On 25 years a Catholic

The Church alone, as the Mystical Body of Christ, possesses the theological truths and metaphysical insights desperately needed by a culture and a world given over to a suicidal spirit.

(James Coleman/Unsplash.com)

A quarter century ago this year my wife and I entered the Catholic Church, receiving the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist for the first time on Easter Vigil, March 29th, 1997. It was the culmination of several years of searching, questioning, and studying. Both of us had been raised in Christian homes; both of us had graduated from Evangelical Bible colleges; both of us, in our early twenties, harbored a variety of theological, moral, and historical questions. (My first published article, in 1998, goes into that journey in some detail.)

Such journeys are not smooth, nor should they be. Ours was occasionally bumpy, even while it was often joyful, surprising, challenging, and frustrating. So, too, the 25 years following. My life, in a way, can be divided into two nearly equal halves: from my birth until my mid-twenties—when I married in 1994 and then entered the Catholic Church three years later—and then a quarter century as a Catholic. All statistics being equal (and by God’s goodness), I’ll have another 25 or so years in this world. And so I’ve been a bit more contemplative in recent months, a welcome state further encouraged by a move last summer “to the country”, away from the constant, mind-numbing buzz of city life.

As a young boy I had regular visits with an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Lombard, who told me stories of growing up in Kansas City in the early 1900s. It was like learning about a faintly familiar yet quite foreign world, one without cars and with few of the comforts and distractions we take for granted today. The early 1990s, when I first began to study and learn a bit about the Catholic Church, doesn’t seem at first glance to offer the same dramatic contrast, but perhaps it does in certain significant ways.

First, my study of the Church was, for two or three years, almost entirely based in reading books. While the internet existed, it wasn’t a common part of life until a few years later—and social media was much further down the road. The digital revolution has obviously affected nearly everything; it has certainly influenced how we so often perceive “the Church” and her leaders, as well as her teachings, work, and daily life. Social media introduced an artificial but combustible compression of virtual interaction that has been, overall, a strange and potent mixture of exchange, provocation, tribal bonding, tribal butting of heads, and the endless flow of “stuff”. There is, without doubt, much good that has come from these technological changes, but I’m convinced that the fracturing throughout the dominant culture and within the Church has been accentuated and even driven by the digital waves crashing over us on a daily—hourly!—basis.

Secondly, I recall Mrs. Lombard once asking me (as we sometimes talked about Christianity), why Christians “hated sex”. I was confused, not only because I was just twelve or so at the time, but because I’d never been taught—even as a Fundamentalist Protestant—that sex was bad (rather, I was taught that sex was for marriage, and sex outside of marriage was sinful). She then said, “But doesn’t Genesis say that sex is bad? Wasn’t sex the first sin of Adam and Eve?” That led to a curious little Bible study between a young Fundamentalist lad and a gracious but biblically-illiterate octogenarian. And that conversation, cemented in my memory, was a precursor to reflection over the years about how so many of us live with (and according to) misunderstandings, falsehoods, stereotypes, and emotional reactions. (After Mrs. Lombard passed away, I found out that while she apparently did not own a Bible, she did have copies of The Kinsey Reports.)

Fast forward to becoming Catholic: I soon learned how not a few Catholics used contraceptives, accepted abortion, and supported “gay marriage”, which was befuddling to me in many ways. Yes, poor (or worse) catechesis was a big part of the problem, but perhaps even more daunting was the wholesome acceptance of a secularized notion of the person, aptly captured in recent years by the term “expressive individualism”. I was fortunate, in earning my Masters in Theological Studies, to be educated in an anthropology both Thomistic and personalist, which deepened the biblical anthropology gifted to me during two years at an Evangelical Bible College. Further, my studies as a young Evangelical imparted several related truths, including the vital Scriptural theme of covenantal fidelity versus pagan idolatry, which in turn laid the groundwork for a nascent appreciation of how a truly Trinitarian and Incarnational Christianity must be liturgical in worship and sacramental in perspective.

Put another way, I am more convinced that ever, after 25 years a Catholic, that the Church alone, as the Mystical Body of Christ, possesses the theological truths and metaphysical insights desperately needed by a culture and a world given over to a suicidal spirit. The world, we must remember, “was created for the sake of the Church.” And, “God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the ‘convocation’ of men in Christ, and this ‘convocation’ is the Church. The Church is the goal of all things…” (CCC, 760). But all too often the Church is presented or treated by many Catholics as either a backwards human institution requiring constant overhauling (mostly based on scientistic ideology or sentimental clichés), or a glorious museum to be paraded as a sort of flashy showpiece rather than as the nexus of Divine-human communion.

