Reflections of a Journey
Featuring Clifford L. Rodgers, Ed.D./
Background: Seventh-day Adventist/
January 2, 2014
My wife, Jeanette, and I were both raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and learned to hold strong negative feelings about the Catholic Church. My mother took great pride in being opposed to the Catholic Church; she did not know much about it, but she knew she was against it.
As a child, I was, however, drawn to the Catholic Church. I enjoyed the music and appreciated the pomp and liturgical attire. I can remember the church I attended was rented to an Orthodox group for special services. I watched from the balcony and enjoyed the music and incense. It reminded me of the stories I had read in the Old Testament about the temple, priests, and incense. During my high school years, I often listened to a radio station that broadcast the Mass, which was in Latin in those days, but I still listened and learned a few of the songs and parts of prayers. My mother was furious when she found out, so afterwards I had to be very discrete about listening.
My goal was to graduate from college and be a church schoolteacher for the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA). As I progressed through life, the feelings of being drawn to the Catholic Church went from being mildly interested to being very strong. I frequently pondered the words of Jesus when He gave Peter the task of feeding His lambs and His sheep.
Jeanette and I attended Seventh-day Adventist schools from the elementary level through college. We attended the same high school and college and started dating in college. We were married half way through college. Through all the levels of education, we were taught that the “true church” must follow the Bible. Therefore, any church that did not follow the Bible to the letter was not the true church of God.
My impression of the SDA church was that individuals with advanced academic degrees or money are held in high regard and serve on committees and the higher offices of the church. The anti-Catholic beliefs and the respect for money and degrees I had been taught early in life were reinforced in my thinking throughout my education. I served at various levels of the SDA Church up until the age of about 50. I did just about everything, including such diverse positions as Bible instructor and church organist. I also taught middle school for two years and even preached a few times.
Is Seventh-day Adventist a “Bible church”?
I began to see that while the SDA claimed to follow the Bible, upon closer scrutiny, it only followed selected parts of the Bible. For instance, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a list of vows to which every prospective member must agree. Many of them are the standard Protestant thinking but baptismal vow #8 requires that every prospective member acknowledge that the church has spiritual gifts. Later, the new member learns that the term “spiritual gifts” means the writings of Ellen G. White. Seventh-day Adventists hold their prophetess, Mrs. Ellen G. White (1827 – 1915), in the highest regard. However, I had serious doubts about her. For example, White wrote that Christ went into the most Holy Place to be with God the Father in the year 1844, but the Bible says that Christ went to the Father and was at His right side following His Resurrection (see Mark 16:19, Luke 22:69, Acts 7:55-56, in addition, there are at least eight more New Testament texts on this issue). J. N. Loughborough, an SDA pioneer, told of White having a vision about the stars and planets. Her vision, which did not convey any information about the stars other than what was already known by science, but did, however, produce a lot of false ideas and misinformation. For example, she wrote in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 362, that eating eggs, meat, and butter increased the sex drive in children. In Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 505, she wrote that salvation depends on worshiping on Saturday. In another part of her writings, she tells how man has defiled the image of God by mating with animals and producing such beings as the wild bushman in Africa, the Patagonians, the Hottentots, and the Digger Indians. (References for these concepts and many more can be found on the Internet at http://nonsda.org/egw/critica.shtml.) Her writings on health include her advice that eating pork causes leprosy, among other diseases (Healthful Living, p. 183.) It is difficult to find original publications written by White, because the SDA church is editing many of her writings to make them more acceptable to the public. Since the SDA Church holds White’s visions and writings as coming from God, editing her books is tantamount to rewriting the word of God.
As I moved into my fifties, I drifted progressively farther away from Adventism but I never could get over the idea, implanted in my thinking, that the true Church of God would follow the teachings and principals of the Bible literally. When I realized that the SDA church was not doing that, I had no choice but to leave. I stopped going to church and for many years had no interest in attending any church. I felt I had been lied to and did not want to be a victim of any more religious lies.
