Moving from a Reformed Congregation to a Catholic Parish

Nov 30th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Stories of conversion from the Reformed faith to the Catholic Church abound. When I was Reformed, and was contemplating the claims of the Catholic Church, I read many conversion stories. I searched them and I probed them, looking for that nugget by which I could understand why the particular story’s author had gone off the tracks and landed in popery. As time went on, and as I became more aware of the real possibility that the Catholic claims were true, I started looking for something else in these conversion stories. I started to look for anecdotes about life after conversion to the Catholic Church. But all too often the stories ended with, “…and I received Confirmation and First Communion at the Easter Vigil, [year].”

This is my experience moving from life in a Reformed congregation as a committed Calvinist to life in an American Catholic parish as a Catholic who strives to live like one. It is not my conversion story, that is, not an explanation of why I converted or what I went through during my conversion.

As Presbyterians, my wife and I moved a lot. Before we were enrolled in an RCIA class together,1 my wife and I had been married for eight years, and had lived in six places. We had been married at McLean Presbyterian Church, a large and influential PCA church in an affluent D.C. suburb. Later, we were members of a medium-sized church in Virginia Beach, VA, New Covenant PCA; a large and ‘contemporary’ church in Annapolis, MD, Annapolis Evangelical Presbyterian; a church that had just changed from the OPC denomination to the PCA, New Life, in La Mesa, CA; and a small and extremely close-knit church plant, Dayspring Presbyterian, in Linthicum, MD.

These congregations had much in common with each other and with the churches of my wife’s and my upbringing. Generally speaking, our peers at these places had a sincere love for God, a willingness to place God first in their lives at all costs. As much as I hated “church shopping” at each move, I loved getting settled in to each of these particular congregations, growing in the faith with families similar to my own, getting to know the pastor, and encouraging our elders. We were involved in a host of programs, such as fellowship groups, Sunday morning Bible studies, nursery, and choir, as well as all of the wonderful ad hoc events that occurred throughout the year. And in terms of sharing in intimate Christian love, our experience at our last Reformed congregation was our best; that is, we left on a high note. We became dear friends with the pastor and his wife, could trust our children around any of the other families, and could call on a long list of friends if we ever needed extra help in life.

There were strains too. Several of these congregations had encountered internal factionalism, a church ‘split’, or (in the one case) a denominational change. Issues of contention included musical styles, preaching styles, and (certainly) doctrinal matters. We saw protracted disputes over the role of the Holy Spirit, the necessity for elders to be paedobaptists, the proper age at which children could receive communion, and the significance of the communion elements themselves. There were moral issues that created angst within these congregations too: very common experiences with divorce, where emotional distance was equated with ‘adultery’ (‘porneia’) so as to invoke the supposed New Testament permissions for divorce; disagreements on the permissibility of different forms of contraception; the propriety of in vitro fertilization (and prayers for the efficacy of said technique); and so on.

Generally speaking, we loved the fellowship and community, and accepted the ecclessial, doctrinal, and moral struggles as inevitable for the people of God still struggling in sin. As my intellectual switches slowly began to be thrown in favor of Catholicism’s claims, I was distressed at the thought of leaving life in a Reformed congregation to head for Catholic parish life. In that instance, the grass definitely did not seem greener on the other side. Catholics, my generalization went, had a weak commitment to their faith, shared little in fellowship, concerned themselves more with bingo and raffle tickets than fellowship and outreach, never read their Bibles, didn’t know their faith, and didn’t listen to a word spoken by the homilist.

So how has Catholic parish life gone for the Browns? The answer to that question deserves a quick caveat. When I accepted that the Catholic Church was the one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the Church Christ founded, I made an acknowledgement. It hit me that if the Church was those things in my own time, she was also those things through her least attractive times. She will be those things in the future, no matter what clerical scandals or conditions of lay despondency should occur. Because of what she is and what is contained in her Eucharist, as well as because of the mandate extra ecclesiam nulla salus, for those who recognize what the Catholic Church is or might be, there is a special and essential obligation to learn and then to follow one’s properly formed conscience. So, simply stated, I would have joined the Catholic Church even if faced with the lousiest parish life imaginable because I did not join for Catholic parish life. That said, Catholic parish life for my family has been sweet and precious, and also has left some things to be desired.

