29 September 2013

New friends

If you wish to make a lot of new friends, be a Protestant, in an on-line Christian discussion group, thinking of becoming a Catholic.

From late September, 1993, when I began making it clear, in the Christia group, that I was thinking of becoming a Catholic, I started to be the recipient of advice - and of material objects.  People were, indeed, very kind.  A number of persons sent me books - both pro- and anti-Catholic books.  Some Catholics sent me icons and similar objects.  And I received quantities of e-mail - mostly from Protestants warning me against converting.

I began reading everything I could get my hands on the subject.  I must, during the ensuing six months, have read 20 or 30 books, both by Protestants and by Catholics, on the subject of the Catholic Church.  I re-read, also, a number of  books by Protestants that I had already.  I began to see something - something, I suppose, that ought to be obvious, when one thinks about it:
Protestantism has no positive case to make.
What do I mean by this?  I mean that, in every case, the reasons given in Protestant books for being Protestant were, in fact, reasons not to be Catholic:

  • Catholics aren't allowed to read the Bible
  • Catholics believe they must earn their salvation
  • Catholics worship Mary
  • Catholics worship statues
  • Catholics have added to the faith
  • Catholics have removed the Second Commandment (against image-veneration)
and so forth.  Of course I began to see that all these accusations were untrue - based, in some cases, on misunderstandings; in some cases on direct untruths about the Catholic faith.  None of this was difficult to understand, and I was moderately surprised at the weakness of the criticisms of the Catholic faith, since I had come to know what it was through my other reading.

Nonetheless, what was most outstanding was something that I only recognised after I had been a Catholic for some time: there was no positive case being made for Protestantism.

For the matter of that, the first difficulty must be to decide what is Protestantism.  Is it all Trinitarian groups?  Is it all who believe in the Bible?  Does it exclude those, like Mormons, who have additional Scriptures to the Bible?

At the time, however, I did not understand that what I was looking for was the positive reason why this or that group was the one God had ordained that all Christians must belong to to be pleasing to Him.

That there ought to be one such group - that the multiplicity of conflicting, and, at times, warring, groups could not be God's plan was something I could not doubt.  That Christians ought to be at one with one another, that they ought to agree on what were the important, at least, things to believe and to follow, seemed (and seems obvious).

There was a different reason, however - one which was, in terms of its force with me much more powerful, though in reality, as I ought to have seen, one which was shallow and should not have been a consideration.  Newman, in the Apologia, says that though his reason was satisfied by 1843 with the claims of the Catholic Church, the effect of his early fear of the Church and of his early belief that the Pope was the anti-Christ was to remain as what he called a 'stain upon my imagination.'

In my case, the fear and dread was enormous.  I remember, in December, perhaps shortly before Christmas, 1993, that I decided that I might go into the Newman Centre on campus to see what it was like.

I was terrified.  I approached the steps of the building, and looked around to make sure no one who knew me could see me entering.  I prayed earnestly to God that He would do something - anything! - to prevent me entering if this were a 'synagogue of Satan' (Revelations 3:9).  I prayed for Him to protect me.

The result was moderately anti-climactic.  The priest there, Fr Paul Rankin
(the only photo I could find - he is the one in the foreground), was actually packing to leave - his three years were up - but he sat and talked with me for twenty minutes or so.  He was quite pleasant, not at all pressing, and simply said that I should turn to the Lord and that He would give me wisdom.

Until now, outside of those on the Internet with whom I had talked, and, now, Fr Paul, I had spoken only to Susan about my perplexity.  Three months had passed since the storm had hit and I was beginning to see that the whole business was not going to go away, like a bad dream.  I said to Susan that I had better tell our pastor - and our children.