It’s not just that the Western world has forgotten what it means to be human—it actively seeks now to destroy what is truly human. And it does so while blathering about “empowerment” and “actualization” and other nonsense, language that surely delights both Screwtape and his technocratic minions. Secularist power (that is, power in the service of an ideological “ism”) and individualistic passions can only be answered with Christ’s kenosis and Passion. But compromise with anti-human anthropologies has become quite ordinary within the Church; the Reign of Gay has rapidly moved to the Tyranny of Trans; capitulation is readily peddled as “mercy”, and the objective moral order is cut off at the knees with the dull blade of a false or ill-formed conscience. Catholicism in the West is often far more bourgeois than, well, Catholic. As Tracey Rowland has explained so well:

Bourgeois Christianity however does not fight on sacramental ground.  It does not fight at all.  It simply goes in search of Christian-friendly elements of the zeitgeist with which it might identify and market itself.  It views ‘sin’ therapeutically and bureaucratically.  It is either a mental health problem or the mis-use of decision-making authority to be countered by better policies and bureaucratic circumscriptions on the exercise of prudential judgment.  Within bourgeois Christianity there is no cosmic battle, no demons and no angels.  Sacraments, if they appear at all, do so as mere symbols and social-milestone markers.  Proponents of a bourgeois Christianity have been, as de Lubac well understood, ‘overcome by a desire for conciliation that left them defeated before they had begun’.  The ecclesiology that undergirds a bourgeois form of Christianity is inevitably a vision of the Church as a “People’s Republic”. Accommodation to the zeitgeist is more important than sanctity.

We hear a great deal about “reform”, which is perfectly fine and good. But when it comes to sanctity and fidelity, we must begin with metanonoia, or conversion. This is one reason why CWR has been posting a wonderful series of challenging reflections by Douglas Bushman on conversion. As he wrote in one of those essays:

Lent is the season of godly suffering, of participating in the suffering of Christ and also in the joy that lay ahead of Him and for the sake of which He endured the cross (Heb 12:2), thereby fulfilling the mysterious necessity of suffering and death in God’s plan of love for saving the world form sin, satisfying the Father’s love by taking upon Himself the just punishment of the sins of the world.

The great irony of the practitioners of the culture of death is that they are willing to kill almost anything—including their true nature and identity, the unborn, the aging, the truth—in order to avoid dying to oneself. Contra the self-emptying of the Incarnate Word, they desperately, even savagely, try to fill their empty and restless souls with power, pleasure, and politics. But St. Pope John Paul II, in the homily given the night that we entered the Church in 1997, explained that only by and through Christ’s death will we know, see, and live true life:

The many different themes which in this Easter Vigil Liturgy find expression in the Biblical Readings come together and blend into a single image. In the most complete manner, it is the Apostle Paul who presents these truths in his Letter to the Romans, which has just been read: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (6:3-4).

These words lead us to the very heart of the Christian truth. Christ’s death, his redeeming death, is the beginning of the passage to life, revealed in his resurrection. “If we have died with Christ,” Saint Paul continues, “we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom 6:8-9).

The Resurrection is creedal and dogmatic; it is essential. The Creed, says the Catechism, “culminates in the proclamation of the resurrection of the dead on the last day and in life everlasting” (CCC, 988; emphasis added). It is only the Resurrection, observed the late Stratford Caldecott, “that can show us the reality of creation in the Trinity.” These are dogmatic statements, and dogma is not a dirty word but is, as Dorothy Sayers famously insisted, the Drama. And yet, in my time as a Catholic, I have seen more and more Catholics expressing concerns and fears about dogma, abandoning dogma, and outrightly attacking dogma. But Dogma, wrote Fr. Romano Guardini back in 1950, in his classic work The End of the Modern World,

in its very nature, however, surmounts the march of time because it is rooted in eternity, and we can surmise that the character and conduct of coming Christian life will reveal itself especially through its old dogmatic roots. Christianity will once again need to prove itself deliberately as a faith which is not self-evident; it will be forced to distinguish itself more sharply from a dominantly non-Christian ethos. At that juncture the theological significance of dogma will begin a fresh advance; similarly will its practical and existential significance increase. … The absolute experiencing of dogma will, I believe, make men feel more sharply the direction of life and the meaning of existence itself.

