Coming home to the Catholic Church
By Guest Blogger Christopher White
As a young child growing up in a Pentecostal congregation in South Carolina, "homecoming" was one of those annual events that I had come to expect, but never quite understood. Most of my attention was focused on the meal that would follow. The church musicians would prepare special songs, former pastors of the church would be acknowledged, a visiting pastor would deliver a fiery sermon, and yes--the day would end with a very large and long meal. I never reflected on its significance--until now, after becoming part of the Catholic Church this year at the Easter Vigil.
Converting to Catholicism at age 22 has sparked numerous questions and conversations among my friends and family. The fact that I'm willing to leave the freedom and informal nature of my Protestant upbringing has been, at the very least, a puzzling matter. Understandably, the most common question has been "Why?" To that, I would borrow from Plato and respond with three answers: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
Truth: When I affirmed at the Easter Vigil that "I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God," I did so not for convenience or ritual, but out of conviction. I am fully convinced that I have joined the true Church that Christ established through Peter and his Apostles.
Furthermore, I take comfort in the fact that the Holy Spirit is still active in revealing truth to us today. This truth has become the unwavering foundation that has allowed the church to withstand the test of time--sexual abuse scandals included. As Catholics, we must persevere in this truth and diligently work with our Protestant and Orthodox brothers toward the reconciliation of one body of Christ.
Goodness: I would be disingenuous if I did not admit that much of my initial attraction to Catholicism was its social teaching. Catholic Social Doctrine provides clear directives on what it means to live a good life--one that cares for the poor, is concerned about justice, and love for our neighbors.
This vision for life recognizes the innate dignity of all human persons (regardless of religion, ethnicity, or class) and encourages solidarity among all people. The church's call for us to promote the common good over selfish desires is a necessary reminder of the higher purpose for which we are created. This higher purpose must be evident in all areas of our life.
As John Paul II reminded us, "true holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement."
Beauty: Although my attraction to the beauty of the Catholic tradition is not the same as Oscar Wilde's conversion for the sheer aesthetic element of the faith, there is a beauty and reverence found in our Mass that is unrivaled. Throughout history the church has held art--and all forms of beauty--in high esteem as a means of teaching and worship. The burning of incense or the commissioning of ornate paintings and sculptures should not be considered lavish expenses or unnecessary pageantry, but instead, the very least we could sacrifice to our King. And it is this same beauty that causes sinners, like myself, to bow at the sight of a crucifix.
As I received my First Communion, I couldn't help but to think on the homecoming events of my youth. Like the celebration I grew up with, our Easter Vigil also has a special song: the "Alleluia" bestowing "All hail to Him Who is." We omit this from our liturgy during the Lenten season so that the "Alleluia" proclamation at Easter Mass is filled with all due jubilation and remembrance of the resurrection of our Lord. Most importantly, however, we have a meal. This meal, the earthly elements of a host and wine, having been blessed by our priest, is transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Yes. Homecoming was and is mysterious. But the mystery isn't in the ritual or tradition--it's in the actual manifestation and presence of our Savior. At this homecoming we are reminded of the sacrifice that was made for us and our call to holiness. This homecoming, in the form of my First Communion, though strangely familiar, seemed finally made right.
Christopher White is the International Director of Operations for the World Youth Alliance in New York City.
Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.