As I was making my way into the Catholic Church about 5 years ago, my priest at the time said something that still echoes in my mind today-
“The Catholic Church is a treasure chest of spiritual resources. You can skim the top and experience only the basics of Christianity, but there is so much more than the Church offers to deepen your relationship with Jesus.”
And thus began my journey into discovering the draw and allure of the Catholic Church.
When I first started meeting with this old, crazy, brash priest who was refreshingly honest and unapologetic of his faith, I was under the impression that the Church was full of unnecessary rules and distracting rituals that pulled people away from a real connection with the Savior. “Why not just strip away all the nonsense and let it just be about Jesus?” I thought. Why does it seem like everything is so structured and clunky? But in my journey of discovering the Catholic faith, I have found that it is the ultimate love story between God and his people. God reveals himself to the Church, opens his heart to us, and demonstrates “No greater love” in that, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” and chose to manifest this love through the Catholic Church (Romans 5:8). What could ever be more alluring? As St Peter articulated, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
I don’t intend this to be an apologetic defense of the Catholic Church, but rather a personal testimony of what drew me to the Church and what continues to allure me every day.
Stripping Away Truth and Depth
Much of the Catholic faith is horribly misunderstood by society and even when an idea sounds appealing, when they discover that it is Catholic they are immediately turned off to it. I realized early on that my aversion to the church was somewhat misguided- if I truly wanted God and heaven, I needed to be open to “The Truth”, wherever that may be.
This aversion to Catholic teaching breaks my heart because the modern form of “stripped down” Christianity is missing the depth and spirituality the Catholic Church offers to its faithful in order to enhance and strengthen our relationships with Jesus Christ. Yes, the Catholic Church has rules and regulations and standards and rituals but they are all in place to help us grow closer to God! I heard it put this way once- think about the little things that you might do to show your spouse that you love them: have their favorite coffee ready in the morning, say the words you know they need to hear, volunteer to watch the kids while they nap, give them a message, choose their favorite restaurant instead of your own, or pray with and for them. The little things that the Church promotes and makes available to us are just that- small signs that show Jesus that we love him and we care about our relationship. So next time we kneel before entering the pew, cross ourselves before a meal, recite a prayer, abstain from meat on Fridays, fast during Lent, or any other action the Church provides for us, remember that these actions are simply small methods to show Jesus and the world who we love above all.
Even when I became convinced of Catholic teachings I remember thinking, “I can’t do this- it’s too hard! And it will have lasting, unknown effects on my spiritual and worldly relationships.” I knew I was being called to “put out into deep water” and respond to God’s voice but I couldn’t bring myself to make the jump. But like the fisherman-turned-apostle Simon Peter, who was hesitant to obey the call of Jesus after catching nothing all night and yet allowed himself to be led into the depths where Jesus would touch his life like he never thought possible, I too followed the draw of God’s voice, “left everything and followed Him” (Luke 5). The result? Well, I’m still a sinner. But growing closer to God each day through the Catholic Church.
Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us
One of the first things that allured me was the epic nature of the Church. Allow me to explain.
The universality of Catholic mass: it features the same words and actions that have been spoken by Christians for 2,000 years! If we were to befriend Marty McFly and travel back to the time of the early church fathers, they would be reciting the same words of consecration at mass that we participate in today. In addition, the Vatican strategically schedules the liturgy three years at a time (the entire Bible is covered during this span) for Catholics to follow together so that the same bible readings, prayers, and liturgy can be used throughout the world! If we were to attend mass in Africa, China, Italy, or Australia, it would basically be the same experience that we enjoy in America (albeit with some cultural differences, which can make it even more amazing). How epic is that?!
The Eucharist: as Saint Pope John Paul II said,
“The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfilment of the promise: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity.”
Considered by the Church to be “the source and summit of Christian life”, the Eucharist is God’s ultimate method of portraying his love to his people. Think about it: the God of the universe became a human, died for a bunch of sinners, and then continues to sacrifice himself each mass so that we may have abundant life in this age and in heaven. The most amazing miracle of eternity is performed at each mass! I will admit I have had doubts about the “real presence” of Jesus in the Eucharist because of the craziness of the concept, but the evidence is too hard to deny. And how much more crazy is this than the fact that God is three-in-one or that he became a crying innocent baby? The discourse in John 6, the parallels between the Passover Lamb of the old testament (they ate the Lamb), Jesus’ words of consecration (“This is my body”), the fact that he was born in a feeding trough, Eucharistic miracles, and so many other proofs all point towards the fact that Jesus truly loves us enough to offer his body, blood, and divinity to the human race in the Eucharist for our salvation. Wow!
And to those who are convinced that Catholics are wrong on this point…what if they’re right?
Think about what you are missing out on.