Catholic parish life is sweet and precious because we are able to connect with dear Christians who love their faith and who live in the fullness of the Catholic faith. Where we have ‘connected’ with others who have given their lives over to God’s service, we have ‘connected’ at a much deeper level than I have previously experienced. I do not attribute this to a deeper commitment to God’s service by these Catholics than I could have found in my Presbyterian congregants. Not at all! But in my Presbyterian congregations, there was never a complete “meeting of the minds” on the faith with any other person, I suppose including my own wife. One fellow may have held a virtually identical view on Predestination (giving us great kinship) while simultaneously holding a discordant view on contraception. Or another fellow may have been very like-minded on moral issues, but then not seen a problem with putting leftover communion bread out with the fellowship snacks after the service. The proper way for Christians to live was not knowable apart from a common interpretation of Scripture. But since each individual was his or her own final interpretative authority of Scripture, we never could be mutually abandoned to a common way of Christian life. Those of my fellow parishioners who are abandoned to the teaching authority of the Catholic magisterium can thereby be mutually abandoned to a common way of Christian life, like-minded with me in doctrine and morals. This creates a depth of fraternity which I had not previously experienced, despite the amazing fraternal love I shared with many of my Reformed brethren.

In addition, in Catholic parish life we get to worship right along with all of the great Saints in Heaven. When we partake of the Holy Eucharist, we are bodily united with all of the Holy Catholic Church, including our Bishops, our separated loved ones, and even the distant Redemptorist monks at Papa Stronsay, Scotland, or those giant-hearted Missionaries of Charity sisters in Calcutta.  Our local parish’s liturgy and mass is the same as that of a parish of any other language, on any other continent, even in places of war. While spending last Christmas in the heart of Afghanistan, attending mass said by a Czech priest, in Czech, I was still united by the Bread of Heaven with my wife and our home parish.

My parish’s liturgy also contains rich music that is itself a part of the worship. It is traditional, but not because it is “old fashioned” (many of the compositions are modern).  It is traditional because it taps into the traditional role of music in the Catholic liturgy.  (I must concede at this point that many Catholic parishes do deal with debates over music that are strikingly similar to those at Protestant congregations.  A distinction lies in the ability to resolve this debate through resort to tradition and the role of music in the Church’s liturgy.) Lent is a community sacrifice, Hallow-e’en is given context, and Christmas is a season that doesn’t start until December 25th! We even have shared adventures, like when we process the body of Christ through town.

Speaking more generally, there are many similarities between Catholic parish life and Presbyterian congregational life. In parishes one can find fellowship groups, Bible studies, prayer groups, youth groups, young-professionals groups, moms groups, boy scouts, and the like. But, admittedly, there are improvements to be desired. Even in parishes that are committed to orthodoxy, one can find many a frustrating faux pas, such as parishioners entering mass with a cup of Starbucks in hand.2 Also, one might hear some wonky teaching in RCIA, or in a homily when visiting a parish with a less-than-stellar priest. The religious education of children is based on a parochial school model that is rapidly becoming antiquated — this leaves home school and public school kids to run through a one-size-fits-all religious education program that leaves a “check in the box” taste in the parent’s mouth. And yes, as expected, there are plenty of older Catholics who seem more enthused about raffle sales than outreach.

Ultimately, I love the richness, and am invigorated by what I perceive to be “growth areas.” There is so much grace in the sacraments and in tradition on which I can lean for strength. And I could never run out of opportunities to be involved in ‘ministries’ and the lives of my fellow parishioners, to encourage them to run the race set before them with perseverance.

Nothing has given me a misgiving about parish life that I could not also find in some Reformed denomination or individual congregation. If the more earnest and orthodox among us parishioners could pack up and form our own Catholic denomination, perhaps some of the aforesaid deficits would disappear. But in the process we would have instantly cashed in on all the treasures of being in unity with the Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ.  We would also wind up cashing in on doctrinal purity, since the source of the Catholic Church’s purity is not a core group of earnest and orthodox believers, but the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost to the Church. While I did not join the Catholic Church for Catholic parish life, I have been filled with joy by that parish life.

