27 October 2013


In June of 1994 there was some computer trade show at the Ellerslie Showgrounds.  Perhaps, my boss said, I ought to go.  I take the 'bus to work and so have a monthly pass so it would not even require any sort of transportation arrangement.

I wanted to go.  I wanted to escape.  I didn't want to escape the office, or work, or anything specific.  I just wanted to escape.

I had been in turmoil over this Catholic question now for nine months.  I was nearly paralysed with fear.  I knew now so much that to believe the Catholic claims false was impossible for me, yet I had still present in my mind the anti-Catholic threats that had become like glaring neon signs flashing at me: "Great Whore;" "Synagogue of Satan;" "High Treason" (this last words that Jim Jordan had written to me).

I had, in addition, physical problems.  I have a congenital deviated septum.  The result is chronic sinus issues - and at times a nose so badly stopped up that I cannot breathe through it.  That morning I was in that condition as the 'bus headed down the Great South Road.  We were, I believe, somewhere in Greenlane.  I pulled the cord and got off the 'bus.

I was, I suppose, in the psychological state called fugue.  I did not know who I was, where I was going, nor what I was supposed to be doing.  My mind seemed racing a hundred miles an hour.  God, I thought, was sitting in Heaven laughing.  He was waiting for me to decide - "decide now!!  now!!  Hurry!!  You must decide now!!" - and ensuring that, whatever my decision, it would be wrong.  He would shout, with a maniacal laugh, "Wrong!!  You now go straight to Hell!!"  And, I thought, He was holding my nostrils tightly shut so that I could not breathe.

Though it was mid-winter, it was a sunny day.  I sat down on a bench at the 'bus stop and, breathing through my mouth, slowly began to calm down.  I began to come back to myself - that word 'myself' began, again, to have some meaning! - and I thought.  I thought and made a decision: I would not believe in such a God.  I simply made a moral refusal, an act of the will.  If such a god - such a being deserves no typographical honorific - really exists, I will not believe in him.  I reject him and any universe made by such a being.  I would believe that if I genuinely sought to know God's will, that He would not hide Himself from me; that He would help me to follow Him.  It was quite analogous to my decision in August of 1984 (or 1985?) when I suddenly was sure there was no God.  At that time I absolutely rejected such a state of affairs - one in which the world was meaningless, was not created but just was, without rhyme or reason.  I had refused to accept the non-existence of God.  Now I had refused to accept His maliciousness.

It was only years later, reflecting on this point, that I thought of the verse Hebrews 11:6:
...for he that cometh to God must believe that He is...
that, in short, that He exists:
...and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.
that, in other words, that He would not deliberately hide Himself from me.

I got onto the next 'bus and went to the trade show, and finally back to work.  I had not solved my problem yet - but I was no longer going to allow myself to be panicked.

19 October 2013

Family Camp 1994

The beginning of 1994 was strange, and upsetting.  It began with the Reformed Church Family Camp.

When did we start going to Family Camp?  Perhaps 1989?  Annually, from the Friday following Christmas, North Island families spend a week at Finlay Park.  Typical summer holiday activities, coupled with religious study and - well, 'activities.'  Somewhere there is a photo of me and our four children playing music at Family Camp.

We went to camp after Christmas in 1994.  My closest friend Ross noticed that there was something different about me.  I spent much of the time sitting alone re-reading John Henry Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and his Apologia pro Vita Sua.  I lived, at this time, and in the first months of 1994, in a tension of fear and desire - on the one hand, fear lest someone should discover what I was thinking about; on the other, the desire excitedly to engage my friends on the topic of the possibility that the Catholic Church was, purely and simply, Christ's unique mystical presence on earth.

I was rapidly becoming convinced that the fundamental question to be answered was not whether this or that Catholic teaching (many of which I misunderstood, in any case) - Mary, Purgatory, images - was true.  The fundamental question to be answered was whether there was such a thing as an authority on earth with the right to be able to speak in Christ's Name.

I had, many years before, asked my pastor how I could know what was in the canon of Scripture.  I was beginning to realise that the very most basic idea of Protestantism, that of Sola Scriptura, had no foundation itself.  Where did this idea come from?  Why did we think Scripture was 'specially from God?  Why was the Book of Mormon not from God?

I was afraid of the storm that would arise if my elders in the Reformed Church knew of what I was thinking.  I had told Roel Voschezang.  He had not seemed terribly disturbed, but I feared he had not really understood how seriously I was worried.  He had given me a book to read - I do not remember what book it was - but all that book had seemed to me to be saying was that we could properly consider Catholics as Christians.