Interest in Catholicism
I bought a book entitled, Why Do Catholics Do That? by Dr. Kevin Johnson. I had no intention of starting a journey toward the Catholic Church. I was just curious. Then, while I was channel surfing one day, I came across EWTN. I was immediately interested and spent many hours watching and then began reading various Catholic websites. Over the next four and a half years, I completed three sets of lessons over the Internet from the Catholic Home Study Service and read 26 books and pamphlets about Catholicism. The more I found out about the Catholic Church and what it actually taught, the more I studied. I could not buy and read the books fast enough! Everything I had been taught in my youth about the Catholic Church was wrong. Reflecting on this situation now, it seems logical: How could one person teach another person about a subject that the first person had never truly studied? Finally, I turned to the Bible and found that the teachings of the Catholic Church were in the Bible, some going all the way back to the time of Abraham!
My curiosity prompted me to go a Mass. I noticed that the priest, following the consecration of the bread and wine, gave the bread and wine to those who would walk up to him. What I was seeing in the Mass seemed to be similar to what happened in Genesis 14:18-20 when Abraham encountered Melchizedek. Melchizedek was both a king and a priest, the only one under the Old Covenant. When Abraham went to him, Melchizedek brought out wine and bread and then blessed Abraham. Was this a coincidence or something more?
I had been taught that when a person died, they were totally dead and that their soul went somewhere to wait for the resurrection. This didn’t make sense to me. I knew a story from the Old Testament where it said that “Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God took him” (Gen 5:24). Then there was the story in the New Testament about the Transfiguration. If people who died were totally dead, how could Moses and Elijah be conversing with Jesus? Also, where did all those people, whose graves were opened after the Crucifixion, go following the Ascension? Then I came across the text, Romans 8:35-39, where it says that nothing, including death, can separate us from God.
A major hurtle for me to get over was the Catholic teaching that the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ. I cannot remember how many times I studied and re-studied the passages in the Bible that concerned the Eucharist. The more I studied the higher the evidence piled up. I learned that the Eucharistic elements were not symbols of Christ but each was Christ and they were required to be recognized as such by the Christian. Support for this can be found in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-22, John 6:47-63, and 1 Corinthians 11:24-30.
Each time I came across a Catholic teaching that could be answered by the Bible, I was drawn closer and closer to the Church. I still, however, had questions and misgivings. For example, I “knew” it was totally wrong to confess sins to a priest. But, in spite of my preconceived notions, I decided to look further into the idea of confession. I came across Matthew 18:18, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This text was followed by John 20:22-23, “…he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” Once again, my preconceived notions were proven wrong — by simply reading the Bible!
Another of my misconceptions was about Mary. I had thought that Catholics make far too much fuss over her. She was a woman chosen by God to give birth to His Son because He needed someone for the task, but that was all. Then there was the issue of calling her “Queen of Heaven.” So, I went back to “the Book” plus this time I included some history books as well. I found that in biblical times, the mother of the king often had an influential role as “Queen Mother.” The mother of Assyria’s king was the king’s counselor and an intercessor for the people. The mother of the Babylonian king served in a similar capacity. In Judah and Persia, the king’s mother was listed ahead of the king’s wife and other members of the household. Solomon had 700+ wives but only one mother and when she entered the room he stood up, paid her homage, and called for a throne to be brought for her to occupy beside him (1 Kings 2). So, what does all this have to do with Mary? Christians believe that Jesus is the king of heaven and earth. Even Pilate, not knowing what he was really saying, made reference to Jesus being a king. Following the practice of the Jews and other kingdoms of the era, since Jesus is the king, we can see why Mary is honored as the “Queen Mother.”
