Does the Center Hold? The Story of Fr. Albert Scharbach’s Journey from Westminster Theological Seminary to Catholic Priest

Oct 30th, 2014 | By | Category: Blog Posts

The following is a guest post by Fr. Albert Scharbach. One of the ironies of my new job as a College Guidance Counselor at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, MD is that I get to attend daily mass offered by a priest who graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary. This Fall I have come to know Fr. Albert Scharbach as a true man of God, an excellent homilist, and a wonderful dad to his seven children. He currently serves on the staff of Bishop Denis Madden and as administrator of Mount Calvary Church. – Jeremy Tate


Fr. Scharbach, his wife Abby, and their seven children

Part I

After World War I, the poet William Butler Yeats surveyed the disarray of Europe and wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”  What would he say about Christianity? Does the center hold?

Clearly, the lack of church unity in the modern world is a problem–analogous to the disarray that Yeats witnessed after the war. We may not know how Yeats would answer, but it is a question that we all need to address.

When I was a Reformed Presbyterian, I was confident that the center holds with Christ, despite the disarray. I was happy to have found a niche of the evangelical world with good theology. And I was certain that the Catholic Church was not the answer. If anything, the Catholic Church seemed to be the biggest obstacle to any Christian consensus because it was at odds with the broader evangelical church.

A hush at the Westminster Library

But then as an M.Div. student at Westminster Theological Seminary I was asked to write an essay on the development of the papacy from a Roman Catholic perspective. It seemed like a waste of time. I knew that it would be a circular argument based on Tradition, which of course I did not accept as an authority alongside Scripture. So I quickly gathered some sources to bang out a response. As I skimmed some texts, I was stopped in my tracks. The arguments were cogent, even compelling. It was like a hush came over that library carrel. A door was opened that day. I still could never see myself becoming a Roman Catholic, but I had a new respect for the Catholic Church. And I was willing to learn more.

A showdown at the local Episcopal Church

I was under the care of a PCA Presbytery, but with their permission we were attending an Episcopal Church that was closely involved with Westminster Seminary. While we were there, the congregation decided to separate from the Episcopal Church because of that denomination’s doctrinal decline. The local bishop could no longer even give public assent to the Nicene Creed. I was excited to be with the parish at this time. Being familiar with all the church splits that have happened among Presbyterians, this seemed like a normal course of action.

The Bishop made plans to visit the parish one Sunday in order to ask the congregation to stay in the Episcopal Church. I looked forward to the showdown. It was like a front row seat in the fight for orthodoxy! But to my surprise, I was disturbed when the confrontation finally took place. What was happening struck me as completely unnatural. If the Church is the body of Christ, then it should not be dividing like this.

Please understand that I had no sympathies with the Episcopal Church and I remained certain that this congregation was doing the right thing in light of their circumstances. But as the service ended and the bishop left, I found myself longing to be in an undivided Church. Going back to the Anglican Church, even if it were orthodox, would not solve anything, as it was also a product of a church split. Then the unthinkable question came to mind for a student at Westminster. Could the answer mean going back to Rome? I did my best to squelch that thought.

But one thing was becoming more clear: the center in the broader Protestant world did not hold.

The recurring question

The Catholic question kept returning. It was distant and abstract because I thought no one, knowing what I knew as a Protestant, could seriously consider Rome in its current state. But what do we make of her claims to truth? Specifically the Catholic Church claims primacy for the See of Peter. Following this, she claims that the entire Church “subsists in” the Catholic Church, “creating forces impelling toward catholic unity” (Lumen Gentium, 8). In other words, the Catholic Church claims that the center holds in her alone. I tuned into Catholic radio on occasion. At times I was intrigued, at times inspired, and often revolted. But it was a way to listen in on their world, and I was challenged to counter what I learned with what I thought to be true.

Objections easily addressed

Over the next five years, things began to change as I grappled with the usual objections about the Catholic faith. As most converts will say, many objections just went away once I found out what the Church really teaches, rather than what others say about the Catholic Church. As the Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

The first objection to go was praying to saints. This did not quickly become my practice, but I could see at least that Catholics don’t worship saints. It is like asking a friend for prayer. I reasoned that if God does not allow the saints to hear the prayers, then it was no worse than having an email get lost in cyber space. This is not some kind of idolatry.

Most other issues were dealt with one by one as I better understood Catholic teaching. But how could I let go of the reformation tenets of sola scripturasola fide, and sola gratia? Well, the answer is that I did not really have to give anything up.

Part II

A higher view of Scripture than the Reformation could offer

Okay, Sola Scriptura did have to go. In fact, problems with this doctrine are what finally caused me to take the Catholic Church seriously. But I had to think this through more in a Reformed context than if I were some other kind of evangelical. I had finally come to the conclusion that the existence of hundreds of thousands of denominations is scandalous. This conclusion is the only reasonable response in light of Jesus’ prayer “that they all be one” (John 17:21). Members of each group believe they have the corner on truth. Many have brilliant theologians, but how can we be sure who is right?

