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A Journey Home to the Catholic Faith and What We Can Learn.

April 4, 2011

A recent announcement of journey home to the Catholic Faith was made by the well known pro-life advocate Bryan Kemper. His announcement letter is posted below. Not only can we rejoice to have a fine and prophetic new member, but, in reading his letter, we can also see certain hallmarks that have led him to the Church. The things he mentions are also things others have mentioned. I would also like to discuss something he does NOT mention.

First here is the letter he sent to his supporters on his blog. I have taken the liberty of adding a few reflections which appear in plain text red.

Dear friends,

I know this may come as a shock to many of you; I am in shock in a way my self. I have spent the past 23 years living my life for Christ always wanting to serve Him and know His truth.

I have been a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for almost 10 years as I was so inspired by the liturgy and reverence I found there. I have also been in a constant journey for God’s truth, studying His Word as well as church history. After many, many years of resisting a calling that I tried to suppress I have finally felt the peace of God with my decision to join the Catholic Church. Please note his reference to being inspired by the liturgy and reverence in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I want to comment on that below.

I know that many of you will be confused, even concerned for me. I know that you will have many questions and even be tempted to try and dissuade me from this decision. While I will most certainly talk to you about what God is doing here, I will not be entering into any debates about this right now.

I want to let you know this is not made lightly; I fought against this for years. There are several things that led me to search and finally choose to go back to the Church. I will share a few things in brief here and would love to sit down in person some time with you if you want to peacefully discuss them in more detail.

Every true spiritual journey is marked by profound consideration and often painful discernment. He clearly has love for the traditions which have nourished and sustained him and cannot lightly leave that behind. I have made this journey with others who have joined the Catholic Church and found that their love and appreciation for what has sustained them and is an important  aspect of the gifts they bring to the Church. The Church is wonderfully enriched by the fact that they do not cast aside what they have received in the past, but rather that they transpose and apply it to the Catholic setting. For there is great zeal, love and knowledge of Scripture, a fine tradition of preaching, hymnody, an appreciation for a personal walk with the Lord, and countless other gifts in the Protestant traditions. We are indeed enriched by those who join us.

Church authority: There are simply thousands and thousands of denominations and every time someone disagrees with another teaching of their church they simply start a new one. The Catholic Church has had it’s teaching since the beginning of the Church in the scriptures. There is no way God can be happy with thousands of denominations or so-called non-denominational churches. It seems that when people disagree on doctrine it often results in another break off church. The fact is that current Christian teaching can differ so much between two churches that it really constitutes different religions and different Gods. There must be one established truth that God gave us, one that has remained from the time of Christ.

We have talked a lot about this in this blog. It is the chief problem with the Protestant approach. When no one is Pope, everyone is Pope and there are no real ways of resolving difficulties and the conflicts that inevitably happen when two or more human beings are together. One of the glories of the Catholic Church has been her integrity in terms of authority and unity in terms of doctrine.

There are, to be sure, squabbles among the faithful as to emphasis and direction. But when the problem is doctrinal, or the non-doctrinal debates become too divisive, we DO have a way of ultimately resolving it and remaining in a coherent unity.

Some of the older, main-line Protestant denominations were able to keep this for a time when Scripture’s authority and veracity were unquestioned. But in recent decades, the main-line denominations no longer agree on authority of Scripture in terms of its plain meaning, and the differing views have caused major ruptures in the Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian branches. It is most often the moral questions, such as homosexuality and abortion, that prove most problematic. And without Scripture, tradition and authority the severing into ever wider varieties is inevitable.

Mr. Kemper could not have said it better than when he speaks of there being one established truth that has remained intact since the time of Christ.

Pro-life and Contraception: There is only one church that has been consistent from the time of Christ to today on the teaching of pro—life and contraception. Before 1930 there was never a single Christian church in history to accept any form of contraception and today there is only one that absolutely has kept this Christian teaching and truth.

