MY JOURNEY OF FAITH: HOW JESUS BROUGHT ME HOME by Robert W. Mangan © 2011, Robert W. Mangan Paulist Evangelization Ministries 3011 4th St. NE Washington, DC 20017 www.pemdc.org
My Journey of Faith: How Jesus Brought Me Home
Introduction by Frank DeSiano, CSP ................................................................................. 3
Growing Up—Fundamentally ........................................................................................... 4
Questioning the Fundamentals ........................................................................................ 7
Finding New Fundamentals .............................................................................................. 9
A Grown‐up Faith ........................................................................................................... 16
Closing Remarks ............................................................................................................. 17
Introduction God guides us in various ways; sometimes bringing us through moments and experiences that open up entirely new vistas for us.
In this little book, Robert W. Mangan presents his story in his own words.
It begins with his upbringing in central Illinois which, at the age of 17 introduced a decisive moment in his life. He entered a religious environment that gave him a Fundamental Protestant outlook on faith. This foundation, which has stayed with him as he has grown up, went unquestioned until another key moment, many years later. Those questions led to other considerations until Rob’s faith story finally came to some peace. “Jesus brought me home,” is how he describes it—from those initial moments of faith to a grown‐up faith as a Catholic. How this happened, and what questions Rob had to deal with, creates the dramatic core of this book—how someone sincerely looking to follow God completely, and looking for what would put his faith experience together, journeyed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There are many seekers today—many outside the Church, but some inside their churches looking for something more. Indeed, many Catholics have begun attending Evangelical services without reflecting on what this might mean in their lives. Anyone sincerely looking to God, and facing key questions, will benefit from sharing the story of Rob’s journey. It may not be the exact way God will guide you, but it may help you be attentive to questions and directions that you’ve been afraid to explore. Near the end of Rob’s story, he talks about the pattern that has persisted from his fundamentalistic Evangelical ways—a desire to spread faith to others. He wonders how to do that as a Catholic.
This book is a very good start. Frank DeSiano, D. Min President, Paulist Evangelization Ministries
Chapter One Growing Up—Fundamentally I was born just outside the city of Chicago in December, 1969, a year marked with promise of change. After all, shortly afterwards, John Lennon was offered the role of Jesus Christ in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Peter, Paul, and Mary’s hit song “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, hit number 1 on the charts, and the Jackson Five made their 1st appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show". Although I was a bit too young to recall any of these events, I have heard they all had quite an impact on the people of that time. It was an era of rock ‘n roll, folk music, and some new quests for Jesus. The time for things to impact on me occurred, consciously at least, later on in my life. Throughout our lives there are a number of events that can steer us in one direction or another. These events, are often the moments that lead to a change in heart or a new mindset that sticks with someone, shaping a worldview for years to come. Occasionally, this worldview can get formed through an emotional or intellectual revelation. For me, the first major event to shape my world took place in the winter of 1987 at a Christian winter retreat. Up to this point, I had no prior Christian knowledge. I knew very little about the Bible, and I spent almost no time on the inside of a Church building. My life was filled with school, work, and sports. I wasn’t thinking about God, or worrying about an afterlife. I had very little interest in anything that had to do with religion. I can only recall a time or two when I was brought to Mass as a child. I was happy living my life day to day. Sure, there were the usual, occasional struggles that are part of a young life, but nothing to be concerned about. In fact, on that life changing day in 1987, I didn’t even know I had a need for a Savior until the speaker in the front of the room told me so. He was explaining how all of us had sinned against God and that God sent His son to die for our sins. All we had to do was ask Jesus to come into our hearts and that would gain us entry into Heaven when we died. Since Jesus paid the price for our sin, only by accepting Him could we have all of our sin— past, present, and future— forgiven. It was at that moment, my worldview changed. I began to include my understanding of Jesus in every decision that I made. When someone treated me harshly, I would react with kindness. When I felt the urge to lie, cheat, or steal, I reminded myself that Jesus would not do such things, therefore I should not do them. I did my best to always ask the question, “what would Jesus do?” before I took action. My goal was to be like Jesus, and that was quite a change. The question, however, is “exactly what changed”? As I put it, the answer is this: my knowledge and belief that the information I had received was true. Because I believed it, it was true to me, and it caused me to view things in a different way. (Whether or not the information I had was true and accurate, however, had nothing to do with my state of mind. These questions simply did not arise. .
