Study is what ultimately led me to the Catholic Church. I had a really emotional encounter with the Holy Spirit back in 1994. I was not a practicing Christian and definitely not Catholic. At that point in my journey I thought Catholics were pagans with lots of bizarre superstitions and rituals that worshiped Mary and bread, but knew little about Jesus. I had a very profound experience that set me off on a direction toward Jesus, but I did not know which of the many Christian denominations was the one that was “real.” I knew for sure that it couldn’t possibly be Roman Catholic!
My Grandfather was a Baptist minister of a little Bible Church in Michigan Center, and he had boxes of tracts explaining how Catholics were not really Christians. I had married Amy, my beautiful Catholic wife, so I had been to Mass frequently. We were married in a Catholic Church. But I had jaded thoughts and many misunderstandings about what Catholics really taught and WHY they believed what they believed. It seemed whenever I asked questions, the common response was: “I don’t know, it’s just what we DO.”
So I decided to do the logical thing. Study. I set out on two missions of reading at the same time. One was to see what the very first Christians taught; what were their beliefs immediately after Jesus? The second was to get answers to my basic questions; an area of study called apologetics. That doesn’t mean to apologize for what we believe but to defend and explain. It made sense to me. This was just shortly before the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published, and I didn’t have access to the newly exploding Internet. So I started with the Bible, reading the Acts of the Apostles, which is a short history of the first years of Christianity. I studied all the epistles, the letters written by John, James, Peter and Paul. But where next?
I came upon a book of Christian history, a little paperback, that was written by Eusebius shortly after Emperor Constantine had his major conversion to Christianity. Eusebius wrote The History of the Church in the mid 300’s. He detailed the lives and martyrdom of the Apostles, gave the list of the Bishops of Rome that followed St. Peter, and quoted from some of the Church Fathers. Although I found it fascinating, I also thought that it was colored by his “holy Roman Emperor.” Surely, I assumed, he left off all the details that did not favor a Catholic view. I knew I had to find the writings of the very first century Christians, those that Eusebius quoted, if they even existed.
I began meeting with a Catholic priest over lunch every so often and pelting him with questions. I received a pelting back of answers and leads to various books. He directed me toward several Catholic books that touched on the topics I was struggling with. But so often they used strange “Catholic words” that were confusing: liturgy, sacraments, paschal mystery, sacramental grace… The author that did the most to change my thoughts and softened my heart toward Catholicism was Dr. Scott Hahn. Dr. Hahn had just started publishing his story Rome Sweet Home. He detailed his dramatic conversion from a Presbyterian pastor to a Roman Catholic by systematically going through the same “stumbling blocks” that I had: the authority of the Pope, veneration of Mary, belief in Purgatory, Christ in the Sacraments and especially the Eucharist. What was unique of his writing was that he used Protestant terms and wrote from the perspective of an outsider, explaining and defining those things I couldn’t quite grasp.
The real moment of eye-opening happened in the library of a major university. I was hanging out with a friend on campus and decided to check out their Christian History books. I just randomly pulled out one that looked old and venerable, turned it open to a page and began to read. I know now that it was not chance and was definitely not random. I had flipped to a very early Christian letter from St. Justin Martyr. He was writing very early in the 2nd Century, not even 100 years after Jesus. He was writing a defense (an apologetic) to the Emperor of Rome, explaining what Christians believed in the hope the Emperor would stop persecuting them. My jaw fell open, and my eyes filled with tears. The early Christians believed in the hierarchy of the Catholics with priests, deacons, local bishops and a pope as bishop of Rome. They celebrated Sacraments, venerated Mary, took care of the poor and ill, evangelized and weekly they celebrated a “Church gathering.” I had been with Amy enough times to recognize that he explained point-for-point the SAME Mass that Catholics were celebrating 1800 years later! I sat down in that library and wept! I thought for sure the early Christians would be Baptists or Calvinist or for sure Pentecostal. I couldn’t believe what I was reading: they were Catholics. From the beginning, the Christians were Catholics!
That was just the start of my love affair with study. I have been reading everything I can get my hands on. Bible study, Church history, college texts, the Catechism, Council documents, writings of the Saints… there is no end in sight! Now with the Internet, most all of these ancient documents are online as free PDFs and downloads. Videos, DVDs, audio books, daily messages, and old-fashioned paper books abound.
I would love to hear what others have studied and how it’s impacted your journey with the Lord! When we study, the truths of what we believe become all the more powerful!