The Long Swim to Shore: Part 5

Swimming the Tiber

Two tourists boarded a ship and sailed to a foreign land. The two tourists disembarked from the ship and stood on the shoreline of the land they had never seen before. Their eyes took in the landscape that was so different from their homeland. They walked the streets of the port city and observed the unique architecture of the buildings. They observed what seemed like odd customs of the citizens. They watched as the citizens, dressed in unusual clothing, were feasting on unrecognizable food and speaking indecipherable words to one another.  Before the day was half over one tourist quickly walked back to the ship and declared that the place was too strange to explore. He ridiculed the customs of the citizens, declaring them bizarre. He criticized the architecture saying it was impossible to build like they build in this country. He turned his nose up when he described how unappetizing the food smelled. And he determined that normal citizens do not dress like the people of this land. He mocked the language the citizens spoke passing it off as mumbo jumbo.  “Take me back to my home, the polyglot of this place makes no sense!” he told the captain of the ship. 

The second tourist strolled back to the ship just before sunset and called from the dock to the ship’s captain. “I will not be boarding the ship today, I have some things I want to learn about this place. The landscape is inviting and I need to find a guide that will navigate it with me. The architecture is complex, I must find an architect and learn more about their blueprints. I do not understand the language, I need to find a denizen of this place to interpret the vernacular for me. I am wondering about the customs and why they do things the way they do, I must find a historian to help me learn about their culture. And their feasts are so interesting, I’m going to seek out a chef so that I may learn about their cuisine in the feasts.”

How you respond to what I desire to tell you about the Catholic Church really depends on what kind of tourist you are. Your journey through the Catholic Church will be more like a day trip than a real journey because I am an apprentice guide; a neophyte in the Catholic tradition of the Faith. But what I lack in familiarity I make up for in passion. Let’s begin our excursion by answering a few questions my husband and I had to ask ourselves the longer we served in Protestant ministry.

Why do you go to Church?

Perhaps you’ve been a member of your church since you were born and perhaps much of your family is a member of your church, you might even say it’s your family’s church so that is why you go to it. Perhaps you have found a church that fits your personality or generational style, you feel comfortable there, of the people that go there look at life through a similar lens and so that is why you go to it. Perhaps you go to church because you have children who need to grow up going to church.  Perhaps the area of the world or country you live in has a church that appeals to your own cultural background. There are many reasons for going to church.

What do you do at Church?

What you do at church is heavily weighted by what kind of church you go to; therefore, there are thousands of practices and opinions on what you do at church. It is not necessary for you to list what you do at your church before we begin our tour of the Catholic Church, but it is helpful for you to be mindful of them as we enter the doors of the cathedral.

What is Church?

It may seem a bit prosaic to ask this question at the beginning of our tour of the Catholic Church, but it is one of the questions that preoccupied our own minds the longer we served in the Protestant movement. You really must have an answer if you are going to understand what we see, hear, and do when we enter the grand doors of our cathedral. Is your faith history rooted in a denominational church? Perhaps you attend a “Bible” church or a “Jesus only” church or non-denominational church with a sobriquet like, “Substance” or “Simple.” Is it a liberal church or a conservative church? Is it an Arminian church or a Calvinistic church? Is it a mainline church or a fundamental/evangelical church? How you answer these questions determines what you consider a church to be. Currently, there are thousands of Protestant denominations around the world so there are many thousands of ideas about what a church is. 

What’s the difference? Church is Church, isn’t it?

Answering this question may take some time, but it is the most important question to answer before we enter the doors of the Catholic Church. There are voluminous writings on this very subject and they are written by scholarly theologians who have devoted their lives to studying Church history. It is prudent for me to remind you that I am a novice guide and you are on a day-trip so our pause here before entering through the doors will be brief.  As you think of what the Church is, it will be helpful to think of the three things you need to build a brick house: bricks, mortar, and trowel. (We credit Mark Shea for this clear analogy of the Catholic Church.) 

What is the Catholic Church?

Think of the Catholic Church as having a big enough pile of bricks to build a brick house. Catholic teaching says written Sacred Scripture is materially sufficient: all the bricks necessary to build its doctrines are there in Scripture. But there are also other necessary and no less important building materials besides Scripture that have been handed down from the apostles and the early Church Fathers. The other building material is stored in the unwritten (and eventually written) Sacred Tradition (this is the mortar that holds the bricks of the written Tradition together in the right order and position) and the Sacred Authority (Magisterium) or teaching authority of the Church (this is the trowel in the hand of the Master Builder). Taken together, these three things are formally sufficient for knowing the revealed truth of God. You can build a Church that the gates of hell will not prevail against when you have all three materials to build with–bricks, mortar, trowel–Sacred Scriptures, Sacred Tradition, Sacred Authority.

There are libraries of documents and literary works dedicated to all or some of the three-building materials of the Catholic Church, I cannot do the subject justice. You can refer to my reading list for recommendations on historical and academic writings on the subject. The ancient Church, the Church established by Jesus Christ through the apostles, passed on the faith of the New Covenant with God. They passed it on through oral and written tradition with the authority Christ had established in them. This is the monumental difference in how the Catholic Church has been built as opposed to the Protestant movement. 

What is the Protestant Church?

The Protestant movement began with a protest against the authority of the Catholic Church and gradually turned into a movement of protest and innovation. In other words, there was no way that the universal (Catholic) Church established by Christ through his apostles would simply start over because of some dissenting voices. Another point needs to be made. If you want to understand what Protestants think of as church, and faith in God, then you need to know what the movement was founded on.  Sola scriptura–scripture alone (bricks only) is a term used to describe how Protestants build their understanding of Christianity. Protestantism insists that only Scripture is authoritative for Christian faith and life. It denies the Catholic teaching (and historical reality) that Scripture is actually a written portion of a much wider sacred and authoritative Tradition, which includes other elements passed down orally and by patterns of behavior known as ritual or tradition. When an understanding of the Faith is based on bricks alone without the mortar and trowel of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Authority, serious consideration needs to be addressed. If Scripture were the only legitimate source of Christian belief and practice, the early Christians who lived before the New Testament was written and circulated could not have lived the Faith. We’ll leave that consideration for you to ponder.

Sola Scriptura (bricks alone) explains one aspect of why there are so many Protestant denominations. If someone or a group of somebodies interpret Scripture by using some handpicked bricks to shape their theology, there are other bricks that are, by necessity, left in the collection of bricks we refer to as Holy Scripture. That is the nature of innovation. The various Protestant denominations (read innovations) have taken the bricks they find truthful, fascinating, satisfying, consoling, and invented a new form of the church using their own ideas, methods, equipment, technology to attract people to their innovation. The list is endless because innovation is constantly changing according to each generation.