  1. RCIA is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a ritual and classroom-based process for unbaptized persons to enter the Catholic Church, but also used by many parishes to catechize Christians baptized as Protestants who are seeking to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. []
  2. This violates the fast, assuming the human cupholder is partaking of Holy Eucharist; it is disrespectful to those who are fasting, if he is not. []
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  1. My prayer is that my motivation to join the church be pure. At this time, my Reformed brothers are doubting the genuineness of my conversion. They believe my reasons to be superficial, and I don’t blame them. The Reformed are a very close-knit bunch as you indicated, and life revolves around the church as it should. My family’s struggle was trying to keep up with it all. I got the sense that spirituality in this communion was measured by your appearance at extracurricular activities outside worship. The bar was set very very high. There was worship, but there was also evening worship, potlucks, prayer meetings, bible studies, breakfasts, service projects, all in the same week. It wasn’t uncommon to see 90 percent of the congregation at ALL these events.

    My family could never keep up. We had been members for six years, but we just weren’t on the same playing field as the truly committed Reformed. My wife came from a Lutheran background where worship was 30-40 minutes and that was it. My one year old son is one demanding, restless, and incorrigible kid who drives my wife crazy. We both have jobs outside the home, so just dealing with the rigors of family life was taxing enough. We were “below the curve” from a church life perspective. This got me frustrated with my spiritual walk and that’s part of the reason why I converted.

    I want to write more because I know this will be and has been taken out of context. I owe Bryan a piece, which will contain the full story of my Catholic journey, one that began in the Catholic Church with nearly a 20 year wandering in Protestantism and back.

  2. Tom,
    Thanks for this. The “meeting of the minds” difference which you experienced between being Reformed and Catholic is the starkest difference I have noticed in my families move from Reformed congregation to parish life.
    And since that was the reason I initially abandoned sola scriptura and thus Protestantism, I find that for me, Catholic parish life is an exponential improvement over even my very loving, close knit PCA congregation. Could Parish life take some lessons from the Reformed? Yeah. Do I miss some things like getting meals at the birth of a new child? Yeah. But when I talk to a fellow parishoner now about doctrine… WOW what a difference. No similarity to a Reformed congregation whatsoever. Even at points of real or percieved disagreement, the Catholic conversation invariably has a unifying resolution when one party appeals to the authority of the Church, and the other either submits or shrinks away knowing he is in disobedience. There is no “agree to disagree” cop outs which were ubiquitous in my relationships with Reformed brothers.
    As an example, I “disagreed” with a self described Catholic recently about the use of contraception. I showed documentation from the Church condemning it, and he was forced to distance himself from THE CHURCH, not from me or my opinion/interpretation. Even this unfortunate result of the conversation increases the unity of the Church by distancing disenters from her.
    Even among those who do not understand the Churches teaching fully (I incude myself) there is a strong bond of unity based on a shared willingness to submit to the Church… whatever that might entail.
    I used to have a long list of doctrinal questions I was preparing for the vetting of suitors of my daughters. Now as a Catholic there is only one question: “Do you believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God?”
    For a concerned father who has had no formal training in theology, the difference between Reformed and Catholic parish life is extreme.

  3. Tom –

    The proper way for Christians to live was not knowable apart from a common interpretation of Scripture. But since each individual was his or her own final interpretative authority of Scripture, we never could be mutually abandoned to a common way of Christian life. Those of my fellow parishioners who are abandoned to the teaching authority of the Catholic magisterium can thereby be mutually abandoned to a common way of Christian life, like-minded with me in doctrine and morals. This creates a depth of fraternity which I had not previously experienced, despite the amazing fraternal love I shared with many of my Reformed brethren.

    This was the most interesting thing I gleaned from your piece. Thanks for sharing. I hope other converts and contributers will drop by to share their experiences. As you state in your piece, this part of the conversion process is often left out.

    Thanks again.

  4. I was raised Methodist and encountered a lot of same issues growing up. When I began to inquire into the Catholic church, I was met with outright anti-Catholic sentiment but persevered. I was in a Roman church for about six years before I found a home in the Eastern Orthodox faith. I already had familial ties but had never looked into it seriously until the Catholic parish I was in broke away from the Archdiocese over some very contentious issues. It was handled badly on both sides, and I also wanted a Sunday School program for my son entering kindergarten and a sense of community. That is one thing the Roman church is sorely lacking, thinking that educating children outside the parochial school setting starts and stops with PSR. My son is in a Catholic parish school now, so he received the best of both worlds.

