Following God: Jesus Loves Me This I Know
Featuring Marian Prentice/
October 1, 2012
From my earliest memories Jesus was my best friend. I loved church, worship, and my Bible, which I unfailingly carried everywhere. My dad used to joke, “Don’t you trust my driving? Is that why you always take your Bible?”
The Lord’s grace throughout my life has always been abundant. In reality, I can’t recall a time when I have not loved, desired, and pursued God. I always wanted to hear more about Jesus and to share Him with others. Both of my parents were “church going people” and had been raised in Protestant denominations (my father was a member of the Church of Christ and my mother was raised Baptist). We were a family of faith. I was raised to have high moral standards and know that the Bible was the manual for making daily decisions. We were in church every Sunday and I am thankful for that foundation. However, we were perpetual visitors/strangers since we never joined a church. I did not grow up with the experience of a church family.
Regardless, my love for Christ was strong. At the age of ten, I recall walking down the aisle at a Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio, to ask Jesus into my heart as my personal Savior. It was a long walk to the altar that day because, again, I was a visitor in that church, not to mention just a child. I remember shaking inside from the fear of it, yet my love for God and the desire to move towards Him was infinitely stronger than my fear. I left my parents in the pew and walked down that aisle in front of three hundred strangers! But I didn’t care what others thought. I wanted Him. It was this way of thinking that I believe eventually led me home to the Catholic Church: I wanted more of Him, no matter what.
At age twelve, it was my decision to be baptized in the Baptist church we were attending. I remember realizing that Sunday night that something wonderful had happened, but no one else seemed to think so or even talk to me about it afterwards. After all, we were taught that Baptism was just “an outward sign of an inward change,” so nothing really was supposed to happen anyway. But to me, it was a momentous event.
In high school, once I had my driver’s license, I drove myself in my dad’s seafoam green Volkswagen to a Baptist church across town to be able to worship each Sunday night (we went as a family Sunday mornings). I didn’t care that it was a long drive or that I didn’t know anyone there. I just wanted to be in the House of the Lord.
Following God: To the joy of service
I began frequenting a United Methodist church, during my time at The Ohio State University. But, between school and falling in love with the man who would become my husband, church attendance and my daily relationship with God began to take a back seat. I wouldn’t say that I walked away from the Lord, but He was not the center of my life during those four years as He had always been. After Phil and I married, we started our life in a Baptist church just off campus and, when we moved away from that area, we attended a mainline United Methodist church for a while. Soon, we bought our first house across town and we changed churches yet again and began attending a Free Methodist Church, which eventually became our church home for twenty years. It was a great joy to become active in that church.
For the first time in my life I had a church family and I loved it beyond words. My husband and I were blessed with good teaching, as we both got back on track with God. We formed deep friendships, many of which we still have and treasure today. We were there Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, and always for any kind of special service or Bible study. I was privileged to be involved in ministry in that church and learned a great deal as I grew deeper in the Lord.
The joy of service was, and always has been, abundant in my life as a Christian. I took 2 Corinthians 5:15 seriously: “and He (Christ) died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” I taught Sunday School and Kid’s Club classes, adult Bible studies, served as Children’s Ministry Director, directed Vacation Bible School, and served on the Church Board. I also participated in Bible Study Fellowship, an International, interdenominational Bible study. I am very thankful for this solid foundation and experience.
While raising our two children, working part-time, my days were filled with training them in the faith. Both of our children attended Christian schools (as well as public) and both graduated from evangelical, Christian colleges. After leaving the Free Methodist Church, we were in the Nazarene denomination for seven years. When I became involved in charismatic worship, the Lord expanded my church family to include a parachurch organization, Women’s Aglow.
Following God: To mission fields
When I turned fifty, God opened my heart to a different direction in service to Him and drew me to missionary work. I have been privileged to serve on Short Term Mission teams to Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, Cuba, and, most recently, China. The China venture was birthed through Vineyard Columbus, a nondenominational church where my husband and I were members for the past ten years. God also opened my heart to prison ministry where I teach several classes and have the privilege of mentoring at Ohio Reformatory for Women.
Over these fifty years, God has been — and is still — teaching, stretching, and surprising me with many new things. However, this last path was in a direction that I never, ever, thought I would travel. Five years ago, I thought my life was set and settled as I began my sixth decade. But it began with a stirring; I sensed a deep yearning for beauty and reverence in worship. I realized that I wanted more — somehow I knew there was more. And I was right!
Following God: to the Catholic Church?
I believe it was the Holy Spirit who nudged me as I was surfing TV channels one day and came across EWTN, just as they were airing Mass. I was mesmerized. I had never seen a Catholic Mass before and couldn’t stop watching. Something was unmistakably awakened in me and I knew I had to investigate this faith.
