Thursday, March 1, 2007

I Felt Like Abraham

Wow I hate it when my computers lock up!
They all did it -- at work and home!
I am just catching up so I thought I would post this conversion story which I absolutely love. I think Andrew's journey is described honestly and with a feeling of "trying to do the right thing". I have a friend who is in the middle of such a journey right now. I hope my friend reads this and that it helps.

I Felt Like Abraham C o n v e r s i o n S t o r y
By Andrew Schmiedicke

I sometimes encounter Christians who have an aversion to "institutionalized" churches on one hand and an attraction to simple, spontaneous gatherings of believers on the other. This makes me smile. It reminds me of how I felt when, as an adult, I was first rediscovering Jesus.

I was raised Catholic. When I was a teenager, my hometown parish seemed filled with lifeless, boring ceremonies and rituals.

I thought many of the people were either shallow about their faith or hypocrites. I stopped practicing my Catholic faith while I was in college and got involved with a New Age meditation group. My parents were aware of it. They would say a few small things if I brought up certain topics or questions, but mostly I remember my mom saying things like, "Well, Andrew, I love you, and I’m praying for you."

After several months I came to see the New Age movement as a lot of make-believe silliness. I not only stopped going to the meditation group, I stopped doing much of anything overtly religious. Though I went to Mass with my family when I was home, it was out of respect for family custom and because I didn’t want to cause a stir with my parents, especially when it was no big deal to me either way. I didn’t have any firm beliefs about any particular religion.

The Baptist church I attended a few times seemed vibrant, friendly, and spirit-filled. Even though there was some truth in what they taught, there were still a lot of questions—

  • How is one to live?
  • How does one obtain salvation?—for which the Baptists didn’t have adequate answers.

Not only that, their answers often contradicted what other good religious groups believed. It seemed to me that as far as religious groups and movements went, it was all just shifting sand, and it no longer held any interest for me.

It seemed no religious group was completely right and possessed the fullness of the truth.

I was in this nebulous state of living when my younger brother Mike’s former girlfriend and I decided to make a spontaneous road trip to Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio to surprise Mike, who had just transferred there from Michigan State University.

Several things about that visit made a deep impression on me.

  • For one, men and women had separate dorms. If you brought a person of the opposite sex into the dorm you had to call out, "Woman in the hall!" or "Man in the hall!" as the case may be. In this I saw chastity and respect for the two sexes and their differences. Back at the "Catholic" college I attended, women lived just across the hall from me.
  • For another, no one I encountered at Franciscan University used vulgar, foul language (unlike me at the time). In this I saw purity and reverence for the spoken word.

Mike took us to a small stone chapel that is a replica of the one St. Francis rebuilt near Assisi, Italy, centuries ago. In this chapel there were a few students and other people silently praying and adoring the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, which was reserved in the wooden tabernacle behind the small altar. I did not realize or understand this at the time. What I did begin to appreciate was the value of silence, of listening to God and contemplating him.

At the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass I saw Catholics—young Catholics my own age—fill the large campus chapel, sing their hearts out, and throw themselves, body and soul, into the Mass as an offering of profound worship to God their Savior, Jesus Christ. I had never seen anything like it. This wasn’t just an external show. I could tell that this went right to the core of these kids’ beings. All these things about the Mass that I had thought were just lifeless ritual and ceremony suddenly were bursting and overflowing with life and grace right before my eyes. In this I saw something profound, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

My mind had been wandering in darkness for so long, now that this light had suddenly burst in upon it, I was still dazzled, trying to adjust to the brightness. But I could tell that these kids knew something, (actually, Someone) and I wanted to know what or who it was. I went home after that weekend with burning desire in my heart to know the truth. I wasn’t convinced that the Catholic Church possessed the fullness of the truth I sought, but at least I had a new desire to know the truth and a new hope and confidence that it could be known.

