Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Journey Towards the Church: How Can We Know Anything? and Apostolic Succession

This is the second post in a series about how I came to be Catholic.  The first post can be read here.  I'd also like to begin this post with a disclaimer:  The following explanation is how I came to understand Catholic teaching.  However, as you know if you've hung around here very much, I'm a mom and a wife, not a theologian.  I've done my best to sum up what I've learned, but remember, this blog doesn't come with an imprimatur!  


It wasn't as if God instantly answered my prayer with a good hard smack upside the head by the Holy Spirit.  It was gradual.  I kept saying the prayer over and over again, every night, asking God to make me believe if he wanted me to believe.  The words continued to feel dry and brittle in my throat, empty and echoing in my bedroom.  But I said them, read a few Bible verses and turned out the lights, not really expecting anything in particular and too tired to give it too much thought.  It was around this time that I working the graveyard shift stocking shelves at a grocery store.  I'd come home and sleep for a few hours and then go in to work at the aquarium warehouse I'd worked at while in college, sleeping for a few more hours before my next shift started back up at 11pm.  Three hours of sleep here, three hours of sleep there.  I didn't have much energy to worry about those prayers.

But God was listening.  I met Paul about eight months after I began praying.  Five months later he proposed.  Seven months after that, a year from the day we went on our first date, we were married.

Before we married, we'd talked about religion a bit.  He wasn't going to budge on the whole Catholic thing, and I had basically said that I didn't really care what church we attended, as long as we attended Church.  My heart had softened a bit.  I did believe in Jesus.  I was still pretty relativistic on the "sure, he understands and forgives without even being asked so just try not to hurt anyone" belief.  But I was open to learning about this Church he was so committed too sticking with and I knew that I wanted any children we might someday have to grow up going to church with both of their parents.

It was after my confirmation in the Church that I really began to learn and read about this new faith that I'd only barely discovered.  And what I found took my breath away.  It was as though I'd discovered a great treasure, but hadn't inspected it closely enough to realize what I was holding in my hand.  Those questions I'd had?  The ones that nagged at me even after I pushed them back, into the furthest recesses of my mind?  They had answers!  Real, solid answers that logically made sense to me.

For example: how could we know that our interpretation of the Bible was right?  After all there were tons of pastors out there, all saying that the same verses meant different things.  Wildly different things.

But here I found answers.  You see, Christ hadn't left us rudderless, unable to find out way in the darkness.  He had given us a city on a hill, it's light washing over all the world.  In Isaiah the papacy had been foretold:
I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station.  In that day I will call my servant Eli'akim the son of Hilki'ah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.  And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.  And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father's house.  And they will hang on him the whole weight of his father's house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons.  Isaiah 22: 20-24
And in Matthew this promise was fulfilled when Jesus said:

"Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  Matthew 16: 17-19
You see, Christ had founded a Church with Peter.  The Acts of the Apostles are the beginning of the history of that Church.  And the papacy had begun with Peter, who had passed it down through the ages, down to the Bishops of the present time, which is the very basis of what is meant when you hear Catholics use the phrase "apostolic succession" (for more on that click here!).

This Church was there all along, through the last twenty centuries.  It didn't suddenly appear fifteen of so centuries in.  And if you read early Christian theologians there is no doubt that they believed in apostolic succession, the Church and the actual presence of the Eucharist (more on that in the next post).

Saint Augustine explained it well when he wrote against the Epistle of Manichaeus in 397:

In the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep (Jn 21:15-19), down to the present episcopate. 
And so, lastly, does the very name of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. 
Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church, as it is right they should ... With you, where there is none of these things to attract or keep me... No one shall move me from the faith which binds my mind with ties so many and so strong to the Christian religion... For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.
And so my first question "how can I know anything absolutely" was answered easily.  I was to find that I hadn't been wrong in suspecting that every question was not meant to be answered entirely by scripture.  I would discover that the Bible had been compiled by Catholic Bishops, inspired by the Holy Spirit, over the course of a series of councils and that to deny the Church really was to deny the basis of the Bible.  I'd learn 
that even the Bible didn't say that we were only to have the Bible to guide us (2 Timothy 2:2).  It talked about tradition too!

These discoveries were the beginning of the moment when I really began to embrace the Catholic Church as something more than the Church that my husband had been born into.  But there was more to come.  Learning about apostolic succession was simply the beginning of my journey towards really believing in this Church I had stumbled into...


This is the second post in a series on how I became Catholic.  The third post is now up!


  1. I tried to understand it, I tried to make it make sense, but in the end "Because the Church says so" still didn't seem to justify all the pigeonholing it appears to do to God.

    I came away slightly less confused than I arrived, but secure in the knowledge that However God Did It was fine with me, but I was (and still am) not prepared to join in with the chorus of voices telling me "He did it THIS way"

    And so I remain a lower rung Anglican with Catholic sympathies.

  2. The way I've understood it is that Christ entrusted our shepherding to the Church, and so I trust that bestowal of responsibility.

    However, I have yet to find a teaching that logically doesn't make sense when I read the explanation. So that has helped the process run smoothly!

  3. I learned something new today! I'm familiar with the Matthew verse establishing the papacy with Peter, but I had never heard of the papacy being prophesied in the Old Testament. And I thought I read (and enjoyed!) Isaiah! Thank you!

  4. Enjoying your story! Maybe I will need to write mine one day.


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