June 6, 2020

Ryan McLaughlin: A Luminous Darkness


A Luminous Darkness
By Ryan McLaughlin

At long last, I had found my way out of the wilderness!

Or so I thought, at least. My wife and I became Roman Catholic on a beautiful spring evening in the heart of Boston. As Holy Saturday became Easter Sunday, the bells rang out and the lights came on in the century-old parish and I, too, felt like I was leaving a spiritual grave. We’d found a new beginning! Our little apartment smelled like the chrism oil we’d been doused with for days afterwards, and my sense of rapture lasted for many weeks more.

I had been wandering in the “post-evangelical wilderness” for several years at that point. I had been burned to my core by my experiences in Sovereign Grace Ministries (as many readers will know, a “non-denominational denomination” with Calvinist leanings that’s been plagued by scandals for years now), and had been searching for a new home. At some point along the way, I’d become fascinated by Church history, and began reading the Fathers. A little while later, I became enamored by modern Catholic luminaries such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI). After that, I fell under the spell of the Catholic pens of the likes of G.K. Chesterton and Flannery O’Connor.

Under a deluge of Roman books, I began to feel like Catholicism had the answer to all of the questions I’d left Evangelicalism with a few years earlier. Eventually, we signed up for RCIA classes, and that bright night in Boston came just 4 months later.

We were excited to begin life as practicing Catholics. What we weren’t ready for was the agony and frustration of it all.

We weren’t ready for the huge disparity between what we read and what we were about to experience. Being a practicing Roman Catholic in the United States has nothing to do with reading a good Ratzinger or Chesterton book. For us, American Catholicism was a wilderness that made the post-evangelical one pale in comparison.

To begin with the smaller things: nobody prepared us for the fact that the beautiful liturgy that inspired Catholics of old is almost entirely gone, and has largely been replaced by a silly caricature of contemporary Evangelical worship. Or that modern Catholic priests often just don’t take preaching seriously, and many a homily is just ten minutes of your time that’s wasted. Or that becoming a member of a Catholic parish means that you will be constantly hounded for money—I mean, they pass the collection plate TWICE almost every Sunday of the year. And that’s just the parish, wait until the diocese comes after you for the annual “pastoral appeal.”

Nobody warned us that Catholics don’t talk to each other on Sundays, and that making friends and finding fellowship was going to be brutally difficult, and that you can attend a parish for over a year and still feel like a complete stranger there. We didn’t get a heads up that when we did finally manage to make Catholic friends, the liberal ones were going to think it odd that we went to Eucharistic Adoration, and the conservative ones were going to raise their eyebrows at the fact that we vaccinate our children or that we’re not planning on homeschooling them.

We weren’t ready for the new bishop we’d have after we moved to Florida, who is widely known to have sexually harassed a male employee of the diocese and yet still serves in office. We weren’t ready for the priest at a prominent local parish that was arrested for masturbating in public, but who is still in ministry. We’d figured all of that had been taken care of a decade earlier after the clergy sex abuse scandal had broken. Wasn’t there zero tolerance for that sort of thing now?

Doctrine felt like a bait-and-switch: somehow, in all of the deep and inspiring books I’d read, I missed the fact that the Catholic Church still teaches that missing Mass on just one Sunday without a good reason puts you out of the state of grace, and into immediate danger of hellfire. Not once in our RCIA class did we hear that using contraception isn’t just against the Church’s teachings, but that it can actually send an otherwise faithful Catholic married couple into an eternity in hell if left unconfessed. When we learned all of this after we’d already gone through with becoming Catholic, we did the best we could to be faithful to the Church we’d committed ourselves to. Still, deep in the recesses of my heart, it was hard to square those beliefs with faith in a loving and merciful God… I learned that while the depths of Catholic academic theology are profound and beautiful, the doctrines that affect a Christian’s day-to-day life—the ones I’d failed to read about before becoming Catholic–seem to come from a different universe.

I wasn’t ready to feel angry and confused all the time, or to feel like God was slipping further and further away from me the more I tried to get close to Him. Most of all, I wasn’t ready to think about the Catholic Church in America, and then look at my three young children, and think “how on earth am I supposed to raise my kids to love Jesus in an environment like this? If I stick with this, they’re going to want nothing to do with religion of any kind long before they turn 18.”

If this was leaving the wilderness, man, maybe the wilderness wasn’t that bad.

I don’t want you to get the impression that I’d expected a perfect, sinless church when we became Catholic. But I had made a decision to convert that was entirely intellectual, and not based in reality. The church to which I thought I was converting didn’t seem to exist anywhere in the real world. And the doubts I was having about various points of doctrine were really gnawing at me…

Last year I finally broke down. I just couldn’t see myself staying Catholic anymore. It was painful to admit it to myself, but I’d been wrong. I was embarrassed: I was very vocal and public about becoming Catholic, and was now making a retraction. But I was too far down the rabbit hole of Church history to go back to being an Evangelical. You see, I was still convinced by many of the things I’d learned about the Eucharist, Mary, the Saints… These were firm convictions that I’d formed through years of study. Meanwhile, I’d had some friends that converted to Eastern Orthodoxy…

3572677_origWe visited an Eastern Orthodox parish. Then we visited another one. And we kept going back to that second one… The people there actually talked to each other, and to us, and the priest was really kind. The liturgy was serious and beautiful. At some point, my wife told me that it was the first time in years that she was looking forward to going to church on Sunday mornings.

Meanwhile, I’d gone back to my reading, looking to reevaluate what I’d been so sure of a few years earlier… My doubts began to grow, and I decided to take down the triumphalist little Catholic convert blog I’d been writing. Honestly, I’d gone from being angry all the time to just feeling hollow and spent. I felt broken, humbled, and in need of peace. I found enormous comfort in going to vespers at the Orthodox parish by myself on Saturday nights, lighting a few candles and just letting the words of the prayers and the Scripture readings carry me along.

Eventually, we knew we were supposed to be Orthodox. I wish I could tell you that we had a “seeing the light” kind of moment. But it was more like climbing into what St. Gregory of Nyssa calls a “luminous darkness.” It wasn’t finding the answer to all of our questions, it was more like finally figuring out that God wasn’t in the earthquake or the storm or the raging fire, but in the gentle whisper of the wind. And while I did my fair share of reading great books, and I truly fell in love with Eastern Orthodox theology, that’s not what finally convinced me that I needed to become Orthodox: it was the offer of healing. It was the slow realization that I wasn’t going to able to read my way out of the spiritual wilderness I’d thought I’d left, I was going to need to learn how to really pray and fast. It was looking around at the dear people of St. Andrew’s OCA, and hearing Fr. Patrick preach, and thinking to myself: “yeah, I could see myself raising my kids to love Jesus here.”

We were chrismated into Orthodoxy in February. This time we weren’t received into our new Church during the Easter Vigil. It was, appropriately enough, the last Sunday before Lent. And so we began again, not triumphantly, not feeling like we’d figured everything out, not thinking that the healing process was done… but we began again in peace.


  1. I’m glad your journey has a positive outcome. I am not convinced that the wilderness is a bad place. As Augustine wrote (you’ve probably already been told by your new home to suspect him), our hearts are restless until they rest in Christ – not an institution.

    • “…our hearts are restless until they rest in Christ – not an institution.”


      I, too, am not convinced the wilderness is a bad place…especially when it keeps you out of a WORSE place. For a scriptural example, the Israelites wandered the desert for forty years before finding their home; what if they’d plunked down in the first or second place they’d found? Sure, the wilderness can be challenging and sad and lonely at times, but growth can occur there.