Early in the Reformation history, the rebellion against authority lived up to its eventual moniker, Protestant Movement. The early reformers of the 16th century would not recognize the movement today, we dare say they would roll over in their graves if they knew what their rebellion put into motion. Within the first fifty years or so the Reform movement was indeed moving by fracturing into splinters that fit the notions of some influential voices–Luther, Calvin, and King Henry VIII.  And the splintering accelerated as history unfolded.  Think of the Reformation this way: A parent has exercised parental leadership through guidance and authority for 18 years of a child’s life. The child’s existence is integrated into the identity of the family name. The necessary boundaries of discipline expand as that child matures in wisdom and understanding about her identity within the family and in the world. Some children reach the age of 18 and continue to mature in fits and starts into what it means to be a balanced human being in the family and the culture. Other children (read Luke 15:11-32) take the money and run, giving way to every drive and self-centered attraction and distraction possible.  The deeper the rebellious spirit, the farther the rebellion takes a son or daughter down the path of dis-integration from their identity. Some prodigals never return. Has the parent forgotten that child?  Has the parent disowned that child? No. But that child has lost some of her identity, her familial integrity has been compromised through her own choices.

So, where did the path lead for this Reformation’s child known as the Protestant Church? If you look at the Protestant Movement’s history like one looks at an electrical grid, you can easily become confused by the flow of the energy of the movement that the early Reformers started so let’s just look at one of those many examples of this dis-integrating by surveying what is known as the “Holiness Movement.” We will work our way back in history as we consider this movement. Out of this Protestant Movement, there are extreme innovations of the holiness movement known as “Pentecostal Movements” and there are milder innovations of the holiness movement known just as “Holiness Movements.” And from those movements (still bricks only) there are a host of denominations that innovate their entire theology with certain bricks picked by their leader(s) interpretation of the Scriptures. To further complicate the bricks-only “Holiness Movement” you can travel a few decades further into the past. There you will find another pile of bricks known as “The Great Revival Movement”. Those bricks, used by some of the “Baptist Movement” (but, not all) and some of the “Methodist Movement” (but, not all) were piled together until protests arose within those Movements. 

Bear with me, travel back even further into the short history of Protestantism and you will discover John Wesley and Roger Williams among leaders of the aforementioned bricks-only movements. Those two leaders used bricks from the “Free Church Movement” that had discarded some of the bricks from the “Anglican Movement.” That movement was started in protest, by none other than the already noted King Henry the VIII, with a brick of his own making, against the Catholic Church.  Was his innovation of the Catholic Church built with the mortar and the trowel of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Authority? No, he used his own  authority (Sound familiar?). His Anglican Church (The Church of England) was cobbled together and rearranged because of rebellion against the Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Authority of the Church. The Catholic Church would not grant him a divorce from Queen Catherine of Aragon. He had fallen in lust with Anne Boleyn but Anne Boleyn would not give into his lust while he was married to Queen Catherine of Aragon, who happened to be a woman of devout faith in God and loyal to the authority of the Catholic Church.  Heads rolled because of his contempt for The Catholic Church (pun intended)!

We still just have bricks except in the innovation of the Anglican church which began with specially fashioned bricks by former Catholic, King Henry the VIII who used his own kingly authority to innovate a church that would fit his need. Have you been able to keep track of the scriptures/bricks each of these subsequent factions kept or threw away from the Anglican Movement? Can you trace your denominational authority and tradition by naming each brick that has been kept and each one that has been tossed to support your denomination’s theology? Can you identify any mortar (Sacred Tradition) or trowel (Sacred Authority) that may have been used at some point to build your denomination from your bricks? How old is your denomination? How old is the manufactured mortar and trowel, if there is any?

During our examination of our denomination’s tenets over the years of ministry, we could never go deeper into history than the late 1960s. Like most denominations, our Protestant history was not more than 500 years old, relatively short and theologically sparse when compared to the weight of the Faith present in The Catholic Church. We asked ourselves: What does our denomination build its theology on? How does it stay intact without the mortar and trowel? A common answer in the Evangelical tradition is that the denomination is like the New Testament Church. But we began wondering how we could know what the New Testament Church was like or what it taught about faith and worship.  Often enough, the answer was, “The Bible.” But who taught us that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God? Who decided what books would be included in the Bible? We realized that Paul had no New Testament when he wrote to the Thessalonian Christians, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”So what was holding the vast enterprise of the gospel of Christ in place? Some would answer that it was the Holy Spirit. Indeed it was! The line of biblical authority was held because the Spirit of God equipped The Church to discern and govern the Church that Christ promised would stand united in time and eternity.

Counting the Council of Jerusalem referred to in Acts 15 and Galatians 2, The Catholic Church has convened 22 Church Councils over the 2,000 years of her history. The purpose of nearly every council was to keep the brick house intact by using the trowel of the Church of Christ to respond to heresies. The councils did that by keeping the mortar pure and the trowel sharp. We could spend days talking about the heresies and the Church’s action against them, but one point will suffice. Christianity is born from the saving action of the Triune God. But the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is not laid out explicitly in Sacred Scripture. It was through controversies over how to best interpret difficult passages of scripture that the Catholic Church Councils formulated “how the mystery of the Blessed Trinity was revealed, how the Church articulates the doctrine of the Trinity, and how, by the divine missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit, God the Father fulfills the ‘plan of his loving goodness’ of creation, redemption, and sanctification.” (CCC No. 235). In other words, had Christ left us with a mandate to see scripture as the sole authority of the Christian life, we would have been lost from the beginning in controversy about the nature of the Lord himself.

As we began to understand that the Catholic Church is the Church of the early Christians, because it is the Church instituted at Christ’s New Covenant, our doubts transformed into secure belief. We were more and more attracted to The Roman Catholic Church’s worship. In observing the extreme difference between worship in the Catholic Church and the Protestant movement, we found the answers to the quandary about the ever-changing Protestant worship styles. It was time to reconcile how we had worshipped the LORD in the Protestant movement with what we now understood about worship in The Roman Catholic Church. To reconcile is to settle or resolve differences, and at least for us, we could no longer live with the incongruity in the Protestant movement’s methods of worship and biblically-ordered worship. Those were hard words to hear for our fellow Protestant Christians: hackles raised, words were weaponized, isolation and rejection came from expected and unexpected places in our relationships. And yet, we persevered!

The Long Swim to Shore: Part Four

Come and see the works of God, tremendous his deeds among men. He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the river dry-shod… For you, O God, have tested us, you have tried us as silver is tried: you led us, God, into the snare; you laid a heavy burden on our backs….we went through fire and through water but then you brought us relief.

Psalm 65

Tried and Found Wanting

Quietly, matter-of-factly, we started worshipping at Mass. As we assembled with worshipping believers every Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, the answers to our most urgent questions began flooding into our hearts and minds. Our nowhere was progressively turning into “now- here.” The Good Shepherd was leading and we were a path that would take us home to the ancient Church. The peace of mind that poured over us was so refreshing and life-restoring. There were men and a woman of God that were the vessels of grace placed in Salvation History for many reasons that will never be fully comprehended in this life, but we are certain that we are among the recipients of God’s divine favor and mercy flowing from their lives. The Spirit drew us deeper into consideration of the Catholic Church as we learned from our priests and observed their intellectual and theological integrity with which they served God. Worship embodied the integrity and the authenticity that we hungered for–every word, every action, every moment of the Mass bore the full solemnity of the Christian faith and that deeply impacted us.

