The Beauty of the Treasures of the Catholic Church
Presented by Tom and Kathy Gust
St. Matthew Parish and Missions
Saturday December 6 and Sunday December 7, 2008
We would like to start by thanking Father Kubat for inviting us to share with you. We are humbled to be here speaking about what God has done in our lives. He has called us to His Church and to the beauty of the Catholic faith, for which we are so very thankful.
Have you ever wondered what it is like to grow up in a pickle-jar? Let me tell you, if you grow up in a pickle-jar it is the sweetest place on earth. Only when you venture out for some reason, do you begin to recognize that you may not be in the sweetest place on earth. Growing up as a Protestant I thought I lived in the sweetest place on earth.
We are Tom and Kathy Gust and we live in Edmonton, Alberta. We are members of St. Thomas More Parish. We have two boys, now 15 and 13 years old. As a family we joined the Catholic Church at the 2007 Easter Vigil. We started RCIA in September 2006 and Father Kaz came to St. Thomas More in October, serving as the Associate Pastor. Father came directly from Africa via Poland into some less than pleasant weather. While the weather was not so nice for him, his arrival in Edmonton was a blessing for us. Fr. Kaz taught us in RCIA and brought us into the Church at the Easter Vigil 2007.
Before joining the Catholic Church we were Lutherans. I was baptized in the Lutheran Church as an infant. My family went to church every Sunday. The heritage of both my Father’s and Mother’s family is Lutheran. Kathy was baptized and grew up in the United Church; however, her family was not as committed to their faith as was my family. As a result, she was not actively practicing her faith when we met and got married. Kathy became a Lutheran after we were married.
In 2005, while both Kathy and I were serving our Lutheran congregation in leadership roles we were faced with the struggle of what to do with same sex blessings. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada church was set to vote on this question at their national convention. We both knew that blessing same sex unions was wrong. Sitting in a meeting one evening, the light turned on in my head. It was wrong that we were voting on a moral issue. We had no business voting. Why was our church voting on morality? It was then I thought, “Okay if it is wrong, what do we do? Why are we being asked to vote on morality? Who has the authority to set what the church believes?” We knew that was not our job.
What we did know was that the Pastor of our congregation, Paul Quist, had quit his job as a Lutheran Pastor and joined the Catholic Church. About 6 years earlier, a family friend who was also a Lutheran Pastor as well as a Bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada had become Catholic. This man was ordained to the priesthood in 2007. These were two men who we deeply respected. Each of them knew much more about the Bible, theology and church teaching than we would ever hope to know. The question was, what did they know that we didn’t?
At this point we knew that we were not in the right place; but where would we go? What is the right place?
For many years I would ask almost anyone who would set next to me in a Bible study, “Why don’t the Jewish people believe in Jesus? Why don’t they become Christians?” The story of Jesus is there in the Bible. It is historically verifiable. Jesus was Jewish. Why don’t they convert? Why do I believe and they don’t? Now my more pressing question became, “How do you define “Church”?” What does “Church” mean in the Bible? Many protestant denominations have been started as they tried to address this question. Many Protestants have tried to model denominations after the Church we read about in Acts. Remember that the word Protestant comes from “protest”. A Protestant is one who protests. From our readings we came to understand that there are some 30-50,000 Protestant denominations! Which one was right? With 50,000 denominations available to choose from, we knew there was no need to start another one. Which one was right? Who had the Truth? How do you define Church?
We asked our Lutheran pastor at the time to define “Church”. The answer followed Lutheran party line, which we already knew was not the answer. We asked the two men whom we respected and who were then new Catholics. They prescribed a number of books for us to read. I am so thankful that Kathy is a fast reader. She started reading the books which forced me to read. We found the answers to our questions; however, at times, the answers were hard to accept. Regardless, the more we read the more we learned. The more we learned the more things made sense. IT ALL FIT TOGETHER! NO GAPS! The Catholic Church was the answer to our questions.
It was at this time when we were doing a lot of reading that we found out about Marian apparitions. I read some books on Medjugore and did some research on the Internet regarding Fatima and other Marian apparitions. The thought came to me that I the Bible tells us about the Transfiguration and I believe it. Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in front of Peter, James and John. If the transfiguration is true, why should I not believe that Mary can appear now? I have always felt God’s active presence in my life, but reading about the Marian apparitions made the church come alive even more — reading these things makes you think, WOW God is current and active in our world right now.