As any convert knows, Scripture itself does not teach that the Bible is our sole source of doctrine, but rather that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). J.I. Packer argued that most evangelicals can agree across denominational lines about what is essential to salvation. But the closer you look, the more you see how deep and unresolvable are the bitter divisions about how this can be explained. The center, even among evangelicals, still does not hold.

But you might say that Reformed Christians are in a different category. Even the Roman Catholic convert and writer Thomas Howard told me that he could have a better dialog with me as a Presbyterian than he can with most other Protestants, because both Presbyterians and Catholics are confessional Churches–they have substantial historical documents that define their doctrine. But the Westminster Standards are frozen in time.

There will be no new Westminster Assembly that can expand them to meet the questions that arise today. Unlike the Catholic Church, the Presbyterians have no living magisterium. When it comes to interpretation, even about critical issues that threaten to divide churches, there is no way to come to a new consensus. The the two small denominations that supported my seminary–the PCA and OPC–remained divided despite an attempt to unite. So even among the Reformed, we have to conclude that the center does not hold. But look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church and you will find that Scripture is referenced throughout. Read the Vatican II document Dei Verbum and see if you can find a higher view of Scripture in the Protestant world. The Catholic Church preserves the integrity of Scripture through her magisterium. The Church accords Scripture more authority because it is not abused by every person trying to become his own Pope.

The doctrine of faith alone was saved by grace alone

Most converts have one last objection that we hold onto that keeps us from becoming Catholic. For me, it was justification by faith. I found that the way many Catholics emphasized the importance of works seemed to take the focus off Christ and lessen a sense of our total dependence on him. Yet it does not have to be this way.

The Boston College theologian Peter Kreeft helped to clarify this matter in his book Catholic Christianity, which is his own summary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Kreeft points out that in Romans and Galatians, Paul uses a broad definition of faith that includes a full assent of the heart and will. In this sense, he says, that we are justified by faith alone. Yes, he can say that in a Catholic book that has an nihil obstat and an imprimatur, declaring it free from error. Kreeft distinguishes this from the way James defines faith and Paul does elsewhere, such as in 1 Corinthians 13, where faith is distinguished from hope and love. In this narrower sense, saving faith does not stand alone. God calls us to truly supernatural change in life. True faith will produce good works.

This is, in fact, what most Reformed Christians already believe, but the commonality is often lost in translation. Of course, there is more to the discussion which cannot be covered here. But suffice it to say that Catholics most certainly believe that we are saved by grace alone. The Catechism tells us that man, “‘without God’s grace, … cannot by his own free will move himself towards justice in God’s sight'” (CCC 1993). This quotation does away with a lot of straw-man arguments that Reformed Christians use against the Catholic Church.

Where the center holds

The more I understood Catholic doctrine, the more I could appreciate the need for the Church and the magisterium. Clarity of theology and ecclesiology go hand-in-hand. This was first true for the Early Church. Back to that moment when the papacy made sense in the Westminster library. One interesting observation I found was that a greater understanding of the significance of the papacy developed alongside the development of Christology. As we study Early Church history, we find that writings in the first two centuries paled in clarity when compared with Scripture. But doctrinal clarity in the writings of the Early Church Fathers dramatically increased as questions of Christology were resolved in the fifth century. This happens to be at the same time that ecclesiology became more defined through the strengthening of the papacy. The broad parallels suggest that this is no mere coincidence. In order to define the faith in the early Church, the center had to hold. That was found through the papacy in the Catholic Church. The need today is no different–both for the broader Church and in our individual lives.

What finally tipped the scales

But even when this all made sense, I still delayed in becoming Catholic. In the midst of all this discovery, I had become an Anglican priest serving in a faithful Episcopal Church outside of Philadelphia. Ministry was going very well, and without any significant authority over us, we could do whatever we wanted. I kept Calvin’s commentaries to reference for homilies, and on the same shelf was a picture of the Holy Father. I figured that our parish would reconcile with the Catholic Church eventually, and there was no rush.

Besides, there was a lot about the Catholic Church that I still did not like.

Two things tipped the scales.

Even the great 20th Century theologian and convert Avery Cardinal Dulles said that he had to accept some aspects of Church teaching that he could not fully understand. But over time, he said, the haze over those issues would lift a little more, and he would understand why the Catholic Church came to those conclusions. Likewise, I had to admit that I should not expect to like everything about the Catholic Church. I, too, needed to submit to a Church that is greater than my own understanding.

Then, one day, it occurred to me that I did not want to die without being Catholic. Why? Because I was convinced that the Catholic Church was at the center. This is where Christ is most fully revealed. To be found on the last day still outside of the Church would be the same as being outside of fullness of the body of Christ. That was it. If I did not want to die outside of the Church, then I was bound by conscience to make plans to enter the Church today.