21 September 2013


C. S. Lewis comments, in his 'space novel' Perelandra, with relevance to my situation:
I suppose every one knows this fear of getting “drawn in”—the moment at which a man realises that what had seemed mere speculations are on the point of landing him in the Communist Party or the Christian Church—the sense that a door has just slammed and left him on the inside.
 I had, I suppose, been viewing what Ronald Knox, in The Belief of Catholics, calls the 'shop window':
I propose in this chapter to disentangle some of the various elements in the appeal of which I have been speaking. I have called it the Shop Window, because I believe that there is, I will not say a large body of people, but a considerable body of people, whom you may easily liken to a crowd of small boys outside a confectioner's shop, flattening their noses against the pane and feasting, in imagination only, upon the good things they see there--but they have no money to get in. Just so these Platonic admirers, these would-be converts, look longingly towards Catholicism for the satisfaction each of his own need; now and again, perhaps (it notoriously happens in shop windows) mistaking some accidental glory of the Church for a more perfect thing than it is. The elders, in hearing Helen's suit, must needs make allowance for the siren sweetness of her voice. So he who undertakes to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church is naturally on his guard lest his judgment should be biased unconsciously in its favour. At least we shall avoid unconscious bias if, from the outset, we tabulate the various attractions which the Church has for various minds, put them out (as it were) in the shop window, and take a good look at them. They talk of the "lure" of Rome; in this chapter, at any rate, the net shall be spread honestly in the sight of the bird.
I had become a Christian as an adult, and an adult disillusioned with the offerings of the world.  Christianity was an unknown to me, except through works of fiction, such as Sigrid Undset's incomparable mediaeval novels Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken.  As a new Christian I had soon become Reformed - convinced, then, as I am now - that it represented a truer form of Christianity than did the popular evangelicalism in which I was first converted.  Nonetheless, I had, for some years, felt seriously unfulfilled by Reformed Christianity.  Through the writings of Jim Jordan and others I had come to realise that much of modern Reformed Christianity had narrowed itself unnecessarily, in a reaction against the Catholic Church.  I had been excited to discover that much of what I thought of as Catholic - higher liturgies, a closer experience of God, the essential place of the Sacraments - was, in fact, perfectly comformable to Reformed beliefs.  I had been gazing into the 'shop window.'

My experience in Papakura, described in Mary, showed, though, that somewhere I was longing for ... something ... but I did not know what it was.

Until September, 1993, it had never occurred to me that the Catholic Church might itself be what I was longing for.

I wrote to Mark Shea in a terrible mixture of feelings: real terror, on the one hand, of what I was doing; unquenchable longing for what, if it could conceivably actually be true, I would go through anything to have: belonging to the actual Body of Christ and receiving His actual Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

I corresponded with Mark for a few days.  I corresponded with others in Christia.  I felt a great fear of being discovered by my Protestant friends, but I felt I could not pull back.  I had to know if this were true.

I still have printouts from a few of the e-mails of those days.  I asked Catholics on the Internet the usual questions: about Purgatory, about Mary, about the saints.  I received answers that, so far, were plausible enough.  For a week or two, I said nothing to anyone other than in e-mails to these Catholics on Christia.

One Saturday morning in early October - a pleasant sunny day in early spring - Susan and I were in the house together.  With trepidation and a shaky voice, I spoke to her:

  • Me:     Uh ... um ... listen, there's something ... er ... something I need to talk to you about.
  • Susan: (mistrusting wariness in her voice) "What?!" (she later told me she thought I was going to confess adultery - which, in a way, I was)
  • Um - look, well, uh, could you come downstairs for a minute (to my garage-office, where I had been listening to my Scott Hahn tapes)?  There's just something I want to show you.
  • Uh - OK...  But ... what is it?  What is this about?
  • (after showing her the Newman books and tapes) I, er, don't know how to say this, but ... I have been reading a lot, and listening to these tapes.  I really don't know how to say this - but - well, I might (gulp!) have to become a Catholic!
  • We'll have to move!!
That was Susan's first reaction.  I know what she was thinking.  "This crazy husband of mine is off after another wild hare.  God knows where this will end.  God knows, maybe we will actually end up being Catholics - but I am not going to drive past the Reformed Church every morning to go to Mass, knowing what those Reformed people are going to think of me!!"

