My Conversion Story

To read my conversion story, I have posted it in .pdf format available for download.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

St. Cinderella

I was reading in Faith Magazine about the life of St. Germaine Cousin. While reading it, I could not help but think of the story of Cinderella.

Variations of the classical Cinderella story have been around for centuries in many different cultures around the world. But the modern one that most of us know, (before Disney got hold of it and ruined it, like most of their fairy tales) was penned in 1697 by Charles Perrault. Other stories that he wrote that most would know are "The Sleeping Beauty", "Little Red Riding Hood", and "The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots".

As mentioned, Perrault published the story in 1697, 96 years after the death of St. Germaine, also French. One can't help but wonder if Perrault modified any of the details in the variations of the story to make it more or less fit St. Germaine. Perrault was a committed Catholic who wrote Catholic themes into his stories. He did not just write down folk tales as told by the common folk as did the Brothers Grimm some years later. He did embellish them, and many were embellished further in the retelling in the French court.

Here are some parallels:
  • Germaine's father died when she was a child
  • She was poor and raised by a cruel, abusive step-mother
  • Her step-brothers were clearly the favorites in the family
  • She would pray the Rosary for God to be kind to her step-mother instead of wanting vengeance
  • She was fed only scraps but gladly shared them with beggars
No one is completely sure of how much of the story is Perrault's own fancy. A lot likely is. Look at the story and the life of St. Germaine and it is easy to come up with further extrapolations.

1. Cinderella's unnamed, unseen Father is in Heaven, as is our Heavenly Father.
2. The Fairy Godmother is the Virgin Mary or possibly the Holy Spirit.
3. The glass slipper is a symbol of the transition of Cinderella's former life of servitude to her new life as the bride of the Great Prince. In the original stories, Cinderella always had a golden or silver slipper. Perrault was going to change it to squirrel fur (hot fashion at the time), but by the time he was ready to finalize the story, squirrel fur was out of fashion, so he changed it to glass, knowing that no one would ever make a pair of shoes made out of glass. This gave it a timeless quality, which transcends fashion.
4. The symbol of transformation, or conversion, has always been the golden chalice that contains the Precious Blood which cleanses and saves. (The chalice is the symbol--not the Blood, which is actual).
5. The prince searched high and low for his bride, paralleled by the Parables of the Ten Virgins and the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one lost lamb.
6. Cinderella marries the Great Prince and is showered with blessings, as the Church is married to Christ and receives an abundance of blessings.
7. The prince takes her to his Kingdom to live with him, happily ever-after.

But I'm pretty sure there is no St. Gus-gus.

Here is the article from Faith magazine so you can read for yourself:

St. Germaine Cousin
Feast Day: June 15

St. Germaine Cousin (1579-1601) is the
patron for victims of child abuse and with good
reason. Weak and ill from birth with a deformed
and paralyzed hand, St. Germaine lost her mother
early. She found herself with a cruel and abusive
St. Germaine suffered from malnutrition
and from burns from her stepmother pouring
boiling water on her legs. Predictably, as her
health began to fail, she contracted a form of
tuberculosis that exacerbated her frailty and
increased her susceptibility to illness and disease.
The abuse culminated with St. Germaine’s
banishment to the barn out of fear that she would
pass her sickness to her stepbrothers.
Despite this abuse, however, St. Germaine
remained steadfast in her dependence on God.
With only a basic knowledge of the faith learned
from the catechism, she made a rosary of knots
and prayed simply: “Dear God, please don’t
let me be too hungry or too thirsty. Help me to
please my mother. And help me to please you.”
As she grew in holiness and trust in God, she also
grew in mercifulness. She was known for sharing
her scraps of food with beggars and offering them
shelter in the barn in times of harsh weather and
she grew in the spirit of forgiveness toward the
woman who caused her such pain and suffering:
her stepmother.
Throughout a life of hardship and abuse, St.
Germaine’s devotion to Jesus in the Blessed
Sacrament was unshaken by what assailed her
in life. It was because of her walking humbly with
God that she was able to love mercy and act
justly especially with the one person she had most reason to not love.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

If Protestantism Were True

I just started reading “If Protestantism Were True” by Devon Rose. I am still in the first chapter and so far, this former atheist's conversion to Christianity, and then from Evangelical Southern Baptist to Catholic sounds just like almost every Protestant to Catholic conversion story I’ve ever read. Including my own. I was going to type up a big excerpt, but instead, I’m going for bullet points.

