Volume > Issue > Exploring Catholicism

Exploring Catholicism

Guest Column

By James Prothero | July-August 1990
James Prothero, who lives in San Juan Capistrano, California, is a high school English teacher.

Having been asked to write something further on my introduction to the Catholic Church (see my “Discovering Catholicism” in the March NOR), I initially reacted with cau­tion. I have been warned more than once that the bark of Peter is leaky; there are problems: bad clergy, acrimonious politics, perhaps even the abuse of power. I’m sure this is all true, but from where I stand as a new Catholic, these things seem trite in comparison to the spiritual riches I am finding.

I recently realized that my conversion was, at least in part, an answer to a prayer of mine. I had been subject to this vague and in­explicable feeling that I needed to grow more — but within my Protestant understanding there was nowhere to grow toward. I was raised in Presbyterian and Lutheran Sunday schools; they gave me a thorough spiritual foundation. But all the teaching I subsequently encountered was beginning to seem like watching reruns.

How could I grow closer to Christ? It seemed the only answer lay in being a mis­sionary or a preacher. But I felt distinctly uncalled to either calling. Certainly, loving more like Christ loved was part of the answer, and I don’t pretend to have accomplished that, but something else was missing. I felt this loss most acutely while at the C.S. Lewis Society Summer Workshops at St. Andrew’s (Roman Catholic) Priory on the high desert of Valyermo, California. Just standing in the chapel there, one seemed to tremble on the brink of eternity. There was something much bigger here and somehow I was on a plateau below it, held back.

When I became Episcopalian I felt as though I had moved a step closer. The liturgy and the sacrament were there. There was Fr. Alan Jones, and some ecumenical interplay with Catholics, but for me the vague hunger was still there. The brothers at Valyermo, especially Fr. Luke, who tirelessly answered questions, seemed to exude quietly something I couldn’t trace. The real kicker for me was Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” The character called “the Misfit,” a homicidal maniac, tells his vic­tim that,

He [Jesus] thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can….

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