She may correct me, but I think that is what was going on in her head - and it says quite a lot both about our relationship to one another - which was fairly oppressive on my part - and our relationship to the Reformed Church.  Our marriage had, in fact, been troubled by a fair bit of ... well, of things not good.  It was a deep awareness of this fact, certainly, but also, perhaps, a genuine gift from God, that prompted me to respond to this by taking her in my arms, and saying:
  • Our marriage will never be the same!
I really didn't know what I meant by that, exactly.  I believed it to be true.  I think the 20 years since that date have validated that belief.

14 September 2013


The "Reformed minister" (he turned out to have been Presbyterian) was Scott Hahn.

I said (to my interlocutor on Christia) that I had never heard of him - who was he, and, more importantly, had he written any books that my library might have?  The person - I have forgotten his name, but he lived in Chicago - said that he doubted our library would have any books (it did not), but that Scott had made some cassette tapes of speeches he had given, including his conversion story - conversion, that is, to the Catholic Church - but that if I wanted books written by Protestants who had become Catholics, my University library was sure to have books by John Henry Newman.

Newman's name rang two bells with me.

First, he was the author of a book that I had heard of: The Idea of a University.  He had also written another book I had heard of: Apologia pro Vita Sua - that, I vaguely knew, had to do with is conversion.

The other bell was something I had heard from a talk by Francis Schaeffer.  During my first few years as a Christian, I had contributed regularly to Schaeffer's ministry, read his books - and subscribed to a series of cassette taped talks.  In one such talk, I recall Schaeffer as saying, regarding Newman's becoming a Catholic, something like this:
Newman had grown weary in his struggle against German liberalism.  He crept into the darkness of the [Catholic] Church, and pulled the door shut behind him.
I remember that statement affecting me deeply at the time.  During my first two or three years as a Christian, I was trying to find my way in the maze of claimants to be the 'best' - or even 'true' - Church of Christ.  I took from Schaeffer's statement that he was saying:

  • To enter the Catholic Church was to cease to think for oneself; just blindly accept whatever was given one.
  • Newman's decision to become a Catholic had been one of moral cowardice.  He had simply decided he would rather let someone else worry about this or that Christian doctrine.  He became a Catholic, not because he was convinced that what the Church said was true, but because he could not be bothered trying to find out for himself.
My friend in Chicago said that he would give me his set of tapes by Hahn - that he would post them to me.  In the meantime, I thought I would read Newman.

I got the Apologia out of the library and saw, from a blurb or introduction or something, that that book had actually been written after he had been a Catholic for 18 or 19 years, but that he had written another book during his last year as an Anglican - a book that he viewed as being his testing of whether, in fact, he believed the Catholic faith.  That book was An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.  I got both books out, and began to read.  Part way through this process - which, I believe, began somewhere near the beginning of September, 1993 - the Scott Hahn tapes arrived.  I spent about two weeks reading the two books, and listening to the tapes - but in secret.  I was, in fact, terrified of being caught with these materials - terrified, I mean, of Susan's catching me.  I read the books only on the 'bus or in similar situations when she would not be around.  I listened to the tapes on my stereo, in my garage-cum-office, on earphones, and switched the sound feed to the FM radio if she came in.

I do not know if I can easily explain the basis of my fear.  If you are not a Protestant - and a pretty convinced one - you will likely misunderstand.  There could be some rational bases for it:

  • Susan might be angry or upset with me (she was, when once I told her)
  • My elders might be angry or upset with me (they were very angry and upset, when once I told them)
Nevertheless, what I was afraid of - terrified of - was the mere name 'Catholic.'