    • Dana Ames says

      Ox, Augustine is only “suspect” where he departs from the consensus of the Greek fathers – as is any other theologian. Like many converts, I avoided Augustine for quite a while in reaction to the Augustinianism that is so embedded in the western church and made some things very difficult for me while I was there. I just had to sort through things, and learn how to leave behind the “all or nothing” mentality that was part of what I experienced in Evangelicalism. In Orthodoxy, what matters is the consensus. There were differences among the Fathers, and that’s ok; we allow for theological opinion without categorizing every difference of opinion as heresy. I find that very healthy. Blessed Augustine’s devotional writings are quite luminous themselves.


      • Augustine is a saint in the Eastern church as well; he just doesn’t seem to be treated as such.

        My experience with the beauty of the EO was tarnished by the tone – angry, perhaps bitter. Granted, there is plenty to be bitter about – the schism and the sack of Constantinople for starters. I was not interested in the EO because I was looking for a church that has always been right and everyone else wrong. Franky Schaeffer’s comments on the western church after his Chrismation are a good example of what I have experienced. For someone who bult the glass house against which he now is casting stones, it;s a bit frustrating to say the least.

        • Dana Ames says

          What Ryan said below. The baggage is not part of Calvinism only.

          It’s mostly converts who spout the “EO is right and everyone else is wrong” business.

          Part of what drives Frank is that he really cares about things; though the motive is good, sometimes people get blinded. God will take care of him.


    • As for St. Augustine: I had trouble with Augustinianism long before I set foot in an EO parish. Maybe that’s my post-Calvinist baggage 😉

      As for Franky Schaeffer: dude’s bitter. If I’d lived his life, I’d probably be bitter too.

  2. Christiane says

    ‘a luminous darkness’ . . . beautiful phrase

    “O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father, heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ.
    Now we have come to the setting of the sun and beholding the Light of evening,
    we sing to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is right at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise,
    O Son of God and Giver of Life,
    all the world glorifies Thee.”


  3. I learned that while the depths of [Catholic] academic theology are profound and beautiful, the doctrines that affect a Christian’s day-to-day life — the ones I’d failed to read about before becoming [Catholic] – seem to come from a different universe.

    And that makes ALL the difference. That was a lesson that I, too, had to learn the hard way – albeit, subbing in “Reformed Baptist” for “Catholic” in my case.

  4. Robert F says

    It’s hard to be humbled, but when God humbles us, it’s also a gift. As you said, no one can read their way out of the wilderness, any wilderness; our pride leads us to think that, but it ain’t so. The maps, as it turns out, don’t exactly match the terrain we find ourselves in; we end up at mirages instead of oases; we end up deeper in the wilderness instead of beyond it’s edge. We start over again, setting one foot in front of the other, following the signs that we can discern, the kind of signs that come through prayer (and fasting), and we press on in faith.

    God bless you and your family; may he be with you every step of the journey.

    • Robert F says

      Maps may sometimes be useful, even necessary, but it may be as, or more, important to attend to what the wilderness itself is telling you about the way forward. This is something I’m learning.

    • Thank you so much, Robert. Beautifully said!

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. It gives hope to some of us who are wandering around in the wilderness. I have a friend who keeps saying “Humility is the greatest evidence of spiritual growth.”

  6. Christoph says

    Ok, this article is a mixed bag. As a cradle catholic active in the church I naturally have some reservations about it. Nonetheless, I can understand the basic sentiment and problems encountered by the author. It echos the experiences of Rod Dreher who basically made a similar journey by first swimming the Tiber and afterwords crossing the Bosporus. There is a rift between catholic dogma and the lifestyle of regular catholics that becomes harder to reconcile with each day the overall culture becomes more secularized. Catholic liturgy has become bland in a lot of places and worship takes place in a socially atomised fasion. No doubt such rifts are particulary acute for converts that expected somewhat different based on their theological readings.

    So far, so bad. But what I don’t get is the following: These issues are not something hidden from potential converts, but are in plain sight for everyone. Martha from Ireland once quipped in one of her articles on catholicism: “Welcome the the barque of Peter! Now grab a bucket and start bailing!”. A visit to the local church or a brief stay on the internet should deprive potential converts of any delusions the might harbouring about contemporary catholic church life. As for the doctrinal issues, they are somewhat complex to be discussed in such a comment space. However, a brief consultation of the catechism should suffice to get familiar with them before entering church. When the author starts to complain about the attitude of conservative catholics with regard to vaccination, the article borders on slander. If refusal to vaccine their kids is “a thing” among conservative catholics, this would be news to me (and most people I know would consider me to be a representative of this species).

    Don’t get me wrong: I wish Ryan McLaughlin and his family all the best for his future journey in the orthodox church! Visit Rod Drehers blog and read up on the recent birth of the daughter of his (orthodox) priest. It is a humbling story of trust in god in difficult circumstances and the support given by a wonderful church community. I certainly get why one would want to part of it. However, I think the experience related to catholicism by Ryan should be read with a more critical stance, even though it certainly touches upon important issues affecting the church today.

    • Robert F says

      I just briefly looked at the copy of the Catechism I have, and, although there is a discussion about the distinction between mortal and venial sin, and the gravity of the former, etc., and these are easy enough to find, I did not find a catalog of the sins considered mortal, not even the most common ones, such as missing Mass on Sunday. Could you give a page number on that?

      I do agree, though, that some of the complaints in this post must be specific to the parish, or parishes, that Ryan was exposed to or involved in. Anti-vaccination liberals or progressives tend to be far more prevalent than conservative ones, for instance, and the parish my wife and I have been spending time in, due to her substituting as pianist, has a very friendly and welcoming group of parhishoners, as well as priests who deliver wonderful little homilies.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > the complaints in this post must be specific to the parish

        Indeed. I have no doubt of the veracity of the author’s experience… but it stands in contrast to my own experience.

        The statement “””Nobody warned us that Catholics don’t talk to each other on Sundays, and that making friends and finding fellowship was going to be brutally difficult””” is, I suspect, a regional one for than a Catholic one. I find the polar opposite to be true. In Evangelical churches – in my region – you could reliably stand quietly in the back and experience being artfully and not-so-artfully ignored; the congregants all rushing out again to their cars to wooosh away to wherever they came from or to gather at their preferred Sunday afternoon restaurants or cottages. Very distinct from the Catholic parishes here where you are very likely to get invited to a conversation, people linger and disperse slowly using every from of conveyance.

        But is that Evangelical/Catholic or is that socioeconomic or is that suburban/rural? I’ve been told that in southern Evangelicalism an unknown face may be thronged by congregants [I have no idea if this is true] – – – but it would never happen in a mid-west suburban Evangelical church [where suspicion is the undercurrent of all things]. Catholic parishes are fairly numerous here – you can see five from the highest point, in addition to the cathedral square; so that means they each have a smaller geographic radius; which may have more of an impact on hospitality than Theology. Perhaps the effect of this locality is magnified by the political reality that neighborhoods here are well organized and have strong identities? [with Catholic priests as board members as a common thing].

        It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to disentangle all these realities.

        • “I’ve been told that in southern Evangelicalism an unknown face may be thronged by congregants [I have no idea if this is true]”

          In my little church in small town Texas you wouldn’t get out of there without most of the congregants engaging you in conversation and it is not unusual to have folks stay for an hour or two after Sunday service just to visit with each other. There are many things that drive me crazy about our church but this I love and it’s one of the things that make it hard for me to leave, though I no longer fit there for numerous reasons.

          “It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to disentangle all these realities.”

