Waking Up Catholic (and Lovin’ it!)

I’m a sucker for Catholic conversion stories.

Maybe it’s a maternal thing–welcome home, welcome to the family! Or perhaps its the outsider perspective they have on doctrines and practices I’ve known all my life, making centuries-old rituals fresh and exciting again.

Reading Chad R. Torgerson’s Waking Up Catholic was no exception to my general love for converts and their stories. Written as a guide for “Converts, Reverts, and Anyone Becoming Catholic” (as it says on the cover), Torgerson presents basic Catholic doctrine in a grounded and concise manner. And just from that sentence alone, I can hear the unseasoned reader saying, “You had me at grounded and concise.”

Having gone through the RCIA process himself, Torgerson systematically answers the questions he asked throughout the process of his own conversion: What is the basis of Sacred Tradition? Why priests, and why call them “Father?” Why pray to Mary? Do we really need the Saints? Why believe in Transubstantiation, and why ever would I want to eat flesh and drink blood? As the author takes us through his own searching for answers, he becomes more like a companion, a guide, rather than a professor lecturing in a classroom.

I found it particularly interesting that the very first chapter talks about Sacred Tradition, stating that this was the main thing that sets Catholicism apart from other Christian churches. Making the case for Tradition (and correspondingly, the continuing revelation of the Holy Spirit) sets the stage for tackling the history of most other tenets of the faith. After convincing the reader of the importance of Sacred Tradition, the need for a governing body to ensure that the Tradition is faithfully passed on from one generation to the next logically becomes the topic of choice for the subsequent chapter. And on and on it goes, each section making way for the next. It takes a lot of talent (not to mention wisdom) to capture such a vast collection of doctrine and to present it in an orderly, step-by-step fashion. In fighting the urge to overwhelm, Torgerson succeeds admirably.

But the best feature of the book, by far, is the inside look into Torgerson’s life story. He shares his past judgements and misconceptions about the Church, and where necessary, subjects his own previous philosophies to scrutiny. This is not a story of naiveté or gullibility, but one of relentless searching (and finding) for Truth.

And in the end, more than a sentimental acceptance, or a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the Church, this is what really captivates me about conversion stories: the hand of God moving, guiding the heart and soul to Himself. No matter where any of us have been, His reach will always be farther and wider.

When you search for Me, you will find me; when you search for me with all your heart. –Jeremiah 29:13


A Secret Wish

Ted* is a good friend. More than that, more than what I can say about most people I’ve worked with, I believe that the friendship we have is a spiritual one. We share some important ideals in common, and have the same biblical basis for each of them. We are comfortable talking with each other about God, faith, and the struggles we face in living the Gospel. From the little time we’ve known each other, we’ve come to respect each other’s person, opinion, and way of doing things.

Even if only one of us is Catholic.

Ted used to be one, though. He grew up in a Catholic family, and even had an uncle who became a priest (if I remember his stories accurately). He moved to the city for his college education, miles away from his family, and it was there that he was invited into a Protestant denomination. Naturally, his parents weren’t pleased. Over time (a looooong time), his parents eventually gave up fighting him about his choice of religion. But those first years immediately after leaving the Catholic faith, as he once recounted to me, were very difficult and painful.

Sympathetic, and in an attempt to try and make him feel better, I said a statement I thought would carry significant weight coming from a respected, Catholic friend, “Kung saan ka masaya.” (Literally translates to “Wherever you are happy,” but understood to mean “Whichever religion brings you closer to God.”) It was a line I had said many times in similar conversations, and something I genuinely believed in, too.

Only this time, I wasn’t quite sure I meant it.

In the past, I’d hear about the sister or the son of someone I knew who had begun attending services of this group, or prayer meetings of that group. I’d listen to how the Catholic “party” involved would ask for prayers, or for the right words to say so that their loved one might find their way back to the Church. Gently, I would ask them, “But have they become more prayerful? Are they now more avid readers of Scripture? Have they grown in their relationship with God?” Even more gently, I would tell them, “If this is what will help them grow closer to God, why not let them go?” Isn’t this what Vatican II and ecumenism has afforded us, an openness to other Christian denominations and the part they play in the salvation of souls?

For people like Ted, I do see how the move to this new group has become a means for conversion–enriching his faith, awakening his thirst for God’s Word. And should he continue to grow in discipleship, I believe with my heart that he will go to Heaven. But while I think he can share with me most if not all aspects of his faith and religion (Scripture, charismatic worship, teachings on fasting, tithing, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s), selfishly, I feel shortchanged that I cannot freely share about my latest encounter with a saint, or how moved I was during my last Confession, or about a particularly powerful visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or how I felt Mary’s unmistakable sweet embrace comforting me during one of my dark moments. Lest I offend him, lest he think I’m trying to convert him and get turned off.

Spiritual friends even more so.

Ted doesn’t know about my secret wish–that he be moved by the Spirit to have a hunger for something more, a Truth that’s bigger, deeper, wider. I know it will start with that hunger, as it has for so many others who have found that Truth in Catholicism. I pray that he searches for it relentlessly, and I trust, guided by the Spirit, he will find his way back home.

Not because he’s not saved where he’s at. But because, as his friend, I wish for something more for him.

And for a lot more things for us to talk about.

*not his real name