On my way to the Catholic Church my Junior year of college, I felt inspired to meet with learned Protestants I respected and ask them the question, "Why are you not Catholic?" Many answers I received stunned me.
But one conversation wins the crown for the most shocking.
Let me set the scene: It was spring semester. Krista and I had just gotten engaged. I was getting marriage advice at the house of a professor who was married and had seven children. The pastor of the conservative Anglican church they attended happened to stop by while I was there. The church he pastored was a thriving, life-filled church that many students, faculty, and staff from Wheaton College attended, including the Provost.
I introduced myself and mentioned that I had been attending his church but was now attending a Catholic church. He seemed to think that was great.
I explained that our meeting was convenient since I had been intending to email him to try to set up a time to meet to ask him my question, "Why are you not Catholic?" He said his schedule was very busy and that we should just talk right then because otherwise we probably never would.
Over the next 45 minutes or so, he explained that (1) he believed that the Catholic Church was the fullest manifestation of God's Church on earth, (2) the Pope is our Holy Father with whom we should all be in communion, (3) as an Anglican priest he was not in perfect communion with the Pope as he should, (4) it was his hope - if not mere belief - that the Anglican Church would eventually recommune with the Catholic Church.
My jaw dropped as I heard him speak.
He recommended Catholic authors to me and encouraged me to become Catholic: "Do it now. It'll only get harder to do the older you get." He said he'd had many similar conversations with people he had eventually directed on to the Catholic Church.
At first I was somewhat disoriented in the conversation. This was not what I was expecting! I asked him questions, trying to understand how he justified remaining outside of the Catholic Church.
First, he explained that he felt God was calling him to ministry at that church and that he would stay as long as felt called to do so. He saw himself as something as a weigh station for protestants, particularly evangelicals. People who would never step inside a Catholic church would come to his, even though many of their beliefs and practices were identical, because they were "Protestant".
Second, he felt that what he saw as the general lifelessness and poverty of good instruction on the parish level in most American Catholic churches justified his existence. His believed his church was doing a much better job than most Catholic churches. He said that he only felt comfortable directing people to the Catholic Church if he thought they were already well-grounded in their faith.
He recognized some tension with his beliefs and exactly how he was living his life, and said that if his conscience ever led him to the Catholic Church, he would have to oblige.
The Catholic Church has allies in more places than one might expect...