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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Putting the “Big” in Bigotry

May 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Apologetics, Conversion, Paul McCusker


Life, As I Find It

I shudder to think of it now. There I was at a CS Lewis conference and the esteemed teacher Peter Kreeft had been talking about ten things to learn from JRR Tolkien about evil. A brilliant talk. And, at the break, I had a chance to corner Kreeft to ask him a few questions. In the course of that short conversation, he mentioned to me how he had become a Catholic while attending Calvin College.

Everyone else probably knew it, but I didn’t. And I was surprised. But here’s the thing that surprised me and makes me shudder to think of it now: my immediate thought was, “How could a man this smart be a Catholic?”

By the grace of God, I didn’t actually say that to him. I sometimes wonder how he would have reacted if I had. But I didn’t.

And, by the grace of God, my reaction didn’t stop there. I moved on to a pivotal question: “What does he see that I don’t see?”

It was a pivotal question because I then realized my own bigotry and ignorance about Catholicism. All I knew about it was what I had been told by well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) Protestants – or what I had seen in the lives of a few Catholics. I’d read the Chick Tracts. I’d seen The Godfather. What else did I need to know?

I had concocted a lot of answers without ever asking the right questions. I had already rejected something I knew nothing about. And a very short conversation made me realize it.

At any other time of life, I might have left it there – acknowledged my ignorance and gotten on with my life. But at that moment I was already wrestling with some important issues. I was an Anglican and had been watching the implosion of the Episcopal Church in America. I began to wonder, who has the authority to interpret Scripture and establish doctrine?

I thought back to my formative years as a Baptist. There it was mostly a “me and my Bible” sensibility, as it is for so many Protestants. Every individual with his own leather-bound Word of God got to be his own Pope. That was easy.  Just me and Jesus. And if I belonged to a community of believers, that was all right, too. But it was an optional extra.

That didn’t ring true for me. How did millions of “little churches” line up with Jesus’ prayer for unity? Was that only wishful thinking on His part? And who had the authority to say that my interpretation of the Bible might actually be wrong? Very few, and only if I agreed with them.

As an Anglican I had conceded to – no, I actually desired – some semblance of authority and structure. But the founders of Anglicanism were determined not to repeat the “mistakes” of Rome. The reigning Monarch was the head of the Church of England. And the Archbishop of Canterbury would not be the Pope, but the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion worldwide. In other words: no authority, apart from a sweet grandfatherly influence. We have seen in the last decade or so what that really means.

It wasn’t on my mind to leave Anglicanism. I was in for the fight. But the questions nagged at me and I had to wonder what I was fighting for. Catholicism wasn’t an option. Nor was the Eastern version. And yet… that encounter with Peter Kreeft was like a slap in the face. What does he see that I don’t see?

I was determined to find out. I couldn’t imagine myself ever becoming a Catholic, but it was a decent compromise to explore the Ancient Church, believing it was neither Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox.  That was a safe bet. I could be objective and without prejudice. And so I made the effort. As John Henry Newman has pointed out, to go back into history is to find oneself in staunch Catholic territory. Beware!

Since becoming Catholic, I have encountered a lot of people with the same sensibilities I had at that meeting with Peter Kreeft. They think they know Catholicism, but they don’t. They think they know Catholics, but they don’t. And it’s up to us to show them who we really are and truly believe.

And such is life as I find it.

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About Paul McCusker

Paul McCusker is an author. He converted from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in 2007. He still works for an Evangelical organization. Paul has over 40 published works, including novels, plays, scripts, and lyrics.

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  • LizEst

    Paul – we are certainly blessed you are a Catholic now.

  • Liberty

    This is very interesting! Welcome home!

  • Becky Ward

    Fr. Barron (among others) has said, “The story of Catholicism is being told, but it’s being told by the wrong people.”
    This is why we need to learn the truth about our faith…from the Catechism and other reliable – official – sources. Sadly there are many groups who call themselves ‘Catholic’ but who are far from being aligned with the teachings of the Church.
    Thanks for sharing Paul!

    • LizEst

      Interesting, isn’t it Becky? These “cafeteria Catholics” pick and choose what they want from the Catholic faith. They want to use the name because it stands for truth, but they will not humble themselves to accept the truth. It’s just like St. Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” God bless you, Becky. You are in my prayers.

      • Becky Ward

        I think most people who do stuff like this honestly believe that there is a need for the Church to adapt to the times. I was there once… just shows what happens when we are not properly catechized and do not understand that the Church is different from other organizations or political structures. It is not the Church that needs to be ‘reformed’ but the hearts of the human beings in it!
        Thanks for the prayers, I sure need them.

        • LizEst

          You are right Becky. People who do these things honestly believe they are doing good. In fact, all hearts need reforming, mine included. It’s a continual process. When someone hardens one’s heart, though, it is difficult to move forward. Thank the Lord that, “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (Romans 5:20). Blessed be God for this amazing grace! We are not without hope!

