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“Ask a Priest: I Feel Drawn Back to the Church, But … “
Q: I was “raised” Catholic, but in an (abusive) apostate household that did not allow me to become a proper Catholic. In 2006 I became a born-again Christian of the Assemblies of God denomination. I am mostly content as such. I am also married with two children. I sometimes contemplate conversion to Catholicism. However, I have a hard time understanding some doctrines. I have a hard time reconciling my experiences, when I was growing up, of being ostracized on account of my divorced parents. I also do not want to cause my children confusion or disrespect my husband. I also do not understand things like purgatory (Protestants don’t believe in it), the rosary, or Mariology (most Protestants respect Mary, however, they do not believe in “extra-biblical” accounts of her life). Infant “baptism” and the Eucharist also are viewed differently in Protestantism. Please give me some advice and how I might proceed. – J.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A:I am sorry to hear about your experience of having grown up in an abusive household. Especially lamentable is that you felt ostracized as a young person because of the divorce.
Yet, it seems as though the Holy Spirit is working in your heart now — and possibly leading you back to the Catholic Church.
In fact, because of your Catholic baptism you are still cherished as a beloved daughter of the Church. Hence, your return to the faith wouldn’t be a conversion to Catholicism, strictly speaking. You would simply be returning to the practice of the Catholic faith.
It is understandable that you didn’t mature well in the Catholic faith, given the troubled household. This is very sad, because ultimately the Catholic faith is about our relationship with Jesus, and no one should get in the way of our union with him.
Your living of the Catholic faith would not by nature cause disrespect toward a spouse. And because the Church guards the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ, it is meant to bring people, children included, into the fullness of the truth. At any rate your children would ultimately make their own decision about which faith to embrace.
True, there are some Catholic teachings that might be hard to accept. The faith is deep, and the connections between various points of Catholicism take time to detect and assimilate. But if you go deep enough, you will see how unified and coherent Church teachings are.
This unite and coherence is what enables the Church to publish its major teachings in a single-volume Catechism. That Catechism, one of the masterworks of modernity, also helps highlight the connection between what the Church teaches today and what was taught in antiquity.
As for specific topics such as purgatory, the rosary, Mariology, infant baptism and the Eucharist, there are reasonable explanations.
Purgatory is simply a place or a state that souls go through who die with unforgiven venial sin or with a debt of temporal punishment still owed on account of sin. A soul in mortal sin at death goes to hell, period. A soul with no sin and no temporal punishment left to pay, goes to heaven. There are probably few are in the latter category. Most of us who die without mortal sin are not perfect. We still need to be purified. Only pure souls can enter heaven.
Think of this way: When friend or loved ones die, we naturally pray for their soul, right? Now, if there is no purgatory, what purpose would our prayers serve? If their souls are in heaven, they doesn’t need our prayers. If they are in hell, our prayers won’t go them any good. But if they are in purgatory, then our prayers can help their souls get to heaven faster. For more reading on purgatory, you may find this article at Catholic Answers helpful.
As regards the rosary and Mariology: Mary certainly plays a big part in the life of Christ in Scripture. She is there at the annunciation, at his birth, at his finding in the temple, at his first miracle at Cana, at his death, and then she is there at Pentecost. This alone hints that she has a big part in the life of Jesus and of the start of the Church.
We pray to her as an intercessor, the same way your children might approach you if they want to get something out of Dad. They know that Dad won’t refuse Mom anything. In the same way we pray to Mary in part because we know she has a special intercessory power with her Son.
This devotion to Mary doesn’t detract from our worship of Jesus, for all authentic devotion leads us closer to her son Jesus. By the way, Mary predicted that all generations will call her blessed (see Luke 1:48). That is Scripture. Hence, Catholics have no problem calling her the Blessed Mother.
The rosary is just a way to help us contemplate the life of Jesus, in part through his relationship with Mary.
As for extra-biblical accounts of Mary’s life: The Church relies on both Scripture and Tradition (the oral transmission of teachings). Events such as the Assumption rely on Tradition, certainly. But then we relied on Tradition to give us Scripture; for before things were written down, they was handed down by word of mouth.
Infant baptism was allowed in the early Church, and Scripture itself hints at it. Think of it this way: Parents want to give their children the best, so why not baptism? Baptism takes away original sin and gives a baby the gift of sanctifying grace. This is fitting, since babies need to be saved like anyone else; they also need the salvific help of Jesus. They inherit original sin like the rest of us. Again, Catholic Answers has a helpful article on baptism.
As for the Eucharist: Jesus himself says, “This is my body … this is my blood.” He wasn’t speaking symbolically. We know this from John 6:22-71. Jesus said he would give his flesh to eat, and this repulsed many people. When they were leaving, he didn’t stop them and say, “I was just speaking symbolically.” No, he stood by his words – and he even challenged the apostles to leave.
Try reading the text without any preconceived ideas. Jesus meant to give us his body and blood. Catholics hold that he does this sacramentally, under the signs of bread and wine, in the Eucharist. This is not cannibalism, however. It is a partaking of the Lamb of God, sacrificed for our redemption, but in an unbloody way.
There is also a series of books with testimonies from people who came into the Catholic Church from various backgrounds; these books might be of great interest to you as you continue striving to respond to what God is doing in your heart. They are called “Surprised by Truth”.
Don’t be afraid. Our Lord only wants the best for you and your loved ones.