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Discerning the Journey
Q: I have practiced Centering Prayer for about three years. Because of some mental difficulties this is always a struggle for me, in some periods it’s almost impossible. Living in faith and trust in Christ is my deepest longing, but always something I must fight (myself) for. It’s never easy. None of my friends or family are religious, so I often feel alone in my spiritual life. It is hard to sustain a solid base for the spiritual life in these circumstances.
Because of this I started seeing a Dominican nun about converting to the Catholic Church. I am Norwegian, so my "home" church is protestant. But when I began my spiritual journey and came to faith at about four years ago, it was through reading mystics and Catholic spiritual leaders like you. I quickly started to feel drawn towards the contemplative dimension of Christian life. This is not very grounded in the protestant church. When I go to Sunday service at my local parish I am often the only one under the age of 50 (I am 31).
Since I felt that my spiritual upbringing was drawn from the Catholic tradition I started having serious thoughts about converting, but now I am suddenly having very strong doubts. There are so many things in the Catholic tradition which I don’t know how to see in the Gospels, for example the exclusion of gay and lesbians from receiving the Eucharist, and the fact that a woman cannot be ordained a priest. Just to name some of the problematic things. I really don’t get how that’s possible to sustain. I also doubt my motives for converting, I fear it’s a way of seeking security and identity and maybe over identifying with a certain tradition. And it’s difficult because most of the people around me in my daily life is very critical to the Catholic church. But I don’t find firm ground in the Norwegian protestant church either. So I feel homeless and adrift.
Are my thoughts about converting most of all a sign of immature spiritual needs, of which I should ignore? Is it perhaps very confused seeking to convert when I am critical of so much of the doctrinal tradition in the Catholic church? Am I maybe pushing the people around me even further away from the Christian life by projecting all this in to the spiritual life? I don’t feel that God is asking me to convert to anything other than his Presence. Is it time, you think, to let this thoughts and doubts go, and just focusing on my daily practice and keep going to my local church without judging it? Hope for some guidance, if it’s possible.
A: It is a pleasure to hear from you again. My sense is that it is not time yet for you to make such a big decision. You ended with some sound advice for yourself: "I don't feel that God is asking me to convert to anything other than his Presence … [it’s time] to let these thoughts and doubts go … focusing on my daily practice and keep going to my local Protestant church without judging it … "
It is not wise to act when you are having doubts. Spiritual advisors often say that in times such as these, continue to be faithful to what you are doing and in the course of your faithfulness, the answer will become clearer. We are asked to love God. That is what you are doing to the best of your ability at this time. You will know when the moment is right if you stay faithful to your prayer practices and worship with your community. May God give you the eyes to see and the ears to hear as you patiently live out your life waiting for a sign, which many times comes as a gentle whisper.
In the meantime, continue to explore the richness of the Catholic mystical tradition as a source for deepening your journey and put the desire to convert aside for a while. Be nourished by what you are experiencing in the present moment. It will unfold.
Blessings in this year of mercy,