It Seemed Like a Better Idea
These days, my favorite place to be on a Sunday morning is at Mass, inside Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, Oklahoma, gathered with Christ’s body on simple wooden pews, surrounded high above by a great cloud of witnesses in stained glass.
And I think, I’ve been gone a long time.
I was raised in a busy military family — two parents, an older sister, and a younger brother. No grass grew under our feet. My grandparents were Irish, Polish, and German. We were Catholic. My father’s job landed us in Virginia, where Young Life was active in my school. I attended a Young Life summer camp, where I “met Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.” When I tried to explain my new faith to my bewildered parents, they wondered if I had joined a cult. I had just been introduced to the world of Protestantism.
During this time, my father and I would attend Mass alone. I thought Mass was boring compared to my new group. Young Life provided me with new Christian friends and Bible study. I didn’t really need the Mass anyway, so I left.
In college I became a Young Life leader. A fellow leader told me that I needed to attend church. “But Mass is boring, and I get what I need from Young Life.” She responded with an invitation to her independent Bible church. In my mind the only church was the Catholic Church. But I agreed to try it.
At first, going to a non-Catholic church was weird. It did not look or feel like church. It was a basic formula of music for 30 minutes and listening to a sermon for 45 minutes (or longer). There was no apparent liturgy, no priest, no Eucharist (I found out later that this church celebrated the Lord’s Supper quarterly), no kneeling, no statues or crucifixes, and the area for the altar was filled with a lectern and risers for a robed choir. People brought large Bibles and notebooks in carrying cases. My Young Life leader had already informed me that my childhood Bible had extra books, called the apocrypha, that weren’t Scripture. So these very large Bibles were actually smaller than mine.
I acquired a new Bible and quickly got used to this new way of going to church. The preaching was expository. The music, excellent. Over the succeeding years, this would become my church home, where I would meet my husband, get married, raise children and do ministry. The church grew from a few hundred people when I joined it to over 10,000 by the time my husband and I moved to Oklahoma. Over the course of years, the worship became more band-driven and charismatic. There had been splits, both seismic and quiet. Our pastor survived these splits and continued to lead us to evangelize the metro DC area with the gospel of Jesus Christ, which was our mission. Eventually, he retired. Being a very influential church in the Northern Virginia area, we attracted one of the most influential preachers to take the helm. Inevitably, some members didn’t agree with the change in leadership and left. The new guy seemed fine to me. Being very loyal, my husband and I stayed and enjoyed this new chapter in our church history until we moved.
Once a year our new preacher would conduct in-depth church training. In 2018, the topic was counterfeit gospels, into which he lumped Catholicism. Consequently, I understood the Catholic Church in the light of a fundamentalist, Calvinist viewpoint, and I accepted the overarching view that Catholics lacked assurance of salvation, which we at the Bible church had, and they therefore needed to be evangelized.
In 2015 I set out on a path to experience more of God and decided to investigate some of the Pentecostal churches. I took courses taught by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and Bill Johnson, read books by like-minded authors, and attended a conference in Tulsa (where I now live) near Oral Roberts University. Pentecostal spirituality gave me different perspectives, like the belief in victory (“I claim victory over this or that”), the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the teaching of an open heaven (the idea that those who are right with Christ stand under an open window of heaven and receive blessing, miracles, and other manifestations of glory). But the churches I visited had conflict and problems with authority which led to schism. One of my friends told me, since I didn’t speak in tongues, I did not have the baptism of the Holy Spirit, because in the book of Acts, the baptism was accompanied by this gift (Acts 2 and 10). I didn’t know what to believe. There was no authority except the Scriptures, which were being interpreted differently, depending on which church I was in.I didn’t know what to believe. There was no authority except the Scriptures, which were being interpreted differently, depending on which church I was in. Click To Tweet
We moved to Oklahoma in 2019 and found an independent Baptist church that was similar in style to what we had come from. My husband and I joined this church as soon as we got settled.
We talked about politics a lot in our house. It was the year when everyone was talking about politics, the fall of 2020. The country was divided. People were sure about their candidate and demonizing the opponent. I shut down my social media and gave up political radio. My daily walk became a time of prayer and worship instead of catching up on politics. This served to still and quiet me so I could hear the Lord.