Now we were really in a difficult spot, what do we do with the things we have learned? If you learn to tie your shoes and you walk around with your shoes untied, did you really learn to tie your shoes? I say no. We knew what we had learned, that the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus started and it is the Church we read about in the Bible. It should be easy then. Right? Wrong. If we learn something we must use it, put it into practice because if we don’t put it into practice, we did not really learn it. It’s like walking around with our shoe laces undone. We recalled this scripture from Philippians:
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
At this point we now know that we can’t stay in the Lutheran Church. We know that the Catholic Church is “The Church”. We know what we have learned. We also know that we must act on the learning. The trouble is the cost! All our friends are Lutheran. My family is Lutheran! God in His wisdom knows what we need. There was always Scripture from which we could draw strength.
37 "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
38 and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Okay, again it is clear, but the cost is high; what choice do we have? None. The new question is when do we make the change? This is a simple question for a Protestant, as a Protestant can switch churches easily. You leave one congregation one week and join another the next. To become Catholic however requires that you attend RCIA and study for nine months. In our case, when we were ready to leave the Lutheran Church, RCIA was 6 months off. That’s 15 months in all. How do we go that long without Holy Communion? Again the cost seems so high.
We agreed that we had to leave the timing in God’s hands, as Kathy and I were still in positions of leadership in our Lutheran congregation. Of course, His timing was perfect! Kathy’s term on the congregational council came to an end and she graciously bowed out of any new position. A number of timing issues were resolved for our children’s activities within the congregation. I remained in my role until I resigned my position and we informed our Pastor that we were becoming Catholic.
We thought that RCIA would be a long process—the prospect of taking a course from September to the Easter Vigil in April seemed like a long time. RCIA turned out to be a blessing and not a burden. When it was done, we didn’t want it to be over! In fact, we have stayed with the RCIA program at St. Thomas More because we want to assist other new Catholics coming into the Church.
As for not being able to commune for a year, after having started to pray the Holy Rosary on a regular basis, an answer came for that dilemma. In meditating on the Baptism of our Lord and after receiving a very good homily from one of our Priests at St. Thomas More, the light bulb snapped on again. Jesus submitted to the things that were required of him even though He was God. If Jesus can submit, how can I not? We must submit to God and to His Church. Many of the things we had learned were difficult for us to accept. We struggled, but we knew we had to submit. If we learned it, we must practice it. Not practicing is not learning.
We definitely had some changes to make. As Protestants we were accustomed to choosing what teaching we wanted to accept; but ultimately, we knew that was wrong and that choice of what or what not to believe was precisely the reason why we had to stop protesting and leave Lutheranism. The beauty of the Catholic Church is that the tools are available to bring about the change in us that was required to submit to the Church.
The beauty of the Catholic Church is its authority given to it by Jesus to Peter.
Matthew 16: 18-19
18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the Hades 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.
As we submitted to the teachings of the Church, God has graciously provided us with opportunities to learn more about the specific teachings with which we struggled. With new knowledge, suddenly the teachings with which we struggled began to make sense and the burden was lifted issue by issue.
A gift for us in our journey into the Church was that we were received as a family unit. This only made sense to us. Kathy and I discussed our struggles, findings and reasoning with our boys throughout the journey. We wanted them to be educated and to be able to make an informed decision. They chose to join the Catholic Church with us. We recognized this as a good thing and as a blessing; however we thought that it was normal. Now we see that this was and is quite rare. It is only now that we better appreciate the magnitude of the blessing we received in this regard.
Of course, my new question is, “Why do Protestants continue to protest?” Why don’t they convert? I have a better understanding of this now; albeit not full understanding. God holds the answers. It is wonderful and beautiful to receive His call and have Him open your eyes and turn on the light!
One of the scariest days of our lives was the day that we first walked through the door at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Edmonton to go to Mass. We knew that the Catholic Church was where we had to be. We knew that the Catholic Church holds the Truth; but, we were afraid. Well, we did walk through that door and we have found and continue to find great beauty inside the Catholic Church. I will share with you some of that beauty which we have found.
