As I reflected today on my upcoming move to be nearer to most of my family and to some of my roots, I have had a strong feeling of denouement. Sixteen months ago, I went looking for Jesus’ Church in San Francisco, and somehow I found it in Rome. Now it feels like I’m beginning the rest of my life, tying up loose ends and living the life I was always meant to live. The one I’ve long since wanted to live but didn’t know how.
Most of my twenties was spent running around the country—and, on occasion, the world—looking for purpose and privilege and meaning in life. Most of that time, I, like many people who call themselves “Christian,” wanted those three things to intersect with my faith in some way or another. But I had a conundrum on my hands: I didn’t believe I was participating in accurate representations of Jesus’ religion. The religion seen in the New Testament. I simply did not think the Protestant Christians I was hanging around and submitting to were “doing Church” the way Jesus intended.
Now, of course, that to me meant “doing Church” in exactly the way Paul’s earliest churches did: meeting in houses, meeting more than just on Sundays and Wednesdays, treating each other as family, sharing everything, and generally just being the good little “Jesus Socialists” that God wants us to be. I even started questioning core Christian doctrines like the Trinity simply because they were not “ancient” enough. You might call my outlook at the time “Sola Scriptura on drugs.” It was as if the Reformation had not gone far enough in peeling away absolutely all post-scriptural tradition and development, or in appeasing my personal tastes in theology and history.
That ship sailed for a little while, shoddy though it was, but eventually I was forced to come to terms with reality: doctrine develops. Virtually all Protestants have always recognized this, and use it to anchor themselves to at least a portion of historic Christianity (e.g. the Trinity, local church ecclesiology, homiletics, and the 66 books of the canon that they accept). Christianity without development and tradition is a lame duck and no Christianity at all. An imaginary friend providing false comfort on a ship without a sail.
When I finally came to terms with this reality, it was like the scales falling from Paul’s eyes. Suddenly it was so obvious that attempts to return to a primitive Christianity invariably become calcified stepchildren of Catholicism—lacking its certainty, coherence, and fidelity. To “escape” Tradition is to become a cheap imitation of it, a tradition of half-truth and confident confusion. Somehow, the one Church I ruled out from the beginning was itself the rule and standard which all others attempt—unsuccessfully—to duplicate.
Being a student of theology since my college days, and a student of faith in practice since I was very young, I still needed Catholicism to make sense to me before I could embrace it. For that reason, I am heavily indebted to one Fr. Kirill Christopher Sokolov, an Eastern Orthodox priest, who first explained to me why the traditions that Orthodox and Catholic Christians share make sense. Why Christians should ask for the prayers of (i.e. “pray to”) Christians in heaven (“saints”). Why Mary is the most honored and powerful saint. Why she needed to be sinless and yet was still “saved” by God. Why Christians should believe she can “save” us. Why the Lord’s Supper (“the Eucharist”) really must be the actual body and blood of Jesus.
When these stumbling blocks finally became stepping stones, it was impossible to remain a Protestant. How could I delay in committing to the one Church that had time and again proved itself to be the true guardian of faith and practice, and in which all my long-standing desires of the faith were met? I didn’t have to settle for an imitation of 1st-century Christian exploration. I had full and complete access to the real thing: the developing, crystallizing, evolving beauty that is the deposit of faith.
I’m still learning. Really. At the end of the day, I’m just another convert. I wouldn’t want anyone to think otherwise, or think that I presume otherwise. This is merely my truth and my journey, and I hope it offers some measure of help in and along yours. There are still many, many times when I have to sit back and remind myself that just because I don’t understand some Catholic something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Simply put, in order to become Catholic, I had to humble myself. To allow myself to be made ever so tiny—imperceptible—so that I could squeeze through the eye of the needle.
This has been the single greatest gain during my journey into the Church.
Nathaniel "Nate" Tinner-Williams is a co-founder and editor of the Black Catholic Messenger. He is also a theology grad/nerd and loves to engage in the New Evangelization through the internet. A lifelong Christian and newborn Catholic, he is always looking to discover just how deep and wide the Church truly is.