10 Easters Under Full Catholic Sail
“I believe we’re all headed toward the same place.” I first heard those words through Catholic ears 10 Easters ago. An hour earlier, my wife and I, both raised in evangelical-Protestant homes, had been confirmed at St. Paul Catholic Church in Eugene, Ore.
Following the Easter Vigil liturgy, a very active member of the parish approached us to offer congratulations. “Is your family here?” Nick asked. I explained that they weren’t, partially because they lived several hours away, but mostly because they strongly disapproved of our conversions.
“That’s too bad,” said Nick. “You know, I think we’re all like boats on the ocean, trying to find our way.” He then uttered the words above.
That conversation sometimes comes to mind when I think back on my entry into the Church. Of course, I think of other things, especially the joy of receiving the Eucharist after hungering for the Blessed Sacrament for so long. I had been ready to become Catholic a year before but my wife, more reflective about such matters, wanted us to go through RCIA together. It was the right choice — providential, really — as the experience gave us more time to reflect on the magnitude of our decision. Plus it resulted in several wonderful friendships.
Yet, sometimes, I still find myself thinking back on Nick’s remark. What was he trying to tell me?
The Barque of Peter, of course, is not like any other boat. And my unsettled reaction to Nick’s comment was due in part to the understanding that climbing aboard this vessel was not like boarding the Good Ship Presbyterian or the S.S. Methodist. My conversion was not a matter of “switching churches” because I liked a pastor or disliked a hymnal or enjoyed a coffee hour.
Just a few weeks before entering the Church, I spoke to Richard, a fundamentalist-Christian pastor who had been a sort of mentor when I was in my early 20s. We had lost touch for a couple of years, and he was apoplectic to hear I was becoming a Catholic. Our three-hour conversation was tense and difficult. Richard called me “heretical” and informed me that I was “only doing this for attention.”
“Why would I want this sort of attention?” I asked. “I can think of better types of attention. I’m entering the Catholic Church because it is the true Church, founded by Jesus Christ.”
A decade later, I’m even more convinced of the claims and teachings of the Catholic Church. But, as Chesterton observed, the process of discovering the Catholic faith is “the most pleasant and straightforward part of the business; easier than joining the Catholic Church and much easier than trying to live the Catholic life.” The sailing is not always smooth in Peter’s boat. I take this to be another proof for the authenticity of the Catholic Church.
Other churches, sects, factions and what-have-yous can appear to be livelier, more entertaining, better outfitted with bells and whistles. And the Catechism states that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church” (No. 819).
But becoming Catholic, for me, was never about what floated my boat. It was about permanently boarding the barque that, in the words of St. Augustine, “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.”
Say Amen, somebody.
Carl E. Olson is editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.