My reversion story isn’t fantastic in any sense, but I think it will be interesting to the Fundamentalist because it involves the Apocalyptic, which is usually a big fascination with Fundamentalists. The first part of my story involves how I came to discover my dependence on God and my sense of worth and purpose that follows from that. It discusses my initial upbringing, a brief fear-of-Hell episode, a stint with the apocalyptic, my confirmation, my developing problem of finding self-worth, and after desperation finding it through my Heavenly Father. The second part of my story involves my re-infatuation with the apocalyptic, a short but terrifying lapse into Protestantism, and finally my return to the Catholic Church.
I was born in 1969. In the initial stages of my life, I was not brought up with any organized religion. My mother was then a non-Church-going Catholic and my father was something like a Deist. Nevertheless, I still believed in God from as long as I can remember. I used to listen in on some of the talks my mother would have with her friends or relatives about spiritual experiences or phenomenon like talk of guardian angels and the like, and I always thought it was really neat.
My parents divorced when I was about 7, I went with my mother, and about a year later she remarried a practicing Catholic. Thereupon, under the direction of my mom and new stepfather, I was brought into the Catholic Church on Easter Vigil, and along with my new stepsister, we became a practicing Catholic family (in a very limited sense: go to Church on Sunday and say grace before meals. That was about it). In the preparation for my entrance into the Church, I was privately catechized by a nice young nun. So far as I can recollect, I must have believed everything I learned from her.
A while later, when I was in the fourth grade, I can recall having gotten very religious. I can’t really recall how this happened. Perhaps part of it was from the good influence of my teacher at the time who was a very nice, sincere, devout Protestant woman, and part, too, may have been the fact that I had taken to reading about my faith. But there was a climax to this episode where I acquired a great fear that I was going to go to Hell. I am sure that this partly stemmed from a sudden realization of the insurmountable importance of my eternal destiny coupled with little or no knowledge of basic theological principles. My parents eventually persuaded me that as long as I was a “normal” person like everybody else, I had nothing to worry about. They told me that only INCREDIBLY BAD people like terrible criminals or tyrannical tyrants go to Hell. And so I accepted this I think because it seemed reasonable and also because it was in essence relieving. Having accepted this sincere but gravely-wrong theology, I would for the most part go unconcerned about salvation issues until after college (part II).
I should briefly discuss my initial stint with the apocalyptic since it is relevant to part II of my story. When I was in the seventh grade, my aunt loaned me a book by a Fundamentalist named Hal Lindsay entitled, The Late Great Planet Earth. This book introduced me to such concepts as the EEC being the revival of the beast of Daniel and Revelation, the Rapture of the Christians before the Great Tribulation of 7 years, Russia being the Gog and Magog of Ezekiel, chiliasm (the belief in a literal thousand year reign of Christ on earth [Rev 20]), that the world was going to end by say around the late ‘80s and similar Fundamentalist absurdities. However, they were not at all absurd to me, an incredibly intelligent yet incredibly gullible early adolescent. I found it astoundingly fascinating that the Bible could predict the rise of empires and end-of-the-world events hundreds or even thousands of years before they would happen with such amazing detail.
I can remember that summer standing in line at a beach with my John 3:16–grandfather arguing Lindsay’s case for the fact that current scholarship would place the peoples of Gog and Magog mentioned in Ezekiel around modern-day Russia and that hence Russia’s alleged imminent invasion of Israel (gathered after the “last days”) was going to fulfill this Biblical passage. My grandfather would have none of it. For him, Lindsay was a con-artist playing off gullible people for money. For my grandfather, the only thing that mattered was believing in Jesus, as the famed verse says, which gives one an absolute assurance of salvation.
Anyway, when God’s Word Today came in the mail with a picture of a Lamb on the front and the title “The Book of Revelation”, I thought, oh cool! Let’s see what the Catholic Church has to say! I got ticked! First it starts right off bashing (without naming names, it was clear they were referring to Lindsay) the Fundamentalist time-table interpretation. They indicated the real story of the Book, while being in a sense prophetic, was symbolically depicting the early Christian struggle with the horrible persecution of pagan Rome. Next they say that Scripture must be read in the community of the Church and not taken aside privately. I didn’t know it then, but for the most part they were right. I didn’t accept it, though, because it took all the fun and interestingness out of it! It seemed they were saying the Bible couldn’t predict the future, and their reasoning seemed like a cop-out to me – a watered-down dismissal of it all.
