Monday, October 19, 2015

Why I Became a Roman Catholic Part III (Or How My Brother-in-Law was a Royal Pain in the Neck)

You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family. Remember the other family I kept referring to in parts I and II of my conversion story? One of the adult children? Well...back then he was my friend. Then he became my brother-in-law. At the time, I thought it was pretty cool. My friend married my wife's sister. We all spent lots of time together. It was a rather wonderful period of time. We transitioned together from the Episcopal Church to the traditional Anglican mission. Then they started having kids. LOTS of kids. I kept accusing them of being closet Catholics. They kept muttering things about letting God plan your family. His brother and father would chime in on how important it was for Christians to reclaim society by raising lots of faithful Christians. I'd already done my part with 4. Well...actually 5, though one was now unseen and beyond the veil with Jesus. But, hey. We were all happy Anglicans. Like any mission endeavor however, when the newness and novelty of a small parish wears off, the hard business of really living and building becomes difficult and even frustrating. My brother and sister-in-law were frustrated too. And, after a certain time, he decided that they just couldn't do it any longer, and so he consigned himself, his wife, and their little growing family, to the outer darkness of Christian exile. They wandered from church to church, burned out and in need of healing. How my wife and I wagged our heads at their decision. We tolerated their non-conformity as best we could. We soldiered on at the mission. Despite our pastor's valiant and best efforts, the mission began to unravel. But we would stay on to the bitter end.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law's family went through quite a disruptive and traumatic experience. Our beloved mission deacon, the patriarch of this wonderful family, died suddenly one day. It was the end of an era, and a huge hole was left in our little group. How we missed his wonderful Gospel readings on Sunday and his children's sermons for the little ones running around. Things were never quite the same. The older brother and sister in the family had already moved to the Phoenix area. The widowed matriarch soon joined them. And then they had the unrepentant nerve to all become Roman Catholics. What bad form. I exhorted my brother-in-law to keep to the Anglican side of the divide. He assured me this was so. His older brother was not so sure. "It has already been determined that you will swim the Tiber. It's only a matter of time." For a Roman Catholic, the older brother still sounded like a good Calvinist. My brother-in-law insisted that he would die a good Anglican. Strange, since he refused to attend the only real Anglican church in town. Of course, I reminded him of this often. But it was all for naught. you could see it coming like a looming thunderhead. My brother-in-law and his family Poped. They swam the Tiber. They became bloody papists. Mariolators. They embraced the Romish Whore of Babylon. Depressing...

And then in rapid succession, the mission shrank even more, and finally became unsustainable, and closed. But I was a good Anglican, and since the Episcopal Church was the only game left in town for me, I stayed with the Episcopal Church, while my wife, who had no desire to return to it, went to a small rural Lutheran Church near our home. It wasn't that we disagreed on much about our faith, but the circumstances dictated our compromise, and we were content to worship in different churches. It seemed reasonable at the time, but it was a bad idea that I knew, deep in my heart, wouldn't last.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law was now a brand new Roman Catholic. You know converts. They are zealous, enthusiastic, and every aspect of their new-found faith is like a bright shiny object. And boy are there a lot of bright shiny objects in the Catholic Church! And the conversations at family gatherings? I had to steel myself before getting together with him. Oh, he tried to restrain himself as best he could, but there were times when he just couldn't resist. "Never say never, Jay." "The Roman hound of heaven is just bidding his time with you." "I'm enlisting the saints in prayer for your conversion." The odd thing was, our theological perspectives weren't really that far apart: Gospel, sacraments, liturgy, the communion of saints, priests, bishops, psalms, social ethics, etc. It just kind of galled me that he jumped ship, and I was determined to prove him wrong by remaining on the Anglican side of the divide. Oh, I had all sorts of justifications about it all. Being salt and light in a church that needed me. I could fend off the temptation to assimilate. I "knew who I was." Such arrogance and presumption on my part. Sometimes self-deception is...well...deceptive...

And yet, I couldn't argue with the evidence before my eyes regarding my brother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and their little family. My wife and I watched them slowly begin to change. There was a transformation in their lives that was plainly the work of the Holy Spirit of God. Our admiration and respect increased little by little, as we witnessed this transformation. Their actions began to radiate love, compassion, mercy, patience, understanding, and real grace. There was an aroma of empathy and sympathy that permeated their words and actions. I began to envy them. Their shoulders were down and relaxed. There was real joy in their home. That joy seemed missing from my life. In the words of the diner patron in that famous scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally: "I'll have what they're having..." Still, I was resolved to never give my brother-in-law the satisfaction. How pride goeth before the fall of such misplaced resolve...


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