Overcoming some of my objections to the Catholic Church with a deeper understanding…..
Soon after the baptism of our youngest children, we started attending the RCIA classes that I had agreed to go to. I remember the first night, not wanting to go and my husband gently urging me to just go see what it was all about. Little did I know, he was more than excited to learn more about his faith and seeing me get some of my questions answered, but was being very careful not to push me too hard, knowing that I would go the opposite way if he did. (Did I mention I was unfairly stubborn at this time?!) Finally after some urging, I went. The first class dealt with marriage, contraception and natural family planning. Ha! Not the ideal subject to win over a borderline liberal mind at the time. (I totally would’ve voted for Hilary Clinton in the 2004 elections!) I lived on emotion during this time, believing that what mattered most was making oneself happy. If it made you happy, nothing being intrinsically evil or wrong with it and as long as it wasn’t hurting anyone else, then it must be OK. My beliefs have since changed. I now believe that our lives are to be lived by God’s will, not necessarily through our own desires and happiness. Living God’s will may at times contradict with what “would make us personally happy”, but we all have our crosses to bear, as Jesus showed us when he died on the cross for us. (Matthew 10:38 “….Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”) Learning to let go of what “I personally thought was right” and accepting what Jesus says is the way to live was very hard for me. This brought about many debates between my husband and I about issues such as contraception, in vitro fertilization, sterilization, homosexuality, etc. But this is a subject for another blog post since this one is already way too long!!
During the next few months I had a few of my “objections to the Catholic Church” rebuked. I learned that Catholics do not, under any circumstance “worship” Mary. Catholics believe worship is deemed worthy for God and God alone (this includes the Trinity). Before I explain this, I feel one must understand the connection between the Old and New Testaments. This connection is through typology, meaning the ability to understand persons, events, or things in the Old Testament which came first, therefore serving as a “type” (or prototype) of the fulfillment of God’s plan in the person of Christ in the New Testament. The typology of the Old Testament, which is made clear in the New Testament, shows the dynamic unity of the divine plan of salvation. In short, the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New. God gave us the Old Testament to help us get ready for what was to be fulfilled in the New Testament when Jesus came and to be able to understand and believe in it because it was told that it was going to happen….and indeed did! That is why the Jews from Jesus’ time were so willing to believe in Jesus…..they were waiting for him!
Mary was chosen by God to bring Jesus into this world. She is, in fact, the Ark of the New Covenant, made pure by God (at the moment of her conception) in order to be holy enough to carry His Son, and bring him into the world for our salvation. She is the also the new Eve (the first Eve turning from God and bringing sin into the world… and Mary, the new Eve, saying “yes” to God’s will and brought about the new salvation into our world (This being Jesus). One thing I learned, is that Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus cannot be greater than it’s New Testament fulfillments. For example, if the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament (which carried within it, the Law, which was the Word of God, the staff of the high priest and also manna (the bread sent from heaven to sustain the Israelites) was holy enough to actually bring death to those who touched it…..The Ark of the New Covenant (which carried Jesus – who is the Word made flesh (John 1:14), high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16) and manna (John 6:48-51) has to be even more Holy! Mary was deemed “Full of Grace” (Luke 1:28) meaning sinless. If someone if full of grace, they are full of favor with God and indeed without sin. Only a sinless being would be worthy enough to carry the Son of God within their womb. The Catholic Church teaches and believes that all honor to Mary is done so to glorify her Son even more. An example of this would be the title, Mother of God. This title came about in the 4th century because of the Arian heresy. Arius taught that Jesus was not divine in origin, in short….that he was not of God. The Church gave the title Mother of God to Mary to help strengthen it’s teaching on Jesus’ divinity. When you think about it, if Jesus is God and Mary is the mother of Jesus, this makes Mary the Mother of God (God the Son, not to be confused with God the Father). This is no way raises her above God. She exhibits the same honor and title of the queen mother found in the Old Testament Israelite kings. By no way does the queen mother hold the same power as the king, such as in the case of Bathsheba, the mother of King Solomon, but she is worthy of great honor being allowed to sit at his right hand and have his ear. This example in the Old Testament is a , prototype or foreshadowing of the relationship between Mary and Jesus with Jesus being from the line of David, as was Solomon, Bathsheba’s son. (Matthew 1:1-16 – this is BORING genealogy scriptures I hated as a kid, but finally made sense when put in context as to why we needed to have them. This genealogy connects Jesus to the line of Abraham via Joseph and Mary’s union of marriage, which includes David and Solomon.) Jesus was quoted as being the “Son of David” (Luke 18:38) which puts him in this genealogy line. This shows that it is important to read to those Old Testament stories to understand what the true meaning in the New Testament is. Phew! No wonder the Bible is so hard to understand! There’s a lot of connections in there to decipher! Catholics in short, put Mary in honor because she is worthy of it, being chosen by God to carry his son….but they do NOT worship her. Worship is for God and God alone!