I was told to read the Bible and go to Church, and that’s what I did. When I read things like, “forgive one another, just as I have forgiven you”, I did just that. I let go of my feelings of dislike for others, and I chose to react out of love. What was Love? I memorized one of my first Bible verses on this very subject. I read that love was patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty, selfish, or rude. Love does not demand its own way, and hardly even notices when others do it wrong. If you love someone, you will always be loyal to them, always expect the best of them, and always stand your ground in defending them. Choosing to take that approach toward people is really what changed my life. Was God in on it? I believed he absolutely was! I was convinced that the information I was receiving, in all of its detail, was an absolute truth about God and my relationship to Him. It was only over time, I would start to see that much of that information was limited and skewed by other people’s interpretations and beliefs, but those hurdles did not keep God’s love from reaching my heart. But I should not get ahead of my story. It seems clear to me that we all face moments in our lives that lead us to a particular state of mind about God. The question is, what do we do with those moments? Do we face them head on, or do we push them aside? Do we open our hearts and minds to the ideas presented to us, or do we walk away? Do we accept them unconditionally, or with great hesitation and questioning? Much of this can be influenced by feelings of acceptance and joy. Once you have been made to feel comfortable with your surroundings, it becomes much easier to be open to a new idea. I embraced it whole heartedly, but I still had a lot to learn. The first few years of my Christian life were spent building off of that foundational element that was planted at the winter retreat when I was seventeen. I became a sponge. I was instructed that the Bible and Church attendance would be keys to learning more about the true Christian life. I drank it all in. I wanted to be the best Christian I could be. I talked to my church pastor and got signed up to get baptized to show publicly that I had made a choice to be a Christian and to live for Jesus. It gave me a sense of belonging and solidified my decision. Around this time I also was asked by my Catholic Aunt to be the Godfather of my newly born cousin. I wasn’t too familiar with the Catholic ceremony then and didn’t think much of it at the time. I was simply honored to be given that title. It did, however, contribute to the closeness I would continue to have with my cousin as time went on, always having a sense of responsibility and concern for her well being and spiritual growth. And, while not knowing it at the time, it would lead to new directions in my life later on. During those years, I also began to read books from people who had the same views as those who had guided me thus far. Mine was a pretty mainstream faith, in the sense that I could go to a local Christian book store and choose from any number of books on just about any topic, and I could be pretty confident that what I was reading would be fundamentally sound in its doctrine and theology. Sure, there were some things that differed in theological beliefs, but it mostly was on side issues like Creation,
or the End Times. I felt it was okay to disagree on these things, because eventually I would study them and decide for myself which view seemed more reasonable. I went to Moody Bible Institute in 1991. This allowed me to really establish a good foundational knowledge of the Bible. I followed that logic put before me that the key to living the Christian life is to know God’s Word, the Bible. This led me to put my faith into action through service and prayer. I helped out at an inner city Church's kids program as one way of service. I also went on a 4‐week Missions trip to Guatemala where we spent time passing out Christian tracts and sharing with people how to invite Jesus into their heart and live for Him. I admit, that was probably one of the most uncomfortable things that I did as a Christian. I found it a little uncomfortable standing around college campuses asking people if they wanted to know Jesus and telling them how to become a Christian because it seemed to lack the personal touch that I was more comfortable with. As an introvert, I was never much of a sales person, and that was why I felt this way at the time. But, I was told that Jesus commanded us to spread the Gospel, and this was one of those ways of doing that; so I couldn’t let my discomfort hinder me. Besides, if I didn’t do this, I could be responsible for someone not getting into Heaven—and I didn’t want that! In the winter of 1994, I took a job in Kansas City, MO, as a Data Clerk for the bookstore department of the international headquarters of a Christian organization. I met a number of really great Christian people there, and I quickly became involved in a local church by teaching at Sunday school class. After a while I planted myself in a Presbyterian church singles group and joined the Bible study group. We met every week and covered a book of the bible during each session. I spent a lot of time reading a passage and discussing what it said and how that could be applied to our lives. A group leader would keep things going in line with the study materials provided. Afterwards, we would all hang out and play games or talk. This was a good way to make new friends . . . and possibly even find a mate. I felt that it was important for Christians to surround themselves with other Christians who would be good influences and who had like minds. Surely, good advice for all of us. However, sometimes believers would take that to the extreme and have very little contact with non‐Christians. This was apparent from the sermons and talks warning people against becoming too secluded in this way. We needed to have non‐Christians in our lives in order to witness to them. After all, I could be the only Christian they’d ever know, and I wanted to be ready to share my faith with them. I believed my faith could be summed up with the saying that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. Yes, it all seemed pretty clear to me.