I was reading now everything I could get my hands on.  I re-read a number of my Reformed writers - R. J. Rushdoony, Cornelius Van Til, James B. Jordan - but also a number of others whose books had been sent to me by Protestants on Christia.  None of these seemed remotely as persuasive as the many Catholic books by authors such as Karl Keating, John Hardon, Frank Sheed, and many others.

I feared my elders finding out what was going on - but longed to talk to others.  I began discussing matters with Reformed friends.  They were uniformly surprised, shocked, even - but deeply interested and our discussions went on.  Indeed, of the half dozen or so I talked to, none is now Reformed; two are Catholics.

I began attending Mass at the Newman Centre at the University.  Sue and I attended Saturday Easter Vigil Mass at St Patrick's parish in Pukekohe (and, I think, were put off by the whole thing; much of the Protestant unhappiness with Catholicism is visceral and cultural - nothing to do either with teaching or with fundamental questions of authority).

Things went along thus with my becoming more and more upset and afraid.  Dinners at our house ceased to resemble normal family mealtimes and became more and more religious debating periods.

Things came to a head in June, 1994.

12 October 2013

Christmas, 1993

By December of 1993, I knew that the thing that had come upon me was not something that, like a nightmare, I was simply going to wake up from.  I was not going to realise that, of course, the Catholic Church, though it might have a number of good things that I had not thought of, was not uniquely the Church of Christ.  It was not simply one denomination amongst many.

I could not continue talking about this issue with friends on the Internet, and with Susan, without telling my children about it - and without telling the elder assigned to us as pastor.  Christmas was a Saturday that year. On Saturday 18 December, I 'phoned Roel Voschezang and asked him if he could drop over to our house after dinner that evening.  I had something I needed to talk with him about.

Roel was a wonderful man ('was' because he died in, I think, 2011).  He and I shared books and had many intellectual interests in common.  Our church had several 'ruling elders' - men who helped govern the congregation but were not licensed to preach - and, quite sensibly, assigned several families to each elder under his pastoral care.  I loved Roel and did not look forward to telling him that something had happened to me that might make me believe I was obliged to become a Catholic.

I had said nothing to our children about this possibility.

Almost every dinnertime in our family I read aloud whilst we eat.  During the years our children were at home we read through a great many books - readings which, I know (because they have told me), they remember with very mixed feelings.  This evening, I said, we would not read at table.  I had something I needed to talk with them about.

Had they already sensed that something was up?  Possibly one of them will read this and tell me.  Nonetheless, they can have known nothing of what, specifically, was going on.  They were astonished - and excited.

The excitement was understandable.  Our family had been serious, dedicated, Reformed Protestant Christians all their lives.  We had joined the Reformed church shortly before Johnny, our eldest, was born.

And the Catholic Church was definitely forbidden fruit.  I am sure part of the excitement was due to novelty.

Not all.  I received from Johnny the most exalted compliment I have ever received: "Well, Dad, I can say one thing: you have always stood up for what you believed was right."  I pray I may be worthy of it.

Whether it was the excitement itself; some infectious agent; or something she ate, Adele announced that she didn't feel too well.  She stopped eating.  Roel showed up towards the end of dinner.  The time that I talked with him was punctuated by Adele's loud vomiting in the toilet in the other room.

I told Roel that I had been reading materials about the Catholic Church.  I told him that I was quite disturbed.  I said that it could ultimately mean that I would have to become a Catholic.  The next day - Sunday the 19th December - was to be a Communion Sunday (Communion was celebrated only bimonthly in our congregation).  Should I not Communicate?

Had I decided to become a Catholic?  I said I had not.  I said that I had no intention of becoming a Catholic - a statement, I now realise, and, perhaps, realised privately at the time, that was ambiguous.  When one says, in English, that one has no intention of doing something, the statement, taken literally, simply says that one does not positively intend to do it; a common way of taking it is that one has a positive intention not to do it.  I am not certain what Roel took me to mean; I know that I meant only the first.

I should go ahead and Communicate, Roel said.  After all, it was perfectly sensible to learn about the Catholic religion.  Indeed, he would give me a book to read that he thought would help.

I was relieved - relieved, but, in fact, uneasy.  I think that even at that early date I knew for certain, at some level within me, that I was bound for the Catholic Church.