My first missionary meeting

Account of my first-ever meeting with an LDS missionary

On January 24, 2006, I had my first real, pre-arranged meeting with LDS missionaries. I went to their sacrament meeting the previous Sunday, and immediately afterward, one of them approached me and asked me some questions. She asked me about my faith, and I told her I am Catholic. She was impressed that I had read the Book of Mormon, and in fact gone and purchased my own triple. She wanted to talk to me and so we exchanged information and agreed to set up a time to meet. That was tonight. The journalist in me brought along the trusty little legal pad and pen, so I could write down stuff I needed to remember. It proved useful in writing this.

So tonight she asked me where I had learned about the LDS church. I gave her a brief history of me and the lady friend, and my and her position right now. The missionary asked me if I had prayed to know whether the Book of Mormon is true. She said that if I follow the words of Moroni 10:3-5, then I would know that it’s true by the power of the Spirit, and so on.

I asked her how a person can tell when they’ve received that confirmation. She answered, “The feelings.” She made reference to Galatians 5, and said the “fruits of the Spirit” described there are all feelings (?). She explained that when I read the Book of Mormon and prays about it, if I feel peace, it has to come from the Lord, because Satan can’t imitate the feeling of peace. She also described the various ways people feel said confirmation, whether it’s feeling happy, feeling a burning or warm sensation in their heart, or reading something from the Book of Mormon and just feeling happy all day because of it.

She said that sometimes it takes patience, as the Lord wants to be sure we have real intent and sincerity. She referenced Alma 32 and talked about what it says there about faith.

I then told her how I feel about praying to know whether something is true: that it’s a good and necessary part of one’s faith life, but not most authoritative or infallible method of discerning the truth. I said that God makes truth known to us by many ways, and that’s just one of them.

She responded by telling me that she knows it’s scary to do something like that, when it’s totally different, and the answer might be that the LDS church is true, and it’s where I need to be, and so on. This began a cycle of repetition for the rest of the meeting, during which I tried to get her to see why it’s against my conscience to ask God about the truth of something, when He has already made it abundantly clear to me whether it’s true, and she told me I needed to pray and ask whether it’s true.

I asked her if she continues to ask whether the Book of Mormon is true. She responded, “Every time. I get the same peaceful and warm feeling.” She told me that “everyone who will read the Book of Mormon and pray about it will get an answer of its truthfulness.” I thought, you know, you’re probably right.

Then I began asking her a series of questions: Joseph Smith restored the church in 1830. There were men who worked with him and who were the original apostles. In turn, there were men who worked with them, and who were still living 60 to 80 years after Joseph Smith had died and some years after the original apostles had died. I asked her if she would believe what those men had to say about the church, what it taught, what the apostles said, and so on, and if she would pray about it. She said she would indeed pray about it, but that all of that kind of thing is recorded in the Church History and other documents, so we know what those men said, and what the apostles said, and what Smith said.

I told her that that’s where I am with the Catholic Church. I asked if she had ever heard of patristics, or of the Early Church Fathers. She had not. I explained that there were men who grew up and worked with the original Apostles, and whose writings have been preserved through the centuries, and that they are in unity on key early doctrines that are uniquely Catholic and definitely not Mormon.

She responded by saying that the apostasy took effect in 100 AD, the year that John the Apostle disappeared. She said those men did their best, but the authority was gone. She told me that there’s evidence in the New Testament that Linus apostatized. She said that St. Paul tells about how Linus did all these horrible things, and apostatized, and there was another Linus who was killed. She said that one of them was the Linus through whom the Church traces her papal lineage.

There’s no such thing in the New Testament as far as I could remember, and the only other place I had heard such a thing was from my girlfriend. The missionary promised to bring some documentation next time we meet.

