Thursday, March 30, 2017

Why St. Francis of Assisi made me Catholic

     My last post triggered in my memory how much of a love and fascination I had with the little brother, the poor friar St. Francis of Assisi.  My fascination with this saint even began in my evangelical days.  It began when I wanted to read a G.K. Chesterton book for the first time and picked up his biography on St. Francis, which I would argue is still the best book he has written.  I had no idea some of the lore that were ascribed to this medieval saint.  He preached the gospel to the birds in the trees, he could communicate with a wolf terrorizing the local town, his donkey shedding tears upon Francis' death bed.  Also, the most mystical and fascinating fact of St. Francis is his vision and reception of the stigmata- the wounds of Christ.  As an evangelical, my mind was perplexed by all the testimonies and accounts of this humble man who gave up all things for Christ and how God blessed others through this man.

     He stuck with me though for the remainder of my Protestant days.  I had been attracted to Christians like Francis Chan and Shane Claiborne at the time, who are the time that frown on rich churches and "Comfortable Christianity".  Yet, I had heard none of these writers talk of him...  I still am shocked as to why.  He was their predecessor, and still was more radical than both of these Evangelical writers.  He should be one of their heroes.  Still, my attraction to St. Francis opened the door to hagiography and my seeking to understand the role heavenly saints play in the Church still.  The writings of Chesterton were helpful in this regard, and surprisingly also the writings of C.S. Lewis.  Even during my tour of Anglicanism did I develop what is now known to me as a devotion to St. Francis, so much so that when I was pursuing my ministry into Anglican orders I already knew that I wanted to found a parish community and name the church St. Francis of Assisi Anglican Church.

     It is clear that he is a saint that is attractive to Christians in every sect of Christianity, yet he is claimed by Catholicism.  This opened the door more for me to look at the Catholic Church.  St. Francis was indeed an open door for me to understanding the Saints in God's Church.  He helped me develop my understanding, and once I was in the Church I discovered a rich bouquet of saints who appealed to me.

Post-Catholic, two major aspects of St. Francis' life still appeal to me.

1. His pascifist approach: I am not a pascifist at all.  I do not think it is practical, yet I get drawn in by the message of peace-seekers.  St. Francis had fought in military and, similar to St. Ignatius of Loyola, got injured in the line of duty.  This is when his deep spiritual conversion began and he renounced his careers and family obligations to go live in the wild.  Francis' whole remaining life was the pursuit of God and peace.  He believed in peace so much, that he thought of a way to end the crusades: to convert the Sultan.  This is such a radical concept.  In today's world, when one is anti-war, that leads them to protest the government, to try to get soldiers to go AWOL, or publicly ridicule soldiers, burn draft records, etc.  Yet, Francis was not concerned with any of that.  He knew there were just reasons to fight in wars, yet he also knew that God didn't want his children fighting.  So what did he do?  He traveled to the Middle East, walked toward the enemy lines, got captured and demanded an audience with the Sultan.  When he met the Sultan, he did not cower his goal.  He admonished the Sultan to convert to the true religion, or face the fires of perdition.  The Sultan was so moved by the bravery and humility of St. Francis, that he welcomed him for further and friendly debate.  By the end, the Sultan was not convinced, but considered St. Francis to be a holy man and let him go.  Would anyone else who believes these things would do something so radical today?

2. Rebuild my church: Francis' mission was sparked by a message he heard from Christ- "rebuild my Church".  At first, Francis took it literally and began physically rebuilding Churches during his time in the wilderness.  Later, Francis would understand that true reform of the Church was to come through the founding of his order.  Yet, while Francis lived humble and in rags, he never felt the Church was to be completely like him.  He was able to separate the life he chose for himself, and the way the Church celebrates liturgy for example.  He said the Church should be using rich elaborite vestments and liturgical items to celebrate the Mass.  This is because of his conviction that Christ truly is King, and King's should be treated as such.

