” I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23, NRSV)
With 20/20 hindsight, I can see the Lord Jesus Christ preparing me for conversion to Roman Catholicism far back into my past, but the journey seemed at the time to begin with a simple question. If God brought true unity to his Church, what would that look like?
I had always accepted with little thought the Protestant concept that there exists a “Universal Church” hidden from the eyes of the world and even from the knowledge of those in the visible Church. This hidden Universal Church, I believed, was comprised of all the true believers from all denominations. Only Christ knew who was “in” and who was a mere pretender. Of course, I believed I was in the Universal Church and I was pretty sure I could identify others who were in as well as some I figured might not make the cut.
The problem with this way of thinking is that it flies in the face of the purpose for unity Jesus spoke of in his High Priestly prayer, quoted above. He wanted us to be one so the world would know. Not guess. Know. If I didn’t know who was in or out, how were those who gave at best an afterthought to God supposed to know?
If God were to make us truly one in him, it seemed obvious that he would have to bring us back together as one visible body, so that the world could truly see that, in Christ, people from every race, nation, culture and gender could come together under his Lordship. Were that to happen (Lord, may it somehow be), I concluded that we would all have to become Catholic, since the Roman church was here first.
When I mention this to Protestant friends, many agree that a visible unity would be a wonderful thing, but all who think so quickly say that coming together under the authority of the Pope just is not going to happen. More about that issue in a future blog.
Anyhow, once I thought that unity might involve becoming Catholic, I decided that, since all I really knew about Catholicism came from what other Protestants said about Catholicism (fill in your favorite of all the ways Protestants dismiss Catholicism), maybe I should allow Catholics to speak for themselves.
After calling a priest at the local diocesan office, I bought a copy of the Catechism and contacted my local parish to enroll in their Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) classes, which, I was assured, obligated me in no way to actually become Catholic. “Come, find out what we believe and, at the end, if you don’t wish to join, then no harm, no foul,” the parish priest said.
So, I began to read the Catechism and go to the classes and found, to my utter amazement, a richness and depth of theology I had never before experienced. Rather than being hardened in my scoffing Protestant attitudes, I was drawn by a beauty and clarity of thought drawing upon 2000 years of discipleship. Not every question was answered. Not every doubt erased. But a hunger arose within me. At the end of the RCIA class, I joined.