The Eucharist Will Satisfy the Longing Heart
As I sit down to try and recount my journey into the Catholic Church, I feel as if I could write from so many different perspectives. Historicity. Sacraments. The Saints. Mary. Contraception. All of these words characterize, in part, my reasons for coming into the Church. I feel like each represent small books I could write. Maybe I’ll do that later. Nonetheless, because of the constraints here, I want to connect how I believe my particular Protestant tradition prepared the way for my journey into the Church. I pray it will pave the way for many more to fulfill the prayer of Christ “…that all of them may be one as I and the Father are one…” (John 17:21).
I was raised in a Pentecostal home. Though, like most Protestants, our spiritual journey would lead us to various non-denominational churches and even a baptist church. I want to emphasize my Pentecostal roots because, as I mentioned, I believe it contributed significantly to my ability to understand Catholicism. Unlike my Reformed separated brethren, I was not raised with a vitriol for Catholicism, nor was I raised with what I like to think is a very “small” view of God that somehow limits him to “apostolic” times and then for the rest of salvation history he is restrained to a type of deistic porch view applauding doctrinal purity. I’m referring here to of course the so called cessationist view of the miraculous, born out of a necessity for explaining away God’s miracles wrought through Catholic Saints from 400 to 1500 AD and defended by the likes of the less than venerable David Hume. The doctrine of cessation is a most pernicious doctrine, but by God’s grace I was never poisoned by it.
Why did my Pentecostal upbringing help me to convert? Pentecostals have a number of religious assumptions that that support a Catholic view of the faith. A few include: (1) the belief that the Holy Spirit’s work in the book of Acts did not end with the Apostles, (2) that a holy life is essential to salvation and (3) that physical things can transmit spiritual power (sacraments/sacramentals). Sadly, as Pentecostal history has progressed, one can notice a decline of an emphasis on holiness as Pentecostalism tries to reconcile its Protestant/reformed origins. Though, we might say that since John Wesley could be considered a type of spiritual father to Pentecostals, they have, like him, always have had their foot in the Tiber and in the Reformation. Even recently Jerry L. Walls, a professor at Asbury Theological seminary, wrote a defense of the doctrine of purgatory.
As a young man, I always held a reverence for these three Pentecostal spiritual assumptions. Whether an anointed cloth, a manifestation of glossolalia (gift of tongues), or deeper conversion to Christ through a commitment to holiness, I was raised aware of God’s active presence in the world. I was also a very good student but to the disappointment of many, chose to go to Oral Roberts University, a charismatic multi-denominational school to study to become a minister. (I say disappointment because they would have preferred I go to a school with more secular renown and become a lawyer or doctor).
At Oral Roberts University, while watching a charismatic program on my television in my dorm room, I heard God say in my heart, “theological historical studies.” Sensing that this was a major offered at ORU, I hurried to the registrar’s office and enrolled in the major after a time of prayer. Little did I know that this degree would lead me to study the early and medieval Church which would inform my understanding of the Catholic Church. From this moment on, I would characterize my journey by a number of “turnings”, or moments where the Holy Spirit was directing the attention of my heart.
Turning to Christ
There was an annual ministry event held on our campus every year. This year, two of the speakers piqued my interest. They were delivering their messages on consecutive nights so I planned to attend both. At the end of the second night, I’ll never forget the feeling I had. I had just heard two men on consecutive nights say, “God said, such and such” and both of them contradicted each other. Their ideas were irreconcilable. Now this may be no startling realization for some, but for a young man–at the time time a licensed preacher in the Pentecostal Holiness Church at only 19 years of age–I think this night brought this reality to my attention in a grave way. It was on that night, as I prayerfully walked the campus talking to Christ, that I promised our Lord, that I would “follow Him wherever he led me.” I abandoned myself to him recognizing that there was no one in my tradition with whom I could place my trust for safeguarding the truth. I didn’t know that following him wherever would mean becoming Catholic.