  5. I can’t help but wonder if in Reformed/Evangelical churches that perhaps they have developed a higher priority on fellowship to fill the void of sacraments and complete church unity. However, this is not to say that a higher priority on fellowship is at all a bad thing, infact, I also wonder if their high placement on fellowship is God showing all of His followers that we need each other to become the best Church possible. The Catholic Church could truly benefit from the high fellowship and outreach found in other Christian churches, just as they all would benefit from the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church. Together, we would be stronger. Perhaps God is showing us that we are not whole while we are divided?

  6. Dear David,

    Thank you for sharing your experience of not having a “meeting of the minds” with a fellow parishioner. I’ve noted something similar. It has been my experience that when Catholics hold beliefs directly inconsistent with the Catholic Church, they often know it, and often are embarrassed by it (when pressed for a defense). “Well, I’m not a very good Catholic.” As you were getting at, that’s very different than an approach that says, “Well, my interpretation is as defensible as yours.”

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  7. Thanks to Fr. Ochs, Andre, Sarah, and A.T. for your comments.

    The tempo of life in a Reformed congregation can be busy and even taxing, but it also can have that nice Acts 2 feel to it. When we do not see our brothers and sisters but on (busy) Sunday mornings, we miss a lot about each other’s lives. I am pleased to see more and more Catholic activities that have this ‘community’ aspect of sharing our lives together, both the struggles and the joys. We have at least as much to learn from our religious communities here as we do from Protestant fellowship habits.

    A.T., that’s an interesting curiosity about whether Protestants might unknowingly fill the Eucharistic gap with uber-fellowship. It is true that many very deeply committed Catholics spend their time before and after mass praying before the reserved Eucharist, rather than fellowship, which I think is perfectly consistent with Catholic beliefs about the Eucharist, but does tend to displace an opportunity for fellowship.

    Sarah, it sounds like you were stuck in a deeply problematic (schismatic!) parish, which is truly sad. May St. Thomas More and you pray for them!

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  8. I think it is an immigrant thing. The reformed church I grew up in was close but they were all dutch immigrants. The same church in Holland was very different because it was a much larger percentage of the population and not an immigrant church. We need to get that alien in a foreign land feel. We should be counter-cultural enough that we should naturally bond together. Often we are not. When we have a Christian culture or subculture we can go along for the ride. There are dangers everywhere.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  9. Tom, thanks for sharing this. I am coming out of a reformed faith and am currently in RCIA. One of my current concerns is the RC position on evangelism–in particular 839, 840, 841 of the catechism. I am currently struggling with this. Many of the Catholics (including some leaders) I have talked to see no need to evangelize the Jews or the Muslims. Some use these statement here in the Catechism in this regard. They believe we are to be examples but not proselytize–that we can give a reason for the hope within us and live out the faith etc. But the Bible teaches that we are to make disciples of all nations, and Paul certainly preached to the Jews. Help me to reconcile what the Catholic church seems to be saying here, please. It almost seems to be a universalism—or following in the lines of Karl Rahner as stated here: : “Anonymous Christianity means that a person lives in the grace of God and attains salvation outside of explicitly constituted Christianity… Let us say, a Buddhist monk… who, because he follows his conscience, attains salvation and lives in the grace of God; of him I must say that he is an anonymous Christian; if not, I would have to presuppose that there is a genuine path to salvation that really attains that goal, but that simply has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. But I cannot do that. And so, if I hold if everyone depends upon Jesus Christ for salvation, and if at the same time I hold that many live in the world who have not expressly recognized Jesus Christ, then there remains in my opinion nothing else but to take up this postulate of an anonymous Christianity.” Please help me with this if you have the time—or anyone else for that matter—I am struggling!

  10. Dear Kim,

    Welcome to Called to Communion, and thank you for commenting! To the extent anyone is telling you that Catholics do not need to share the faith with non-Christians (e.g., Jews or Muslims), they are objectively mistaken. When I was considering entering RCIA, after an evening communion service a Catholic deacon told me I didn’t need to convert: “you have Jesus, and that’s what really matters.” Thank God for a brave Catholic layman who spoke right up: “That’s not true; I am a revert to the Church who was Protestant for years. I came back because I realized they didn’t have the Eucharist.” And he was right, not the deacon. Let me explain.

