Many of us have been Catholic all our lives. We don’t question our faith. But we also may not be able to articulate why we are Catholic. I wondered about why others choose to become Catholic, what do they see and appreciate that perhaps we miss. And so I asked a fellow seminarian, Michael Goodwin, who is studying for the Diocese of Grand Rapids, MI. He became a Catholic as an adult. Here is a major part of his response.
What lead you to become Catholic?
I grew up in a home that encouraged me to have faith in God through seeking a relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ. I came to the faith in Christ through a small evangelical bible church on the east coast of Long Island, NY.
I did not grow up with a hostile view of the Catholic Church. I primarily grew up with no view of it. I did have a few Catholic friends growing up as a child and teenager but they never spoke of their beliefs and they never invited me to Church. So most of my life was built off shallow assumptions about the Catholic faith.
A lot was happening as I reached the end of college… I developed a growing desire to serve God in some kind of ministry role and learned that there was a need in the army for Chaplains. Upon finishing college, I applied and was accepted into the Army Chaplain Officer training program and was also accepted at an evangelical seminary in Grand Rapids, MI. I spent the next few years learning how to serve in a local Baptist Church as an intern under the head Pastor. It was a very busy time with hours full of study, work, and ministry experiences. Many of these experiences were very positive. I grew to enjoy serving in the local Church and made many friends at the Church.
My seminary experience was a little more mixed. While I did enjoy some of the classes I was taking, I began to get a sense that there was something deeply missing. The seminary was set up as more of a commuter school. The students did not reside together, pray together or worship together. All this was to occur mainly in the local Churches we were connected to. I began experience a period of prolonged dryness in my spiritual life.
The lack of community life at the seminary communicated a disconnect between what we were learning and how we were to serve as a pastor. In addition, there were a lack of courses offered in Church history that raised a suspicion as to where our beliefs and doctrines were being derived from. The concerns I had grown as I began to take theology courses and key doctrines and beliefs of the Church were communicated as something comprised diverse interpretations and multiple choice options. Doctrines such as the canon of Scripture, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and salvation were presented as having a variety of interpretations and options. This did not sit well with me. I thought that if Jesus began a Church and he also gave us his Word, then he would not have left the Church to come to a myriad of doctrinal interpretations often in contradiction to each other. For such a high place the Bible was given in the seminary, I could not find anywhere in the Bible where this approach was taken to the beliefs of the first Christians.
I graduated seminary and I entered the final phase of my Chaplain training with the Army. Throughout my Army training I encountered many different protestant worship communities at the bases I was sent. Seeing the wildly diverse approaches to Christian belief and worship in these settings, I became even more unsettled.
I do not consider it only a coincidence that during this growing turmoil that I was surprisingly invited by a fellow student at the Chaplain school to Catholic Mass. In a class of around 250 students he was only 1 of 3 Catholic seminarians training for the Chaplain ministry at the base we were assigned. The fact that our paths even crossed can also not be seen as a mere coincidence. We were not assigned to the same platoon on the base. The only way we happened to meet each other was a student in our platoon invited both him and I to a BBQ with other students. A discussion arose during the BBQ about the history of Christian faith and worship. This was the first time I had heard a Catholic be a part of a discussion of this kind. I became more and more impressed by his candor and the quality of his comments.
I quickly noticed that while Christians from other denominations would rarely support their beliefs with the bible or with history, it was the Catholic who continued to appeal to both. He gave Scripture reference and historical reference for everything he said and he encouraged me to go back to the original historical and biblical references and to read them on my own.
I trace my conversion to the Catholic faith on two factors. First was the robust and substantive discussions that I had with this Catholic seminarian and second was the experience I had at the Mass that he invited me to on base. What I noticed for the first time in my life was the harmony that existed between the worship of God in the Catholic mass and the beliefs that were presented in these discussions.
I entered the Catholic Church at Easter 2011 after learning about the Catholic faith in the RCIA program at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Grand Rapids, MI. I am so grateful that God lead me to the Catholic faith at just the right time in my life. I believe it was a gracious act of God that he invited me into the Church that Jesus established on the Apostles at the moment of my life when I was most open to hear the truth. I continue to pray for family and friends who have not yet encountered the fullness and beauty of the Catholic faith in their lives.
Questions to ask ourselves:
• Michael stressed how important it was to him to have substantive discussions with others on Catholicism and our faith. Do you engage in conversations with others about your faith?
• Michael also stressed how important it was to be invited to Mass. Are there people in your life who you could invite to accompany you to Mass? Have you ever invited someone to Mass?