In my last post, I gave the backdrop of St. Peter Claver, his ministry, and how he made Catholicism personal for me!
In my summary of his missionary work, I conveyed that Claver was an ardent evangelist! He encountered many that opposed the Catholic Church while he served as a missionary/priest in Cartagena, Colombia during the early 17th century.
However, his ability to persuade those back into the Church went unchallenged by those who he encountered.
English and Dutch traders frequented Cartagena and neighboring cities during that era. One day after meeting with some English crew members, convinced by his personality and manner, one of the members invited Peter to speak with their church leader.
As the two men sat down and discussed differences between Catholics and Protestants, the Englishman could see the truth of Catholicism but didn’t convert due to difficult obstacles relating to resources that supported his family in his faith tradition.
As Peter Claver sat across from him, he noticed the Englishman wanted to dedicate himself as a closeted Catholic, but upon his deathbed reveal his allegiance to the Church. Essentially, he would be walking around outwardly as an Anglican, but internally Catholic.
Father Claver left the conversation feeling uneasy about the situation. Suddenly, he realized the feast day of St. Ursula, a saint from the Englishman’s country, was on the exact date of their conversation and he made a phenomenal connection about the Catholic Church and the Church of England. Particularly Peter highlighted Henry VIII’s split from the Chuch by making himself the supreme authority of the Church of England.
Some of Claver’s words to the Englishman in regards to his hesitancy toward the Church were as followed:
“What then induced him to forsake the ancient religion and establish a new one? Was it not to contract a scandalous and adulterous marriage with Anne Boleyn, after he had repudiated his lawful wife, in defiance of all laws, both human and divine? These were the abominations that produced your religion: judge then the effect of the cause. Ah! how can a sensible and conscientious man prefer a law, the offspring of adultery, to that announced by the Apostles, and confirmed by the blood of so many martyrs.”
Father Claver painted the image of two paths, similar to Jesus Christ (Mat 7:13-14).
One of truth and the other of deceit.
One ancient, while the other was only decades old at the time.
One testified by the history and Tradition of the Apostles, while the other is founded on the breaking of the Sixth Commandment.
This conversation between Father Claver and the Englishman made me think of my own conversion to Catholicism.
A Dilemma in Faith
I was confronted with this same dilemma as the Englishman.
Before I could say “yes” to the Church, I had to get over my own faith roadblocks. I wanted to somehow remain outwardly Protestant, but internally find peace as a Catholic.
I eventually realized that I wasn’t being authentic to myself. No matter how I tried to gloss over my own preferences, the Holy Church wouldn’t allow me to be double-minded. I knew I had to make a decision on how I wanted my life to be simply because “Who do you say that I am? (Mat. 16:15)” is the fundamental question we all have to answer.
Moreover, for me to fully know the Catholic Church was the source of salvation, and to ignore it would be damnable.
In fact, Lumen Gentium section 14 from Second Vatican Council states, “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.” As a result, I was faced with a hard decision either to join the Catholic faith or stay a miserable feeling Bible-alone Protestant.
Eventually, I had to go where my conscience compelled me. I too, like St. Paul, had to count all things that were gain to me as a loss for the sake of Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:7). Especially me wanting to be a pastor or have some sort of clergy role in my local Baptist church, being a Bible teacher in a college maybe, and overall theologian.
All of these things I devoted time, energy, and effort for a future in ministry and academia. Yet, the truth of the Catholic faith remained before me.
So I took that swim across the Tiber.
Now, post-confirmation in 2018, God has slowly guided me in a new role to spread the Gospel in a different format. Perhaps one day, this apostolate idea of mines of bringing the Catholic faith to residents of the inner city will one day become a reality.
Furthermore, being a teacher doesn’t necessarily require a Ph.D. behind my name. Thanks to being a member of the Body of Christ, I share in the role of priest, prophet, and king so definitely I have strength from Christ to give my two cents on the intersection of theology, life, and culture.
The Aftermath of the Dialogue
With that said, what happened to the Englishman? After Father Claver spoke the words of truth, the prelate was moved. He asked Peter Claver to pray for him and of course, he willingly did. After a few weeks, the Englishman came back to Father Claver saying, “It is time, father, it is time for me to accomplish the promise I made to God and to you. I wish to embrace the religion of my ancestors, — the faith of the Holy Roman Church.”
Exactly, the “religion of my ancestors” is what the Catholic Church claims. Not a claim that’s baseless, but one that history validates when one examines the early centuries after Christ. The Catholic Church is not one among many, but indeed the one Church founded by Christ.
As “Amazing Grace” stated, “How precious did that grace appear..the hour I first believed.”
Because Peter had a strong commitment to proclaiming his Lord, I am a sharer in the divine nature by his example.
Thank God for the grace given to cross the Tiber.
For both the Englishman and me
Source: John R. Flattery’s St. Peter Claver: Apostle to the Negroes (Kindle Version)