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Shawn Hughes wrote:

Hi, guys —

I was baptized in the Catholic faith this past Easter Vigil after being a Baptist for the past 30 years. There are still some problems I'm having with certain teachings of the Church.

It's not that I don't believe in certain doctrines; I just don't quite understand them all.  I've been beating myself up so bad over this I'm starting to question if I should just go back to being a Baptist because I feel Catholic teachings are too hard to follow.

  • What is the best advice you can give me on this?

Thank you so much!!!

God Bless you.


  { Can you advise a Catholic convert who is struggling to accept hard-to-follow, Catholic teachings? }

John replied:

Hi, Shawn —

Thanks for your question and . . . Welcome to the club!

Most cradle Catholics struggle to understand many doctrines so it's no wonder that converts do.

The first thing you have to do is stop beating yourself up over this. We are dealing with mysteries. There is a reason why they are called mysteries — they are mysterious. They are revealed, we see them, we accept them, but we don't always get them.

You spent 30 years thinking like a Baptist. You've got a certain approach. You are used to certain paradigms. You start out asking different questions. You're not going to think Catholic over night and you shouldn't anyway. As you contemplate these mysteries, you'll learn to get them in ways that a Baptist mindset can reconcile. Those explanations, so long as they are consistent with Church Teaching, add to the Church. Because I was a Protestant Minister, I often start out thinking and approaching a Catholic doctrine from a Protestant mindset. That allowed me to be able to:

  • translate the doctrine for Protestants and
  • give an entirely different perspective that a cradle Catholic might not see.

So once you stop beating yourself up, the next thing to do is to enjoy your honeymoon with Christ. Get away from the doctrine and immerse yourself in the Catholic experience.

  • Live the sacramental life
  • pray
  • read the Scriptures devotionally, and
  • find a devotion you are comfortable with.

I'd suggest the Rosary, but I think the Divine Mercy Chaplet might be better to start with for a former Baptist.

If you really have a hard time with something specific, feel free to write us about it and we'll try to help you out.


Mary Ann replied:


Enjoy your new intimacy with Christ in the sacraments, read your Bible and your Catechism, pray, and don't worry about the rest.

Becoming a Catholic doesn't mean you understand or even know all that the Church teaches.
It means you have answered the call of the Master to follow Him in His Church, the call of the True Shepherd of the flock.

Mary Ann

Shawn replied:

Thank you so much!

I just get so depressed at times because I feel like I am always having to go to Confession.

Thanks again!


Mike replied:

Hi, Shawn —

You said:
. . . I feel like I am always having to go to Confession.

That just means your normal, at least from my view.


Shawn replied:

Thanks Mike,

I know many wait to do it once a year or some are just scared to go to Confession. I do take great joy knowing my sins are absolved from Jesus Christ by His ministers here on Earth. I just get caught up on being scrupulous at times.

For example: I went to Confession today, but did not mention one thing that was on my mind, even though I was forgiven for this before.  I didn't explain it the way I should have and forgot to mention today so I still feel guilty, but I know Christ has forgiven me.


John replied:

Shawn —

It's not that you have issues on doctrinal teachings, but you're having difficulty living out Catholic moral teaching.

I think we need to clarify the general doctrine of what it takes for us to commit a mortal sin.

For a sin to be mortal, all three conditions must be met:

  • It must concern a grave matter as determined by the Church and you must know it's grave matter.
  • You must commit the sin with the full consent of your will, and
  • You must have sufficient time to think about what you are doing.

Usually the first condition is there. If anything violates the Ten Commandments you are pretty much dealing with grave matter, but let's say you just woke up, you are half asleep, you are walking around your room and you stub your toe, at which point you blaspheme, swear, or take the Lord's Name in vain.

Well, the first condition exists, but none of the others exist. You're half a sleep so your ability to give full consent of the will is impaired. You are in pain, so that also impairs your judgment, and you acted almost instinctually.  You didn't have time to think about what your response would be; you just reacted to an impulse and perhaps by habit.

That doesn't mean you don't want to develop more self-control so that when you stub your toe, you can control your impulse but the circumstances indicate you did not intend to sin, therefore you're culpability is mitigated.

The same applies to other sins. The most common of which (especially among young boys and men) involves controlling lustful thoughts and actions. In these cases, there is often a long history and a habit. This impedes one's judgment, ones ability to give full consent of the will, and often times, but not always, a sufficient time to reflect. The act itself remains grave matter and, in many cases, it can be a mortal sin so it's always best to go to Confession.

The thing is to change the way you think about Confession.

  • You don't ever get sick and tired of going to Communion, . . . do you?

In like manner, Confession is an encounter with Christ and therefore you receive grace from the sacrament that strengthens you and repairs your soul.

I suspect what you are really sick of is the embarrassment of having to admit your weakness.
You are not alone in feeling that way, yet it is when we admit our weakness that we allow God's strength to shine through. Sometimes God allows us to continue in certain sins because he is trying to rid us of the King of sins called pride and self righteousness.

I hope this helps.

Under His Mercy,


Shawn replied:

Wow John,

That was a great explanation!

That's one thing I was concerned about: (your stubbed toe analogy). I always ask God to forgive me right away and to give me wisdom and understanding. When I do sin, I immediately go to Him in prayer for forgiveness.

My parish priest recommends the same thing. He also suggests reflecting at the end of the day on what you did and praying a perfect Act of Contrition to cover any sins you may have committed.

I do have a mental disability and suffer from (OCD) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, panic disorder, anxiety (higher than average), and depression, so my confessor tells me I become too scrupulous at times but God always knows the intentions in our hearts over anything.