I wore my paperback version of The New American Bible to pieces, at least Daniel and Revelation anyway, trying to get all the details of the end of the world worked out. I never did, of course, and out of frustration with the whole thing, I think I just grudgingly gave up and accepted the Catholic position -- or at least the God’s Word position -- and put the whole thing on the shelf. But this would resurface later in part II of my story, which is after college.
I need to briefly discuss my spiritual state during confirmation and the ensuing high school years, since it is relevant to this part I. When I was going through confirmation classes, as far as I can recall, I did pay attention and was eager to learn. I sincerely did want to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I did all my service required and answered the 100 questions (I turned out to be the only one who even came close to finishing them. The instructor was very angry with the rest of the students. But of course, I was always the nerd: one must do ALL the homework, every bit of it! I thought that the answers in the back of math books were from God or something – that they’re never mistaken. It once took me two days and pages upon pages of calculus derivations to discover that my teacher had slightly miscopied a formula when teaching on the board.)
And when I received confirmation, I really believed I was receiving the Holy Spirit. And the sermon that the bishop gave inspired me. He told the story of how when he was young, there was “the pit.” The “pit”, he explained, was some obscure place out in the country where all the teenagers would gather to get drunk and so forth. Everybody will be there, his friends had said to him. So the bishop told how he was finally persuaded to go to the “pit,” and when he got there, he admitted to us that a lot of people were there. But he emphasized this: “But not everybody was there.” This made a lasting impression on me. From that day forward, I did not drink. (with one single exception, but it was only one beer.) I decided that I would not do what everybody else did. I would do what was right. Consequently, I would not be the typical drunken, fornicating teenager. I was for the most part moral with regard to these capital sins. However, and this is a big however, I was not close to God. There was a growing problem in my life – a problem whose solution would bring me to the Lord.
The problem was my discovery of the word “nerd” and that, in the world’s eyes, I was one. I was fully devoted to my studies, I was very skinny, and I wasn’t a jock. So I guess that made me a nerd, or so I thought. When I discovered that it wasn’t cool -- at least among young people -- to be totally intellectual with nothing else going for you (like sports, stoner things, etc.), I began to develop an embarrassment of my intellectual gifts, even though I still remained totally loyal to my studies. I was kind of at a double standard: I was acing all the tests, setting all the curves, known all around as one of the smartest, but on the other hand, I would say deriding and obscene things about my teachers, I would join in the jeering of the drama crowd, and the like.
I suppose that I was able to do these things because I had a secret “cool” trait that virtually no one knew about: I could play guitar. I had always loved music, and had started playing a little acoustic when I was only eight. When about ten, I got an electric. I loved Rock and Roll like Boston, AC/DC, April Wine, and then… Van Halen. By the time of mid high school, I had gotten exceptionally good. My hero was far from Jesus, it was Eddie Van Halen, and I could by that time do a pretty good impression of him, yet hardly no one in school knew, save a few friends. I once told my uncle that I was going to be the world’s first “nuclear physicist/heavy metal guitar hero.” I figured that, as Fr. John Corapi would put it, if I someday became a great guitar player with tons of women, I’d finally “be somebody.”
But the problem was, there was a growing sense in me that I wasn’t somebody. Much of it was the great amount of teasing that I had endured in the past from being the new kid at school and not being one of the cool ones. Every now and then, I would think, maybe I really am a loser, as the kids who teased me thought. There was also the pressure from my stepfather. He was working class, and –not that this is necessarily the working class philosophy -- his philosophy was that a male person should be physically strong or else he wasn’t a “real man.” He once commented, “Tommy [my little half-brother] will be more of a man than Scott will ever be.” Statements like that, even though said while in anger and not truly meant, only served to hasten my fears that I wouldn’t grow up to be a “real man.” That I was going to be just like my biological father, who was skinny like me, and whom my stepfather encouraged me to deride since he wasn’t physically strong. I would ultimately have to face these fears in college.