Praise God for this insight. The Catholic Church has often been excoriated for not keeping up with the times. But of course, as Mr. Kemper notes, this is not the role of the Church. Rather, she is to consistently hold to the truths that come to us from Christ through the Apostles. Though sorely tempted by her own members to update in terms of contraception and, to some extent, abortion, the Church has held firm to what she has received.

In terms of pro-life issues, you may recall that we discussed on this blog some time ago what David French, a well known Protestant author said of the Catholic Church: for almost forty years has been the beating heart of the American pro-life movement….One cannot spend five minutes with thoughtful Catholics without understanding how the defense of life is a fundamental and integral part of the DNA of the church. Since the defense of life is theologically-grounded, it is functionally and practically independent of any secular ideology. Life is not just an “issue,” for a Catholic; it is at the core of the Gospel. [1]

Yes, dedication to pro-life issues and holding firm on the teaching about contraception are two glories of the Church. And, it is important to see that this sort of prophetic stance is winning new members for us, members who bring great gifts and zeal with them. We ought not fear being prophetic and zealous lovers of life. God is both renewing us and blessing us with new members like Bryan Kemper.

Communion or the Eucharist: I have always believed that communion was more that just a symbol and in looking back at early church teaching it is crystal clear that this was taught from day one. St Ignatius of Antioch a student of John the Apostle taught on this and clarified it well.

Here too is the central glory of the Catholic Church, that we unvaryingly hold to the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I cannot tell you how many have come to the Church or returned to her on this count. The Scriptures could not be clearer on this point and, as Mr. Kemper notes, the Church Fathers also held it from day one. What a magnificent glory it is that we have Christ truly present in our tabernacles and truly receive him in Holy Communion. To remain devoted to Christ in the Eucharist is surely a necessary requirement for the Church if we want the Lord to bless us with new members.

These are just a few of the things that drew me back into the Catholic Church; however there is so much more. I was baptized Catholic as a child so the process is not as complicated for me. I will be starting RCIA classes and working towards confirmation.

I am asking my friends to pray for my family’s journey and me as I truly seek to be closer to Christ. My relationship with Christ is the most important thing in my life and I hope my friends will stand by me, as I grow closer to Him.

As for the work of Stand True; it will remain focused on educating, activating and equipping young to stand up for life and Christ. We have always been an organization that reaches out to and works with all Christians and we will remain true to that. A great work he is doing.

For Christ I stand,

Bryan Kemper

The original statement is found here: Journey Home

So, there is much to be grateful for here. Clearly the beauty, and the integrity of the Church on many issues continues to inspire new members to join us.

I would like to mention something Mr. Kemper did not say and ponder for a moment the possible meaning of it. You will note above that he said: I have been a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for almost 10 years as I was so inspired by the liturgy and reverence I found there. Among the things he did not list, as his reason for joining the Catholic Church, was the inspiration and reverence related to the liturgy. It may well be that he did not discuss this for the sake of brevity. But I wonder if we might not perhaps be willing to learn why the liturgical experience did not make the list?

The fact is that too much Catholic liturgy today comes across as neither inspiring nor reverent. There is nothing wrong with our liturgy in essence. It is the glorious Mass handed on to us by Christ and the Apostles. But the way we celebrate it in the typical Catholic parish is often problematic. It is rushed, sermons are poor and music is sometimes of questionable taste. Further, people dress casually, and sometimes act irreverently in the Church. Many too, seem bored and disengaged from what is going on. Clergy too often seem to celebrate in a perfunctory manner, and liturgical abuses sometimes taint the celebration.

In dealing with converts from the main-line denominations, one of the hurdles I have discovered they often have to clear is the question of liturgy. They come from liturgical traditions that are not as elaborate as the full Catholic Tradition. However, their traditions are marked by a noble simplicity that has engaged them well. There is a great tradition of hymn singing, and congregational involvement. There is also a tradition of fine preaching that includes a lengthier, teaching oriented sermon that fully develops the scriptural text. Their congregations tend to be smaller and the services less numerous. Community is more intimate and so forth. It is often a sacrifice for many of them to leave this and come to an often less cozy and reverent environment that predominates in many of our larger parishes. To be sure, Catholicism offers a wide variety of liturgical experiences and reverence is not easily defined as jsut one thing. But it ought to be noted that Mr. Kemper did not mention the reverent liturgies of the Church on his primary list. We might learn something from this.