As strange as it may sound, desperation is a really good thing in the spiritual life. Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we are looking for. Desperate ones seek with an all-consuming intensity, for they know that their life depends on it. Like the cancer patient who travels to a foreign country in the quest for cures that can’t be found in familiar territory, spiritual seekers embark on a quest for that which cannot be found within the borders of life as we know it. We embark on a search for healing that has not been found in all the other cures we have tried. We have run all the way to the edges of our own answers; we have exhausted the possibilities and are now finally ready to admit our powerlessness in the face of the great unfixable of life. 

Ruth Haley Barton

Tired and Hungry

As the months passed and our perspective clarified as we worshipped in at Mass, the season of waiting gave way to understanding. We hadn’t fully comprehended how distorted our vision had become during our service to Protestant ministry. We knew there had to be more depth to the Christian faith than our own Protestant denomination’s churchiness. When we were still searching for a Protestant church to worship at after we departed from that denomination; one thing had become crystal clear to us; our denomination was not unique in its floundering. And we knew we were tired of all the man-centered maneuvering all done in “the name of God!”

Mary’s magnificent response to God’s grace and mercy on humanity recorded in Luke 1 prophetically describes the fallout of rebellion, “He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts…”  As pride has taken root, entangling every facet of life, humanity has scattered and diffused into all manner of imaginations. We had witnessed how tiring the Protestant movement had become with its preoccupation with what people wanted. We found it more and more tiring to be associated with all the innovations in the Protestant movement that had scattered over different “imaginations” about what it means to worship the Triune God and live as His Church in the world. We were tired of all the imaginative splitting of hairs. We were tired of motivations centered around attracting people through the consumerism familiar to the current generation rather than the true worship of God. We were tired of the topic-driven preaching, performer-driven music, soapbox-driven teaching, and entertainment-driven programming. We tired of all the church splits, division, and multiplication, not to mention all the “affiliations” or movements replacing denominations–new wine in old wineskins!

Our spirits wearied from the futility attachments to the benefits of serving God. We had looked through the neatly packaged boxes God had been put into by customized movements; and found them wanting. We had read the formulas and noted the steps laid out by well-meaning evangelical leaders, broadcasters, and writers that relegated faith to methodology; and found so many of them self-serving. We had dedicated our time and effort to doing and believing all the right things according to our own denomination’s perspective; we still had doubts about its continuity with the historic Church.

We were tired, and we were hungry. Our hunger manifested in what St. Anselm wrote thousands of years ago, “faith seeks understanding.” Our questions about God and faith had made us uneasy as they had led to new questions we could never have anticipated. Our questions were changing, and we found the answers we had previously accepted did not satisfy our desire for security, rest, and peace. We fed our spirits by reading from the early Church Fathers and Saints of the Church. In their devotion to Christ, in their desire to understand what they believed, we found satisfaction. We were more comfortable with transcendent Mystery (“to shut the mouth”) of the Triune God than with the domesticated certainties that had fossilized so much of the Protestant movement. We fed our spirits by seeking more understanding and discovered the Mystery of Faith that transcends humanity’s diminutive attempts at definitions of The Faith. The gravitas that accompanied these realizations had led us in the “long obedience in the same direction” toward the threshold of the Catholic Church. The hungering darkness of our past gave way to light!

The Long Swim to Shore: Part Three

Solitude eventually offers a quiet gift of grace, a gift that comes whenever we are able to face ourselves honestly: gifts of acceptance, of compassion, for who we are as we are. As we allow ourselves to be known in solitude, we discover that we are known by Love. Beyond the pain of self-discovery, there is a Love that does not condemn us but calls us to itself. This Love receives us as we are. –Parker Palmer

Swimming to Shore

During the “quiet gift of grace” we found in the solitude, where our vision cleared, we began a search for a church home. The painful discovery for us was that we could no longer abide by the Protestant notions of worship. What were those disturbing notions that had set the tide of our lives toward the Catholic Church? There is an unspoken, sometimes unintentional, motivation in the evangelical Protestant movement. Beneath the decision to start new churches, known as a church plant, a systemic infirmity pervades the Protestant movement, no matter what denominational affiliation. Authority is fluid. Older established churches are declining in numbers or reclining in entrenchment and apathy. It is a given fact that most established churches struggle with leadership succession. When a new generation desires change that will equal the allure of its age, the old guard more often than not fights to keep their authority over what they believe is suitable for their generation. Because church authority is local and based on a short history of the denominational organizations, many churches tend toward solving their perceived problems with man-centered solutions. Solutions that appear to be democratic but are often myopic. Solutions that may appear on the surface as prudent are simply another attempt at plugging the dike of a 500-year-old reservoir of the turbulent waters of rebellion. Rather than pastors and their superiors knocking their heads against the fixed positions of the biggest donors or the loudest detractors in the church, the solution often is to start another church. At other times, the solution is to find new pastoral leadership, someone who can either “lead” or placate the dissenting voices and imagine new ways and means to attract the culture. The decision to start a new church or find a new pastor may have started because of division in the church. Or the decision is made to prevent parishioners from leaving the local church. Either way, the undercurrent of protest is never treated; the leak in the dike is beyond repair.           

The present cultural fascination with mega-entertainment churches that attract a consumer-driven society earns the evangelical church’s idiom, “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The innovation seems to incline well to the culture, yet upon closer examination, it reveals that pastors have the incredible pressure to balance intriguing sermons and experiences that cater to the culture’s frantic want for distraction from the realities of their lives. Behind some of the motivation in ministry, programming is a desire to engage the congregation in following Christ in a relevant way within the culture. At first glance, this appears commendable. But there is another motivation that lurks around decisions that are made. A pastor and his staff know that the people they serve can find another place to attend on Sunday mornings if they are bored with the smorgasbord of choices their church serves up every Sunday. We have even heard pastors referred to as coaches by church leadership. When the coach and his team cease to have “wins” that meet the approval of the “fans” then it’s time for a new coaching team. A myriad of notions has filled the vacuum of the Protestant movement. Any pastor that pulls back from the busyness he is driven to pursue eventually recognizes he is just one more sincere little boy trying his best to keep the reservoir from giving way around him.

The environment of these rising star churches can best be described by what one young person told us about a church she had decided to attend. When we queried her why she had chosen that particular church, her answer echoed the culture. “I always have a good time and come away feeling good. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”  Is it? Is worship of the Triune God about inclining to the wants of the culture to attract people to attend church to feel good? Is worship something we manage, or is it something we give? Is it something we experience? Or something we do? We knew that the evangelical Protestant answer is touted every Sunday in varying ways. Some are more unsettling than others.                  

Bagels and designer coffee are often available for purchase before entering the “worship center.” Some churches even have a breakfast bar at the back of the worship center so you can get up and help yourself during the “worship” hour. It is not unusual to observe people bringing a fast-food breakfast they had grabbed on the way to church. If the church has multiple venues for their Sunday morning worship experience, then the pastor’s 30-45 minute sermon is simulcast. Most often, at least in the “contemporary” services, the lights are low to set the mood for the performance on the stage. The dressed-down experience attracts the entertainment-driven culture, and it works! Full bands and sound and light shows are not uncommon, and the talent on the stage is most often polished and professional.            