    As for the Catechism, note the beginning of paragraph 839: “Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.” (Emphasis added.) Not the aspirational premise here — the goal is that all people will receive the Gospel, even if they have not done so yet. If it’s the goal, we would not be wise to sit on our hands and wait, for, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Luke 10:2). I don’t see much in 839 or 840 that leads to the conclusion that the Church is warming up to universalism, so suspect that the real cause of anxiety is in 841. But 841, while striking a conciliatory tone, does not assure non-Christians (viz. Muslims) of salvation.

    It has to be read with 843-845, which explain the purpose of the preceding paragraphs. Other religions, who are not completely lacking in truth or goodness, are “a preparation for the Gospel.” But, “the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church.” (There’s that same aspiration again.) Paragraphs 846-848 touch on the very complex area of “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” While the Church certainly affirms that “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his body,” the single qualification is for those in invincible ignorance:

    those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience–those too may achieve eternal salvation. (847.)

    There is controversy within Catholicism over how broadly or narrowly to interpret this, and I will not open this combox to those who might wish to air that internecine dispute here since that is not the purpose of CtC. Suffice it to say to you, Kim, that you should take comfort in the closing of 848: “the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men” (quoting Ad Gentes 7). If you’re brave enough, you might show this passage to those in the Church telling you there is no need to evangelize Muslims or Jews.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  11. Oh, I forgot to mention, I miss singing in four part harmony in my PCA congregation! Not that Catholics should necessarily be belting out Wesley hymns, but we need to tap the deep well of musical richness that is ours.
    A.T., your comment is spot on. Over the years in my Reformed church as my view of the “Lord’s Supper” moved closer to the Catholic view of the Eucharist, I became more convinced that the fellowship meals on Sunday, and the Sunday evening service, and much of the ‘activity’ was often a proxy for the sacraments, particularly Christ present in the Eucharist. For many Reformed (who by and large are Zwinglian), the Lord’s Supper is focused on the unity of the congregation primarily. So as the reasoning goes, what beter way to participate more fully in the Lord’s Supper than having a big fellowship meal on communion Sunday, or staying all day at church? The focus is very different for Catholics. But not that we cant take pointers from our seperated brothers on felowshiping.

  12. For me, there were two big differences between PCA-life and parish life.

    The first had to do with diversity. At the PCA church I attended, nearly everyone shared my political/ socio-economic background. This lent itself toward a close-knit community and tremendous fellowship.

    At my parish, there is a lot of diversity. Sitting in one pew might be a CEO, in the next pew a poor person who is living on the street, and in the next an immigrant from Africa. All races. Definitely all political stripes. In short, a lot of people who don’t share much in common other than love for Jesus in the eucharist. In one sense, this tends to lead to a parish that isn’t as close knit as a typical PCA church. On the other hand, I’ve learned a lot from these other folks and I very much enjoy having friends that are different than me.

    The other difference has to do with the pastor. Having the right pastor is really important at a protestant church. The pastor makes a difference in catholic parish life, as well; but church is really about the liturgy and the sacraments, and so new or different priests aren’t really disruptive.

  13. Dear Brian,

    You raise an excellent point. When Christians can be ecclesial consumers, they might naturally pick a crowd that ‘looks’ like them in most ways, certainly including socio-economic ways. But I think the closer a parish comes to the goal of loving Christ and His Church, and giving our lives over to that goal, the better the parish will be at overcoming any inhibitions created by diversity. I’ve seen the Christian Reformed Church, the denomination of my own upbringing, go to almost awkward lengths to promote a multi-cultural pew experience.

    I love worshipping with people from all walks of life and far reaches of the planet. And, I have to admit, I have a weakness for Filipino food.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  14. Thanks, Tom. It was a helpful explanation. Thank you so much. I will share this with my son. I also agree with the others about the diversity present in the Catholic church—this has been a blessing. The sense of communion because of the realities of the Eucharist have affected me even though I am actually not partaking yet!

  15. Now I guess is a good time to quote James Joyce, who described the Catholic Church as, “Here comes everybody.” He was not paying us a compliment when he said that, either.

