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.

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