Bryan Kemper’s entrance into the Church is something to rejoice in. Obviously he sees and appreciates something in the Church that has caused him to make what is a big step for him. Pray for him as he makes this transition. Further, we ought as Catholics, to rejoice in the prophetic witness of the Church and how many are still inspired to join. Something is going right here and we ought to be grateful at what the Lord is doing. Not only does the Church enrich and inspire others to membership in the Body of Christ, but the Church is also enriched by the gifts that others, like Bryan Kemper brings. Let us rejoice and give thanks.

Here is a video clip of Bryan’s Work:

Filed in: Abortion, Apologetics, Church • Tags: ,

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  1. abby schult says:

    Wonderful witness. Thank you for sharing Msgr. I thought of Scott and Kimberly Hahn, from the same denomination as Bryan and am grateful to God for their conversions and the graces and gifts they bring to our Catholic faith.

  2. Nick says:

    I can only relate my personal experience with my first Mass, and that was the Ordinary Form.

    It was a heavenly experience, but what made it truly heavenly for me was Jesus Christ.

    I know not how but He filled me with peace and joy, and I sensed something great in the bread and wine.

    I could also smell roses, and it seemed as if invisible entities were along with the congregation as well.

    It was strange but wonderful, and I am thankful to God for being there with me.

    But indeed we need better – holier – Masses! Beauty, art, and truth ought to be sacred there.

    That begins with us: Beautiful faithful spouses adorned in faith, virtue and prayer.

    That does not exclude beautiful churches, holy icons, and good sermons, but, God comes for us and we must go for Him.

  3. Dismas says:

    Few have done more for our Church, in recent times, than our beloved converts. Truly a humbling moment for us all offering much to reflect on. Much to rejoice and be thankful for indeed, but much to repent of, restore and revisit as well.

    ‘Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword.’ Matthew 10:34

    All our converts and catechumens can be assured of my prayers, thanks and sacrifices this Easter.

  4. Bryan Kemper says:

    It is such an honor to read this post and to see so many celebrating God bringing me home to the Church. I have seen a lot of love and welcoming from the Catholic community which helps counter the anger and hatred I have seen from many of my protestant friends.

    Msgr. Charles Pope I have been thinking about your insights about me not mentioning the liturgy as a main reason for coming home. I think it may have been because it was the liturgy that was such a draw to the OPC in the first place which actually just became a stepping stone into the Catholic Church. I spent many years at so called “non denominational” churches with not liturgy and reverence at all. When I found the liturgy in the OPC I fell in love with that reverence and respect in out worship time. In fact I often talked to my Catholic friends about how similar our liturgy is: Call to worship, public confession of sins, absolution, Nicene creed, Lord’s prayer, communion, offering, hymns, ect…

    The fact is the OPC may not realize how they are helping many of us see what we have been mission in a liturgy, even if it is not complete it is close to Catholic. I felt so comfortable entering Holy Mass and the liturgy that I don’t think it stood out as much as other things because God used the OPC liturgy as sort of a diving board for me.

    You did make a few points that I agree with in terms of small congregations and community. While I find that being in the pro-life movement and with my online presence I have a huge community and can find a lot of fellowship; some is to be said for small neighborhood community. I pray I will be able to see that kind of “family atmosphere” in our small town parish.

    One of the most exciting things about me making this announcements is the amount of young people who have contacted me to tell me they are on the same journey but have been to scared to tell anyone. While pro-life work is my main focus, I believe God will use me to help others in this journey.

    In closing I have two main prayer requests;

    1. For my family as they are not on the same page as I am, my wife is not happy about this conversion. I will never force or pressure her in anything and just want to love her and let God work in her. We also have 6 children which makes things a little tougher.

