My July 28 post briefly explained how God led me to my Messiah. This one deals with about how He led me into the Catholic Church. Or, in the words of famed radio newscaster, Paul Harvey -- here is the rest of the story:
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8).
My movement in 1972 the Jewish faith of my childhood to faith in Jesus the Jewish Messiah was so profound an experience, I can tell you when it happened, where I was and what I was doing when I committed myself to the Lord and joined the Protestant church.
But I cannot tell you when I knew I belonged in the Catholic Church. That process was more gradual. I didn't know I was moving toward Rome until I opened my eyes and discovered I had arrived.
When some of my Protestant friends found out about my reception into the Catholic Church they asked me why. They’d known me a long time, some more than 30 years. We’d studied Scripture together, attended similar evangelical churches and enjoyed lively debates about our beliefs.
Why did I become a Catholic Christian? Ironically, my answer is rooted in my Protestant experience, and it is with thanksgiving I confess my debt to that experience.
It was within evangelical churches that I learned the necessity of daily repentance. I learned personal holiness is not attained by following a list of rules, but by developing a deep longing to please God. I experienced abiding spiritual fulfillment during worship. I looked forward to Sundays when I could lose myself in adoration of Christ. My pastors and teachers helped me acquire a spiritual hunger for prayer and the charisms of the Holy Spirit. Their unwavering focus on Scripture taught me to love reading and memorizing God’s Word.
I owe an enormous debt to evangelical Protestantism. But I didn’t comprehend the fuller depth and breadth of Christ’s living Presence on earth until I discovered it in the Catholic Church. It was as if for thirty years I held in my hands a glass of water, thinking I had all that Christianity had to offer. Then I turned to see the Pacific ocean stretching toward the horizon and St. Paul’s words flooded my mind, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man the things God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
As I wrote earlier in my July 28th post, before I became what I call a Jewish Christian, the Holy Spirit brought across my path Christians fluent in the scores of Old Testament Messianic prophesies such as Isaiah 53, Daniel 7, Isaiah 9, and Psalm 22. I know why the Lord did that. I wouldn’t have listened to someone quote New Testament texts to prove Jesus is the Messiah. I would believe only if I could see Him in the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament).
For example, they showed me Isaiah 7 that foretold Messiah’s virgin birth. Psalm 22, pictured His crucifixion. Isaiah 9:6 spoke of a child who would be called “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." Daniel 7 prophesied of the “Son of Man” who would receive from the Ancient of Days an eternal dominion.
Then I read the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. The ancient Jewish prophet spoke of Jesus' sacrificial death which paid the penalty for my sins: "But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
After reading and re‑reading the Old Testament Scripture, I suddenly realized the truth. Not only did God love me, but He had planned from as early as Creation to send His Son to bear the punishment my sins – all of our sins – deserve. And by trusting in His sacrificial death in my place, I could be forgiven.
So, on December 25, 1972 I prayed, "God, I believe that Jesus is the Messiah." Not a very long prayer, but God saw my heart and knew I was committing my life and my lifestyle to His control.
In 1972 I didn't understand very much about what commitment to Messiah meant. But I did understand that I needed His forgiveness and His help to change my life. I did understand the simple promise of Scripture: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
But my journey continued.
I am convinced that as God knew I would not listen to someone quote for me New Testament texts to prove Jesus is my Messiah, God also knew I would not listen to someone quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church to prove the veracity of the Catholic faith. I needed to see it in my Bible. So the Holy Spirit crossed my path with Catholic Christians who knew Scripture well enough to challenge my basic assumptions about Catholic doctrine – assumptions I’d made while interpreting Scripture through Protestant filters. Their questions led me back to the Bible and, as if reading it for the first time, I began to understand the Biblical basis for Catholic Church teaching.
For example, the Holy Spirit opened my spiritual eyes to the majesty of the Eucharist. The Lord Jesus promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” but I interpreted that to mean He is with us through the Holy Spirit’s presence. However, when the Holy Spirit brought Biblical texts I’d memorized into a cohesive unit, I realized – just as the apostles and early Church Fathers realized –the Lord Jesus is also with us physically on the altar in the Eucharist —Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
"Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” Jesus said, “You have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:53-54) Years later, St. Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).