The Beauty of the Sacraments
I’m sure you know that sacraments are outward signs that Christ instituted to give grace. The sacraments involve a physical, tangible symbol such as the water used in baptism and the oil used in anointing to represent a spiritual reality—that reality is the supernatural grace given by Christ
We have often said that as Protestants, as Lutherans, we had no tools in the toolbox. Lutherans have two sacraments. It’s true there is baptism and communion; but, communion is not truly a sacrament in the Catholic sense because the consecration of the bread and wine is not done by a priest who has received Holy Orders and is therefore part of the Apostolic succession that goes all the way back to Jesus and the apostles. We came to learn that this is a crucial distinction.
As a Lutheran, I would sit in the pews and I would hear my pastor preach about transformation. “Let Jesus transform you,” he would say. My response was, “Yes, I want to be transformed; but, how? Is it like a bolt of lightening?” What we didn’t know is that as Lutherans, we didn’t have the tools for transformation.
A common Lutheran teaching is that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Martin Luther said that we are dunghills covered with snow. By that it is meant that we are wretched with no hope of getting better, no hope of improving, no hope of becoming holy—it is by Christ’s righteousness alone that we get into heaven. That’s it. What a depressing vision. I have always had a yearning in my heart to be better; to love God better, to serve God better. Why was that yearning there? Who put it there, if not God? I really wanted to be transformed. There were simply no tools in the Lutheran toolbox to help.
The Sacrament of the Sick. The first sacrament we discovered in the Catholic Church was the Sacrament of the Sick. We hadn’t even started RCIA yet. Our youngest son has Crohn’s disease. If any of you know about it, it is an up and down disease. When our son has flare-ups he is very ill. The flare-ups can last for a number of weeks. When we left our Lutheran congregation, our son was starting into a flare-up. We knew the scriptural underpinning of the sacrament.
14 Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord,
15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
We had read about the Sacrament of the Sick as we learned about the Catholic Church, and so, we asked our Priest at St. Thomas More, Father Sylvain Casavant, if our son could be anointed. Father looked at us and said, “Well, you’re not Catholic, but what could it hurt”. We have brought our son several times over the last few years to receive this sacrament—every time he enters into a flare-up. We recognize the grace and assistance we receive as a family as our son goes through these difficult times with his disease.
I had an injury to my Achilles tendon last year which became medically complicated and involved two surgeries. I sought out the Priest to receive the Sacrament of the Sick at that time. I was looking for strength to cope with the injury and the fact that I was facing a potential third surgery. The result was that I had a physical healing experience by virtue of the Sacrament of the Sick. My surgeon commented on the fact that the healing I exhibited was far in excess of what he would have believed possible. Thanks be to God!
Reconciliation. I was raised in the United Church of Canada and left as a teenager. At that time in my life, church wasn’t relevant or important. My father had stopped attending church and so I felt that I didn’t have to go either. I became Lutheran when I married Tom. As he was a practicing Lutheran and I wasn’t a practicing anything, I had no real choice about what denomination we would attend. I did have enough faith to believe that when we married that church would be a good thing for any children we would have.
As a Lutheran, I started to attend Bible studies. Somewhere along the line I realized that the scriptures were true and that I had to change my thoughts and opinions about a lot of topics. I realized also that the Bible didn’t present a smorgasbord but I had to buy the whole of it or nothing. It was at that point that I repented many things of my past actions and attitudes and started forward in a new way. This was a decade or so before we became Catholic.
At my first Reconciliation which was on my 48th birthday (so I would never forget), I went over those 48 years and received sacramental grace that was missing from my initial repentance. It’s one thing to pray and ask for forgiveness (which you are given). It is another thing entirely to enter into the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receive grace from Jesus Christ. As well, you receive wonderful nuggets of wisdom from the Priests to help you to move toward holiness and away from sin. Paul Quist says something which is wonderful and true about reconciliation. It’s not that we have to go to reconciliation as Catholics—it’s that we get to go to reconciliation.
The Eucharist. The most beautiful and amazing gift the Church has to offer is the Eucharist. This is something about which we came to understand and see the beauty in more gradually. As Lutherans, we had communion. Some Lutherans believe that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus, some do not. We did believe that we were receiving the body and blood when we received in the Lutheran Church; but, as we studied, we came to understand that a Priest is needed to consecrate the bread and wine. Our Lord Jesus works through the Priest and during the consecration the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We learned that apostolic succession is crucial. A Priest having received Holy Orders has the gift handed down through 2000 years of the Church that is needed to consecrate the bread and wine. We also saw the great difference in how the body and blood of our Lord is treated in the Lutheran church and the Catholic Church. In the Lutheran church, when communion is over, the body and blood are treated as regular bread and wine and are put away just as you would put away food after a meal.
