Over the years I had my disagreements and dissatisfactions with the Catholic faith, but with prayer, I would always come to the conclusion that I was where I belonged and shouldn't consider leaving the Church for the local Baptist church that was so active and full of vitality or for another denomination. Time passed and we raised our three children in our small Catholic parish. We taught our children's CCD classes; I taught them in Vacation Bible School; and we had lessons at home to foster their faith in Jesus Christ. I knew that we had a firm belief in the same Jesus Christ that I worshiped as a Baptist and I felt nothing the Roman Catholic Church taught was heresy. My children and I also had the faithful example of my husband and his simple example of living out his faith every day of his life. So I felt our faith was alive and well even though I sensed a certain skepticism from some of my Evangelical or Fundamentalist friends, family, and neighbors who seemed to doubt our faith or beliefs. Over the years I have experienced a palpable bias towards Catholics in the South that has grieved me very much.
Our three children finished high school and went to the colleges of their choice. They attended the parishes affiliated with their college campuses. Our youngest daughter also became active in a parachurch group where she met and enjoyed many young Christian men and women. Over time, however, she became increasingly uncomfortable with their message about the Catholic faith. They question our Christianity and some won't fellowship with us except to attempt to convert us out of the Church and "save our souls." Our daughter had many questions about the differences between Catholic Christians and Protestant or Evangelical Christians. Since that time and so I could answer her questions, I have been on a journey to discover the truth about my faith as a Roman Catholic Christian which I professed 25 years ago. I have read dozens of books and conversion stories and watched many hours of programs on the EWTN network and studied the scriptures as well. I was on a quest to understand what the issues are between my Catholic brothers and sisters and my non-Catholic brethren. It has been a fascinating study and I have had my own reversion back to Christ on this journey. This reversion reminds me of my experience when I accepted Christ as my savior at Monroe Baptist Church back in 1969. He is, without a doubt, my God and I want to love and serve Him as He wants me to serve Him. I seem to have courage like I've never had before to share this faith with others and I think that's why I want to share my story.
The first book I read was Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs by Alan Schreck. In fact, I read it twice. The first time I went through it quickly because I wanted to get information as quickly as possible. Then I read through it deliberately and thoughtfully as I looked up the scripture references included in the book. I was comforted to learn that there is biblical support for every doctrine the Catholic Church teaches. Everything I was learning about the Catholic faith I wanted to prove using evidence from Bible...just like every good former Baptist should!
The next book I read was Where We Got the Bible by Henry G. Graham. One major point of contention between Protestants and Catholics is the idea of sola scriptura or that most Protestants base their faith on the Bible alone. Now, just as they do, I love the scriptures, the inspired Word of God, but I never knew how the Bible came to be. I was surprised to learn that the early Christians didn't have the sacred scriptures to learn about their faith. These Christians were taught by word of mouth by the apostles and later by their disciples. This was the way of things for almost 400 years when a list of inspired writings was put together by the Catholic Church at the Council of Carthage. These inspired writings became the Bible. The Catholic Church determined which books would be in the Bible. Scriptures were hand copied and were very expensive to own so usually only churches had copies and very few households had them. It was not until around 1450 that Gutenberg invented the printing press and the Bible was printed in mass. This happened 50 to 100 years before the time of the Protestant Reformation and history was changed for ever. For 1500 years only the Catholic Church taught and interpreted the scriptures. When the Bible was printed and sent around the world, new interpretations of the scriptures began and a proliferation of new beliefs started. Today there are over 33,000 denominations. Everyone naturally thinks their version of faith is correct, but which one really is? It's all very confusing, because they all can't be true. The Bible says in I Corinthians 14:33, "For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." So where do we find peace and clarity? Where do we find the truth? I wanted the Truth!
I believe every line of scripture in the Bible. The thing that causes problems between varieties or denominations of Christians is their interpretation of scripture. Consider the differing doctrines between Baptists and Episcopalians, Methodists and Missionary Baptists, Calvinists and Lutherans. They all read scripture through the "lenses" of their denomination of faith and the preconceived teaching of their founders. How do they know their interpretation is true? You may be thinking the same thing about me, but my "lenses" were prescribed 2000 years ago by Jesus Christ and His disciples not by Martin Luther, Calvin, or the founder of the latest new church or denomination. There is not a single verse in the Bible that does not support Catholic teaching. This cohesiveness shouldn't be surprising since the Bible was compiled by Catholics.