Hey, Jude, Make It Better
During this time, I joined a Bible study on the book of Jude at our Baptist church. Jude exposed serious gaps in my theology. Both my prayer life and faith in what God could do were at a high point, but I had never given much thought to Archangel Michael’s role in spiritual warfare. While he was in a dispute with the devil over the body of Moses, this chief of all the angels did not rebuke the devil, but instead said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 1:9). This archangel maintained his proper place when battling the evil one. The book of St. Jude highlights this exchange and tells us not to presume upon our own authority, either. I started to suspect that I might have a presumptuous spirit in my prayer life, rebuking Satan and all that. Heck, I rebuked Satan over any bothersome interruption, nothing nearly as important as the body of Moses. Just to be on the safe side, I began to check my presumption at the door. Jude also warns against those like Balaam, who believed he could stand on his own authority and curse Israel; and Cain, who believed he could decide the right offering to make to God; and those who perished in Korah’s rebellion. I saw parallels between Korah, Cain, Balaam and Lucifer, who were filled with pride and presumed to have authority they did not have. Now, authority became a question for me. If I had been wrong about my own authority in spiritual battle, what else had I been wrong about? And, if my error was a result of being led astray by false teachers who told me I had authority that I did not have, where else had I been led astray?Now, authority became a question for me. If I had been wrong about my own authority in spiritual battle, what else had I been wrong about? Click To Tweet
The Bible study on the book of St. Jude was still going on when I traveled back to the east coast to visit my parents. My brother was there, and religion came up, which I felt was a prime opportunity for evangelization. My devoutly Catholic mother put a hard stop to that conversation. Later that day, in what I can only describe as one of the weirdest things that’s ever happened to me, my mother sharply scolded me, vehemently saying things like “Now listen here.…” and “You Christians who always think you need to be preaching the gospel should look at the log in your own eye before picking out the speck in others’ eyes.” I was stunned and speechless! In the ensuing months, the rebuke needled me. I wrote about it in my prayer journal, asking Jesus to help me understand: “If I’m wrong, help me to know how to correct my error.”
During this time, I also went to work for Catholic Charities in Tulsa. There was not even a remote idea in my mind that I ought to return to the Catholic Church. But then, the Catholic world began to open back up right in front of me. I was surprised to find so many converts working there, which shouldn’t have surprised me. It was, after all, Catholic Charities. One guy had converted from a Pentecostal tradition. He had been planning to enter the mission field, so he went to school for a theology degree, where he studied Church history. He told me that, after five years of study, he realized he was going to “have to become Catholic.” I thought this odd. He also told me that sola Scriptura wasn’t biblical.He told me that, after five years of study, he realized he was going to have to become Catholic. I thought this odd. He also told me that sola Scriptura wasn’t biblical. Click To Tweet
“Oh… yeah, uh huh,” was my vacant response.
Okay — what does he know about Church history that I don’t know? And what’s the deal with sola Scriptura? Something about Martin Luther. All I remembered from the Reformation was the 95 Theses, and not what they contained, just that they were a thing. My dad told me about an EWTN production, “The Reformation.” I rented it and watched all the episodes.
I found out that Martin Luther, a Catholic priest and monk, declared “Scripture alone” as his rule of faith while in a tight spot in a debate with Johann Eck. What made this so alarming was that the Church’s rule of faith had always comprised Tradition, Magisterium, and Scriptures; all three were needed. I learned why there are no longer any altars, or icons or stained glass windows in many Protestant churches. I learned about other doctrines that my churches held that also were inventions of Luther — like imputed righteousness, which was drilled into us by my old pastor. I had sat under powerful, Scripture-rich sermons telling me that salvation is a legal transaction. I had been taught to confess and believe, and that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to me. Done deal — like it was a deal. Martin Luther invented the idea of imputed righteousness while in schism with the Catholic Church. That means not only did the Church not hold this doctrine, but salvation was understood without it for 1500 years! It made me question the new things of Luther and those who came after him. Even the early Creeds would have been professed without the “doctrine” of imputed righteousness. After the seeds of the Reformation took root and sprouted, history records thousands of new denominations and new takes on salvation and theology.After the seeds of the Reformation took root and sprouted, history records thousands of new denominations and new takes on salvation and theology. Click To Tweet
Experiencing the Reformation from the inside rocked my world view. Luther’s new doctrines led me to think again about church authority. How do we decide if a doctrine is true? Who has that authority?
During the season of Lent, I gave up all non-essential activities and huddled down with the Lord. In a strange way, I was muted by the Holy Spirit. During conversion, the Lord often puts people in solitary places — Hagar, Jonah, Paul. The apostles were still for three days while Jesus lay in the tomb.
Taking previous advice from my dad, I began to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church for myself. I found it deep and rich, footnoted with Scripture and quotes from early Church Fathers, councils and Doctors of the Church. I was amazed at all I had been told in the Protestant world about what the Catholic Church teaches from people who weren’t Catholic, and I was astounded that these things were nowhere in the Catechism. I had been misinformed.
