On May 21st, the day after our 5th anniversary, Kristin and I were confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church.
I know that this will raise many questions, and in time I hope to answer them all. But it will take many hours to write down all the intricacies of our journey. Just know that we do not make this move quickly or take it lightly. We are well informed about the decision we are making, and are confident that we do so at the beckoning of Christ himself.
For me, this is the culmination of an 11 year journey, and the beginning of a mission to strengthen marriages and families. For several years I have felt God drawing me to encourage marriages, but have not had the outlet to do so. Over the last year, the burden Kristin and I have felt for this mission has increased exponentially.
We see the culture around us laying siege against the Church, convincing her members that chastity is unnecessary, convincing her members that divorce is an unfortunate but often unavoidable reality. We join the Catholic Church, to cling to her history and her theology, to stand firm with her and proclaim the truth of God’s plan for chastity to bring joy and fulfillment before and during marriage. We come to proclaim the sacrament of marriage to any who will listen, both inside and outside of the Church.
The Journey Home
As I look back on my journey, I can no longer perceive where it began, though I can still decipher milestones along the way. In many ways it seems that the Catholic Church is simply the home for the faith my parents instilled in me. These milestones are less about me changing my beliefs to match those of the Church, and more about the discovery that my beliefs already matched the Church.
The first milestone I can see is the Pro-Life movement. As a child, my family was always involved in Pro-Life activities and discussions. As a youth, I participated in the “Walk for Life” and a similar event where we stood shoulder to shoulder holding signs with Pro-Life messages. This line stretched on for miles on both sides of a busy road in Bedford, TX. In 1993, my family attended an event in Denver Colorado at the same time that Pope John Paul II was attending World Youth Day. I remember clearly the way that my family spoke of his presence on that day. He was honored and revered by my family for his unwavering support of life. While we didn’t often speak of the Catholic Church, when we did it was always with great respect.
Another set of milestones came from my relationship with my cousin, Fr. Peter Mangum, currently the pastor at St. John Berchmans Cathedral in Shreveport, LA. On several occasions I have been blessed to stay with him and converse with him. Over the last two decades, he has helped me to understand Catholic doctrine. It was he who gave me my first rosary and my first crucifix. He provided me with a copy of the catechism, and has encouraged me to dig deeper into the writings of the Church Fathers. He invited me to visit him while Scott Hahn was speaking at his parish. While no single person or event is fully responsible for our journey home, it was Fr. Mangum’s compassion and gentle persistence in introducing me to the church that laid the foundation on which others could build.
Another set of milestones came from my time at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. I went to Asbury ready to join with the “Vineyard Movement,” which was centered on musical worship, small group relationships, and relaxed atmosphere. I was tired of the controversy that surrounded the United Methodist Church, and was looking for a modern expression of what Methodism had been in its beginning. While Methodism has continued to affirm traditional orthodox Christianity in its Book of Discipline, in practice it’s morality has failed. There is no accountability for pastors or bishops if they abandon the faith. I was sure that the Vineyard would provide what was missing. Through the influence and instruction of Dr. Mary Fisher, Dr. Lester Ruth, and Rev. J.D. Walt, I discovered the depth and beauty of historical Christianity. Several books influenced my journey, including Thomas Oden’s systematic theology (“The Living God,” “Word of Life,” and “Life in the Spirit”) and “The Awe Inspiring Rites of Initiation: A History of the RCIA,” which contained baptismal homilies from several fourth century fathers. It was at Asbury that I came to understand the meaning and purpose of Sacrament and Liturgy. It was here that I began to focus on Unity in the Body of Christ. It was here that I began to seek Trinitarian expressions of worship. I went to Asbury looking to leave behind anything that looked like the traditional church, and left a transubstantiationist looking to find my place within the historical church.
Interestingly, several classmates of mine have found themselves either as Roman Catholic or Anglo-Catholic Anglicans. Two of my classmates, a married couple, introduced my wife and me to Natural Family Planning after they joined the Catholic church.
My next set of milestones came in April of 2005. My soon-to-be bride had been studying in London, and was spending Holy Week in the Vatican. My cousin arranged for her to get tickets to Holy Week masses and services. When she arrived back in London she learned of Pope John Paul II’s passing. I felt connected to that event through her presence. I began praying in earnest for the ordination of the next Pope, and followed that process closely. My cousin was at the presentation of Pope Benedict XVI and sent me a postcard of his presentation. That postcard has remained on my refrigerator since that time, reminding us to pray for the Pope.