          Maybe not impossible (“for all things are possible with God”) but so much, if not most, of who we think we are as Christians is coated in cultural detritus. We are like gold coins in one of those old Spanish shipwrecks, covered with sand and coral; it takes the Spirit much work and all of our lives to remove the encrustations to reveal who we truly are in Christ.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > but this I love and it’s one of the things that make it hard for me to leave

            A welcoming place is priceless, and it can trump many other issues.

            > who we think we are as Christians is coated in cultural detritus

            Of course, but I don’t view this in a negative way. Culture can be negative, but it can also be a positive; it is a mixed bag. I don’t believe there is, or can be, anything like a ‘pure’ Cultural-less Christianity.

      • Christoph says

        The main problem that I have with the article is that it mixes complex theological issues with specific personal experiences. This is why I said that dogmatic issues are very hard to discuss in such a combox space. The nature of sin is a case in point: For a sin to be mortal three conditions have to be met (paragraph 1857):

        “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

        So there can’t really be a list of mortal sins, given that committing such a sins has to involve knowledge and consent. What the catechism does is to specify the gravity of the sin committed with reference to e.g. sunday obligation (paragraph 2181):

        “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”

        So the catechism points out the gravity of missing church on sunday. If you know this and freely consent to not going to mass on a sunday, it is not too hard to see that this meets the definition of a mortal sin.

        • Robert F says

          I know there is a lot of subtlety, and psychological sophistication, in Roman Catholic moral casuistry. That, in effect, creates a lot of escape hatches, so that it’s not quite correct to say that one will go to hell for missing Mass on Sunday, because there are number of conditions that apply to this possibility, and no one looking at things from the outside can be certain that all these conditions have been met.

          As a cradle Catholic, though, I reached a point where I could no longer accept the possibility that even one person was lost to hell as a result of not going to Mass on Sunday (and other days of holy obligation), even if all the conditions were met; such a possibility just didn’t correspond with the moral shape of Jesus as I encountered it in the New Testament. You may call that naive biblicism, with inadequate weight given to tradition, if you like, but that’s the only way I can see it, and I can live with that.

          • Christoph says

            Even though I would submit that the term “Roman catholic moral casuistry” is not very helpful, I would not call your attitude naive biblicism. In fact, it is quite human and understandable. The key point here is that neither I nor you are in the position to judge who should go to heaven or not (and thank God for that at least as I am concerned). So when the catholic church defines such categories as mortal sin, it is not about checking boxes, but about priorities to order our lives. Once I submit that the Eucharist is the body of Christ and sunday obligation is meant to celebrate his sacrifice for us, how could I not order my life in order to give utmost priority to mass attendance on Sundays and holy days? If I fail to do so (presumed I acknowledge the divinity of Christ and the mission of the catholic church), is that not indicative that something is fundamentally wrong with me?

          • Christiane says

            Actually, the Church serves as a ‘guide’ . . . the Church asks its members who are making a decision to do the following:
            1. to be aware of the Church’s teaching on the issue of concern
            2. to examine the reality of one’s own situation honestly
            3. to follow one’s own informed conscience as the final guide on the decision, after spending time in prayer, calling on the Holy Spirit’s aid

            Perhaps the classes that teach catechism to those who are interested in joining the Church don’t make the teachings on the ‘conscience’ clear enough. I think it would matter, if people realized how important the Church sees one’s private conscience as the final decision-maker on issues of faith and morals. True, the Church wants people to know what it teaches and why, but the Church also recognizes that not everyone has the same life situations and that this does impact moral judgment. But the teaching on ‘conscience’ is something that MUST be made clear to potential Catholics. The following is an excerpt from the Vatican Catechism:


            CHAPTER ONE

            ARTICLE 6

            1776 “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

            It is best to read the whole section as the Church’s concept of right conscience is developed more fully. No one is left in doubt that their dignity as a person who may make an informed choice according to their conscience is a treasured value of the Catholic Church . . . we can make mistakes, being human, but if people do at least make an effort to listen to what is advised and to try to understand ‘why’ the Church teaches what it does, then people of good-will may call on the Holy Spirit to help them come to a decision which is right for them in the context of their Christian journey.

          • Robert F says

            Christoph, I did not use the word “casuistry” as an insult. I think it’s a perfectly honorable word, with a good pedigree, and I respect the conscience of the Roman Catholic Church for its work toward spelling out its moral positions. I just don’t share some of those positions, nor have I put as much thought into it as the RCC.

          • Robert F says

            And Christoph, thanks for responding to my question about the Catechism.

          • Robert F says

            Yes, I think more stress on the “conscience teaching” would make a difference, at least for some issues. It obviously wouldn’t change the status of divorced and remarried people in the RCC, so it wouldn’t make possible a return for someone like me. Which is a shame, in a way, because my wife (who was never Roman Catholic) is very attracted by what she’s experienced of the RCC. I think she thinks of herself as spiritually more Roman Catholic than Protestant. God will have to sort this all out in his way and time.

        • Now that I’m in front of a laptop rather than just my ipad, and can type a bit more…

          “The main problem that I have with the article is that it mixes complex theological issues with specific personal experiences. This is why I said that dogmatic issues are very hard to discuss in such a combox space.”

          Well, I guess I’m not entirely sure why the mixing of the two things is a problem… both were a part of my story, and I was sharing a part of my story. If I’d have just focused on my theological issues, this would’ve been a 50,000 word post instead of 1,500, and I doubt Chaplain Mike would’ve posted it 🙂

          Later on, you say: “So the catechism points out the gravity of missing church on sunday. If you know this and freely consent to not going to mass on a sunday, it is not too hard to see that this meets the definition of a mortal sin.”

          Yes, that’s absolutely true. But let’s be honest here: the CCC is an enormous book. Given an indefinite amount of time and a drive to take careful, painstaking notes, I’m sure I could have reached that conclusion just by reading the CCC.

          But having read lots and lots of more academic stuff–von Balthasar, Ratzinger, etc.–and lots and lots of more popular reads like Chesterton, that teaching just never came up. Nor did it come up in the place that it really ought to have, namely our RCIA class. As it occurred, I didn’t find out about that teaching until about 6 months after we converted, from a Scott Hahn book I happened to thumb through while on retreat in a monastery (yes, I’m the one guy that converted to Catholicism in the US without having ever read Hahn beforehand, lol).

          • I think most people recognize the limitations of writing an article for a place like the Internet Monk. And I probably wouldn’t have even SKIMMED a 50,000 word post…LOL.

            Nicely written post on your experience. Thanks for sharing, Ryan.

          • Thanks, Rick!

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > both were a part of my story

            I read is a memoir style of document and had no real issues. Obviously a memoir is one man’s experience and reflections.

            I enjoyed this; thank you for sharing your experience. While my experience it does not correspond to yours, I can see the cracks in the RC’s foundation(s) that could allow such griefs to flourish in different circumstances.

          • Robert F says

            I, too, appreciate what you’ve shared. It’s hard to be as transparent as you are in this post, and I admire your ability to do so. From what you’ve said here, it’s apparent that you’ve grown in real wisdom. That’s no easy thing.

          • Thanks so much, Adam and Robert F!

          • Christoph says

            Thank you Ryan for providing some more information on your story, I think I now understand somewhat better where you are coming from! I would be interested in knowing your take based on your story on the following: When it comes to existential questions (such as who and how we worship), personal experiences and social relationships trump doctrinal issues anytime. Would you basically agree with such a statement or do you find it too sweeping? God bless you and your family on your journey!

