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Three Ways Catholic Tradition Bolstered My Protestant Faith

Mar 21 2014
When a Swedish pastor’s conversion made recent news, I remembered my own draw to the church.

Ulf Ekman, the pastor of a prominent megachurch in Sweden, recently announced his conversion to Catholicism. Some Protestants responded to the news with the kind of intrigue and betrayal we might expect when a man defects from his country. Others of us were left standing on the shore, wondering, Should I go, too? What's my religious heritage and where do I belong?

I sympathize with Ekman's urge to convert, although in my story, I had to leave the church entirely before I could appreciate either Protestantism or Catholicism. Fueled by a faith crisis in my early 20s, I shot myself out into a void of vague theism, floated in dark space for a while, and then eventually got tired of living without gravity, ritual, or community.

When I came back to the church, I ducked through the doorway not in triumph but in defeat, finally understanding what Peter meant when he said to Jesus, "To whom else shall we go?" I felt like a closet Jew—better at waiting for the Messiah than at receiving him. I envied the Catholics for their appearance of unity, even though my Catholic theologian friend assured me that his church is just as fractured as mine. And I called Protestantism my home even as I struggled with aspects of its culture and theology.

In the end, I split the difference by marrying a Protestant who values Catholicism and teaches philosophy at a Holy Cross university. By way of my husband and my Anglican church, I was introduced to parts of the Catholic tradition that helped guide my re-entry and re-assimilation into the Christian faith.

These years later, I'm still not a Catholic. I'm a high church evangelical Protestant. However, I borrow gratefully from the Mother Church. Insofar as the weaknesses of Catholicism were "corrected" by the Protestant Reformation, here's how Catholicism corrects the weaknesses of my Protestant faith:

Sacramental worship

I attend an evangelical church in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition. Every Sunday, I process to the front of the sanctuary for the sacrament of communion. A priest offers a torn piece of bread, which I dip in a chalice of red wine, and then he lays a hand on each of my children and says a blessing. If it were possible to cheat and go through the line a second time, I would. Strangely, communion means the most to me on Sundays when I sit in church and struggle to understand what the atonement even means. At precisely the moment when I can't make sense of it intellectually, I am called forward to physically receive God's redemption from the hands of a priest.

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