Turning to Church History
My studies, under the direction of Dr. Daniel Thimell an expert on Jean Calvin and Trinitarian theology who studied at Fuller Theological Seminary and the University of Aberdeen, concentrated on early church history in particular the pre-Nicene church. The fruit of this work would culminate in a senior thesis: “Grace in the Theologies of Clement of Rome and Tertullian of Carthage: A Correlative Synthesis and Analysis.” The premise was simple, and by this time had been significantly influenced by Reformed theology: if the church was as corrupt as I assumed it was at the Reformation and was worth completely “throwing off”, the germ of such corruption had to show up early for it to grow into the “tree” of corruption that Luther and the other Reformers would rail against.
That was my at least assumption. It seems reasonable that if after 1,500 years of Christian history, if the Church is to start over, the product had to be bad from its nascence. You fix a broken car; you replace a lemon. Ironically, just last year I picked up the thesis to realize that all of my polemical conclusions affirmed rather than denied Catholic doctrine. Who was I to judge their theology? Why did I assume that I, rather than they, would have a more accurate interpretation of scripture and the mind of the apostles?
Turning to Life
Fast forward 3 years after graduating from Oral Robert, and I am now a Bible teacher at an Assemblies of God high school and my wife is pregnant with our daughter Leah. By now I had come to realize the difficulties with Protestant theology, particularly with trying to teach it, and therefore transformed my Bible classes into a questions based class that used the assistance of philosophy and gradually moved toward theology. It was simple, we would start with “Who am I” and progress through a dialectic that would allow me to use primary texts by Pascal, Aquinas, Anselm, and the likes. I had been instructed to not teach “doctrine”, which seemed rather odd being that I thought scripture was “profitable” for it. Nevertheless, I figured that through a dialectic of questions I could still imbibe my students with important truths that would keep them from leaving the faith.
On February 5, 2006 my daughter was born. I’ll never forget the overwhelming joy and love of that moment. I will also never forget the fear of the Lord that overcame me. It had been fine up until this point to linger in my own religious “ignorance”–I say ignorance because I knew there were serious tensions in my faith but I had no internal drive to inquiry so as to resolve them–going about practicing Christianity in the tradition that I had inherited. However, it was quite another thing all together to pass that faith off to this innocent life. As I held my helpless daughter in my arms, I remember knowing that I had run out of time. The time was now to investigate what was the true faith, the true church, and where in fact would my children be safe from the rising tide of relativism, secularism, and evil.
Turning to Mary
For many, Mary is the last hurdle to overcome in their journey to the Church. For me, she was the first. In fact, before Catholicism was ever on the radar, I remember prayerfully reading, “all generations will call me blessed”, contained in the Magnificat of our Blessed Mother found in Luke 1:48. I thought to myself, “where in my tradition do we call her blessed?” It would seem that Mary was prophesying about the future, a future that I was not a part of. But why? Where could I find a church, that in every generation, preserved the honor of Mary? During this time of prayer with the Lord, I became convicted of my disregard for Mary. How could I be so callous to the mother of the One I love so much? What did this say about my theology? My epistemology? Did sola scriptura, the doctrine that among other things teachers that we can only know theological truths that are explicitly taught in scripture, hand-cuff my theology from embracing the beauty of Marian love? Did my obsession with the text cause me to avoid the person of Christ and subsequently His mother?
Towards the actual beginning of my conversion, I remember reading the four dogmas of Mary defined by the Church and thinking, “How are these opposed to scripture” and “on what epistemological grounds can I deny them.” Further, I soon learned that the dogmas of Mary flow organically from a proper Christology. Marian doctrines safeguard Christology, especially the doctrine of the Incarnation. If Christ is not fully man, then we have no hope of salvation because we have no access to the divine life of God. It is only through the humanity of Christ, provided by Mary by the divine plan of God, that we can share in His divinity and ultimately the life of the Holy Trinity. While one may not find the dogmas explicitly taught in scripture they are certainly not rejected by scripture. Further, if the Church is the “ground and pillar of truth” than it is reasonable to believe them. So, I did.
