As one gets older there comes a time in life where reflection starts to dominate ones thoughts and being. Especially when life starts to slow down once the kids are off on their own and there is more time to reflect and ponder ones life, its meaning and its significance in the grand scheme of things. One such pondering is my journey home to the Catholic Church. At first you may say to yourself, what does THIS have to do with Called to Love Again? Bear with me as it will be tied in at the end of my story.
I was born into a long line of Protestants. My grandfather was a Church of the Brethren minister and my sister and brother-in-law were Baptist missionaries for a number of years. Today my brother-in-law is the head of the Baptist convention of IA. Growing up we went to church every Sunday and every time the church doors were open. My whole family went to church; my grandparents, our family, my cousins and their families. There is even a Grossnickle Church of the Brethren out East that goes way back. One of my brothers was out to visit it.
The Bible is very central to Protestant thought.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16* All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness,* 17so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
So from a very young age, we were taught the Bible, the books of the bible (7 less books than the Catholic Bible), and memorized scripture. The sermons were deep dives into passages of scripture or following a topic through scripture. I remember in a high school class on post reformation church history and the Bible we were required to memorize approximately 35-40 scriptures and have them word perfect spoken and written to pass. We did “sword” drills (in reference to the sword of the spirit in Ephesians 6:17). This is where you would be given an obscure chapter and verse and whoever could look it up first won.
From the age of 7 or 8 I struggled with my faith, not because of sin, but wanting to know for certain I was saved. Many Protestants believe that there is one point in your life that you make a mental assent to Jesus and from then on out you are saved. John 3:16 is a favorite.
16For God so loved the world that he gave* his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
How do know I am saved? What if I thought I believed but didn’t. What if my belief was not strong enough? What if I stopped believing? This insecurity plagued me for a number of years. I asked multiple people but none that could give me what I thought was a satisfactory answer. When I was 13, I went to a Jr. High camp and the camp director was finally able to allay my fears. I won’t go into what he said, but it was good enough at the time to stop my incessant fear.
I was baptized in July of 1982 when I was in high school. In high school I had a voracious appetite for the scriptures and my relationship with God. Many nights I would spend hours in my room reading the scriptures and praying. It was to the point where my folks would force me to come down from my room to be around everyone else. But this lead to more confusion in my soul. What I was reading in the scriptures didn’t really match what was being preached from the pulpit for concepts such as “once saved, always saved” and church unity. Again, in many Protestant circles, salvation is gained by a one time ascent of faith. No works are ever necessary and you can never lose or forfeit that salvation no matter what you do. However I was coming across passages like
21* And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him, 23provided that you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, am a minister.
And there were others:
If you continue:
If you endure:
2 Timothy 2:12
These, as well as the Paul’s talk on being disqualified from the race in 1 Cor 9:24, the parable of talents and the parable of the sheep and goats both hinted that works and deeds were necessary. All of these things hinted at the ability to “lose” your salvation or at the very least that effort was required on my part. And then there was the nature of belief. Could I believe one thing today and another thing tomorrow? If so, even by John 3:16 I am not saved if I don’t believe any more. However, my denomination didn’t teach any of this. Nazarene theology did. Was I a Nazarene? Was I something else?
Theology aside for a minute, I made plans in high school to become a mission aviation pilot, flying missionaries into remote lands with my plane. I liked the sciences and had a fascination with flying. So I decided I would become a mission pilot. My mom and my dad were behind me, however they encouraged me to get a BA before I went on to mission aviation school. I thought to myself, “I can do that!”. So I went to Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL and needed a major. I didn’t feel called to the ministry, but I figured I may be working in a church in the background so I took a major in Biblical Studies and Christian Education. So I had formal theology and Bible classes. Seeing that this was a Protestant school, it at least got me back to the Reformation, which in reality is quite different from modern day Protestantism. One thing you must understand is that Catholicism was never entertained. It was the furthest thing from my mind, because even if you weren’t particularly anti-catholic, the Protestant mentality is: ANYTHING but Catholic. Catholics are out in left field and they are in outer space. The reformation got us back to the “true” gospel
I had been praying throughout college that if God did not want me in mission aviation that he would shut the door. The acceptance process was a 5 step process and between my junior and senior year in college on step 5, I was cut from the program. Needless to say, it was a shock and a disappointment. So to make a long story short, I finished college with my degrees, married the love of my life and took a job in technology and I have been employed in technology ever since.
My wife and I had 3 children, 2 girls and a boy and we did our best to raise them in the church. We went to church every week and many times during the week when the church was open as well. My kids attended Sunday School, church and Wednesday night youth programs. As a father I had the privilege to baptize all three of my children. When I did that, I gave them each a life verse from their father, that I framed for them to put on their wall.
Kayla – Deuteronomy 7:9
Tasha – Isaiah 43:1-3a
Sean – 1 Chronicles 28:9
But through the years there were still theological things I struggled with: What is the nature of the church? Is it (as many Protestants believe) just a loose collection of everyone who believes in Christ? And if so, what do they believe about Christ and is it the same? Does the church on earth have any authority or physical form? If so, where is it?