Looking back, I see how wise and correct the Catechism is in pointing to “the organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas.” Dogmas are “lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.” (CCC 89). This is because Christ Himself is the source and author of all dogma; we might even say that Jesus Christ is The Dogma—the Truth, the Way, and the Life.

Which is why, regardless of difficulties and frustrations, I have never regretted becoming Catholic, for one should never deny or regret Reality.


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About Carl E. Olson 1179 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

20 Comments

  1. Mr. Olson, I hesitate to even try to put my response into words, for fear you will consider them just so much empty flattery.

    But I was deeply and truly moved by your essay on your and your wife’s commitment to the Catholic faith.

    It’s so difficult to put into words the stolidity of the truth that is the Catholic faith. It is as big, as beautiful, as mysterious, as wondrous, as complex, and as simple, as human life itself.

    It is, indeed, the essence, the meaning, the purpose of life. Seemingly indescribable.

    As near and as far as persona Christi.

    And yet you have captured it beautifully in your essay.

    Thank you for enriching The Mystical Body with your insight and creativity.

    Blessings and best wishes on your next twenty-five years.

    This piece goes into my phone’s Favorites file for later reference.

    • “Proponents of a bourgeois Christianity have been, as de Lubac well understood, ‘overcome by a desire for conciliation that left them defeated before they had begun’.”

      Regrettably and sadly: This passage describes the pope and most of the bishops and priests.

  2. A ‘tour de force’ piece…a keeper. Thank you.

    You are a blessing to the Church.

    No Catholic (however they arrived at coming into communion with Christ’s Church) should ever reject the Church in practice or otherwise unless they intend to, at the same time, reject Christ. One cannot reject one without rejecting the other.

  3. This Easter it will be eight years since I was received into the Church. Not as long as Mr. Olson, but hopefully just as pleasing to God.

  4. Thank you, Mr. Olson, for sharing. Congratulations and best blessings to the happy Catholic family. “A religion is not the church a man goes to but the cosmos he lives in…” (Chesterton)

    Speaking of ‘the endless flow of “stuff”,’ have you NOTICED the latest video advertising block in the right lower corner of your screen? It’s advertising good products but numbingly, distractingly schizophrenic enough to incite and quit the site. It clings to my life unmercifully, a courtesy-of-CWR cross. (Thank you for taking time off my purgatory.) 🙂 What’s the going-rate to get it gone?

    I too am ready to go east, to the middle of my beautiful PNW state, to Idaho or Montana and forego even the near Pacific Ocean beach, replaced with a no-wave lake. When we moved here 25 years ago, our suburban town was green, welcoming, civil, a good place to raise children. Now tech jobs, taxes, high speed transit, and homelessness camps encroach, no longer confined to central city. Discourtesy and civil dis-ease increase on the streets. With each passing year, the attraction of moving east or perpetually traveling in a small RV grows. But what would we do with our books? How’s your library, BTW?

    Again, congratulations and blessings of Holy Week on your Catholic anniversary!

  5. From experience with converts to the faith it’s clear there’s a deeper and more committed knowledge and practice. Likely, as indicated in this short life essay, because of the seriousness of the decision.
    As mentioned, God works as he wills to meet the needs of a waning, somnolent Church calling in new, wide-eyed, dedicated troops.

  6. Thank you, Carl, for this personal testimony. Four supportive points plus a comment:

    FIRST, regarding the West’s return to materialism and worse, I am reminded of another couple with a somewhat similar journey. At the Sorbonne, Jacques and Raissa Maritain (she was Jewish and hailed from Marioupol it what is now the Ukraine) were so depressed by the materialism of a century ago that they entered into a suicide pact if they did not find meaning for the word “truth” within a year. Their recovery began with Henri Bergson and the novelist Leon Bloy, and then many others.

    SECOND, on the meaning of original sin, today we have the very Catholic and rich “Theology of the Body,” beginning with Pope St. John Paul II’s pairing of original sin and original innocence, both, in the “Original Unity of Man and Woman”.

    THIRD, at stake today under (Tracy Rowland’s) comment on bourgeois Christianity is a septic generation of what Christopher Dawson diagnosed in the inter-War years, of which he wrote: “To the bourgeois politician the electorate is an accidental collection of voters; to the bourgeois industrialist his employees are an accidental collection of wage earners. The king and the priest, on the other hand, were united to their people by a bond of organic solidarity [and] a common spiritual order.”