Turning to the Church
Just months after my daughter was born, I stepped down from teaching and actually began working in business. I had been working on an MBA in the evenings, sensing this was coming, and so the timing was perfect. This afforded me and my wife the time to go on our own spiritual journey. During this time, I struggled with my calling, still believing I was called to ministry but not knowing where I fit. While discerning my call, a Catholic friend of mine whom I respected gave me counsel and offered me a book to read, Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn. I’ll never forget after reading the book in one day, feeling as though the Catholic Church would be my home. As I lay down in bed next to my wife, telling her how Scott Hahn had raised some significant points about sola scriptura and ecclesiology, she told me that we could be “anything but Catholic.” To be fair, her concerns were more about the family implications and not theological; although, she did think that amongst all our options Catholic was the “weirdest”.
I knew, of course, that I had to investigate Hahn’s claims with the full force of my intellect. I dusted off Calvin’s Institutes, ordered a Catholic Catechism and also ordered Luther’s Catechism. I also purchased and or borrowed a dozen other books from prominent Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians alike. For the next months, I spent every waking hour doing two things: (1) reading and (2) praying that God would “throw me off this path if it was not of Him.” My Pentecostal faith had taught me that God would not give a “scorpion” if I asked for an “egg” (Lk 11:12) and so I concluded that he would not give me a harlot church if I was asking him for His Church.
Turning to the Truth
At ORU, there was a professor that was rumored to be Catholic. He was a Luke-Acts scholar who had defended his thesis on pneumatology against the famous F.F. Bruce. I remember having countless debates with him while a student in his New Testament class (funny right, the Catholic was the Bible professor!). My classmates were a little taken back by his comments, but I was not. I had spent the last year in high school dedicating every night to memorizing, reading, and meditating on the New Testament. I had an unorthodox senior year in high school. Your average high school senior parties his last year away. I, rather, studied, prayed, and preached “revivals” my senior year. So, whether saints, apocrypha, prayer, or salvation, I battled him at every point showing him the “bible” reasons why he was wrong. Now 5 years later, in 2007, I picked up the phone and called him, overwhelmed by the claims of the Catholic Church that she was, in fact, the Church that Christ had established. This claim, like the claim of Christ himself, could only have one of two possible consequences: it was either part of the greatest Love story ever told, or it was a heinous lie of Satan meant to draw men and women to hell.
I remember saying hello and then quickly asking which of these two consequences of the Catholic Church’s claim were in fact true. He said, “It is true, she is the Church.” In that moment, the world began spinning around me. I was semi-disoriented and semi-elated. In the weeks that followed, I devoured more and more books, attended to more and more Catholic and Protestant positions on theological issues, and became more and more convinced of the truth of Catholicism. One thing that was disheartening was the general disingenuous way in which Protestant theologians dealt with Catholic positions. At worst, the anti-Catholic Protestants did a horrible job reading both the original sources as well as the supporting literature, air-mailing into a text and grabbing whatever suited their argument. Half the time you could read the next paragraph of the text they were citing discredit their thesis. The Catholic Catechism or St. Augustine were equal targets of their editorialising. At the best, thoughtful Protestant theologians seemed to make good cases for being Catholic without themselves having the nerve to follow the logical ends of their thought.
