Becoming Catholic in My Heart (Part 1 of Becoming Catholic)

Jan 19th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

This week is the week for Christian unity. I hope to daily write a brief post about key moments in my journey that pushed me over the edge.

I’ll begin by admitting that becoming Catholic is very difficult. For some, it entails for losing their jobs. It can cause deep marital strain and stress. Grown children don’t often understand. Friendships can be lost. It is very difficult. Anyone who tells you that entering the Catholic Church is easy is lying to you. Avoid that person. Even though it is difficult, I can recall a moment in which the call to Rome became secure. I was still an Episcopalian priest. I was in Rome. It was Feb. 2, 2006. I was at Holy Mass with Pope Benedict XVI. I won’t bore you with the details, but there I was. I was wearing a black cassock and I’m sure everyone thought I was a real Catholic priest (unless, of course, they noticed my blonde pregnant wife nearby). It was a beautiful Mass–the feast day of the Purification of Mary. When it came time for Holy Communion, I was devastated. I realized that the Pope was right there in front of me, but I could not receive the Eucharist.

At that moment everything in my soul felt contorted and out of whack. I knew that I should be Catholic. I wanted to be Catholic so badly. That was it. I knew that if I did not strive to enter the Catholic Church that I would never be happy and that I would be damned. I felt the sin of “schism” for the first time. In my soul, I realized that schism is just as horrid as murder, adultery, or rape. I realized schism was contrary to love and that I was part of schism. Worst of all, I felt that I was not enjoying all the gifts that Christ had given to us.

When I got home to Texas, I met with the Catholic bishop. The rest is history.

Look for more “journey notes” tomorrow.


Taylor Marshall

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  1. Barrett Turner and Taylor Marshall,

    Would you please comment on the morality of schism being comparable to murder, adultery or rape? I personally disagree. I realize that you said that was in your soul, but, I think that needs to be clarified because it is quite controversial.



  2. Paul,

    I won’t speak for Barrett or Taylor, but see the comments on Chapter 6 here regarding St. Thomas’s ranking of the sin of schism. When St. Thomas says that “the sin of schism would seem to be the greatest, because it is opposed to the spiritual good of the multitude,” he is talking about the separation of Christians from the Church, as when, say, a whole local Church or group of local Churches separates from the Catholic Church. That is the greatest sin (horizontally), argues St. Thomas, because it is opposed to the common good, in the attainment of its highest good, namely, eternal life. Schism wounds the Church, depriving her of some of her members who contributed to the flourishing of the Body. It makes salvation more difficult for those in schism (because they are removed from the protection of the Church’s chief shepherd, and no schism fails to invent a heresy to justify itself). It causes a stumbling block to those would enter the Church, because the unity and identity of the Church are obscured to them, as Pope Benedict discussed in his homily yesterday. It gives [seeming] justification to other schismatics, who use the example of schism to justify their own. And it hides the Church from the world, by obscuring it in a cloud of competing schisms, when she is supposed to be a city set on a hill for all the world to see.

    The sin St. Thomas is talking about is the willful act of schism, not just being in the state of schism — being in the state of schism is the harm suffered. St. Thomas is talking about the sin of schism committed by leaders of particular Churches, to remove not just themselves or their families from full communion, but whole Churches. That persons within a schism can be pious and participate in the sacraments is fully compatible with the sin of schism being the greatest horizontal evil. But, the sin of schism can be committed in two different scales: in one way by bringing a whole Church or Churches into schism, and in another way, by bringing only oneself into schism (or by keeping only oneself in schism). Of course no man is an island, and all our choices affect others. But this individual act (bringing only oneself into schism, or culpably keeping only oneself in schism) is different from the act of schism that directly harms the common good. And St. Thomas is not saying that the individual act of falling into schism (or culpably remaining in schism once one discovers oneself to be in schism) is the greatest horizontal sin. That’s a sin, no doubt, but it is a sin on the individual level, whereas the sin of schism to which St. Thomas is referring is on a larger scale, i.e. the kind that directly affects the common good.

    In short, St. Thomas is saying that that which destroys the common good, is more evil (horizontally) than that which destroys the individual good, all other things being equal. And schism destroys the spiritual common good.

    If we do not recognize the distinction between the individual good and the common good, then St. Thomas’ argument won’t make sense. Yes there is a relation between the common good and the individual good (see the Catechism, “the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good” – CCC 1905). But, they are not identical. The individual good is not swallowed up in the common good, nor does the common good reduce to the sum of individual goods. The distinction between the individual good and the common good is fully compatible with all things being under God in the end.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. Dear Paul Baca,

    Saint Paul lists both schism and heresy (διχοστασίαι, αἱρέσεις) along with murder, witchcraft, and under grave sins:

    “Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects (διχοστασίαι, αἱρέσεις), Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:20–21, D-R)

    According to Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Faith, schism is one of the worst sins (very grave) since it is a sin against the highest theological virtue: charity or love.

    Taylor Marshall

  4. St. Augustine said something similar about the gravity of the sin of schism: “There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism” (Contra Epistolam Parmeniani, lib. ii., cap. ii., n. 25, quoted in Satis Cognitum, 10).

    So here’s a question to consider: Given that schism is one of the worst sins (for the reasons discussed above), and given that the present denominational alphabet soup is a product of schism upon schism upon schism, do our church’s prayers, budget, and time/energy expenditure reflect both the gravity of schism and the prevalence of schisms among Christians? In other words, from our church’s prayers, budget and time/energy expenditure directed to rectifying schisms, could we determine that schism among Christians is both among the gravest of evils and ubiquitous?

    The first step in treating any disease or solving any problem is realizing that there is one. Because many Protestants and Catholics tend not to view the Protestant-Catholic division as a rupture Christ wants to heal, or wants to heal through us, it seems to me that very little joint effort has been made toward this end by ordinary Protestants and Catholics. Ecumenical dialogue has been limited to meetings of officials in places like the National Council of Churches. It seems to me that there needs to be greater awareness among Christians (both Protestants and Catholics) of the present condition of schism between Christians, and that this present condition is a grave evil that needs to be remedied.

    From my point of view, Catholic-Protestant reconciliation will occur when it is pursued not only by clergy, but by laity as well, when we are mutually committed to pursuing it in the context of respectful, patient, charitable dialogue, supported by prayer for each other and for divine aid in effecting our reunion. Imagine Catholics and Protestants, both laymen and clergy, in each city of the world committing to meet together two hours monthly for prayer and discussion, until that which divides us is overcome. It seems to me that reunion requires that kind of commitment and perseverance. It is not as though that kind of effort has been tried, and has failed. Rather, only a small but growing number of Protestants and Catholics has engaged in this process of committed, persevering prayer-and-dialogue ordered to reunion, and continuing until reunion has been achieved.

    So we need to raise awareness of the gravity and prevalence of schism, and then commit to working to heal these schisms.

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