Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 26, 2004
My journey to Catholicism
After long search, writer findes his heart touched by Holy Spirit
By MARK PICKUP
Special to the WCR
"So when did you become Catholic?" Wesley J. Smith asked. He's a successful American author and prominent social commentator who had flown to Edmonton, from his home near San Francisco, to deliver an address at the University of Alberta. He's an old and trusted friend I hadn't seen in two years.
We were visiting over supper the last evening before his return to the States. There's an old adage that says a man is lucky if he has five good friends during his lifetime: Wesley is one of my five. His question was posed during a lull in conversation and I choked on a carrot.
After I recovered from a violent burst of coughing, a firm slap on my back from Wesley and a drink of water, he sat down again and asked, "Well, when did you become Catholic?"
"I didn't," I said, still flushed from the incident. "Oh, maybe not formally, but you've become Catholic inside."
He took a sip from his glass of wine and continued, "The last time we were together, you were a Baptist. You came across like a Baptist, you talked like a Baptist-you even looked like one. Now, you seem Catholic." Wesley smiled: "Mark, it's all over but your first Communion."
"What are you talking about?" I asked a little unnerved. He was on to something - with the intuition of a close friend - and we both knew it. Was I so transparent that my inner transformation could be detected from the outside? I've heard about being thin-skinned but this was ridiculous.
My gradual change to Catholicism has been a slow process, spanning more than 35 years. Two towering, authentic Christians overshadowed my boyhood: One was my father, a devout evangelical Christian. The other was a Roman Catholic priest. The love of Christ was clearly evident in both men. They created in me two immense chambers.
On the door of one chamber was stamped Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), on the other was stamped Scripture and Sacred Traditions. From beneath both doors radiated narrow beams of white light from divine love. The bookcase in one chamber had the works C.S. Lewis; in the other, G.K. Chesterton. From one could be heard hymns like A Mighty Fortress is Our God or The Old Rugged Cross; from the other drifted Gregorian chants. And so for decades an internal struggle pulled me back and forth between a love for evangelical Christianity and a love of the Catholic Mother Church.
Then, one sunny morning, I awoke to find a gift from the Holy Spirit waiting for me. A strange yet wonderful transformation had occurred - the two chambers had somehow merged into one. My struggle was over. A distant church bell began to ring, scattering birds from its steeple: the Holy Spirit descended on me. I was being beckoned to Holy Mass, to enter full Communion with the Catholic Church. At the age of 51, I am finally about to step across that threshold.
What made up my mind? It was not a decision of the mind, not clever or smug apologetics that settled the struggle. It was a simple matter of my heart having been touched by the Holy Spirit. In the end, it was love-Christ's enduring love for me and my growing love for him that quenched the struggle.
It also involved a longing to be connected with the Church of the ages, sacred traditions of the Church Fathers, orthodoxy, and what The Apostles Creed calls the communion of saints, both in time and eternity. It involved a call to Eucharistic worship and seeing our Lord's words "This is my body" in a new light.
My change to Catholicism is not a rejection of the Baptist community. They continue to be a wonderful source of inspiration and spiritual growth to me. I love evangelical Christianity for its authenticity, its fidelity to God's Word and love for Jesus Christ. I love evangelical Christianity for unwaveringly presenting the salvation message to a lost and hurting world.
I love my Baptist community for their gentle Christ-like nurture of me. My decision to become Catholic will hurt a number of dear friends, no doubt, and that was a source of pause for me in making this decision.
This next leg of my Christian pilgrimage is not a rejection of evangelical Christianity, rather simple obedience to a specific call by the Holy Spirit to me (Mark) into Catholicism-for what reason I do not know. I must simply obey.
It is my fervent prayer that in some small way I can help the cause of Christian unity - Catholics and evangelicals working together - for the sanctity and dignity of all human life, under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
(Mark Pickup will attend St. Vital Parish in his hometown of Beaumont.)