The following interview took place on February 8, 2021, with Dillon, who entered the Church in September 2020 at age 21.
What is your faith background?
Dillon: My family is Protestant. We went to a couple different churches, but very charismatic. That’s how all my siblings were raised. There’s the six of us who are related by blood and then I’ve got two older siblings who came to live with us when I was very little.
Did you feel a connection to Jesus through charismatic worship?
Dillon: I honestly didn’t. I’m sure it can be very encouraging to some people and inspire those kinds of feelings in them, but it didn’t do that to me and I came to associate faith and holiness with that sort of emotion. It became somewhat damaging to my faith. I was very distinctly aware that whatever it seemed like everyone else was experiencing, I really wasn’t.
How did you end up deciding to go to Thomas Aquinas College?
Dillon: Originally, it wasn’t religiously motivated. I went to a liberal arts charter school that I loved and I will always be so thankful to God that my mom put me there. I really fell in love with it in my freshman geometry class taught by a Thomas Aquinas College alum. He was one of my first points of contact for the faith. He really didn’t evangelize much – well, in a sense he did, just because of the way he taught us, how well he taught us, and inspired a love for the truth and a respect for beauty. That could only be called evangelization. I enjoyed learning so much, I enjoyed geometry and philosophy so much that when he told me about Thomas Aquinas College, I immediately decided that I had to go.
I was just thinking about a conversation my mom and I had where she was questioning me – I think this was 11th grade, maybe it was senior year – why it was that I was having such a hard time faith-wise, struggling to feel God’s presence and His direction. I remember telling her that I could not feel God’s presence in my life at all, except for one thing: for some reason, I was certain that I had to go to Thomas Aquinas College. I recognized that it was somewhat irrational. I wanted to go so badly before I really knew what it was that I thought that it must be God telling me to go.
From the beginning of the age of reason to halfway to three-quarters of the way through high school I was living what I would call a morally average or a morally acceptable life. Since I was living in a way that didn’t bother me, morally, I didn’t feel strongly the lacking in my spiritual life. Toward the end of high school I was challenged morally in ways that I hadn’t been previously and when I was really challenged and I really failed – then I noticed more distinctly how much I was lacking spiritually and how much I wanted to remedy that.
I became more invested in solving my spiritual problems intellectually, so I started trying to do that within the Protestant frame of mind and I found it to be difficult. It became really bothering to me that Christians, any Christians whatsoever, could disagree about what books are in the Bible. It seemed to me, if we’re going to say that the Bible is our one spiritual authority, if we’re going to take all of our principles for how we live our life and our principles for what we believe about God from this one book, we better all agree on what this book is. That really shook me.
When I started digging into it and I found out what the reason is for the original canon and the fact that the Biblical authority in some way was derived from the authority of the Church itself, I started really being suspicious of Catholicism and thinking “Wow, maybe there’s something more to this idea.”
How did you decide Catholicism was true?
Dillon: As soon as you show up at Thomas Aquinas College, and you’re not a Catholic, it tends to be a point of conversation more often than not. A lot of the Catholic kids were really interested in learning more about the Protestant frame of mind even though I wasn’t considering myself a Protestant at the time and I didn’t want to be considered a Protestant. I ended up having those conversations a lot and I gathered a lot from the Catholic side of things.
I ran into some serious difficulties in sophomore year where, here at Thomas Aquinas College, we study Augustine’s writing in some detail and I honestly fell in love with him. I really, really like him. He’s a very compelling writer and I think he’s a very honest interpreter of the Bible. On top of that, I respected his knowledge of the scriptures. That drew me to him and I think ended up being the reason I chose him as my confirmation saint.
But despite that, I found some of his conclusions to be very, very difficult – specifically, his descriptions of grace and how it interacts with the will and his interpretation of God’s providence. But I did understand that that was just an effect of approaching the faith intellectually. Those are problems that really anyone who is approaching the Bible with an honest yet analytical mind is going to run into.
In some way those difficulties haven’t been resolved. I just somehow learned to look past them. That doesn’t mean ignore them, but be able to deal with my own lack of understanding in a way that I think is reconciled to faith.
The way that that happened was by being convinced of the True Presence, because that’s what’s at the heart of Catholicism. I think it is hard for Catholics who have been believing that fact since the cradle to fully appreciate how amazing or unbelievable that is to a Protestant mind. I was fascinated by that idea but I found it hard to accept for a long time.