We had observed another unsettling normal in most of the up-and-coming Protestant churches. We shouldn’t have been surprised by it because it is a trend that has grown out of the “Church Growth” movement we had witnessed in the ’80s: the separation of generations and the very purposeful catering to children, or should we say the parents of children. When our own “church shopping” began, we realized the denomination we had served was no different in its wants and demands than other Protestant denominations. One glaring example is a conspicuous demonstration of how far the church has strayed from the biblical purpose of worship. A summer “sermon” series at a local church was advertised as a fantastic way to bring the generations together in “worship.” Each Sunday, popcorn, and soda, would be available while the congregation would watch a section from a popular movie series broadcast through the church’s multi-media system. The music and sermon would be developed around a theme in the movie that the church staff felt was relevant. It is no wonder that the younger generation has difficulty distinguishing Truth from fiction when it’s concluded that to be a “good Christian” is like being a heroic Jedi!

It wasn’t long into our search for a new church home before it was apparent that finding an evangelical Protestant church was not the problem. We had plenty of opt-out churches to choose from, plenty! But we quickly discovered we weren’t interested in shopping until we found an evangelical church that fit us, for we realized that we didn’t fit the evangelical Protestant movement anymore. We were not interested in finding a style of worship that suited our preferences. That understanding came with a sense of relief, yet we didn’t know where to turn. We knew that many were beginning to opt-out of church altogether, formulating their own “worship” of God to meet their needs. That was not an option for us; we still had a longing to find a solid ground of biblical and moral authority that held fast to tenets of The Faith. We still longed for worship that held fast to the Word of God. And so we perused the liturgical Protestant menu to see what we might try.

The liberal stream of the Protestant movement has erupted in a devolving of its own. But we held out hope there were still some denominations that had not wavered about the supremacy of the Scriptures and biblical moral standards. We located a mainline church where worship was somewhat liturgical, and the preaching seemed to be Christ-centered. We had been attending for a few months when our son encouraged us to take a closer look at the denomination’s theological statements. We were able to locate the most recent revisions the denomination had made to their constitution on the basic tenets of The Faith and biblical morality and found they were in direct contradiction to Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the historical Church. Though the local congregation seemed to hold to the authority of Scripture, the foundation the denomination stood on was crumbling beneath the weight of modernity. That denomination’s recent compromises added to the long list of concessions on the authority of the Scripture that other spiritually sterile mainline denominations had made. We could not be participants in the evisceration of The Faith that was emptying the mainline denominations of life. We were not surprised that we did not fit the mainline Protestantism, but the foray into that side of the Protestant movement did oblige us to continue to ask the hard questions about what we believed and why we believed it.


“Seek in reading and you will find in meditating; knock in mental prayer and it will be opened to you by contemplation.”

-Guigo II


“Shop ’til you drop”  took on a new meaning. We came to a very abrupt decision that we weren’t going to shop for a church home anymore. We needed to answer some of the questions that had preoccupied our minds; the only way that would happen was through examination. We returned to one question again and again: Why does division in the Protestant movement still prevail after 500 years? And why does the Catholic Church remain intact after 2,000 years?    

The very oldest Protestant denominations date back to the 16th century Reformation. Those denominations have fractured so many times in the 500 years since the Reformation. Many have ceased to have a strong identity with the founders of their denomination’s tenents. It became apparent that denominationalism continued to do to the Protestant movement what the Protestant Reformers tried to do to the Catholic Church. Understanding this helped explain the disrespect of pastoral leadership and even rebellion against biblical authority in the local churches of many denominations. Protest and division are in the genetic code of the Movement. Because there is no secure center of Authority or Tradition, the Movement is more like a mutant cell dividing at will. To date, there are some 33,000 Protestant denominations. Yet there is only one Church that has not given way to the culture of rebellion and division. There is still one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.         

Our questions increased: What is the reason that billions of believers worldwide have remained faithful to the Catholic Church; What is the reason for the Catholic Church’s unaltered worship throughout history; What is the reason behind the Papacy and the Authority of the Church and how does The Church stand as a paragon of biblical authority.

We needed answers to the doubt about the condition of the Protestant church that had preoccupied our minds during the unfortunate experiences in our last pastorate and then in our church shopping; that was going to happen was through examination. We knew if we were going to be faithful to God, we must be loyal to His Bride–His Church. We hungered and thirsted for biblically-ordained worship and the stability of a Church that held firm the teachings of Christ and the Traditions of The Faith. Where would we find that integrity? We were now at the threshold of the Catholic Church, and it was time to consider it together.

The Long Swim to Shore: Part Two

All Those Who Wander Are Not Lost

Die to the world by renouncing the madness of its stir and bustle.
–Tatian

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story,
the light side and the dark side.
In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am
and what God’s grace means.
–Brennan Manning

True freedom consists in not being
attached to anything. It is in this detachment that
God seeks your soul in order to work His great marvels.
–Juan de Bonilla

After nearly eighteen years of serving our last congregation, Jeff felt like he was about to crack. He decided that we needed to get away for some time of quiet reflection and spiritual counsel. Thanks to the generosity of some dear friends we were able to go to a retreat center that is specifically designed to intervene with ministry couples in crisis, and they are legion! (We learned during that retreat that 1,500 Protestant pastors per month resign from ministry. The casualties of The Protestant Reformation fill history.) We couldn’t wait to get to the retreat. The journey into the Rocky Mountains couldn’t have been more appropriate. We felt much like the prophet Elijah fleeing to Mt. Horeb hoping to hear an answer for our deepening doubt. And we also needed to receive divine food to restore our failing spirits. Our prayer leading up to the retreat was for one thing–clarity. Our retreat was led by a godly couple that had served many years in an evangelical denomination. It was during that week-long retreat that included spiritual guidance and counseling, something gave way deep in Jeff’s person. There was a growing fissure in his spirit that he could no longer ignore. He became more willing to accept the lack of health in the evangelical Protestant position. Steps had to be taken. Neither of us knew what each of those steps was, but we knew in time God in his grace would make them apparent.

On a warm September day, we took a walk on a path that led into the woods that surrounded the retreat center. We were mostly silent, pondering the counseling session we had just finished with our counselors. As we walked it was as if God was whispering from the aspens that lined the path, “This is the way, walk in it, trust Me.” We climbed on top of a boulder to take in the beauty of God’s creation. We made decisions as we sat on that rock that day, decisions that would unfold in ways we could never imagine.

I made a quiet decision of my own one afternoon while meditating and praying at one of the several prayer stations that had been nestled here and there in the woods around the retreat center. The station was named “Grace” and a simple prayer rose up in me as I wept and grieved, “God of Grace, this does not belong to me it belongs to you.” Three things I began to pray for that day, two of which I share with you: I would abide with a quiet spirit alongside my husband and that Jeff’s eyes would be opened and his ears would hear what God desired to reveal to him. I remembered the words of Moses to the Israelites, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today…” Exodus 14:13. If I was to trust the grace of God, I was to be still and wait before Him.