God provided a way

There was no guarantee that I would ever be ordained to the Catholic priesthood, so the big question was, “How will I support my family?” At this point, we had six children. It sounded like swinging from one trapeze to the other … without a net. I did not doubt that God would provide a way to follow my conscience. And you know what? There was no trapeze involved. God built a bridge. God built the bridge while I was walking on it, but He built it all the same. In the end, I was able to work for the Archdiocese of Baltimore as a layman until being ordained a Catholic priest.

I could trust God during the transition because Christ was the center of my life. You could say that Christ was the stabilizing presence, leading me to the center of His Church. God’s gift of the Petrine primacy and the magisterium, in turn, makes the Catholic Church a stabilizing presence for the world.

In the Catholic Church, we find at last, that the center does hold.

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  1. “I did not want to die without being Catholic.”

    Fear is not a good reason to convert.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story. I will forward to participants in our Friday Morning Bible Study Group. We started with 13 people 10 years ago and now we are 48. There is a fervor that is palpable in the church today. People are searching for meaning. They long for Truth. It can be found in our Church. God bless!
    You should contact Brandon Vogt of Father Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Ministries. He recently had a debate with a protestant theologian and the young man held his own. WELCOME HOME!

  3. Welcome to the Catholic Christian family. You have a wonderful and beautiful family. I pray for the unification of all Christians because a greater threat to those who believe in Christ is on the rise. Your being a priest after having your own family is a blessing that will only make you very effective with your homilies especially when advising your parishioners about matters involving the family. You will be a light, just like in the company of Scott Hahn, to draw other Christian denominations to the one, true, holy, Catholic and universal church. God will provide yours and your family’s needs. Will continue to pray for you. Debbie L.

  4. Welcome home Fr. Scharbach…. I am a 65 year old mother and grandmother and to tell you that your story intrigued me, is an understatement. I grew up in a family that only celebrated “the Holidays” in a commercial sense. All my life I asked questions about Jesus and nobody had an adequate answer. I told my husband that I would like to start going to some church. At that time, he was getting ready to go back to the Catholic Church after being away for over 25 years. At this point, I had looked around at a few churches and didn.t sense the “cohesiveness” that I needed. I asked my husband if the church had Adult classes and remarked to him, “……..well I might as well go back to the original source”. I was not saying this, IT was the Holy Spirit! So here I am at this crossroads of old age and I am eternally grateful for my journey that I made in 1994 <3 . The very thing that sealed it for me was the Holy Eucharist AND the opening arms to all sinners of our faith… God Bless you and your beautiful family, Diane Braun

  5. Thank you for publishing your journey through faith. Our congregation is joining the Ordinariate Nov.2. We have all been on this journey as well and mirror many of your revelations, praise God. I grew up with a strong prejudice against Catholicism in Baltimore County, MD, but it could have been anywhere. The prejudice was based on the Christian witness of those who said they were Catholic, not on the Catecheism which I knew nothing about. The strange distortion of the Episcopal faith that we have witnessed here in Philadelphia drove us to search for truth wherever it may be found. After three years of studying the Catholic Catechesim, word for word, being guided in this process by Father Moyer and Father Ousley, I believe we have found our home embracing Catholicism. What a comfort it was to go to confession, I had no idea. I attended street evangelization training hosted by the Catholic Church recently. What a wonderful outreach I never expected to find in the Catholic denomination. I embrace the sacred tradition with the sacred word and thank God for His grace that brought me to my home in the Ordinariate.

  6. Welcome home father

  7. Great story, especially on “Reformation Day.” It would have been interesting to know where Fr Scharbach’s wife was in all this, ie, what she was thinking about her husband becoming Catholic. Looks like she came into the Church with him?

  8. God bless you, Fr.Scharbach for sharing this with us. One day, my father (age89), jumped up & said I want to be buried catholic, so we discussed funeral plans so I was clear about his wishes, even though his side of family was protestant. My father long admired & followed every Mass, pilgrimage & news on St.John Paul II that came on tv & often encouraged my family to get a move on to not be late for Mass. After multiple strokes, feeding tube & ventilator, which a doctor vehemently was opposed to doing & said he would never come off it. Dad came off it Dec. 26 after anointing of the sick on Christmas, but trach tubes remained. My prayers were for God to help me bring him home. He would be conscious as I read the Bible or Stations of the Cross with the Ave Maris Stella, most of the rosary, & all of St.John Paul II’s funeral & with family as the nurses saw but never for the doctors. In time God took my dad home. My pastor, aware of everything, helped me honor my dad’s wishes & the guidelines for his Mass & burial. After it, I noticed the bust of Mary he kept on his desk, a miraculous medal on his dresser & realized his conversion was in progress for some time & was glad grace moved him to speak up so I could when he could no longer speak for himself. If you are discerning your conversion, please speak to a priest. He’ll be glad to assist you. God bless!