  • Debbie

    Our spiritual paths seem very similar. Its so good to be home.

  • jcsmitty

    Apparently you are not the only one who is bothered by the lack of authority in non-Catholic denominations. I watch “The Journey Home,” Marcus Grodi’s interview show with converts on EWTN, and many of them state that same concern. It gives me great comfort that Christ did not leave us orphans or giv eus a church that was rudderless.

  • Camila

    What’s interesting to me is how you connected Catholicism. First you saw this amazingly bright professor talking on a topic you are interested AND it just so happens that he is also Catholic. You couldn’t reconcile these two concepts. I love this. Because professor Kreeft is being excellent at his art and that excellence is glistening. You sought further and realized that the source of the light didn’t simply stop at Dr. Kreeft. This witness illustrates that the pursuit of excellence is a great means of evangelization. Thank you for the article.

    • LizEst

      Hi WS – I’ve had you in prayer. How did your spiritual direction go?

      • Camila

        Hey LizEst! Thanks for your prayers!

        Spiritual direction went really well. We talked about joy – and it is a key point for me going forward in my spiritual growth.

        On a separate note, a concept we explored was the idea of fruitfulness. Amount of prayer is not always proportional to amount of fruit. There is something deeper here that I want to explore. How do we explain just how fruitful St. Therese (a cloistered, unknown, young nun) was and continues to be?! This fascinates me – and our lives pretty much boils down to this, doesn’t?!

        What’s the point of loving God if we aren’t bearing much fruit for His kingdom?! There is something that springs from the heart that desires to come Home with baskets and baskets overloading with ripe, beautiful fruit, no?! Further, as lay folks, how do we bear much fruit? … “I am the vine you are the branches” come to the forefront of my mind…. anyway – I’m getting way off topic from the post…

        There’s sort of a tapestry of ideas of excellence, virtue, joy, fruit, prayer, sacrifice, dying to self etc being woven in my mind and heart…..

        • Camila

          I feel like a big lump of clay. God molds me as He wishes – all in the dark (final art piece to be unveiled in the canvas of Heaven)- He peppers in some oven time and then more molding and chiseling and a little more polishing and then some sand paper….. Oh if I would just melt into His hands and forget myself!!!

          • Guest

            Thank you both, WS and LizEst for having this conversation in public. You gave me food for thought.

        • LizEst

          You’re welcome. I prayed for you at Mass this morning, as well! The secret to the fruitfulness of St. Therese’s prayer, and any prayer for that matter, is faithfulness to God. The more a person is faithful to Him, the more He is faithful to us. No one who is more faithful, no one more trustworthy, than the Lord. And, those who would be friends of God are faithful to Him. Being faithful to God means we follow His way and His commandment to love God and neighbor, we die to self, we embrace the cross, we are humble before God and neighbor, we accept God’s will in all things. This is also the way we love God and bear much fruit. The fruit comes from our following Christ. The more we follow Him, the more fruit we bear. One thing though, we don’t always see the fruit of our labors…and we accept God’s will in this as well.

          • Camila


            Yes, indeed! Would you agree that ‘following’ means a change from within?! We are transformed more and more from within – in other words – God’s own life lives inside our very selves and through us and it can only outpour itself. It’s much more than a simple ‘follow the leader kinda thing’. It’s a deeper reality within ourselves, and this reality is utterly changed, transformed, beautiful, transcendent, glorious, awesome. This same life that gives life and sustains the entire universe, lives within my own self – not in a metaphorical kind of way, but in a very real, essential way Oh what joy LizEst! What joy!

          • LizEst

            Following includes turning from sin and turning towards God. Yes, the life we live is no longer ours. Christ lives within us…and because God cannot be divided, so also does the Father and the Holy Spirit…who come and make their home with us. Living the life of Christ will necessarily take us to the cross, where we, too, united to Jesus, will also give ourselves, our very lives in love.

          • Becky Ward

            Symeon The New Theologian –
            Christ’s Body

            We awaken in Christ’s body
            as Christ awakens our bodies,
            and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
            my foot, and is infinitely me.

            I move my hand, and wonderfully
            my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
            (for God is indivisibly
            whole, seamless in His Godhood).

            I move my foot, and at once
            He appears like a flash of lightning.
            Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
            open your heart to Him

            and let yourself receive the one
            who is opening to you so deeply.
            For if we genuinely love Him,
            we wake up inside Christ’s body

            where all our body, all over,
            every most hidden part of it,
            is realized in joy as Him,
            and He makes us, utterly, real,

            and everything that is hurt, everything
            that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
            maimed, ugly, irreparably
            damaged, is in Him transformed

            and recognized as whole, as lovely,
            and radiant in His light
            he awakens as the Beloved
            in every last part of our body.

          • Camila

            Becky! What a beautiful poem. Thank you so much for sharing! You also remind me of St. John….

            “O living flame of love
            that tenderly wounds my soul
            in its deepest center!”