Through my study I learned that new converts often talk about "the verses I never saw." These verses are ones that didn't fit into their denomination's teaching or where very difficult to interpret based on their doctrines and were often quickly passed over. However, when they are examined from the Catholic perspective, they become very clear and understandable...and with no difficult examinations of the original Greek texts or complicated explanation of the verse. Consider the following:
"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." 2 Thessalonians 2:15. The official list of sacred scripture was not formulated until around 400 AD. Early Christians learned their faith by word of mouth or by letter not from the Bible. This is, in part, what we call Sacred Tradition in the Catholic Church. Many lessons were passed down by word of mouth from the beginning of Christianity.
"And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord." "Blessed indeed," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them." Revelation 14: 13. The word labors in this verse tells me we have some work to do. Our deeds follow us when we die. See Matthew 25:31-46.
"Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the Church..." Colossians 1:24. The non-Catholic asks the question, "What could possibly be lacking in Christ's afflictions for us?" Yet Paul says he completes what is lacking in His afflictions in his letter to the Colossians. Catholics believe God can use our sufferings for the good of His Church, which can be of great comfort to those suffering mental, physical, or spiritual afflictions when they understand this doctrine.
"And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed." Luke 1: 46-48. Do you called Mary blessed? Let me calm your fears from the outset...we DO NOT worship Mary. We honor her. She is the mother of God. Also, we DO NOT worship statues. We worship God alone.
"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved." Matthew 24: 9-13. There is much to consider in this passage, but let's focus on the last line. If the one who endures to the end will be saved, what does this say about the concept "once saved, always saved?" Can salvation be lost?
There is an explanation for all these verses in the Catholic Church. Nothing is contradictory or difficult to fit into the overall framework of our faith. Now, let me return to the original purpose for my study. Where can we find the Truth?
The Bible tells us where we can find it. Saint Paul tells us in I Timothy 3:15 that we will find truth in the Church of the living God. It reads: "...if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." So which church has the truth? Is it the church Jesus mentioned in Matthew 16:18? "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." Questions arise about the meaning of "rock" and "Peter" in Greek translations, but if you refer to the Aramaic that Jesus spoke, the words are the same. Paul was speaking of the Church of his time that taught the lessons of the apostles that they learned from our Lord Jesus Christ.
I want to belong to the Church that Christ established that teaches the truth as Jesus Christ wants it taught. I was again surprised to learn that there are writings of early Church martyrs that we can consult to see if the church in which we worship resembles the Church that Christ established and the first apostles enacted. In The Fathers of the Church by Mike Aquilina, I read about Justin Martyr, an early Church apologist, who dedicated himself to the refutation of erroneous beliefs about Christianity. These false beliefs were leading to the persecution and death of early Christians. St. Justin wrote to the Emperor Antonius in the year 155 describing the Christian liturgy as it was celebrated in Rome. His account will be familiar to anyone who attends a Mass today, almost two thousand years later. He was scourged and beheaded in the year 165.
Saint Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle. Before dying as a martyr at age 86, he taught many how to live as the apostle had taught him to live. There is a written account of his martyrdom and the prayer he offered to God just moments before his death. St. Polycarp was a colleague of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was also a disciple of the Apostle John. Ignatius was appointed the bishop of Antioch by the Apostles Peter and Paul. He served there for 40 years. Among St. Ignatius's writings is a letter to the Smyrnaeans. It provides us with a record of the ancient Church's beliefs regarding the Eucharist, the priesthood, and the Church hierarchy. This letter records the earliest surviving use of the term "Catholic Church" to describe the worldwide body of the Christian faithful. Ignatius was torn apart by lions around the year 107.
As an old man, St. Polycarp was the master to the young boy who would grow up to be St. Irenaeus of Lyons. Irenaeus was an early Christian apologist who wrote extensively about the heresies in the early Church. In a passage of his Against the Heresies, Irenaeus provides evidence of the Eucharist---"He (Jesus) took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks, and said, 'This is my body' (Mt. 26:26). And the cup likewise, which is part of that creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant. This the Church has received from the Apostles, and offers now to God throughout all the world..." There are many other early Church Fathers but the writings of these few examples, Polycarp and Ignatius who were taught by the Apostle John himself, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr give us a look at the early Church and we see it looks very much Catholic. Their martyrdom shows you the depth of their faith. Furthermore, the growth of the Church exploded under the guidance of these men.
Another verse often overlooked by non-Catholics is John 6: 53-54. It reads...So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." The centerpiece of Catholic worship is the sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist. We receive Christ's body, blood, soul, and divinity when we receive the Eucharist in Communion. We believe in the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. We base this on the readings found in 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26 and John 6:22-69. Other references are made about the apostles "recognizing Him after the breaking of bread" in Luke 24:30-31.
