by Daniel Siss
I chose Catholicism after over a decade long search of trying to seek answers regarding the meaning of life, God’s existence, the reasonableness of religion, and the foundations of Christian belief.
My search began by reading through the New Testament and trying to understand it without the guidance of a church. Living in a culture that emphasized individual expression and personal choices, I felt that I could understand the Bible on my own and didn’t need a preacher to interpret it for me. I thought that my relationship with God was personal and that I could come to appreciate Jesus Christ at that level without a church “getting in the way” with their own stubborn interpretations of scripture. I made it a mission of mine to read through the New Testament. I would read through the New Testament every night before I went to bed, and I found that it really helped bring a lot of peace, love, and wisdom in my life. Reading through the teachings of Jesus Christ brought an inexplicable peace to me that I couldn’t quite put into words until I read about “renewing the mind” in the Bible. I felt I had come across “a pearl of great price” and had all of the answers that I needed now. That “peace of mind” didn’t last.
Over the course of time, I would hear and read arguments against Christianity and God either in the classroom, in the news media, by friends, or online that I had never heard before and felt were quite strong and not easily answerable. I realized that reading and interpreting the Bible on my own was not quite enough for me. I started to attend Bible studies and research Christian philosophers and theologians. I would sit in Bible studies and listen to pastors and lay people who were much more knowledgeable about the Bible and Church history than I was and who could help me understand scriptures in a new light. It was during those Bible studies that I realized the importance of having a Church community. I felt such a love and warmth that came from everyone in my Bible study groups as we shared our views on scripture and discussed how they applied to our lives. On a personal level, I m made it my mission to begin reading articles and watching videos from Christian apologists from Protestant backgrounds such as William Lane Craig, John Lennox, and Alvin Platinga. I would also listen to lectures from Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft even though I was far from being a Catholic. It excited me that were so many modern thinkers out there from various Christian denominations who could come up with real answers to the questions that I had about the Christian faith and could answer those questions with such precision, intellectual rigor, and boldness. That inspired me to deepen my search and see where it would lead.
It ended up that reading and listening to the modern Christian apologists was only the beginning of my faith formation journey. It was through them that I began to search for past defenders of the faith who could help me on my journey. Now, I have been helped by many theologians and philosophers, but I could not even begin to talk about my conversion without mentioning the two writers who forever changed my spiritual destiny: C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. Those two authors who have long passed on to their “forever home” were absolutely indispensable to my faith formation.
I remember finishing Mere Christianity and realizing that my Christian faith would never be the same again. That book made one thing clear to me: Faith in God was very rational, His existence was very probably, and this faith was either to be the foundation of my beliefs and life or it was to be discarded – there was no in between. Either Jesus was telling the truth or he wasn’t. If he was telling the truth, He was and is a loving God that created me, has a destiny for me, and deserves to be the center of my life. If He was or is God, there is nothing more important in my life than to have a relationship with Him.
I would later dive into Lewis’ other religious masterpieces such as The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain. His writings cleared up many mental hurdles that I had with regards to faith in God, the believability of miracles, and how a Christian can reconcile a good God with evil in the world. His works were crucial to building up my mind to be able to accept Christianity and laid the groundwork for a much richer and deeper intellectual journey into other great philosophers and minds.
This led to my undertaking of G.K. Chesterton. After reading through Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, my view on Christianity was flipped upside down. I had previously viewed Christianity as a purely personal relationship with Christ with the theological details not being as important and interpretation of scripture being more of a democratic process where people could come to their own conclusions as long as it wasn’t obviously heretical (i.e. there being no God or Jesus being just a man type of idea). Chesterton argued that the Church was necessary. It was necessary to have an authority that could interpret scripture when there was disagreement. Tradition was necessary to keep the Church from wavering off into 40,000 different paths. His point was that it didn’t make sense to say the Bible was right and all the traditions and Church doctrines were all wrong and superstition if it was the Church that put the Bible together in the first place. By undermining the Church’s authority, we are undermining the very institution that gave us the Bible.
Now, prior to reading Chesterton, I had also had some very scary situations arise that needed a lot of prayers and petitions. I had started praying the Rosary every day because I always felt a special devotion to the Virgin Mary despite not being Catholic. I had no fear of praying the rosary despite not being Catholic! I began to notice miraculous things happening all around me after I would pray the rosary. The biggest miracle of them all was just how much I was personally changing by praying it! I felt so much closer to God and had so much peace in my heart that I knew that this was a very special prayer. I began to feel closer and closer to the Blessed Mother and began studying more and more about the Catholic beliefs regarding her. I realized that the Catholic veneration of Virgin Mary matched my own beliefs and sided with common sense. If she is the mother of God, why would we not venerate her? Why would Jesus Christ not hold a special place for his earthly mother if God specifically commands for us to honor our mother and father here on earth?
