Regaining my Story What I Learned from Stanley Hauerwas; Or, Why I am admitting my Catholicism.
This is a conversion story.
Regaining my Story is what happened to me under the tutelage of my ORU professors. It is what happened under the guidance of the literary works of Karl Barth, and Stanley Hauerwas, it is what happened under the literary tutelage of Pope Benedict XVI and my profound and indelible reverence for Pope John Paul II.
So, how did I regain my story?
I believed in, and came to love the Church for what She is.
When I began my undergraduate career, I didn’t even believe in the Trinity. I flirted with the idea that Christ was merely the greatest moral example ever. I believed in Jesus, I wanted to trust Him, but over and over as I read and studied he taught me that my faith was not merely a private experience or a subjective response to a personal truth. Jesus kept pointing to the apostles, to the Church Fathers, to the martyrs and the saints, to the people who had given their life for the faith.
I stopped organizing my sense of time around myself or the Reformation, or anything else. I started living from within the cradle of the Church. I started imagining with her doctrines, interpreting scripture through the dogmas that she had proposed. First as a matter of inquiry, but then when I really understood the logic of them, it became a matter of joy.
The sacraments taught me how to read the gospels with a tutelage towards the importance of reality itself in God’s plan. However, I still had reservations. I still had disagreements. I thought to be Anglican, or Lutheran. However, over and over the source of the story was not these mere fragments of the Church, but the Roman and Byzantine congregations.
I kept looking to put myself deeper and deeper into the story. I wanted to think not just about the Transfiguration, but through it. I wanted to think with the Incarnation. I wanted to look through God and at everything else. I wanted my eyes to see the world in a different light. It finally clicked for me. I finally had my wish realized in part one day.
I suppose it all clicked when I learned to look at other humans through the Church, to realize that every person is in some sense made by, from and through Christ. When I saw the sacramental aspect of life, I was convinced something had to be done.
It was little things like this that fueled my quest. To keep searching was my intention. Sometimes I obsessed, as is my personality. But other times were full of the joy of discovery.
What happened eventually was that I recognized a nagging at the back of my mind. I claimed to be participating in the Christian story, I claimed to have the fullness of the story, but without the backdrop or the source, all it meant was a private Christianity for the educated. I was Catholic, but withholding my actual intentions from myself. What vanity!
I assumed that I could create an Evangelical Catholic Church, I wanted all the benefits with none of the flaws. I wanted the story, but without the most important players. I wanted the creeds, but divorced from their origin. I wanted a pristine and spotless church who would do as I asked and treat my whim as law, instead of wanting to submit to something larger than myself.
I learned that the Church did indeed submit to me, but only in the degree that I submitted to Her. She did not submit as an institution, but as Lover. She welcomed me, loving me firmly, and holding to the truth. Just as my girlfriend will not let me make mistakes, but has a sweet and welcoming demeanor of concern when I am about to make mistakes, so too the Church deferred as a mother/lover. I came to see her letting me continue in my errors, and arrogance, and recognized her patience. She has been so patient. So willing to wait for me. So full of responses to my every question, so ready to soothe my unstable heart.
I found my heart stabilized in God, but only through the Catholic Church and her sacraments, only in the mass and the liturgy of the hours could I find what I was looking for. I had been searching for a truly meaningful spirituality and religion, and I found a challenge and a beauty deeper than anything i could have imagined.
I had found the answer to the question Augustine poses in the first chapter of Confessions. “Who will help me find stability in you?” As I read more and more, the answer became clearer and clearer. The Church shall, for she knows the Way to Jesus Christ.
I came to recognize eventually, that all the disagreements I could raise or drop or whatever the case may be, were by approaching a system of thought, and a system of beliefs. It was not a matter of love. When I learned to love Christianity, I had to admit my Catholicism, both to myself and to others.
I had wanted to raise objections on matters of celibacy and pacifism, but I couldn’t muster the arguments anymore. Not because I was tired, I was full of vigor. I couldn’t raise the arguments because intellectual honesty told me that the story wasn’t finished and as a character I had to either agree or disagree with the source of that story. The story over and over was not my personal inclinations or wild and speculative ideas and opinions, but a unified story that had been told from the origins of the church and really goes back further than that to the Pentateuch and the whole history of Israel.
The most faithful Judaism I have ever found is not the reformed judaism, or ever the orthodox judaism practiced today, but Catholic Christianity. As a Jew by blood, I had a time when I was considering leaving Christianity for Judaism, and it seemed enticing. But the more I studied Catholic Christianity, the more I found that Jesus was one of the most Jewish men who ever lived, and that this Jewish Jesus and a very Jewish rabbi named Paul had handed down to Romans and Cilicians and Galatians and Ephesians and Greeks a very Jewish faith that had simply blossomed in Roman culture and been developed into something far more beautiful than i could ever disagree with.