    2. Stand True is a small organization and most of our support came from protestant sources many of whom will not longer be supporting us. Please pray for the finances of Stand True as this also effects my family greatly.

    For Christ I stand,
    Bryan Kemper

    • Thank you for your witness to life and and the tremendous encouragement you have given, both in pro-life work and in this journey of your faith. It is a great honor that you have commented here and I am profoundly thankful for the insights you have offered. I am glad that you find the liturgical experience more seamless than I had imagined. I know that for others I have worked with, it has been less so, but am happy that you find the adjustments to be more minor.

      I am most excited to hear also of the young people you have mentioned. May God continue to draw all of us to greater unity. As I have mentioned and some of the other comments, we are blessed by the gifts that many bring to the Church from other traditions, and you clearly bring many gifts and a zeal to the Church that we surely can receive with joy.

      God bless you in this journey. I will surely pray for you as you have asked and know others will do so as well. Special prayers for your wife and children, indeed for you and the whole family together. May God keep you all strong and encouraged by his profound love.

      I do hope and pray that the financial support that is needed will continue to come in abundance. I will visit your site myself and make a donation to the ministry. If any other readers of this blog are willing and able I am happy to post your site info here:

      http://bryankemper.com/

      God bless you and keep you, may he sustain you well on your journey and in your pro-life apostolate.

  5. Anne says:

    Wonderful post and I agree completely about the loss of reverence as a possible stumbling block for conversions. Recently I read something in the General Instructions for the Roman Missal that rather shocked me. It was a passage about the Communion Hymn. It said singing this hymn is to take precedence over any individual prayer i.e. private thanksgiving. Hymn singing by all should start at the moment of the priest’s Communion until the last member of the congregation has received. I have never followed this, and did not realize I was not in conformity to the teachings of the Church.
    I am really in a quandary here because I really want to close my eyes and talk to Jesus who is physically present. Why would I have to return to my seat and sign lyrics from a hymn that is not echoing anything in the state of my soul at that moment. I can only compare this directive to a situation in which my husband or child was only present physically to me for five minutes a week and I was given a script to sing to them written by someone else.
    I believe, in reading the lives of the saints, those few moments after receiving were the key moments for spiritual progress. I grew up with the idea of a reverent silence, closed eyes, and the idea of Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
    May I still choose to have those fleeting moments in reverent contemplation, in the silence of my own heart, or am I at fault in not singing Communion hymns that range from heretical(“Let us drink wine together on our knees” or “Lord of the Dance”) or even more orthodox hymns? I truly NEED these few minutes for a personal conversation with Jesus.
    Thank you for all you write.
    Anne

    • Yes, the norms try to balance the communal dimension to the reception of the Eucharist with the need for prayerful silence. There is supposed to be time for silence after communion but in the rushed and hurried environment of many Sunday Masses the priests tend to shorten or eliminate it. In terms of your need to pray quietly, I think the Lord will understand your need here. The liturgical experience of this time of the Mass is rather a gregarious one. I see many different approaches to the moment after reception of communion. Some like to sing, others sit or kneel quietly and pray.

  6. Libby says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’m also joining the church in, let’s see, 19 days! I was also a protestant, and though I haven’t been practicing much of anything for the last 8 years it’s been very difficult for some people in my family. The evangelical community, which is the denomination I grew up in, has been especially critical of the Catholic church. The fact is that I’ve never felt so sure about something, and have to simply hope that I can present a good argument for the Catholic church by the way I live my life, and that over time the concerns of my loved ones will diminish.

    I also have to say that I feel extremely lucky to be entering the Catholic church in Washington D.C. where I have found such a wonderful network of churches, laypeople and priests who have greatly helped me in my process of conversion.

    Thanks especially for this wonderfully insightful and thought-provoking blog. It’s greatly appreciated.

    • And thank you for entering the Church and bringing your personal gifts as well as the gifts of your background. I am glad you have found a supportive network within the Church for, as you point out, it is not always easy to make this journey. May God bless and keep you on this your on-going journey of faith. It is good to journey with you!

