(The first three parts can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org)
“Sweet Jesus, Precious Lord,
More than anything, I desire to know You
know You at all cost, know You at any sacrifice,
Though You slay me, yet will I serve You.”
Little did I know that daily plea would lead me down a shocking path of darkness, of theological terror and confusion that would culminate in the sweetest spiritual euphoria--far beyond being saved, beyond being a Christian, beyond feelings and faith, doctrine and dogma. He, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, awoke me with the gentlest whisper, and I found myself inside the Kingdom of Heaven.
To relate my journey and try to map out how I arrived there is impossible--only God knows. However, I will do the best I can to plot the points.
Having explored America’s diversity of Christian worship, from sea to shining sea, there were those who were concerned that we had not yet found a spiritual “home.” I was enraptured to experience Christians in diverse places and in diverse manners worshipping God! (Even if the theology was desolate and left me in a spiritual angst.) To me, there was no hurry, I had eternity to learn of my Savior.
Yet, my story was building.... Ruminating around were several revelations all slowly culminating into one huge “ahah!” almost exploding my brain. I was researching the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ writings, taking several religion classes about Christian history and the canonization of the Bible as well as spending time daily discussing theology with friends on my online ecumenical group.
For me, this passion for understanding Christ through theology wasn’t about salvation or being right, or knowing more than others. Since childhood I felt safe and secure knowing that my Lord had died for my sins. Bible study and prayer had always been a part of my daily routine. And faith? I didn’t know anything but righteousness by faith through God’s grace. My father had so thickly polished my soul with with faith, that all those years at sea with Seventh-day Adventist legalism never penetrated my hull.
He was my best friend, my beloved, my Savior. Why wouldn’t I be zealous to know every tiny bit about Him possible? So when I heard my love knocking “Open up my sister, my beloved” (Songs 5:2) I sought Him... and some of it was in study....
The Holy Written Word of God
I was born on November 10.... proud and delighted to share my birthday with the preeminent Christian since St. Augustine-- the Blessed Martin Luther! But the more I studied his writings, I realized that he was instrumental in the dismantling of God’s holy written Word. For sixteen hundred years the scriptures contained books Protestants no longer read. Luther and the other reformers judged them as uninspired, not God-breathed. How they concluded they had the permission to condense scripture, I will never understand. I thought it hypocritical that the reformers’ battle cry was “Sola Scriptura” when they literally tore out books they disproved of (ironically, the ones that backed up Catholic doctrines). In the end, the reformers cry was really more o sola mia than sola scriptura. Instead of the scriptures being their final authority, they made themselves the final authority over scripture.
The Ante-Nicene Fathers’ Writings
These first and second century bishops (taught, ordained and commissioned by the Apostles to lead the churches that they started) taught Catholicism! They believed in the sacramental real presence in the communion bread. They believed in true and false teachers as well as the abomination of any schisms. They believed in immersion and in sprinkling baptism and in baptismal regeneration; they believed Sunday to be a holy day commemorating the resurrection of Christ; they believed in an immortal soul, respect for Mary, relics, .... uh oh. They were Catholic and catholic.... both.
All the while our online discussion group was becoming heated because of me. These tricky papist apologists were winning all the theological battles--using scripture! How dare they! I didn’t believe for one minute that what they were writings was truly what Catholics believed. That wasn’t what I was taught Catholics believed. The were trying to use deceptive watered-down and Protestant-ed up strategies. I threw genuine-southern-belle-all-out-true-blue-hissy-fits on the world wide web. Stamping my feet and blubbering like Glenn Beck giving a patriotic soliloquy, I swore I would expose those Catholic demons! So I bought a catechism, a Catholic encyclopedia and doctrinal history book. Scouring through them I found out just the opposite of what I intended. They hadn’t misrepresented Catholicism. Their doctrine was biblical.... maybe I had never thought of it like they had, but it wasn’t a matter of throwing away the Bible--the Catholics interpreted it differently. (Gulp.)
In fact their entire language and worldview was different. Misunderstandings were bound to happen. Indeed, they do not believe that we earned salvation. They didn’t even view salvation like we did. Salvation to a Catholic isn’t eternal life, it is seeing Christ face to face (the Beatific vision), living in total surrender to Him in His presence. The eternal living part was secondary--after all--if our souls are immortal we are already assured of eternal life, the question is not if, but where we will spend eternity. The church, the Beloved Bride is the Kingdom of Heaven and you are baptized (covenanted) into it--not through a sterile law but as adopted children. Though the kingdom will be consummated when Christ literally returns again to celebrate the cosmic wedding feast, we are now living inside it as Christians today.