The epic nature of the mass and the Eucharist demand reverence, silence, and respect. The average church-goer may complain that Catholics are too stoic, serious, quiet, or lacking joy, but when the God of eternity is present, I am inclined to shut my mouth and listen. The Church’s emphasis on the mystery of God, his presence among us, and how that should give us repose in our spiritual lives is another aspect that draws me to be Catholic. We can never hope to fully understand God in all of his glory, but the Catholic Church gives us the ability to at least dwell on the mystery of God and allow ourselves to be allured by his love. Don’t believe me? Spend an hour in silent adoration of the Eucharist and tell me you don’t feel more peaceful, loved, inspired, and blessed.
In discerning my faith direction, I was forced to take the attitude of the chasing the truth- What is the true path to God? Who decides what is true? Does it ever change? Why do something if it is not right, true, and just? If we take any route other than the pursuit of truth we are liable to be misled by emotions, lies, agendas, or ignorance. As a result of this mindset, I became drawn to the idea of apostolic succession and tradition in the Catholic Church.
It makes so much sense- if Jesus wanted to grow and maintain the faith of his followers, wouldn’t he want to leave a church on earth until he returned? And wouldn’t he want it to be continuous, organized, and successive? And wouldn’t he want to guide it through the Holy Spirit so it was able to communicate the fullness of truth to all of human history?
“[Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:21-23
It gives me a certain amount of assurance knowing that the Catholic Church has been around for 2,000 years, survived heresies, attacks by the devil, persecution and schisms and continues to be the “pillar and foundation of truth” that helps us interpret the gift of faith that God has given us (1 Timothy 3:15). We need authoritative interpretation by a hierarchical, overarching body of arbiters inspired and led by the Holy Spirit otherwise we fall into “Biblical relativism” in which everyone can interpret and apply the Bible as they may. The Bible an extremely in-depth document and has multiple layers- interpreting it independently not only leads to errors but prevents people from fully experiencing what the Christian faith has to offer.
Truth doesn’t change (no Magisterial teachings have been contradicted or repealed throughout history), and how can we know what truth is if we don’t have a Holy Spirit-led Church to guide us into the fullness of truth and reveal God’s love throughout the ages?
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:12-13
Another aspect of the Church that allured me early on and continues to draw me in is its unapologetically high standards when it comes to spirituality, art, morality, language, and social ethics. The Church asks us to be holy and to pursue heaven and, through the revelation of the Holy Spirit throughout Church history, it gives us the tools- the “Treasure Chest”- to succeed. Resources like daily mass, confession, adoration, the rosary and multitude of other prayers, the divine office, the example of the saints, the Catechism, and the liturgical calendar all provide Catholics with ample ammunition to increase our faith in Jesus Christ.
Not only that, the Church provides the world with incredible beauty with which to worship our Creator. Take a visit to St Mark’s Basilica in Venice or the Rouen Cathedral in France or St Patricks Cathedral in New York and one can’t help but be in awe of God’s incredible sovereignty and beauty. Some may be concerned with the capacity the Church has to create such grand structures, especially in poor areas, but I think it makes sense for the most beautiful, magnificent edifices we see to be our places of worship.
And how about the music? Gregorian chant, still considered by the Church to be the most sacred form of liturgical music, has to be one of the most awe-inspiring types of songs ever created. Even just a few minutes of the ancient chant (maybe with some incense??) and I feel like I am in the presence of God himself. Given the Church’s openness to beauty, it is no wonder how the Church has inspired so many artists and musicians to create amazing, transcendent works that continue to inspire us today.
We would be amiss to speak of the high standards of the Church without mentioning its vision of morality and social ethics. Whether it comes to issues like contraception, same-sex marriage, divorce, and remarriage, in vitro fertilization, assisted suicide, or the multitude of other ethical dilemmas that face us today, what I love about the Catholic Church’s approach to ethics is that if there is ever a question of morality, you can guarantee that the Church’s stance is the highest road possible, the most challenging, the most upright. The fact that following God’s law is a challenge is exactly what makes it beautiful (instead of only stipulating that murder is a sin, merely having violent thoughts became an offense to God in the New Testament); as Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” He knew that following God’s law, as hard and challenging as it can be, is what truly gives life.
The Allure of the Catholic Church
Everyone has their conversion story, whether they are a “Cradle Catholic” or a new believer. We all desire beauty and transcendence and these desires can be found within the walls of the Catholic Church. The universality, Eucharistic truths, historical continuity and succession, and unashamed high standards of beauty and morality all make up a church in which God manifests his love and power to the world. We can skim the surface of Christianity and refuse to step out of the boat into the depths of the faith that God calls us or we can allow our Savior to allure us through the Catholic Church.
This is what attracts me to the Church.
What draws you?