I’ve been in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a special reason this weekend: my friend J.D. Vance was baptized and received into the Catholic Church. This has been a long journey for him. He was officially brought into the Catholic faith by Father Henry Stephan, a Dominican priest, at St. Gertrude Priory. Here’s a short interview I did with J.D. about his spiritual life, and the road to Catholicism:
Why Catholicism? Why now?
I became persuaded over time that Catholicism was true. I was raised Christian, but never had a super-strong attachment to any denomination, and was never baptized. When I became more interested in faith, I started out with a clean slate, and looked at the church that appealed most to me intellectually.
But it’s too easy to intellectualize this. When I looked at the people who meant the most to me, they were Catholic. My uncle by marriage is a Catholic. Rene Girard is someone I only know by reading him, and he was Catholic. I’ve been reading and studying about it for three years, or even longer. It was time.
It probably would have happened sooner if the sex abuse crisis, or the newest version of it, hadn’t made a lot of headlines. It forced me to process the church as a divine and a human institution, and what it would mean for my two year old son. But I never really questioned over the past few years that I would become Catholic.
You chose St. Augustine as your patron saint. Why?
A couple of reasons. One, I was pretty moved by the Confessions. I’ve probably read it in bits and pieces twice over the past 15 or so years. There’s a chapter from The City of God that’s incredibly relevant now that I’m thinking about policy. There’s just a way that Augustine is an incredibly powerful advocate for the things that the Church believes.
And one of the subtexts about my return to Christianity is that I had come from a world that wasn’t super-intellectual about the Christian faith. I spend a lot of my time these days among a lot of intellectual people who aren’t Christian. Augustine gave me a way to understand Christian faith in a strongly intellectual way. I also went through an angry atheist phase. As someone who spent a lot of his life buying into the lie that you had to be stupid to be a Christian, Augustine really demonstrated in a moving way that that’s not true.
You know as well as anybody the kind of difficult condition the Catholic Church is in today, with the scandals, with uncertain leadership, and all the rest. Do you find the Catholic Church’s travails daunting?
I do in the short term, but one of the things I love about Catholicism is that it’s very old. I take a longer view. Are things more daunting than they were in the mid-19th century? In the Dark Ages? Is it as daunting as having a second pope at Avignon? I don’t think so. The hope of the Christian faith is not rooted in any short-term conquest of the material world, but in the fact that it is true, and over the long term, with various fits and starts, things will work out.
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