A Short Answer to a Big Question
In the book “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis depicts the various Christian denominations as rooms opening off of a hallway. The hallway represents belief in the common doctrines of Christianity, and is not meant as a place to remain. Rather, Lewis recommends a search of the various “rooms” to find out which one is true. This is all the more interesting because he was not a Catholic, but a member of the Church of England. He says, “And above all, you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling.”
Here is a list of considerations in this search adapted from Lewis’ book:
1) Are these doctrines true? This, of course, means you must actually know what the doctrines are. Many people claim to be Catholics, but do not really believe the teachings, and even encourage others to disobey the Church’s interpretation of the Gospel. If someone tried to sell you a duck, but the animal lacked feathers and a bill, you would naturally protest that the animal in question was clearly not a duck at all. In a similar way, an alleged Catholic without a the attributes (doctrines) is not really a Catholic at all. This does not apply to Catholics who do not agree with a doctrine but are trying to understand it so they can accept it. Don’t become a Catholic if, after studying the Catechism, you simply do not agree with the doctrines.
2) Is holiness here? This is a second question because holiness exists in many places; it is not limited to one Church. There are holy Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians and possibly even holy atheists.God blesses whom He will, and His Grace extends to many people of many cultures and beliefs. But in the true Church, holiness should abound. This does not mean the majority must be holy, but that those persons that live closest to the ideals of the Church, as expressed by doctrine, are always holy.
3) Does my conscience move me toward this? If the first two are true, this question will almost certainly be answered in the affirmative. Do not take fear of commitment as conscience, though.
If the above are all true, but you still feel uncomfortable, consider the following possible reasons:
1) Does it offend my pride? Do I value my independence so much that obedience to Church teaching repels me? Am I concerned that I won’t “stand out” in such a large Church, or that my talents and value will not be recognized?
2) Does it go against my taste? Are the members too “common?” Do I wish to avoid the poor? The ignorant? Does it bother me that the members of the Church shake hands or hug each other at times? Am I offended by the many rites and rituals? The decoration of the church buildings?
3) Am I reluctant because of simple prejudice? Have I always been sure that this Church contains only bad or stupid people?
The process of choosing a Christian denomination is intensely personal. The process can take decades or weeks.
If you really want to seriously consider becoming a Catholic, here are a few points to consider (with the above questions in mind).
1) The doctrines of the Catholic Church are written down. Anyone can obtain the Catechism and read it. There are no “secret teachings.” The doctrines are based on our interpretation of the Bible and the beliefs of the Apostles that knew Jesus before and after his Passion, Death and Resurrection. The fact that most Catholics are woefully ignorant of Church teaching does not mean it is hard to find.
2) Once you know the teachings, find other people that know them and try to put their beliefs into action. Seek the ones who integrate the doctrine into their lives through charity, prayer, their speech, their thoughts. You will find them holy. They also tend to be great company.
That’s about it. Write to let me know how your search is going. Regardless of our final denomination, God is pleased with our sincere efforts to do the right thing.