I had by now been a Christian for almost 24 years.  During that time, there were few who said to me, in so many words, "the Catholic Church is a synagogue of Satan."  Nevertheless, there were some - but the message was conveyed in almost every aspect of being a Protestant - particularly a Reformed Protestant.  I remember, for example, this passage from the Preliminary Exhortation for the Lord's Supper:
However, the Lord admonishes those who do not believe or have not repented to abstain from the holy supper so as not to eat and drink judgment on themselves. Therefore we also charge those who willfully continue in their sins to keep themselves from the table of the Lord *(such as all who trust in any form of superstition; all who honor images or pray to saints; all who despise God's Word or the holy sacraments; all who take God's name in vain; all who violate the sanctity of the Lord's Day; all who are disobedient to those in authority over them; all drunkards, gamblers, murderers, thieves, adulterers, liars, and unchaste persons). To all such we say in the name of the Lord that as long as they remain unrepentant and unbelieving, they have no part in the kingdom of God.
 Those who 'honour images or pray to saints' were clearly not meant to be Baptists :-)

What I was afraid of was God.

Nevertheless, there had been that strange attraction to the Church that I had felt the year before, in Papakura.  There had been all those practices, such as frequent Communion, the importance of Baptism, the importance of liturgy, that Jim Jordan had emphasised - even although he was in no way drawn to the Catholic Church.  I wanted to know.  I wanted to know the truth.

So I read secretly, and I listened to Scott Hahn secretly.

At the end of my reading, I knew that, whatever Schaeffer had believed about Newman, Newman had become a Catholic against his inclination but as a matter of absolute conviction.  He had spent six years struggling against the Church.  He had done everything imaginable to avoid it.  He had failed.  The same was true of Scott Hahn.  He had become a Catholic - initially against his own wife's wishes - for one reason and one only: he believed he had no choice if he was to remain in friendship with God and intellectually honest.

On my 51st birthday - 22 September 1993 - I wrote an e-mail to a member of Christia, one Mark Shea, who sounded like a Catholic, and a convert from Protestantism.   I used almost the same words I had used to Candace that early Sunday morning 28 December 1969: "I wanted to know more about this."

08 September 2013


Several of my friends - some Catholic, some Protestant - have asked me from time to time how I dealt with this or that doctrinal difference between Catholics and Protestants.

I didn't.  Or, rather, these issues I had already dealt with before I ever found myself attracted to the Catholic Church.  I do not think I could possibly have entertained the fantasy of being approached from that church in Papakura, by a nun or a priest, had I not done so.  I will not (and probably cannot) detail my change of mind regarding each of several apparent differences - 'apparent' since I came to believe, before I ever imagined being a Catholic, that all differences but one were, indeed, only apparent.  Major ones I have already talked about in these posts:

  • Sola Scriptura - the idea that only what is in Scripture is binding on Christians.  I saw as early as 1985 that even the question what was Scripture could not itself by satisfied by Scripture - and that it was, in any case, impossible genuinely to say that Scripture was perspicuous - clear so that all men of good will must agree on everything essential; the multiplicity of clearly sincere sects showed that.
  • Sola fide - the idea that salvation is by faith alone, apart from all works.  In that Bible study in 1985 I saw, clearly, that Catholics might say - with, in fact, Scripture (see James 2:14-26) - that saving faith is faith working in love; Protestants might say that faith alone saves - but that saving faith works.  Phaenomenologically I could see then (and can see now) no difference.
There are many other issues - for some Protestants, Our Lady's status is one - but the two above are the great issues of Protestantism that, it seemed to me, were the underpinnings of Protestantism.

One difference I had not yet clearly seen yet: the nature of the Church.  Although the Reformed churches taught that the Church was visible - and had real authority - it began to be clear that most Christians did not.  Most believed in the idea of the invisible Church - a notional concept, basically the set of all those who would, in fact, be saved.

I had already been convinced by the Reformed people that the idea of the invisible Church was not Biblical.  What I had not found yet was any real criterion for locating that Church.  It still rested on the idea of my understanding of Scripture, and then my discernment of the teaching of a particular body - and that body, if right, was the true visible Church.

