After months and years of investigating the Catholic Faith, and beginning to be convinced by its claims, Carl Olson decides it is time to tell his evangelical and fundamentalist family and friends of his new-found interest. With a few exceptions, this news is received with great suspicion and concern. Olson bolsters his position with further study, as well as by beginning to acquaint himself with Catholic practice, i.e., the Mass. He is initially impressed by the sacredness and quietness with which the liturgy is celebratedand he and his wife decide to begin RCIA.
Amidst the whirlwind of reading and learning, I wrote a letter to Joel, my former pastor. Although I was afraid of what he might think and say, he was the only person, outside of Heather, who I thought I could talk to concerning what I was reading. Thankfully he was not upset, even though he expressed serious reservations and concern. But he was also very encouraging, saying, I believe that youll only be a better Christian through this study, if you do it carefully.
But when my parents found out I was studying Catholicism, the response was much different. They immediately sent us a video by the anti-Catholic James McCarthy, plus a couple of anti-Catholic articles. I watched the video, read the articles and then wrote a long letter back, going over each point and accusation. All of the criticisms were the result of twisting and misunderstanding Catholic teaching. One of the articles claimed Catholics werent allowed to read the Scripture while the other claimed that Catholics should be ashamed for not knowing the truth of the Bible since the pope encouraged them to read the Bible. Which is it? I wrote to my parents. Both cannot be true, yet both are used to damn the Catholic Church. How fair is that?
Meanwhile, I was having conversations with former classmates and teachers, and I was getting two general reactions: either complete shock and revulsion or puzzled concern. One friend wrote and told me that her husband had "come out of" the Catholic Church and I should beware of what problems I would find within it. Another told me I was over-intellectualizing my faith and losing sight of the truth. He was convinced Catholics believed in works-righteousness and taught a false salvation. Almost all of them questioned me about the distinctly Catholic doctrines of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary and the infallibility of the pope.
Marian doctrine had been troublesome for me, and it took time and study to see her in the proper context of her Son, the Church, and the communion of saints. The Papacy was not as difficult to comprehend once a solid grounding in early Church history was in place. Reading Balthasars book The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church was not only helpful, it was a profound elucidation of the theological and Biblical roots of the Papacy. Of course, explaining all of these things was never easy and I rarely felt I succeeded in doing much more than upsetting people.
We still had not attended a Catholic Mass, but we were living directly across the street from St. Paul parish. Finally, after considering it for several weeks, I called the priest and set up an appointment. On a cold evening in November of 1995 we met with Father Tim in his office. I had read stories of priests trying to talk Protestants out of entering the Catholic Church and had no idea of what to expect. I felt better when I saw he had several books by C. S. Lewis on his bookcase. We told him our story and said we were interested in getting to know the Church from the inside.
My biggest concern is that what Ill actually experience and see will be much different from what Ive read and studied, I said as we ended our talk.
Youre welcome to attend Mass anytime, Fr. Tim said, although you cannot take part in Eucharist. I was actually glad to hear him say this since it assured me he had a good understanding of what the Eucharist was, something I knew many Catholics didn't always appreciate as they should.
After leaving we felt relief, but we also had a growing realization that we were in a no-mans land. We wouldn't go back to the churches we had left, but we both still had concerns and fears about the Catholic Church. So it wasnt until Easter of 1996 that we attended our first Mass. During the months in between we spent time reading about liturgy and Mass and so understood most of what was happening. We liked the profound sense of quietness and sacredness that was present and started attending Mass two or three times a month.
While I was reading a great deal of Catholic theology, there were areas of the Churchs life that were very foreign to me, such as the Church calendar, the feasts, and some of the gestures and actions of the liturgy. We both believed it was important to move slowly, even though some of our friends and family thought we were already too far gone. So that fall we entered the RCIA program at the St. Paul parish. It turned out to be a great blessing. The program was very orthodox and loyal to the Magisterium, and the leaders were mature Catholics who both understood and lived their faith. We met our sponsors, Jack and Lorene, and became close friends. We were on our way home.
Copyright © 2000 Carl E. Olson.
Originally published in the June 1998 issue of This Rock, a publication of Catholic Answers. Visit their Web site at http://www.catholic.com.