The announcement that I had been voted to be the Buena High School’s Bible Club president was delivered to me over a lunch break while sitting with my track friends. We were in the quad watching the seagulls descend on food scraps left behind by the couple thousands of high schoolers. Cool! I could be a Bible Club president. After all, this was yet another time when just agreeing to be open to something has opened a door that would lead to a great adventure.
I was a cocky high school guy who loved Jesus and knew that He would guide me no matter where the adventures took me. I was a Presbyterian, and uncertainty wasn’t a Calvinist mode. My motto was the Proverb: “….in all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” After all, he’d brought me through lots already.
I’ll never know why one of my best friends, a peaceful and artistic type from a large Catholic family, put up with my frequent and annoying questions about why he believed this or that obvious heresy. It never seemed to bother him that I was so concerned that he worshiped Mary, didn’t know that all he needed was Jesus, nor that Jesus didn’t need to stay on the cross like he was on the crucifixes he had around the house. “You added books to the Bible. You earn your salvation. You believe in traditions and have graven images.”
Instead, my friend gently answered my questions with great gentleness. It wasn’t his answers that led to this first time that I began to doubt my Protestant faith, but the fact that my long list (dare I say litany?) of questions didn’t seem to faze him. He didn’t mind, because of some deep-seated peace that was foreign to me (goodness). What did he know that I didn’t? The piles of his brother’s This Rock magazines that he had lying around that he let me borrow also helped (truth).
As high school ended, I found that the best way to put myself though college was to study hard by day and to work nights to pay for it, as a custodian and night watchman at a Missionary Church, where I was on staff in the youth group. After locking up late at night and often running around the freshly waxed hallways, I’d often find myself in the surprisingly large library of that little church late at night searching the obvious Christian rebuttals to my friend’s many good answers. Like every one of the many churches I’d gone to during high school, a common thread was a clear antipathy for the Catholic Church. Why was it then that this church’s library lacked any books that had responses to these questions? Also, why were there no books at all published before the 1960s? How could this church be the church that Jesus founded if their only books were so very recent?
I bought a Catechism of the Catholic Church from the Barnes and Nobel to see what the Catholic Church said about itself instead of what others say about it. What I found was beautiful and focused clearly on Jesus (more truth and some beauty). There was a lot of Bible in the Catechism and Catholics aren’t supposed to know the Bible. That was for us Christians, as we preferred call ourselves. Moreover, I couldn’t find much in that the Catechism that I disagreed with. Was it possible that I had been wrong about some things I’d heard and read, and possibly said myself, about the Catholic Church? A shudder. “Remember the Proverb and just keep searching,” I told myself.
After more reading and conversations with friends from many traditions, I went to Mass and found that it was chock-full of Bible, almost from beginning to end. It wasn’t long until I entered a college Confirmation class and soon afterwards, the Church during the senior year in college. A little over a year later I married one of those friends who was so central to answering so many of my questions I had been asking for so many years. Now as a father of five kids to whom we’re passing on the faith, with the oldest in a good Catholic college, it shouldn’t be surprising, that He’s made straight my paths through the truth, beauty and goodness found only in Catholic Church, but He sure has.
– Tim Nicely
The above is an honorable mention winner in the California Catholic Daily writing contest, Late have I loved Thee.
The remaining winners will be published Tues. – Fri. this week.