  9. Thank God for you Father. Being a convert to Catholicism myself,I understand that peace and joy of coming home. But being a Pastor! That totally amazes me. Yours is an indication of God’s will to open to those who knock,help those who seek to find what they are looking for. God bless you as you continue your work in His vineyard. Regards to your beautiful family!

  10. Thank you Fr. for sharing your journey for faith which lead you to the Catholic Church.
    I am a Catholic and I am very proud to be one.
    I love reading and listening to such stories namely because it deepens my faith in what my church upholds and believes in and just to know how our God who is fathful leads His faithful into the fullness of faith. God bless Fr.

  11. Thank you for the many words of encouragement. My heart is greatly warmed by the above stories of your own experiences as well. In response to Joanne, my wife Abby has been with me every step of the way. There were times in which she was uncomfortable with the direction of my thinking, but I would regularly take time to share new insights and convictions. This way, I never got too far ahead and we stayed pretty much on the same page. My whole family was received into the Church at the same time. It was one of the most joyful days of our lives.

  12. In response to Irish Presbyterian (#1). I agree that fear is not the best reason to become Catholic. There are too many other positive reasons. In my post, I described how my heart was first moved by the potential for unity and stability in the Catholic Church. Then my mind was convinced by the teachings of the Church. And finally, my will was moved by conscience. That is why I did not want to die without being Catholic. Thinking about last things has a way of putting the present into perspective. There are rewards in following conscience. But to ignore one’s conscience is perilous. Anyone who is in that state would indeed have good cause to fear.

  13. As a former Calvinist/Reformed Christian I have enjoyed your story of conversion. Of course you could not narrate the fascinating path in detail, but I think many of us are able to fill in the “gaps” from our own experiences. Someone, the first commenter I think, wrote one should not convert out of fear. Dear friend who wrote this: you are wrong if you have come to this conclusion . I would say the opposite is true when anyone crosses the Tiber. You leave what has wrongly been drilled into you as the safe haven of extrinsic justification “alone” – a wonderfully safe assurance package for “heaven”. As though Catholics do not really believe in sola gratia and the rest. I found the opposite to be true. But from Calvin I also learnt about the sovereignty of God and the glory of God. Never had I thought that this truth could only be experienced in the Catholic Church, and especially the Mass. There is something about the phrase “the FULNESS OF THE TRUTH” that is, well, true in the Catholic Church. NB Nowhere the fullness of truth means that its members are not also sinners, stupid, uninformed, rebellious and lazy about their faith and its nuanced but clear teaching. But, yes, even in the most abject times in its history it does seem as though the centre did hold. Because Jesus Christ is the Head of His Church, not Popes – and there has been some bad ones.

    I thank God that I got to know the Catholic Church and its riches through the clear – but still nuanced and extremely profound – teaching and writings of retired Pope Benedict XVI who is very well versed in the writings of Luther and the entire history of Christianity in all its complexities, but whose personal centre is our Lord Jesus Christ. I have never in my previous life experienced such joy in my faith as through Benedict XVI. May God bless him richly for the rest of his earthly life.

  14. Hello Father,

    As one presently crossing the Tiber from the PCA, I really appreciate you sharing your story. It reminds me that I am not alone in this struggle and also of God’s exceeding grace and mercy toward us wayward sinners.

    Welcome home, and may God continue to bless you!


  15. Irish Presbyterian, you wrote, “Fear is not a good reason to convert.”

    “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” – 1 John 4:18

    I don’t see any bad fear in what Fr. Sharbach experienced – only a healthy fear of the Lord and a great love for the Lord, knowing that when we stand before Him on judgment day that we don’t want to be outside the Ark of Salvation. We must be found in Christ to be saved. For me personally, I don’t want to stand before the Father apart from Jesus and if I stand before Him willfully outside of Jesus’ Church, that is a dangerous place to be. Once a person knows that the Catholic Church is the Ark of Salvation, the Barque of Peter, the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church and still refuses to enter her, “he cannot be saved,” – for as the Church has consistently taught – there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Therefore, my knowing that the Catholic Church is the bride of Jesus Christ and also that I was objectively outside of her, caused me also to realize the necessity of entering her before my death. At first it was an implicit recognition (I thought to myself – I could never become Catholic now that I’m married to a Presbyterian and my children are young- I can’t have a different religion from my husband! What a scandal that would be – and what will my family/ in-laws think! I’ll figure out the Catholic thing when my kids are grown up.) and then a few months went by and we read more as a couple and once the lightbulb went off (thankfully, for both of us at the same time), I had an explicit desire and I asked to be received as quickly as possible. It was not done out of fear, but out of a great love for Jesus and not wanting to be separated from Him in any way, but to be truly united to Him in the ways that He instituted through the ministry of His Church.

  16. How can a non celibate become a catholic priest???

  17. We agree that the Anglican Communion is the result of a church split.

    But the Orthodox would say that the Roman Catholic Church is the result of a church split, too.

    How do you deal with this?