    I am thankful for St. Francis Assisi's life, and I'm sure the prayers he prayed for me.  What a truly magnificent saint in our Holy Mother Church.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Key Aspects of Redemptorist (Alphonsian) Spirituality

     Catholicism is like the greatest glass of wine you ever had.  A single sip of wine encapsulates so many different flavors and inspires the senses.  The same can be said for Catholicism.  One of my favorite aspects of Catholicism is the vast array of spiritual approaches that exist inside of such a society.  My journey in the Catholic Church has been a path of discovery to these various approaches to ancient Christian spirituality.  

     Before becoming Catholic I had an immense fascination with St. Francis of Assisi and his Little Brothers.  In fact, down the road I should add to my series with how St. Francis made me Catholic.  Then upon entry in the Catholic Church I became interested in Benedictine Spirituality and their influence on the historical spiritual development in the British isles.  I also have had an attraction to Ignatian spirituality, which would scandalize many of my Anglo-minded friends.  Now I am seeking to understand the elements that make up Redemptorist spirituality.  

     The Redemptorists were founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori.  St Alphonsus is not only a saint, he is a Doctor of the Church.  He is the patron of moral theologians (and arthritis).  As I discover more aspects to his spiritual approach I will post more, but for now I wish to post a few elements of Redemptorist spirituality.

"Those who do not pray are not saved."

     Many orders in the Church have mottos, for example the Benedictines have "Ora Et Labora" or the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta is "I thirst".  This was one of the mottos of St. Alphonsus.  While the Redemptorists are not a full-fledged contemplative order, it contains elements of it.  St. Alphonsus was a big proponent of practicing mental prayer.  Similar to St. Francis De Sales, St. Alphonsus prescribed his readers and followers to practice mental prayer over every other devotion (outside of the mass) if they were able.  Yet, it simply was that St. Alphonsus rightfully believed that you could be assured that if you were not praying, your were not seeking the Lord.  So when people wanted more assurance of their St. Alphonsus told people they needed to pray.  St. Alphonsus also emphasized Christ's presence in the Church.  He encouraged his followers to also pray before the Blessed Sacrament and to attend Adoration and Holy Hour.  

Mercy and Charity

     One of the reasons St. Alphonsus is the patron of moral theologians is that he was (while certainly not the first) was a big proponent of thinking and talking on moral theology through the lens of mercy and charity.  He advised priests to be loving and kind in the confessional booth, and not to be too rigid with souls seeking reconciliation.  St. Alphonsus also had a heart for the poor.  One of the missions of the Redemptorist order was outreach to poor communities.  They would found Churches in these areas to minister too.  All this boils down to the love of our Holy Redeemer.  St. Alphonsus wanted to preach for everyone to see the world, their neighbors, with the love of Christ.  

God through the Arts

   This one involves a little intuition on my part.  I have not seen anything this explicit that describes Redemptorist spirituality as having an artistic component, yet I think it is true.  St. Alphonsus was studying to be a lawyer before he became a priest.  He was quite fond of the opera and the arts.  St. Alphonsus painted portaits, such as the portait of Christ Crucified.  He composed hymns and Christmas carols.  He wrote over 300 works on spirituality.  So St. Alphonsus expressed his love of God through writing and the arts.  

I hope to continue this post in another part later.


St. Alphonsus Liguori, Pray For Us.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer

At the time I am writing this blog I have been inducted as an Associate Member of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer at Golgotha Monastery on Papa Stronsay Island, Scotland.  Previously, I had been discerning the Benedictine Oblature.  Through the previous year of discernment I had concluded that my spirituality did not completely align with the Benedictines, as much as I love their order.