  7. Bryan Kemper says:

    I will bring up a couple instances of reverence that have bothered me in coming into the Church; not to be judgmental but to maybe cause people to think.

    The Eucharist is one of the most amazing, mysterious and beautiful blessings of the Church and I cannot for the life of me understand what seems to be a irreverence to it by taking it in the hand. I know that it is permitted, it just seems to me that if we truly believe that the Priest is giving us Christ we would not want to have it put in our hands. Just a thought.

    The other thing is when people leave after Holy Communion, this seems to me like they don’t take the Mass seriously. We are together for a time of cooperate worship and should not be trying to sneak out the back door once you get the Eucharist. Are we not worshiping as a family and community?

    OK I will stop venting, any thoughts?

    • Yes, the early leaving is troubling indeed. I remember some years ago, at a larger parish, I would stand outside the Church when I didn’t have the Mass and watch people coming out just after receiving. I would try an engage them in discussion over this matter. Some were repentant, others would indicate that had to get somewhere, still others told me I was wrong to “alienate” people and that I should be glad they came at all. One said, “Don’t worry, you got my money.” I responded, “Well, we’d rather have you.” This problem seems to go back to the 1950s when Masses we celebrated rapid-fire and people were encouraged to leave so the next mass could start. I have noticed that younger Catholics are less prone to leave early, perhaps simply due to never having experienced the phenomenon of the packed churches and hurried liturgies of the past. I would also hope it’s due to a better sense of the Liturgy that has been inculcated.

      As for Communion in the Hand, it is a permitted option but one that was granted reluctantly and after years of abuse wherein people were encouraged to do it without permission. I know the Pope is currently encouraging a return to communion on the tongue, more by way of re-proposing it and modeling it, than by removing the permission. And I am seeing more people return to the traditional way. There is also the question of kneeling. Here too, the Pope seems to be encouraging a return to receiving communion that way by modeling it in the Papal Masses. When I celebrate the Latin Mass about twice a month we still receive kneeling at the rail. Sadly many churches no longer have a rail and that makes the option to kneel, which the faithful have, more difficult.

      Ah, we shall see where the Holy Spirit leads us in all this! Let us pray!

      • Mike says:

        I know of a priest who put up a notice in his church explaining the Pope’s thinking on Communion kneeling and on the tongue and saying that that’s the way he would be doing it in future. However, he has obviously had a number of people coming to him and saying that they want Communion in the hand as he has said that if people want it that way he will give it in the hand. However, I think that they still have to kneel and he has made it clear that they have to put the Host in their mouth before they leave the altar rail as that is what EVERYBODY who receives the Host in their hand is supposed to do, or at least put it into their mouth before leaving the person who gives them the Host. This, by the way, is probably one of the few churches in my area which still has altar rails.

      • Kathleen says:

        One of the things we “get” at Mass is the final blessing. Perhaps if more people took it seriously fewer would skip it.

        • Emmanuel says:

          I am a Nigeria and live in Lagos, Nigeria. I am not sure I have ever received Communion in my hands since I became a communicant in 1972. I believe it is most beautiful when received in the tongue since I believe I am receiving Christ. I have to surrender and receive Him whole without doubt.

          On the issue of leaving the Church after receiving the Holy Communion, that is without waiting for the Mass to come to an end for the day, I believe that the clergy have a lot of work to do here. A lot of us, the lay faithful, walk about in ignorance and need to be taught.

          Meanwhile, I welcome, with hands wide open, Bryan Kemper to the fold, the Family of Jesus Christ. I will only ask that he answers any questions about his conversion with love and the best show of love is the life we live. My prayers go for his family. The Lord will always conclude whatever He has started. Yours would not be different. Peace of the Lord I wish you now and for ever. Amen.

          • Mike says:

            Emmanuel,

            We had two priests at our church who came for a short time. They both came from Nigeria. They both genuflected before they entered the sanctuary. (Not normal practice in this church.) I wondered if the Church in Nigeria is more reverential than the Church in my country (or most of it). Your comment supplies more backing for this thought.

