Last month I recounted my unlikely conversion to Catholicism from evangelicalism after a spiritual tailspin during college. For brevity’s sake I didn’t describe the period of time between my first visit to the Catholic Campus Ministry and my confirmation nearly a year later, but now I’d like to share with my readers the doctrines and beliefs that surprised me the most.
First and foremost, I am confident in saying that veneration of Our Lady and the saints is at once the most “Catholic” thing the Catholic Church does and, at the same time, is the most misunderstood by non-Catholics. When I studied the intercession of saints and the Marian doctrines I was forced to examine not just my own consciously crafted beliefs, but beliefs I didn’t even know I held. For example, I had to ask myself what I thought prayer was. Is prayer worship? What is worship? What makes worship different than honor? I’d never considered such questions before.
My childish thought process growing up was simple: I pray only to God. I worship only God. Hence, prayer and worship are the same thing. The actual content of the prayer didn’t matter, despite common sense saying otherwise. I knew Catholics pray to Mary and saints, so it followed that they worship them, too. The statues, hymns, feast days, and general affection for Our Lady didn’t dispel these beliefs. Nuanced ideas like latria, dulia, and hyperdulia were foreign to me, although I frequently said I “loved” Army ROTC, “loved” my parents, and “loved” Twix bars, unknowingly poking at the need for aforementioned nuanced ideas.
Life itself has expanded my understanding of veneration. Since my conversion my younger brother passed away, and later that same year I met the man who would become my husband. I visit my brother’s grave and lay flowers there, always making sure to buy purple blossoms as purple was his favorite color. I keep a few of his possessions in my bedside drawer and look at them sometimes. His picture is displayed around the house. I name characters in my stories after him.
As for my husband, well, if hymns and parties are worship, I’m in trouble. I spend more emotional energy on expressing my love for him than I do any other person on the planet. When I talk to God and tell Him I love Him, and that I’m thankful for the good things He’s given me, it’s worship. Why is it not worship when I say those same words to my husband? Once I realized the answer–the intent of my heart is the difference–I began to understand saintly veneration, intercession, and Marian devotion.
Speaking of Marian devotion, I was stubborn in accepting Marian doctrine in particular, which was Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven. It seemed idolatrous somehow, even though when I was little I’d wondered why God used masculine and/or familial terms like Father and Son to describe Himself, and King to describe His majesty, but never offered the feminine counterpart that the words seemed to demand. It was easy to write off God’s Kingdom as a bachelor Kingdom, but if God was a Father and Jesus is the Son, then who was the mother? However, my knowledge of theology wasn’t advanced enough to consider a Queen that wasn’t also a goddess.
As I studied Catholicism, however, I went back and read the Old Testament. In the Davidic line of Kings they recognized the position of the gebirah, or “Great Lady.” We’d call her the Queen Mother. She was the mother of the King and advocated for the people. Her position was derived entirely from her son’s. Sound familiar?
If Jesus Christ is King, then his mother is the Queen Mother, a queen who is not a goddess.
The doctrine of Mary’s Coronation is from Sacred Tradition, which was entirely new to me when I studied the Catechism. I was a Bible-believing Christian, though that is a misnomer. A better term would be only-Bible-believing as I rejected any teachings not explicitly laid out in Scripture. Of course, had I expended any actual thought to the implications of only-Bible-believing, I would’ve reached a crisis faster than I could say “Martin Luther.” Only-Bible-believing, more commonly known as sola scriptura, is a flimsy doctrine that I discussed in my first article for The Papist. Even the most rudimentary analysis poses problems. For example, if the Bible is the sole rule of faith, what did Christians do for several centuries before it was compiled? I had literally never once asked myself that question when I was an evangelical.
Catholicism gave me a sensible answer: the early Church relied on Sacred Tradition, or the spoken Word of God, mentioned several times in the New Testament. Sacred Tradition does exist in evangelicalism, though they don’t acknowledge its immense importance to them as only-Bible-believing Christians. It is the canon of the Bible. Since the Biblical canon is never found in Scripture, it is extra-Biblical information accepted as inspired by the Holy Spirit–Sacred Tradition.
Veneration, the Coronation, and Tradition were just three of many new ideas I grappled with for months after that blessed first encounter with the Catholic Campus Ministry. My suspicion quickly turned to acceptance. Now, that acceptance is deep love. I love my Church. I love God’s truth. I love that I will never learn all there is to know in the deposit of faith.
God bless you.
Tags » apologetics, Blessed Virgin Mary, conversion, conversion story, Evangelicalism, sacred tradition, saints, tradition, Virgin Mary