Studying mathematics at the great Michigan State University, I was incredibly successful: as a junior, I was awarded as the top student in mathematics for my entire MSU class. Nevertheless, at that time I was suicidal and depressed. During those school years, I was obliged to work at the warehouse my stepfather worked at to pay for school and the like. Well, having grown up playing guitar and studying, I had not worked out much. Hence, I was not well suited to the work. Through the slow progression of time at the warehouse, my back got worse and worse, and I became the object of ridicule at work (behind my back). It finally got to the point where I got hurt and had to admit I really couldn’t handle the work. I had failed, in essence. I wasn’t a “real man.” Slowly through this process of decline, I had gone into despair of my worth as a person. I was not a “real man.” I was a loser as the guys at the warehouse thought. Even despite the great mind that God had given me, I was a failure.
It finally got to the point where I actually tried to take my life, but I didn’t come anywhere close to it since I was too much of a wimp to go through with it. But in that attempt, tears were just streaming down my face because of the worthlessness I felt about myself. But what stopped my attempt was the thought of what it would do to my mother, to my father, to my sisters and brothers, how it would hurt them. Even though I felt like a loser, I couldn’t bring that on them. This suicide attempt occurred when I was visiting my biological father in Colorado on summer vacation. He knew nothing of this. And neither did my parents.
When I returned from the vacation, my mom and stepdad and family took us all out to eat as a sort of nominal celebration that I was back. In that experience, I felt very strangely sad, strangely lost.
In the time following this, I had to turn to the only Person left Who could resolve the issue, in fact, the only Person who ultimately matters to us in this whole universe: God. I had to just fall before the Lord and cry out for some purpose to relieve my emptiness. It didn’t really occur in some instant “born-again” event as with a well-meaning Fundamentalist, but I slowly began to think about how Jesus had not only referred to God the Father as His Father but also our Father. This made me think: if God is my Father, then I should turn to Him as any child would to his own biological father. A good father is someone who takes care of you, supports you, helps you, loves you. For the first time since my early childhood, I could see that God was just like that and that I needed to turn to Him in that way. This finally filled the void of emptiness that was inside me in a wonderful way.
Subsequently, the Heavenly Father was somehow also able to show me that my approach to self-worth had been all wrong. I was going at it from a subjective way: I’m worth something if I’m strong, or if I play guitar. Wrong! I’m worth something period! In fact, I’m not just something, I’m a someone. And I’m not just someone, but a creature with an eternal destiny! Everyone is infinitely precious! There are no losers. There are people with different gifts and talents, but no losers. When God made everything, He said it was good. No mention of losers (except of course for the devil and the people in Hell, those are the real losers).
So I was finally able to find my true worth as a human being and the unspeakable Love that is our God. I could see that although I wasn’t cut out for working class life, I was not a loser. God had called me to use the wonderful mind He had given me and embrace it as His marvelous gift and not be ashamed of it, as the world would have it. This was a major turning point in my life. And it closes part I.
One night, some time after college, I was watching EWTN, and a priest came on who was interpreting Daniel like a Fundamentalist. This was puzzling to me, so I got out my NAB; the footnote explanations in it did not agree with what the priest was saying. This made me think then that perhaps a Catholic might be able to interpret the apocalyptic in a more fundamental fashion than I had previously thought. This resurrected my earlier infatuation with the apocalyptic, which I had left behind several years ago. So I began to become obsessed with the apocalyptic and started researching various viewpoints about it, even the Protestant views. Well, to make a long story short, I became so engrossed in it--and with the Protestant influences--I went way too far and ended up distrusting the Catholic Church entirely.
It wasn’t long after this that my earlier fear of going to Hell reemerged, or more specifically, I thought, “Forget about the apocalyptic. What must I do to be saved?” Distrusting the Church, I could only use the Bible to find out. This was very scary because the Bible does not spell things out ABC... like a catechism. And also, “How do I interpret it?” (also very scary). I had acquired a very scrupulous conscience to the point that I was beginning to think like a Waldense. Considering what Jesus said to the rich young man, and to the apostles, I was thinking that in order to be saved, I might have to sell everything I own (literally) and become a wandering homeless preacher. I respect my Protestant brothers and sisters very much, and I mean no disrespect to them here, but I am sure that many a Protestant would say to me something like, “Why, you were being ridiculous! All you have to do is accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.” The problem for me then was that Scripture was too big and scary for me to just accept such a simple solution to the terror of having the whole of my destiny on my shoulders, having ultimately to decide for myself what Scripture means and what I must do for salvation. For how could I know for sure that there was a quick fix until I had read all of Scripture? This was quite a frightening experience, but it would end up indirectly leading me home to Rome…
While reading the Bible to figure out, “What must I do to be saved?”, I was still investigating the Apocalyptic. I was researching the book of Daniel, which is the cause of a battle between Fundamentalists and rationalists. Rationalists do not believe in miracles, so since Daniel contains prophecy of future events, they must argue that it is late dated, i.e. written after the events it supposedly prophecies about. I acquired a book by an Anglican scholar by the name of Edward Pusey, who wrote a defense against the attacks of the rationalists. One of the arguments he used regarded the canon of Scripture. The canon refers to the official list of the contents of the Bible. Pusey tried to argue when the canon of the Old Testament was settled.