          • Christoph, thanks for your question. I would fundamentally disagree with such a statement, actually. Doctrine is very important,, and if you’re 100% convinced of the doctrine, then you ought to be ready to endure some hardship. .

            What I believe personal experiences and social relationships have done in my own story is to a) force me to examine, for the first time, doctrinal issues that are, shall we say, more practical and less academic (such as what we’ve discussed about Sunday Mass attendance), and to b) force me to reevaluate some of the more academic stuff in light of the practical, and also in light of how much my family’s spiritual health was suffering since we’d become Catholic.

    • Robert F says

      It seems to me that to incorrectly say that conservative Catholics are prone to anti-vaccinationism hardly rises to the level of slander. Isn’t that a little extreme? It’s just a mistake based on personal experience.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Yeah, that statement shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I would wager a guess that a very healthy share, if not a majority, of the Catholics in the parishes around my home are employed in some way by the medical industry [“medical mile” being our largest regional employer – by a healthy margin]. You won’t find much anti-vaccination nonsense.

        Again, that sounds more like regionalism than Catholicism. The point I would give that in ‘mainstream’ [???] non-local Catholicism, like what you hear on Catholic Radio, there is a fair amount of strange flim-flammy talk about health and health-care in general. Just like the Evangelicals there is an openness to pseudo-science and silver-bullet thinking.

        • turnsalso says

          >there is an openness to pseudo-science and silver-bullet thinking.
          And that goes both ways, in my experience. I once heard a certain Catholic radio personality (one who has….. a very strange…… manner……. of……………. speaking) say with a deathly-serious voice that it was impossible to do yoga without great spiritual danger because even divorced from the spirituality it comes out of, the poses themselves are acts of pagan worship. Exactly the same nonsense I’d heard about jack-o’-lanterns and trick-or-treating as a child. It was then that I kind of lost the roseate glasses about Catholicism as “the thinking man’s religion.”

          • turnsalso says

            Or rather, as a religion full of critical thinkers. Turns out there are loonies in every group.

        • Dana Ames says

          I think it’s an American thing, a result of a couple of generations having grown up without the threat of the danger of those “common childhood illnesses” and everyone having known people who suffered (or died) from them. In the face of that reality, our grandparents and parents were willing to assume the very small risk that comes with vaccination. I think it’s also a result of the anti-intellectual/anti-establishment bent of many Americans, educated or not.


          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > it’s also a result of the anti-intellectual/anti-establishment bent of many Americans

            Yep. That’s it, in a nutshell.

          • Dana, I very much agree. If people were to actually see cases of diptheria, whooping cough – even severe cases of measles and mumps – they would change their minds in a flash and get their kids vaccinated ASAP.

            My parents and grandparents had schoolmates and siblings who died from the old, sad catalogue of “childhood illnesses,” as well as typhoid and typhus.

          • Robert F says

            Some of the anti-vaccination people are also quite paranoid, thinking that there is a vast conspiracy behind the drive to immunize; same with the anti-GMO people. The two seem to dovetail among many faithful.

      • Christoph says

        Yes, it is a strong wording, but one I used deliberately. I do not question the accuracy of Ryan’s personal experiences, but presented in this fashion, they are a characterization of “conservative catholics” in general. In this way “anti-vaccinationism” becomes a kind of shibboleth that a group of people conforms to a certain attitude in general. What do you think these people, that refuse to vaccine their kids due to preconceived notions, think about evolution and climate change? Not too hard to guess. Now I am a conservative catholic, but I happen to vaccine my kids, I am convinced that evolutionary theory accurately describes natural processes and I also think that anthropogenic global warming is a reality. I concede that Ryan did not make such allegations on purpose, but I felt that this should be spelt out more clearly. But this time it is my personal experiences that led to such a passionate reaction :).

        • Christoph, I’m very glad that your experiences with conservative Catholics and vaccination have been different from my own. All I can tell you is what I experienced myself. I can’t tell you how many times we heard about how vaccines are made from the cells of aborted children…now, I haven’t the foggiest clue what those folks’ opinions are on evolution–that never came up in conversation–and neither do you, really, so let’s dispense with the slander, shall we? 😉

          • Christoph says

            For starters, I wrote that this characterizations *borders* on slander, not that it outright *constitutes* it. How is that for subtle nuances 🙂 ? I still stand by that assessment. Anti-vax attitudes are associated with a certain mindset that go far beyond perspectives on the efficacy of medicines and interventions. But would you agree that you could have been somewhat more specific in describing the type of people that you interacted with in your catholic parish rather than simply labeling them as “liberal” and “conservative”? Even though I think that sometimes such characterizations are legitimate, in this case I think they are somewhat misleading.

          • Could I have been more specific in my labeling? Sure. But again, it’s a 1,500 word blogpost 🙂 And actually, I didn’t intend at all to imply that the folks I had in mind doubted the efficacy of medicines and interventions. These aren’t the folks running around saying that vaccines cause autism or anything like that (not that I heard at least). The objections I heard were entirely moral, ie concern over the use of fetal tissue from aborted children some 40 years ago or so.

          • Robert F says

            “The objections I heard were entirely moral, ie concern over the use of fetal tissue from aborted children some 40 years ago or so.”

            Ah, now I understand! Okay, got it.

        • turnsalso says

          I, for one, didn’t think of the anti-vax attitude as a shibboleth for those other things at all. Despite Rick Santorum’s best efforts, I automatically assume that Catholics accept evolution, with the possible exception of SSPX adherents.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The main factor for anti-vaxx doesn’t seem to be Catholic, but MONEY and HIGHER EDUCATION.

        The higher your income and the more degrees behind your name, the more likely you are to be anti-vaxx.

        • Hmm…I haven’t found that to be the case. I think the main factor in anti-vaxx stances is FEAR; fear that a vaccinated child will be harmed by the vaccination. (A fear that I believe isn’t warranted, but fear is the greatest motivation for behavior.)

        • Klasie Kraalogies says

          Don’t quite agree. I have come across groups of anti-vaccers. Both where non-mainstream in their political beliefs – one set on the right, one on the left. Both distrusted “THEM” – for the one set ut was Big Government, the other Big Business. Both tended to be into “alternative” medicine. While the ones on the left tended to be better educated, their distrust robbed them of their good judgement. In general the educated ones were educated in non-technical subjects. And they have been all over the wealth spectrum, from the lower middle classes to the very wealthy.

          My guess is that the Catholic anti-vaxxer types are on the right of the spectrum, distrust government, and are “Mary Pride” types, or “homers”. They might also frequent farmers markets and grow organic food, but for different fears than the ones on the left.

          Of course, fear and distrust and an unwillingness to examine evidence etc lies at the heart of boths sides.

          • I see we think alike on this issue.


          • Adam Tauno Williams says


          • “My guess is that the Catholic anti-vaxxer types are on the right of the spectrum, distrust government, and are “Mary Pride” types, or “homers”. They might also frequent farmers markets and grow organic food, but for different fears than the ones on the left.”

            You’re not wrong, Klasie 🙂 I do want to add, though, that I never heard any Catholic express doubt that vaccines are effective or cause autism or whatever. What I did hear was all sorts of angst about the use of aborted fetal tissue to create some vaccines several decades ago now.

  7. Richard Hershberger says

    I did rather get the impression that the author converted to Catholicism without first having attended an actual mass at an actual parish church. Most of what he describes is true enough They are prominent on my mental list of reasons Catholicism doesn’t tempt me. But they are hardly a surprise.

    I also wonder how long it has been since the conversion to Orthodox. That is certainly where you go for a sense of mystery. But its not as if our Orthodox brethren have no warts of their own, that might not be immediately apparent.

