Friday, September 7, 2012
Clearing things up: WHY CATHOLICISM???
Shannon and I are so excited to be starting RCIA (Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults) and look forward with hope and expectancy to coming into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter of next year. When people find this out about us, they are often confused. Ironically, Catholics are often more surprised than anyone. Others are not at all surprised and respond that they thought I already was Catholic based on what they know my beliefs to be on certain topics; however, my deeply held beliefs concerning loving others, caring for others, birth control, abortion, consumption, evangelism, submission to my husband and the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and society are what led me TO Catholicism, not the other way around. Although a Catholic background did not lead me to form my beliefs, the Catholic teachings are now refining them, no doubt. My Protestant friends are usually the most "concerned" and several have accused me of "throwing away my salvation". I have to tell you that I was initially more concerned than all of them and the best word to describe my initial inclinations toward Catholicism would be HORRIFIED.
I have been asked by several people about our choice to "go Rome", but while training for a marathon in the heat of summer and 92% humidity, or while our kids plead for our attention, or in the company of people that would rather talk about anything but religion, an adequate explanation has proved difficult. I know many of you could care less, but I know of at least a few people that would like to know, so I plan to share the things I have been thinking about that led me to Catholicism, the issues I have encountered on the way, and struggles and issues (as well as some great, great joys!) I continue to encounter in bits and pieces here in future blog posts.
So to begin, what the heck happened?!?!?! When we moved to Jacksonville, I met a wonderful loving woman that opened her heart and her home to me and invited me to be a part of a ladies' accountability group/bible study in her home. I had only really been a Christian for a little over 2 years at this point and although two other friends in Texas played a huge part of bringing me into the faith and teaching me what it meant to love God and seek His face, this group was where I really came into my own. The safe haven this group provided and the pursuit of Truth that took place in this group was encouraging and inspiring and I began to really DAILY read the Word, examine my own heart and life and grow in grace. It was a wonderful, wonderful time in my life and sometimes I just wish I could go back there. But in the fall of last year, I felt the Lord moving me to participate in the First Baptist ladies' study group. At the time I thought this was just because I needed to form bonds within my church family (it's a BIG church and we weren't truly a part of it, just attending), so I obeyed even though it wasn't really where I wanted to be, I felt this nagging, nagging (is that disrespectful to call the Lord a nagger??) and I chose to submit. However, I soon realized that the reason I was there was not to be more involved in the church, nor was it to really grow from the study. It was for a specific relationship. I challenging mentoring relationship (who am I to be a mentor??? really????), but there it was. It was a difficult time for me because I loved this woman so much that I would be physically pained by her choices. It also led me to participate in a ministry to a Children's Home for children that didn't "work" in the foster care system and my heart has changed in ways I can't even communicate from that experience.
Anyhow, all of this caused a separation from my small accountability group. I could feel myself falling away from them and feeling not at home in the group- I now realize this was to teach me to rely on the Lord and not my friends. Many times in the Gospels, Jesus is with his disciples, his small group of 12. And when times got tough, and He needed to pray most ardently, he had 3 that the shared more with- Peter, James and John and then beyond that, He even had one special disciple, the "one he loved", the one that stood next to his mother at the crucifixion that he shared a relationship with beyond the others. Although we must surround ourselves with other believers, sometimes, it just needs to be you and a few, or you and one or in the hardest of times, just you and God. I have felt a similar pulling away, but I have maintained relationships with smaller groups and just a few people, but it has been extremely clear to me - when I cried out WHY?? Why would I have such a wonderful group of Godly women in my life and then be pulled away?? And I can now see that this was for my growth. When certain beliefs began to surface that were not in line with this group, I made a choice. I had to choose God. Not to say these women and God were incompatible. I believe they truly love the Lord, I do. But these basic beliefs that we do not share divide us on some many other smaller beliefs that I believed my own struggle in coming to terms with my beliefs would only be disruptive and divisive if I continued to participate in the group.
These poor ladies are likely concerned because they witnessed the "horror". In fact, through tears in the midst of my own confusion and astonishment that I, ME, RYANNE BAKER could be Catholic, I told them that the next time I saw them, I believed I would probably be telling them that I believe myself to be an alien. It was that surprising to me. And one of them actually suggested that this may be Satan trying to pull me away from the Lord. I love her, but my goodness, that wasn't it at all. What they witnessed was my flesh clinging to what I knew, what I was comfortable with, and honestly what was so much easier for the flesh to love. I didn't want to be Catholic. But the more I read about the ACTUAL teachings of the Catholic Church (as opposed to what I THOUGHT the Catholic Church taught and believed) the harder it became to refute it.