Despite my devotion to the rosary, my veneration of Virgin Mary, my deepening understanding of the Church’s importance, and my reading of Chesterton, I still wasn’t ready to convert. I then began a deeper dive into Catholicism to see if that would change the way that I felt. I then began an undertaking of reading the Five Proofs of Aquinas, started reading the works of St. Theresa of Avila, and watching more and more EWTN (Mother Angelica and Bishop Fulton Sheen in particular!). I still did not want to convert. The problem wasn’t that I wasn’t convinced that Catholicism was true. The problem was that I was happy with the “freedom” I had with not being affiliated with any denomination or church. In a sense, I felt that I could have my cake and eat it too. I could be unaffiliated, uncommitted, and a “free agent” so to speak and not be part of any church, and still appreciate the depth of the Catholic Church from the outside. I could love the Catholic Church just as I would any other church but not actually be in the Catholic Church. I could simply appreciate the Church from the outside and marvel at its great contributions to Christianity without having to be Catholic.
Of course, despite my bargaining with God to just let me stay unaffiliated, He would not let it go. He does not let go of a person whom He wants to convert. He does not stop asking. I felt this tug on me for the last three years to come “home” every time I would walk by a Catholic Church or bookstore. Every reminder of Catholicism was a reminder that I had yet to come “home.” I kept saying to God, “I am not ready”. Despite my protests to converting, I could not deny the peace in my heart and mind when I would read a book about Catholicism or attend a mass at Holy Name Cathedral. I could not deny how powerful the rosary was and how much I was beginning to believe in the Eucharist.
Finally, I relented…a very reluctant convert (as C.S. Lewis as when he converted to theism from atheism). I admitted, not that Lewis had admitted (that “God was God”), but that the Church was home. That was in the summer of 2017. I sent Father Cambe an email the night before RCIA was going to start and told him that I wanted to attend the first meeting. He was very gracious in his response, but I still had doubts that lingered about whether I could commit to becoming a Catholic.
RCIA ended up being one of the most wonderful experiences I could have asked for as someone who had doubts about converting. I did not know if I would be able to last the entire RCIA process from September through May without having second thoughts and leaving. I thought the length of the program would be a barrier for me as I did not know if I could go through all those months of classes and still want to be Catholic. I wanted the conversion to be fast and painless so that I couldn’t change my mind.
Fortunately, the RCIA process was not painful at all, and I felt bad when it ended because it was such a positive experience. All of the priests, lecturers, teachers, organizers, and everyone involved with the program were so positive and uplifting that you couldn’t help but be inspired at their commitment. The parts that I loved the most were the retreat at Catholic Charities and the lectures we would get about specific topics like morality, discipleship, Bible history, etc. I really enjoyed those lectures after mass as I learned so much despite the lectures being relatively short. I particularly loved learning about liturgy and the importance of the Eucharist. I had a very basic understanding regarding the nuances of the Church, so learning more about liturgical practices and the sacraments was a huge help for me in deepening my faith formation. The fellowship that I developed with others at the class really helped me deepen my faith in Christ and also helped me understand in a deeper way how important Christian fellowship was as we were all learning together for so many months. I enjoyed participating in the group discussions and felt this really helped me open more about my faith.
Now that we are no longer in the RCIA, I think that it’s important that all of us newly converted Catholics show that we are committed disciples of Christ in our actions and words. We need to be able to talk to people in our lives about their daily problems, share with them in their triumphs and tragedies, and give their hearts and minds our full attention when they are hurting just as we ask God to do for us when we are hurting. By treating our neighbors as we would treat ourselves, we give them a lesson in Catholic charity. We must also show our discipleship through our actions and not just words. It is by shouldering our crosses with courage and helping others shoulder their crosses with courage that faith is fortified, so let us share the gospel message with actions that show boldness of love, kindness of heart, and patience in reciprocity. The love of God is opened to others if they can see that love of God in our own bold words and deeds of love that have no string attached to them. People will not be led by a light that they can’t see in us.
Growing more discipleship is crucially important for our world and for the next one. There is no more important of a mission on earth than building up the kingdom of God. By creating more disciples, we foster a world that begins to model itself on the eternal love of Jesus Christ rather than on passing fads and temporal pleasures, and we open the door to eternal salvation for all human beings.