So how did I go from being an evangelical-leaning Methodist to a Roman Catholic?
Sounds like it could be a dramatic story. However, the reality is that it happened so gradually, it´s taken me some time to figure out when it began.
Then again, when I think back, it started at my best friend´s First Communion. Now, at this point, I was nine years old and we had only been Methodist for a year anyway. However, even by then I knew that when we went up for communion, we were simply remembering Jesus and the Last Supper. Even at that point, I was aware that it was a purely symbolic ceremony–at least in my church.
So when we went to Sara´s First Communion, my mom quickly explained why communion was a bigger, fatter, hairier deal at Sara´s church than at mine. “They believe that it really is Jesus´s body and blood.” Ohhhh . . .
My next conscious thought was, “well, who am I to tell God what He wants to do?”
While that thought didn´t hugely impact me for quite awhile, I´ve never been one of those people to get my knickers in knot about how we interpret things. (Or I hope I haven´t been.) To me, it seems that most of our Christian denominational differences revolve around whether we believe the Bible asks us to take things literally or symbolically. And most of us have an odd assortment of beliefs we interpret to be taken literally versus those “suggestions” where we think Jesus was talking figureatively.
When in conflict with those of differing opinion, I fully realize that I could be wrong, or those in the opposing camp could be wrong. Or maybe we´re both right, somehow. What I imagine God doing most of the time, when we´re in conflict over these issues, is that He´s shaking His head while he hand-smacks his forehead. “Man–you´ve BOTH got it wrong!” (Or, as Jesus says a number of times, “How long must I put up with you people?”)
So I continued on my way, symbolically consuming Jesus´s body once every few months. Because that´s what we did.
Then I went to Valparaiso University. A Lutheran University. Another day, I´ll explore my reaction to hard-core liturgy. Knowing that Lutherans were some of the original Protestants, I was quite comfortable taking communion there, assuming that they were also on the symbolic side of the communion aisle. After all, wasn´t the denial of transubstantiation one of the core philosophies of the Reformation? (My understanding of this is still pretty shady, so any Lutheran scholars are welcome to enlighten me in the comments section.)
Anyway, I merrily communed at the Lutheran church for over a year, when, one Sunday the new University Pastor held up the wafer, right before giving it to me, and said, “this IS the body of Christ”.
I had a split-second to think, “wait–what?” before I had to react. With that emphasis on the IS, my long-cherished belief that all Protestants communed in purely symbolic terms got severely rocked. Since I no longer knew exactly what the pastor was giving me, I just prayed quickly, “Dear God, you know what this is and how you want me to receive you. May I just be in line with whatever you would have me believe.” (Or something along those lines.) And then I took it.
And all of a sudden, I understood a bit better why the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church insists on closed communion–a practice I had rallied against as long as I had known about it. But since, at that moment, I wasn´t sure what exactly I was doing, I realized that that is precisely WHY they only want their initiated church members to participate in communion–so all those who participate know exactly what they´re doing.
(Beyond that, I still think that closed communion is against the overall message of the gospel, and it does make me sad that my current church insists on closed communion, too. Thanks to this experience, I now understand the reasons behind it, but I still think it´s an overall damaging practice.)
Finally, about 8 years after that memorable communion, (and a year after I became Catholic) I was at my friend´s wedding. She and her husband had just graduated from Lutheran seminary, so many of their seminary friends were in attendance, and FINALLY explained what Lutherans believe about communion. “Jesus is present in the bread and wine, but he´s about the elements. He´s over them, under them, around them . . . ” basically just hovering around.
My first thought was, “hang on a tic–I could have been Lutheran!”
Immediately after, my next though was, “Really? You´re pretty much saying that he is physically present in the bread and wine, except we´re just not taking that last step to say that He IS the bread and wine.” Or, to use football terminology, they go about nine yards, and just stop short of the full ten to say that this IS Jesus´s body and blood.
Thanks to my revelation at Sara´s First Communion, I was pretty easily able to read John chapter 6, and say, “hang on–He WAS being literal!” Jesus lost a lot of followers after telling them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. As weird as that sounds to us, it was a much worse thought to the Jews of Jesus´s day. But he didn´t run after all those followers who deserted him, saying, “Wait a minute! I was talking symbolically!”
Of course, there were many instances where He was talking symbolically and didn´t clarify that, either, so if someone reading this remains unconvinced, I completely understand.
I was just able to incorporate Jesus being fully present in the bread and wine easier, as I decided at the ripe, old age of nine, “well–who am I to tell God what He wants to be?”
Are others wrong? Not necessarily. Am I right? Not necessarily. But that´s my story, up to this point. And if I am wrong, I trust that God will let me know.
Since so many of us are so very divided on this issue, I´m guessing that we´re all a bit wrong and all a bit right. But someday, God will let us all see clearly.