When I got back to college, I saved up some money and bought a New Jerusalem Bible. I wanted a Bible that I considered to be as free of denominational bias as possible. Later I remember going home one night to visit my family (they lived about 35 minutes from the college I attended). When I walked through the front door I found my mom and dad and my brothers and sisters who were still living at home (I’m the oldest of eleven) praying the rosary together. It was something I don’t recall ever doing when I was growing up, but they had been doing it unbeknownst to me for several months by then. I quietly sat down and my mom handed me a rosary as they continued praying.

I remember mostly just sitting there listening to them and being struck by the beauty and simplicity of the words and prayers. Afterward I asked my mom if I could take the rosary she had given me back to college. She looked a bit bewildered—probably wondering what was happening with me—but said yes. At school I continued to pray and study, seeking the truth. I didn’t always make it to Mass, but I started to attend more frequently, though the style of the Masses was far more toned-down than the Mass in Steubenville. I remember reading one book in particular, called Jesus before Christianity, that had a significant impact on me. It fed my bias against organized religion and the harm that organized religion had done concerning the following of Jesus Christ. It argued that Jesus had not started any kind of organized church or religion but rather a movement. By the time I finished reading it, I was convinced that I had to leave the Catholic Church. The most difficult part was telling my parents. I remember crying the night before I told them because I realized it would radically alter my relationship with them. It would be as though I was killing them.

But I was utterly convinced that I had to give them up if I wanted to follow Jesus the way he wanted me to follow him. And I was willing to do it, even at such a great sacrifice. The next day my parents came to my dorm to pick up some things of mine for the summer before I came home myself. As they were standing in my room about to leave, I quietly told them that I could no longer be part of the Catholic Church.

Now my mom was really confused. Her Catholic-raised, ex-New Age, semi-agnostic, human-secularist, Bible-reading, rosary-praying son was saying that he could no longer be part of the Catholic Church. Even though they were bewildered, both my mom and dad were more or less outwardly calm about the matter. My mom asked something like, "Well then, what church are you joining?" I told her I wasn’t going to join any organized religion because I thought that such things had distorted the true and full message of Jesus.

My dad asked, "Why do you think organized religion is bad?" I told him I thought that organized religion had built barriers between people instead of being open to them. I told them about this book that convinced me that Jesus had meant only to start a movement, not any kind of organized church or religion. Then I handed them the book and said it would explain more clearly what I was trying to say."What are you going to do?" my dad asked. I told him I was going to keep praying the rosary and reading the Bible and try to follow Jesus on my own.

"Well, here’s a couple things you need to think about and consider," he said.

  • "Jesus said, ‘Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.’ Now, that doesn’t mean that he’s not with you if you pray by yourself, but he went out of his way to emphasize community. And whenever you have a community it eventually begins to get more organized and complex in its organization as it grows larger and larger. This is just a natural consequence of communities. (Remember the small simple mustard seed growing into the large, complex bush [Matt. 13:31–32])."

The other thing you need to consider is that. . . .

  • Jesus said Peter is the rock upon which he would build his Church. So Jesus didn’t just start a movement; he did in fact establish a Church. And he said that the gates of hell would never prevail against his Church. One of the things that passage means is that Jesus’ Church will last continuously until he comes again. And only the Catholic Church, of all Christian churches, can show a direct connection from the current pope back down through the ages to Peter, upon whom Christ built his Church.

"I was caught off guard and didn’t know what to say. I did say something like I was convinced that Jesus wanted me to follow him in this way I was choosing, and I hoped that they could understand and accept it. My dad said that they understood it but they could never accept it. I think I just mumbled something incoherent and my dad said, "Well, just think about what I said, and we’ll pray for you."

A couple of hours later I was in my dorm room reading the Bible passages my dad had mentioned. I had to admit that, as usual, Dad was right. I didn’t understand everything about the Catholic Church, but I understood enough to know, through reason and faith, that the Catholic Church is in fact the church Jesus established, with Peter as its head, to last until the end of time and against which the gates of hell would never prevail, and that Jesus wanted me to be gathered there in his name with other believers.