At the time of the Pope Benedict XVI’s ordination, I began to read as much of Cardinal Ratzinger’s work as I could. Any time he spoke in those early days, I would find a transcript. His choosing the name Benedict brought with it the connotation of working on church unity and that desire resonated deeply with me. It was at this time that I began to say, “If there is ever a place in the Church for what I do (at that time this meant contemporary musical expressions of worship), then I’ll join the Church.” I also said, “If the Pope manages to reunite the eastern and western churches, we’ll have no option but to join the Church.” Today what stands out to me is that I began publishing online journals about Catholicism and saying on a somewhat regular basis “If [x] happens, I’ll join.” I began to refer to myself as orthodox and catholic, just with “little letters.” I was adamant that I was not a protestant, because I was not protesting anything.
The last set of milestones began shortly after I met a young seminarian by the name of Andrew Dever. We began to talk about his love for the Church and passion to serve her vocationally. He was one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. We didn’t often have the opportunity to be around each other, but when Kristin and I were in town visiting, he and I would talk for hours. Through my relationship with him, I was introduced to several priests and devout Catholics.
All of these milestones led me to a place where I admired the Church, and believed that she was good. Merely agreeing with the Church, however, did not have the power to pull me from my life-long spiritual home.
What has brought us to the point of actually joining the Church is the result of another journey we have taken. It is the sacrament of marriage, the virtue of chastity, and the theology of the body that have served as the tipping point.
Marriage and Family
My dad is a United Methodist Conference Approved General Evangelist. Since 1981 he has traveled to churches across the nation (and around the world) preaching the power of Christ and the freedom that comes from relationship with Him. One of the sermons he would often preach was on marriage. He and my mother shared their testimony of choosing to love on a daily basis. In that sermon they talk about the early difficulties they faced in their marriage and how through the power of Christ and their choice to refuse divorce as an option, they have a joy-filled marriage. From my earliest days, I was taught the importance of the marriage covenant. Not only did I hear that sermon often, I saw the sermon they lived before my brothers and me. They took time to instruct us on matters of morality. They gave us advice on what to look for in a spouse and how to make that decision.
In June of 2001 I attended a college and career group that went through a thirteen-week sermon series on relationships. It was here that I first heard the concept that not only should divorce not be an option, but that it in fact was not a possibility. That series built on the foundation my parents laid for me and solidified my opinions on marriage and family.
In September of that same year, I was privileged to attend a conference of the American Association of Christian Counselors. There they encouraged us to sign a statement that we would do everything in our power to protect and preserve marriage. I signed as a matter of course, not thinking much about it, but as I look back, I see that God took that signature seriously. From that day forward I have had a passion for healthy, godly marriages.
As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I were introduced to Natural Family Planning shortly before we were married. From early on in our married life, our trainer suggested that Kristin would be a wonderful NFP teacher. After four years of a happy, healthy marriage with two wonderful children (and one on the way), we decided to pursue that possibility. The week of Kristin’s training, she felt that God opened her heart to the idea of joining the Catholic church. The sincerity of the fellow students and trainers, and the importance of the material drew her in. When she arrived home, she began studying chemical contraceptives and the damage they cause. That knowledge has made her into a passionate advocate for NFP and against contraception.
As a result of her training, I picked up a copy of “The good news about sex and marriage”, and “Male and Female, He Created Them: A Theology of the Body.” These two books resonated deeply with my spirit; in their pages I found explanation and support for the beliefs I held concerning marriage and family. The Catholic teachings on life, marriage, sexuality, family, and chastity have served as the catalyst or point-of-no-return for the completion of our journey. We came to the realization that we were already living a catholic faith, without the benefits of being in full communion with the Church.
Ultimately we long to be involved in a church that has both a strong moral theology and a strong sacramental theology. As I searched and looked, and looked and searched, I came to the conclusion that only the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church fit that bill. And it is the Catholics who are vocal in the public arena, calling out like Wisdom from the roof of her house to any who will heed her. After much prayer, we are following the voice of God into the Catholic Church.
Pray for us as we follow the voice of the Holy Spirit.