It’s a common experience that the “newness” of a thing will wear off after a few months or years. A new car or a new house – a new job, even a marriage – eventually settles into a routine and is no longer exciting. For me, there has been an exception to this. Six years ago, I was received into the Roman Catholic Church after a lifetime of Christianity in another fellowship. The newness of Catholicism has not worn off. If anything, it’s more exciting than ever. How can that be?
This has relevance to anyone who is considering conversion. Many people have questions about whether a Christian conversion will wear off over time, will become old and sort of worn before it is discarded for the next new thing. Maybe my experience will be encouraging.
Here are some things I’m pretty sure do not explain it
I’m not still excited about my Catholic faith because it’s a new experience to be a Christian. I have served Jesus as well as I knew how for almost my entire adult life. Ups and downs happened like most other things. At one point, I betrayed the Lord big time, but with his help and the help of a wonderful brother in Christ, I recovered.
It’s not my personality. I’m one of those people who get tired of a thing fairly quickly. So my Catholic faith doesn’t continue to be new simply because that’s the sort of person I am.
It’s not because I have found some wonderful new ministry within the Church that excites and challenges me. In my old fellowship I taught Bible classes constantly, preached every once in a while, conducted weddings and funerals. In some contexts, I had influence and respect. By contrast, as a Catholic layman I have not been able to do what I once did. My personal ministry has even sometimes seemed insignificant compared to what I once did. So that’s not it.
Nor is it the richness of Catholic fellowship. To be sure, I have made wonderful friends in the Catholic Church, including clergy and religious. Yet, the person-to-person involvement, the combined faith and social fellowship I loved in my old church is something I wish I could see more of in my parish.
Nor is it because my six years as a Catholic have just been one joyful high after another. The Cleveland Diocese where I serve has seen its share of trouble in the last few years. 50 parishes have been closed. I was an active member of the lay group selected to make difficult recommendations regarding five parishes in our area. Our recommendations were not taken initially – we appealed to the Bishop and he changed his mind after tons of work and angst. So I have been part of the hard side of a diocese in a Rust Belt city, and I don’t have illusions of Catholicism as butterflies and chubby cherubs and sweet little statues of Mary in a flowerbed.
It’s just a guess, but here’s what I suspect keeps my Catholic faith new
I suspect it is because of the Catholic Church herself. Not simply what she proposes for belief, nor the beauty of her liturgy, but rather the Church itself. If my suspicion is correct, then two traits of the Church keep things new.
The Church has power. The authority Jesus gave first to Peter, then later to the apostles, continues to subsist in the successors to these men. The initial and explicit instances of granting power are the ability to forgive sins and the power to bind and loose — the so-called power of the keys.
So I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18,19
[Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:21-23
Very quickly, as the Church matured and came to an understanding of her role as the Body of Christ, other powers were exercised. It is given to the Church to receive and proclaim and protect God’s truth with divine assistance and without error. (John 16: 8-15, esp. verse 13 also I Timothy 3:15 ) This power guarantees the Church can assist me to grow authentically into the fullness of Christ. This power allows me to rely on her to give me guidance and relieves me of the danger of every-man-for-himself determination of what the Bible means, of what the will of God is.
The Church has power to survive. When Jesus gave Peter the power to forgive and bind and loose in Matthew 16, he also spoke of founding the Church and said the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against her. Now I know a bit about the history of the Catholic Church, a history that is often inspiring, but sometimes is shameful and anything but godly. Yet, God has stood by this promise to the Church that she will survive. No institution in history has lived as long as the Church. No other has survived what would have killed a merely human institution as has the Catholic Church. No other has combined the preservation of what is unchangeable with the sort of growth and development which prove she is alive.
And that brings up my second suspicion as to why my Catholic faith remains new.
The Church has life and gives life. This came as a shock to me. I think it took a couple of years to realize that, yes, the Church is all the individual Christians taken as a group (which is all I had previously believed the church to be), but at the same time she is also more than that. She really is the mystical Body of Christ, possessed of the life of Christ and able to give that life to me. She is a living organic whole possessing and dispensing life as the Church.
In a way, this possession of life and giving of life explains the familiar description of the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of the life of the Church. In John 6, Jesus says unless a person eats his body and drinks his blood, that person does not have life in him. It’s in verse 53 here. This life belongs to the Church as the Body of Christ. By virtue of her priesthood and her inheritance in the apostles and her intimate, lively relation to her Head, the Church offers me life. The source of everything good, everything lively in the Church, is this nourishment in the Eucharist rooted in Jesus that literally continues without end across the world and across time. And the summit of all the power and life of the Church is this same communion in the body and blood and Jesus.
I receive this life at Mass. It never gets old or loses its power to energize and quicken. It never fails to amaze me, and puzzle me, for that matter – it seems too good to possibly be true, yet there it is. The 2,000-year history of the Church and her teaching assure me I eat the Body of Christ in the Sacrament. I am assured the life I receive is linked to the liturgy in heaven, is precisely the gift that Jesus said he gave for the life of the world, and is precisely the sacrifice of Calvary given in a new way.
Never has the Savior been so immediate, so available and intimate, as he is now. The life received in the Eucharist spills over into prayer that draws me, into liturgy that transcends my ordinary circumstances and then seems almost to haunt my mind between the times at Mass. This life seems even to chip away at my weakness and sin, gradually and gently coaxing me more fully to obey God, like medicine for what separates me from God and man.
And it all stays new.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. II Corinthians 5:17