It was in my junior year when I finally decided, “Wow, that’s just got to be right.” I was looking at the scriptural passages where Christ is saying “this is my body.” What convinced me that He had to be speaking literally was that what’s clear from the historical record is that all of Christ’s apostles founded churches which believed in this fact. What does that mean? Maybe it means that they all happened to be mistaken, that the entire early church was misguided by falsely interpreting what Christ said when He said “this is my body,” which is what a Protestant would have to think. What made that interpretation unacceptable to me was that we call Christ the good teacher, the good teacher, and yet believe that He taught in such a way as to mislead the world for more than a thousand years about what, I think, Catholics and Protestants would agree is the most important point of divergence between them.
That was the tipping point for me. Then the trouble was, “How do I swallow everything else that is hard to deal with? And how do I cultivate a spiritual life? I’ve been intellectually interested in biblical interpretation and in church authority and Catholicism for a long time, but that hasn’t brought me any closer to having a living spiritual life.” I was faced with basically learning to pray. I couldn’t seem to make any progress until I ran into the Catholic teaching that faith is a gift. That teaching was coupled with something I believe I heard from Blaise Pascal, something along the lines of, “how do you tell a person who wants to have faith from one who doesn’t?” It’s pretty simple in the end, just the one who wants to have faith acts like the people who do have faith. I’m not sure how true that is but it really does strike me. I decided to just do whatever little thing I could to gain faith. I would just repeat to myself, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
Did anyone help you, or were you struggling through this alone intellectually?
Dillon: It’s hard to say who helped me, but that would only be because so many people did. A great help came from a beautiful woman who’s now my fiancée, because she convinced me to start going to Mass with her. Being in a Catholic environment experiencing the Mass helped because it was not intellectual. I had a lot of intellectual influences that were beneficial, but I think it was good for me to experience firsthand another kind of worship. The kind of worship I was growing up with didn’t appeal to me and, at the time when I thought that was the only mode of worship, it became a stumbling block to my faith. When I was exposed to the Mass and got to experience it and enjoy it, it was a great acceleration to my faith.
Was the fact that the Mass was offered in the Extraordinary Form, in Latin, off-putting or uncomfortable?
Dillon: I had an advantage because for a while now I’ve been an aspiring latinist. I just love Latin. I had sung in choir in high school and I joined this men’s schola at Thomas Aquinas College in my freshman year and we would sing for the Mass fairly often. That exposed me to what I would consider the most beautiful form of the Mass, just the Latin Mass with a choir singing in the back. It was beautiful.
Singing with that choir helped me move through one of the more difficult parts about accepting the faith, which was certain points of Marian devotion, for example, the Immaculate Conception. We were singing this beautiful, beautiful Corsican chant called “Tota Pulchra Es” about the Immaculate Conception. [see SoundCloud link below to hear Dillon’s choir sing “Tota Pulchra Es”}
I remember being struck with how beautiful it is and how I was so convinced by the beauty of the song that whoever had written it must have fully believed in that truth. By seeing that belief and singing this song I was able to appreciate for the first time the beauty of the belief in the Immaculate Conception.
That’s how it’s been ever since I came into the Church. I’ve been grounded in my firm conviction about the True Presence and I’m trying my best to appreciate the beauty of these other more peripheral dogmas, say about Mary, and trying to understand some of Augustine’s doctrines that are still a little hard.
What does your family think?
Dillon: My brother Jordan and I both converted and I was wondering how my mom would think about that. She has very firm convictions about the way that we worship and about theology. She’s never been formally trained but I think she’s a theological genius. She’s been supportive and accepting about our conversion and, most of all, which is what I love, and will always love, is that she’s so curious about the things that we believe now. There’s nothing that she would rather do all day, everyday then talk about God and talk about Jesus and how we should best worship Him.
It’s been a very helpful support to my faith and I think if I had to work against her I would be much worse off. She’s very invested in the conclusions. She’s happy as long as she believes that we are really giving ourselves to the Lord, but at the same time she wants to understand.
Do you have advice for how Catholics can better evangelize Protestants?
Dillon: Expose a little bit more of the beauty of Catholicism and expose what is very emotionally compelling about Catholicism. I think that with Catholicism relying on so much intellectual tradition it has very well-defined doctrine and for that reason lends itself more to a cold intellectualism, a cold conviction. That’s what a lot of Protestants see. They see this belief in God which is not quite motivated by the heart. I’m not sure if that’s the right way to put it, but my advice would be to try and share with our Protestant brothers what exactly is so beautiful about our faith.
Sometimes when I’m appreciating the mystery of the True Presence, I feel like I always wanted to feel back in our charismatic worship services. I think that if we could try to express what it is that’s so beautiful about the Catholic faith, maybe some of the Protestants who are not really seeing the emotional appeal of Catholicism would think about it a little more.
California Catholic Daily writer Mary Rose is interviewing young Catholic converts as part of our Inquiring Minds series. If you are a young convert to the Catholic Church and would like to share your story, please contact us.