    • I had been to a small handful, but yeah… Maybe a half dozen before we signed up for RCIA. We’ve been at our EO parish for close to a year now.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      But its not as if our Orthodox brethren have no warts of their own, that might not be immediately apparent.

      You’d never know that from all the Cage-Phase Orthodox you find on the Web.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Yeah, well, the actual Orthodox presence in North America is tiny, and for whatever reason, cradle Orthodox have a low internet profile. So for any random Orthodox you stumble across on the internet, the odds of his being in the cage phase are disproportionately high. I don’t think it is peculiarly a characteristic of Orthodox in general.

        • And can we just say that every denomination and Christian group has a disproportionately large number of cage phase people that make their presence felt on the internet? If you want an accurate sense of what people who believe XYZ are generally like, then the internet is probably the last place you should come…

          • Yes, but, I really think that certain types of beliefs foster the cage-phase mentality more than others. Wherever there is a “we’re the one true deal, and everyone else is an inferior attempt that misses this one crucial distinctive of ours” type of rhetoric, there you can be sure that hurting refugees will latch on to it to help themselves feel more justified. Been round that carousel a couple times, it’s good fun for all!

      • Could someone define what they mean by “cage phase”? I’ve never heard this expression before. I infer from the comments that it has something to do with a convert’s enthusiasm perhaps?

        • Richard Hershberger says

          The image is that is the phase where the convert should be kept in a cage, until he is once again fit for society.

  8. Bless you, Ryan. The Orthodox church is a wonderful place; may you always feel at home.

    Our family’s experience was in many cases the opposite. We tried Orthodoxy and had too many issues to stay, although there was much we loved. Since becoming Catholic four years ago, we have been content. Our parish obviously differs from the ones you were part of: priests who took the liturgy very seriously, a (reasonably) friendly congregation, and a good balance of doctrine and grace. Like you, we didn’t find RCIA to be very helpful about the basics of Catholicism, but we were familiar with the Catechism and general church practice and didn’t have any big surprises.

    As far as the shameful priest and bishop, I hope the issues are dealt with summarily.

    It’s hard to say why we find a place in one church or another. Perhaps it’s for our own humility. I’ve heard that some groups of nuns are not allowed to keep the same bed for very long lest they grow too attached to earthly comforts and forget God. Maybe God shifts us among churches from time to time for the same reason.

  9. Klasie Kraalogies says

    I would hazard a guess and say that Ryan joined an Orthodox parish with a large, if not dominant convert presence? Compared to the cradle Catholics of his previous experience? Had he joined a cradle Orthodox parish (Ukranian, Russian, Greek) the litany might be similar, except we would also have read about the worship of nationality and culture. I know enough Orthodox folk to realize that thatbis very often the case. Joining a convert parish is well, joining a newly minted bunch of enthusiasts who strivebto replicate an ideal. Of course it is different.

    Not defending Catholics here btw. Or attacking Orthodox. Just observing.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Large convert presence” often translates to “on-fire extremists”.

      • Are you basing this on the internet presence of those folks, HUG? I haven’t found that to be true in real life meetings. “Large convert presence” in our own diocese usually translates to people who each wear 5 hats at their own parish, still volunteer for greater area work, and then go on a trip with Project Mexico to build stuff. I am the kind of person who is the target of extremism, and I’ve never gotten a whiff of it from those folks.

        Whatever hate or disdain I have personally met from Orthodox converts has been pretty in line with the overall demographics of the area they hail from.

  10. Ryan, welcome to the Orthodox Church. I specifically welcome you to the Diocese of the South, which is a young, beautiful, and mission-minded diocese. I live about two deaneries north of you. =) It has been said that the Diocese of the South truly functions as a family, and at our gatherings I have very much found that to be true. It sounds like our assembly next year is going to be down in your area (comparative to the size of the DoS, heh) and perhaps we’ll get the chance to meet.

    You are joining the OCA after a very turbulent time replete with our own scandals and controversies, and it is easy to miss that part of our overall upward trajectory is having worked through those just in this past 10 years. Our diocese does not have a ruling bishop currently, though we will soon by God’s grace, and the history of why is a rabbit hole that you need to be prepared to face if you’re going to make your life with us. Our administrator and hopefully bishop-to-be, Archimandrite Gerasim is wonderful, and even now he is bringing needful healing. Our locum tenens, Metropolitan Tikhon, is a kind and humble man who I will never forget after interacting with him last week at the AAC.

    “People who come because they are unhappy with their own church typically will eventually become unhappy with a new church, and will leave again, he said. ‘You can’t base your faith on negativity. You have to come to the Orthodox Church because you find life, you find fullness, you find Christ,’ [Fr Ambrose Arrington] said.”

    This quote from a priest of our diocese is very true. I hope that you have come because you find the fullness of Christ. I am happy to have you, but as one of the many laity that want us to be in full communion with Rome, I feel the need to remind you that they are our brothers and sisters as well. If the Orthodox Church is the home in which you will find salvation and live in peace and repentance all the days of your life, then many years!

    • Thanks very much for your kind words, Tokah!

      Yeah, I’m very aware of the turbulence in the OCA. I guess all I can say is…there’s a difference 🙂 I’m certainly not hoping to be in a church without problems (such a church certainly wouldn’t have let me in anyways!).

      I, too, hope that the Orthodox and Rome will someday in communion again. There are still Catholics that I know and love dearly, and it pains me to not be in communion with them.

      Hope to meet you in person at some point soon!

      • I agree there is a difference or I wouldn’t have landed here myself.

        I became a catechumen under one locum tenens, was accepted into the church by a second, and am now dwelling under a third. I have lived both the welcome and judgemental lack of welcome from folks in our diocese and the tri-national church as a whole. (There is much more of the former than the latter!)

        I think it is the “messiness” that Dana mentioned. Orthodoxy is built with the ability to recognize and work through messiness, sometimes over generations, built in. Our inability to form new dogma has been one of our strengths. We can, in our awkward way, admit we’re wrong and try to figure out how to back off. We can have a hugely important region our church painting icons of Matushka Olga and the other regions just discovering she existed last week. It is messy, but it is the messiness of a house with a lot of rambunctious life in it. Sometimes that messiness hits you particularly hard, but you have to be as gracious about it as other people are to the messiness you yourself keep dumping in their room.

        You’ll spot me pretty easily. As delegates to things go, I’m still the only chick with short hair whizzing around at about twice walking speed in a wheelchair. 😉

  11. Slightly off-topic, but only sort of…

    Has anyone read “The Last Catholic in America” by John Powers? Very funny book. Hits some of the things Ryan mentions.


  12. One thing the RCC affords me as a member, as opposed to a little storefront church like the one I used to be a part of, is anonymity. That’s a two edged sword I admit. As it is, I keep my head down (you might say fully planted in the sand) and go about my journey. In other words, I miss Mass fairly often and only found out today it is a certified sin. Here’s the head in the sand – that won’t change my attendance. I don’t have a staunch opinion about abortion, vaccination or homeschooling. If I were in a position of authority that required me to speak to these things then I would work through them. For now I sit in the fourteenth row and commune quietly. That would have angered the young, on fire for the Lord, me but the further I go the less opinions I have about anything. Granted, I won’t be leading or asking anyone to follow my charge. What kind of Catholic does all of this make me? Mediocre I suppose. I hope and pray that I would sacrifice all for my Lord, for my wife and my family; and if called to, my enemy. The cathecism, the formal church structure, the tradition are all important and play a vital role but I know I will not be offering life or limb for their preservation. I guess the reason I’m adding my two cents here is because I probably exemplify, for better or worse, many Catholics. I’m not espousing my current approach, only adding it to the conversation.

