Candice, this is the second major reason for my "reversion." It is, admittedly, the more personal aspect (though it also has strong theological underpinnings). I had reached a point (reaching 50 did it, I guess) where I longed for a more direct experience of God in my life. An intellectual sort (have you noticed?) I knew a lot after years of Biblical study, pondered much, read widely. But I wanted more of a heart relationship as well as the head relationship. And for all the talk among evangelicals about 'having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,' I wasn't feeling it as fully as I wished. Not that I was cold, or dry, or anything like that. I had a deep inner life. I knew there was more. I read (of course) the work of poet-scholar-pacifict Thomas Merton, an intellectual and Trappist monk from the 1950s-60s (who went to Columbia University as I did) and I developed, in my imagination, a friendship with him. His exploration of the contemplative life, recorded in his extensive journals and letters, moved me. And I began to read more of the Catholic mystics - Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and others - with a clear (and cautiously skeptical) mind. I learned new ways to pray - not getting weird, not at all - but discovering ancient Christian ways of reading Scripture (lectio divina) and praying as developed by the Church Fathers and Desert Fathers and Mothers. I went on retreats to monasteries and was struck by the rhythm of the Divine Office and the chanting of the Psalter. I wasn't thinking of becoming Catholic - just becoming a deeper believer with a stronger connection to my spiritual heritage. But to my astonishment, I was indeed becoming more Catholic in my sensibilities. I began to think less about "having a relationship with Christ" and more about "being in union with Christ," which is more Biblical (as it turns out) and a conceptual step above mere 'friendship' with Christ (a term
I hear more from Catholics than Protestants, by the way). This 'union' is wonderfully intimate, to the point where marriage itself is a physical - yes, sacramental - metaphor for the union Christ desires to have with us and His Bride, the Church. The way this union is maintained - no, deepened - is through the sacraments, which are physical 'contact points' with Him. Call them 'portals to the divine' if you like, as long as it doesn't get science-fictiony.
But this is only one aspect of 'sacramental' spirituality. The other is in seeing all of life as sacramental, in a way - where the extraordinary glory and goodness and grace of God can be apprehended in the ordinary if one is paying attention, building awareness, staying quiet long enough to listen. It's a holy mindfulness of God at work around us all the time - if we'd only detach ourselves from all our distractions to notice. This is not woo-woo stuff. It's about being fully awake. It's about recognizing the unseen in what is seen. And this is why 'the sacraments' are so physical. God is invested in matter (He made it and called it good) and uses material things to signify what is eternal. So water is used in baptism, bread and wine in the Eucharist, and so on. I'll answer your questions about specific sacraments another day.
For now, let me conclude by saying I began watching certain speakers on EWTN such as Dr. Scott Hahn and I'd think, "These guys sound like evangelicals!" when in fact I was becoming more Catholic. As it turns out, many of these guys were once devout evangelicals - most of them pastors - who had become Catholic through a similar journey as mine. I re-read CS Lewis and realized how Catholic he was (he nearly became one but opted to remain "Anglo-Catholic," a highly sacramental Anglican who went to confession weekly and had a private devotion to Mary that few people know about). I discovered that many of my favorite literary figures were Catholic or Catholic converts. What is happening to me? I asked with some measure of distress. So I explored my traditional stumbling-blocks - many of which you've mentioned in your questions and I'll get to them later - and these got resolved. I finally gathered the courage to attend Mass, I sat in the back row trembling - and was transported.
Next time, I'll begin to address the things Protestants typically find 'wrong' or 'unbiblical' about the Catholic Church. At some point, I'll address what honest non-believers have a problem with regarding Christian faith in general. Thanks for your patience.
Grace and peace.