Coming into the Church we were struck by the beauty of the way in which the Church adores the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist—the beauty in the way the Lord comes to us in the Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity. We were struck by the genius of God in taking the simplest of things—bread and wine—substances that are everywhere around the world and have been available for all time. He comes to us in that simple form—a form that we can easily take in. The body and blood of our Lord comes to us in the form of food that can easily be incorporated into our bodies to literally become a part of us so that we may become a part of our Lord and a part of the Body of Christ that is the Church. One day at Mass it hit me. This is how transformation takes place—the transformation that I had been wanting as a Lutheran! It comes incrementally as we become part of our Lord and his body and he becomes part of us.
The Beauty of Authority
Stephen Ray, a Baptist convert to Catholicism, has written several books, one of which called “Crossing the Tiber” had a very profound impact on us on our journey. Stephen Ray says that the problem for Protestants with regard to the Catholic Church is not Mary or the Saints or the Sacraments or the Pope—it’s authority. We couldn’t agree more. Authority is the reason we left the Lutheran Church and the beauty of the authority of the Catholic Church is a gift.
Did you know that the word authority does not refer to “power” or “control”. The word authority comes from two Latin words: auctoritas meaning authorship and augere which means to augment.
The Church’s authority comes from the founding event of the church the event that authored the church—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter and the apostles were chosen to testify to what they had lived through and seen and had been taught. They augmented or testified regarding the founding event, the event that authored the church. The apostles handed down what they had been taught by our Lord. That teaching has been faithfully handed down to each generation of Bishops (the successor to the apostles) throughout the last 2000 years. In those 2000 years, the testimony has not changed. It makes sense to me that if God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow that the teachings of the Church won’t change at the whims of the culture or by the vote of a congregation as is the Protestant experience.
The Pope is even called the defender of Christian Memory. Through the help and assurance of the Holy Spirit, the Pope and the Bishops don’t make up new things; they keep the memory of the life, death and resurrection intact.
We are grateful that when we want to know something, that with 2000 years of teaching, the Church will have a position on whatever issue you’re struggling with. The Church has the answers but we have an obligation to find out. There are so many resources, books, CDs and DVDs available and so much depth to the Faith. I know that as long as I live, even if I study incessantly, I will barely scratch the surface of all that I can learn about the Faith.
Beauty of the Fullness of the Faith
While we are highlighting some of the differences between Protestant churches and the Catholic Church, we want to state that we are indeed very thankful for our Protestant past. As Protestants we learned to love the Bible; we learned to love Jesus, and we learned how to pray. Our journey to Catholicism is part of a continuum however. We feel like we are fulfilled Christians coming from our Protestant background into the Church. When we were still Protestants and searching and learning I remember saying to Carol Quist, what is the difference between the Lutheran Church and the Catholic Church? She replied simply that it is just “fuller”. At first I didn’t know what she meant; but, her words stuck with me and now I know too. As Protestants we had many parts of the Faith; but now we have the fullness of the Faith.
We now have a full toolbox with 7 Sacraments. We have a Pope and Bishops and Clergy who protect the deposit of faith that is 2000 years old, that hasn’t changed and won’t change with the whims of the culture. We have the Communion of the Saints—all those who have gone before us, who are models for us and who we can ask to pray for us and help us. We have the fullness of the Church in heaven and on earth; we have a family with God our Father, Jesus our brother, the Holy Spirit and our Mother the Blessed Virgin (who as Protestants we didn’t even know we had!). How can you have a Father and a brother and not have a mother? Of course, God would provide that for us!
We are thankful for the beauty of RCIA
Tom and I are now catechists in the RCIA program at St. Thomas More in Edmonton. It is a privilege to be part of the journeys of the new Catholics and to have an outlet to share the beauty that we have discovered with others coming into the Church. In some ways, it’s almost selfish too. We want to stay with RCIA because we keep learning.