I discovered the Sons' order through the work they are doing in Scotland reviving devotions and living out their Catholic culture so boldly.  The spirituality, as established by St. Alphonsus Liguori, being a later Catholic spiritual writer way after St. Benedict, is a bit more rounded to include Marian devotions on top of liturgical prayer.  I very much appreciate that aspect to their devotions.  In time perhaps, Lord willing, I will be a full third order member.  I ask for your prayers in this time for me.  Thank you to all my readers.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Week of Christian Unity 2017: The Only Way To Unite The Church

        We now find ourselves in the ecumenically agreed week of prayer for Christians dedicated to praying for unity in the Church.  This conversation is so much more important today than it ever has been.  Christians are being killed, persecuted, and ridiculed for their faith in every historically Christian country today.  Secular governments opens her arms to Islam to come into their cultures and spread their faith, while on the other hand are so keen to point out the so-called flaws or errors of Christian past (some that really are not errors but are reasons why we are even here and able to have this conversation).  Still, that is the atmosphere the Christian west finds itself in today.
 
        While I do not believe the Catholic Church needs to refocus efforts that lean away from spreading the truth to all peoples, including to Protestants, I do feel that as Protestants are Christians we can certainly dialogue with them and live out Christian charity amongst ourselves.  That being the case, it is also a spiritual work of mercy to point out to our Protestant brothers and sisters that they are not experiencing the full sacramental communion of those in union with the successor of St. Peter, the head of the Church appointed by Jesus Christ.  So as Catholics, we do not merely pray that we can somehow work better with Protestants in converting our nation, or that we can get along better when we dialogue, but we actually pray the Church be one in every sense.  This means we pray that our Protestant friends would be convinced of the truth of Catholicism and would "swim the Tiber", so to speak, and become Catholics.  After all, wouldn't you want the best for those whom you love and want them to be given all the blessings and experience the full life of the Church that Christ wants for them? If the answer is no, then you really do not love them, and really have no desire to evangelize at all or get what the Church exists for anyways.  This is why the Catholic Church engages in this week of prayer for unity.  While maybe this current Pontiff does not think that is what this week is for, I think it is exactly why it exists and why we find ourselves here in this week as Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox.

        These reasons below are mostly aimed at Protestants (yes that includes you Canterburians).  Most Protestants will think that is out of hatred or spite, but it is actually not the case.  Catholics see the Orthodox as Churches with valid sacraments and that the Orthodox Patriarchs even go back to the Holy Apostles.  The only thing missing from the Orthodox Church is communion with Rome.  While we pray that any Orthodox Christians who are enlightened to the Pope's role as head of the Church may discerningly come into communion with the Holy Father through the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, or the Latin Rite, the Catholic Church sees the future of unity with the East in corporate reunion.  So through dialogue and working with the East, it is possible to actually one day come back into communion with each other and still exist even as the minor differences exist between us, but as one united Church.  Yet, with Protestants it is not so.  The communities founded by Protestants have no succession from the early church, no valid sacraments, and therefore there is nothing to which corporate reunion becomes a possibility (one may say that the Anglican Ordinariate was the closest thing to what that would look like with whole congregations coming into the Church together- still they need to be confirmed and recieve their valid sacraments in the Catholic Church).  Protestants would need to discern individually the truth of the Catholic Church and join the Church on an individual basis.  That is the only reason why the below blog is mostly aimed at Protestants.

         While there are an infinite amount of reasons to join the Catholic Church, here are 5 major reasons to join the Catholic Church in 2017:

1) A United Church Is A Truly United Front

        As I have said the world doesn't really like us Christians too much.  Secularism cannot withstand forever, it will be replaced by something.  Whether it is a dominantly secular culture, or a dominantly Muslim culture, or a pagan culture- every Christian knows that every person needs Jesus Christ.  Our culture can only flourish when it is a Christian culture- I truly believe that.  A secular culture does not keep a country thriving.  Just look around you and secularism is collapsing.  It has quickly evolved into a neo-pagan society with Islamic society slowly on the rise in Europe.  When Christians are bickering with each other and divided, it is not a truly united front to engage the culture.  Far from it.  I do believe Christians should be bold and honest about our differences, but the reality is that division in the Church will always make the Church just less than efficient in converting all peoples to Christ.  Yet, the Catholic Church is the most qualified institution at doing such a thing.  The Catholic Church converted an entire nation of New World Indians by showing them a tilma with Jesus' mother on it.  The Catholic Church was sending priests and monks into pagan lands before Protestantism even existed, and continued to do so when the consistent Protestant ethic is that people will only be converted if the ruler of the land spreads the empire and forces people to convert (forced conversion was a Protestant distortion, not a Catholic one).  The Catholic Church has 2,000 years experience, I think she might know a thing or two about this.