Chapter Two – Questioning the Fundamentals You might say that I was a pretty confident Christian at that point in my life. I didn’t face much doubt, and I wasn’t questioning my beliefs to any significant degree. I felt like I had the answer to life’s problems, and I wanted everyone else who didn’t know that answer to find it. I wanted everyone to know Jesus in a personal way. I enjoyed listening to the apologetic programs on Christian radio, and reading books about the evidences of Christianity. I even experienced some answers to prayer and some wonderful moments of seeing God work in the lives of others. So one would wonder, what could make a person second guess this life? I mentioned earlier that there are a few moments, some key events, in life that can often define the direction a person takes. I believe that God uses those moments as sign‐posts to guide us toward him, though we don’t always choose to follow these directions. This next moment is one that I would consider one of those sign‐posts that started me in a new direction, though it would take several years for it to culminate into another life changing moment. In 1996 while I was working for that Christian Ministry in Kansas City, MO, I was tested by a fellow believer. After spending an evening, the night before, playing volleyball at a local bar, a fellow believer accused me of being in violation of the Bible’s clear command not to be in a situation that could cause a brother to stumble. Since I was surrounded by people who were drinking alcohol, I apparently could have caused another struggling Christian to assume drinking was okay for them even though they might have a drinking problem. This was not the first time I had been accused of doing something unbiblical or unchristian, but for some reason it stuck with me much more strongly than any other statement in the past. I just didn’t seem to be able to shake it. I believe it was the first moment in my Christian life that I had to ask myself the question “who decides how to interpret a passage of scripture?” This ended up being a major alteration in my mindset because for the first time I started to feel like I was different from other Christians. For the first time I didn’t feel like I fit in line with everyone I had previously walked side by side with in thought and theology. I now found myself attending Bible studies with a more skeptical mindset. I never felt a problem with God, or with being a Christian in general. I simply wanted to find answers to questions I never asked before. I had always assumed that the information that had been taught to me about God had to be true because it changed my life in a good way. It gave me purpose and direction. It put me in touch with people who made me feel like I belonged. But, as I thought about it, none of those reasons proved anything. I could have experienced all of those things through a self‐help book, or a motivational speaker. This set me wondering. What I believed in had to have a strong foundation and a reasonable truth, and I wanted to find that.. For years I would look through Scripture, read books, and converse with people, in search of answers to questions. But like any good investigator, the important part is to figure out what questions to ask. You can ask a lot of questions that lead to a lot of answers that do you absolutely no good. But once you figure out the right ROBERT MANGAN
questions to ask, that’s when the light starts to shine in. That’s when worldviews get altered. That is what I needed to figure out.
Chapter 3 Finding Some New Fundamentals What is the truth? And how do we come to it? For years I was convinced that I had the knowledge of the truth and that the truth had set me free. In many ways, I believe that it did. I certainly had lived a life full of joy and freedom in Christ. However, certain elements of what I always considered to be such obvious and fundamental truths seem to be coming apart, at least a little bit. I was sure the Bible was the key to understanding God’s will in my life, but now that was being challenged by the sudden realization that all Christians didn’t necessarily agree on what scripture actually said. You see, I understood the Bible to be revealed to all Christians who had the Holy Spirit. So if someone was not in agreement, then they were either deceived or not Christian. It didn’t matter so much on the smaller issues, the things considered complex. For example, many Christians had differing interpretations of the book of Revelation, but that was obviously a very difficult book to follow. It was the core beliefs that mattered. Unfortunately, my encounter with a Christian from within what I considered the circle of true believers didn’t quite sit right. Sure, I could have just written it off as an encounter with someone who simply wasn’t in line with scripture and dismissed that person as being short sighted. But instead, I packed it away in the back of my mind and waited to see how God would resolve that issue. It kept rumbling around my soul as a question to be resolved. Over the next several years I would continue to live my life, doing my best to please God and walk in faith. But God would be doing things in my life. I once came into contact with a very godly family that would leave a lasting impression on my life. As I got to know them, it was clear that they had a strong desire to serve and worship God in every aspect of their lives. This couple had many children living at home and, amazingly in this day and age, they all lived with a passion for God. I soon realized that they weren’t your “ordinary” Christian family, at least not according to the way I had learned. They were a charismatic family with very particular beliefs and practices. As I became more involved with them, I got to know another family that they often spent time with. In fact, I learned that the two families began to hold Church in their own home because they couldn’t find a church that followed Jesus the way that they wanted to. So I would sit in with the two families on Saturday evening and have Church service in their living room, singing and praising God. It was a very peaceful and enjoyable atmosphere. Eventually we got into conversations about specifics of the faith. One of those things was about speaking in tongues, something I did not follow, but they did. One night I sat with the parents of the other family, and they shared with me the importance of speaking in tongues. I was told that I would be missing out on all that God had for me if I did not speak in tongues regularly. They compared it to a Christian who drinks milk as opposed to the meat that a mature Christian needs to grow spiritually.