When I stumbled across the subject of the canon, after a little study, it through me for a loop. I thought, “Wait a minute! I’ve been just assuming all along that I can take the Bible as a rule of faith. But I’ve never even stopped to think about where it came from and how I can know its contents to be true.” I suddenly realized that the Bible did not just fall from the sky, whole and intact. It wasn’t like there was this wise old man praying on a mountaintop, and suddenly a hand reached down from Heaven handing him a Book, and a thunderous Voice saying, “HERE IS THE BIBLE. TAKE IT, READ IT, AND DISTRIBUTE IT TO THE WHOLE WORLD!” No, I discovered that it was actually men who decided which books go into the Bible and which one’s don’t. Regarding this, an immediate question came to my mind: what sort of man or group of men could make such decisions? After careful thought, I concluded that any logical answer would be that these men would in some sense have to be guided by the Holy Spirit in an infallible manner because by their very decision, they are determining what books are infallible. And if they are determining which of the writings inerrantly communicate God’s truth, would they not in some sense have to know and understand what that truth is?
Pusey’s suggestion of the Old Testament seemed reasonable, at least in theory, for he maintained that it was the Old Testament prophets themselves who canonized the Old Testament. This seemed to make sense, for certainly the prophets were enlightened about the truths of God, in as much as they preached the Word of God themselves, doing so under the active guidance of the Holy Spirit. However, whether or not this was the case with the Old Testament, I still had to ask, who canonized the New Testament?
The Protestant maintains that the only men who were infallible in the New Covenant were Jesus and the apostles, but what I discovered is that neither Jesus nor any of the apostles settled the canon. Who did? The bishops of the Catholic Church! (and not until the fourth and fifth centuries, and later dogmatically in the fifteenth century). And they not only established the New Testament canon but also the Old. In fact, during the New Testament times, I have since learned that there was not a consensus amongst the Jews as to the canon of the Old Testament. One sect believed only in the Torah. Another sect believed not only in the Torah, but also the psalms and prophets, but only such books in Hebrew, and still another accepted the additional books found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation used by the Alexandrian Jews). And at the time the New Testament canon was being decided, there were disputes as well.
The implications for me were that since men have disagreed as to what is Scripture, and since Scripture doesn’t canonize itself (nothing close to an internal canon ), there must be an authority outside of Sacred Scripture , and if that authority is able to discern what is Scripture, it must necessarily understand it as well. And from history, we see that, at least for Christians, the most qualified candidate for that is the Catholic Church, since it was that very Church’s tradition that was used to settle the very same canon.
And so, I was able to return to where I had started, although when I came back, I had much more than when I had left. And what more indeed! I really can’t express the beautiful feeling of really knowing the truth and having such a marvelous purpose in life and an incredible Church – with her majestic Sacraments, great and beautiful rigorous theology, incredible examples of holiness in the saints – to feed me for that journey.
While coming home to the Catholic faith has given me marvelous benefits, it has also brought some difficulties. I am distanced from my family. This has placed more stress on my relationship with them; it is something I still need to pray for more.
On the other hand, I have since been able to find a kind of new “family” in the friends in the faith that I have made. Specifically, not long after my reversion, I returned to college to go to graduate school and got involved in many Catholic and Christian fellowships. Through these groups, I have been able to make many close friends who share the same love of Jesus and His Church that I have. And I cannot forget the most important friend I have made through that, my wife, Linda, who is a devout Catholic. Her love and humor and joy in Jesus and Mary lifts me up and nourishes me.
Now I thank the Lord Jesus with all my heart for the sense of purpose I have, knowing that God loves me and helps me with His grace, and at the same time that I have the One Sacred and Holy Church to guide me to understand that life of grace that I desire to live for now and, hopefully, all eternity.