    And as Fr. Barron points out in part 7 of the “Catholicism” series, when Christopher Dawson decided that he was going to convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism his own mother said, “It isn’t the doctrine that concerns me. It is that now you are going to be worshiping with the help.”

  16. Tom, I really appreciate your narrative. Reminded me about the fractured doctrines which I’ve lately found puzzling. I’ve been Catholic for almost 30 years now, coming from the Episcopal Church. I missed some of the same elements of fellowship, but looking at the fullness of faith we decided, for better or worse, we would stay Catholic.
    Kim, keep asking questions. I did not go through RCIA because I came into the Church in Latin America. In some places I’ve seen some very bad catechesis. There are good resources, tapping into that unending font of Grace. I would recommend Catholicism by Fr Barron as Fr Ochs mentions.
    One other thing, I invite people to my Very Catholic Bible study, put notices of liturgies on my neighborhood website and pray daily for my neighborhood and specific neighbors as well as for conversion of the Muslims and Japan. Who says Catholics aren’t evangelical? Btw, we say evangelization rather than evangelism ;&

  17. Kim,

    Fellow Protestant-on-the-verge-of-converting here. I, too, have struggled greatly with what I perceive to be a soft universalism in the Catholic Church. At least in part, this may be a case of a certain segment of the RCC in America embracing wholesale the spirit of the age. However, there is a danger for people in our position to read into the RCC what we want it to be, rather than what it claims for itself. I think there is little doubt that the RCC’s view of salvation is softer around the edges than that of the average Evangelical church. You might want to read Dominus Iesus, if you haven’t already. After reading the relavent sections of the CCC, Vatican II, and Dominus Iesus, I still have some concern about what the RCC teaches regarding the usual means of salvation: what must the object of an individuals faith be for the faith to be salvific? In the usual mode of salvation, is it sufficient to be a “person of faith” but reject the truth about Jesus? I can’t seem to find a clear answer on this.

    A separate but related concern, as I have expressed in other threads, is whether or not the church has changed its teaching about salvation outside the church. It seems that the RCC explains this by affirming EENS in the most general sense (all salvation comes through Jesus Christ and his Church, the full expression of which is the RCC), but when you get down to the particulars of, “what must I do to be saved?”, the applicability of EENS, and even faith in Christ, seems vague at best.

    Tom, you and I have discussed some of these issues via email, but of course I welcome your thoughts.

    Burton

  18. Dear Anne,

    That’s a very nice comment and concept — would that we all remembered to pray for our neighborhoods and neighbors regularly!

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  19. Dear Burton,

    You said: “However, there is a danger for people in our position to read into the RCC what we want it to be, rather than what it claims for itself.” But there is also a danger for discerning Protestants, that they might read into the “RCC” what their own interpretation (inevitably grounded in their own particular frame) claims the Catholic Church to be, rather than what she claims to be herself. If you have concerns about what the Church teaches, might I suggest speaking with a Catholic priest or theologian in person? That is really the best medicine. You yourself can read and re-read the Catechism, the texts of the Second Vatican Council, or Dominus Iesus, but as a non-Catholic, you will continue to approach those texts with a non-Catholic frame. That is not to say that you cannot learn from written Catholic teachings, but rather to say that your doubts, your concerns, or your perceptions might not be supported by the evidence when objectively viewed after sufficient study. Some conclusions you are reaching might demand of the student years of study (especially foundational study) rather than months.

    The Catholic Church is unequivocal about the ordinary means of salvation, specifically the sacraments of the Church communicating God’s grace, merited for us by Christ’s sacrifice.

    The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. (CCC, para. 1257.)

    Please help me understand if this does not contain what you consider to be a clear answer to your question about being a ‘person of faith’ simpliciter meriting salvation in “the usual mode of salvation.”