  13. Ryan, thanks for sharing this. The wilderness really does seem like a bad place at times, but this is probably more because of the baggage we bring to it and the reasons we find ourselves there.

    It sounds like you’ve really done your homework, probably even more so than when I left the wilderness. If you could explain to me briefly, however, in your journey, was there anything specific that Cathodoxy had to offer that you felt you would be unable to find in Anglican/Lutheran traditions?

    It’s just that as I’m listening to some of your struggles with Roman dogma, it sounds like you are still being hounded by an understanding of grace that is contingent on something from us. Orthodoxy is not going to change that for you, as far as I know.

    I don’t claim to have found full healing, there is still a lot of darkness in my soul I am trying to air out. But for me, I don’t understand how I could trust a God who doesn’t save by grace alone. Any thing I am responsible to bring to the equation is guaranteed to leave me in despair. I find hope in healing in the finished work of Christ, given to me through the means of grace, as a free gift. I don’t have to be pushed back into myself to depend on faithful mass attendance and avoidance of contraception on one hand, or learning how to really pray and fast on the other. Both point you to yourself to work up the strength for healing. I feel like the Protestant sacramental churches are better theologically equipped for a spirituality of finding rest in Christ, apart from our own striving. Your thoughts?

    • Gotta give the Orthodox props for consistency, though. You’ll find the same disappointing mimicry of the evangelical circus in Lutheran/Anglican circles, to varying degrees. However, it definitely isn’t impossible to find faithful ones with wise pastoral and doxological leadership.

      My own congregation is a very mixed bag. But the people are wonderful, and I’m find my hangups here incredibly easy to live with, for the time. I know there are churches in our synod that I could never stand, but they are definitely outnumbered by the kinds that would be a wonderful haven for my family, if I wasn’t so dependent on a certain level of vitality to offer me some employment. I guess I haven’t come far enough in my healing to where I’d encourage other people to pursue church work just yet.

    • Miguel, thanks for your kind words, and for your really thoughtful comments and questions. I’ll try to do them justice in my reply.

      What was I able to find in “Cathodoxy” (great term, btw) that I didn’t see in Anglicanism or Lutheranism… When I wandered out into the ol’ post-evangelical wilderness, one of the biggest things that I felt I lacked was an adequate epistemological scheme for evaluating doctrinal claims. That is, I really don’t find “sola scriptura” convincing, and to me, that’s kinda the foundational assumption underlying all Protestant distinctives, most especially the theologies coming from the magisterial Reformers, like Lutheranism. Call me crazy, but I really do think that Tradition represents the best foundation for Christian thinking 🙂

      As for Anglicanism… I guess it seems to me that what any given Anglican parish or priest or jurisdiction believes is entirely up in the air at any given moment (which statement I realize is the most unfair overgeneralization of all-time, but bear with me). I’m inclined to think that this is a result of their ecclesiology more than anything, and I don’t lay the blame for that at the feet of any one Anglican thinker (of which there are many I love–NT Wright is an absolute genius of a man, for instance), but it seems to me to be the reality on the ground.

      As for my understanding of grace and salvation: you’re right, I don’t have as much of a problem with something (whatever that something may be) being required of us. I guess the difference for me with things like “missing Mass on Sundays can be a mortal sin” is that it strikes me as much less “take up your cross and follow me” and much more pettiness and lack of mercy. And maybe this is just my post-sovereign grace ministries PTSD talking, but it also smacks of spiritual abuse and control to my ears (your butt better be in that pew, or you might go to Hell).

      Now, I don’t believe that much of the Catholic Church is currently engaging in that type of spiritual abuse–heck, I’d gone through the conversion process and been a Catholic for six months before I even discovered that teaching–but they’re also not about to change that teaching. Changing that teaching would mean that the Catholic Church has taught error, and we all know that undermines the entire foundation of Catholicism.

      Does that answer your questions?

      • I still wonder if you would have remained in the RCC if you had found the right kind of parish (or set of parishes; some people like to go to Mass at other parishes, too). I am Lutheran (ELCA, born and raised) and spent several decades in the evangelical/charismatic wilderness, in churches that were inherently abusive (due mainly to being part of both the discipleship movement, and, later, NAR spiritual warfare-type stuff).

        It is hard to find a place that feels OK – truly safe, and good – after being in an abusive church (or a string of them). It is often difficult to find a good congregation or parish. So… I wish you all the very best, and trust that you are in the right place at the right time, for now, and maybe the rest of your life.

        • Fair question. I guess my response is that I think I would have remained in the RCC for longer, but would have ultimately made the same move that I did. How long would that have taken? I really couldn’t tell you.

      • David Cornwell says

        “I really don’t find “sola scriptura” convincing, and to me, that’s kinda the foundational assumption underlying all Protestant distinctives,”

        Amen. “Sola scriptura” became very quickly a multi-faceted slogan which has meant many things to many people. So now it really means very little except as an arguable catch-phrase.

    • Dana Ames says

      Miguel, you wrote:

      “an understanding of grace that is contingent on something from us. Orthodoxy is not going to change that for you, as far as I know…. I don’t understand how I could trust a God who doesn’t save by grace alone.”

      Explaining it in the terms you used, in Orthodoxy God is the one who does everything so that humans can be saved; nothing is contingent upon us. We *are* saved by grace alone.

      Having said that, Orthodox theology has definitions for those important words that lead to much more depth. “Salvation” isn’t simply getting us out of a place called Hell and into a place called Heaven (I know you don’t hold that simplistic belief, but bear with me) or about making us over somehow so that we become more moral. Salvation about a total, radical healing of and deliverance from everything inside us that pushes us away from God and one another, that makes us choose love of self over self-giving love. “Soteria” in Greek carries both meanings: healing and deliverance. This includes deliverance from the fear of death to which we are enslaved (Heb 2.14-15), which is why the emphasis on the Resurrection in Orthodoxy.

      But the Resurrection and the Cross always go together; you can’t have one without the other. They are not two separate actions of God; it’s all of a piece – the Passion of Christ, we call it (and the effect of it that ripples throughout all humanity and all the cosmos is dependent on the Incarnation). And the definition of “grace” in EO God the Holy Spirit and his actual action of within us, and within the life of humanity on earth and in history. It is not ever something “outside of” God or other than God’s own work. So of course our deliverance and healing depend on God alone; any other alternative is truly impossible. In the Passion, God delivered all of mankind (which has nothing to do with anything “penal” – do read St Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation”). And… we have to enter into that deliverance, consent to that healing, put to death in us the things that lead us to ultimate death – we have to follow Christ to the Cross and into his death in our own lives, beginning with Baptism. Having already died sacramentally, we are free of the fear of death and can begin to live the life of the Age to Come (zoe aionion – “eternal life”). God in us – grace – is what enables us do this. Grace – God the Holy Spirit – is the engine; gratitude turns the key in terms of becoming more Christ-like – which is simply being really, completely human the way God made us to be – “Behold, The Man” – and at the same time becoming partakers of his divinity (2Pet 1.3-4). Hence one huge aspect of the importance of the Eucharist – The Thanksgiving.