  18. Irish Presbyterian (re: #1)

    Fear is not a good reason to convert [to Catholicism].

    Wait a minute. Wasn’t it precisely Luther’s anfechtung (spiritual terror and despair at coming judgment) that inspired him to “convert to Protestantism,” adopting a soteriology where he could remove all uncertainty and practically evade that feared judgment through alien righteousness applied at a single past event (faith) alone?

  19. thank you so much. you quote my favorite book Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. i read it when I was a non-denominational Christian and decided to be a Catholic. i love my Protestant friends so much and i still love to go to their bible studies. Protestantism has been for me a stage without which i think i should not have been able to reach Catholicism. I also want a Catholic burial too, father. God bless.

  20. Joshua M (#14)
    Hi, Josh – how’s it going? :-)


  21. Beautiful story. “God built the bridge while I was walking on it…” and so it is for each of us, we walk, God builds.

  22. Good talk Father. I came to many of these conclusions as a cradle Anglican,Reformed Christian. Aside From Avery dulles, John Neuhaus and Louis Bouyer are good reads

  23. I sat behind you at Mass at the Ordinariate Conference, but we never spoke. Thank you for being open to sharing your journey. I hope we get a chance to meet in person at the next conference.

  24. Fear. Longing. Loneliness. Sorrow. The Holy Spirit can use any emotion it so pleases to draw us to the Christ.

  25. Thank you and your wife for your beautiful children. As a celibate, ordained at age 25, I will consider them “mine” too and add your family by name with those for whom I pray everyday. I realize and appreciate that the children bring you both many joys, but they also bring sacrifice and heartache at times. The relationship between loving parents and their children is so like the relationship between our loving God and ourselves. May God continue to bless you in abundance.

  26. JJ # 20

    Hello John,

    Things have been good with me.

    I just sent you an email!


  27. \\remove all uncertainty and practically evade that feared judgment through alien righteousness applied at a single past event (faith) alone?\\

    This is something I’m always challenging what I call pop-evangelicals about.

    There’s a great deal of difference between putting one’s faith in Christ on the one hand, and putting one’s faith in one’s own previous act of faith. Too many of them miss that difference.

    As far as eternal security, our security is in Christ, Who is eternal, not our own feeble faith.

  28. Joshua,

    I am glad that this story helps you to not feel alone in what you describe as a struggle. I hope you always feel as encouraged and I did with my family. If you think I can be a further resource for you in any way, you can reach me through the Mount Calvary website.

    In Christ,
    Fr. Scharbach

  29. To Mundane (16) about how a non-celibate man can become a priest.

    In the early 1980s, a pastoral provision was established that allows non-celibate Anglican priests to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests under certain circumstances. The canonical dispensation comes from the Vatican, as an exception for pastoral purposes.

    The Pastoral Provision website includes the following: “The ordination of married former protestant clergy began under Pope Pius XII. The Pastoral Provision gave a structure for the integration, formation and eventual ordination as Catholic priests who are married former Anglican Clergy.”

    Celibacy is a good and venerable tradition in the Western Church, and a rule in place throughout the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. However, celibacy is not of the essence of the priesthood. This is why Eastern Orthodox priests are not required to be celibate, and nor are many Eastern Rite Catholic priests.

    St. John Paul II clarified this during his pontificate, asserting that celibacy is a discipline of the Western Church, but not part of the deposit of faith. However, he said that an all-male priesthood is of the essence of the priesthood, and something that cannot be changed. This was not a new teaching on his part, but rather a statement of what the Church has always held to be true.

    The Ordinariate website includes the following: “Celibacy is the norm for the clergy. Permission has been given on a case-by-case basis by the Pope for former Anglican priests who are married to be ordained Catholic priests for the Ordinariate. If widowed, they may not remarry.”

  30. To Jack (17) about how I deal with the schism between the East and West.

    The primary ecumenical dialogue of the Catholic Church is with the Eastern Orthodox Churches. In his encyclical, *Ut Unim Sint* St. John Paul II said of the Eastern Churches that “the Church must breathe with her two lungs!”

    The Catholic Church considers the sacraments of the Eastern Church to be valid, as the Eastern Church shares the same fundamental understanding the Eucharist and the priesthood. The Catechism states, “With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound ‘that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist'” (838).

    Nonetheless, I believe that the fullness of the faith is to be found in communion with the See of Peter. This is why I believe that the words of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium hold true: “This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.”

  31. Thank you Father,

    Much of what makes this a ‘struggle’ for me is fairly typical for many converts, I think. I have gotten past the doctrinal differences that I had (thank God!) but now it is the contentions with friends and family that are making this difficult; there is no peace!

    I appreciate very much you offering your assistance; I will keep this in mind and I might contact you in the future.

    Again, many thanks!

    God bless,

  32. To Fr. Joseph (25).

    Thank you, Joseph, for your gracious words, and I am moved by your most generous offer of prayer. It will be my privilege to pray for you as well.

