I was drawn to the Catholic Church while attending a Presbyterian seminary during my mid-twenties. As the daughter of a United Methodist minister, I was raised in an orthodox, evangelical home and naively assumed that the majority of mainline Protestant seminarians believed just as we did. At the very least, I reasoned, they could affirm the tenets of the Apostle’s Creed, which I had always believed were the defining doctrines of the Christian faith. I was unprepared for the onslaught of theological liberalism and cavalier abandonment of personal piety that awaited my arrival.
I resolved to keep an open mind, but it did not take me long to conclude that, within the paradigms of liberal Christian thought and theological relativism, proclaiming to be a Christian meant very little. It did not necessitate that I believe in the Virgin Birth, the literal resurrection of Christ, or in His divinity. I met a man in seminary who did not even consider belief in God, or any “Supreme Being” for that matter, a requisite to Christianity. The ridiculousness and incongruity of it all was not lost upon me. Even still, I dutifully continued to question my own faith. I had, after all, been assured that the majority of beliefs and hopes to which I held and scriptures in which I had found comfort were ignorant, oppressive, and self-serving.
A fierce spiritual battle ensued within me as I attempted to reconcile the experiences and arguments of my liberal colleagues with the faith I had been taught as a child. I mourned the loss of security in the simple faith I once held — a faith that had been mocked and laid to waste — and feared that I would never again feel at home within any Christian tradition or experience any peace within my restless soul. How could I if God was as malleable as the relativists said or as ambiguous as the liberals believed? One night, at the apex of my spiritual darkness and immense self-doubt, I begged God to grant me clarity, a humble truth on which I could begin rebuilding my faith. It then occurred to me, if all truth is relative then there is no truth, and there is no peace to be had and no salvation for which we can hope. Anything that contradicts this is simply illogical. The question for me then became: what kind of God is out there?
As a student of Christian history, I naturally turned to the writings of the Church Fathers and many of the Saints. I also began to take great comfort in the writings of such authors as Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton, and Dorothy L. Sayers. There was something within their words that seemed powerfully rational. In the light of their reflections upon grace, love, and salvation the tenets of liberalism appeared to be but a gross caricature of God. At the time, I observed with great amusement that practically every book in which I found comfort and hope was written by a Catholic. A few years passed before I could admit that this was more than sheer coincidence.
After graduating from seminary, I seriously began entertaining the idea of becoming Catholic. I even asked a friend of mine who was a priest how I’d know it was right for me to join the Church. He said that I’d know it was time to join the Catholic Church when I was no longer running away from something but running to the open arms of the Church. There was no doubt in my mind that I was still running away from the anger and feelings of resentment I felt against the Christian traditions in which I had always found security but who were now abandoning the Apostolic faith in search of a new identity suitable for the modern times.
To be fair, I knew plenty of men and women within various Christian traditions who were not fooled by the eloquent and sometimes persuasive arguments of liberalism and who were thoroughly committed to the Apostolic faith. But as far as I could tell, there was nothing within the structures of their traditions that could ultimately withstand the rapid advance of liberalism and relativism. As long as a majority of their denomination’s members voted in favor of a particular teaching, the dissenters’ only choices were either to split from the denomination or suffer as a vocal minority. Neither of these options, in my mind, was sufficient.
I continued to read the works of Catholic writers and even began to attend Mass on a regular basis. As I did so, a deep longing developed within me to join the Catholic Church in Her steadfast commitment to the Apostolic faith. However, I could not in good conscience join the Church because I still could not embrace some definitive Catholic teachings, namely the doctrines on Mary, the Magisterium, and the Eucharist. Becoming a “cafeteria Catholic” was out of the question. Then one day I came across a passage in Richard John Neuhaus’ Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth: “People say they have difficulty with one teaching or another. That is not necessarily a problem. The problem arises when we assume that the problem is with the teaching and not with ourselves” [i].
This was a hard pill to swallow, to be sure, but the moment I did St. Anselm’s profession, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand” became clear to me. Here was my chance to become Catholic without being dishonest! I could confess and surrender my flawed abilities of reason to the guidance of the Church, trusting that God had ordained Her for this purpose, and allow Her to guide my reason just as a mother or father lovingly guides her or his child in the ways of life. In December of 2006, practicing a new “faith seeking understanding”, I ran home to the open arms of the Church. And since this day She has lovingly, faithfully and richly converted my understanding of the Christian faith and I have grown in the confidence of Christ’s constant and abiding grace.
[i] Neuhaus, Richard John. Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth. New York: Basic Books, 2007.
Rebekah Durham Hart is a relatively recent convert to Catholicism. After graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary (a Presbyterian Seminary in Decatur, GA) in 2002 and working within various ministries of the United Methodist Church, she entered into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2006.
Rebekah’s conversion story has been published on the popular site Why I’m Catholic and has shared her story with Gus Lloyd on Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel. She is currently a stay-at-home mom, and when she is not stepping on her son’s Legos or having tea parties with her two little girls, she is blogging at http://instinctivephilosophies.com/.
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