In a little more than a month, I will celebrate 10 years as a Roman Catholic.
It was April 22, 1998 that I was received into full communion with the Church. My baptism as a Free Methodist infant was done properly, so I merely had to make a profession of faith and receive confirmation, and I was in.
My new fiancée (now wife) was at my side that Wednesday evening during the Easter Octave in St. Mary's Church in Ottawa. I was originally scheduled to fulfill my RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) journey on Holy Saturday, but my brother had planned his wedding for then, back home in Saskatchewan.
Those silly Protestants and their weddings in Lent. Sheesh. :)
My RCIA group had met on Wednesdays throughout the year, and had planned on meeting the Wednesday after Easter anyway, so it was a logical time for me to be brought into full communion with Rome.
As I received the Blessed Sacrament for the first time that night, I mis-spoke the traditional response. Fr. Bill placed Christ's flesh on my tongue with his priestly words, "The Body of Christ." Not knowing exactly what to say, my instinct took over and I uttered the response, "Thanks be to God" instead of "Amen. " Afterwards, my sponsor, Harold, informed me of my gaffe, but admitted the words still fit.
Looking back today, I have no regrets. My decision to become Catholic - which was less of a decision than it was an act of obedience - lost me some good friends, but it has gained me many more. My family reacted poorly at first, but they now have a deeper sense of appreciation for the Catholic Church, and I suspect that some of them are feeling the call to set a foot in the Tiber themselves.
There is a witty welcome for those who join the Church in today's world: "Welcome aboard! Now grab a bucket and start bailing." Indeed, our Church is in a sorry state. Lambasted in the media, scorned by the elite left, sabotaged by scandalous clerics and religious - and yet we survive. Converts such as myself are numerous. There is something about the Church which has appeal throughout the ages, despite its tarnish: it is holy, radiating truth, and when a truth-seeker espies that glimmer of its gold ("All that is gold does not glitter" - J.R.R. Tolkien - another Catholic) behind the oxidation of scandal, he cannot help himself.
It is at that moment, wrote G.K. Chesterton in 1926 (yet another convert), that even the most vehemently anti-Catholic man is confronted with the truth that his prejudices are a lie. "When a man really sees the Church, even if he dislikes what he sees, he does not see what he had expected to dislike. Even if he wants to slay it he is no longer able to slander it; though he hates it at sight, what he sees is not what he looked to see; in that place he may gain a new passion but he loses his old prejudice. There drops from him the holy armour of his invincible ignorance; he can never be so stupid again."
That echoes my own experience. Once I took an honest look at what the Catholic Church is and was willing to put aside my own perceptions (among which were they worship Mary, they believe we're saved by our works, they talk to the dead, they ignore the Bible) I could not ignore it. I had lived on my own little single-coconut-tree Christian island, with other little single-coconut-tree Christian islands scattered within sight, for my whole life. I thought that was the normal Christian experience. But then God lifted me up into the sky and showed me a massive continent, just over the horizon, teeming with life and abundance. When he set me back down on my single-coconut-tree island, I knew I had to get to the continent, and I jumped in the ocean and started swimming. Previously I had thought I would fall off the edge of the ocean and lose my soul - but once there I found not only my soul, but an infinitely deeper relationship with Christ.
Thanks be to God, indeed. Praise him for his sacrifice on the cross! Praise him for his resurrection! Praise him for the Holy Spirit! Praise him for the Church! Thanks be to God!