The Land Between

Anyone looking at our lives from the outside during the events of the next few months after our decision to leave the Protestant ministry would describe our actions as drastic.  In fact, some did!  The spectators of our lives were befuddled and bemused. Seizing life in a rush and hurry to make something happen is considered a normal and commendable thing to do.  Excessive busyness, control, and self-advancement are the coinage of the culture and, unfortunately, it can be the same in the church’s culture, too. To do life any other way is a curious thing indeed. We felt like curiosities.  But we had a peace that passes all human understanding and an unshakable, yes even desperate belief that it was the hand of our loving Shepherd leading us down a path to only God knew where.  Our resignation from the church we served dramatically changed our life circumstances and our financial position. We sold our home and moved into a small apartment near the hospital where Jeff secured an entry-level job in patient access. Our income decreased by 2/3rds and our peace of mind increased a hundredfold! We often remarked to others and to ourselves that “our exterior world has shrunk significantly, but our interior world has expanded exponentially.”            

A line from a favorite song ran through our minds, “Meet me at the edge of the world…you and me love and no one near…walk me to the edge of the world..I’m waiting at the edge of the world.” For the most part, we walked to the edge of our world alone, and we really didn’t have anything left to lose. Our three children, all married with families of their own, lived in different parts of the country. As we took the deliberate steps away from what we had known for 34 years there was indeed some necessary isolation and waiting that we needed to embrace before we could turn toward the future.


Most people will not go forward until the pain of staying where they are is unbearable.

–Peter Scazzero


Don’t stumble on something behind you.

–Anonymous

An immediate sense of freedom from the disillusionment that had barnacled onto our lives was liberating. We were exhausted emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Our souls cried out for attention and rest. The joy that had withered began to restore to life, we were often told there was a visual difference in both of us.  We were now living where the margins of grace were wide and the goodness of God that we put our hope in filling our hearts and minds as we made room for quietness. The rest and peace of God returned.  Peace had been pushed to the margins of our lives for so long as we tried to keep our heads above the tide of discontent, doubt, and despair. Now the waters of our life calmed as our struggle to remain where we had been ended.           

But it was in the waiting, in the doldrums in God’s great ocean of grace, where God also had some work to do in both of our spirits and emotions. Some of the bewilderment over how life had unfolded was as easy to toss from our lives as weeds after a hard rain.  On the other hand, there were roots of misunderstanding about ourselves that ran deep.  Reconciling what life had come to was extremely difficult at times, we each had some spiritual climbing to do. We needed to unfetter ourselves from some internal enemies that we had dragged with us to the edge of our world. Now we were living the prelude of another transformation and the unknown that stretched before us challenged us to remain fearless. There were pitfalls and pratfalls along the way; however, the spiritual reading, prayer, fasting, and contemplation that had long been a part of the fabric of our lives became the rope that secured our lives in this new ascent of obedience.  Though we were making this journey together, the struggles of the climb affected us in different ways.

God comes like the sun in the morning- when it is time.
We must assume an attitude of waiting, accepting the fact that we are creatures and not Creator. We must do this because it is not our right to do anything else; the initiative is God’s, not ours. We are able to initiate nothing; we are only able to accept.  –Carlo Carretto


Because we do not rest we lose our way…Poisoned by the hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest, our lives are in danger. –Wayne Muller


Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know Thee, And desire nothing save only Thee…Let me distrust myself and put my trust in Thee. Let me be willing to obey for the sake of Thee. Let me cling to nothing save only to Thee…Look upon me, that I may love Thee. –St. Augustine


I had some inner space to navigate in order to receive the grace of restoration that I needed in the place between what had been and what would be. My prayer from our retreat in the mountains, “God of Grace, this does not belong to me, it belongs to You,” became a mantra that enfolded and calmed me to the core as I stood by my man with a still and trusting heart.  That in itself was a lesson that was taking me a lifetime to learn.


Many writers have paralleled the journey of faith with climbing a mountain.  My own maturing as a Christian had sometimes meant that I ascended to Christ with some difficulty, my willful nature made for hard climbing lessons.  Most of those lessons were not overly wearisome because deep within me I longed to live as a person of integrity.  And when the ascent did become worrisome, the weather of adversity most often did not erode my faith, rather it increased my hope. I had been taught from an early age that we grow in holiness as we obey the Spirit’s leadership as we walk by faith;  to trust was to obey and to obey was to trust.  

I believe it was St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote that pride is disordered self-trust.  It seemed to me that in every upheaval that had accompanied my eventual obedience there was a redemptive moment when I realized that disordered self-trust had me in its grip.  If I was going to be transformed into the image of Christ through the circumstance, I had to loosen my grip on my pride.  I had long fought this rearguard of delusion in my soul that grew out of the seeds of the insecurities surrounding my own mother’s chronic disease that shadowed my life. I could have never restored my mother’s health through my own efforts yet somehow in my emotional formation I came to believe that it was up to me to shield people from suffering. That delusion led to a prideful determination that I would protect anyone I loved from suffering. The great tests of my faith had always been through circumstances around what I held most dear in my life–my family.  It was one thing to say, “Yes, I want to ascend the heights of grace, yes, I want to seek understanding by learning to trust.”  It was quite another thing to say, “Yes, I will choose to allow my husband or child or loved one to suffer through circumstances while God teaches me to trust and I learn obedience.”           

I read somewhere that suffering and death are the specters that brood and hover around the edges of fallen humanity.  Sometimes they stand just outside the boundaries of living in the present moment, other times they possess us.  The last 15 years or so of our pastoral ministry years had seemed possessed by personal and vocational suffering and death.  Looking back now I see how our loving Father was allowing the losses in life to draw our spirits into deeper consideration of the journey into The Catholic Church.  My daily journal entries expanded as I attempted to reconcile what was happening outside of me with what was happening inside of me.  What I had begun to notice about myself was as my husband’s vocational suffering increased I, true to the delusion at work in me, allowed my pride to run interference for him.  It was as if I believed I could shield him and protect him by carrying the burden of his own life up the incomprehensible ascent we seemed to be on.  When I finally came to the place where I could pray with my whole heart, “God of Grace, this does not belong to me, it belongs to you,” on the mountain that day, I didn’t just loosen my grip on fear and pride about our immediate circumstance.  I threw my hands wide open releasing years of disordered self-trust. The lightness of being that flowed over my spirit was liberating. My vision had finally cleared and what I saw about myself was not beautiful to behold.  I had imperceptibly turned into a safety director for Jeff and our service in ministry. I realized that I had been doing a lot of the busyness of churchiness removed from sincere motivation or desire! The subconscious motivator was to make Jeff appear more valuable in the eyes of decision-makers and denominational leaders in a denomination I no longer had confidence in and a movement I had serious doubts about.           

