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. 

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