Here is why Evangelicals when looking at Catholicism honestly and openly, finally see the truth and convert:
  • They love Jesus with all their heart and wish to be as close to him as they possibly can, so that means finding a "denomination" that best serves that purpose.
  • They look at the various denominations and and realize that:
    • if the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and that it, and it alone is the source and arbiter of faith (sola scriptura), then how can every denomination say they they are following the Holy Spirit’s leading and yet have varying beliefs?
    • Is not this disunity diametrically opposed to the unity that Jesus called for in John 17?
    • If the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and would not lead people into error, then it must mean that some Christians who THINK they are listening accurately to the Spirit’s promptings are in reality, not.
    • They look at their current church/denomination and wonder if it truly is the right one, to the exclusion of all others. Why or why not?
  • Evangelicals believe in “sola scriptura,” which means that they confidently must know which books of all ancient texts comprise the Bible.
  • Catholics and Orthodox believe their have more books in the Bible than Protestants do.
  • Historically, who decided which books were to be included in the Bible?
    • Either, the Holy Spirit tried to guide Christians to know which books belong in the Bible, but we still got some of the books wrong.
    • Or, The Holy Spirit succeeded in showing us the canon of Scripture and the Bible is comprised the exact books that he wanted included.
  • Tried to find Biblical support for belief in sola scriptura:
    • Checked all Bible verses in the church’s Statement of Faith on sola scriptura (Biblical Authority), and found that none of them teach or even shed any light on the subject.
  • If the Bible does not teach sola scriptura, do we believe it merely because we have been told to believe it by our faith Tradition?
  • Protestants, as a whole, do not claim that their Church holds the fullness of Truth. They don’t have an overseeing hierarchy that can make those decisions, and only some have any kind of hierarchy at all. Many wear this as a badge of honor. Many are only interested in Unity with others of “like” faith, which causes them to separate themselves from other denominations.
  • Catholics and Orthodox do claim that they have the fullness of Truth.
  • The pre-Reformation canon of Scripture DID contain all of the books that the Catholics and Orthodox claim that they did. Martin Luther removed the seven books based on an erroneous study of history (so-called “council” of Jamnia), and personal opinion, throwing out books that contained doctrine that he just did not like.
  • This means that Catholicism or Orthodoxy:
    • Has the full canon of Scripture
    • Has the authority to claim it as such
    • Has the fullness of Truth
  • Has a desire for Unity rather than “Separation.” 1 Cor.  1:10 “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and judgement of Christ.
  • Protestants and Orthodox removed themselves from the Church in violation of 1 Cor 1, and Matthew 18.
  • Catholics and Orthodox are still working toward reunification which is what Christ commanded for his people in John 17.
  • What was the early church like? REALLY like, not just what my faith Tradition tells me?
    • Investigate the Church Fathers. ALL of their teachings, not just cherry-picked by a Protestant Bible scholar.
  •  The early Church clearly believed in:
    • The Bishop of Rome is the head of the Church
    • Church hierarchy with apostles, then bishops with a succession of apostolic authority
    • Believe that the Eucharist is actually the Body and Blood of the Lord
    • That faith and works must be used in conjunction with one another in order to achieve salvation.
    • Baptism is necessary for salvation.
    • Purgatory is real, although that name was not attached to it for quite some time.
    • Before the Scriptures were compiled and completed (approx 200 years), Traditon and aural apostolic teaching is what led the church.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Favorite Authors

I am becoming increasingly convinced that besides the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the works of these men are the most beneficial ever written. This is from a standpoint of revelatory knowledge, not necessarily devotional or reflective. For those I would add Sts. Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Ávila, and Thérèse of Lisieux.

St. Augustine of Hippo
St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Louis de Monfort
Blessed John Henry Newman
G. K. Chesterton
C. S. Lewis
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger (Future Doctor of the Church, I hope)

I am sure there are more, but I only have less than half a lifetime left. Just Chesterton alone would take the rest of my life to read, reread, and fully appreciate his work.

C. S. Lewis is the only non-Catholic in this list. Lewis was very Catholic-like, and it has been said that if he could have gotten past his mental block regarding the primacy of the Pope, he very likely would have become Catholic. But then, if he had become Catholic, he would likely not be as popular with Protestants as he is. A Protestant may not realize it, but when he is reading Lewis, he is actually reading Catholic theology.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Annunciation of Our Lord

“Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you.”...“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”

Mary could not have known that her willingness to fulfill God's plan for her would reach so far. She, in her words, was a “lowly handmaiden” whom all generations would call “blessed”. In this, she became the mother of the Church, the Mother of us all. Rev. 12:17 makes it clear that she is our mother.