2) Catholicism is unity

        All over Europe and the United States, Christian denominations are growing but Churches are shrinking.  Why is that?  In Protestantism there is more disunity than ever, and yet it becomes harder and harder every year to fill the pews.  The Catholic Church has unity built into it.  Do you know how you not united with the Church?  When you are not in communion with the rock that Christ founded his Church on.  I hear Protestants accuse Catholics of not being truly in unity with themselves, but that is truly a misguided thought.  Catholics know who they are united with and who they are not united with.  Some Catholics might fall into heresy, but they must be willing to be corrected by the Church.  Still, mother Church can choose to excommunicate over said heresy or not.  If they do not, the person believing the heresy still must relent or else they may not be saved in the end.  If they are excommunicated though, that is a clear and definitive sign that they are not united to the Church and must repent quickly (excommunication is meant to be therapeutic and not vindictive).  Sure there are liberal Catholics as well as conservative, traditional, neoconservative, brown, blue, green, whatever.  While there may be truths that exist in each of these subgroups, they still are called to adhere to the one teaching that Catholics are called to adhere to- the teaching of the Magisterium.  So these groups need to shy away from any ideas that are contrary to the Catholic faith, and it isn't so hard to figure out what that is.  With documents widely published from councils, the internet, archives available to Catholics, and primarily the Catechism of the Catholic Church- Catholics have so many resources to know and follow their faith as best they can.  Some may choose not to use it, but that is their own error.   Catholics may dissent from the Magisterium, and honestly, may be allowed to do so for now without correction.  That doesn't mean they are right, and that doesn't mean that the Church cannot correct them tomorrow or the day after that.  The Church always has that right because Christ said so (Matthew 18:18). "One does not truly love the Father unless one truly love their Mother (the Church)".

3) Morality

        Despite everything, the Catholic Church is the only branch of Christianity that still maintains a system of ethics that has been passed down since the time of the apostles.  Prior to the 1930's all Christians believed birth control and abortion were intrinsic evils.  The Church has been an prophet of peace to governments, empires, kings, dictators trying to widen their domain, and the Church using whatever influence she has to maintain the delicate balance that is always in danger of toppling over.  I know Protestants who feel a strong unity with Catholics over the right to life issue.  They feel empowered by Catholics who agree with them, when many in their community do not agree with them.  With the exception of Hobby Lobby, The Catholic Church was the main contender these last 8 years when the HHS Mandate was established by the Obama Administration in trying to protect the right of religious conscience and freedom in this country.  What a sad sight to see poor nuns being taken to court over not wanting to violate their religions beliefs on issues like abortion and birth control.  The Just War Theory was invented by the Catholic Church.  Christian Pascifism was even born in the Catholic Church.  This is not to say Catholics everywhere followed through on these perfectly, individual Catholics have committed atrocities.  Still the Church called them to repentance as she does to every poor sinner on Earth.

4) Truth

        Protestants might likely roll their eyes at this, but the Catholic Church contains the fullness of truth in the teaching of Christ Jesus.  We have the seven sacraments that were given to us by Christ.  We have had councils that gave even Protestants their most sacred treasures (The New Testament, the dogma of the trinity, the nature of Christ, etc).  We have continued to have these same councils since Protestants seperated and have meditated, dialogued, and lived the spiritual life together as one Church.  We have beautiful prayer traditions.  I have not read a single book on serious prayer and spiritual disciplines that does not cite a Catholic saint.   If they don't, then it is because they stole the idea from a Catholic saint and did not cite them.  Protestants may want to cherry pick what they like from Catholicism, but if you are deciding what to pick from the cherry tree then it is a religion about you and not a religion about Jesus Christ.  This isn't to say the Church is a perfect society, of course not- not yet.  We are all human and the Church has dealt with some bad issues over the course of 2,000 years.  While today some Catholic Bishops might preach something that goes against Church teaching about sex, marriage, or gender- so the Church had Arian bishops preaching a distorted Jesus Christ.  Still, the Church acts as the shepherd to all Christians and the Holy Ghost protects the Church from completely falling into error.  The Church as a whole cannot fall into error, because Jesus Christ said the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her.  So while humans are sinful and can fall away, so here the Church still stands after surviving every empire and major fad for the last 2,000 years.

