A Few Reasons Why I Am a Catholic

To balance out my post on why I am not a Oneness Pentecostal (here), I will give some reasons as to why I am Catholic. First some background. I was born into the Catholic church, baptized as an infant only a few months old. I was never catechized in my youth, and sporadically practiced my faith. Yet, I was always intrigued by God. In my teen years, I fell into the world until I was 22 years old, when I decided I needed to get right with God. At that time, I was part of a charismatic Catholic group in the Philippines (Bukas Loob sa Diyos [Open in Spirit to God]). On June 30, 2002, I received what Pentecostals would call the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

When I returned to the Seattle area, the only people I knew were Oneness Pentecostals (teen friends with whose church I had experience). Because of the similarities in beliefs about the Holy Spirit, I easily made the transition. I will not recount my Oneness experience here since I have done so briefly in aforementioned post. Because of my studies in seminary, I decided to investigate and eventually return to the Catholic church. Below are a few reasons I am now Catholic. Once again, this is not an exhaustive list, but it highlights some of the more influential factors on my decision to come home to Rome.

Church Fathers. As I read some of the church fathers for church history, I began to realize that of which the church spoke sounded much like the Catholic church. For example, St. Ignatius’s reference to the Eucharist as the “medicine of immortality” accorded well with the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist as a sacrament. The recitation of the Nicene Creed (and the Apostles’ Creed during such devotions like the rosary) during Mass harkens back to that ecumenical council, which the Fathers defended.

Mystics Tradition. The Catholic church (as well as the Orthodox) have a strong line of mystics, those who are greatly in touch with and live out the love of God. At George Fox Evangelical Seminary, I learned about contemplative prayer, and found myself wired to this way of praying. In my exploration of contemplative prayer, I found that the most in-depth works on it were by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. I also took a class called Spirituality and the Writings of the Mystics where I noticed that most of the writings on contemplative prayer came from Catholic mystics. Many of those whom I have read and who have experienced genuine contemplation today are Catholics (here). The Catholic church seems to be a good place for one who is inclined toward mysticism, such as myself.

The View of Some Jews. A woman with whom I attended the same Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults is Jewish. When she told her parents of her decision to become Catholic, they were quite happy for her, saying that the Catholic church is the closest in Christianity to Judaism. I have also heard from other Jews that if they were to become Christian, they would become Catholics.

The Charismatic Movement. As I mentioned above, I came back to God through a charismatic Catholic group. When I was thinking of returning to Catholicism again, I began to research the charismatic movement in the Catholic church. I came to find that, the Catholic church has embraced the charismatic work and acknowledged its validity. Pentecostal spirituality has many important aspects, and many of them can be found in the charismatic Catholic movement. The “fullness of the Spirit” that some (sectarian) Pentecostal groups want to claim is not exclusively theirs.

The Connection to Eastern Christianity. Before coming back to Catholicism, I was looking into the Orthodox church. I had attended Vespers for months until my work on my thesis prevented me from attending often. Through some Catholic forums, I found out about the Eastern Catholic churches and how Blessed John Paul II, when he was pope, encouraged the Eastern churches to de-Latinize and retain their culture. After some research, I found that some Eastern churches in the area and I attended a Byzantine Catholic church Vesper and Divine Liturgy this month (June 2011). It was virtually like the Orthodox: the entire Liturgy was chanted, it had the iconostasis, communion was administered in the same way, there was the antidoron bread (bread that is blessed but is not used as Eucharist), and so forth. What was awesome to me was that there were prayers for Pope Benedict during the Liturgy and that I could receive the Eucharist because I am Catholic. The Eastern and Western aspects to Catholicism make it a truly universal church.

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10 thoughts on “A Few Reasons Why I Am a Catholic

  1. @John Mark: I don’t think it is as easy as saying that JohnDave merely accepted “tradition”. Is this over and against your tradition free ecclesiology? Aren’t you part of the Southern Baptist Convention? I’d be surprised to see anyone say with a straight face that the SBC is not dictated by tradition in various ways. Likewise, I am not sure if you wanted him to provide proof-texts or something else. Instead, it seems like he is merely being honest about the framework within which he finds Scripture can best be understood. For even we Protestants who appeal to Scripture often forget that even our canon of Scripture is “tradition”.

    @JohnDave: I’ve appreciated watching your transition to Roman Catholicism even though I strongly disagree with some of the doctrines taught by your church. Oddly enough, as a Roman Catholic you have proven more ecumenical than as a Oneness Pentecostal (what does that say about Oneness Pentecostalism?), so it been something that I sense divides you from other Christians. I am thankful for this.

    As to your reasons: (1) I do think that the church fathers are important, but they are secondary to the writings we have canonized because (A) the tradition of canon is the tradition of creating a constitution and the constitution of the canon then supersedes other voices and (B) all those books which have been canonized provide earlier witness to the apostolic message than their later commentators. I have not given the Apostolic Fathers enough attention yet so I cannot speak to whether or not I think they depart or remain close to the message we find in the earliest Christian literature.

    (2) I agree that mystics do find a good home in the Roman Catholic tradition. The same can be said for the Eastern Orthodox tradition and even some of the Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition. But the first two have a deeper well from which to draw.