Eric replied:

Hi, Shawn —

One thing that I found helpful in my return to the Catholic faith is that unlike Protestant churches, you don't belong to the Catholic Church because you believe it tells the truth according to what you believe. Rather, you belong because you believe it is a truth-telling Church.

In other words, you trust that the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, your Mother from above (Galatians 4:26), will tell you the truth, leaving the burden of discerning what is true - largely to the Church, rather than saying,

I believe this, this, and this, and so does the Catholic Church, therefore I will join.

This way you accept not only what the Church teaches now but what she may teach in the future.

This is helpful because there will always been those niggling things that bug you if you look at it as:

  • Gee, is the Church correct on this?
  • Is the Church correct on that?

because you are judging the Church by your own standards, and you are fallible. Get out of the Protestant mind set where you are the canon and rule by which everything is measured.

Trust that Jesus protected His Bride and your Mother, the Church, from all error in what She solemnly teaches (cf. John 16:13, John 14:26, 1 Timothy 3:15, Jude 3).

Persevere. We're here to help you through your questions.


Shawn replied:

Hi, guys —

One of the problems I was having with the Protestants teachings was Sola Scriptura.

If I understand the issue correctly, Catholics believe in Oral Tradition and the Bible while Protestants believe in the Bible alone.

  • Right?

As a Baptist, for years, I could see the arguments on both sides; kind of like picking verses out of the Bible to make it fit for any situation you find yourself in.

  • How would I refute that tradition came before the Bible?
  • I know the Bible was not completed until 393 A.D., or so, but the Old Testament Scriptures were around way before that, so technically, didn't the Scriptures come first?



Paul replied:


Even among the people of God in the Old Testament, Oral Tradition came first. The Old Testament was written down over the centuries, while Oral Tradition was always present.

As for the New Testament, you only have to ask if there was a New Testament Bible written when the Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost to give birth to the Church. The first century Church was flourishing without the Gospels being written down.

Oral Tradition always precedes, and gives form to, Written Tradition and the Written Word,
which in turn, gives Sacred Tradition its compass.


Eric replied:


You can do a search on our site for tradition and sola scriptura. For example:

There is also a good explanation of the Catholic teaching on tradition here and there.

The Old Testament came first, but not the New Testament, which is mostly what we get our doctrines from. Also, if you actually read Scripture, you'll see that the Word of God is only identified either as an oral proclamation or as something that can be understood as oral.
(Or as the Second Person of the Trinity.) Never is the Word of God identified as Scripture.
That is not to say that Scripture is not the Word of God, only that Scripture doesn't testify to this; it's a tradition.

The writing of the Bible was completed around A.D. 90 or 100, but the canon we have today was not finalized until 393 A.D. (It was a question of which books are in it, not a matter of finishing the text.)

As for the idea that tradition came before the Bible, this should be self-evident, even with the
Old Testament canard. Genesis, for example, was oral tradition for thousands of years before Moses wrote it down on paper.

As for the New Testament, I think the earliest New Testament book was written in the 50s, which leaves about twenty years without any New Testament Scripture at all. It wasn't finished, as I said, until around A.D. 90. That's around sixty years.

  • How did the Church operate without any New Testament, or without a complete New Testament, especially in an age of widespread illiteracy, and especially when it cost large sums of money to hand-copy a manuscript?

People don't think about this, but unless you were rich and well-educated, private individuals did not have copies of the Scriptures. So this idea that everyone would just whip out their King James and read it every day to figure out what they believed for themselves is an anachronism.

As Jude 3 says, the faith was entrusted to the saints, and it was the Church, not the Bible, that was the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

To biblically augment my reply, check these passages out as well:

15 Hold fast to the traditions which you received, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

(2 Thessalonians 2:15).

17 Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.

(Romans 16:17)

6 Keep away from every brother who does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

(2 Thessalonians 3:6)

25 The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of the Lord stands forever. And this is the word that was preached to you.

(1 Peter 1:25)

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.

(1 Thessalonians 2:13)

20 'The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,' declares the Lord.

21 `As for me, this is my covenant with them,' says the Lord. `My Spirit, which is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,' says the Lord.

(Isaiah 59:20-21)

13 What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you — 14 guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

(2 Timothy 1:13-14ff)

21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them."

(2 Peter 2:21)

16 He who listens to you, listens to me; he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me.

(Luke 10:16)


John replied:

Hi, Shawn —

It's also not a matter of Oral Tradition, but of Sacred Tradition. What we believe is handed down orally, is also handled down in the way we pray: in the Liturgies and in the extra-Biblical writings of the early centuries.

You can find pieces of Sacred Tradition in the works of the Church Fathers. These represent a living and breathing Tradition within the Community. By looking at these sources, many of them pre-dating the Canon, we gain an understanding as to how the early Church interpreted Scripture so if I pick up the letters of Polycarp, or Ignatius of Antioch, I'm going to find valuable insights into to the Scriptures.

These insights, along with Scripture itself, assist the Magisterium in applying the Word of God in every generation. These ancient documents were written by folks that were not far removed from the Apostles. Many of them were disciples of one of the original Twelve Apostles. What they have to say about Scripture is certainly more important than what some guy said in the 1500's, who has disconnected himself from Tradition. Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of John the Apostle.

  • Seeing that Ignatius of Antioch also references Onesimus (who Paul wrote about to Philemon) as being his contemporary bishop in Ephesus, don't you think Ignatius' writings carry weight?

As Protestants we tried to put everything in to this nice neat box, Shawn. We looked at the Bible like a legal textbook. Catholicism doesn't do that so much.

We look for principles in Scripture, we look for the mind of God but we don't treat it like a
how to manual.


Shawn replied:

Thank you so much for the info!

You all are such blessings to so many out there.

May God Bless each of you!


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