5) Because Jesus

        Why would Jesus have waited 1500 years to allow Christians to FINALLY figure out what he meant at the Protestant Reformation?  Did he not love Christians during those 1500 years?  Was He not saving them?  I cannot believe that Christ would be so powerless to allow a man-made Church to usurp his own for 1500 years until Luther finally was able to get "real Christians" to figure it out.  No!  He loves you, he loved them, he loves all mankind.  He is sovereign over His Church.  If he allowed His Church to be usurped, then he is not a sovereign God.  If the Church is what the holy scriptures say she is, then she must have existed since Christ ascended into Heaven and gave us the gift of the Holy Ghost.  So Jesus is waiting to have a deeper relationship with you.  He calls all people to join his one Church that he founded- the Holy Catholic Church.


So, I know some people will likely not get this far, they might have stopped reading by now and split.  If you are reading this far, God bless you.  God bless the person who stopped as well.  Still, I thank you for reading this.  I welcome any Christian comments below.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Rosary and Anglican Patrimony

Legend holds that the Roman, or Dominican, Rosary (the arrangement of beads as they are set up even to today) was given to St. Dominic by Our Lady in an apparition.  Whether this actually happened or not, it doesn't matter really.

Beautiful tale that it is...


Anyways, aren't those sneaky bead-pettlin' Roman Papists of a different breed?  They are not Prayer Book Catholics.  Right?

Wrong.

Afterall, it was the Catholic Church who gave us the Divine Offices to begin with.  Anglicans tend to think that Catholics do not pray the offices and resort to other, more common rituals.  In a lot of cases, Catholics do like more common rituals. Still, choosing to pray the rosary is not a naive neglect of the daily offices.  I myself still maintain a deep love of the Daily Office, but also the Holy Rosary.

It is a little-known fact that the Rosary and the Daily Offices are interconnected.  As the monks of old would recite the entire Psalter, all 150 Psalms, in Latin- that left a predicament for the laypeople who wished to pray along with the Church.  It wasn't common that layfolk could read, so some would memorize prayers that they could recite during their own time of prayer.  Over time, the most popular prayers that were memorized were the Pater Noster (Our Father) and the Ave Maria (Hail Mary) prayers.  So, there was a development for laypeople to recite 150 Aves to coincide with the monks praying all 150 psalms of the psalter.  Out of that practice, the Holy Rosary was developed as we know it today with the 3 different sets of mysteries (or meditations) attached to it.

Still, it isn't praying the offices themselves.  Today, yes almost everyone can read and read/ pray the offices simply over an online site or a breviary if they have one.  There is something specific about the rosary that attracts many to it, including very many Anglicans.  The Rosary is very specifically tied to devotion to Our Lady.  You cannot seperate the Rosary from Our Lady.  Anglicans have tried to by creating their own version of the beads and prayers.  Still, it is unimpressive even to some in the Anglican Communion.  So when Anglicans learn the history of doctrinal and dogmatic development on Mary in the Catholic Church, they become fascinated with her apparitions and the Rosary devotion to her.  Monsignor Ronald Knox, Fr. William Faber , Bl. John Henry Newman, T.S. Eliot, and more all had a profound devotion to Our Lady, which ultimately led them to praying the Rosary regularly.
Finally, the Rosary has in it a more well-rounded approach to entering the spiritual doorway than the Daily Office.  While the sacred word in the Daily Office is deeply profound, and is of the highest spiritual aspects in Catholicism, not everyone can get a lot of benefit from it.  The Rosary, on the other hand, has within it a broad procedure that allows the engagement of the senses to lead on into a state of meditation.  The tradition of the Rosary is designed to lead the faithful Christian into a reflection on the lives of Christ and Our Lady.  Here is what Bl. John Henry Newman had to say about the Rosary in one of his reflections:

"Now the great power of the Rosary lies in this, that it makes the Creed into a prayer; of course the Creed is in some sense a prayer and a great act of homage to God; but the Rosary gives us the great truths of his life and death to meditate upon, and brings them nearer to our hearts. And so we contemplate all the great mysteries of his life and his birth in the manger; and so too the mysteries of his suffering and his glorified life. But even Christians, with all their knowledge of God, have usually more awe than love of him, and the special virtue of the Rosary lies in the special way in which it looks at these mysteries; for with all our thoughts of him are mingled thoughts of his Mother, and in the relations between Mother and Son we have set before us the Holy Family, the home in which God lived. Now the family is, evenly humanly considered, a sacred thing; how much more the family bound together by supernatural ties, and, above all, that in which God dwelt with his Blessed Mother. This is what I should most wish you to remember in future years." (Sayings of Cardinal Newman, London 1890, pp 44-45.)

Catholics pray the rosary out of love for the tradition of the Daily Office, Our Lady, and Holy Mother Church.  The Rosary is so profound that it has attracted many, including those deeply ingrained in Anglo-Catholic spirituality.  While it has made it's home amongst different types of Catholics, it is ingrained and connected to the Anglican Patrimony as well.



Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Anglican Communion or Surprised Once in a Blue Moon

Anyone who cares will have read that the Anglican Communion has disciplined the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA) for changing their canons and doctrine on allowing homosexuals to be married and having their marriages blessed by the Episcopal Church. Frankly, nobody saw this coming.  The ECUSA has failed to even offer any statement on this as of yet, which is a show of being taken off guard.  For those who are not aware of the backstory:

The Anglican Communion has slowly been falling apart.  Much, but not all, of the controversy revolves around the official branch of the Anglican Church in the United States openly allowed active homosexuals to be clergy, then married homosexuals to be clergy, then allowing priests to be the celebrants of "gay weddings". The major branch of Anglicanism that were crying fowl were the African Anglican bishops.  The African bishops even attempted to form a Continuing Anglican branch in the United States, called the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA), aimed at re-evangelizing American Anglicans. So, with the U.S. showing no sign of discretion to uphold classic Christian teaching on sexuality, the Anglican Bishops have been apprehensive to participate in Anglican gatherings alongside the ECUSA.  They even refused to attend the tradition Lambeth Conference, to which Archbishop Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury) cancelled in order to allow time for healing and dialogue first.  Now a conference was scheduled for the Communion to discuss the disagreements amongst themselves.  Every major commentator was expecting this to be the last meeting the African bishops would attend before declaring themselves out of the Anglican Communion.  Except, by a surprise turn of events, the Communion recognized that the ECUSA has finally gone too far and has now sought to discipline the U.S. Church.

I really expected Canterbury would rather watch Africa leave than attempt to touch the United States. While Africa has the numbers, America has the money.  The ECUSA has a history and major influence in the communion, one that appeared to many to be untouchable.  I have to say, I am impressed Welby allowed it.  It seems that England tries to not have opinions about anything regarding the communion as a whole. Yesterday, I had a chance to listen to the BBC4 Sunday episode. To discuss the conference, they had two evangelical Anglican clergyman on, Stephen Ruttle and Andrew Atherstone, to discuss the mediation needed in this discussion. Their opinions seemed to be the standard of the rest of progressive religious diologue, that we can continue to exist in a state of disagreement and not "resort to hatred of each other". Unfortunately, that doesn't take the issues at hand very seriously and acknowledge why the African bishops are so angry.  It was seemingly telling of how things were to go.