In 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 it reads: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself." After reading these verses in Corinthians, I shudder to think about churches that offer "serve yourself" communion at their Lord's Supper service. Time and time again God has fed his followers. Consider the loaves and the fishes. Consider the manna provided in the desert. Couldn't God continue to feed us today? Of course He can, for with God all things are possible.
The centerpiece of Protestant or evangelical worship is the sermon. The question that must be answered is this: Are we worshiping God the way we want to worship or the way God wants to be worshiped?
After reading the writings of the early Church fathers, considering evidence in scripture, and examining the traditions of the Catholic Church, I am convinced I worship Christ as He wants to be worshiped. The Catholic Church continues to celebrate the Mass as it was celebrated by the apostles and the early martyrs of the faith. These men died gruesome deaths for publicly proclaiming Christ as Lord. This same sacrifice, offered by the apostles in the way Christ outlined it in John 6, is offered in Catholic Churches around the world every day of every year and has been offered this way for over 2000 years.
Some non-Catholics criticize us because they think we believe we are saved by our "works" and not by faith. That is not true. I believe that I am saved by God's grace through faith. Nothing I can do will save me. I also believe that God rewards us according to our response to His grace. A reading of Matthew 25: 31-46 gives us a picture of the final judgment. We will be judged on what we have done for Christ and not just that we believe in Him. God will give His kingdom to those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and those in prison. Consider 1 Corinthians 13: 2-3: "And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." As Christians we must love and serve God and we do that by serving the people He places in our lives.
In Luke 10:25, a young man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus doesn't tell him to say the" sinner's prayer" but to love God with all his soul, strength and mind and to love his neighbors as himself. Also consider James 2: 14-26. Verse 24 reads: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." This is the only verse in the Bible where the words "faith" and "alone" are found together. Why do we have the verses in Philippians 2: 12-13? "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Considering the purpose of my research, it begs the question: why would Paul say it if it didn't matter? We must "work" because we have surrendered to God and want to do His will not because we have a job to do. Moreover, He gives us the grace to do that work.
Time and time again as I read dozens of conversion stories the authors often said that no Catholic had ever witnessed to them about the fullness, beauty and depth of the Catholic faith. They had to discover it for themselves. I want to serve Him completely. I want to share what I have learned, so that those reading this can have the full story. I pray you will do a sincere exegesis of chapter 6 of John's gospel. Will you be among the disciples in verse 60, who said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" Many of Jesus disciples no longer walked with Him after this. In verse 67 Jesus asked His apostles, "Will you also go away?" Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." You, whoever you are, can meet Christ in the Eucharist. He waits for you there; I want you to know that.
Another helpful book that I read on my journey was Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on "Romanism" by "Bible Christians" by Karl Keating. Dr. Scott Hahn, a former Calvinist and Presbyterian minister, is an excellent author of several books that enlightened me along the way...especially Rome Sweet Home. These books can be found for sale online as well as in many local Catholic bookstores. They do exceptional jobs of examining the issues of "sola scriptura" and "sola fide" and personal interpretation of scripture. I encourage all to read these books and prayerfully consider the opposing viewpoints. Another excellent source is the Eternal Word Television Network or EWTN found on satellite and cable stations. One particular show called The Journey Home has some great guests who tell of their conversions or reversions back to the faith. If you don't find it on your TV, episodes are available online at youtube.com. Just search "the journey home ewtn." I also discovered a network for Protestant and Evangelical ministers who, through study, find themselves drawn to the Catholic Church. The Coming Home Network International can be found online at www.chnetwork.org. Most importantly, let the Catholic Church speak for herself. Let a Catholic from the Catholic Church who has studied their faith explain it to you. Do not consult a prejudiced individual from another belief system. Get your answers from a reliable, well-informed Catholic source.
I hope my story might touch someone somehow and make them go on their own search for the Truth. By writing this paper, my thoughts and beliefs as a Christian became more organized and I feel more capable now to explain those beliefs to others. I simply want to share the wonderful "Good News" that can be found in the Catholic Church. I don't deny there have been people who caused problems in the Catholic Church, but the teaching of the Church never changed. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has been proclaimed for over 2000 years. It is a faith that teaches surrendering to God, living the Beatitudes, forgiving and seeking forgiveness, loving our neighbors, and growing in holiness. What could be more beautiful? I'm ready to tell the world about it and sharing my story is among the first methods I chose. I pray your eyes will be opened like Saul's to the Church that Christ built.