Why I am becoming Catholic

This August, I will be entering into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. It is the culmination of many years of God working on my heart and at least two years of intense prayer and discernment.

I confess that this is how it feels for me right now: Beautiful but scary, a giant leap into the unknown, and in many ways very sad. I have spent my entire adult life in The Episcopal Church. It is in The Episcopal Church that I first came to believe in Jesus. The Episcopal Church is where I married my bride and baptized my children. I learned much of what I know about the Catholic faith from wonderful Anglo-Catholic friends and mentors, not to mention from the lives of great Anglican saints. Heck, I spent five years blogging about how totally awesome Anglicanism is. It is not easy for me to leave all that behind, especially when I know that there will be many people who will be disappointed by what I am doing.

About a year ago, I spoke with a friend and fellow Episcopal priest about the fact that I was considering becoming Catholic. In response, he asked me, “What’s the fatal flaw in Anglicanism then?” I was surprised by the question because that is not what this is about for me. I am not becoming Catholic because I want to reject Anglicanism. This is not about escaping the turbulence of life in the modern Episcopal Church or about some piece of doctrine or practice that got stuck in my craw. For me, this is about only one thing: Following the Lord Jesus Christ to where it is He is leading me.

When I first heard God calling me to the Catholic Church, it was during a period of fervent prayer. I was aware that there was something spiritually lacking in my life, but I could not put my finger on exactly what it was. Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, God revealed to my heart that I needed to be Catholic. And I objected rather strenuously, “But I’m already Catholic!” The Lord did not argue with me. He did not lay out a five or ten point plan to try to convince me of the error of my ways. He just quietly, insistently, repeated Himself. The more I struggled against this calling, the more calmly and consistently the Lord repeated it.

In the months that followed, I began to explore the Catholic Church in new ways. I already knew the work of many Catholic theologians, of course, but now I broadened my search to try to understand what it means not just to think Catholic thoughts but to live a Catholic life. Many of you are aware that I was baptized Catholic and spent a good portion of my childhood in the Catholic Church, but it was under a somewhat strange set of circumstances, in a place that did not stress Catholic identity, and so I never really understood what being Catholic really meant. It was only after I became an Episcopalian that I discovered things like sacramental theology, liturgy, Catholic spirituality, and the lives of the saints. I figured that these things were the common heritage of all Christians (as indeed they are, at least in a sense). But now, as I looked at the Church again as if for the first time, I realized what I had missed before. My wife and I watched Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series, which shows in a lovely way not only the depth and history of Catholicism, but also the rich cultural landscape of how the faith is practiced all over the world. The breadth of the Catholic Church–from Africa to Calcutta, from medieval European cathedrals to the beautiful stone chapels of the new world, from the priest at the altar to the beggar at the mission door–is simply breathtaking. One night, after watching one of those videos, I turned to my wife and said, “It’s like I’ve spent my whole life in a pond and only just now realized that there is an ocean.”

It is hard to explain, but there is a difference between reading St. Thomas Aquinas and being in communion with St. Thomas Aquinas. There is a difference between knowing that a common Baptism unites us as brothers and sisters in Christ and actually seeing the footprint of that in history. There is a difference between loving the tradition of the Church, even trying very hard to apply that tradition to new circumstances, and recognizing my place as just one sailor on a sea of tradition that I cannot control but that will always carry me home.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Naturally, there were doctrinal and practical issues that I needed to work out before I could enter into the Church, though not as many of the former as I might have suspected. Perhaps some time in the future I will talk more about these. Or perhaps not. For the moment, all I can do is approach the cross with wonder and wait upon the word of the Lord.

One thing that struck me pretty heavily in the last two years of discernment is how much more ecumenical my thinking has become. As I have come to accept God’s calling for me to come into the full communion of the Catholic Church, I have become far less defensive of my own theological turf. As an Anglican, I have always felt that I needed to justify Anglicanism’s continued existence, which sometimes led me to feel the need to bash others. But as I prepare to become a Catholic, I don’t feel that same need. The Catholic Church does just fine without me. She doesn’t need me to make the case for why she should exist. I can relax and embrace the fact that Baptists and Methodists and others are my brothers and sisters through Baptism and the cross. It is not my job to figure out the mechanics of unity amongst all Christians. It is, rather, my job to be faithful to the teaching of the Church and to love my neighbor as myself.

There are many challenges that face my family in the months to come. It will be difficult and heartbreaking to lay down my priesthood and to leave behind my beloved parish where I have spent almost a decade as Rector. But it is not really my priesthood. It never really was. All priesthood belongs ultimately to the one true priest, Jesus Christ Himself, who this day is inviting me and my family into the richness of His sacrifice and the depths of His heart. May each and every one of us come to know His saving embrace.

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29 thoughts on “Why I am becoming Catholic

    1. Daniel Parker

      He doesn’t necessarily have to leave that role. It is possible for non-Catholic clergy to receive special dispensation to remain priests, even as married men, on the assurance that they maintain certain vows. If married, they cannot remarry after their spouse passes away.