      So God has indeed done it all and continues to do it all as we trust him and put one foot in front of the other. This way of life does not occur instantaneously, but step by step – humans have been in a pickle for a long time, and we live in an environment that makes it easy to keep walking the path of self-protection and survival at any cost, unconnected to God – which is death. Prayers, services, sacraments, fasting, etc. are all helps the Church gives to enable us to live into and from Christ’s death and resurrection with gratitude, hopefully with that union with him and the Godhead becoming deeper and more manifest in us – which is Life (Jn 17.3, 1Jn 5.11, 1Jn 5.20). That is all – and everything. And we don’t have to become fixated on our “progress” or “growth” – Met. Kallistos Ware wrote something I found as a catechumen and continue to treasure: “To keep us in humility, God may hide our spiritual progress from us, and it is not for us to measure ourselves.”

      If you want a better explanation, read Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog. He covers this and so much more. Or wander on over to the OCA Chancery at Oyster Bay and chat with Fr John Jillions.


      • Well said, Dana. And I have to second the recommendation for Fr. Freeman’s blog; the man is an absolutely brilliant writer.

        • He is also absurdly kind and very, very funny in real life. His wife is a gem as well!

          I’d second Dana’s suggested to talk to Father John Jillions. The grace that dripped out of his report this year, the depth of unconditional love that he spoke about last week moved me to tears.

  14. Thanks for this post, I have the same feelings about the Roman Catholic Church. What really hit me was the sense of distance from God, confusion and anger that you felt, I felt the same things that I never really realized was from the mixed messages I was receiving.

  15. Dan Crawford says

    I gave up searching for the perfect church about 30 years ago, and I gave up searching for holy ministers, priests and bishops. What I found when I stopped looking for perfection, friendship, great preaching, superb liturgy, was a a treasure chest of wisdom and piety that helped me abandon the search for anything perfect except God. And what I learned is that what makes liturgy more than acceptable, no matter how wretchedly it is done, is the realization that God presents me with his incomprehensible gift in the revelation of his Word and in my participation in the sacrament of His Body and Blood. I understand Mr. McLaughlin’s disappointments and frustrations, but I fear he will soon experience them again in his new church home. The only place where we are assured the church will be perfect is in the new heaven and the new earth.

  16. Randy Thompson says

    When it comes to ecclesiastical reconnaissance, the printed page is important, but more important is first hand experience. Does the reality measure up to the advertisements?

    As much as I love many Catholic writers, my experiences of the mass, as a visitor and outsider, suggest that folks are too often going through the motions. And, also from personal observation, the fastest entity on the planet is a Catholic leaving mass. That alone makes my heart soft for good old Protestant coffee hours, even if the cookies are stale and the conversation superficial. .

    That said, on paper, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches make a lot of sense to me.

  17. Dana Ames says

    Hi Ryan – wondered why you had not been much around these parts for a while…

    I echo Tokah’s welcome. She said everything necessary. I only want to add that I came into the Church in the midst of the troubles and when we were beginning to wriggle our way clear of them. I actually found a great deal of comfort in the messiness and being able to navigate it because of faithful people of all sorts. I was tired of having to put on an “everything’s ok” face all the time; I asked God to let me see “the good, the bad and the ugly” in the Orthodox Church, and he certainly answered my prayer…. Orthodoxy in general still has plenty of messiness, and has managed to live and thrive; guess it’s the humility in going through it that God gives us the opportunity to embrace…

    I too was on a theological journey and did a lot of reading. Interestingly, it was in an Eastern Catholic parish where I first encountered the daily services and “life on the ground” in an Orthodox context. I’m grateful for that, and the parish would have welcomed me had I gone that route. The priest is a dear friend and understands why I didn’t. I still drop in for Vespers every now and again.

    May the Lord continue to help you and your family.


  18. I have to add that the RCC has a reason why missing mass is considered a mortal sin: it is a celebration and redoing of the Lord’s sacrifice, to miss it would mean to dishonor Him in the worst way. Also contraception is seen as an affront to the sancity of life and the processes that lead to it. It makes sense to my head but I just can’t seem to practice – everytime I miss a Mass I then I lose my right to participate in the Eucharist and have to go to confession to restore it. Mass then becomes this strict burden that I dread going to instead of a free loving particiaption on my part. Contraception makes sex a dangerous thing for me because my wife has had some complications in her first pregnancy and is getting older, granted we would probably have been happier and fulfilled if we had more kids when younger and took our chances.

    • Well, I hear you, and I think those reasons are part of the mixed messages you mentioned in your first comment. On the one hand, you get the soaring heights of Eucharistic theology describing what the Mass is–I think of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s visits to the Eucharist, or Ratzinger/Benedict’s writings in “Spirit of the Liturgy”– and you think “oh my goodness, this is the most wonderful thing ever.” But then you get the addendum of “oh, and if you decide not to go it could mean an eternity in hell.” Suddenly, all of the wind is out of your sails. But then you look around and you see the vast majority of Catholics missing Mass a ton, and the attitude of most of the clergy and the hierarchy seems to be a resounding “eh, that’s too bad, you ought to come more often.” And then you think, well wait, what gives here???

      The contraception thing: same deal. You go from the beauty of Catholic theology of marriage and sex, to “by the way, that condom might send you to hell”, to studies that show that 98% of Catholic women have used contraception and the bishop here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL writes a blog post saying, and I quote, “clearly that train has left the station.”

      Mixed messages, indeed. None of that is an actual argument against Catholic teaching but man, does it ever make life as a Catholic confusing and frustrating…

  19. Dana Ames says

    Could my long comment please be released from mod? Thanks!


  20. Ryan, if the result of all this grief is that you are finally figuring out that following Jesus is not an intellectual process, I would say it was worth it. I have an advantage in years on your so that things that seem surprising to you are not so much to me. However there was one thing in your story that was not just a surprise to me, but it caused me to scratch my head and go hmmm.

    ” . . . nobody prepared us for the fact that the beautiful liturgy that inspired Catholics of old is almost entirely gone, and has largely been replaced by a silly caricature of contemporary Evangelical worship.”

    The beautiful liturgy that inspired Catholics of old was in Latin and I hope you are not talking about that. If you don’t see Vatican Two as a huge step forward, we really have nothing to say to each other. My pastor in my present Lutheran ELCA church was raised Catholic and has a good positive understanding of that tradition. He has said that Catholics coming up to him after a funeral service they attended were astounded that there was so little difference between our service and their mass.

    This is a conscious effort amongst the liturgical members of the western church, I can’t speak for the eastern wing, but I can go to a Catholic church or an Anglican or even a Missouri Synod, and understand what is going on and participate, except of course, where I am deemed unfit and unclean to share the Eucharist, which incidentally does not happen in my church.

    So when you say that you experienced “a silly caricature of contemporary Evangelical worship” in a Catholic church, this makes me question all the rest of your observations. Liturgical churches are defined by the liturgy. True it has changed over time, but at least in the western wing it can hardly be compared to “a silly caricature of contemporary Evangelical worship.”

    I have never attended an Orthodox service, whatever they call it. Try and find one. If I had the opportunity I would have to work hard not to go in pissed off knowing that I would be rejected from sitting at their table, but still I would like to experience the experience such as it is.

    Please help me out here. I have the same feelings about the exclusive Catholic table, or altar, but I really want to know exactly what you experienced that left you with “a silly caricature of contemporary Evangelical worship.” There are a number of gracious and loving Catholics who hang out here and I can’t imagine that any of them are participating in some such.

    If I had to point to one person beside the Pope who I would call the highest of a gracious and loving Catholic, it would be Richard Rohr. He would likely agree with many of your criticisms, and mine, but I can’t imagine he would ever refer to his ongoing liturgy as “a silly caricature of contemporary Evangelical worship.”