Two books, however, had the most significant impact. First, Robert Sungenis’s book Not By Bread Alone literally caused me to stop going to Protestant church and start attending Mass regularly. In the book, he demonstrates by scripture why vicarious atonement is heretical. Having a background in in Biblical languages, I could see why the Mass was biblical and how it was truly a sacrifice qua a re-presentation of the One Sacrifice at Calvary. At that time, I had held that position (vicarious atonement) and remember being overwhelmed by the fact that if a prayerful student of scripture with a theology degree could be a material heretic, then anyone could. We were going to start going to Mass now and went for over 2 years before coming into the Church. The second book, On the Development of Christian Doctrine, by Blessed John Henry Newman, put the nail in the coffin, so to speak, of my Protestantism. In the book, Blessed Newman, in illustrious detail, depicts the first five centuries of Christianity, and in doing so gives example after example of similarities that the early Church holds with the present day Catholic Church. He ends his discussion of each era with a unique characterization heretics and schismatics would have of the Church. Amazingly, the claims of the heretics and schismatics were just as relevant to the Catholic Church today as it was then!
As a brief tangent to this discussion, I also during my journey had some very concerning epistemological questions. Epistemology is the study of knowledge or knowing. I noticed that at the time the culture and my faith were on parallel tracks for defining truth, or rather that both were congruently making the claim at least implicitly that truth is grounded in the knower. When I say “grounded”, I mean “by what” do you hold some knowledge “x”. This didn’t make sense because I knew that the truth of any object is in the object not in the intellect knowing the object. Truth isn’t truth because I believe it, that simply makes it a belief. A belief is true, however, because it is grounded in what is real. As I contemplated this more, I became frustrated because I noticed that as a Protestant I was forced to “make it up every morning”, prove every doctrine from scripture, and could never be truly “set free” because I “knew the truth”. However, for a Catholic, his/her conviction will not change on infallibly revealed truth on, say birth control, because the ground for that truth is external to his/herself, namely the Church which according to scripture (I Tim 3:15) is where it should be. For a sola scripturist, the moment the ground for their truth (themselves) is challenged sufficiently to have a “moment of conscious”, they change position (Eph 4:14). The beauty of the Church is that Truth is not subject to my weak intellect, sinfulness and pride. So, even when my “gut” or “head” or “heart” tells me birth control is “a-ok”, I’m wrong. Ah, I’m free! (Jn 8:32). Free from my weak intellect, sinfulness, and pride to reject my “gut, head, or heart” from telling me that Jesus is 50% God, baptism is a symbol, or Mary sinned.
In order to have the time to deal with my epistemological dilemma and to reach the aforementioned conclusion, I decided that some of my questions required more extant research. I sold some property and used the funds to take off work, moved from Florida to Texas to study graduate philosophy at the University of Dallas. It was there that I would answer my questions, and on November 23, 2008, my wife and I were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Our children were baptized a few months later.
I believe my Pentecostal upbringing made it easy, even desirable, to believe in an Apostolic Church. I would later learn that the Catholic Church is the largest gathering of charismatic believers in the world (200 million). My Pentecostal upbringing also prepared me for the idea that God can redeem and use physical matter and that grace can flow through hands, oil, relics, etc. But, more than all of that, my Pentecostal upbringing gave me a yearning for something that it (Pentecostalism) could not satisfy. Let me explain.
If anything, our separated brothers and sisters in the charismatic/Pentecostal world love God, love his presence, and crave to “be with him”. This is a virtue. The preacher to the Papal Household, Father Raniero Cantalemessa has preached about the unifying power of the outpouring of the spirit in the 20th century. He’s a good preacher to listen to I’d say since the Pope thinks so. Father Cantalamessa argues that while in the early Church the spirit’s outpouring was for the purpose of unifying Jew and Greek, in these last days, it is for the unification of Protestant/Catholic.
I believe this. As I mentioned in the beginning, the Pentecostal/charismatic renewal can be tied to the three assumptions I mentioned in the beginning. These three assumptions however are not generally Protestant assumptions. For one, a Protestant can’t see their church as Apostolic in any real sense. A Protestant Church sees their church as congregational, democratic, or independent, not Apostolic. However, a charismatic/Pentecostal church believes that they are connected to the Apostolic church in virtue of their charism. To think that what happened then should be happening now is a Catholic way of thinking, and even more, to limit the work of the Holy Spirit to the apostolic times is only a Protestant way of thinking.