  8. Karen says:

    How wonderful to hear this story!

    I have been lucky enough to know quite a few people called to the Catholic Church from Protestant denominations, some in my own family. Every time, their journey is long and filled with deep, honest searching for the truth. I feel that my own faith is deepened each time I speak with them about matters of faith, and I feel so blessed to hear the many ways in which God works in their lives to bring them into the Catholic Church.

    I feel that many of us who were born Catholics often take our faith for granted, and this may be some of the reason for the lack of reverence evident during Mass (early leaving, casual dress, etc.) Talking to those who have come into our church from other denominations is always worthwhile, as they can often clearly articulate their reasons for doing so, and explain the beauty of the Mass and Church teachings in ways that people who have never studied their own Catholic faith cannot. Their knowledge and genuine love for the Lord should serve as an inspiration to all Catholics and others who may be considering coming into the Church.

    Bryan, thank you for sharing your story. You and your family will be in my prayers.

    Msgr. Pope: I also like how you mention the rich blessings evident in the Protestant traditions that can be brought into the Catholic church: “there is great zeal, love and knowledge of Scripture, a fine tradition of preaching, hymnody, an appreciation for a personal walk with the Lord, and countless other gifts in the Protestant traditions” These are the things I see when I visit the Protestant churches of my family and friends, and I hope that we as Catholics can learn from them. For, though humans have sadly divided the Christian faith into many different names and denominations, the truth is, Jesus is the same and God is the same. I pray that one day we can all be united into one beautiful Church.

  9. paul ukpe says:

    Dear Bryan,

    Welcome home!

    In Nigeria, our regard for ritual is more pronounced than in the West; even though there are some who want to modernise the church ad infinitum in the name of progress.

    In addition, while there a lot of people coming into the Church from other denominations, there are still a lot of others who have only indifference to issues of Truth, or rather to them doctrine does not matter, and as a result which church to attend does not matter, and at an extreme, worshipping as a member of a church community does not matter. To them truth is relative and depends on one’s situation or perspective. In this regard, our society hates firm values or resolute unshakable positions on any issue.

    I was lucky in that God used my father who had practically abandoned the faith to make me attend catechism for a bit, but long enough that my own hunger for church history, theology, and the Bible led me to His Church. Now almost all my family is catholic. Deo gratias.

    I will pray for you, for your family, and for your ministry.

    Once again, welome home!

  10. Frankie Schuster says:

    Dear Bryan,
    What a blessing to hear yet another testimony of the breath of the Holy Spirit gently and persitently nudging someone homewards! Some of the most wondrous faith journeys it has been my privilege to hear or to be a part of has been from converts or those returning to the Church. It deepens my own faith and convictions, and reminds me again of the enourmous unlikelyhood of a church standing for so many years as has the Catholic Church, with all its problems and history, without God renewing again and again His promise of staying with Her and sheparding Her, providing for Her and protecting Her.
    With so many devout Protestant friends of my own, who are all in love with and loved by Our Lord, I, too, had to question my own beliefs and education in the Faith. What I had once feared might bring me eventually to enter another faith tradition, has ultimately opened my eyes and spirit to the incredible richness, variety, and immense spirituality and truth of the Catholic Church. The deeper biblical and historical research and prayer, (liturgical, personal, meditative, and contemplative) I have immersed myself in, the more intense my joy and appreciation for the Church has become.
    I will take you and your family into deep prayer with me tonight, praying Pslalm #20 over you, and asking the Holy Spirit to impart to you firm peace and trust in your decision; that your family will one day dance with joy as you are blessed to witness their Confirmations into the Church also.
    This is such an extremely tough road you and your family are on! Such a difficult walk! May you find all the love, support, guidance, and joy to sustain you, and may Our Father, the Great Provider, send abundant financial resources for your family. May Christ’s unity and joy and peace be the foundations of your family and spiritual life, and may you all be faihtful to the outpouring of the graces of God upon you. May you all walk humbly with our God. Welcome home, my Brother!