Once again, that thought from a few years ago came back to me because I thought to myself, “maybe their interpretation of scripture is true.” I didn’t want to miss out on something that could help me grow closer to God. So one night I got on my knees next to my bed and I prayed for the gift of speaking in tongues; I asked God to let His spirit speak to me if it was His will. I must have prayed for 40 or 50 minutes before I went to bed. I mentioned to one of the family members that I had tried and it didn’t work for me, and she said that I didn’t do it right. She said I needed to start moving my lips and speaking words to get things going. This did not sit well with me. I felt like I was being told to babble until the Holy Spirit took over my words somehow. I saw no evidence of this in Scripture, and it just didn’t feel right in my heart. I decided it was time to move on. What this experience taught me was that there are many people out there who live wonderful Christian lives, but also have very different beliefs in what the Bible says. I didn’t deny that speaking in tongues was possible for people, but was I missing out on something God wanted me to have? Was I being short‐ changed because I couldn’t figure out how to speak in tongues? That didn’t seem right to me. So I asked the question again, “How do they know they have the correct interpretation of scripture?” How did they make their decisions? It goes back to knowledge and experience. I tried to put myself in their shoes. If I had experienced something in my life that led me to believe the way they do, I would follow it as far as it could take me. In fact, that is exactly how I grew up. That is exactly what I had done in my own life. I had an experience that was liberating and made sense. I could have just as easily have been a non‐Christian person who came into contact with this godly family and saw the joy and love that they have, and want to be a part of their Christian way of life. They would tell me the key to being part of it is to read the Bible and speak in tongues. Because of my desire to have that life, and because it happened at a moment in my life when I was open to believe, I could very easily become a follower of that particular way of thinking. I would inherit all the other beliefs that go with it, even the belief that other groups of Christians are missing out because they don’t speak in tongues. It’s possible that this way of believing would even teach that a person who has not spoken in tongues has not received the Holy Spirit— and is therefore not saved and will not get into Heaven. I encountered this belief myself firsthand. So is it all arbitrary? Is it all just an accident of what faith group someone runs into at a certain point in his or her life? What seemed clear to me was that my interpretation of the Christian life had been governed by the information that had been fed to me through others at the right time in order to convince me to follow a certain line of thinking and belief. So what makes my Christian worldview any more valid than another person’s? Here I began to see the limitations of our experience. A person’s experience can only take them so far. Something more is needed, something that grounds experience. What is needed is something tangible, something that can be traced, something that has a verifiable element to it, and something that can survive the tests of logic and the wavering of simple experience.