    May God abundantly bless you and your ministry.

    In Christ,
    Fr. Scharbach

  33. “I did not want to die outside the Catholic Church” is replied to with “Fear is not a good reason for conversion.”
    It is not clear that fear is what Fr. is referencing, but my question is “Who calls for a Protestant minister on his deathbed?”

    My family asked me “Do you think we are not going to Heaven because we are not Catholic?” I could only answer that it is not my place to say so, but it is a chance I am not willing to take. I continue to try to set a good example and to pray for my family.

    Ray James

  34. Welcome home Father! I too am a revert back to the Catholic Church Aug. 2012 from reformed protestantism also. Do you have any of your homilies recorded? MP3’s , or anyone else that you would recommend? Please email here: Always looking for gifted priest’s especially those with a reformed background. Thank you for your story, I already have it posted :-)
    Dan Neeland

  35. “Catholicism is the only religion worth dying in.”
    – Oscar Wilde

  36. Where’s Jesus? Show me Jesus.

  37. Dr. Hart (#36),

    I bet Fr. Scharbach would be more than happy to show Jesus to you at Mass whenever you’d like to attend. Alternatively, we could reflect on the substance of Fr.’s article, since he expressly says,

    Because I was convinced that the Catholic Church was at the center. This is where Christ is most fully revealed. To be found on the last day still outside of the Church would be the same as being outside of fullness of the body of Christ.

    blessings, Casey

  38. Fr. Scharbach,

    Thank you for this article.

    This line

    “I could trust God during the transition because Christ was the center of my life. You could say that Christ was the stabilizing presence, leading me to the center of His Church. “

    makes me think of that ever-guiding passage in Scripture: Matthew 6:33

    Again, thank you!

  39. Just fantastic. Great story. Wonderful to see the Holy Spirit at work.

  40. Thank you, Father, for sharing your story. You and your family’s presence in the Catholic tapestry makes Her more endearing to Her Groom!

    Welcome to Catholic joy!

  41. Dan (36),

    I have some written homilies posted on our parish blog :

    and some are published on facebook :

    But the parish is not yet set up for audio. Thanks for asking.

    In Christ,
    Fr. Scharbach

  42. @dghart

    I can’t speak for the others, but the difference between my relationship with Our Lord before and after entering the Church is like the difference between pen pals and spouses.

  43. F. Charles, but how do you ever see Jesus if all the saints are crowded around Mary?

    “In the great assembly of saints, God has wanted to reserve the first place for the Mother of Jesus,” the Holy Father said before his Nov. 1 weekly recitation of the traditional Marian prayer.
    Mary, he said, “is the center of the communion of saints, as the singular guardian of the bond of the universal Church with Christ.”

    Read more:

  44. @dghart:

    When my kids play, my oldest daughter leads the group of kids. I’m the head of my home. They are the body. My daughter is not a threat to me, and when people come over, I’m not up-in-arms if they talk to my daughter. They might learn something about me, or it might result in a greater bond between us.

    So goes with the Blessed Virgin and the rest of us.

  45. fra Charles (#42)

    I can’t speak for the others, but the difference between my relationship with Our Lord before and after entering the Church is like the difference between pen pals and spouses.

    You are speaking for me, brother, and I can add something in addition. My relation with my actual spouse before and after my entry into the Church is like the difference between my relationship with a servant and my relationship with my dearest friend in the world. It is not too much to say that my becoming a Catholic has saved my marriage.


  46. Brent, that would be a really good analogy if you were god and your daughter was your virgin mother.

  47. Dear Fr Albert,

    Having been involved with you and your wife and family at the Episcopal church in Pennsylvania, I appreciate your continuing story.


  48. Darryl, (re: #43)

    how do you ever see Jesus if all the saints are crowded around Mary?

    Where Mary is, there is Jesus. (“Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”) So it is not an either/or.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  49. […] (from Called to Communion) […]

  50. For me, the most interesting line in the whole article was “But how could I let go of the reformation tenets of sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola gratia? Well, the answer is that I did not really have to give anything up.” Of course, that was followed by the obligatory Roman Catholic destruction of a strawman version of Sola Scriptura. There are churches that follow the strawman versions of these doctrines, no doubt, but if you’re talking specifically to the “reformed” community, you should know that these doctrines are not so very different inside most “traditional” reformed churches than the same doctrines expressed in different language in Roman Catholicism (as was acknowledged in a back-hand way with the reference to “confessional” churches).

    I would love to see the day where both sides acknowledge this … Yes, reformed believers need to acknowledge that the Roman Catholics aren’t as far out as they’ve been taught and that these doctrines are so much richer than can be expressed in two words, even in latin. But it would go a long ways if Roman Catholics acknowledged the same instead of bludgeoning us with their disdain for novel 2-word doctrines that are only 500 years old before pointing out that actually, there isn’t much effective difference between the two positions – if you’ve been reformed and interacted with Roman Catholics online, you should know what I’m talking about, even if you’ve now bought into the Roman Catholic position. Statements like “adopting a soteriology where he could remove all uncertainty and practically evade that feared judgment through alien righteousness applied at a single past event (faith) alone”. If we could leave the silly “sola” debates behind us (on both sides), we could address the genuine differences (which I won’t get into here, there are other places on this site if you want to get into them) – as Peter Kreeft and the author of this article point out, there are no differences here anyways.