18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
1 Corinthians 12:28
28Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles;* second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues.
Many Protestants interpret that as in the 4 walls of your building and nothing outside. MAYBE it applies to your denomination, but most don’t look at it like that. Notice he said THE church not A church.
And there’s still that divisiveness and lack of unity that gnawed at me. Who’s right?
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
1 Corinthians 1:10-13
10I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. 12I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to* Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”13* Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
This verse I took to mean denominations: I am Baptist, I am Methodist, I am Presbyterian, I am Nazarene.
Christ even prayed for the unity of the Church:
John 17: 11 and 23
11And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.
23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Did God ignore Christ’s prayer?
Paul even calls for unity
1* I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, 3striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: 4* one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But Protestantism is anything but unified. 33,000 different denominations and many of them don’t agree on the basics? Who is right? How do you decide? In the Protestant realm, that is up to me. I have to try to discern what the scripture means and then find a church that believes the same thing. And if I can’t I can always find like minded people and start my own. Yes the Bible and scripture is truth, but how do you interpret it? Whose job is it to say that an idea is patently Christian and one that is heresy? If that is up to me, that is scary because I AM NOT THAT SMART!
These things plagued me for years. The straw the broke the proverbial camels back was the last Protestant church I was involved with was big into the “non-programmatic” church movement. It is a movement that says, “The church is here, but it’s really only a place for fellowship and individual development. We meet on Sunday morning and sing and listen to a sermon, but really where the action is at is with our ministry partners. So go find a ministry partner to join with and do Christian work outside the church. We gather and see each other weekly and then scatter to do ministry outside the church.”
That really hit me the wrong way and set up a dichotomy in my mind. Either the church is NOTHING, or the church is EVERYTHING and the bride of Christ as it’s pictured in the scriptures. And there’s GOT to be a physical and organizational presence of the church on earth.
And then I thought, wait, there is 1 church that claims to be the true church of Jesus Christ. They claim apostolic succession. Oh by the way, whose job is it to figure out what’s truly Christian and what is not and to interpret what the Bible really means? That’s the magisterium’s job. NOT mine. So either, their claim is true, or they are full of bunk. If bunk, then I am back where I started, but if true, maybe I owe allegiance to that Church.
How do I investigate this? If I read a Protestant author, it will be biased in a Protestant way. If I read a Catholic author, it will be biased in a Catholic way. Then I remembered that there is this nice thing called the Catechism that lays out the beliefs of the church straight. Little commentary. So I got a copy and read it cover to cover. What I found amazed me. This was not some group that was out in left field or in outer space as is commonly believed in Protestant circles. This made sense. And it fit the scripture together in a way that I had not seen before. I was somewhat hooked. I then started reading Catholic apologists and Protestant conversion stories like Hahn, Aiken, West, Sri, Ray, Anders, Kreeft etc. I was definitely hooked!
I made plans to start RCIA in Sept of 2017. I was excited! I had finally found the TRUTH!
But sometimes the reality that scripture bears hits very close to home.
21* Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 22You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end* will be saved.
At the beginning of Lent on March 2, 2018, my wife of 30 years, after we had finished praying turned to me and said, “By the way, I’ve filed for a divorce and I am moving out tomorrow”. The next day, a hoard of people showed up, she took what she wanted and left. I have not spoken to her since. I found out later from one of the kids that my becoming Catholic was part of the reason she left. I came into the Catholic Church on March 31, 2018. So, I found myself in an apartment with few possession re-evaluating my life and God’s vocation for me. My divorce was finalized in August 2018 and my annulment was finalized in July of 2019.
To say the least, this was quite a shock. I knew that I must press into the Church and service or fall into the depths of despair. I found the Called to Love Again ministry and it has caused me to evaluate my former marriage, my life and what the sacrament of marriage means. It is teaching me what a blessing the sacraments are, something of which most Protestant denominations have no concept. Even though I am divorced and by myself now, I AM called to love. Whether that be another spouse someday or my neighbor, the call to love does not end when my marriage does. To share the love of Christ is a blessing that cannot be over stated.
In pressing into the Church I find Psalm 84:10-11 true:
Better one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere.
Better the threshold of the house of my God
than a home in the tents of the wicked.
12For a sun and shield is the LORD God,
bestowing all grace and glory.
The LORD withholds no good thing
from those who walk without reproach.
I am learning to find my satisfaction in God and not in things or in a dependence upon what people can give me. I am learning that the words of St. Teresa of Avila are true:
Let nothing trouble you
Let nothing frighten you
God never changes
Patience obtains all
Whoever has God
Wants for nothing
God alone is enough
Bio: Byron Grossnickle is a member of the Church of the Ascension Parish in Overland Park, KS and is a Systems Engineer for the IBM Corporation. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus and is active in various ministries within the church community.