      1. Rich+

        Such a journey is possible but would require ordination by a Roman bishop. The Roman Church does not accept Episcopal ordinations as valid. As a priest, the journey from the Roman community to the Episcopal community does not require an ordination but a “reception” of orders. Additionally, some Roman bishops restrict where such prior Episcopal priests (once ordained as a Roman) can be assigned, i.e. not as a pastor or rector of a parish.

  1. José D. Pinell

    Fr. Jonathan, this news brought me a lot of joy! I’m a Roman Catholic who has been reading your blogs (Conciliar Anglican and now Working the Beads) for the past 3 years or so. I’ve always appreciated your insights into Catholic spirituality.

    For a good while I was interested in the Anglican communion, seriously considering conversion. After many years of reading and praying I realized that all that I was looking for in Anglicanism I already had in the Catholic faith, and this process made me appreciate more the Roman Catholic Church. I also realized that my motivation to become Anglican was in big part fueled by my desire to become a priest, and as a (happily!) married man I could not seek the priesthood. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to surrender your priesthood to follow God’s call! I do dare say, that is, if it is part of God’s will for you and your family, that you would make a great Roman Catholic priest!

    Blessings on this new journey, and you can count on my prayers during this transition.

  2. Rev Roger Phillips

    Fr Jonathan, in future blogs would explain how you are dealing with the following:
    1. The infallibility of the Pope when one realizes this dogma was only brought forth in the mid 19th century.
    2. The assumption of the blessed Virgin Mary and the issue of co- redemptotix.
    3. The Papal Bull of Pope Leo that invalidated Anglican Orders and is now causing great consternation to Pope Francis on how to re- validate and remain infallible.
    Blessings nonetheless,
    Rev Fr Roger Phillips

    1. Phyllys

      Just pointing out a misconception many people have regarding the Immaculate Conception.
      The Immaculate Conception is the teaching that Mary was born without sin on her soul.

      Jesus birth referred to as the Virgin birth is often confused with Mat’s ImmaculateConceptuon free from sin. Many many Catholics make the same mistake.

  3. Matthew

    Did you consider Orthodoxy? Because as unattractive as it might seem, it has retained the the fullness of the ancient faith without over-definition or over-reach of authority. Does the emphasis of the Catholic Church really match the balance of the pre Nicene fathers? And what does that tell you about the supposed Magesterium of the Catholic Church?

  4. Fr. Jonathan, I wonder if one day you’d be willing to write a blog on your family’s transition as they processed the change. As a married Anglican on the way to ordination, it’s something I think a good deal about, if I ever were to follow a similar path.

  5. L. Kelley

    Fr. Jonathan, Godspeed in your new adventures in life. Whether Episcopal or Catholic, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and Missionaries to do his works toward others.

  6. Sean

    Fine, but this RC just wants to know if God and Comics will be updated soon. Seriously, congrats and best wishes.

  7. Steve

    Welcome! While I still have love and respect my Anglican heritage and those who have chosen to remain, I have felt nothing but peace since coming into full communion just over a year ago.

  8. Having completed this journey myself, I know that this is not easy. Know that you’re among friends and that you’re welcome to contact me anytime for friendly conversation, consolation, and prayer. (pahlsmjg@gmail.com)

    MJGP
    Michael J.G. Pahls, Ph.D.

  9. Zee M.

    Fr Jonathan…all I can say is, Go With God. I followed your work over at Conciliar Anglican for years. I came across it when I was trying to shake off a need to be Catholic, it worked for a while but later realized that the Anglicanism you laid out does not exist anywhere. I still worship in an Anglican parish due to family issues – but no longer self identify as such.

    Somehow, I’ve known all along that you will eventually get called out of the AC. May God bless you and the family.

    1. Matt

      I felt you offered a very astute insight that I wanted to comment on here.

      I came across Conciliar Anglican for similar reasons you did. I am a former Catholic who, after journeying away from Christianity for a time, felt drawn back through Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church. Coming from the background that I did, I had deep reservations about certain aspects of the EC that I need not go into here. I felt that Fr. Jonathan painted a beautiful picture of an Anglicanism that, if not accurate, reflected something many of us longed for deeply in our souls. But, as you quite rightly said, it does not exactly exist.

      My word of caution would be to take care in not making a similar mistake in regards to the Catholic Church, envisioning it as the greener pastures one might wish it to be rather than the institution it has evolved into over the course of its lofty existence. Anglicanism is a mess, but so is Catholicism, albeit in far less open ways. Our focus should always be less on how we wish things were and instead rather on how we choose to make them be in the future.

      Frankly, from my time reading Fr. Jonathan’s writings, I think he is a gift to whatever Church he decides to belong. The only advice I offer to him and others is to always go in with open eyes, acknowledging the ideal and the less-than-ideal, and to never lose sight of that which truly matters.

