28 September 2023

St Wenceslaus Day, 43 Years a Catholic!

The picture of St Wenceslaus in the 
Sanctuary of my Parish Church,
St Wenceslaus, Wilber, NE.

I'm 76 now, so I've spent over half my life as a Catholic. Forty-three years ago today, I joined the Church. This is the story of how it happened.

As many of my readers know, I am a convert to our Holy Faith. I was born to a non-denominational protestant father and a Church of England mother who didn't know the Episcopal Church was the American branch of the Anglican Communion. As a result, I was "baptised" by having a rose dipped in water and tapped on my head three times, in the Presbyterian Church. After my father died, Mum married a Methodist and, willy-nilly, I became a Methodist. At about age twelve, already interested in theology, I began to doubt the validity of my "rose baptism" and our Methodist pastor "rebaptised" me by triple aspersion in valid form. At about the same age, I discovered my CofE grandmother's 1662 Book of Common Prayer. I was immediately drawn to the beauty of the Anglican Liturgy and at 16 was "confirmed" as an Anglican. However, I think even then I realised deep in my gut that the answer lay in the Church.

Then rebellion hit! I went through Hinduism and most forms of Leftism before I was 25. But God works in mysterious ways! My last stop in leftism was the CPUSA. This was long before Gorbachev and to be a communist was to look to the Soviet Union as a model. My natural curiosity led me to not only study Marxism but to explore the history and culture of Mother Russia. This led to an interest in Orthodoxy and, ultimately, to my acceptance into the Serbian Orthodox Church at age 27 (the Russian Parish was very ethnic, to the point that if you or your parents weren't born in the Old Country, you weren't really welcome!). Orthodoxy was very close to the Faith, but I didn't have to accept the Immaculate Conception, which as a Thomist, I refused to do since the Angelic Doctor had logically 'disproved' it!

Then I moved from Kansas City, KS where I'd been Chrismated to Lawrence, KS which, at that time did not have an Orthodox Parish. As a result, I began to attend the Newman Center at the University of Kansas. Eventually, I went to the Benedictine Chaplain at the Center to discuss conversion. He gave me the documents of VII to read. I'm ashamed to say now that they sounded pretty good at the time! However, as a Thomist, I still could not accept the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, so I was not yet ready to convert. 

A few years later, I moved to Wichita, KS which has (had?) two Orthodox Parishes of the Syrian Antiochian Church. However, Wichita is, geographically, a very large city and both parishes were a long way from my home. Even with no car, I did manage to get to Liturgy frequently, but when I couldn't make it, I walked to the Newman Center at the local university. I got to know the Chaplain well enough that, when he locked the Centre up at night if I was there, he would lock me in to use the library (there was a crash bar to get out!).

One day, at a party, Father asked me what was the ultimate authority in the Orthodox Church. The answer, of course, is a no-brainer for any Orthodox: an Œcumenical Council. Then he asked another question: "Who has the authority to call a Council?" The answer is also a no-brainer but with a sting in its tail! Only the Emperor has the authority to call a Council in Orthodoxy. The problem is that there is no Emperor! Even the most fanatical Imperialist Russian Orthodox, who would argue that Moscow was the Third Rome cannot argue with the extinction of the Empire in 1917/18. Ergo, there is no ultimate authority in the Orthodox Church!

As I thought about his question, I began to realise that the Orthodox are a rudderless group of ethnic Churches without any authority. This was proven by the 'Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church', far in the future in 1980, a futile attempt in 2016 to finally hold the Pan-Orthodox Synod that they had been trying to organise for almost all of the last century. Despite all the hope and hype, it was boycotted by one of the Ancient Patriarchates (Antioch), the largest autocephalous Church (Russia), the Church of Georgia, which after it had been held, referred to it as the 'Council of Crete', rejected the claim that the council was Pan-Orthodox and the idea that its texts reflected Orthodox Teaching and the Church of Bulgaria. The Orthodox Church in America, the old Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in North America, wherein I began my journey through Orthodoxy to Catholicism, was not invited, again because of the ethnic rivalries and lack of a central authority.

I mulled over Father's questions until a few weeks later when he locked me into the Centre on a Saturday night. I was in the library when I found a little booklet, published probably in the late 1950s or early '60s, entitled "Catholics and Orthodox--Can They Unite?" I came upon the chapter on the Immaculate Conception and, to my amazement, I read a quote from one of my great heroes, Georgios Scholarios, the Patriarch Gennadios II. Gennadios was the first Patriarch of Constantinople after The City fell to the infidel jihadists and he was also a prominent Aristotelian-Thomist, one of the few in Orthodoxy, which tends to be Platonist. He had translated the Summa Theologica into Greek and when he reached the section on the Immaculate Conception, he said something along the lines of, "Thomas was a wise man and indeed may be a Saint (he had been canonised in the West almost 200 years earlier), but on this point he was wrong!" To my amazement, I learned that the doctrine had first been developed in the Orthodox East, but as the West came to view it favourably, the East reacted against it. Convinced, with my last defence against Catholicism gone, I walked into the Chapel where our Lord was present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. I fell to my knees in front of Him and cried! A few minutes later, I stood up, a Catholic!

The next morning, I went to Mass at the Parish Church (I wasn't a student, so I couldn't belong to the Newman Centre) and after Mass asked the Pastor about being received. After talking for a while over coffee, he said I already knew more than the Baptists and Methodists he was trying to convert (not surprising since I had begun to study for the Orthodox priesthood much earlier) and I should go home, pray about it and let him know when I wanted to be received. A week later, at the evening Mass on Sunday, I recited the Creed in the Western form, promised obedience to the Pope and was received.

I now live in St Wenceslaus Parish in Wilber, NE. Little did I know, 43 years ago tonight, when I was received into the Church on St Wenceslaus's Day, that my funeral Mass would be celebrated in a Church dedicated to him. God works in mysterious ways!

In December 2017 a friend and I were chatting after Mass and he mentioned that he was being Confirmed at the Midnight Mass of Christmas. I congratulated him, of course, but I told him that I had been a Catholic for 37 years, over half my life. I said that I have often been frustrated and even angry at events in the Church, but in all those 37 years, I had never, even for a moment, regretted my decision that September evening in 1980! And I've not changed my mind. I give thanks to Our Blessed Lord, and I thank Our Holy Mother, my Guardian Angel, and my Patrons for their prayers that brought me home to the full, undiluted Faith and practice of the One, Holy, Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Church!

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