There are people everywhere who have a worldview that is based on a few moments in time that convinced them to go in one direction or another. If you think about your life, what were the sign‐posts that changed your direction and lead to the belief you have today? Now think about this, if you could be intellectually convinced that your way of thinking is wrong, wouldn’t you change it? That’s what happens to most people. At one moment they don’t believe in God, but then they hear an argument that seems full proof, so they change their mind. Another person has always believed in God but then they hear an argument that seems to be full proof in the other direction, so they become an atheist. Another person has a near death experience and they turn to God because of the fear they faced. Someone else grows up in India and the only faith they ever knew was the faith they grew up with. Here then is my question, whether I’m a Hindu or a charismatic Christian, what determines the truth about either faith? Is it not that person’s reality that makes them believe? They can’t change if they aren’t presented with information that they can then interpret and compare. Sometimes that information can come in the form of a miraculous event or revelation. Even still, they take in information from that event and draw conclusions based upon the knowledge they already possess. Everyone has a starting point in some kind of experience, some kind of personal history. How do we know we are not trapped by these initial experiences? This brings me back to the story of my search for truth. By 2005 I had been coasting on my Christian worldview but hadn’t really made any progress. I was still sticking to my faith in Christ, but I knew it was just a little different then the mainstream Christians that I had grown up with. What was the difference I felt? I still kept that thought in the back of my head that somehow there had to be a more grounded way to interpret scripture accurately. It couldn’t just be a free for all among Christians. Of course, I assumed the Holy Spirit would guide true Christians to the truth of Scripture, but now it seemed that good Christian people had very different interpretations. I had been taught to test Scripture with Scripture, and that the truth could be found when you honestly look at the whole picture and context of the passages in question. This was the logical and intellectual approach to understanding the Bible. You couldn't, for example, take a text like “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” literally without understanding the context or purpose of the passage. What about the many people who do not have Bibles, or the ability to study the Scriptures who could easily come to faulty conclusions? The solution was to teach them to interpret scripture correctly. To give them knowledge that would direct them into the truth. So it seemed fairly clear that the Holy Spirit alone was not giving people a miraculous understanding of scripture. In addition, people needed to obtain some knowledge as well. Even though I had questions about the truths of certain aspects of my faith, I still believed that Jesus saved me, and that people needed to know Jesus as their Savior to enter heaven. In fact, I met a girl whom I asked a very simple question to in order to find out if she knew Jesus the way I did. I asked, “If you were standing at the gates of Heaven and God said to you ‘Why should I let you in?’ what would you say?” I was hoping to hear “Because Jesus died for my sins and I’ve accepted Him into my heart.” Instead got, “I’ve been a pretty good person,” As a result, I ended the courtship after a short effort of trying to explain to her the importance of inviting Christ into your life. She was a professing Catholic, even though I had no knowledge of her level of involvement or understanding of her faith, this alone ROBERT MANGAN
was enough to convince me that Catholics, in general, believe that they will be saved by doing more good than bad. It seemed clear to me that Catholics were not being taught correctly from the Bible. Most of the one’s I knew didn’t seem to know much about the Bible, and I believed that it was a result of their religiosity. How else could they have missed such a clear teaching? In June of 2006, my Aunt’s son passed away suddenly at a young age, and I came back to Illinois, after a short stint in Texas, to help with the grieving process. I saw the pain that she, a Catholic, was facing and I thought it would be a great opportunity to explain to her how having a personal relationship with Jesus could help her deal with that pain. I felt it was an opportunity to bring her away from the ritualistic Catholic lifestyle that she knew and present her with a true faith in Jesus that wasn’t based on works. I saw it as an act of love. I truly wanted to help her fill, what I perceived as, a void in her life. As time went on in our relationship, we began to share a little more about our faith with each other. She wasn’t looking to leave her Catholic faith, and in fact she began to challenge some of my impressions of Catholic doctrine. Like any good and conscientious Christian who is challenged about faith, I felt an obligation to find out what the Catholic Church taught. I didn’t think it would be fair, for example, to say that they worship Mary or pray for the dead if it weren’t true. And if anything I thought strange were true, then what was their basis for believing it? I had already brushed up on Catholic theology by reading some books and pamphlets on Catholicism, but I realized that everything I had learned about them came from authors who were not Catholic. So I figured it was time to see what people who call themselves Catholic had to say about those beliefs. So I began a journey, searching, reading, and praying. I began a journey that led me to an even deeper faith—one that I had not yet experienced and, therefore, did not even know I was missing. I figured I’d start with trying to find an author who was a non‐Catholic and had converted. The first book I found on the subject was David Currie’s “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic”. I was shocked at how similar our paths were, and how he had spent many years in Christian ministry and yet somehow found his way to the Catholic Church. I thought I’d be able to see some bogus reason for the change. Maybe he had a bad experience, or he somehow was misguided by his emotions. Instead, I found a very intellectual reason for his conversion. It made sense in a way that I could relate to. He praised his non‐Catholic background. I was drawn by his compassion and love for the Christian past he had. Yet, somehow he found more through the Catholic Church, and that surprised me. It wasn’t as if something seemed to be missing before he found it. It was more like finding something you never knew existed—so you never really had anything to miss. I compared it to my father. To this day I have never met my biological father. People would ask me if I missed not having a father growing up. I would simply say that there was nothing to miss. I had no reference point. I didn’t know what it felt like to have a father and then not have one. Many of the families I grew up around came from broken homes. I really never felt out of place or different—until well into my teen years when people would start asking more questions about my home life.
