Why Catholicism? A Former Episcopalian Priest’s Story

shutterstock_88091536

Since announcing my decision to become a Catholic and to seek ordination through the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, I have had many an inquiry from folk wondering, “Why?” Some of these were authentic expressions of inquisitiveness; others came with perplexity; not a few came with consternation and dismay.

My first reason is this decision is an act of obedience to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As my Spiritual Autobiography details, this has been a long personal journey, of twenty-five years or more. However, I would add that, as personal as it is, it is not just a private or uniquely individual call. It is not simply a private denominational predilection.

There is in the Christian life a force of gravity which draws the believer ever deeper into union with Christ. That union is not only a private mystical union—though it is that–but a deepening union with the mystical body of Christ, the Church. It is a dogmatic principle of the Catholic Church that “this Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church.” (Lumen Gentium). If this is true, then this gravitational pull of Christ’s Spirit is universally active, drawing all humanity to Christ the Head and to the fullness of his saving grace which he mediates through His Body the Church. John Henry Newman, an Anglican convert to Rome, insightfully quipped there was no steady state between Atheism and Catholicism! There is always in the human soul that spiritual battle—the psychomachia—between the centrifugal forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil drawing us away from the Love of God, and the centripetal dynamic of the Holy Spirit pulling us ever deeper into the love of God. There is a gravitas to the Catholic Church, to the See of Peter, that is, I believe, a true and objective  charism intended by Christ to draw his followers into union with him in the fellowship of the Catholic Church. Whatever the individual contours of my own movement into the Catholic church have been, I believe they are part of this larger, universal gravitational grace that emanates from the Heart of Jesus which is in his Body.

That, of course, already displays the second reason for my decision: theology. The great divide between the churches of the Reformation and the Catholic church is in the domain of Ecclesiology—What is the church? In the protestant world Anglicanism has sought to maintain a catholic ecclesiology; that is to say an ordering of the body that is organic, universal, and apostolic. Bishops; creeds; sacraments; and conciliarism have been maintained as integral pieces of Anglican ecclesiology – Papal Primacy alone being set aside. Within that catholic structure, Anglicanism has also asserted a principle of theological freedom and diversity: one may believe in spiritual regeneration in baptism, but one may not; one may believe in the Real Presence in the eucharist, but one may not; one may believe in the authority of scripture, but one may not; one may believe in the sanctity of marriage but one may not. For much of my life as an Anglican, that freedom was a pleasant gift; but increasingly it had become a source of distress and a profound impediment to my priestly work as a pastor and preacher. How could I proclaim from the pulpit, “the Bible teaches…” or “Christianity asserts…” when my Bishop says quite the opposite? How could I advise a person in the confessional, when the priest in the neighboring parish would advise the opposite?; and I speak here of matters essential and primary. My authority as a teacher and confessor needed to be based on something other than my own best opinion (of course, this quandary becomes even more confusing, on almost any given point of doctrine or morality, in the vast panoply of protestant denominational theologies).

Flannery O’Connor in her conversion to Catholicism spoke of the glorious freedom she experienced in being delivered from the “tyranny of her intellect.” Fides ut intelligam! That has become my experience. It is the paradox of true intellectual freedom by submission to “the church’s teaching.” It is a glorious freedom, not only in the mind’s love for God, but in the vocation of the priest in theological and spiritual formation of disciples of Jesus. This theological conversion thus is not first of all a conversion to the peculiar Catholic beliefs that my inquirers challenge me about: What about Mary? What about purgatory? What about contraception? Rather it is a conversion to the faithfulness of Christ’s gift to the church of an authentic authority to bind and to loose. At its deepest it is a question of pneumatology even more than ecclesiology—how does the Spirit of Truth actually function in the Church? Whatever complexities and seeming incongruities may be discerned, the Magisterium is (at minimum) a reasonable and practicable answer to the question of Truth that is trustworthy; at best, it is what the church proclaims it to be: the provision by Christ of the gift of unerring guidance to his people.

Finally—and perhaps most urgently—my decision to become a Catholic is driven by our Lord’s high priestly prayer, “May they be one.” The unity of the church has been for me a primary and constant imperative of following Jesus. It has been expressed in my leadership of the local parish where congregational unity has been enfleshed in a principle of unanimity in all decision making. It has been expressed in my vision of shaping a parish to be “fully catholic, fully, evangelical, fully charismatic.” It has been expressed in my collegial work cross-denominationally, not only in the official ecumenism of the mainline churches, but with active fellowship with independent evangelical and pentecostal clergy. “May they be one, that the world might believe.” The unity of the church is not only an imperative for the internal life of God’s people but an essential dimension of her evangelical mission. There is no greater scandal and impediment to the conversion of the world to the love of Christ than her divisions. Pope Benedict established the Ordinariate both as a concrete instrument to begin to heal organically the divisions of the Reformation and as an essential strategy for the sake of “the new Evangelization.” Many have seen in this initiative a bold prophetic action. As an Anglican I have received it as a gracious invitation to reconciliation. I can find no valid faithful reason to decline.