She went on to say that the Lutheran church has documentation of the apostasy of the Catholic Church, and gave some brief statements of how Martin Luther saw the apostasy, and saw how the Church had changed from those first Christians, and tried to restore it to the original. Of course, the time wasn’t right for the Restoration, so he couldn’t do it entirely; nonetheless, she was very confident in the existence of this documentation of the apostasy. She gave the impression that that and the Linus thing are universally known and acknowledged fact. In both cases, I said I would love to see it.

In the final part of our discussion, I tried again to show her why I won’t pray about the Book of Mormon and such. I said that I had no reason to doubt the testimony of these first Christians, and all the other things that I’ve come to know as truth, and that unless I did, I wouldn’t pray about this new claim.

She said, “Then you’re never gonna know.” She said that if you already have a preset notion of how things are, then you’ll probably come out with the answer that the notion is true. I asked if that could be said about her, and she admitted that it could, but pressed again how important it is to pray with an open mind and heart.

I asked if she would pray to know whether I exist. She thought for a moment, and then said she would. She said she knew she could see me, and reach out and pinch me, but I might just be an illusion. Alright, I said, would she pray about whether I both exist and don’t exist at the same time? She said she doesn’t quite know what that means, and I told her it’s impossible.

At this point her demeanor shifted, and she said that the way I was talking about it, she knew that I wouldn’t be able to get an answer. She said she could tell I’m an amazing, wonderful, and sincere person, but that I was not willing to be humble and open and pray for a confirmation that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, and all that.

I tried again to make clear why that is, and I said that if it’s really true, then it will find support from all media, not just prayer and personal confirmation. She dismissed that. I asked if it were okay if my prayers involved the truthfulness of Catholic doctrine, rather than something else. She seemed delighted, and accepted that as a first step toward doing the rest. She said we have to ask Heavenly Father about everything: the Book of Mormon, big decisions…. I asked, “Speed limit signs?” She actually answered yes.

She asked me if I would read Alma 32 and pray about it. I told her I’d read it, but I wouldn’t violate my conscience. I told her that she was asking me to put myself into her shoes, to approach things the way she thought it was best to approach them. She acknowledged this, and said she understood how much of a request that is. I asked if I could get her to do the same thing, and put herself in my shoes to some extent. She said sure, and so I asked if I could bring her some of the writings of the aforementioned early Christians.

She said that missionaries only read scriptures and LDS publications. I asked if she would read it if I could clear it with her mission president, and she said yes. I asked how I could contact him, and she said she would have to ask him. I asked if I could bring the documents in a sealed envelope for him to read, and she said she would just have to ask him.

We ended with a prayer, and offered to let me do it. I deferred, so she said the prayer. It was almost all about God helping me to find His will, find answers, make the right decisions, and things like that.

Random observations regarding the missionary

I didn’t notice until a few minutes into the meeting, but she didn’t open with a prayer, which I thought was standard operating procedure for missionaries. She was very sincere, had many compliments for my following of Christ, and was very enthusiastic, almost aggressive. She had good eye contact; she always held my gaze if I looked at her. Her hands were shaking slightly.

Random observations regarding the what she said

What she said about how you can discern an answer to your prayers confirmed what I’ve suspected and what LDS apologists deny, that it’s all about feelings. The apologists have told me that it’s not really a feeling, but something higher, and it can’t possibly be mistaken for anything else. I’ve read from others how missionaries tell potential converts to look for feelings, and now I’ve had the experience myself.

It put me off a bit how she talked about the apostasy and the early Church, when she doesn’t seem to know any details or know what she’s talking about. I know, it’s no sin not to know details, and it’s not as though she spent days preparing just to speak with a Catholic. Still, when that happens to me, I tell people I’ll look into it and come back later. I’d have happily accepted that promise from her. But she seemed very confident in what she’s been told about it by whomever, and it’s hard to answer such a sweeping and almost entirely false claim when a person has such confidence in it.

