A Conversion: Part 1

The question became, “Is the Papacy essential, or is it a good idea?” Anglicans tend to see it as a good idea, whereas Catholics believe it is essential, a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Welcome to Part 21 of a weekly series on the formation journey of Josh, a first-year novice at the Marian House of Studies in Washington, D.C. Watch for a new post every Friday.

A young student named Mac sat at his desk in a broad, spacious classroom with 150 Protestants. He was an Episcopalian in his first semester of seminary, and his eyes were focused on his professor, a revered Methodist scholar. 

It was Fall 2010 at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina. This was their last day of class. Mac just finished a course on Patristics, and his professor had helped him and his fellow students to develop a deep love for the Early Church Fathers. 

Their beloved professor had a final message to leave with his students. He said, “What I’ve been trying to offer you in this course is an introduction to what we might call ‘the Catholic tradition.’ 

“The question I want to leave you with at the end of this class is: Will you trust your Mother who gave you birth? That is, will you trust the Church?”

Who is that Mother?
This question struck Mac to the heart and stayed with him, even after his ordination as an Episcopal priest. He found himself pondering for years, “What does that really mean? 

“How do I trust this Mother, the Church, place myself in her lap, let her whisper true words of Jesus into my ear, feed me with the nourishment of her breasts?”

The big question mark was, “Who is that Mother?” 

The “intellectual edge” of Mac’s question concerned the unity of the Church. Saint Paul said in his Epistles that Christians were to be of “one mind,” and they were to share “one body, one spirit, one faith, one baptism, one Lord.” The New Testament described the gathering up of all things in Christ, the one Body in Whom all things subsist. 

From the first centuries of Christian history, the Early Church was governed by an “episcopal structure,” meaning a recognizable order of ministry composed of bishops, priests, and deacons. Mac studied these records. He had several professors who were very sympathetic to the Church Fathers, medieval Doctors, and liturgical inheritance of the Church. However, the question of how the Church maintains unity remained. 

Reliable touchstone
When Mac studied Christian history, he found that from very early on, the Church of Rome and her bishop served as a reliable touchstone of orthodox Christian faith and practice. He saw that the Pope was regularly consulted and regularly intervened in theological disputes around the Christian world in order to preserve the Church in its “unity in truth.” 

The question became, “Is the Papacy essential, or is it a good idea?” Anglicans tend to see it as a good idea, whereas Catholics believe it is essential, a gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Good news!
Novices David, Joseph, and I were gathered in the upstairs novice classroom with Fr. Jim when he told us the big news. “Mac is entering the Catholic Church on Monday.” 

We all exploded into cheers. 

Novice Michael was sick, so he’d get the news later. None of us had truly expected this.

Joseph jokingly remarked, “If Mac is that good at keeping secrets, how can we trust him?” 

Mac’s confirmation was scheduled for next week, and Mac hadn’t told any of us. It flew completely under the radar.

Next entry: "A Conversion: Part 2."
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