If she is our Mother, then we should give her the respect that she is due or we break the fifth commandment. Eph. 6:1-2 also makes it clear that this commandment refers not only to our biological father and mother, but to our spiritual ones as well.

Jesus could have come to us in different ways. He can do as he wishes. But he chose to work through Mary, and her cooperation in God's grace to mankind was the beginning of our salvation. Everything before this point is preparatory. Once Mary said “yes” Satan was defeated.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No Native-born American male Saints?

At the men’s group at church we have been going over the “Catholicism” series by Fr. Robert Barron. Last night’s episode was about the Saints. I was surprised that of the four saints that were covered in the video, all were women. I don’t have a problem with that. I was just surprised that he didn’t cover any male Saints.

I made a comment that I had heard on the Catholic Answers that as of now, there have been no native-born American male Saints. It was a surprise to pretty much everyone I knew, so I thought I’d look into it further to see if that statement was correct.

And it was. There are two who are being considered for Sainthood, and I have no doubts that it will happen one day. These two are Father Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus; and Bishop Fulton Sheen, the very first ever televangelist who used to give Milton Berle a run for his money when it came to ratings on the 1950s.

But I looked further and noticed that really very few women Saints are also native born. There are only three who were born in the boundaries of what is NOW the U. S. St. Katharine Drexel is the only Saint, female or male to have been born in the U. S. after the birth of the nation in 1776. The other two were both born in what is now New York. St. Kateri Takawitha, canonized only this past year, was born in the 1680; and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was born only less than two years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

But it shouldn’t be too surprising. The Church has a 2,000+ year history, and the U. S. has only been around for 237 years. Also the standards for becoming a Saint are much more stringent than in times past. At one time, people became canonized by popular support. Later, the Church decided to formalize proceedings so that all people could know beyond reasonable doubt, that the person in question is actually in heaven. The best way to do that is by seeing evidence of their intercession, usually in the form of bona-fide miracles--which is why the Church investigates "miracles"so thoroughly.

I was reading about today’s Saint, Salvator of Horta at The commentator make an important point. In it he says that in times past, some of the miracles that were wrought, would probably not be considered miracles per-se today. Some of the miracles performed by this Saint, could no doubt be attributed to psychological healings by helping people re-prioritize their lives, reducing stress, leading to better health and a better sense of well-being.

That in no way belittles the miracles. For the Creator of the Universe(s), healing cancer is a no-brainer. What is hard even for God, is changing a person’s life when He is up against human free-will, stubbornness, and hard hearts.

Keep in mind that becoming a Saint (with a capital “S”) is not a title we give them that would bestow anything new on them that they don’t already have. If Bishop Sheen is canonized, it does not mean that he is NOW being welcomed into heaven. It is us recognizing that he is already there and interceding on our behalf. And becoming a Saint also does not mean that NOW this person is worthy of our attention, veneration, and to be emulated by us. We can certainly do that before the person is declared to be such.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thoughts on Eternal Security and Once Saved, Always Saved

One proof text that many Protestants used to “prove” once saved, always saved” is 1 John 5:13. In fact, it is probably the one used most often as the language seems to clearly indicate this. It reads:

Revised Version-Catholic Edition: “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

King James: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

NIV: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

As you can see, there are almost no differences between the versions, so you can see that Catholics are not playing semantics when it comes to how to translate this verse.

The points that I used to make as a Baptist were:
  1. This life is “ETERNAL” meaning no end, with some interpreting it as also having no beginning (part of the Calvinist tradition of predestination)
  2. St. John says that you HAVE (currently possess, not a future event) eternal life
  3. You could KNOW that you have eternal life
Conclusive, eh? Let's see. As is often the case, the Protestant takes this verse completely out of the context of the chapter, and out of its Biblical and historical contexts.

What is eternal life, and what does it mean to “have” it?

Often the Protestant will talk about eternal life as if it is an object that God creates and then hands to you. By accepting Jesus as your personal Savior (a concept found only found in Protestant tradition, not in Scripture) you receive eternal life from God and wrap it around you as if it was a coat.

In this act you receive eternal life. And because by its nature, eternal life cannot end, it must mean that once you are saved, you are always saved. Note that these words do not exist in the text. It is an extrapolation imposed by the reader in a process called eisegesis (the interpretation of a text by reading into it one's own ideas), rather than exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation of a text).

The source of eternal life is God. The life is eternal because God is eternal. Eternal life flows from him and this is why water is used so abundantly in the Scriptures as a symbol of life, or in the case of baptism, actually granting eternal life. Many times in scripture, the imagery of a river flowing with living water is used. In Revelation, this river flows from the throne of God. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman that he who drinks of this water will never thirst again.