Finally, it really got tiring how often she repeated the thing about praying for an answer. I’m not exaggerating – almost every statement she made came with an exhortation to pray as they do, and she couldn’t or wouldn’t understand why I feel that’s wrong. Don’t get me wrong – I prayerfully consider anything I read, and ask God to help me understand the truth in it, but there’s a difference between that and this LDS approach. As I walked back to my room, I reflected on how it would look to potential converts if I came to them and said, “Study! Study these patristic writings, and you’ll have your answer.” Or, “Just work through these syllogisms, and you’ll have your answer!” Or, “Think about these doctrines, and you’ll come to know their truth!” Or, “Look at this beautiful art! If you’d just look at it more and more, you’ll have your answer.” And in each case, of course, “your answer” means “my answer.”

If I’m to give up all the truths that I’ve come to know and love in Catholic Christianity, because I pray and feel warm, peaceful, or happy, then I’m gutting what God has given me. This is another way the Church is catholic: no matter who you are, what you do, or how you view things, there is something in her that appeals to you. Philosophers like Justin Martyr and Augustine find their way home in large part through her philosophical soundness. Scripture maniacs (and I use the word in the most affectionate sense) like Scott Hahn find their way home through her scriptural soundness. People even find their way home through her beautiful artwork. And yes, some people pray and receive answers.

Catholic Christianity wants the whole package, and the LDS church wants just a part of it. But God gave me all of it, and He expects it back. He gave me talents in many areas, and I’m accursed if I go and bury them. Every day, I come up with new ways to explain these reasons that I can’t “pray to know that what they taught is true,” as the LDS missionary manual Preach My Gospel suggests that missionaries should ask. But I’m at a loss to figure out how to show LDS why they, too, must not bury their talents, but use them all to arrive at the Truth that satisfies all human senses and longings.

If I learn a better way than personal example, I’ll make sure to publish it widely. It’s not likely, but who knows? God can do whatever He wants.

I didn’t know what to expect from this first meeting. It was interesting, and I’m sure the second one will be as well. I foresee the “pray about it” divide being a pretty big hindrance, but we’ll see, I suppose.

Lord God, please help us all; let us hear your voice and follow you. Amen.

One Response to “My first missionary meeting”

  1. Tomas1 says:

    I realize that this is an old post an I hope that you will eventually catch my commentary on your story. I am Mormon, I have a solid testimony, and I love studying the catholic church. Also, I have studied at Creighton University which I suspect you are familiar with. I am going to leave on a mission soon and therefore greatly appreciate your blog. You were obviously on another level than these missionaries and they tried to cover a little too much terrain. I am trying to do my homework so I will not make a fool of myself when I am in their situation. But they did make a noble effort. One of the points I disagree with you on is the fact that early Catholicism is at odds with Mormonism. I want to study those patristic writings now that I’ve heard of them. I want to address one main point; baptism. OK….. from what I know early Christians were not isolated to the formation of the Catholic(and orthodox) churches. There were isolated bands of Christianity in egypt, india, china, the middle east, etc. (Wilfred Griggs, Early Egyptian Christianity, Etc.) and the Christian churches that descend from them (john the baptist group in Iran, iraq, etc) are at odds with major doctrines of the Catholic church most prominently in the sacrament of baptism. The previously mentioned Christian sect in Iran has naturally decayed through the ages without strong leadership but still exists in small numbers today. They claim to be descended from a group of Christians baptized by John the Baptist ( Best translation: Johannes the Immerser). And, just as Christ was baptized in Mark 1:10 they baptize by immersion to this day (straightway out of the water). Sprinkling of water baptism was not popular until long after the patristic era. Many apologetics often sell themselves short by not studying primary evidence in fear of damaging there testimony. But, I have the philosophy which I hope you share… truth will out. I you are honestly seeking truth you cannot bar any sources. I am particularly interested in the ideas of the ‘patristics’ on the deity of Christ. Often, anti-christians claim that these early Christians gradually make Christ more than he claimed to be..”The apotheosis of Chhrist.” This is, of course, absurd. Christ clearly spoke of his divine nature in the early writings as well as late. But I am interested to see how they describe him with respect to the descriptions of the gospels.