Secondly, to believe that God uses matter as a conduit of grace is important too. The Pentecostal/charismatic renewal primarily occurred in non-sacramental churches. These churches are far more divorced from the historic Christian view of the sacraments as one might find in Anglican, Lutheran or Presbyterian churches. Those churches have readily accessible symbols of their Catholic heritage. The charismatic movement can be seen as a way for the Holy Spirit to reach out to those Christians who have, by no fault of their own, become alienated from all signs of the Catholic Church. Think of the modern church with a cafe, stadium seating, and a rock concert up front. These churches are little devoid of all historical Christian symbols. Third, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement generally brought with it an increased awareness of the necessity of holiness. Sadly, the emphasis of personal holiness has declined in Pentecostal/charismatic circles in the last 20 years and I suspect without the Church as its ground of truth will continue down the slippery slope of libertinism.
Everything I described above is great. Nonetheless, we might say there is a fourth effect of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement: a longing for God’s presence. However, without the Blessed Sacrament, one is left to conjure God’s presence in order to “feel” close to Him. In my experience, I noticed a general “those who got it” and “those who didn’t” phenomena. This grieved me a lot. I knew God was a God of mercy and grace and it didn’t seem fair that only spiritual juggernauts could “feel the spirit” and those who were less inclined were on the outside looking in or were forced to “fake it”–raising your hands as long as the person next to you, falling into silence, shouting, or generally just copying the people around you.
Everything a charismatic/Pentecostal longs for is fulfilled in the Eucharist. Their deep longing to encounter God is ONLY satisfied in the Eucharist. When I partook of our Lord for the first time I knew two things: (1) I had only tasted bread and juice before
and (2) This was as close to Jesus as I could ever come. As I sat there kneeling in silent prayer, I wept in my hand for at that moment the satisfying of every “all night prayer vigil”, 2-hour worship service, tarrying, etc., was completely satisfied. I hungered and thirsted for righteousness and I was filled! I wasn’t turned away by my lack of spirituality not knowing why I wasn’t in the “in crowd” that “felt it”. It was so beautiful to watch young and old, poor and rich, theologian and simpleton, come down and receive our Lord. This was truly the place of grace; a religion built upon the mercy of God.
If you are reading this and long for Jesus–come home to His Church. Outside of his Church we are left to beg like the Syrophoneician woman in Matthew 15, but it should not be so. Healing is the “children’s bread”. Christ in the Eucharist offers us the healing we need for our souls, for those that “eat my flesh and drink of my blood have eternal life” (John 6:54). The “bread which comes down from heaven” is the only thing that will truly satisfy your longing heart. Think about your spiritual experiences. Have they really satisfied you? I know this saying is hard, but we must not be like some of his disciples who at hearing his words “withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66). If you are a charismatic/Pentecostal, I know you want to “walk with him along life’s narrow way”. Like the disciples your heart is “burning for him” (Luke 24:32), but even when Christ himself preached the Gospel to them, their eyes were not truly open until he “took the bread, blessed it (“this is my body”), and gave it to them” (Luke 24:31). At their realizing he vanished from their sight. Now, too, our Lord is not in sight, but his Apostles through their successors the Bishops are present to us; and where the Bishop is so is the Eucharist (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrneans, 8). Where the Eucharist is so is the satisfaction of our burning hearts, the quenching of our every thirst, the object of our greatest desire.
If you are Catholic and reading this, I hope this motivates you to share your faith with your separated Pentecostal/charismatic brothers and sisters. Although extrinsically their enthusiasm may seem attractive to you, we have what they want. We should not be ashamed of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It is the source and summit of our faith. “The faith once, delivered, to the saints” (Jude 3).
(Brent Stubbs lives with his wife Danielle and 4 children (Leah, Dean, Jude, Gemma) in central Florida. He can be reached via email at email@example.com)