I had learned from reading St. Ignatius’ counsel on desolation and consolation that when the way becomes mired with confusion and frustration I need to seek discernment on where the feeling or circumstance was leading me.  The doubt and despair, when offered up to God, could become moments of conversion and intimacy with God. We both desired conversion to the likeness of Christ more than anything else.  Now as we were trying to find solid ground to stand on I was keenly aware that Jeff was grieving the loss of the identity he had in his vocation. My gut reaction was to make something happen to ease his own suffering, but  I had finally realized that I was helpless to protect Jeff, nor was it my job! The consoling would only come through living with the desolating. The God of Grace that I put my hope in would act in spite of my efforts and in the end, I knew it was up to Jeff to offer up his own despair. I needed to remain still and put my trust in God. I soon learned that Jeff, true to his nature, was quietly making peace with the circuitous journey of his years in pastoral ministry.  What appeared to me as his languid reckoning with our present circumstances in the land between nowhere and now here was in actuality another clarifying point of his own life’s conversion.


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a gentle Father and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our sorrows, so that we can offer others, in their sorrows, the consolation that we have received from God ourselves.  Indeed, as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, does our consolation overflow.  When we are made to suffer, it is for your consolation and salvation…And our hope for you is confident since we know that, sharing our sufferings, you will also share our consolations. –St. Paul to the Corinthians


In the midst of life’s gladness, the betrayal of others and our own infidelity at times force us by their pain to question whether there is anything or anyone worthy of trust or finally true in the world. –Catherine of Siena


The early days of living in the “land between” were filled with emotions that were bewildering. I (Jeff) often felt like I was treading water, caught in an unknown tide. Yet I knew in my gut that if I fought against whatever God was up to I would short shrift God’s purpose. A question dogged my thoughts, “Has my life come to this?” From my childhood, I had been an obedient and loyal person.  I had learned well that loyalty is a fine strength and I pursued my calling into pastoral ministry with the same sense of loyalty.  I did everything I was tasked with over the years in ministry thoroughly and obediently.           

Jeff found that in the later years of ministry, his loyalty was constantly challenged by a series of dilemmas that caused him to seriously question in varying degrees what had happened to himself, me, and to our family.  He had a gnawing realization that the more he had tried to retrofit his loyalty to please the people we served, the more misdirected he felt.  Something now had to give way and that something was inside of him. Someone has said that it can take years before we discover how to fit into our own souls. We both agree.  At least, for Jeff, it wasn’t until he allowed God to take the blinders off, through extreme circumstances, that he saw how ill in soul he was.             

It was not until we stepped away from the ministry that he began to ascertain that his character strength of loyalty had been driven to its extreme and had become the very thing that threatened his emotional and spiritual health.  The way he thought, the beliefs he once had, the people he admired, the things he had valued were all up for review. He had so convinced himself that what he was doing in his calling and service was enough for him yet he hungered for something more, he just had no idea where that hunger would be satisfied. There was some waiting, rethinking, and reassessing he knew had to be done.  And the time had come for him to face the hard questions of life.  The hardest one to answer was the one about himself, his loyalty, and his desire to please others.           

We came across a gravestone of a fallen veteran one day on a walk through a cemetery.  Its simple inscription echoed what Jeff had lived my life by, “Loyalty is my honor.”  In many ways, he felt he had turned into dust because of that loyalty.  Now, unlike the soldier, he had survived the skirmishes of battle and discovered that his loyalty had been misdirected.  That was hard enough to admit. But the startling revelation was that had it not been for the previous twelve years of battles, he would never have given up fighting. And God knew it! The question for him then was, “If what I have worked so hard to remain loyal to was God’s way of leading me toward further conversion, then what is He turning me toward?” And what is conversion? It is allowing ourselves to be transformed. What he had believed about his call and his gifts were true, but now they had to be reordered. He determined to please God, and God alone. In leaving the Protestant movement he had not retreated from God’s call, he had outgrown where he had served Him in that call. That realization led to other questions that led him into uncharted waters and the current in those waters would eventually lead him to peace and joy.  God had a chartered course that demanded his full attention. Now He had it!

The Long Swim to Shore: Part One

Following the Path

My husband and I officially entered pastoral ministry in the Wesleyan denomination in 1979. Little did we know when we entered the ministry that we were taking a front-row seat to witness the dissension that can accompany division that had begun to manifest centuries earlier in The Church. The Protestant mentality that spearheaded the schism in the Church was a protesting bent that was in keeping with the culture of the 1500s, authority was being challenged in the culture as well as The Church. At the time it was referred to as reform by the protestors, but what played out was just one rebellion after another against the Authority of The Ancient Universal Church that began with Jesus’ mandate to St. Peter and the other disciples just before His ascension.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

Our denominational movement was one of the many spin-offs of rebellion, and it, like much of the Protestant movement, tended to disintegrate through protests that would rise up to the surface across the short history of a denomination. Within The Wesleyan Denomination, there was a spirit of protest: a Wesleyan church in Georgia could hold certain traditions as essential while a Wesleyan church in California could pass them off as non-essential distractions. The absence of unity in our own denominational movement was disenchanting and embarrassing yet it followed suit with the Protestant movement.

The paradigm of legalism that was typical for evangelical denominations until the 1970s would eventually shift to keep up with the culture; the “seeker-friendly” methodology was incorporated into nearly every facet of church life. Over time the denomination would follow the trend of the “Church Growth” movement that was big in evangelical circles in the ’70s and ’80s. Churches that used this formulaic programming promoted relevant preaching and had a preoccupation with worship styles that would meet people’s felt needs. When growing the Sunday worship attendance became the goal for the local churches, a subtle shift took place. Pastors needed larger portfolios: administration and management of local church endeavors required business savvy and a heavy dose of charisma. Churches had to be more “attractive,” worship more relevant. Members expected more interesting “experiences” on Sunday morning for themselves, their teenagers, their children, their toddlers, and their babies. And a mediocre cup of coffee and maybe a donut or two was thought to make the trip to church more satisfying.

“[Worship] has been replaced by the yawn of familiarity. The consuming fire has been domesticated into a candle flame, adding a bit of religious atmosphere, perhaps, but no heat, no blinding light, no power for purification.”
–Donald McCullough

During the 1980s and ’90s as evangelical and fundamental movements gained influence in politics and entertainment, churches seemed to take on more of a Christian country club mentality. Bigger is better! But what seemed to be getting big were egos and an inflated sense of entitlement among the members, pastors, and denominational leaders alike. We both started to question some of the bulimic fascinations with trends and methods for growing a church. The sense of spiritual starvation that was happening around us began to draw our own spirits toward a search for the sacred wisdom and understanding given to anyone who inclined their ears to the words of Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of The Faith.

Our desires to shepherd and care for the members of the churches we served were swallowed up by the pathology of Protestantism–dissension, division, and discord. Over our 34 years in service to the movement, we witnessed church splits over-inflated issues among members. We endured the loss of nearly half of a congregation in a week over the denomination’s stand against petty non-essential lifestyle commitments. We struggled to serve a church swept up in a vortex of political maneuvers that earned it a reputation of being hard on the pastors (and their families) that tried to serve them. And ours was not a unique experience! It was normal in many denominations to hear more about church divisions than anything else. Questions settled into our spirits that we found ourselves trying to answer more frequently the longer we served in ministry. Is there nothing sacred anymore? Where is a firm foundation of authority? What IS worship? What is the purpose of the Church?