As this imagery is so prevalent, it is prudent to try to stay within its framework. If eternal life is so often symbolized in Scripture as water and not just a mere covering, it is more like the following illustration:

One of my favorite summertime activities is going to Grand Haven, Michigan which is on the western coast of Lake Michigan. If I go to the lake and sit by the water, I may get splashed, but the water on my skin will dry up. If I go into the water, I am wet all over. I am immersed in the water and I will stay wet for as long as I stay in. If I leave the water and sit on the beach in the sun for a while, again the water on my skin and suit will dry. When I leave the water, Lake Michigan is still there waiting for me to jump back in when the sun gets too hot. And when I have left the water, Lake Michigan is still Lake Michigan, and it remains unchanged regardless of whether or not I was ever in it.

Think of the lake as eternal life. Rather than putting it on (getting splashed) it is something that I become-- immersed (baptized) into. As long as I stay in the water (stay in God's river of eternal life), I have this life from God. If I turn away from God and leave that life behind, it is the same as leaving the waters of Lake Michigan. I have “lost” my eternal life, but that eternal life still exists. It is still eternal—right there in the lake, just waiting for me to enter it again.

So, the Protestant will ask, how then can you KNOW that you have eternal life if it is something that you can lose? This is where we have to look at all of Scripture and not only this verse all by itself.

Look at all of chapter 3, not just verse 13. The first five verses say:
  1. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God
  2. Everyone who loves the father loves his child (in this case he is talking of each believer being a child of God) as well
  3. To prove your love for God you must keep his commands.
  4. Obedience and faith are equated, just as they are in the book of James.
This means to be “saved” you have to obey, because obedience IS faith and to fave faith is to obey. If you stop obeying, you do not have faith, you do not have the love of God in you, and you are still in your sins.

These concepts are reiterated later in the chapter, with slightly different wording. “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” But again we have the word “believe” (faith). Again the biblical definition of faith is closely integrated with obedience. If you do not obey, you do not have faith, you do not have the Son of God, and you do not have eternal life.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Popes I have known

I've been meaning to write about Pope Benedict for some time, but have never gotten around to it. Now that he has announced his retirement, it sounds like the perfect opportunity. I can’t write anything without writing a small novel. A lot of this is autobiographical, but it’s necessary to show why I LOVE this man!

Pope Benedict is the first Pope we have had in my lifetime that meant anything to me spiritually. Not that there was anything wrong with the others, it’s just that I was not in place to appreciate them at the time. During my lifetime, there have been five Popes:
Paul VI
John Paul I
John Paul II
Benedict XVI

John died when I was but a wee laddie, so I do not remember him at all. I should remember Paul VI better as he did not pass away until I was almost 19 years old, but I really don’t. Why? Largely because of the terrible catechesis of the 1970s.

I remember when I was in about 6th grade I was visiting a friend down the street. His Dad was the Pastor at Zion Reformed Church in Grandville which is right in my folks’ back yard. While attending a Vacation Bible School class at his house I remember they were trying to convert us heathen Catholics. I remember Mrs. Arnoldink said, “There are only two kinds of people in the world—Christians and…” (she waits for the answer—I was about to say “Catholics”) …“COMMUNISTS.” So I guess Catholics are Communists? I had to ask my Mom. Mrs. Arnoldink would have had a stroke if she knew that we played with Ouija boards with her kids in her basement at other times!

I remember that she kept harping on how evil this one guy was named “Po Paul.” I had no idea she meant “Pope Paul” because quite frankly, I had never heard of him. I had to ask my Mom who he was too because in my CCD classes we never talked about him. I didn't even know what a “Pope” was, let alone any details about this one.

It wasn't until I got into high school that I began to look at my faith seriously. Even then, I had been so heavily influenced by attending another friend’s Baptist church that the idea of an over-arching Church rather than just a local church seemed rather foreign to me. I knew that the Catholic Church was worldwide, but to me all that mattered was my local parish.

So when I began really questioning my faith at about the time that I got married, I had been led so far astray that my fiancée and I were wondering if we should be married in the Catholic Church or not. Because I was still thinking of it as a local individual parish, I convinced myself that as long as I stayed at THIS church (St. James, Grand Rapids, with Fr. Antekier) I could stay Catholic. I liked him because he did not seem to “over-emphasize” Mary, the Mother of Jesus too much.

When Mary and I got married, in order to not offend our Protestant friends, we decided to not have a Mass. We should have. Hardly any of them showed up anyway. Why I was more concerned with offending our Protestant friends than with offending our Catholic family, shows that we probably should not have been married in the Church. In retrospect, I’m glad we did though.