So why do Catholics pray to Mary if they don’t really worship her? (and the rest of the Saints, for that matter). Would this not be considered idolatry? No, not at all! Praying is a way of communication to those who have gone before us. When baptized, we are welcomed into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were given to drink of one Spirit”.) Once you are in the Body of Christ, not even death can separate us. (Romans 8:38 “For I am convinced neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”). There is not one body in heaven and one body on earth….there is only One Body in Christ which includes us on earth AND the saints that have gone before us. As Christians, we ask each other to pray for us in times of need, sorrow, happiness, etc. This is what the Bible tells us to do….I remember many a prayer chain in my youth. Most people will not argue this is indeed “biblical”. Catholics believe the Saints that have gone on before us can also be asked to pray for us, “since the prayers of the righteous are very powerful!” (James 5:16). Who is more righteous than a Saint in heaven?! The Bible tells us that it is a sin to pray to the dead, right? (Deuteronomy 18:10-11) Well, if you read this text you will find that they are talking about the dead in “spirit”. This is witchcraft and the occult, which is a sin. The Saints in heaven do not fit this…..they may be physically dead but are definitely alive in heaven. In fact, those in heaven are more alive than even those of us still here on earth! (Mark 12:27) Some would say, “Well, even if they are alive, they are separated from us on earth, cannot see what is happening here on earth and therefore cannot pray for us.” This is not true. One passage that rebukes this is Revelation 6:9-10, “…I saw under the alter the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had bore; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those that dwell up on the earth?'” Sounds like these souls from heaven knew that their deaths had not been avenged yet. Sounds pretty plausible that although they may have a limited sense of what happens on earth, they are not oblivious to all that goes on down here. Jesus, who was fully man as well as fully divine, also communicated with the “dead” when he was transfigured with Moses and Elijah, conversing with them at the transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-8. I think it’s safe to say that Jesus would not do anything “unbiblical” since he is, in fact, the living Word. If Catholics “worshipped” the Saints and thought they had the power to save souls, that would be idolatrous, but they don’t. We are only asking the Saints, Mary being the most holy of Saints, to PRAY for us, just as we ask those here on earth to pray for us. The only one that can save anyone….is Jesus Christ. That is not idolatrous, therefore I had to recant my objections on these two issues.
I soon learned that the Catholic Church held many of the same beliefs I grew up with. In fact, we recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday to profess our faith and what we believe. It goes as follows: “I believe in one God, Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” I believed all of these statements….except 2 of them. “one holy, catholic and apostolic church” and “one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins”. In fact, I will dare say that there are not many “Christian” faiths that would refute these beliefs except for the two I did at the time. I had started to understand and see the true meaning of baptism at this time….the authority of the Church? I was still working on that one…..It was enough to make me seriously think about joining the Catholic Church. I had been wrong on most of these aspects and soon found a few more. Such as statues.
It was explained to me as such….”Statues are like photographs. We use them to visually remember those great Saints that have gone before us. It’s like keeping a photo of your loved one that has passed away in your wallet. You may look at that photo and cry or have loving memories flood back to you, but in no way are you crying or adoring that “photo”….you are missing and loving the person in the picture. God had commanded Moses to build the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament…and had very strict regulations as to how to do it. This Ark was to be made of gold and also had two statues of angels. Hmmm…Exodus 20:4 “ You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” But the example of the Ark of the Covenant shows us that God was not anti-statue. I would say angels are a form of beings in heaven above and I would dare say that no one would dare say that God went against his own commandments! If we were to bow down and worship them like the Israelites did with the golden calf? Yes, that would be idolatry….but that we do not. They are like photographs, a visual reminder of those that have gone before us.
“Bowing or genuflecting”- this was a way of showing respect to God in His house of worship, in no way are people bowing to Mary, statues or inanimate objects. I had never seen this in my little Baptist church. I have come to greatly appreciate the reverence and respect that Catholics exhibit in the house of the Lord, even those Catholics who don’t necessarily live their lives in a holy manner. They still realize that God deserves that respect when in His presence…..
The “sign of the cross” (Catholics are notorious for doing this) This is an ancient tradition dating back to Tertullian, an early church father who lived from 157-245 AD. He stated “In all our travels and movement, in all our coming and going out, in putting off our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.” This is merely a way that Catholics are reminded of the Trinity and the cross Jesus died on for our sins, before and after prayer.
I also realized with attending Mass during this time, that the Catholic Church was indeed a “Word of God” church when it came to the Bible. Did you know that in a 3 year period of time over 90 percent of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) including an additional 55 percent of the New Testament letters as well as the Old Testament readings that correspond with the Gospel readings and almost all of the Psalms are read?! Crazy!! That was way more than the little Baptist church I had attended as a child! This does not include all the prayers of the congregation and priest, many of which are pulled straight from Sacred Scripture! I was amazed!! I also discovered to my surprise, that anywhere in the world, no matter what language or time, these same readings and prayers were occurring in every Catholic Church across the globe. This sure seemed like the unity I remember reading about in the Bible, instead of the diversity of denominations and different churches that we have grown so accustomed to today.