This was a Church where my desire to be a pacifist would be respected, but would not be imposed as a universal law. (How Kantian I had been.) I had discovered that when it mattered the Church allowed for my desires to be truly saintly, but welcomed me not as the demi-god of a new interpretation of some old doctrines, but as the weak and impoverished child that I was, in need of a family.
Hauerwas taught me intellectual honesty, and when I looked for the source of the story, there stood Christ, the apostolic witness, and the Church Fathers. I couldn’t escape their gazing eyes. And though I desired a Church Pacifist, there was a good reason it wasn’t a reality. Though I desired a widespread married clergy, there was a reason for that too. Reading the bible as an encyclopedia of arguments could have let me mount arguments against these things, but that was dishonest. I had to read Jewish texts, with Jewish eyes, and sadly, but gladly come to a realization that I was not the final arbiter of truth.
Some of you know that I spent the last year of my life as a protestant youth/associate pastor. You have no idea how much i enjoyed it, but also, how relieved I am to be finally and fully done with that. I loved it, i loved my kids, but the thing I felt over and over, maybe because of the temporality and impermanence/lack of final authority of my position, I always felt like I was innovating the faith on the spot. Even with the entire Tradition behind me, I still felt pressed to engineer and manufacture answers and scenarios.
Faith isn’t a matter of educated guesses or taking not just cues, but direct dogmas from the world of business. Church is a matter of the theological and ethical development of a people according to a story, not a contract, nor a common associational bond.
The more this became clear to me, the less comfortable I became with attempting to innovate. Even though I had been on the cusp of confirmation before taking the job, I wanted to postpone and allow logic and reason to really have a bigger voice in my decision and make sure it wasn’t disillusionment taking over.
Once I learned these things and saw them clearly, the decision was inescapable.
I could no longer be a faithful protestant. I still had no idea what we were protesting anyways. Indulgences and Mary? There were easy explanations for those things. It was a matter of tradition and bullshit. Simply put. Most protestants I know who are thinkers, love aspects of the Church, but have to reject her based on a few arguments here and there that they contrive to fortify and give backbone to their bias against faith. This is not all protestants i know, mind you, but more than half.
I looked for the ecumenical movement, and the bastion of the ecumenical movement, the pillar holding all other churches within Her loving embrace is the Roman Catholic Congregation. Protestant evangelicalism was a great idea, a great force once upon a time, and I am indebted to it, both historically and personally. However, it has quickly degenerated, and the infighting, squabbles and outright wars over matters that should be dogmatically answered makes me severely troubled.
The lack of unity disturbs me. That even when there were disagreements the churches still stuck together and had common correspondence and goals strikes me as important. That they eventually coalesced under a local bishop with universal responsibility seems not a matter of diverging from the apostolic path, but a matter of honesty about it. The security the papacy grants the church is crucial. One Church, one leader. Councils still exist and are how the church makes final decision, and the pope when defining ex cathedra still takes time and effort and develops apostolic statements in communion with advisors and the college of cardinals and other bishops and canon lawyers, ensuring that everything that is newly stated coheres with everything that has come before. This is intellectual and historical honesty, far better than a church that plays video games for worship and basically affirms the culture I live in.
Hauerwas taught me to live on the Church’s time, and in her story, and given these demands I could not do otherwise. I might have places where I do not understand the Church or her ideals, but that will not keep me from entering communion with the Bishop of Rome faithfully. This Church faithfully embodies and continues telling the Christian story. This congregation embodies the entire historical continuity . Hauerwas, for all his oddity taught me to love the Church, for all his beloved hyperbole and arrogance taught me humility, and for all his esoteric and Anabaptist flavored Protestantism taught me to be Catholic.
I have come to love the mass, but it was very foreign to me. I had no idea Christianity could ever be so fulfilling precisely when it wasn’t all about me. I just get the feeling that some friends of mine who will not understand my decision will assume I have committed intellectual suicide with this decision, but I disagree. I have found that cohering with an intellectual tradition is not suicide but the greatest of challenges to do faithfully while retaining a truly creative and thoughtful mind that is not robotically parroting others.
What I tire of is people who desire the Christian story but reject its source as a matter of principle or a matter of some extrapolation of conscience based on a few arguments. If you desire the story, as when you desire a lover, you accept both fault and virtue, beauty and flaws.
Love the Church, or reject her, but do not assume the pretension that you can love her while standing aloof from where you notice flaws. Either you truly love the church and where you think she has failed you, or you do not. There is no middle ground. I have learned to love the Church, and thus i accept her, even where I do not understand. And through this love, i have regained my story.