It was, in fact, the body that agreed with me about what Scripture taught.

In late 1991 or early 1992, having set up the Business School with e-mail, I had also begun to make use of the Internet.  This was not easy.  Initially the only way I could do it was to login to our mainframe (an IBM 4341, I think it was).  There was an application there - I cannot remember what it was - that enabled me to read, and post in, Usenet groups.  It was clumsy.  It was text-only.  I could do a little more on the Internet - using Lynx I could even download picture files - as collections of encoded text which had then to be joined together and decoded - but for the most part, I involved myself in discussion groups.

In particular, Christia, as I said yesterday.  I quickly learnt that there were Catholics in the group - and Catholics who were not content simply to act as though there were no possibility of making clear what the Church believed - or even of convincing people of the truth of those beliefs.

I found myself quite fascinated by some of these discussions - and annoyed by the ignorance of the responses of some Protestants.  Even I knew more of the Catholic faith than some of these people seemed to!  I began, occasionally, to try to correct some of the grosser misunderstandings.

And I was electrified, one day - in late August or early September, 1993 - to read what someone posted.  He made reference to some 'Reformed minister' (his words) who had become a Catholic!

Who was this??!!  I wanted very much to know more about this.

The man's name was Scott Hahn.

07 September 2013


It is, perhaps, almost universally the case that parents do not appreciate the implications of the maturation of their children until the process has long ceased to be under their control.  By the end of the year from mid-1992 until mid-1993:

  • Johnny was 18
  • Helen was 16
  • Eddie was 13
  • Adele was 11
Your children are small and you think of them as your children.  They will go to this or that school, or perhaps be home-schooled.  They may watch this or that television programme, but not some other.  But they are growing.  They are connecting to the world.  They have friends.  They engage in activities that you know nothing of (I expect my children, reading this, to be saying to themselves, "Dad, you don't know the half of it!" :-)).

Johnny finished high school at the end of 1993, and, I think, got a job working at Pukekohe Kentucky Fried Chicken, as a cook - he had, indeed, other plans, but in the meantime, he had a job.

Helen, by now, was pretty clearly going to go to University and major in flute.  It was in 1993, I think, that she began lessons with Uwe Grodd - which was to have wider consequences for Adele and for me.

Eddie and Adele were still at home, home-schooled by Susan - so, for the matter of that, was Helen.  But all were increasingly independent.

And my life was changing as well.  Sometime in this year my job with Glenn Archibald ended.  At the start of my work there, electronic tax-filing in New Zealand was pretty primitive.  Glenn had hired me to connect his tax business to the IRD, so that he could file electronically.  There was one commercial product available, but it was very expensive (you had to buy their whole tax-management suite of software).

Sometime around the end of 1992 (September, my memory tells me), he enthusiastically called together his IT staff (me, his son Grant, and Patrick Sweetman, a database administrator) and asked us what would be involved in making his software setup commercial.

We rather blanched, I think, at the fact that he clearly had no idea of the size of such a project.  We met together for an hour or so, made some plans, and came up with a figure (how I don't know) of what it might cost him initially before he could start making money: $250,000 (or perhaps it was smaller - I don't really recall - but it was large).

That, I think, was about 11AM on a Saturday.  At 1PM I went home (four hours early).  I never came back.

Much was in a state of flux, therefore.  Our children were beginning to show signs that they would not be with us indefinitely.  I was now free on Saturdays.  And things were changing at the University.  Sometime before this - perhaps 1991? - the people at our Computer Centre had involved the University in connexions to the rest of New Zealand and the world - what has come to be known as the Internet.  We had by now got e-mail going in the Business School.  I was quite busy with that - but it also became possible to participate in other Internet activities besides e-mail.  I discovered a set of discussion groups on what was called usenet - and, in particular, a group on usenet called Christia.  Most participants on Christia were Protestants, but not all.  There were also a few Catholics.