Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Reader Asks - Part 3: Taking it on Faith

The Ecstasy of St. Paul - Poussin

This is the third and final question I was asked by a reader about my conversion.

A reader asks:
[I was wondering] what things, if any, you still wrestled with when you decided to take the plunge, and just entrusted to faith and time.
I think I have a boring and very typical-of-converts answer to this one, lol. I definitely still had some Mary-and-the-saints type issues (mostly just those residual feelings). As I said in answer to the first question, intellectually the theological and doctrinal arguments made total sense to me. They lined up with history and scripture when explained well, they even made a lot more sense of some parts of scripture! But...well...still some of the prayers just frankly rubbed me the wrong way. I'd bristle upon hearing such prayers, and that little voice in my head would say, "Um...are you sure about this?" Lol! But, with time and exposure to people who prayed these prayers devoutly, it became obvious that these prayers were somehow bringing them closer to Christ, through Mary. The Mother points us to the Son, always, and really what are the chances you're going to start loving Jesus' mom more than He does? I'd wager they're pretty slim!

Other than that, a fairly big issue for me was interpretation of scripture. I'd been raised with a strictly literal interpretation of scripture, being told our "interpretation" was so literal that it wasn't even an interpretation...we were just reading the words on the page and taking them at face value, no interpretation necessary! I saw scripture mainly as a blueprint, a rulebook, dictated by God and meant to be read as a manual, memorizing scriptural bullet points for each potential life issue to be spewed whenever necessary.

So, it was difficult at times to readjust my understanding of scripture, to acknowledge the human element of the authors, to realize that while they were inspired and always wrote truth and while the Church maintains that scripture is inerrant, they still wrote it through the lens of their own human time and culture. I came to understand that they did not write history then the way we tend to write history now, and that the Bible is not one book, but a library which includes poetry, allegory, parable, history, theology, etc. I had to come to terms with the fact that "true" is not limited to "strictly literal." Once again, I was wrongly associating two ideas and it was difficult for me to separate them in my mind.

Now, don't misunderstand, there are some scholars who go so far as to say Jesus didn't really perform miracles and they basically want to take the supernatural out of the scriptures. That's not what I was trying to believe myself. I was just so extremely literally-minded that even the idea that the Great Flood may not have actually covered the entire world, but just the entire part of the world the writers knew of was difficult to wrap my head around, just because of my flawed association of "strictly literal" with "true."

But, at the end of the day I was convinced that the Church was our Teaching Authority, that she compiled scripture, and thus she was the best interpreter of scripture, and I acknowledged that much of my approach to scripture had been flawed. So even though at first I still bristled and creased my brow at some new-to-me interpretations, over time I've come to appreciate the Church's explanations of scripture, especially those times when she acknowledges there is more than one way to understand many things in scripture. I do not feel the veracity or inerrancy of scripture is in any way threatened by this more flexible approach, in fact I see now that it is strengthened by it the way a large flexible branch is stronger than a rigid twig ready to snap.

One thing I have seen over and over again from converts who struggled with something and yet took it on faith is how great the virtue of obedience makes humility grow! I often find myself in awe of the humility I see in others who bow their will in submission to that of the Church's, and thus to God's will. It certainly reminds me how far I have to go myself!

I am also reminded of the wisdom of St. Augustine's famous quote:
"Seek not to understand so that you may believe, but believe so that you may understand."
It really is astounding how often something doesn't make sense until you accept it on faith and live it.

Thanks so much to the reader who asked these questions! To those readers who are themselves converts, I'd love to hear your own answers as well. :-)

1 comment:

Robert Threadgill said...

When I converted, I had a lot of trouble with the idea of an ordained priesthood. Since the idea of establishing the sacrament of Holy Orders at the Last Supper doesn't exactly have a "proof text" passage, I questioned whether an ordained priesthood is God's will.

History is what sealed the deal for me. For what it's worth, Newman said "To study history is to cease to be Protestant" and I have found that to be true.

In the 90's Ignatius of Antioch calls the Eucharist a sacrifice quite naturally. Sacrifices require priests. Furthermore, he speaks of a single bishop in each congregation he writes (except Rome). Even further, it is impossible to see how the church could have responded to the threat of Gnosticism in the 2nd century except with a monepispocacy and intrinsic to that is a distinction between bishops and presbyters, a distinction everyone understands is not found in the Bible. There were also other tactics to deal with Gnosticism, but Holy Orders is absolutely part of the response. It is not some imitation of Roman government or any of the other bogus claims. It is part the church constituting herself as it becomes clear Jesus may be a long time in his return to earth.

How can the church constitute herself without express Bible verses? Jesus calls it guidance into all the truth.