At a certain point, after I had read all I could read about Mary and the saints, and had experimentally spoken to them in prayer with positive results, it was crunch time. Did I believe this- really believe that it was good to ask for the saints intercession, and that Mary should be venerated? It was a crux. Either say yes, and continue down the road of entering the church, or say no, I can't be sure and because I can't be sure, I won't become Catholic. Note my alternative position was not 'I'm positive this is wrong', but rather it was 'I can't be sure this is right'. On one hand, there were so many persuasive arguments presenting themselves to me that I couldn't easily rule out that God intends Mary's veneration and the intercession of saints, such as reasons from scripture I didn't notice before, nearly two thousand years of church teaching, and a bevy of respectable theologians and historians who have sided with what the Catholic church teaches.
So, the logical reasons were lining up nicely- but on the other hand, I struggled with it feeling so foreign. I didn't want to let foreignness keep me from this Church that on most accounts I was eager to become a part of. After all, the historical perspective is that NOT venerating Mary is abnormal. At most points in most places across time, Christians have venerated Mary, and believed that the saints pray for us. But still, I was afraid - what if I had missed something? And wasn't I doing just fine before I ever paid Mary or the saints any attention?
And here is where something new happened in my life: I decided to defer to the Church. Instead of just 'going on faith'-- I 'went on the church' in faith. Instead of desperately needing the Holy Spirit to speak to me mystically about Mary, I trusted that the Holy Spirit had guided the Church across the centuries, because that is the way Jesus set things up to be. I added a new element to faith: trusting the Church. (By the way, I did feel the Holy Spirit speaking, it just wasn't quite enough, although it probably should have been. One thing I heard was: you're not going to heaven based on right belief.)
All my life, I'd been focusing on my individual relationship with God and wasn't excited about the idea of anyone having spiritual authority over me - they're all just my 'brothers and sisters in Christ', right? Oh, I wasn't rebellious or refusing to believe any basic tenants of the faith. But I thought it was ridiculous that women were barred from being pastors in some churches, and got irked when it seemed like people would follow whatever pastor Ted or motivational speaker Sally told them to do, and so on.
I had the idea that Christianity was 'jus' me an' Jesus, or 'jus' me and the Holy Spirit'. Of course there were many collective spiritual activities (for lack of a better word) that I participated in and looked forward to, and that in fact brought me closer to God. But, who would I trust if I thought someone was teaching me wrong things about God, or about holy living? Or just incomplete things? In theory, the idea of relying solely on 'the Bible' to discern God and holiness is a good one...but in the church as a whole, it doesn't work well in practice. All churches, protestant and otherwise, teach 'what the Bible says', but where does that leave us when they are all teaching different, conflicting things? And not just trivial things, either--how one is saved, how one is justified before God, how one lives a holy life, how one respects the Lord, etc.
By becoming Catholic, I discovered a great gem in scripture that I'd never taken the time to consider. I Timothy 3:14-15, Paul, speaking to Timothy, says: "If I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." Wait - what is the pillar and bulwark of truth? The church! And what church existed at the time St. Paul said these words? The one we call the Catholic church.
It is a great comfort to me in life to know that God didn't leave us behind on earth to flip-flop on what he meant for us to do after Jesus ascended to heaven. That before the New Testament was written, people were not floundering about in their faith, or that people who are unable to read, or who don't have access to a Bible can still know the truth through the Church and live fulfilling lives. That there are absolutes in life, and that one of them is that what the Church teaches is absolutely true, through the Holy Spirit. I do not deny that priests, bishops, etc. have done evil things. What I'm speaking of here, and where the Church claims authority, is in official doctrine. The people who make up the Church are flawed, but official teaching is not. This is known as Papal infallibility.
Papal infallibility is the machinery that puts truth into place within the Church. Catholics believe in apostolic succession- that is, Peter was the first head of the Church, given this authority by Jesus, and his authority has been passed down to each successive head, who we call popes today. The other piece of this is that bishops, when in union with the pope, also have authority and infallibility, like modern-day apostles. This authority comes from Jesus, not any special power of their own. Jesus clearly granted Peter authority in Matt. 16:14-19; Jesus asked his disciples who men were saying he was,
"And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jo'na! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Here Peter is singled out among the disciples - he alone is shown a truth by God the Father (that Jesus is the Christ), and is given the 'keys of the kingdom of heaven' and some pretty hefty authority. There are several other passages that detail exactly what the disciples were given, (and that has since been passed down), but this is probably the most important...and since I'm against long blog entries, I'm saving it for another day, but please realize this is a very incomplete picture of the authority Jesus gave to his disciples.
I'll close by saying, if we as Christians believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, it is not a blind leap to believe that the Pope has infallibility to interpret God's word. Were the last words penned of what became the New Testament the end of the golden age of absolute truth? If so, how can we trust that what we call the Bible is actually what God intended to be scripture - did the creation of the cannon not involve councils of men with clear, God-given authority? If there is no authority on earth to interpret scripture and doctrine other than personal conscious discerning the Holy Spirit, then we will divide ourselves again and again and again, and all in the name of following Jesus. That's wrong. Church division is unbiblical. And I hate to say it, but constant division is what happens in the Protestant world. (I googled, and at best guess, there are between 1500 and 7000 Christian denominations in the US, and over 32,000 world-wide...and counting.) The refusal to accept the Catholic Church's God-breathed authority has created a million different beliefs, all of which cannot simultaneously be true. And that, friends, is why I'm Catholic.
I do not speak with spite against Protestants, because they are my friends and family. Clearly we disagree, and I'm not trying to slam non-Catholics- we have more in common that not. But, I am Catholic, writing from a Catholic perspective, and I can't apologize for that.