I think I'm getting off track… This spring I read an article in Runner's World of all places. The article was about Julius Achon, a runner that ran away from civil war in Uganda with the help of a college scholarship at George Mason University all the way to the Olympics. On a visit home, he saw 11 starving orphans huddled under a bus. He thought they were dead, until one of the moved. Their parents had been murdered and they were on their own, ages 3-11 begging for food and barely surviving, filthy and barefoot. Julius' father agreed to care for the children provide Julius would send money to provide for their care. The quote that really stuck with me was this: "Childcare was also no problem, since children contributed to household chores and tended to be well-behaved. As long as there is enough food, they are easy to mind," he said. WOW. This blew me away. TOTALLY BLEW ME AWAY. Can you imagine having that outlook?? It's so far from the American mindset and my own that I think I reread it maybe 10 times and just let it sink in. I was overcome by the chasm between my own beliefs and attitudes and this man's. I realized right then that I had a serious, serious heart condition.
A few weeks later, I started hearing a lot about the HHS mandate controversy. In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a mandate under the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) that requires all employer health plans to provide free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, regardless of any moral or religious objections. The ministries of institutions like Catholic schools, hospitals and charities—educating the young, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry— are not considered sufficiently religious to qualify for the Mandate’s “religious exemption.” Not only are such institutions forced to provide services that directly contradict the teachings of their faith, but—more alarmingly— the federal government is claiming the right to decide for religious institutions what constitutes their ministry. At first I thought it odd that the Catholic Church felt so strongly about birth control, so I was prompted to do some research.
To be clear, I have used birth control in the past. I didn't care for it. I have an extreme case of endometriosis that caused fertility issues, but a surgery was able "clear things up" enough for us to conceive. Twice. (Praise God!). Birth control that diminishes and prevents the endometrium from growing is the only treatment for my condition, but even though I didn't really understand why, I was never comfortable using birth control. After reading the Catholic teaching on birth control and doing my own research through the manufacturer websites and the Dept of Health, now I know that side effects and such aside, there are so many other reasons that I choose not to use birth control and would encourage others to abstain as well. This topic deserves it's own post, so I'll save that for another time, but I mention it here only to explain that I developed a whole new respect for the Catholic Church. They truly believed what they taught without wavering. The core beliefs are not changing to "keep up with the times" or stay "relevant" and a religion should not. If God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and He always was and always will be, then shouldn't his followers look more the same today as they did yesterday??
My respect for the sticktoitness of the Church opened my heart just enough that my walls were down when one day I was on the couch, stuck under my two kiddos watching Tangled for the thousandth time and I looked around for a book and there was one that my Aunt had sent me along with a whole slew of other Catholic books that had sat on a shelf or in boxes for years. I don't know how it got in the house. Every other Catholic book was in a box in the garage. But here it was, sitting on the side table within my reach- Surpised by Truth: Elven Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic. I figured why not, since I had been researching the Church to understand the HHS controversy. As I read through each chapter, I found myself in tears... Bawling, really, as one by one, these people explained what brought them to terms with their own misconceptions of Catholicism, and how the Church was not what they thought it to be, or how they were feeling "not quite right" about certain teachings and practices in their Protestant home churches and the Catholic beliefs were more in line with what they new to be Truth. And I knew right then, that this was the beginning of my journey. You may pick up the book and be baffled about what I could have read that would cause such a transition, but it wasn't the book. It was a softening of my heart that had been taking place for months and this was just the tipping point.
There were so many other objections and questions and concerns to be confronted (and a few still remain), but I knew in my heart of hearts, way deep down that this was the start of my journey to the Catholic faith. It was like I had been walking along in the dark, and all of the sudden the lights came on and I was not where I thought I was. It was scary and confusing and appalling. But now that I am over my initial horror (that was based totally on untruths and misconceptions and confusion), I am full of joy! And there are so many reasons that I look forward to sharing with you. I think this is long enough for now, but this is just the beginning. This is the when and where and how the lights came on, and I'll share with you a little bit at a time what has been illuminated if you care to read. If not, just don't follow the link next time ;)
Posted by Ryanne Baker at 8:23 AM