“No..... no... no... no.. no.. No... NO.. NO! NO! NO! .... NOOOOOOOO!!!!
Please God, pleeeeeease. I don’t want to become a Catholic. They cannot be right. There is no way I can accept this. No way.
Yet, the more I studied Christian history from atheists, Protestant and Catholic sources, the more my stomach sunk. I had finally gone bonkers, all this study had, had.... brainwashed me. So I took a while off and had some wine, read a couple novels, went to the beach. But I still prayed my prayer from the top of this post--and I still meant it.
After a few months, I experienced a reoccurrence of a particularly painful condition I have. It was around five o’clock in the afternoon and I was in excruciating agony. My medications began to kick in and I felt a need to be in God’s presence in a special way and beg Him to take away this chronic physical burden. So I thought I would go to my church and just sit in the sanctuary (I have done this a lot in my life when I went through troubles). Because of the time, my churches I regularly attended were not open. I knew the Catholic church would be, so I drove there and knelt and prayed--no begged--the Lord to take away the pain. I was so desperate, I promised that if He took it away, I would at least look into joining the RCIA (the Catholic adult educational classes). When I got up to leave, I was pain free and I have never had a reoccurrence of that magnitude again. (It hasn’t been totally healed yet though.)
What I found out was that the new RCIA classes at that parish didn’t begin for months. So, with a deep sigh of relief, I kinda put joining the classes aside. As if that miracle wasn’t enough, I remember praying to God one morning for another sign--a HUGE sign that he wanted me to pursue the Catholic faith (this had to be unmistakeable because, come on, the Catholic Church--the Roman Catholic Church?).
My son’s high school was right down the road, so I got in the car as usual and began driving down our city streets, quietly repeating my prayer for a sign. “A big sign.... a big, big sign! Please Lord. Immediately after praying that I saw a brand new billboard. A huge billboard on the right side of the road with a blue emblazoned word “POPE” on it. I shook my head and blinked my eyes. What? As I drove closer, I saw written in little letters “vote for” so-and-so Pope. It was the last name for a candidate in an upcoming local election. That sign had been put up the day before. You have to admit, it was literally a huge sign.
Several more miracles occurred to assure and reassure me that God would protect my apprehensive heart, as my mind was becoming more and more convinced through research, prayer and Bible study that God wanted me in the Catholic Church.
The fall of 2007, Arthur and I tip-toed into the RCIA room of the Catholic Church, Bereans--with Bible in hand--a large chip on our shoulders and with narrowed, suspicious eyes. The priest was shocking, the nuns were liberals, the RCIA director, cool and mediocre, but as the weeks flowed by, we became smitten by the love of the doctrines--the real presence in the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the mass, purgatory, devotion to Mary, the rites and rituals, the holy water, the crucifix. All had layer upon layer of extraordinary meaning and spiritual depth. Oh, it was scriptural--I just had never fully opened my eyes and ears.
It was like a flash of heavenly fire burned up all my doubts, the years of confusion, the pleas to be near the ever-burning flame of His love. Here was God--eternal, merciful, majestic, loving. Here was truth, absolute truth.
It is impossible to believe in Protestant America, but Catholic theology is more biblical than any other--by far--I had studied. There is no way I can condense just how deep, amazing and fabulous Catholic doctrine is in this little testimonial. This isn’t an apologetic post but an experiential one.
Our thoroughly Protestant book “It’s okay Not to be a Seventh-day Adventist” debuted in July of 2008, a few weeks after we were confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church that Easter. It was bittersweet, for as glorious as it was to enter the Kingdom, I knew my Protestant family and friends would not understand. But my prayer was answered and my darkness had turned into the light shining from the face of Christ.
All the dull, confused rocky conglomeration of relativistic theology, now turned to sparkling gemstones. The lights of heaven had been turned on, and now I could see. Oh I know, the Catholic Church is full of wonderful and pretty rotten people who, like Judas, have betrayed Christ. But just as Christ had given me eye to see myself as He sees me, so He gave me eyes to see His Beloved Bride as He sees her, beautiful, spotless, virginal, perfect. For He sees us both through the cleansing water of His Word.
There it is, my story. And now I am home. If you want to discuss the theology I would love to give to you what was freely given to me. But this story wasn’t a debate about Protestant versus Catholic interpretation of Scripture. It was my love story. How Jesus came and answered my little prayer, my little plea in the darkness. And I return His love with the words of the Beloved:
Set me like a seal on your heart,
like a seal on your arm.
For love is strong as Death,
Passion as relentless as Sheol.
The flash of it is a flash of fire,
A flame of Yahweh Himself.
Love no flood can quench,
No torrent drown....
(From the Song of Songs.)