic at best practice of coming to the confessional. Some clergy refused to hear confessions, as it was too “pope-ish”. But in the Catholic Church it is expected on a regular basis. If a Catholic is in mortal sin, they should not receive the Eucharist until they visit the confessional. I quickly discovered that frequent (monthly) visits to the confessional made me a better person. Better, not just because I was in a state of grace, but better in that I focused more on the sins I committed, as after having to speak them monthly, I had decided to fix some of these issues. The confessional convicted me to live a life of grace; as opposed to living a life of typical sin and getting grace in the confessional. This, for me, was the greatest discovery I made in the catholic Church. We all may think that we live a pretty good life, but it is only when you have to study your life monthly that you find that you have more short comings than you imagined. Add to that the fact that you must confess those faults to a priest, who then identifies the sin and gives you penance, these “extra” steps truly make for a graceful Christian.
Worship, education, service and living in and by grace, this is the Catholic Church. I have been a Christian since birth, but have never been more habitually close to God. It is the lifestyle of the Catholic that facilitates the closeness to our heavenly Father. And after experiencing all this, I quickly found that there is so much more to the Church! Devotions to Mary, the saints, and the Eucharist. Novenas, adoration and countless methods of prayer. And maybe most importantly, millions of fellow catholics that are one in faith and there to help. I would urge all to at least give the Catholic Church a chance and find out what they have been missing!