Even though at this point things were going pretty well spiritually I felt like I had a pretty good handle on my faith in Christ and was striving to follow Him —I didn’t expect to find something more in the Catholic Church. But I did. I began to see some of the things that were missing, even though I did not know they were missing. I began a process of studying many different aspects of the Catholic faith. I needed to see if there was any teaching that contradicted scripture; I needed to study the history of the Church, and I had to tackle the questions of theology. The more I dived into my studies, the more I was convinced. I was able to use the same skills I developed in college, and in years of Bible studies and personal readings, to gage the validity of the Catholic claims. In the end, I couldn’t believe how sensible and logical it was to believe that the Catholic Church was the Christian Church from the beginning. Logic played a key part in convincing me. I considered the history of the Church over the last 2,000 years. There was no history of many of the beliefs of Protestant denominations, before 500 years ago. When I looked at the writings of the men who lived just after the Apostles, it was clear that they followed beliefs that were much more in line with Catholic theology—men like Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, and Justin Martyr. I also found that the Catholic Church believed everything the Bible says and considered it inspired just as non‐Catholic Christians did. The problem was that they interpreted some key passages of scripture differently than what I was taught. This is one of two main obstacles (the other one, the Church’s history, I will talk about below) that I believe keep many non‐Catholic Christians away from the Catholic Church. For most non‐Catholic Christians, particularly Evangelical believers like myself, our interpretation of the Bible is of major importance to our faith and belief. So if the Catholic interpretation of Scripture is contradictory to Scripture, then it must be a false religion. What did I find? It was not to be a problem of contradicting Scripture as much as it was just another interpretation of the Scripture, just like the charismatic family, or the Christian ministry person I had encountered. For example, Catholics believe that Jesus is truly present in the Lord’s Supper, and many Protestants believe it is only symbolic. The difference is in how they interpret Jesus command to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Neither view contradicts Scripture. As another example, Protestants believe that Paul’s words that state we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works so that no one can boast, and that these words do not contradict James’ statement that we are saved by works and not by faith alone, because James is speaking in a different context. That is their interpretation, and, under that interpretation, they do not contradict. Catholics, however, interpret Paul’s words to mean that works alone cannot save us; basically stressing the opposite side of James argument, but Paul never says that “faith alone” saves us. Both viewpoints have several passages of Scripture that they can point to in order to show the validity of their reasoning, and both are very good arguments. This happens with many parts of Scripture that fit into the core parts of one’s belief system. The problem is, how does one determine who’s right? If one can have different, seemingly valid, interpretations of the Scriptures, then what tips the scales in one direction rather than the other?
Follow along with me in this example. Let’s say you have two friends who went to see a movie that you are interested in seeing but you want to get their opinion of the movie beforehand. The first friend says that the movie was great and he recommends it. The second friend says it was terrible and confusing, and does not recommend it. Which friend would you choose to believe? Taking out any differences in personality or taste, it would be a very difficult choice without any additional information. But what if I told you that the first friend saw the movie from start to finish, but the second friend only saw the last 20 minutes? That would make your decision a little easier. You’d feel more comfortable going with the person who has seen the entire movie. For me, once I realized that the Catholic faith makes perfect scriptural sense, at least as much as my Protestant faith, then it made sense to go with the faith that has been around for the entire time. Not only have they seen the movie over and over, they decided which scenes would be included to tell the story. It was that early, ancient and Catholic community that chose which books of the Bible would be considered Scripture, because it was out of that life and tradition that the Scriptures emerged. Let’s look at it another way. Ask yourself where you received your core beliefs? If you are a Protestant Christian, you would be tempted to say “the Bible”. However, someone has to interpret what the Bible says. Surely we all come to passages of scripture that can easily be interpreted in many different ways, which is evident in the many thousands of different Protestant denominations. I referred to these differences in some of my previous comments. The point is not to condemn those who have differing interpretations, but to recognize that none of them can be traced back to a reliable source. For