One other thought-provoking point for me came not from the Bible but rather from within the Seventh-day Adventist Church itself. Their pioneer, leader, and authoress, Ellen G. White, wrote, in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, page 404, paragraph three, and in God’s Messengers, chapter 191, “God has never left his people without a witness.” That was a shocker to me because I knew from history classes that only the Catholic Church has survived and served as a source of inspiration, guidance, and a witness in Christian matters through the ages from the time of Christ to the present. In other words, the Catholic Church has survived over 2000 years, withstanding the gates of Gehenna, pagan worship and sacrifices, dictators, wars, the Reformation, hatred, and discrimination. This perspective was a clincher for me. I knew from this point forward that I had no choice but to associate myself with the Church Christ had personally started 2000 years ago. Part of my decision in this matter can be accredited to my Grandmother, with whom I had lived for a few years as a child. She had taught me that no matter what circumstances I found myself in, I should choose and do what I thought was right.
After the four and a half years of study, I was convinced that the Catholic Church was correct and was instituted by Christ by a direct command to St. Peter. I was ready to begin attending a Catholic church. However, I was having a considerable amount of negative reaction from my spouse. She did not even want to discuss the possibilities of any religion, particularly Catholicism.
I appealed to EWTN and several websites for prayers regarding my situation. I was put in touch with a mentor, B.W., from the CHNetwork who was very supportive. I was stunned when I found out that not only was B.W. a convert, and, thus, knew what I was going through, but that she also came from the same SDA church, attended the same college, and did not have her spouse’s support for her conversion. One Sunday, I decided to attend the 7:30 a.m. Mass. I arrived early for the service and sat in my truck watching the members entering the church. I was a little taken back by how they were dressed. I had assumed that church attendance meant white shirt and tie. I understood that God accepted us as we are, but I had a real problem adjusting to seeing well-worn jeans, shorts, and sandals in church. I can remember going into the church and doing all the things I knew Catholics did as they entered the worship area. I thought that those actions would help me slip into a pew inconspicuously.
The next week, I attended a RCIA meeting. My wife was not pleased. Jeanette and I had both been taught that Catholics were not Christians. I think knowing that helped me handle the situation. I felt like I was being persecuted for the cause of Christ and, while I was sad that it was happening, I felt good that I could do that for Christ. The home tensions went on for several days thereafter. Before our annual trip to visit her relatives up north, I was warned not to mention anything about the horrible things I was studying and doing.
The RCIA classes started in September. I think my wife was experiencing some of the same fears I had been going through since I first started to recognize that I would someday have to follow what I was learning to be true. As I attended church, learning and trying to participate in the Mass as best I could, I realized how good it felt to be there.
I continued to read, study, and ask questions. I can remember waking up at night, watching EWTN, and feeling like I was grieving over the fact that I was being called to forsake what I had learned from my youth and cross the threshold into the Catholic way of life. I think I have some idea of what “The Rich Man” went through when he was invited by Christ to follow Him (Matt 10:17-22). It felt like I was slowly dying from one life, while being born into a new life. At times I found my hands shaking from the tension and stress of leaving a set of beliefs, which I had held for decades, and venturing out in the world of truth and enlightenment.
Each RCIA meeting was followed by the refrigerator treatment at home. One day my wife mentioned that she was afraid that I was turning into a religious fanatic. She was concerned that her family — all Seventh-day Adventists — would make fun of her if she was married to a Catholic.
Since I had been taught from childhood that I should do what I thought was right, even though it might be unpopular, my journey continued via reading, Internet explorations, and RCIA meetings. It wasn’t long before I was thinking of myself as a Catholic. I caught myself referring to the pope as “our pope” or to the Church as “my Church.” I found it intriguing that the occupants of the Chair of St. Peter could not only be traced by name, but also by the dates that they occupied the chair. I learned that three of the first four popes were mentioned by name in the Bible. I also learned that some popes led holy and dedicated lives while others were reprobates in every sense of the word. Such information gave me the feeling that the Church has always been run by humans and we all make mistakes and are in need of forgiveness.
About this time in the United States, cases of child and adolescent molestation by priests were coming into the public eye. This situation bothered me a lot. I decided not to jump to conclusions or pass judgment based on surface information, but to investigate the total picture. Considering priests as members of the clergy and then investigating instances of child molestation by the clergy, I saw a significantly different picture. Child molestation was not a Catholic problem, but rather a clergy problem. Broadening the picture even more, I found that child molestation is not merely a clergy or religious problem, but rather a people problem.