          • Becky Ward

            Dear Wretched – I love that title :) – This poem kept coming to me as I’ve read the conversations about transforming union, mystical incarnation and the like.
            St. John is definitely my favorite mentor….it’s fascinating how you can get SO MUCH from each word of a poem…or scripture!!

          • MariaGo

            Such tender words! I really want a copy of St John the Cross ‘ works.

          • MariaGo

            That is so beautiful! I love that poem!

  • J Barry

    I love this article having returned to the church two years ago myself and how I searched for the truth of this faith as well. When one does, what a freedom we experience. And you are right in that it is up to us to “show them who we really are and truly believe.” I read an article where Pope Francis said “If we annoy people, blessed be the Lord”. He was alluding to the fact of our discipleship and outreach to others. I am in a unique position in that I attend my husband’s church with him, which is Methodist, and also a Sunday School class of friends I have had for years. I have been able to dispel a lot of myths or preconceptions regarding the church on many occasions. Just recently I taught a class on Tobit and over and over again I heard many comments on “why were these books left out of the OT?” As converts or reverts, we possibly have a better opportunity to present Catholicism to those we have known as our Protestant brethren and thus fulfill the “year of Evangelism”. Again, I love these kind of articles as they are an affirmation of why we return or embrace this faith with such passion.

  • disqus_l5QJHf9hGj

    Well with regard to Protestants you only listen to the mighty fortress so many times before it becomes a broken record. God bless them all i hope they find what you have found

    • LizEst

      Oh dear! Now that song is in my head! ;o))

      • IrishEddieOHara

        I’m sorry to be ignorant, but every time I hear that song sung in a Roman Catholic Church, I want to go running down the aisles screaming “What are you doing???? That’s Luther’s anti-Catholic fight song!!


        • Dan Burke

          Ditto – drives me crazy

          Sent from my iPad

  • Michelle

    Paul…amazing story! I too am a convert (ex Baptist 1987). The rest of my family are pretty much all Protestant. You still work for an evangelical company…can you tell a bit if your conversion affects the non-Catholics around you? As in, does your being Catholic initiate religious debates? I get them all the time. I feel “pounced upon.”

    • LizEst

      Michelle – We are happy you have come home to the Catholic faith! I have met more Baptists, probably than any other denomination, that have become Catholic. I suspect that your conversion bothers your family, besides for the usual reasons they are against it, because the seeds are there for their conversion…and, they are afraid they will do the same! You are a shining light for them, whether they will admit it or not. God bless you, Michelle…and Happy Trinity Sunday!

      • Michelle

        Thank you Liz! Yes we have Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament (in fact, after my first date with a Catholic, sitting before Him there in the gentleman’s open Church at @ 11:45 pm, even though I didn’t know that it is Him, I such a Presence, that I decided to keep coming to figure out what It was!)

        Even tho my Mom criticizes my having”all those statues” and things…again and again like today of all days…I just feel sorry for her. While it IS her house and furniture ;-) somehow Jesus will work things out. WHEN she becomes a Catholic, she will understand! So…A very Happy Trinity Sunday to everyone! and please pray for my parents, Ruth and Mitch. God Bless!

        • LizEst

          My prayers for your parents, Ruth and Mitch. God bless them for raising a daughter so open to such a great outpouring of God’s marvelous and amazing grace.

  • IrishEddieOHara

    Ah yes. The Godfather. That shining example of Catholic apologia lived out in the lives of faithful Italian Catholics.

    I am embarrassed to admit that similarly I allowed the wretched lives of nominal Catholics around me to form my opinion of the Catholic faith rather than to seek out those who were living it fully and richly. I am even more embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even give failing Catholics the grace that I gave– for instance — an associate pastor in my assembly who was caught with his fingers deeply in the till. For some reason, failing Catholics meant that the Catholic faith was indeed false, but failing Baptists meant that they were just sinners who had sinned.

    What hypocrisy on my part.

    With such an attitude, it is a wonder that I am Catholic today. God’s grace and calling is nothing short of amazing to me!


  • Suzy Malavasic

    I, too, am a convert to Catholicism (2002). My experience, however, is that one cannot know what being a Catholic is from the outside. Nor does anyone have an informed understanding of the Catholic Church without being Catholic. Like Paul, I read myself into the Catholic Church. But I, just as the earliest converts to the Faith in the First Century, was a true neophyte. The reason is simple, but profound. It is only through the grace of the Most Blessed Sacrament that anyone can become a mature Catholic, growing in an understanding of the Faith. This is the plan of God the Father; that we become His children through Baptism, but must become part of the Body of Christ through the Eucharist. As Pope Emeritus Benedict said, The fullness of the Christian Faith subsists in the Holy Catholic (and Orthodox) Church. I believe that this Truth cannot be accepted from without… but only from within.

    • LizEst

      …and we are happy to you are with us. God bless you, Suzy!