    • Charles, let me start by saying that I’ve had some exposure to Anglican and Lutheran liturgies, and found many of them to be beautiful, reverent, thoughtful, and up-lifting. The Catholic liturgies I’m referring to here have little or nothing in common with them beyond a few bare-bones things.

      What I’m referring to are what I like to call “tambourine Masses.” You walk in and immediately hear very poorly done versions of the songs I heard growing up in the early nineties in Calvary Chapels and Vineyards… The first time I visited the parish I mentioned with the priest that had been arrested, they were blaring an absolutely horrendous version of “In the Secret,” an exemplar of the sort of gauche worship music that I find inappropriate for liturgical services. I say these liturgies are a “silly caricature” of Evangelical worship because it seemed to me that the baby boomers (apologies if that’s your generation) on stage jamming out with their guitars and tambourines were under the impression that they were doing something hip and fresh, when in reality the sea of gray hair in the pews would attest to their failure to reach the younger generation…

      Now, I don’t want you to get the impression that music is my only complaint there. It’s just the first thing that strikes one about the experience, and perhaps the easiest to explain in a blog comment.

      As for Vatican 2: I always agreed with what the Council had to say about the Roman rite. Sadly, I’ve yet to personally set foot in a Catholic parish that was living out what the Council Fathers wrote about in Sacrosanctum Concilium. It’s a fine document to give a once over, if you haven’t ever had the chance. It’s a pity that more folks I encountered in the Catholic world didn’t take it seriously.

      • The secret, Ryan, is to find young priests. They tend to like the traditional music and reverence vs “relevance.” Our young priest is moving our already pretty traditional parish in a more liturgical direction, and the only people objecting are over sixty.

        • Yeah, that doesn’t work though when the bishop bans some of the more reverent liturgical practices. Or kicks out younger seminarians who are too “traditional” or “conservative”. I could tell you stories…

          • Ryan,

            Not sure where you are living… this sounds very foreign to me though I am sure it exists somewhere… maybe California…. I have been to Masses in many places in the East, South and Mid-west and have not encountered this.

  21. Ronald Avra says

    Thanks very much for the perspective. Both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox are alien to me, as I have spent most of my sixty years trying to find my place in Southern Baptist circles. The insights are appreciated.

  22. My journey is similar to yours (kind of) but in reverse: I grew up Catholic and now am evangelical. I left Catholicism for largely similar reasons; I found it hard to square belief in a loving and merciful God with the belief that certain things (like missing Mass on Sunday and contraception, as you mention) could land you in hell. I also have issues with the infallibility thing, the Catholic view of the relationship between scripture and tradition, and just the general idea that the boundaries of the Church of Jesus Christ are concurrent with the boundaries of any human institution.

    As a megachurch evangelical I find that many of the critiques of megachurch evangelicalism that I read here strike uncomfortably close to home. Too much of what happens at my church is determined, at too fundamental a level, by the “felt needs” of those mythical creatures Unchurched Harry and Mary. Yet it was in evangelicalism that I first heard the Gospel. The church where i am has been home to me for most of my young adult years, and has been very good to me over the years. I have found community and belonging there and would be hard pressed to give that up without a very good reason.

    Michael Spencer once said that the faith you read about in those books or that blog has to be lived out in the context of an actual community. And there is often a significant variation between what you read about in those books or on that blog and what you experience on the ground. You can drive yourself crazy trying to find the “right” church, our you can accept the reality that the treasure is scattered all over the place–one church has better sacramental thinking, another has a better grasp of the Gospel, and another has better missional and evangelistic ministries–and you will never have it all no matter where you go. You will always have some tension to live with no matter where you are.

  23. Jason Williamson says

    All I can say is, WOW….. thay sounds like my journey too…I became Catholuc a few years ago after feeling led by the Holy Spirit to do so… Btw Im 38 and single…. and at first I enjoyed and liked the mass and the rituals…. but there was no community or fellowship….And then I really started to question all the dogmas….Mary-her perpetual virginity and immaculate conception and the title of Queen of heaven….and praying to the saints… infant baptism…. apparitions of Mary-Fatima amd Medjogorje…..the infallability of the pope, celibacy of priests, transubstantiation….and the rules against contraception and gay marriage…. btw I am bisexual….and the weirdnesd of places like Fransiscan university of Stubbemville.
    And catholic apologetics….so I now consider myself tobe a Recovering catholic. .and I still go to mass sometimes .

    And so a few months back I found a progressive evangelical Disciples of Christ church and Ive grown alor there so far…and Im a big fan of Rob Bell and Brennan Manning and Henry Nouwen and Rachel Held Evans..

    P.s. I recentlty thought about the orthdox church,but I dont agree with some of their dogmas…

    • Jason Williamson says

      Oh and I never really bought ibto the idea of mortal vs venial sin…. or the clised tabke….. where I go niw….. everyone is welcome to the Lord’s table…..

  24. Ryan,

    I have not read thru all the comments and come late to this party because I am currently on vacation. A couple things come to mind. First, it seems you may have rushed things a bit, like rushing into a marriage before getting to know your mate. Second, reading this sounds almost like a typical fundamentalist rant and it is hard for me to believe that you really studied anything Catholic aside from reading some books. It does take time to know the faith. Third, I really hope you do not go though a similar experience in Orthodoxy. I happen to love that faith tradition but there are nuances that may be unsettling to you once you come to understand. The orthodox look at our faith from a different direction than the western tradition and some ideas you may find completely foreign (view of hell, not all may find immortality, purification via the toll booths). And experiencing the Sacred Liturgy, beautiful as it is, can be similar to a Mass in that you may not get to know those around you as quick as an evangelical service. Nor will you get the preaching as you did in Evangelism. Nor will it be exactly like Basil/the two Gregory’s/John Chrysostom (excuse the bad spelling), just like the Catholic Church is not John of the Cross/Theresa of Avila or Thomas Aquinas.

    Good luck on your journey and give things some time. Orthodoxy can be a wonderful place to land…..

    • Radagast says

      …. some additional thoughts….

      I cannot speak for the evangelical world but I may be able to address the Catholic/Orthodox…. that is that both faiths are big tents; Catholicism with both liberal/conservative, Orthodox with its cultural subdivisions. But from my opinion churches can seem different in regions, meaning a catholic church in a culturally catholic area may be going through the motions more than one where Catholicism is the minority. That being said the Church from my observation is usually made up of those who follow ritual because it is custom, those who follow ritual because they are on their spiritual journey, and those who have a deeper understanding past the ritual. I would not hesitate to think the EO is similar (like for instance Dana Ames and Mule who really seems to know their stuff!).

      Some of your points though are worth commenting… you mention that doctrine seems to be bait and switch, yet the Catechism of the Catholic Church spells it all out, whether you agree or not. Catholicism is more juridical, Orthodoxy tends to leave more in the mystery category.

      You mention that we seem to always be asking for money… it is the joke in the Catholic faith that we do not tithe, we have Bingo…so there is no one coming to your house checking up on how much you donated (unless of course there is a building campaign going on). You will probably find Orthodoxy similar to this.

      Lastly, the faith is what you make of it. I am currently on vacation with my family. Each day my wife and I get up and attend an early daily Mass to start our day. We are not doing this to gain favor, look good, get more eternal rewards… we are instead spending time with each other in front of the Lord, listening to scripture, a brief homily and being nourished spiritually by the Eucharist. What a way to start the day.

      Good luck in your journey with Orthodoxy. I can really relate (had some great discussions with a Greek Orthodox Father) to the Purgation/Illumination/Union setup of the Church and the Divine Liturgy… just be patient with it and leave the whole apologetics thing to others.