I’d like to say I had all my questions answered during RCIA, but it was just the beginning. During this period of time, I was an emotional wreck! Most people I knew, were Protestant in some accord, including my close friends and family. As soon as word got out that I was attending classes to “become Catholic”, which by this time was true, I received all sorts of questions and remarks about why I shouldn’t. All the arguments I had used myself against the Church were being thrown back at me. Sadly, I couldn’t rebuke them, because I was just finding the answers myself. This time in my life was filled with prayer, tears and begging for understanding on what I should do. Weeks and weeks of emotional and spiritual torment is the only way to describe it.
During one night in RCIA, Deacon Denny introduced us to the adoration chapel. The adoration chapel is where the consecrated host (what Catholics believe is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus) is kept. It’s a place where we can go be with Jesus, adoring and worshipping him (I’ll explain this more later). It was at this time that I got on my knees and prayed harder than I ever had. I was at a crossroads….I could walk away easily or continue on my journey, either way, all I wanted was to do what God was calling me to do. All I had ever wanted to do was what God willed me to. I wanted to do the right thing. I was ready to live my life for Christ and I needed assurance that this was not the wrong path. I begged Him to tell me what to do! I still had so many questions, I had people I loved telling me I was making a mistake and was fighting with my own personal beliefs. Words cannot describe the weight of my heart that particular night! Finally, I decided to give all that weight to God and sat there….waiting. I knew He was there with me, not sure if it was the way Catholics thought He was there….but I knew He was with me. I had faith that He would guide me to the truth and not let me make a mistake when it came to faith. I waited in silence, eyes closed….that faith I had found as a child was raging in my heart, something I had not felt in a very long time. And finally the answer came to me……No, I didn’t hear voices; no, the skies did not open and angels sing praise; what happened was the most overwhelming peace I had ever in my entire life experienced come over me. It was like all doubt being wiped from my heart and clarity coming to my thoughts. This seemed ironic because secretly I was hoping He would tell me to run. Life would’ve been much easier for me at the time if He had. Words cannot explain that moment in that adoration chapel and what happened to me and do it any justice. All I knew was that at that moment, no more doubt, no more questions of why to become Catholic, no more agony would plague my heart ever again about joining the Church.
Being someone who is programmed with an analytical mind (always asking the what, why, where, when and how, and PROVE it to me), learning to trust in my heart first and push out my brain, was extremely hard. I guess that’s what “faith” is all about…..learning to trust something you can’t see, trusting God to guide my heart even when my mind is fighting it or just doesn’t quite understand. The “facts” and “why’s” came later, quite a bit later for some things. Two years of nightly debate took place between Jason and I. Seriously, for 2 years….every night I would challenge my husband on beliefs of the Catholic Church. My common response would be “Where is that found in the Bible?” I had a hard time giving up the sole authority in the Bible, mostly because I didn’t understand and had limited knowledge on salvation history. This was probably my biggest stumbling block in my conversion to the Catholic Church. The Bible is God’s word, it is inerrant in Truth, which means it cannot teach error. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the Bible was actually given to us by the Catholic Church?! I never gave much thought as to where the Bible came from….I always answered that question by “It was inspired by God, written by men.” Which is true. The Bible does not teach error, it is God’s word. But did my King James Version drop out of the sky? No. Did the Apostles write it and give it to us just as the KJV read? This took some research. The KJV was in fact translated between the years of 1604-1611. Jesus was crucified in approximately the year 33 AD. That is a LONG time frame. So when did the Bible, as we know it, come into existence? There is a difference between Catholic and Protestant Bible’s. They are exactly the same, except for seven books the Catholic Bible has that the Protestant Bible does not. Revelation 22:18-19 (KJV) “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” So there, that covers it, the Catholic Church added to the Bible. WRONG! Those seven books: The Widsom of Solomon, Tobit, Sirach, Judith, 1st Maccabees, 2nd Maccabees and Baruch were in the Old Testament at the time Jesus was alive. They would’ve been included in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament accepted by the Jews in the 1st century) that Jesus read from. In short, Jesus’ Bible would’ve included them. They were included in the Bible until the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther…..took them out! Why did he do this? Here’s a little history lesson:
As my journey continued, I knew one of my greatest struggles had to be faced……CONFESSION. At this time, I wasn’t fully convinced of it’s necessity as I always believed you could pray straight to God for the forgiveness of sins…..and yes, you can. But in order to fully understand confession, I had to 1. learn that not all sin was indeed equal. There were sins out there that directly put us “out of God’s grace” and sins that were not as directly condemning on our souls. And 2. Understand why Jesus set up the sacrament of confessing to a fellow human being and why. My first confession was a GINORMOUS step in my conversion! I had lived with a huge load of guilt in my life, a guilt I could not shake no matter how many times I prayed for forgiveness……
to be continued…….