However, from an early age, my parents had taught me that Catholicism was very wrong. Still, I have early memories of a budding Catholic interest that began as intrigue more than anything substantive. Maybe it was the attraction of the “forbidden fruit.” I remember watching Pope Paul VI on TV and hearing my parents ridicule him, but not understanding why. I would sit, mesmerized, watching movies about priests and nuns (mostly Bing Crosby movies). I was so impressed with the reverence of it all that once I recall putting a pillowcase on my head as if I were a nun, making the sign of the cross and genuflecting!
As a young woman I remember saying, “I love God so much that if I were Catholic, I’d be a nun!” I even recall as a teen — never known to my parents — finding a Catholic bookstore and buying a crucifix, which I kept hidden. I remember the actual purchase being rather scary, feeling as if I were betraying someone. I kept the crucifix for a long time and would take it out to hold it and just gaze at it in wonder.
At sixteen, I had a boyfriend who was Catholic and I just knew that I could make him see “the truth” and abandon his religion. However, even in talking with him about our religious differences, I was learning the faith — I just didn’t know it then. Ultimately, my parents ended our relationship because they were against all things Catholic.
Now as I look back, it is clear that God was planting the seeds of His holy Church in my young mind and heart. Never having studied the Catholic faith, I believed the typical Protestant misconceptions about Catholics: they worship Mary and the pope; believe salvation is attained by works alone; are idolaters, because they pray to statues; engage in necromancy (communicating with the dead), because they pray to dead saints; and don’t believe in hell, because they have purgatory, whereby you can pray someone into heaven regardless of the life they have led. None of these Catholic beliefs were in the Bible, I was told. But after seeing that beautiful Catholic liturgy on TV, I began the quest to see for myself what Catholics believe, not what I was told they believe.
I watched EWTN, in particular The Journey Home program, listened to Deep in Scripture and Catholic Answers Live, viewed Catholic websites, and devoured at least 30 books on Catholicism and countless conversion stories. With every source I investigated, the draw to Catholicism was more and more intense. As a Protestant, I already went deep in Scripture and exegesis (the explanation or interpretation of Scripture), since I prepared many teachings for church or prison. Therefore, the more I studied the Catholic interpretation of Scripture, the more I knew that what I was learning was true. It all made sense as each of my “issues” melted away and I became more and more convinced of Catholic teaching.
At the very start of my research, I asked the Lord to keep me from error as I began this journey. I put my trust in Him and knew that He would answer my earnest prayer. Periodically, I would “check in” with Him: “Father, is this okay?” As time went on, the prayer became: “What are you doing in me?” because I was slowly — but surely — becoming Catholic!
With my husband’s support, I decided I would begin to attend a local Catholic church on Saturday evenings. Nervous, I sat in the back and just took it all in. What I remember most about that first time at Mass was the reverence of worship, the quiet, and the beauty. What I had been hungering for was satisfied in that Mass. I began attending Saturday night Masses regularly while going on Sunday mornings with my husband to our Protestant church. As time when on, I couldn’t wait to go to the Catholic church each week. I learned how to participate in the Mass (except for receiving Communion) and I worshipped in such a deep way. I absolutely loved it.
By September 2010, I had the courage to register for RCIA. I had done so much reading and studying in the three years prior to those classes that hearing it all “from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak, served to cement it in my mind. The Holy Spirit was confirming in me that what I was learning was true. I indeed discovered that my Protestant idea of what Catholics believed was false. I learned that what Catholics do believe is firmly rooted in Scripture and the Tradition that had been lived out by the early Church long before there even was a written Bible at all! I realized that sola scriptura (living by the Bible alone) is not taught anywhere in the Bible. Sola fide (salvation by faith alone, apart from whether or not we live out our faith) had long been a belief that I couldn’t square with Scripture, so that was not a hurdle for me. On the night in RCIA that we were taught about the Mass and what all the ritual actually means, I left in tears. I was totally overwhelmed at all the symbolism and the love I felt for Jesus who died for me. How could I not become Catholic?
As a Protestant there were many Scripture verses that had either never made sense to me or for which I had never heard an adequate explanation. Now as a Catholic, those same verses make sense and it is a joy to finally understand them. One of the Scripture verses I finally came to understand was when Jesus called Peter “the Rock” on which He would build His Church (Matthew 16). I was taught as a Protestant that by “rock” Jesus meant the truth of the Gospel message and also that, in the original Greek, the two words “rock” were different, one being “big rock” and the other being “smaller rock.” Therefore, I was taught, Jesus couldn’t have meant that He would build His Church on Peter. However, I had always read it over and over and I could not seem to accept any interpretation except what the Catholic Church teaches (even though I really tried to accept the Protestant view). Now in RCIA, the question was solved. Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek. In Aramaic, there is only one word for “rock,” kepha (which, in fact, means a substantially-sized rock), but in Greek, the language into which Jesus’ words were translated, the words have linguistic genders and must be altered to match the context. Also, I had previously reasoned that there were only a few times in Scripture that God changed a person’s name (Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Saul to Paul, for example) and each time that new name signified new, God-given roles in His plan of salvation. Jesus changing Simon’s name to Peter (“Rock”) was not, therefore, inconsequential.