  10. As an Anglican, I’m sorry you’re leaving us, but not entirely surprised. On a recent God and Comics, you had a “This or That” decision to make between Marvel Team-Up and The Brave & the Bold. You chose Marvel Team-Up. That’s when I knew that you were destined to come to a bad end.

    I’m glad God and Comics will continue. Will the lyrics to the opening theme be reworded, now that we won’t be listening to “three priests talk about God and Comics”? Perhaps “listen to these two priests and their friend who is making them wonder if Jack Chick wasn’t onto something after all”?

    Anyway, though I for one would take a 57 Chevy over the Popemobile any day, best wishes to you and yours.

  11. Rich+

    I made the journey the other way, I was a Roman priest for 30 years and became an Episcopalian eight years ago and my orders were received. I find in The Episcopal Community the decrease of control and release from centralization to be enlightening. Theologically the shift was relatively easy…still seven sacraments, a contextual approach to Holy Scripture, three fold approach to Holy Orders (Deacon, Priest, Bishop), and belief in real presence. I find ordination and marriage to be very compatible…though I wish both celibacy and marriage where more fully embraced within both traditions. I was trained in the post-Vatican II era. My feeling (ok, we could get into an intellectual debate) that while the Roman Community had Vatican II, The Episcopal Community is trying to live the spirit of the Council. I respect tradition but embrace the “Church in the Modern World” / Gaudium et Spes. I embrace the ordination of women; women break open the Word differently than men and I am enlightened by the difference. The argument ‘only men’ can represent Christ since he is male is theologically weak for me, It is akin to saying, since Christ was male, he only saved men by his incarnation.

    All this said, I wish you the very best in your journey of faith. I don’t see you as leaving the family as mush as moving in with some cousins. My prayer is you will be blessed, both traditions will have respect for each other, and that the Body of Christ may be one.

  12. Logan Sowers

    If you were to continue blogging, it would be wonderful to read about your experience entering into a deeper more full expression of the faith. I was recieved into the Eastern Orthodox Church two years ago and Im still processing the newness of being a part of a church that provides a rythem of life grounded in the church and centered on the sacraments. Peace and God bless!

      1. Phil T

        As a cradle Catholic greatly attracted to the beauty of the Angican tradition, I am inspired and pleased to read your article! I will echo Paul H in suggesting a close relationship with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter and their presbyterate. Given the description of your journey, I am sure you are already well aware of them. Bishop Barron has also played a large part in my formation and I listen to his Word on Fire Podcast weekly; it is refreshing to hear that his ministry is effecting others in the same way.

        I am overjoyed that the Church will be gaining another well-formed and spiritually aware member! I will add you and your family into my prayer intentions and hope you grow fruitfully in your relationship with Christ and His Church.

        St. Thomas Aquinas, Ora pro nobis!

  13. Dear Fr Jonathan, I have just read your post. Although we have never met, I have been deeply enriched by your blogging over the years and have appreciated our online interaction. While I am obviously saddened that Anglicanism is losing a priest with such vitality and insight, please be assured of my prayers for you and your family for the journey ahead. Blessings, Brian.

  14. David

    Dear Fr Jonathan,

    I haven’t been a regular in reading Working the Beads, but I used to follow your Conciliar Anglican blog. It was a big help to me when I was coming to accept my sense of calling to priesthood in the Church of England, while at the same time feeling a strong intellectual attraction to Eastern Orthodoxy and to a lesser extent the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps ironically, I credit Roman Catholic and Orthodox writers with convincing me I could function in the Church of England with integrity.

    While I appreciated the Concilar Anglican, I think you hit the nail on the head about its tone with this comment: “As an Anglican, I have always felt that I needed to justify Anglicanism’s continued existence”. While reading the blog, I think I could sometimes detect a little of that. It was in stark contrast to a Ware, a Schmemann, a Merton, who all seemed very much at peace with the church they are or were in. It’s something I’ve rarely found in recent Anglican writers. Perhaps A M Allchin came close?

    For me, accepting a calling into the Anglican church (it’s not where I grew up) meant living with a degree of uncertainty. We claim to be part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church – but the other parts we recognise don’t recognise us – at least not fully or officially. That needs a good dose of humility I think. My move into the Church of England came not through any real intellectual certainty but simply that I came to believe that’s where God was calling me – and after a long process of convincing and discernment I’m due to start training as an ordinand soon. In some ways my own sense that God was calling seems not too dissimilar to your call into the Catholic church.

    But because I recognise the Catholic church as part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, it doesn’t feel like we’re losing you really. After all, in the Anglican Communion, we still remember John Henry Newman on 11th August (and I still think some of his best work was before his move).

    Although it might not please all the readers there, I think you should at least consider putting up a final ‘epilogue’ post on the Conciliar Anglican blog to indicate what your next steps will be.

    All the best,

    David

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