instance, if you say that the Lord’s Supper is merely a symbolic act of remembrance, where does that belief come from? I was able to research many documents from people who lived shortly after the disciples that showed people proudly proclaiming the real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine. These same people and their companions eventually determined, based on their beliefs, and the beliefs of those before them, to include or reject certain letters that would or would not be included in our Bibles today. From this logic, I found it very difficult to deny that the Catholic Church simply had more authority to interpret scripture. Otherwise, there is nothing but each person’s individual opinion’s and limited amount of understanding to go on. When I looked back on my own journey of faith, I found that, at times, I would interpret scripture in the best way that fit my own wishes and desire’s, and there was nobody who really had the authority to tell me otherwise. If my church didn’t agree with me, I could find another, or start my own, all the while truly believing in my heart that I was following God’s will. This is how many denominations and beliefs get started. They can all be traced back to a person who had an idea or revelation. Some of those ideas blossom with many followers for years to come, while others die off and even become forgotten. The point is that they are traced back to a specific time and person and then there is little or no trace of those beliefs before that. The Catholic Church has the authority and the lineage to show that the core beliefs that they hold to go back to Christ and the Apostles. The second main obstacle, I believe, is Church history. What I mean by that is the often reported and many times true accounts of sinful times of the Catholic Church’s members. Most of us have heard, at some point, about the bad Popes and inquisitions and the sex scandals. These are all very bad things that have plagued the reputation of the Catholic Church. But the truth of the matter is that the Catholic Church itself understands that men do bad things when they do not submit themselves to God, and evil ROBERT MANGAN
attacks the leaders of the Church more than anyone else. So doesn’t it make perfect sense that there would be some problems? Being part of the Catholic Church does not make anyone perfect or impervious to sin. In fact, if it is the true Church that Jesus began, then it stands to reason that its members would be even bigger targets of the evil one. There have been many Protestant leaders who have also fallen into major sin; Protestants would often use that same reasoning to account for their fall. I believe it is a good and sound observation that those who follow God are going to face temptation and, because of their imperfections, will sometimes fall into sin. It would be great if we could all just choose to follow God and be completely protected against all temptation, but that’s not the world we live in. Belief, in itself, does not make us perfect or keep us from making serious blunders. Protestants and Catholic can agree on this. Once I was able to realize that the Catholic Church could be a church started by Christ and living among us today, and still be run by imperfect people, it made it easier to believe. What is protected from error is it’s teachings on faith and morals. I relate this to King David or Peter. King David was considered a man after God’s own heart, yet he committed murder and adultery. However, he also inspired the Psalms which are considered to be the words of God. Nobody can change the Psalms and make them say something different. We may not have every verse exactly as it was originally written down or spoken by David, but the Psalms are still considered protected and inspired. They are full of truths about God and one can learn from them, despite David’s sin and any grammatical errors. Similarly, Peter denied Christ and apparently disagreed with Paul on certain ways of living the faith. Nevertheless, Peter clearly is recognized as the leader of the followers of Jesus, even in spite of his failings. The Catholic Church fits this mold. It may have had leaders who murdered, disagreed among themselves, and committed adultery at times, but God’s power and guidance persisted in spite of all that. , Just as the words of the Psalms and the Gospels can be perfect in their essence and meaning, yet imperfectly passed on through copying and translation, so the Church in its essence has been passed on and still contain the truths of God as God has revealed them. This brings us back to that thought in the back of my head many years before when the believer confronted me about being at the sports bar: Who decides how to interpret a passage of scripture? It has become apparent to me that the Catholic Church had the authority to interpret Scripture. They have the right to propose authentic interpretations. They have consistently followed scripture as closely as any other Christian faith, and they had been there from the beginning as witnesses of Christ. Now I had to start my journey toward becoming Catholic. I felt as though I was walking into a room in a foreign country. I didn’t really know anyone with the experience and knowledge to guide me, and I didn’t know how to speak their language. It was like I was becoming a Christian all over again. I had a lot to learn, but I was determined to start my new life off in the right direction.