The first great fact which emerges from our civilization
is that today everything has become “means.”
There is no longer an “end”; we do not know to wither we are going.
We have forgotten our collective ends, and we possess great means:
we set huge machines in motion to arrive nowhere.
–Jacques Ellul

Conversion, real conversion requires pain and loss for transformation to be effective. And the years of ministry to our last church held many tipping points in our spiritual maturation. It has been said that doubt is the necessary partner to real faith. Though we often did not recognize at the time that the feelings we were having were caused by doubt, they surely served as stepping stones in our conversion through a deepening of our faith. The experiences were leading us away from the Protestant movement and bringing us closer to Catholicism, often without our immediate comprehension.

As I attempt to illustrate our spirit’s departure from the Protestant movement, I am very cognizant that the denomination we served is really no different than any other denomination or organization. It’s the human condition, but it is profoundly sad and disturbing when the same attitudes and pursuits of the world infiltrate the body of Christ where there is supposed to be unity. Churches, as well as organizations, contain posers, players, and bullies who attempt to exert their authority. Churches, as well as organizations, are made up of committed, uncommitted, and indifferent attendees who just want to come to church to worship God or to be a part of an organization to feel good about what they are doing and receiving from the church. Church life can very much operate as, and feel like, club life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Our good experiences are filled with many acquaintances and several significant friends. Positive memories abound. Good people are everywhere. The bad and the ugly resulted from tensions mounting within the congregation, the denomination, and the Protestant movement

It was during our tenure at our last local church that we began to do more spiritual reading. Solace came through authors that appealed to each of our natures. My husband, Jeff, found significant help from authors who were outside our immediate denominational background. Eugene Peterson was especially helpful as his books dealt so much with the theologies of pastoral ministry and worship. Peterson’s writings were so often contrary to what Jeff sensed he was being pushed to believe in our local church as well as our denomination. Denominational leadership bombarded pastors with articles, books, and conferences/seminars on leadership. Pastors increasingly were being compared to a CEO of major corporations. The insinuation or often direct teaching was that pastors were to lead like these business leaders. One particularly unsettling example of that focus took place during what was supposed to be a ministerial retreat. We both attended and were lectured on current marketing techniques that could be adapted in churches to make them more attractive and interesting. A “retreat” did happen in Jeff’s spirit! He began to see that many of the notions focused way too much on man’s abilities and too little on the enabling, equipping, and empowering gifts of the Spirit of God. He couldn’t put his finger on the source of the frustration rising up within him but he did understand that there had to be a firmer foundation to give his loyalty to than the shifting sand we were sinking in, in the Protestant movement. A straw that broke the camel’s back fell shortly before he decided to resign from pastoral ministry. Our denomination’s district leadership was intensely focused on expansion by numbers, so much so that an entire “state of the district” message was devoted to the “one thing” that is most important in the church. What was the “one thing” that should be central to worship? According to the predominant evangelical thinking and to our denominational leadership, it was doing everything we could humanly manage (read control) to get more people into the pews on Sunday morning. Of course, Jeff desired to touch people’s lives with the healing virtues of salvation. However, he knew that if worship of Almighty God was dis-ordered by man’s preoccupation with success, there was no end to what could be conjured up, all in the name of evangelization. The ties of his loyalty to the denomination continued to loosen.

The frustration that was growing in Jeff regarding the attitude toward worship could not be ignored if he was going to maintain his personal and spiritual integrity. Gadgets, gizmos, and technology seemed to be abounding as if they pertained to the worship of Almighty God. The focus of attention was continually heightening on the pastor (as preacher/communicator) and the worship team (singers/musicians). Times of worship had to be slick, relevant, marketable, experiential, pleasing to all generations, and entertaining. In other words, man-centered. We both had come to understand, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that worship is something we give, not experience. Yet leadership believed a pastor was duty-bound to configure a worship service that “moved” attendees to “have some experience” with God. We disagreed. What had we come to? We both knew how we got there, we’d seen it unfold over our years of ministry in the denomination. Jeff began to doubt and question what he was witnessing. And he wasn’t sure that he could continue to standby to see where it was all leading.

The longer we served the denomination the more we found ourselves longing for worship that was saturated with the spoken word of God. We hungered for worship through thanksgiving and adoration of God’s saving work through Jesus Christ. The Old and New Testaments are filled with examples of what happened when men “exchanged the image of God” for the convolutions of man. Nothing is new under the sun. The results of false worship were and continue to be catastrophic to the people and to the generations that come after them! Worship must be Christ-centered, not man-centered. What did God think about the tipped-upside-down worship we conjured on Sunday mornings? We starved for authentic worship of the Triune God. Jeff had no idea at the time that we would eventually find biblically-ordered worship in the Catholic Mass. Worshipping in a Catholic Church wasn’t even on his radar screen at that time in our lives.

It was on my mind, though. One of the first books I read during those years of ministry in our last church, was written by a Protestant. The author’s insights helped me discover more about meditation and prayer. But what astounded me were the rich quotes of people I had never heard about! The profound faith of writers such as St. Clement of Rome, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bonaventure, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. John of the Cross reached into my life and drew me back into the richness of the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church. And how had I never heard of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman?! As I began to read of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s conversion to The Catholic Church I unknowingly stepped onto the long path of reconciliation with the Church. I could not comprehend the distant scene but I was certain of every step. It wasn’t long before I was devouring every book I could get my hands on about the Apostolic Fathers, early Church Fathers, and Saints of the Church.

The more we discovered about the fullness of the faith present in The Catholic Church, the more we searched. The morsels of beauty, goodness, and truth were like crumbs of bread leading us down a path further into history. What we met on that journey was the transcendence of The Catholic Church; a light beckoning us deeper into the ancient Faith of The Catholic Church. Each step on the journey through our last ministry assignment was intensely humbling yet our spiritual reading was astoundingly enlivening.

Drowning

Steer the ship of my life, good Lord, to your quiet harbor,
where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict.
Show me the course I should take.
Renew in me the gift of discernment, so that I can
always see the right direction in which I should go.
And give me the strength and the courage to choose the right course,
even when the sea is rough and the waves are high,
knowing that through enduring hardship and
danger we shall find comfort and peace.
–St. Basil of Caesarea

One summer in our last few years of ministry we traveled to Maine to visit our son and his family. While on that vacation we rented a home on the beach. One afternoon Jeff and I decided to walk out during low tide to an island about a half-mile from the bay’s shore where we were staying. We began the walk feeling the weight of the condition of our lives like we had never felt it before. The heaviness in our spirits was nearly suffocating, but the walk soon turned into a refreshing and peaceful stroll through the low tide of water. We lingered at the island walking the circumference of its shoreline and collecting shells as keepsakes to carry back in our bucket. After a while, we looked up at the sun’s place in the sky and decided that we best turn toward shore and begin the 1/2 mile hike back. We had misjudged the time and the distance that we needed to return to shore. Soon we knew we were in trouble as the tide had already begun its return to the shoreline.