    FOURTH, you mention the Kinsey Report (1948, 1943), a social science fraud. Why are we reminded now of Bishop Batzing and Cardinals Marx and Hollerich who appeal to a similar “sociological-scientific foundation” for their aberrant fiction?

    The Kinsey Report (1948, 1953) was later revealed to be based on a very non-random survey, including willing prison inmates with a disproportionate share of abnormal personalities (Judith Reisman and Edward Eichel, Kinsey, Sex and Fraud: The Indoctrination of People, 1990). The Kinsey findings were based on 18,000 “sex histories,” all of whom were self-selected volunteers and a quarter to half of whom were prison inmates, and 1,400 of whom were sex offenders, apparently even including nine sex offenders who engaged in direct experimentation on children aged two months to fifteen years. Prostitutes and cohabiting females were classified as married, leading to the claim that a quarter of married women committed adultery.

    Janice Shaw Crouse adds further that Kinsey “was promiscuously bisexual, sado-masochistic, and a decadent voyeur who enjoyed filming his wife having sex with his staff” (“Kinsey’s Kids,” at http://www.nationalreview.com/ comment/crouse200311140923.asp).

    COMMENT, we can only wonder about synodal relator-general Cardinal Hollerich’s “sociological-scientific foundation” and unnamed sources–more self-selected case histories? And, therefore, about the 2023 outcome of a legitimate but problematic synodality–already exploited by the uncontested German synodal way…

  7. As a convert myself, I have been a Catholic for nearly 54 years. I have been an active Catholic, and have seen the ups and downs of our faith. But one thing fundamentally clear is the Eucharist and its salvation. I would love to tell the story of the events that occurred, of when I very first received Communion; but it would be a bit lengthy for this forum. Regardless, Jesus told me directly that it is his body, and to always treat it with reverence and respect. The Catholic faith is the true faith, and I am ever so grateful that I became Catholic 54 years ago.

  8. Thank you Mr. Olson.
    You enter more deeply into our respective hearts with this piece.
    With every article or posted comment, we all reveal ourselves to each other and get to know each other better on our shared journey. We have gotten to know you better and there is a genuine comfort in that. Thank you for all that you do for us and CWR.

  9. Thank you Mr Olson for your witness and for your superb editorship of CWR. You keep it balanced and anyone who chances upon it will never be disappointed.

  10. Carl, I agree completely with Alice. It’s a real blessing to have your continual and trustworthy expressions of orthodox dogma which unfortunately are too often compromised and even contradicted by some members of the hierarchy.

  11. Congratulations to you, Carl and wife: faithful Catholics for 25 years.

    May there be many more years of joy & fruitfulness in The Lord for you both.

    Ever in the loving grace & mercy of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

  12. Carl, you and Heather have been most wonderful additions to building up the Body of Christ these past 25 years. Happy Anniversary!
    “The great irony of the practitioners of the culture of death is that they are willing to kill almost anything—including their true nature and identity, the unborn, the aging, the truth—in order to avoid dying to oneself. Contra the self-emptying of the Incarnate Word, they desperately, even savagely, try to fill their empty and restless souls with power, pleasure, and politics.”

    Very well said! May we all be willing to die to self, to live in Christ and may this Holy Week carry us along to that end.

  13. Congratulations to Carl and Heather on the 25th anniversary of their entry into the Catholic Church.

    I suspect and hope that the journey of many others on the same path will be a bit shorter and smoother because they have a resource that Carl and his wife did not have, The Catholic World Report, as edited by one Carl E. Olson.

    I urge readers to take the time to read Carl’s conversion story, linked in the opening paragraph above as “my first published article”. “Converts always know why they came” (source not noted).

  14. “Jesus Christ is the Dogma – the Truth, the Way, the Life.” Thank you for your great writings bearing witness to the Truth. “…one should never deny reality.” Zealous ambitions and eagerness for success drive many into compromises and error. The Word of God is a two-edged sword that cuts through the muck and presumptions that all ways lead to heaven. I thought I had good excuses at hand but then I heard that voice of the Lord: “Do not argue with God! Repent and I will wash you in my Blood.” Jesus Christ established the Sacraments to feed us with Himself; in confession to receive forgiveness. The eternal sacrifice of God Incarnate Jesus Christ to be meditated upon and loved with grateful thanksgiving. I wish for you an abundance of grace for the next 25 years and Blessed Easter.

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  1. On 25 years a Catholic – Via Nova Media
  2. EASTER TVESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

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