    As for extra ecclesiam nulla salus, like I said in #10 above, I don’t want this combox to become too badly derailed by disputes about that doctrine. Let me just repeat that what “seems vague” to you might not be vague upon closer examination, especially an examination that starts with the consent of the conscience to the apostolic teaching authority of the Church. I realize that you should not, in good conscience, give that consent until you believe the Church to be what she claims to be. And to the extent that your concerns prevent that consent, I realize you’re in something of a Catch 22. (Been there, done that.) Prayer and patient study of what seems vague will, I believe, resolve itself over time.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  20. Tom,

    Thanks for your helpful comments. I agree that reading documents out of context or with a lack of proper foundation can lead to error. Finding a priest or theologian who is both knowledgeable on these subjects and orthodox is sometimes a challenge. I recognize the demands of conscience in these matters, and hope to fulfill those demands with due diligence.

    I appreciate the reference to the CCC on baptism – I hadn’t thought to look at it from that angle. Maybe some of the seeming lack of clarity stems from the apparent disconnect between official doctrinal statments and the statement of RCIA leaders or theologians or many “joe-sixpack” Catholics, who often tie salvation most directly to some vague idea of being a “good person” or “a person of faith” or “a person of goodwill”.

    The catch-22 you describe is certainly germane to my present situation. I continue to pray for wisdom and clarity and courage.

    Sorry to take this thread off on a tangent – I think there are some other active threads that deal with this more directly.

  21. Greetings to all.

    I am not sure if this is the right article to post this on (if it isn’t, please redirect me to the appropriate place).

    I am currently a Protestant, but I am seriously considering the claims of the Catholic Church. I have posted a few times on this site (if necessary, see my comments in the Ecclesial Deism article starting with #410 for a summary of where I am coming from).

    While I am not quite ready to convert, I do wish to find a local parish to attend sometime in the next few weeks. So, I was wondering if anyone might be able to recommend one in my area, or recommend how to go about finding one; I live northwest of Atlanta, Georgia USA. My primary concern is that the parish I find to attend is orthodox and in full communion with the Church (music and other trappings are not really that important to me).

    Any suggestions?

    Thank you in advance!

    Pax Christi
    –Joshua Martin

  22. Dear Joshua,

    Thank you for the question. I will ask around for recommendations of parishes in the area, and get back to you. If a local parish is listed on the local Catholic bishop’s website (I assume this is the Archdiocese of Atlanta, see here), you can be certain it is in “full communion” with the Catholic Church — which is to say, the Holy Mass celebrated there is licit and valid. If you were looking for good “trappings,” there are fun little indicia to look for, which could be a fun separate post to write one day. But since you just want orthodoxy and validity, not “trappings,” that is very easy to accomplish through the bishop’s office. (Another good resource is the website masstime.org).

    Be blessed! And don’t worry if you don’t know the responses or when to sit, stand, kneel, and so forth. The missal in the pew should be helpful, especially if you go on a Sunday (on which days all of the Bible readings are printed).

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  23. Joshua M:

    As a recent convert myself, I appreciate your questions and encourage you to keep digging. Personally, I actually prefer a Mass with fewer “trappings.” If you haven’t attended Mass yet (or very often), I would really suggest finding a time to attend a weekday noon mass. They are pretty short, most of the parts are spoken (not sung), and it is more informal and focused (in my opinion). The quick transition between different portions of the Mass really helped me to see what was going on. I still can’t attend a service without having a huge “a ha!” moment.

    For instance, after a lifetime attending Evangelical services where the pastor would say “shake your neighbor’s hand,” I now see its origin in a much richer way during the Rite of Peace: we are to be reconciled with our brothers/sisters before we offer the sacrifice, and we are one body because we all partake of the same bread. As I saw people not just shake hands and offer peace in a very serious and intentional way, I felt like I saw the cells and sinews of Christ’s members begin to tighten and come together just in time to join the Head (and one another) in comm-union.

  24. Joshua:

    I frequent Cathedral of Christ the King (www.cathedralofchristtheking.org) in Buckhead when I am in Atlanta on business. It is a beautiful place of worship.

    Pax Christi,

    Brent

  25. Thank you all for your responses.

    Tom #22
    Thank you for your help. I will check on the website (I probably should have thought about the website to begin with!). I have no doubt that I will be a bit lost as to what to do during the service, but I’ll keep the missal in mind. Thanks again!

    Mark #23
    I have been digging into this for a couple of months. Between reading various books, the early Church Fathers, articles here on C2C and also private dialogues with Catholics, I feel that I am getting very close to converting. A lot of the issues that I ‘protested’ against when I first started investigating the Church I now understand much better and have overcome my aversion.