image: Apse Mosaic of San Clemente, Rome. Via Shutterstock 

Jürgen Liias

By

Fr. Jurgen Liias was born in post-WWII Germany and emigrated with his parents to the United States as Displaced Persons in 1952, settling eventually in Boston. He was ordained an Episcopal Priest in 1973 and worked for forty years as a parish priest in the Boston area with strong commitments especially to charismatic Renewal and the Pro-life movement. On August 15, 2012 he was received and confirmed into the Catholic Church. On April 20, 2013 he was Ordained a Catholic Priest by Cardinal O’Malley for the Anglican Ordinariate. He is presently serving as Pastor of St. Gregory Ordinariate Church in Beverly Mass.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Gary Somers

    Bravo, Jurgen, my dear brother. Bravo!

  • Gayle Somers

    Beautiful, Jurgen! So much in your journey is familiar from our own. Our years at the Church of the Advent, under your ministry, started our serious inquiry into the Church that led to our happy capitulation to Rome. Eighteen years later, we have never looked back. Welcome home!

  • dpharisee2010

    When you find yourself in another church other than the MOTHER church, ask yourself, how come, why instead of going along with the current and be content with what you have (just a piece of the TRUTH). There is a RIO BUFFET you can go and have everything when in Las Vegas, why be content with McDonald. Like mother church, it has all the FULLNESS of TRUTH, the sacraments that contains all the graces that purifies you daily as you journey to eternal life beginning here on earth, when you fall, when you suffer, when in trouble, when alone. There is the Eucharistic adoration where you can spend your most quiet time alone with Jesus. It is not your fault to be born and all what you know, all what you have been taught was McDonald. It is time to come home to Rome where you belong.

  • Gary Downey

    Jesus tells us to seek and you will find. It’s very obvious Jurgen that you did indeed seek and that you did indeed find. Isn’t our God is an awesome God?
    Welcome home.

  • JoyInTheLord

    Welcome home, Fr Jurgen Liias! I certainly agree with all your reasons, but the last one is truly resounding. “That they may be one!’ What jumped at me is the fact that when Jesus prayed this priestly prayer, the Church had not been born. He knows all at once what His Church is getting into down through the ages up to the present time. And because He prayed so, the Church will be One.

    Praying for you and your ministry.

  • whosits

    Welcome home! Converted in 1979, never looked back.

    Flannery O’Connor is a role model for me. In fact, my master’s thesis was on her short stories. This is the first time I ever heard anyone say she converted to Catholicism; I understood her to be a life-long Catholic (albeit from Georgia). Perhaps you mean her writings on Catholicism.

  • ceb

    Welcome welcome

    God is watching over you.

    Many blessings

    Mother Mary is too!!!

  • Dogma

    One’s own religious disposition is very personal. Catholicism is “home” for some (see comment below), just as Lutheran or Episcopalian or even the Buddhist belief is “home” for another.

    I think the inherent danger with dedicating oneself to any religion is mistaking the map for the territory. Religions and sacred texts are simply maps or guides; they aren’t the goal in themselves– which of course is union with God.

    In other words, it doesn’t really matter which vehicle you use to get there, just that you do.

  • James Keating

    Except, some cars break down. Then again, some cars are not at all cars but a cardboard box that some crazy man claimed was his car. Then there are some cars that start going in the right direction but then end up going backwards out of nowhere.

    Sorry, I hate the car analogy almost as much as I hate the wishy-washy stance. If we are all right, then we are equally all wrong and there’s no point in the conversation.

  • Dogma

    First of all, I didn’t say “car”, I said vehicle– as in agency or means or conduit.

    Secondly, you’re absolutely right– conversion is the goal.

  • maranathangel

    So happy you’re part of our Family! I will keep you in my prayers.

  • Paul Baylis

    Get the correct map and guide, then enjoy the territory.

  • Dogma

    Almost any map to God is the correct map.

  • Paul Baylis

    So, how do you determine if a particular map leads to God? The protestant movement now has 33,000+ attempts at drawing and re-drawing and re-drawing that map with no-one perfectly agreeing. That is why you need history, tradition, the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the validation of Christ himself. Only the Catholic Church can offer these things. Choose another map at your peril.

  • SLY

    So well written. Thank you Fr., for telling your story of conversion. Sunday night the Institute of Catholic Culture (ICC.org) will host at a local NoVA parish, Fr. Eric Bergmann, who will give the testimony of his conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. The previous week, Msgr. Stuart Swetland (EWTN & Mt. St. Mary’s U.) spoke about his conversion. Video of that talk can be found on the ICC.org website. Fr. Bergmann’s talk will be live streamed at 7:30pm on Sunday night from St. James, Falls Church, VA via the ICC website. Again, Father, thank you for giving your testimony. Maybe you could speak for the ICC.

