I became a Catholic over 20 years ago; but what might surprise you is what stopped me from doing it much sooner. You see, I was an Anglican priest in basic agreement with almost all Catholic teaching, so why couldn’t I take that final step? The answer lies in my deep-seated liberal English upbringing.
I was brought up in a family where we questioned everything, and as a young Anglican Christian, converted from agnosticism, I was determined that every single thing I said, I had to absolutely believe. So for example, I would only say those bits of the Creed that I agreed with, and I would say some words from set prayers, but refuse to say others. As I moved from that extreme position, I still had a very individualistic attitude to my faith. It was basically me and God, and it was my faith that made me go to Church and later get ordained.
Now, of course there is nothing wrong with that, except that it demands of every individual a very high level of commitment. It was a world in which it all depended on me. What I was wary about in Catholicism is the very thing that, now I am a Catholic, I value so highly; that my faith doesn’t depend on me alone, but rather on my choice to be part of something much bigger than me.
As the priest says in a prayer just before Communion:
I am a terrible doubter. Sometimes I wonder if there is a God at all, even though I know I couldn’t manage without him. I suppose also as I get older, I am more aware now how often I find it difficult to face weakness or illness or the death of a loved one.
Waking, as many of us do in the middle of the night, I can feel very alone. This is where the Catholic faith is so wonderful, for I know I am not alone, that I have a whole host of people praying for me. By this I don’t just mean the prayers of Our Lady and the Saints, but the prayers of very ordinary Catholic friends and fellow parishioners. The whole notion that we are one body and that my faith does not just depend on me is so very important.
So what finally helped me to decide to become a Catholic all those years ago was not just a dissatisfaction with the Church of England, but much more an increasing awareness that the Catholic Church was not some monochrome institution demanding absolute loyalty from all its members, but a much bigger looser family which included all sorts of people at all sorts of points in their journey of faith.
Now, as a Catholic, this becomes more and more important to me. At Mass we are all one despite all our different kinds of doubts and troubles, supporting one another just by being together. I am sad when some people do not realise that they do not have to have a perfectly worked out faith to be a Catholic, only a basic loyalty to the Church of Jesus Christ.