An important step on my journey to the Catholic Church was finding and reading Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs by Alan Schreck (the 1984 version). It was the summer of 1999, and I was preparing to spend my junior year of college in Spain. I found the book in my local bookstore and planned to read it to guard against losing my (then Protestant) faith in a predominantly Catholic country. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the unfamiliar Catholic beliefs had strong foundations in Scripture and reason! This book removed many of the obstacles between me and Catholicism. (See “My Journey to the Catholic Church” under Autobiography to read more about that.)
Since my entrance into the Catholic Church in 2004, I have recommended this book to many people—Protestants with mistaken views of the Catholic Church as well as Catholics who were on the verge of leaving the Catholic Church. One of those people was a dear family member, who ended up misplacing the book for several years. It was recently returned to me, and I fondly turned to the Introduction. A few minutes later, I was blown away and very humbled.
I had remembered the book primarily as a work of apologetics in favor of Catholicism. In fact, the author explained that he had written it with rather different purposes in mind. He did indeed want to demonstrate the Scriptural basis of peculiarly Catholic beliefs (the pope, Purgatory, prayers to the saints, etc.), but his stated purpose was twofold. First, he wanted to help Catholics understand their own beliefs more clearly so that they would not be thrown into doubt by other Christians who called those beliefs into question. Secondly (this was the part that really surprised me), he wanted to help non-Catholic Christians understand Catholicism better so that they could recognize Catholics as their Christian brothers and sisters. A book that I thought was a work of Catholic apologetics was written to further Christian unity!
Schreck laments the divisions in Christianity and suspects that it is a tactic of the Devil to make Christians waste their energy arguing with each other about their differing beliefs rather than standing together to reach out to a broken world in desperate need of Jesus Christ. Schreck recommends that we consider the differences in belief that Christians of other traditions have as mistakes that any well-intentioned Christian could make. I was very humbled by this reflection because I, driven by the zeal of the convert, have definitely been guilty of trying to argue non-Catholic Christians into Catholicism. The version of the book I read was written in 1984; how much more urgent is the need for Christian unity today! As our bewildered culture slides further and further into darkness, we must set aside our differences to let the Light of Christ shine ever more brightly so that more people can find their way to the Source of that Light.
Another surprise for me was the validation I felt of my pre-Catholic Christian faith. Schreck states that Catholic Christianity is not the only authentic way to be Christian. Thanks be to God, I did know and love Jesus for the first 24 years of my life before I entered the Catholic Church. Such an affirmation of course in turn strengthens my respect for non-Catholic Christians.
I thank the Lord and Alan Schreck for the great help that Catholic and Christian has been to me, both as a help towards the Catholic Church and as a needed corrective in my relationship with non-Catholic Christians—my brothers and sisters in Christ.