Chapter 4 A Grown‐Up Faith Now that I had become convinced that the Catholic Church was the place where I could find the fullness of my Christian life, I needed to become more familiar with its customs and traditions. As an Evangelical, this has a bad taste to it. I was afraid of floundering on all the “traditions” of the Church, as if they were something wrong. I found it interesting, however, that my NIV bible, which was translated by a group of Protestant scholars, translated the Greek word for “tradition” (paradosis) differently, depending on the context. In Galatians 1:14 and Colossians 2:8, paradosis is translated as “tradition”, and seen as a negative thing. But in 1 Corinthians 11:2 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15, paradosis is an encouraged practice; here, interestingly, the NIV translates it as “teachings” instead of staying consistent and using “traditions” as they do in the other passages. This seemed to me a deliberate intent to modify how an average reader will interpret these Scripture passages. This approach makes it very convenient for one to preach against following traditions and to look at them as a negative rather than a positive thing. For example, if I were to do a word search on the word tradition in the New Testament, I would only find passages that mention it in a negative light. How many Christians are going to do a word search on the Greek word for tradition? You can see how easily people could be swayed, just as I was, until I was willing to go deeper into the origins of scripture. Looking at the Church Fathers also made a difference in how I viewed certain “traditions” of the Catholic Church. For example, St. Ignatius, in about A.D. 100 wrote about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Are we to believe that St. Ignatius had already misunderstood the Apostles in A.D. 100 when he said; "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again." Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Smyrnaeans, 7,1 (c. A.D. 110). This came from a person who was a companion of the Apostle John, and was martyred for his beliefs. Learning to be more comfortable with church traditions, and taking lessons from the writings of many of the Saints of old, gave me a level of confidence to move forward in my Catholic practices. I became familiar with the rosary and with other prayers of the faith, which sprang invariably from a basis in Scripture. These became my stabilizers of prayer. I find being able to bring a common prayer said by millions of believers to mind is often a good way to lead into a more personal conversational prayer. But that was just the beginning. I found every time I turned around there was more about the Catholic faith that I wished I had learned years ago. Sometimes it would become overwhelming as I tried to learn so much so quickly in order to participate in more and more ways with the graces of God. I kept finding things I was missing, even though I didn’t know I missed them. What makes life difficult for me in this time period between learning to be Catholic and living the Catholic faith, as a former Protestant, is the persistence of previous patterns of thought. I find myself constantly wanting to learn more and to share all I’ve learned with my Protestant friends. This comes from years of a strong evangelical mindset that is so determined to spread the Good News and show others the truth of the Gospel. Just as I wanted to share my new found truth with everyone I could when ROBERT MANGAN
I learned a truth about Jesus, so I have that same enthusiasm and desire to share what seems like such obvious truths about Christ’s Church. In a way, through my zigzag story of faith, things have come around in a circle. At this point in my life, my real desire is to simply learn to follow Jesus in his Church and to strengthen my relationship with him. So the goal is still the same as when I first became a Christian, but the understanding of the many ways in which this can be done is so very new. I am still involved in learning to treat sin in a new way by going to confession, and participating in the Lord’s Supper and all that is involved with that, and learning the value of the communion of Saints and the liturgy of the Word, and the many practices, meditations, and resources that are available for our benefit. There are so many tools to help us draw near to God in our daily lives, and I have only just begun to scratch the surface. My greatest temptation is to involve myself so much with trying to learn so many things, that I don’t allow myself time to involve myself in charitable activities, or in building my personal relationship with God through His Son in a peaceful, and sacrificial, way. Yes, I want to continue to learn, even take classes and perhaps someday teach others to live a truly Catholic faith, but my prayer right now is that I will learn most of all, as the Bible says, to be still and know that he is God. I pray that I will hear his voice because I have taken the time to sit and listen to what he is saying to me through his Spirit, the same Spirit that has been with Christ’s people from the beginning. I pray that someday I can hear Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” I know it won’t come easy, and the road may appear obscure at times, but with God’s grace the day will come, when I will see him face to face in all his glory. ________ So that’s my story. It’s really about what we accept and why accept what we do. I’ve probed what I accept and why. I have found that the Catholic Church, unlike the way it is characterized in many evangelical circles, has a powerful fidelity to the Scriptures, an authentic tradition of living those Scriptures and interpreting them, and a rich diversity of ways that lead us to an ever‐fuller Christian life. I have preserved what was central in my Evangelical beginnings. A love for Christ and for others is still at the center of my faith. But, through the grace of God’s Spirit, I have found so much more—so much that has filled out my faith, so much I would have missed out on if I had not looked at the Catholic Church. My life in Christ is, therefore, so much richer. Maybe you’ve been missing out on something too.