Justin Martyr – one of a dozen early Church Fathers well respected among Protestant theologians – understood the Eucharist to be Christ’s very Body and Blood. He wrote: “For we do not receive these as common bread and common drink; but . . . we have learned that the food over which thanks has been given by the prayer . . . is the Flesh and Blood of the same incarnate Jesus.”
Another Catholic doctrine I'd not believed earlier had to do with prayer. Protestants who recite the Nicene Creed will recognize the phrase, “We believe in the Communion of Saints.” God reminded me of Scripture I’d read dozens of times during my years of studying the Bible, and He opened my eyes to the fuller meaning of that Nicene phrase: Christians have the privilege to ask saints on the other side of the grave for intercession.
The Holy Spirit reminded me of Luke 20:38 in which Jesus told some Jewish scholars, "[God] is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive." Then I remembered the Lord's conversation with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses died before entering the Promised Land, yet the Lord Jesus engaged in a lengthy discussion with Moses and Elijah. The Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31 interceded to Father Abraham for his brothers, "so that they won't come to this place," and I thought, if the Rich Man interceded, why should I doubt the saints also intercede for us? If I could ask my “living” friends and family for prayer, why could I not also ask our Christian family who are very much alive in heaven to pray?
The Holy Spirit also opened my understanding to the Pope’s role in our Christian life. “You are Peter,” Jesus said to the fisherman, “and upon this rock I will build my church . . . I give you the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:18-19). For thirty-three years, I resisted the Catholic interpretation of this passage – that the Lord selected Peter (and his successors) to lead the Church. Neither did I know virtually all the early Doctors of the Church, such as Irenaeus (189 A.D.), Tertullian (200 A.D.), St. Jerome (383 A.D.) and St. Augustine (402 A.D.) recognized Peter’s authority based on Jesus’ statement in that passage in Matthew.
But when I searched Scripture for the word “keys” I discovered that when it is not used to describe a tool to open something, the word represented authority over something, as in Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 1:18, and 3:7. At that point, my memory took me to John 21:15-17 and I suddenly realized why Jesus specifically commanded Peter to feed His sheep.
But probably nothing divides Protestant and Catholic Christians so deeply as Catholic dogma about Mary. As a Protestant I recoiled from what I interpreted as idolatrous worship of Christ’s mother. I learned, though, there is a difference between what the Catholic Church actually teaches about Mary and what I believed the Church teaches about Mary.
The Church has taught from the earliest centuries Mary is pre-eminent in salvation history. But why not? Scripture calls Eve “mother” of the human race (Genesis 3:20 ). It calls Sarah “mother” to all followers of Christ who “do what is right” (1 Peter 3:6). So why did I have difficulty believing Mary is mother to the Church, since Christians are children of God through faith in her Son?
Early Church Fathers, such as Justin Martyr (155 A.D.), Irenaeus (190 A.D.) and Tertullian (210 A.D.) saw allusions to Mary in Scripture as the second Eve, the one who corrected the error of our first Mother. They saw Mary as the new Ark of the covenant, whose womb cradled the Bread of Life. They saw her as queen of heaven, just as kings of Judah honored their queen mothers (e.g. 1 Kings 2:19, Proverbs 31:1-9, Jeremiah 13:18). Indeed, even Martin Luther – Father of the Protestant Reformation – held traditional Catholic views of Mary, such as her perpetual virginity and her immaculate conception(!), as any cursory internet search will disclose.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches veneration of the Blessed Virgin “differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit. . . .” (paragraph 971).
Mary should not be worshiped. Venerated, yes. But never worshipped.
I am a Catholic Christian because I met Catholics who caused me to question my long-held interpretation of Scripture. And when I searched the Bible and the early Church Fathers I found sufficient evidence to support historic Catholic teaching.
The Holy Spirit brought me to a point of decision. I could do nothing else but bow my head in obedience to what He had revealed to me. I would say nothing less than St. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord . . . You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
At the Easter Vigil of 2005, I was received me into the Catholic Church. That evening God took my love for Scripture, prayer and worship and combined it with the Eucharist, the Communion of Saints, the Blessed Virgin, Papal authority and other doctrines and Sacraments God gave the world through the Church.
For that I say with deepest reverence, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).