Shortly after were married, was the Assumption of Mary, and so there was a special Mass for her. By then I was reading decidedly anti-Catholic materials and I finally said enough is enough, Fr. Antekier was no different than all the rest, so I left and joined a Plymouth Brethren assembly.

This was in 1980, so as I said before, I did not really know much of anything about Pope Paul as I was growing up. Like most people, I didn't know much about John Paul I either as he lived only such a short time after becoming Pope.

I did not know who Pope John Paul II was at the time of his election and ordination, but I remember being as surprised as everyone else that he was Polish rather than Italian. My wife’s family is mostly Polish, so it was a pretty big deal in the family.

I had become a staunch anti-Catholic and so I just assumed that JPII was a typical hell-bound (in my mind) Catholic. I never paid attention to any of his pronouncements, encyclicals, or anything so I did not realize that he was a Saint in the making. I really wish I did, as it is obvious to me now that if I had, my spiritual life, and probably that of my wife and kids would have been much different.

But JPII did have an effect on me that I did not expect, and he softened my view of Catholicism. Lech Walesa began his Solidarity movement in Poland, and between him, Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II, in just a few short years they helped to overthrow the USSR and free Poland and East Germany from their steel fist, and his greatness became apparent to me. He was actually a hero to a huge part of the world. Then his life as a youth and his work against communism in Poland began to be known and I could not help but admire him. Yet my Baptist Church still thought of him as the Devil incarnate.

This set up a huge conflict in my head. I really believed that there is no possible way that he could be “saved” because of the things that a priest, bishop, or Pope has to believe about themselves. I thought it was blasphemy. Surely they would be damned. But I wanted to like him. I did admire him in the political front, but how can this obviously good man, who says he loves Jesus be going to hell?

About this time I got out of the Army and came back home to Michigan, returning to my and my wife’s Catholic family and their influence. Over the next several years I saw how my nieces and nephews were becoming fine young Christian men and women, despite being Catholic. It did not occur to me later that it was not in spite of being Catholic, but because of being Catholic that they were turning out so well.

It look a lot of years yet before I finally saw the light and returned to the Faith of our Fathers. My wife still has not yet. Shortly before I did though, I began to read: first Evangelical is not Enough, by Thomas Howard ((the brother of Elisabeth Elliot (wife of Jim Elliot an evangelical Christian who was one of five missionaries killed while evangelizing the Waodani people of Ecuador, whose life was depicted in the movie “The End of the Spear”)), and Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn.

Eventually reading these materials and others and investigating the writing of the Church Fathers (the whole writings, not just cherry-picked excerpts as many evangelicals do) that led me back. Shortly after that, I began to read materials by Pope Benedict, and some of his older works written as Joseph Ratzinger and re-released by Ignatius Press. Pope Benedict is quite frankly, one of the finest authors I have ever read. He has a deep understanding of Scripture and I would not be at all surprised for him to one day be declared a Doctor of the Church.

His latest work, Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives is a good place to start with his writings. Please read it, Catholic or not, you will love his insight and the way that he can make everything fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. This book is much shorter than the other two that he wrote in the series, and is a good segue into his other works.

It is exceedingly unusual to see a Pope resign his office. He says it is because of his health, and he has seemed rather frail of late, so I respect his decision to step down. I do hope though that he is able to continue with his writing and teachings until the Lord calls him home.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Arguing From a Non-Existent Bible Verse | Catholic Answers

""St. Paul could not be clearer that we can have absolute assurance of our salvation when he said, 'To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.'" Or didn't he?

Arguing From a Non-Existent Bible Verse | Catholic Answers

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Have Baptists existed in every generation since Christ? Are Baptists Protestants?

Have Baptists existed in every generation since Christ? Are Baptists Protestants?

Baptist Successionists frequently claim that they are not Protestants. To this, Leon McBeth, professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary writes, “Are Baptists Protestants? One sometimes hears the question whether Baptists are to be identified as Protestants. Whether one takes the shortcut answer, or goes into lengthy explanation, the answer is the same: Yes. Such important Reformation doctrines as justification by faith, the authority of Scripture, and the priesthood of believers show up prominently in Baptist theology. Further, the evidence shows that Baptists originated out of English Separatism, certainly a part of the Protestant Reformation. Even if one assumes Anabaptist influence, the Anabaptists themselves were a Reformation people. The tendency to deny that Baptists are Protestants grows out of a faulty view of history, namely that Baptist churches have existed in every century and thus antedate the Reformation”
(The Baptist Heritage [Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987], pg. 62).