What would convince a Jesus loving, hymn singing, Baptist preacher’s son to become a Catholic? That is a question that many, whether they have voiced it quite as succinctly or not, have had for me over the past year and a half or so. Why would someone with such a vibrant faith, rooted in a rich, solid family tradition, walk away and into the arms of the Church at Rome? Though many have probably speculated, citing history, art, or unity, they all fall short of the true reason that my wife and I made the journey across the Tiber. As the famous Catholic convert G. K. Chesterton once put it, “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”* Though it may seem trite, it all boils down to that. Catholicism, when taken seriously and studied critically, simply cannot be denied.
My journey began in a small, rural, baptist church in western Kentucky, and my wife’s found genesis in one of the largest churches in the state. Though from different church climates, both of us grew up alongside caring, God fearing people who loved the Lord and wanted nothing more than to serve him. We both were taught about the atoning death of Christ, the reality and impact of our sin, and the importance of scripture. We were inspired to live lives totally entrusted to God’s love, and though we oft took that mission for granted, the impact of that message remained with us through college. Yes, college, the proverbial hotbed of rebellion and dissension was never fully capable of driving us away from going to church and keeping some line of communication open between ourselves and God. Unbeknownst to us, however, the kindling for the fire of our conversion was being gathered.
Said gathering was shaped by our answer to one question: which church did Jesus establish? As many converts will attest to, authority quickly became the topic du jour at the Phillips house. By what authority did I claim the Bible to be the sole rule of faith for Christians? Whose interpretation of the scripture was to be taken as authoritative and binding on my conscience? Who put the Bible together? These questions riddled my mind and upset my Protestant world view. The answers I found, one right after another, all came back Catholic. The Bible is authoritative, yes, but I came to find out that it wasn’t until the 16th century that some of the “reformers” stripped it away from the interpretation and guide of the magisterium of the Catholic Church. If Jesus set up a Church, would it not make sense that he would desire to maintain it, secure it, and keep it from teaching erroneous doctrines that would endanger the salvation of the faithful? Only one Church can claim such authority and back up its claims via the annals of history, the Catholic Church. If not for her, we would not have a Bible to read and formulate opinions on for it was she who canonized it. The Catholic Church is the only church that can demonstrate a clear lineage back to the apostles themselves; others find their genesis in individual dissenters, most appearing after the 16th century.
As each of our objections to the Church continued to fall, the ominous reality of becoming Catholic quickly became something we could not “shelve” or mentally evade any longer. I remember vividly when Erin, my wife, and I both came to the very real conclusion that we needed to take the next step in our journey and join adult faith formation classes in what the Church refers to as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Having intellectually grappled with the Church for a few months on our own, we decided to stop by our local Cathedral parish to pray. Though we were seated several pews away from one another, we both began to sob as we prayed. It was as if the Lord was saying “enough waiting, come follow me.” Though our intellectual battle had not completely ended yet, it is safe to say that our hearts had “caught up” to some degree.
From there we joined RCIA, formed wonderful relationships with faithful Catholics and aspiring converts, and finally arrived at our confirmation day. Filled with joy and anticipation, we were sealed with chrism and graced by the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Son of God himself in Holy Communion. The finish line became the starting gate as we entered fully into the life of the Church, the church Jesus Christ established on St. Peter some 2,000 years ago.
Our story is that of many who have either come into the Church from without or who have returned from a life far afield. That being said, it is not my goal to dazzle you, fine reader, with a fanciful tale full of Knights Templar and damsels in distress. On the contrary, my hope is that our story inspires you to either investigate the Church for yourself or to take the faith out to a world in need. Truly Christ beckons: “enough waiting, come follow me.”
*From Twelve Modern Apostles and Their Creeds (1926); reprinted in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Vol. 3 Ignatius Press, 1990. Taken from Chesterton.org.