Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Coming Home to Darkness

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Coming Home to Darkness

Article excerpt

At the 1991 Easter Vigil in the Jesuit Holy Trinity Parish in Washington, D.C., my wife Sharryl and I were received into the Roman Catholic Church. In my fiftieth year, I had been part of the Anabaptist-Mennonite family since birth. Until the previous year all my adult work experience had been in peacemaking, pastoral and teaching ministries in Anabaptist-Mennonite institutions.

I accepted the invitation to write about that transition and how I, twelve years later, look back on my church of origin in part because during that interval I have come to a peace with that tradition and its people. God's Spirit has brought about precious reconciliation and healing, apart from which I would have neither desired to write about my experience nor trusted myself to do so. While my faith identity today is Roman Catholic, and I view that identity as the fruit of a homecoming ending nearly half a millennium of separation, I live with deep respect for and indebtedness to my communion of origin. In the words of St. Paul, "I am always thanking God for you" (I Cor. 1:4).

A most obvious danger in writing my story is the temptation to oversimplify a decision that in reality was very complex. This complexity is only exacerbated when the decision to become Catholic is bundled with other major choices. I entered the Roman Catholic Church near the end of a period of wall-to-wall transition involving work, vocation, family, geography and marriage partner. It was not a propitious time for another huge decision. Furthermore, while my marriage decision, which triggered separation from the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries (AMBS) in 1989, is not addressed here, feelings about that parting contributed to my decision to enter the Roman Catholic Church two years later. It is a major challenge to view such a complex passage undefensively.

A second danger lies in equating my 1991 perception of the Anabaptist-Mennonite family with actual reality. Did subsequent life as a Roman Catholic open me to a need within myself which I either had not been aware of or refused to address while a Mennonite? Was the deficiency within my community or myself? I still do not fully trust my judgment in this regard. Thus I have focused here on describing my decade as a Roman Catholic generally leaving the reader to infer the assessment of my Mennonite experience. I have prayed lest I triumphalistically recreate the ecclesial landscape in the image of my own foibled choices.

A third hazard is that such a project imposes later understandings onto earlier stages. Some issues (e.g., liturgy or the Sacrament of Reconciliation) were more urgent during my nine-month catechesis; others, such as the communion of saints or contemplative prayer, became more weighty only after a decade. The structure of this essay--a first section describing 1991 motivations based on journaling of that time, and a second describing what, across the interval, has emerged as the center of my Roman Catholic identity--is an attempt to avoid confusing what was and is. I have questioned whether the first section on personal history is thus more germane to the MQR project than the second section on my spiritual journey, and have concluded that it is not. That the intervening decade was one of healing with family, AMBS and self hopefully brings both wisdom and gentleness to the retrospection.

Finally, there is a danger of underestimating the role of God's grace amid our flawed choices. I suspect that Roman Catholics sometimes have a better awareness of the real presence of divine grace amid human sinfulness--no one ever became a Roman Catholic because it was the most pure church!--and that this contributed to my joy at that Easter Vigil. That I crossed over to Mother Church in a season when I might have crashed and burned is never far from my awareness. (1) Gratitude and thanks that the Hound of Heaven did not cease pursuing me in that time is part of my prayer life. …

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