So I wrote a letter to my parents that night and told them I felt like Abraham when God had asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. I felt that Jesus had tested me to see if I was willing to sacrifice my parents and family in order to follow him. Once he saw I was willing, he stopped me and let me know that it was not necessary to do so.Slowly I began to re-examine (or in many cases, examine for the first time) the doctrine of the Catholic Church, its understanding of God’s revelation, its history, theology, saints, spirituality, liturgy, and practices.

The more I read about the Catholic Church’s understanding of Christ and the teachings it had received from him, the more I became convinced by the force of truth, beauty, and holiness that this (and no other) was the Church instituted by Christ to bring the gospel to all nations.

Certainly I could see that the human dimension of his Church was not perfect. But that’s because it was made up of imperfect human beings who often failed to respond to Christ’s call to holiness. But the perfection, unity, and holiness of its doctrine, the beauty of its art and worship (when done properly), and the goodness and holiness of its saints convinced me more and more of its divine origins. I found that the concept of Jesus starting merely a movement of simple, spontaneous gatherings of believers was found nowhere in Scripture or the writings of the early Church leaders.

Rather, the Church is described, among other things, as a body. Whose body? Christ’s (Eph. 1:22). What kind of body did Christ have on this earth? A human body.

  • Human bodies are visible.
  • They are structured and organized.
  • They are hierarchical—head, neck, torso, waist, legs, feet. They also have an invisible side—mind, will, spirit, intellect, memory.
  • Also, if human bodies are alive and healthy, they tend to grow and develop from small simple cells into infants and eventually into complex mature adults (Luke 2:40, 52).

So it is with the Church that Christ founded.

  • It is visible. It has a visible organization, structure, and hierarchy (1 Cor. 12:28ff; Eph. 4:11ff).
  • It has many members with various functions (1 Cor. 12:12ff).
  • It grows and develops. (The present pope and bishops are successors of Peter and the apostles).
  • Just as I look much different now than when I was a child and yet I am the same person, so the Church looks different now than when it was first founded by Christ. Yet it is the same Church, having the same essential recognizable features that it had as an infant and child.Christ’s Church also has an invisible side, animated by the Holy Spirit who causes the Church to live and grow, not only in size, but also in insight, knowledge, and wisdom, teaching and reminding her of all that Jesus said and guiding her into all truth (John 14:26, 16:13).

Through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God is being revealed (Eph. 3:10). The Church is like Mary, the Mother of Christ. Those who observed her without getting to know her saw only a Jewish peasant girl with apparent delusions of grandeur (the virgin mother of the Messiah, indeed!). Yet in reality she carried within the temple of her body the fullness of grace, beauty, truth and holiness himself! So it is with the Church. For those who perceive only the externals, the Church can appear to be an old, outdated institution with delusions of grandeur (the one, true Church and Bride of Christ, indeed!).

Throughout the world the Church is persecuted, slandered, and accused of all kinds of moral improprieties. (I’m speaking here not of the individual members of the Church, some of whom do disobey the teachings of the Church and commit immoral acts. I’m speaking of the Church as a divinely established institution—the Body of Christ. But those who give the Church a fair hearing come to respect her. And those who continue in their relationship with her come to love her and want to join with her. And those who continue to deepen their relationship with her start to fall passionately in love with her, because in her they find that fullness of truth and holiness communicated to her by her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

Andrew Schmiedicke writes from Front Royal, Virginia. He is married with three children, teaches religion at his parish, and maintains a Scripture and apologetic website at


adamandjeremy said...

cool story. thanks for the post

Soutenus said...

I liked the simple honesty in this conversion story.

I have also been trying to put the "test of Abraham" into historical context so that I could understand it better. I thought it amazing that Andrew connected with it so strongly.

God bless!

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