    (3) The view of some Jews is interesting, but to me unconvincing. At Western Seminary we are currently hosting several students who are Messianic Jews. They resonate well with some of the seminary’s teachings (mostly dispensationalist Baptist, which I am not). So I could easily say very similar things about Jews as relates to other forms of Christianity, Messianic congregations especially.

    (4) I appreciate that the Roman Catholic Church has made space for the charismatic movement. I wish that there was more acceptance amongst evangelicals on this matter. It is solid proof against some fringe Pentecostals that the Spirit is moving outside of their circles.

    (5) The connection with the Eastern Orthodox Church is appreciated, but we should not ignore the obvious divisions as well. While we Protestants (except Anglicans) do not have bishops (for the most part) we do share on major point with the Orthodox: the papacy. That the Bishop of Rome should be ruler over the church no matter his nearness or distance from orthodoxy seems very perplexing. That the Pope can say something about Mary the mother of Jesus and suddenly it must be true (without the help of councils and creeds) is troublesome. That once bishop of an ancient see would trump others is confusing and that the church would be founded totally in the old world with little based in North America, Latin America, Africa, or Asia seems awkwardly Eurocentric (can we really imagine a Nigerian or Korean Pope?) to me.

    In our past conversations I have stated why I remain evangelical. I think that the papacy is a flawed idea. I struggle with their understanding of the Eucharist though I respect it. I don’t get their use of Mary. I think the concept of sainthood is distracting from the early apostolic vision of a church where every one is “holy ones”. I could go on and on in this regard. But I think at the end of the day Catholics and Protestants should be able to work together for the gospel and I trust that this is so, even if in the microcosm of a few friendships like our own.

  2. @John Mark: Not necessarily tradition, but more like searching and delving and getting my feet wet into it. I should probably do a Scripture post on why I am a Catholic. Thanks for that idea!

    @Brian: I have appreciated how you have stuck by me even though I have come into a church with which you have disagreements. I am glad in our conversations that you have also affirmed the good parts of Catholicism. You are a true friend and Christian. In response to some of your points:

    (1) Yes, I agree that Scripture is the earliest witness to the apostolic message and our constitution. The importance for the Fathers for me in that regard is that they played a role in the affirmation of the canon. The Fathers are also a witness to the continuing work of the Holy Spirit after the apostolic age.

    (3) I realize that this is a weaker reason, but it does show that there are Jews who view Catholicism in a good light. Your response has made I wonder about Messianic Jews in the Catholic church. I can imagine that there are some of Eastern European background who are part of the Eastern Catholic church, but the only one I really know for sure is the lady in my RCIA class.

    (5) Here I’m talking about the Eastern Catholics, which seems virtually the same as the Orthodox except for one difference, which is that the Eastern Catholics are in communion with Rome.

    I always enjoy our conversations about where we’re at in our lives with our churches. I love it that you’re evangelical and that we don’t have to see things the same. Of course, I love the evangelicals and have much to learn from them as well. The papacy is often a big struggle, and I also wrestle with it sometimes as well. At the end of the day, someone has to call the shots; taking a high view of pneumatology in that the Holy Spirit is still at work in and through the Pope is where I draw my comfort. As to how the papacy is done, that is subject to change, although perhaps not in our lifetime. Concerning the declarations of the Pope, it’s not quite as simple as that. I’ve learned that there have to be some requirements for the Pope to make any binding declarations upon the church. From what I’ve seen, the Pope tends to declare what is accepted in the broader Catholic church. There have been many periods where popes (and lines of popes) have never made any binding declaration.

    We have got to get together again soon—I think we’re a bit overdue! :-)

  3. @Brian: Actually, let me rephrase that. Using your example regarding Mary, no Catholic is required to accept any Mariology, even if the Pope has made an ex cathedra statement. I think a Catholic who would avoid Mary would be missing out on something, but none is require to accept any declarations.

  4. @JohnDave: As I have said before there are times where I would like to be a Roman Catholic. Some people joke that I will die one! There is much to respect about Catholicism. I find myself in greater agreement with Catholics and Orthodox than many Protestants on many subjects these days.

    Now my responses to your responses:

    (1) I can agree with that.

    (3) It would be an interesting studying to see how many self-identified Messianic Jews would be part of RCC parishes. It seems that Messianic Jews do tend to be a bit sectarian with their own churches and that they do seem to have their own liturgy of sorts, but I speak ignorantly from a distance.

    (5) Thank you for the clarification.

    I agree that we must get together again soon. How is your thesis coming? Mine is picking up speed. I’d like to be done by August.

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  6. Yes, “self-identified” would be the correct word. My thesis is moving along, but not picking up speed, yet. I’m hoping to nail it down by September. Regarding “binding declarations,” I realize that’s not really a good term. I should probably say “infallible statements.” I don’t know—I’m still a baby Catholic! :-)

  7. One major difference between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches is that Eastern Catholic Churches are required to accept the Latin definitions of faith: That is, they are required to accept Latin dogmas and ecclesiology. Wherever the Eastern tradition differs, this is relegated to theologumenon (theological opinion); wherever it disagrees, it is not permitted. However, many Eastern Catholics hold to their ancestral dogmas in opposition to the Vatican anyway, thus creating a very odd situation for both Latins and Eastern Catholics (which is why so many Eastern Catholics return to Eastern Orthodoxy when they are placed in geographic proximity to Roman Catholics, like in America).

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