Eventually, my RCIA group experienced the Rite of Acceptance. When Fr. Tony sprinkled holy water on the wooden crosses we were given, I sensed a strong smell of roses. The fragrance was so strong I could hardly breathe. I mentioned it in RCIA and found that nobody else had smelled it. It bothered me so much that I went to Fr. Tony and asked if he used a fragrance. He said, “No.” I sensed the same fragrance when the Bibles they gave us were blessed with holy water. Through Internet research I found that others have experienced the association of roses and the presence of Mary. I believe that I was being supported and encouraged by Mary to continue my journey.
I was baptized in the Seventh-day Adventist Church when I was nine years old. The week before Lent, I found my Baptismal certificate and submitted it to our RCIA leader. I can remember my sponsor teasing me about finally finding it because that meant I had to go to Reconciliation, rather than simply be baptized.
I had not realized what a boring life I had lived until I started trying to get some thoughts together for my first Sacrament of Reconciliation. There I was, nearly 70 years old and I could only think of a half-dozen or so actions that I felt I needed to confess. Having been raised in a very strict home, my youth was spent more in mischief than sin. I guess I had been so busy working two or three jobs to put my children and myself through private schools and private universities that I had little time to get into trouble. I did have one huge sin to confess. For years, I held that abortion was acceptable. I became very upset when I was talking with the priest about it. However, I managed to get through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and head for home.
I expected to feel relieved immediately after receiving forgiveness. Well, it did not happen that way at all. Afterward, I went to the nearest Wal-Mart and walked around trying to calm down from the experience of Reconciliation. In a little while, I felt better and went home. As I sat in my chair watching TV, I kept re-thinking my recent experience. I think it was taking awhile for the concept of forgiveness to soak into my brain. The more I sat there and thought about the experience, the better I felt. In about 45 minutes, I felt so good and so high that when bedtime came, I was not the least bit tired. In retrospect, I can see that Reconciliation is not a “confess and get out of there” process, but rather a process that leads a person to thinking beyond the act to the meaning of the total experience.
As I sat in the church before the Easter Vigil, waiting for the ceremony that would allow me to become a member of the Catholic Church and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, I remembered how far away Easter seemed when we began our RCIA process the previous fall. It seemed like I started my RCIA journey only a few weeks ago. Now, Easter was arriving and there I was, with my fellow travelers, ready and eager to receive First Communion.
Coming home after my Easter Vigil was a step into the past. There were more tears and angry words from my wife. That night she slept on the couch. The next morning she seemed to have made an adjustment and breakfast came and went without incident or comment. In the weeks that followed Easter, I realized that I was more relaxed. I no longer felt starved for information. My reading turned from the “Why do Catholics do that?” to “How do Catholics do that?” and to the rosary and other prayers.
In the time following the Easter Vigil, I frequently found myself reflecting on the events of my journey. As I mentioned previously, I had been taught early in life that a person should stand up for what they believe to be right. Therefore, I had no choice but to become a Catholic. I had always thought that the Bible should be the basis for a religion. Therefore, when I saw that the Catholic Church came directly out of Jewish beliefs and practices and that the basic teachings of the Church came right out of the Bible, I felt that I must become Catholic.
I am thankful
I am thankful for the people who helped me get to this point in my life. If I made a list, the list would include all of the people who supported me through the difficulties I encountered on my journey so that I could look to the future with optimism.
So, what is my life like now? I now serve as an Extraordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist. I also take the Holy Eucharist to shut-ins and help out with our RCIA group. I am continuing to study and hope to become better informed, so I can speak a word for God when opportunities arise. It may seem a little strange that my goals and activities do not include the conversion of my wife. However, I think I will have to leave the major portion of that project to the Holy Spirit. All I can do at this point is to lead a Christian life.
I have some of the physical situations that go with my age and thus thoughts of the future frequently cross my mind. I feel that I am now better prepared to face the future and I find great comfort in the phrase, “Pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”