    I do take some issue with the following statement: “when it comes to interpretation, even about critical issues that threaten to divide churches, there is no way to come to a new consensus.” In fact, there is a way in the very churches mentioned (PCA, OPC), and that is to go about the very difficult work of building a consensus rather than having one imposed via the papacy. They have broader assemblies (meetings between the various churches) for just that purpose. The Roman church seems to be finding, with their most recent synod on the family and the ongoing fallout from that, that a genuine consensus is more necessary than ever, and that outward unity is increasingly hard to maintain when there is disunity inside. On the other hand, the community of Reformed churches continues to build inward unity (unity of belief), and I hope and pray that one day the PCA and the OPC (and many other reformed and presbyterian churches) will come to experience outward unity as well. Perhaps I’ll get cynical and depressed at the slow (but very real, in my lifetime) progress towards this and settle for the Roman version of outward unity and a strong center instead, but I’m an optimist, so I doubt it …

  51. @djhart
    Pax Christi
    I am not quite sure what you mean. If you are concerned with the other members of the Body of Christ blocking the view from Him, well, I am not quite sure what your idea of heaven is.

    We need a personal relationship with Jesus, not a relationship with our personal Jesus.

    Ave Maria!
    friar/brother (not Father) Charles

  52. “I found myself longing to be in an undivided Church. ”

    Like the one we say at the Synod? I respect your story, but your depiction of the Church stretches your credibility. Francis sounds more like a liberal Episcopalian than I Catholic, and I can tell you that having sat under the ministries of both. Even the primary author of the CCC now lobbies for support of gay pairings. Not quite an undivided Church, as even Ross Douthat and maggie Gallagher are now saying. All very sad.

  53. Joe (re: #52)

    Please carefully read “The “Catholics are Divided Too” Objection.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  54. RD (50),

    “Thank you for your thoughtful and balanced comments. I agree that Reformed Christians and Catholics tend to talk past each other, often overlooking vast areas of agreement.

    When I said that I did not have to give up anything regarding the Reformation sola doctrines. my point was not that I kept these doctrines, but rather that I did not have to give up any aspects of these doctrines that made my heart sing. The Catholic Church maintains just as high a view of Scripture and just as strong an emphasis on grace.

    I certainly agree that the Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura is not as problematic as it is for many other churches, precisely because the Reformed understanding of sola scriptura is in a confessional context. I am not sure what you mean about a “backhand” reference to confessional churches. The confessional status is simply something that Reformed churches and Catholics have in common.

    Yet the question remains: to what confession does one subscribe? If Scripture alone is our guide, then we are back to a perpetual lack of consensus.

    You mentioned the Synod on the Family, and how there is some internal disagreement in the Catholic Church. The issues on the family in the Catholic Church will balance out in the end. There may be disputes as long as we live. That would be nothing unusual in light of the history of the Catholic Church. It is all part of working out a consensus, and even if it takes 200 years, the dialogue will continue under one roof until it is resolved.

    Among all involved in the Synod on the Family, there is more internal agreement than disagreement. All of those involved are accountable to one magisterium and one understanding of the Eucharist, sharing one faith in one Lord in one Church.

    You mentioned that the PCA and OPC have internal agreement. Sure, that is true regarding a lot of things. But so far, there has not been enough agreement to exist under one roof.

    When I was a Reformed Christian, I would have had more hope for Reformed Catholicism if there could be another Westminster Assembly that could bring all Presbyterians, at least, under one roof. But I think it is fair to say that the circumstances will not line up again to make that happen. The Westminster Confession was the result of a one shot deal in history, not to be repeated. As a result, it is not a living document.

    Even if the PCA and OPC do get together, then what would that accomplish? These two denominations represent a tiny corner of the church. It is only one small portion of the Reformed world. On the global stage, these two denominations are simply obscure.

    And so even among confessional Christians, the lack of consensus continues.

    This left me looking for something more.

    In Christ,
    Fr. Scharbach

  55. @dghart
    I wanted to make clear that I am not passing any judgement on your own–or Protestants in general–relationship with Jesus. I was wishing to point out that if we are “of God’s household” then we cannot view our brothers sisters, and mother in Christ as obstructions which block us from Him, whether we are speaking of on earth or in heaven.

    And the second point is meant to point out that(1) we are related to God both in community and individuality, and (2) it is all to easy to construct a God which conforms to our expectations. As Chesterton said, we don’t need a religion which is right when we are right, but one that is right when we are wrong. Having an authoritative Church corrects our individual idiosyncrasies and preferences.