At St. Thomas More many parishioners are coming to RCIA as companions on the journey—meaning that they are coming to learn with the new Catholics. In our short time with RCIA we’ve see the RCIA process change the lives of cradle Catholics as well as new Catholics as they learn about the treasures and the beauty of the Church.
The Beauty of the Priesthood
In our time in the Catholic Church we have been so impressed by the Priests we have met. The Priests we have met are holy and wise and they have made a huge sacrifice to be Fathers to all of us. The Priesthood is a beautiful gift.
In Protestant churches, pastors are at the mercy of their congregations. If they say things that the congregation doesn’t like, they can lose their jobs. Protestant pastors are hired and fired by congregations. The result is that the truth is often compromised. Pastors will tell the congregation what they want to hear or leave out the hard truths in order to keep their jobs. And, Protestant pastors have to shepherd their congregations, often while raising families of their own. The home lives of the families of Protestant pastors can be very difficult—more challenging I think than for the rest of us (and you know how challenging family life is today in our culture and society.)
We have two boys and while we often had said that we would not want our boys to be pastors in a Protestant denomination, if God in his wisdom calls one or both to the priesthood, we would support them 100 percent. God established the structure for His Church and within that structure the Holy Spirit upholds, protects and guides it. The Holy Spirit has done this for 2000 years and will continue until the end of the age, just as Jesus promised. We are happy to entrust our sons to Jesus and His Church.
The Beauty of Prayer Life
As Catholics, our prayer life has blossomed. Prayer is something so beautiful now, while before it was more of a challenge. As Protestants, you are taught to pray as the words come to mind. You compose prayers as you pray. Some people are very good at it. I am not. I would want to pray, start to pray and then have quickly exhausted my thoughts and words in a few minutes. As we investigated Catholicism, we learned about the value of beautiful prayers that had been in the Church since the beginning—prayers that you can meditate on while you pray; prayers that have layers and layers of meaning that make them inexhaustible; prayers that you can memorize so that when times are bad and you have no words of your own to pray, the words of the prayers you have learned stick with you and carry you through.
We also discovered the Rosary! While I was still a Lutheran, for lent one year, I decided to pray the Rosary every day so that I would learn how to do it. I remember being at a meeting at our Lutheran Church and everyone was talking about what they were doing and giving up for Lent. I didn’t dare tell anyone that I was praying the Rosary!
Meditating on the life of Jesus every day with the Rosary is a gift and a beautiful thing. It never gets boring or old. Our lives have changed just by the fact that we spend about a half hour together each day praying the Rosary. How can you forget about Jesus when you spend time with him each day meditating on all parts of his life? Suddenly, Jesus becomes front and centre in your life—right where he should be. And, we honour our Blessed Mother—the one we never knew we had until a few years ago.
As Catholics we have also discovered the beauty of praying before the Blessed Sacrament. We can go right to Jesus. We can go see Him at any Catholic Church! I think Tom and I are still somewhat awed by that. As Lutherans, we often had prayer vigils as a congregation. We would gather at the church building to pray. But, I will tell you that a Protestant church seems very empty indeed when there is no worship service going on. You get the feeling that you might as well pray at home as there is no real reason to pray at the church building specifically. In a Catholic Church, Jesus is there in the Blessed Sacrament. You can see Jesus any time. The fact that we can go right to Jesus has also changed our lives. The sacramental presence of Jesus is a beautiful gift.
These things that I’ve mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the beauty of the treasures that we have found in the Catholic Church. After the Easter Vigil in 2007, our RCIA Coordinator asked us to put into words what we were feeling after we had been received into the Church. For my part, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and security. In Matthew 23, verse 37 Jesus said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” I felt the security of being under the wings of Jesus and Mother Church—no more voting on things we shouldn’t be voting on; sacraments to aid us on our journey toward holiness; the deposit of faith that hasn’t changed; the loving authority of our Pope, Bishops and Priests given to us by Our Lord. I felt like I could breathe out. For Tom the main feeling was gratitude. To this day, after he receives Holy Communion all he can feel and all he can express is thanks for having been brought home to the Catholic Church; thanks for being able to receive the Sacraments.
We love our Lord. We love His Church. We are forever grateful to be a part of His body. We are grateful to have come home to the Catholic Church.
Tom and Kathy Gust