So as Mark Shea wraps up the main portal that opened up for me on my way into the Church, I reflect on where we are and how we've gotten here. It should be no surprise at this point that we've been sniffing about the door posts of the Orthodox Church.
This isn't new by the way. Back in the day, c. 2003 or 04, when we first began seriously to consider leaving Protestant Christianity, Orthodoxy emerged as a surprising option. My eyes were set firmly on Catholicism or Anglicanism. A Presbyterian friend had suggested going Anglican, knowing my inclinations and my problems with my Baptist life. And seeing the almost blank check open doors that the Church has given to Anglicans, I sort of regret not going that way.
But it was when the Anglicans were imploding. Electing gay bishops and declaring, in the USA at least, the Gospels to be the antisemitic documents that critics of The Passion of the Christ said they were, was enough to push me away. Having lost faith in the Protestant approach on many levels, and having seen the ugly behind the scenes of Protestant Christianity, I was prepared to look at other, radical approaches to the Faith.
Though Catholicism had been where I was leaning, my wife, born and bred Southern Baptist, was having a little trouble warming up to that papist tradition. I mean, she came from a family that, a generation earlier, would have scoffed at the idea that non-Southern Baptist baptists could possibly be saved. Suggesting Catholicism was like suggesting to Dietrich that we need this Jewish ritual to open the Ark.
But suddenly, in came Orthodoxy. We got there mainly by accident. One day, coming home through Columbus, we saw the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. A beautiful church by any accounts. We decided to stop in. My second son, and my wife, were blown away. They loved it. We were all impressed. And at the Cathedral book store, we picked up a couple books and items for looking into this side of the Christian aisle.
The Orthodox way, which bears many similarities to Catholicism when set in juxtaposition to Protestantism, allowed my wife to look into some of those historic distinctives without that papist feeling. Through that, my wife was able to warm up to the Catholic way. And because that Cathedral was about the closest Orthodox church we could find (over an hour away with no traffic and good travel conditions), and since we had absolutely no contacts with Orthodoxy or with anything to do with Orthodoxy, we began our long journey into the Catholic Church.
It was around that time that I stumbled across Mark Shea. I had seen Scott Hahn on EWTN on a trip down to Florida around then. We didn't get EWTN in our area, so I was on the net looking for that fellow who was a convert and made a case for Catholicism from a biblical point of view. When I finally found his website, everything he had was there - for sale. I wasn't about to pay to find information about the Catholic Church. So I kept looking. I remember someone said he could be funny, so I was looking for something about Catholic Church, a convert, and humor. Enter Mark Shea.
It was actually one of his articles I found. I can't remember which one. Bur it linked to the part of his website that he called Sheavings, a collection of articles he had published at that point. I started reading through them. I showed my wife. She liked them, because she noticed his humor and mine were similar. I ate them up. He was to the point, with humor, and a wink and a nod. He was willing to point out the flaws in Protestant Christianity, while also giving credit where it is due. He was clearly conservative, but not afraid to hold conservatism's feet to the fire. He was also willing to concede where ideas associated with liberalism were compatible with Christianity. In fact, he was willing to say both sides have their good points, but the Faith should always be the deciding factor. Not bad given some of the partisanship on both sides I had seen in my ministry days. He mostly was about explaining Catholicism to critics, and defending the Church against its detractors.
Over the next year, in addition to a growing stack of books and articles, Mark became required reading for me. At one point, I emailed him a question about Mary. In return, he sent several pages of a draft that would become his books on Mary for help. That helped, especially my wife. While this was happening, we had entered the RCIA program and were plowing smartly along on our way into joining the Church.
Already we had taken a financial hit with my leaving my ministry. We tried to find some ministry for me to fit into while this was happening, but there were issues, particularly with integrity. How could I sneak about going Catholic while ministering in a Protestant manner? Soon after we began RCIA, my wife was let go of her teaching position at a Protestant school, sending us into a financial tailspin. We lost a sizable portion of our savings and also took a substantial hit in credit card debt trying to avoid losing our home. The previously mentioned auto accident didn't help. It was the car that, naturally, we had paid off. So we were, in addition to everything else, forced to purchase a new car.
In fact, at Christmastime 2015, there was little joy or happiness in our life, and much worry and concern. The only thing that kept us was the assurance that we would be taken care of. By then I had contacted an apostolate which focused on Protestant Clergy converts. While not all converts end up in paid positions, I was told, many do. And almost all end up doing just fine. There is, after all, much support and help on the part of the Church. This fit with what our priest - who I knew from my ministry days - told us: That no matter what, there would be 'divers and sundry ways' to help us out.
So as dismal as things seemed, with no clear direction except 'into the Church' ahead of us, we were optimistic. Even more than cautiously optimistic. After all, I had always cast a glance at Catholicism and the historic Church, I was entering due to what I perceived as seeking for the Truth, and we truly felt God was leading us forward. We were assured we would be taken care of somehow, and God's direction and all. In the end, ask dark as things seemed, it would all be fine. Or so we believed.