    Again, I wanted to clarify that I am not casting aspersion on the reality of your or any Protestant’s search for Christ.

    And to answer your question better, I think that the lack of sacramental worship is a major factor in why, looking from the outside, it seems Christ gets lost amongst the saints, devotions, etc. I don’t receive St. Anthony in the Eucharist, I don’t desire to be absolved by a priest acting in persona Sancti Francisci, and I wasn’t baptized “In the Names of St. Therese, St. Jude, and Our Lady of Guadalupe”. The sacraments unite us in such a profound way with Christ that to compare receiving the Eucharist with doing a novena to St. Joseph is, to a well-catechized Catholic, absurd.

  56. @RD

    “But how could I let go of the reformation tenets of sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola gratia? Well, the answer is that I did not really have to give anything up.”

    I think you may find this article about the same thing very interesting: Why Catholicism Makes Protestantism Tick

    In my own conversion, I do not feel I left behind in Fundamentalist Evangelicalism (with an aftertaste of Westleyanism) anything good I wish I could have now. Living a holy life, standing up for the revealed truth, placing the love of Christ before all else, these are things I still aim for. And I think that most converts will describe the same feelings when it comes to what they converted from.

    Also, to add to what Father said, one can draw a distinction between accidental unity and essential unity. Two OPC members may believe everything right up the line, but then one changes his mind and becomes a Missouri Synod Lutheran. They are both still conservative Protestants, but the unity they had in the OPC was accidental.

    However, the unity in the Catholic Church is not based on the consensus of the members, but on the very essence of the Church as the Body of Christ (Has Christ been divided) and having as the “principle of unity” the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of the man received the solemn promise of our Lord: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” If some schism from the Catholic Church, they have not broken that unity but simply severed themselves from it.

    This reminds me of Pontificator’s Fourth Law:

    A church that does not understand itself as the Church, outside of which there is no salvation, is not the Church but a denomination or sect.

    Finally, I have to apply the same praise to you as you did to Beth on another thread. Your tone, especially considering that you have to deal with posters like me, is admirable and your quest for truth inspiring. Oremus pro invicem

  57. “We need a personal relationship with Jesus, not a relationship with our personal Jesus.”

    That would be really good on a bumper sticker.

  58. Joe (re:#52)

    You write that “(Pope) Francis sounds more like a liberal Episcopalian than a Catholic.” First, I don’t like the labels of “conservative” or “liberal,” when it comes to matters of Christian truth, because those are political labels, and Christianity is not a group of competing political parties– but with that said, and accepting your terminology for the sake of discussion here, I am very familiar with “liberal” (i.e. dissenting, heretical) professing Catholics and Episcopalians. The writing and speaking of Pope Francis cannot fairly be classified as belonging to either group.

    By way of example, when was the last time that any of us heard of a “liberal” (dissenting) Catholic giving public thanks for the role of exorcists in the Church– as even the not-exactly-Catholic-friendly Huffington Post admits that Pope Francis has recently done?

    Similarly, when has any “liberal Episcopalian” made such strong public statements about marriage as we can read from Pope Francis here?

  59. RD #50 “In fact, there is a way in the very churches mentioned (PCA, OPC), and that is to go about the very difficult work of building a consensus rather than having one imposed via the papacy.”

    When I was leaving evangelicalism and would eventually end up in the Church, I was aware that when Jesus spoke, He wasn’t busy building a consensus. The truth was not a matter of a vote. The fact of what I just wrote is that we killed Him because we did not want to submit to the truth. His mother is innocent, the rest of us had a hand in the deed.

    In Acts, after Pentecost, when Peter spoke, he carried the day and he was representing Jesus.

    When I became a Catholic, I did not always understand, nor was the old me always in agreement, but the new me, the Catholic me, submitted. If Jesus heads His Church and operates with the Holy Spirit to bring It to all truth, then my vote isn’t needed, but my obedience is necessary.

    I am a son of the Church Jesus founded. He did not require my assistance to do so, and when I fail, I flee to the confessional but not out of fear, out of love.

  60. This is a much appreciated summary, Al. In fact, our families were both at that same Episcopal Church! I am a “revert” to the Roman Catholic Church 8 years ago, and it was a homecoming. Most Protestants do not even know the history of what they have been erroneously called the “Catholic Bible,” which was actually the sacred canon of the Church up to the time of Luther, continuing to be used in its entirety by Catholics. A few weeks ago I shared this with a dogmatic “free church” Protestant and asked her how she would react if a Christian leader decided to remove a book or two from the Bible. This is what happened during the Reformation. She was a bit stunned to hear it put this way. I added that reading those “missing books” is essential to a full understanding of Christian faith.

  61. Well said, Nancy! Thank you for your thoughtful comments. It is gratifying to know that we have shared a similar way back home to the Catholic Church. Grace to you!

    (Fr.) Al Scharbach

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