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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

Becoming Catholic:
Making It Hard

by Jennifer Mehl Ferrara

The Journey Begins

This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Matthew Berke, Managing Editor, First Things.

It appeared in the January 1999 edition of the magazine First Things.

In its section on music, the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St. Augustine: "How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears, distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face - tears that did me good." As a former Lutheran pastor who is now Roman Catholic, I am sorry to say Augustine's wonderful words do not describe my experience with worship in the Church. Though at times I have been on the verge of tears, that was due to feelings of despair and not devotion. Far from drawing me into the Church, the manner in which the Mass is celebrated in most parishes constituted, in the end, the greatest stumbling block to my conversion.

My trek to Rome began in earnest the day I read in Lutheran Forum Pastor Leonard Klein's condemnation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's practice of funding abortions: "Real churches do not kill babies." Prior to this point, I had never seriously considered becoming Roman Catholic. After all, I was a fourth-generation Lutheran pastor - happy to be a pastor and steeped in the traditions, theology, and ethos of Lutheranism.

Yet, as I read Klein's editorial, I was like a person coming to terms with the terminal illness of a loved one: I saw that my church body had fallen captive to "the culture of death" and that I had no choice but to leave. I had for some time ceased to view Lutheranism as a necessary "corrective" to Catholicism and, for years, had viewed the Roman Catholic Magisterium, and especially this Pope, as the keeper of the faith for all of Christendom. Therefore, for me, the only true option was to become Roman Catholic.

I began to read - papal encyclicals, Vatican II documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, theologians such as Louis Bouyer, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. I conversed with other Protestant pastors who had become Catholic and with priests who had grown up in the faith - all were eager evangelizers. The more I read and talked, the more convinced I became of the truth of the Catholic Church's teachings and doctrine.

I had now arrived at the doorstep of Lumen Gentium 14: "Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by God through Jesus Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in her could not be saved." Even if I was willing to take a chance with my own soul, I had three small children to consider and that concentrates the mind. At this stage, I was a reluctant convert still wrestling with giving up my ordination, but I took comfort in C. S. Lewis' insight: "The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation." God's compulsion was operating through my conscience and driving me into the arms of the Church. I now set out with hopes of experiencing the teachings and beliefs of the Church through Catholic worship - the Truth made manifest, if you will.

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Part II: The Problems Begin 

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