    I have only attended Mass once or perhaps twice with a friend, and that was over a decade ago when I was a teenager, and I cannot really remember much at all about it. I will definitely consider attending during the week. I didn’t think about that at first, I guess I am used to the Protestant churches that are basically closed most of the time except on Sundays or for specific events… I do not necessarily mind trappings as a general rule, but I am more focused on whatever church I go to being orthodox. It would be a bit ironic if I somehow picked a place that was heterodox.

    Brent #24
    Thank you for the recommendation. Buckhead is a bit of a drive from where I am at, but I might make the trip on your recommendation.

  26. Joshua M,

    I’m not Catholic myself, but I am somewhat familiar with the Catholic scene in the ATL so I’ll chip in my 2 cents:

    Christ the King Cathedral – Brent already recommended this, but a good parish and worth the trip. I often attend the noon mass there when I wake up way too late to attend my own church (which happens far more often than I’d like to admit). It may be a drive, but the “scenery” is nice if it doesn’t stir up envy in you.

    Holy Spirit Church – closer to you than CtK and better parking, good liturgy (they even throw in Latin on 1st Sundays of the month) and usually have a good lineup of speakers throughout the year. They run a prep school and college along the Great Books/Classics theme, which should be up your alley. Check out the guy with the handlebar mustache at the bottom of the stained glass window behind the front altar; it has me giggling all the way to the offertory.

    Speaking of Latin, you may want to give St. Francis de Sales (Mableton) a try. They’re a full Latin rite parish staffed by the FSSP (ie. non-schismatic) and have a well-stocked bookstore.

    Sacred Heart Basilica – if you’re ever in downtown, it’s worth a visit. It’s a beautiful, historic church, but parking can be iffy and you can expect to be panhandled on the way in and out.

    I’m assuming you live OTP; I haven’t personally attended any of the parishes in Marrietta/Roswell, but I’ve heard good things about St. Peter Chanel. The closest parish to me is St. Thomas the Apostle (Smyrna). I can’t say anything about their orthodoxy (didn’t stick around long enough to find out), but their liturgy was something in-between Joel Osteen and a TBN program. That may be to some people’s liking, but I had to walk out after about 15 minutes.

    As I’m Orthodox, I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest visiting an Eastern-rite parish (they should have all the appropriate links on the diocesan web site); I use to live close to the Melkite parish in Decatur and have enjoyed my visits there. Of course, we wouldn’t kick you out of any Orthodox Divine Liturgies if you chose to visit (wink-wink, nudge-nudge); we would just thoroughly confuse you (liturgy-wise, that is).

    Good luck and God bless on your journey.

    – dp

  27. Greetings to all in Christ,

    dp # 26
    Thank you for your response to me, I apologize that I didn’t not thank you previously; I haven’t been on here to post in a while. I ended up going to St. Francis de Sales in Mableton. As it turns out one of my friends (who lives out of town) used to go to that Church, so he recommended it as well. I also ran into some other people that I know there which was interesting and rather unexpected. The first time I went there, I recognized one of my dad’s long time friends, but I kind of kept a low profile not wanting to be seen at the time (I kind of laugh at myself now).

    I may have to check out some of the other Churches that you mentioned as well.

    —–

    I want to update everyone, I am not sure where a good place to post this would be, but I figure here is a good a place as any.

    I have decided to convert to Catholicism. The past few weeks I have been attending Mass and have been continuing my readings into Church history and the Scriptures and have come to the conclusion that I must join; I really have no other reasonable or moral choice.

    I want to thank all of you for your kind words, for your assistance and for any prayers that you may have offered for me. All of you who write for Called to Communion, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of the work that you do here to clarify and defend the Catholic faith. Reading the articles and discussions here at CTC have played no small part in my progress to the Church; may God reward you for your labors!

    –Joshua M

  28. Joshua M.,

    Thank you for sharing. I will pray for you!

    Peace,
    Tom B.

  29. Joshua,

    Thanks for the update. Deos Gratias. I will continue to pray for you. I hope you soon come to find the Catholic Church is home and the right place to continue your journey. God Bless

    GNW_Paul

  30. Joshua,

    Thanks for the update, my husband and I have been keeping you in our prayers. Kim

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