  • David Green

    I think the lord is calling me to the Catholic faith i have been Pentecostal all my life. I really love the new Pope and his message but i have a few problems still with some of the catholic theology that i am working through!!!

  • catholicexchange

    Best of luck and we will keep you in our prayers. I was born into an Evangelical/Pentecostal church and converted to Catholicism after flirting with agnosticism for years. It’s quite a journey and I did indeed have much to work through. Thanks for your comments and participation!

    MJL

  • Theresa Adair

    WELCOME HOME! I am 85 years old and I am still in awe every time I receive the REAL BODY AND BLOOD of CHRIST! God bless you, Father Liias!!

  • Serafino

    Welcome home Father! As a young man, I attended The Church of the Advent in Boston and always enjoyed the beautiful and reverential liturgical celebrations. However, I began to have questions about the validity of Anglican orders . After reading Apostolicae Curae and other related documents, I was slowly convinced that the Catholic Church was correct in judging Anglican orders from the beginning ” absolutely null and utterly void.” I held on until the feast of Corpus Christi, when during the procession with the ” Holy Sacrament ” the reality struck ,that despite the beautiful vestments, and clouds of incense ,that which was being carried in such a solemn way was only a piece of unleavened bread. I left in the middle of the procession, never to return. Shortly after, I was received into full Communion with the Catholic Church. I’ve never been happier.

  • Denis

    Fr Jurgen, you will be an open door for other to come in.
    God bless

  • Nan

    I was raised against Church teaching and while it’s sometimes difficult, I trust that Holy Mother Church knows better than I.

  • Nan

    The 12 tribes of Israel each had an angel to guide them; even those entrusted to Michael didn’t get it right. All religions have some truth, but only one has Truth.

  • Dogma

    That’s your belief, Nan. That’s why it’s called Faith. But even if what yiu say is 100% correct, do you honestly believe other people are less Christian for not being Catholic?

  • Barrysullivan1

    I am a life long Catholic who has always enjoyed discussing the Faith with my non-Catholic friends and been blessed to sponsor several of them into the Faith. I find that some of our most fervent catholics are those who convert from a different faith. I give you the link to my life story which documents the many miracles God and the Church have worked in my life including the adoption of my two children. God bless and I’ll be praying for you! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXixgkSzwek

  • Barrysullivan1

    It is not a coincidence that so many converts have been very active in the pro-life movement. Several converts I know have told me that they couldn’t help become interested in the Catholic Faith when they saw how many pro-lifers were Catholic. So not only are we saving lives when we are pro-life activists but also inspiring non-Catholics to look at becoming Catholic! All the riches of this world can’t compare with the Joy saving souls and lives can bring.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    Not at all – they’re just taking a more difficult (and for some, more treacherous) path. You are proposing relativism. It’s not about us choosing a path; it’s about God giving us the directions and us choosing to follow fully, partially or not at all.

    Which path is going to most surely get you to your destination – the one following the directions given you or the one you decide looks the best? No matter how sincere or well-meaning your intentions, the wise thing is to go with the directions given you by the Person Who knows all paths as well as the final destination far more intimately than we do. The alternative makes it iffy whether you will ever arrive at all.

  • Dogma

    And what you are proposing is hyper-reductionist Absolutism, QVA, i.e. “There is only ONE right path. Black or White. Do or Die.”
    God, Love and Life are infinitely more subtle than that, thankfully.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    No, actually it is you who are applying hyper-reductionist Absolutism to my comment, lol!

    My impression is that you are confusing the fact that each individual travels their own path to God with the modern heresy that there are many paths to God so it doesn’t matter which religion you embrace.

  • Dogma

    But that’s exactly what I said; You are arguing that there is only one true religion/path to God, and everything else is modern heresy. Correct?

    This is an artificial binary reductionist argument, in my opinion. Either/Or. Wrong/Right. Black/White, etc. etc.

    Christ himself said, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions”, implying that God is bigger than just one religion.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    You are conflating two different things. Going back to the map analogy: if we both wanted to get to Hawaii, we would not be starting out from the same location or with the same means, etc. So we would be taking different paths and possibly different modes of transport to reach the main path to the islands. BUT we couldn’t both arrive at the same destination if I headed toward Hawaii with the best means available to me while you headed to Antarctica. No matter how sincere you are, you’re still not going to make it to Hawaii unless your southern course just so happens to win the longshot longitudinal lottery of being in line with the islands.

    So the fact that the path of each soul to God is unique to each individual means that we each start from our own personal place with our own personal means; it does NOT mean that we can go ANY direction and still arrive at God. Why would God bother to give us directions at all if all we need are good intentions?

MENU