Now that this is done, what might happen?  I highly anticipate the response from the ECUSA will be nothing but golden.  Some have wondered if this will lead to the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) to be recognized by the Communion. Don't hold your breathe.  That is likely never going to happen. Again, even though the ECUSA was disciplined in this way, they will NOT allow the Communion to recognize anyone but them as the official branch in the United States. Canterbury is not going to risk a schism (afterall, isn't that why they resorted to disciplining ECUSA in the first place?) and cause further frustration than they feel necessary. Plus, it isn't their M.O.  Canterbury will continue to "dialogue" with those who want to do what they want anyways while everything falls apart around them.  Be honest, the Communion is dead already. Continuing Anglican bodies, like the Communion will grow smaller and smaller, until they need to rethink their existence altogether.  Many serious Anglicans, in their desire to find tradition while avoiding Rome, have jumped out of Anglicanism completely, while the ones who care about their traditions have gone to Rome. Continuing Anglicans would do well to consider Rome.  All the beautiful traditions of Canterbury are now in Rome thanks to the formation of the Anglican Ordinariate in the Catholic Church. If these beautiful traditions are really worth keeping, would you join Rome to keep them?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Why the Papacy Made me Catholic

I wanted to reflect on two men who had significant influence in my becoming a Catholic: St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
As a kid growing up, I had a healthy exposure to religion growing up. From reading bible stories with my Jehovah's Witness grandparents, to going to Antigua, Guatemala every year during Holy Week to watch the processions in the street and see the decorative depictions of Christ's journey to the cross. I didn't get fully ingrained into the technical understanding of either religion until much later. I didn't understand the difference between Catholics and JW's, nor any other sect that branched from the Church. Even when I became an evangelical Christian, I didn't know that all Christians were not under the Pope. I remember seeing pictures of the smiling charismatic Saint, John Paul II. I could not help but think to myself in my earliest days of seeing this Bishop of Rome in white: "wow, what a great man".  The man radiated holiness, even just through pictures of him. It wasn't a conservative or liberal or any political connection based off of his pontificate, it was just that glow of holiness.

The day I found out that Protestants do not consider the Pope their leader in the faith, I was quite disappointed. I remember asking "why not?", and getting slight frustrated responses after more questioning. Why wasn't this holy man someone we followed as a leader designated by Christ? Even though Protestants argue that the Petrine office instituted by Christ in the scriptures is actually not so, I didn't buy it. I wrote it off as relative. "Oh well, these folks didn't like the Pope so they decided to do something about it. That doesn't mean Catholics are wrong to interpret scripture like they do". That thought was the beginning of the dangerous path I started to walk on. I stayed an evangelical nonetheless for awhile longer, because I figured it didn't matter much anyways. 

Years later when John Paul II died, I remember seeing the election of Benedict XVI and I remember being disappointed. He didn't have that presence John Paul II had. The media was not kind on Benedict either, so as an outsider I was not taking in fair treatment of the new Pontiff. The memory of John Paul stuck with me though. If this holy man was Catholic, and you couldn't tell me even as a Protestant that he was not,then maybe Catholicism is not so erroneous. It wasn't until my induction into the world of Anglicanism that I really learned about Ratzinger's (Benedict's) contribution to theological and liturgical matters. Over time I realized what a treasure the Catholic Church had received (and how I was slightly jealous). These Catholics have one of the best living scriptural theologians alive today, writing books about the Historical Jesus even as Pope, and here we Protestants are saying the Catholic Church doesn't care about the bible. 

Upon my entry into the Catholic Church, it was surreal being exposed to this world of looking at your leaders from within instead of without. Immediately I began to discover some major gaffes in John Paul's pontificate. Then I noticed how Benedict  was picking up the pieces. Benedict had given us Anglicanorum Coetibus and Summorum Pontificum.  Both of those decrees make Benedict, likely, the best Pope in my lifetime. I had realized that it was St. John Paul II who invited me in, and Benedict XVI helped me feel welcome in the Church. I feel that both these Popes will go down in history as a duo. After all, much of the good that came from John Paul was from Ratzinger's. Much of the good in Benedict, was begun by John Paul. Both of these men will always be heroes to me. I am indebted to them both.