Another Scripture that had never been fully explained to me was John 3:5, when Jesus said: “Truly, truly I say to you unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” The Protestant teaching that “water” in this Scripture actually refers to “natural birth” just never made sense to me. I came to understand in RCIA that this is a clear reference to Baptism. Previously, I was taught Baptism was just an outward sign, to which no grace or divine action was attached. However, once I read a number of Scripture passages that refer to Baptism as a Sacrament, which accomplishes the forgiveness of both original and actual sin, that verse in John made perfect sense (see 1 Pet 3:20-21, Acts 2:38-39).
I am sad to say that prior to my research it had not dawned on me that there was anything “Christian” before the Reformation. When my eyes were opened to Christian history predating the Reformation, I began to read the early Church Fathers (most of whom I didn’t even know existed). After I read about men such as Eusebius, Athanasius, Polycarp, to name a few, “the Catholicism of the early Church became so obvious…. that I knew that if [I] were to follow the truth then [I] had no option but to become Catholic” (Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best, Catholic Answers, p. 9).
That realization made me feel safe — yes, that’s the word, s-a-f-e. The burden was no longer placed on me to decipher and choose between the varying beliefs and private interpretations of the Scriptures from the current 32,000 different Protestant denominations (all of whom believe the Holy Spirit has told them that their interpretation is true). I think because I trusted the Church on the things I did understand, it helped me to choose to trust the Church on some of the other issues that were harder for me to understand, such as purgatory. However, because I know that the Catholic Church is the true Church guided by the Holy Spirit, I can rest in that and let God move me along as I mature in this new faith. I love the Catechism of the Catholic Church, because I no longer have to guess or depend on my private interpretation. I can refer to the Catechism and know what is true. And I feel safe!
Following God: to losing my reputation?
To be honest, the days leading up to the Easter Vigil in 2011 when I would enter the Catholic Church were full of anxiety. I was so certain in the truth of the Church, and yet my mind swelled with questions: What am I doing? What will my friends say? Will my children still respect me? What about the “reputation” I have as a solid and respected teacher of the Word of God? Will I even have any ministry left if I do this? And, yet, I wanted this so much. The Lord heard all my angst and provided for me. I read Leona Choy’s book My Journey to the Land of More and it was just what I needed. At age eighty, Leona, a well-established, Protestant author and fellow missionary to China, had also embarked on this journey to the Catholic Church later in life. Her life and journey paralleled my own in many areas that I felt such camaraderie with her about my journey. Her words summed up perfectly what I was thinking and feeling throughout much of my journey. Just like Leona, I felt like I was entering a foreign country and leaving behind all I had ever known. I now know, however, that I didn’t have to turn my back on my faith as a Protestant Christian. Rather, I was coming home to the fullness of the Christian faith.
I also had other sources of support and encouragement in my journey. When I signed up for RCIA, the parish provided me with a wonderful sponsor who loves Jesus. She and I “clicked” from the start. I was also given a mentor by the Coming Home Network who was so good at putting my anxiety and angst into perspective. This mentor understood the difficultly in “changing countries” and faithfully prayed for me.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that I believed the Catholic Church is the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ. Because of all of the support and prayers from those special people God put in my life and the familiar, comforting nudge from the Holy Spirit, I willingly surrendered to what God had been asking of me: to become Catholic.
Following God: To the fullness of faith!
The moment that Father Jerry announced at Easter Vigil that I was now Catholic, I got weak in the knees and nearly fell over out of sheer happiness! As I received Communion for the first time that night, the experience was electrifying. The tears fell at the realization that in my whole life of loving Jesus, He had seen to it that I could take Him completely — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — into my being. As I returned to the pew afterwards and knelt in total gratitude, joy, and awe, the shape of a heart appeared in my mind’s eye. I was overcome. God had always loved me, but now I was home.
Since my reception into the Catholic Church, my joy has neither left, nor waned; it has only increased. Jesus is still my best friend. I still love to learn and study. I still love the holy Scriptures. And, now, I love being Catholic!
My husband goes with me to Mass a couple times a month and is very supportive, but he is not yet ready to join me. Some of my family members are supportive and some are not. The Lord has provided me with a few Protestant friends who support this journey and I am making new friends in my Catholic parish.
So, the journey continues! Thomas Merton once said: “a life befriended by God is a life where growth always means a step beyond what is familiar.” And to that I say, “Thanks be to God!”