I am a lifelong swimmer and have often joked that in my past life I was a mermaid since I feel most at ease in the water. I was a certified lifeguard, long-distance swimmer, and water exercise instructor for much of my working life, so the reality of the situation we were in was startling because I understood exactly what was going to be required of us if we were going to make it to shore. Jeff is not a swimmer; the gravity of the situation gripped him with fear as soon as his feet could no longer touch the ocean floor. Panic began to set in. As I judged the distance we had yet to go, about 1/4 mile, I quickly considered our alternatives. As a lifeguard, I knew that if I came into physical contact with him his own natural fight-or-flight reaction could drive him to take hold of me. I had been trained to speak calmly to a drowning victim and if possible to extend a flotation device toward the victim. My presence and my calm voice were all I had to help him and so I began to call to him to turn over on his back and stop looking at the shore, relax his body into the water and allow the current of the waves to aid his arm movements, to look at the sky and follow my voice. He followed the instructions all the while calling out, “Help us, Jesus.”

I let loose of the bucket filled with our ocean treasures and began to swim toward shore, every few strokes looking back at him and repeating the instructions, but each time I looked back there was more distance between us, and his head was sinking further and further into the surf. My mind shifted between the knowledge that if I swam to shore for help he would probably drown, if I swam back toward him and attempted to take hold of him in the lifesaving grip, chances were strong that we would both drown. During those interminable minutes, I decided that I would swim back to him and we would either survive or drown together. I would not leave him alone. Through God’s providence, I decided to allow my feet to drop below me before I swam to him, my toes barely brushed the ocean floor and I felt as all of heaven was surrounding us at that moment. I called to him, “I can touch, I feel the earth, relax, keep looking at the sky, reach toward my voice as you stroke your arms.” Someone on shore (we later learned her name was Angel) had heard my calls for help, saw we were struggling, and had been swimming toward us, she made it to us just as my husband had reached toward me and allowed his feet to drop. His adrenaline was doing all it could to move him toward life, but as soon as he touched me, he collapsed into our arms and we dragged him into shore. That experience seemed to be the reality of our ministerial lives, drowning in tides that were against us, all attempts to keep our head above the waters were sapping joy and hope from our lives, and we had no solid ground to stand on.

We returned from that vacation still very much unsettled, walking back into a current of “full catastrophe living” because our lives during the last twelve years of ministry seemed to be an unyielding tide of soul-shattering, life-altering circumstances in our private and vocational life. There’s an old German proverb that goes something like this, “Sooner or later, a hush comes to every family.” We were living through extreme circumstances that brought a hush to our family and we were grieving a deep and private loss that was profoundly life-altering. The loneliness, helplessness, and searing grief we felt tore at me like nothing I had ever experienced. The gravity of what Christ suffered as the sacrificial Lamb for humanity’s sin embedded in my heart as we bore the weight of what sin had unfurled in our family’s life, we would never be the same. We often felt like we were drowning.

The church we served was mired in dissension My husband’s spirit–loyal and pastoral–began to diminish through a litany of demeaning circumstances in our service to the church. It was slowly pressing him toward the deconstruction of everything he believed about himself, his abilities and gifts, and his call. His devout faith in God and his commitment to daily immersion in prayer and Scripture reading along with spiritual reading served as his only source of spiritual refreshment and renewal. The evidence of the Authority of the Faith is still present in the Catholic Church and the writings of Early Church Fathers began to draw his spirit, so much so that he quietly began considering his perspective on the Catholic Church. He was finding answers to the questions we both had about the purpose of worship in the Authority and Sacred Tradition of the Church.

Near the end of that season of our life, Jeff went away to a friend’s farm for a time of concentrated prayer and reading of the Scriptures to discern what God desired of him. He came home from that time away with the clear message from God that he was to resign from the church where we were serving. He also came home convinced that we needed some counsel on what to do because although he was certain he should resign, he was not certain how and when he should resign or whether he should take up another assignment.

The Long Swim to Shore, Introduction

“You’re doing what? Going over to the Catholics!”

[I’ve decided to add to my blog this memoir of my husband and my journey to The Roman Catholic Church for two reasons. The longer I am Catholic the more I realize how frustrating it can be for a Catholic to share the Truth, Beauty, and Goodness of The Faith that is intact in the Roman Catholic Church with Protestant Christians. I pray that what follows will grant some insight into Evangelical as well as mainline Protestant thinking. Secondly, I’m including this for all Protestant Christian readers who may be bewildered by what they think they know about The Roman Catholic Church. I am praying it will give you, the reader, a bit of insight into what, by the grace of God, we discovered and why I zealously share the Truth, Beauty, and Goodness of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith present in the Roman Catholic Church through this blog, podcasting, and teaching. Our journey has given us more security, peace, and contentment than we ever knew as Protestant Christians. In sharing this, I do not intend to cause unusual angst to my fellow Protestant Christians. However, I want to compel my fellow Christians (Catholic and Protestant) to consider The Faith in its entirety, for, at some point, we all must come to a firm conclusion on what we believe and why we believe it. This story will be shared over a series of blog entries. I will delineate each blog after this introduction with an added “Part One, et…]

The responses to our reconciliation with the ancient Faith in the Roman Catholic Church ranged from support to surprise, bewilderment, and even anger. It’s not every day, or at least people think it’s not every day, that a Protestant pastor decides to reconcile with the Mother Church, The Catholic Church. But in fact, there are thousands of Protestant pastors and Protestant laypeople reconciling with The Church every day; there is a groundswell that is giving way to the tectonic shifts of The Faith.  We are a part of that groundswell, a quiet yet unstoppable wooing of the Spirit in the hearts of mankind.

Our decision to reconcile with The Catholic Church was actually the result of a lifelong conversion of mind and heart through the circuitous path of ministry in the Protestant movement. Our progress toward the ancient Church was early-on without an immediate comprehension that The Catholic Church would be our eventual destination. We hungered and thirsted for more substance and stability and so we searched hard and long. As Friedrich Nietzsche once put it, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is….that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” Together, our “long obedience in the same direction” led us on a happy, sometimes discouraging, trek to the sure foundation of The Catholic Church and it has certainly made life worth living! Our steps on this journey away from the shifting sands of the Protestant movement gradually turned into leaps toward the solid foundation of the Catholic Church the longer we served in our 34 years of service to our Protestant denomination. It is here that we discovered that the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Faith remain intact, and flourish in our world today. But there was a “meanwhile” on that journey that drew us through the desert of discontent.   It is that desert wandering that forced us into a resolve that looking back now makes sense, but at the time we were just trying to survive the disarray in the Protestant ministry.

There are certain observations my husband and I both share about what we have witnessed in our service to the Lord in formal ministry within the Protestant movement.  Our Lord drew us both at different times and in different ways into the fullness of the Faith that we have found in The Catholic Church.  Life unfolded by simultaneously removing our spirits from the Protestant movement and beckoning us into The Catholic Church. My motivation behind including this blog on The Maiden Warrior is that I desire to answer the question,  “Why have you reconciled with the Catholic Church?” I will follow Lewis Carroll’s advice to begin at the beginning and go on until I come to the end; then I will stop. Well, actually I will just be beginning.