In my Protestant churches, we avoided the term “Mother of God.” I reasoned that if I could wrap my brain around the understanding of Mary, I could better understand the Catholic mindset. Listening to EWTN radio, I met Tim Staples on Catholic Answers Live (CA Live). He had written a book about Mary, called Behold Your Mother. I found out that Tim is also a convert to the faith (former Pentecostal). I bought Tim’s book and set to work. He expounded on the Old Testament typology of Mary. The old Ark of the Covenant contained three things: Aaron’s staff, that had budded, the stone Tablets of the Law, and the Manna in a clay jar. Mary’s womb contained the incarnate Christ, who is the Bread of Life and the fulfillment of the Law. Tim spoke about King David, who sent the Ark to the hill country of Judea for three months (1 Chronicles 13), and how Mary likewise went to visit Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea for three months (Luke 2). David declared, “How can I bring the Ark of God home to me?” (1 Chronicles 13:12). Elizabeth uttered similar words to Mary (Luke 2:43). David leapt and danced in front of the Ark when it returned to him. John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at Mary’s visitation. The Shekinah glory that overshadowed Mary (Luke 1:35) was the same glory that overshadowed the Old Testament Ark and the same glory that transfigured Jesus (Matthew 17). Things about Mary in the Bible were in plain sight all along; I just hadn’t had eyes to see. Since I worked at Catholic Charities, I could go to prayer (the Liturgy of the Hours) every morning and Mass every day. The rich spirituality was beautiful to me. The Scriptures were ever-present, making themselves relevant and rising to the surface of our lived experience. Catholic Charities feeds people, provides cars, legal help, dental work, housing, counseling, pregnancy help. These things don’t happen in large worship services with cheering onlookers, but in the obscure pockets of life… “so that your alms may be in secret” (Matthew 6:4).
Come to think of it, the Catholic Church was starting to look a lot like Christ. Christ was hated, and the Catholic Church is hated by many. Christ was called a blasphemer, and so is the Pope (well, he’s called the Antichrist; close enough). Christ became incarnate in Mary’s womb; Christ is made present in the Eucharist, which is His Body and Blood. C.S. Lewis said Jesus did not give us the option of calling Him a good teacher. Either Jesus is who He claims to be — God — or He is a liar or a lunatic. The Catholic Church claims infallibility in her teaching and that all authority is given to her by Christ. No other church comes close to these claims. She can’t just be another good church among many. She hasn’t given us that option. Wait! Why would I want to attend a church that could make a mistake in what was being taught? Shouldn’t the Church be like her Lord, infallible? I had never really thought about that before.
During Lent, I started following a podcast by Father Mike Schmitz and Jeff Cavins called “Through the Bible in a Year.” In my Bible church, we were told that God was silent for 400 years after Malachi. It turns out that’s not true. 1 and 2 Maccabees, the books of Wisdom and Sirach, and several other books, were all written during that time. I listened to Gary Michuta’s Hands On Apologetics podcast. Gary is an expert on the Deuterocanonical Books, as Catholics call the Apocrypha. Reading Gary’s book, The Case for the Deuterocanon, along with those sacred texts, taught me much about history, like the political world that Jesus came into.
I also learned it was Martin Luther who started the unprecedented practice of removing books from Bibles. Paul told the Thessalonians to hold onto “traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The early Christians didn’t have Bibles. They had Old Testament writings, letters, oral teaching… tradition. Eventually, the Catholic Church canonized specific texts, what we use today as our inspired table of contents. This happened over time. The Decree of Pope Damasus in 382 and the Council of Trent under Pope Paul III (on the heels of the Reformation) were Catholic defenses of the traditional Bible. The Council of Trent was indeed the Church’s infallible canonization of Scripture. The very word canon is owned by the Catholic Church. No other church uses that word.
We never really talked about the origin of the Bible in my churches, except to say that Jesus Christ gave us the Scriptures. But Jesus didn’t float down from heaven an inspired table of contents. What Jesus did give us was a Church (see 1 Timothy 3:15). Jesus always uses people, and it was indeed the Popes and bishops of the Catholic Church who gave us the Bible. I began to realize that it made no sense to claim that the Bible was authoritative while simultaneously denying the authority of the Church and her Tradition that established it. I finally understood the blindness of sola Scriptura. Fortunately, Jesus is still restoring sight to the blind.
One day, on Catholic Answers Live, Father Jeff Kirby was answering questions on his book Real Religion. The term “religion” intrigued me, so I called the show and talked to Fr. Kirby about my worship experiences and how that relates to religion. CA Live sent me his book. I learned that religion means to bind oneself, “a binding of ourselves to God” (Kirby, Real Religion, 2021, p. 42). I evolved from claiming “relationship not religion” to allowing myself to be bound to Jesus and His Body in the Mass. Liturgy means “the work of the people.” The focus is not a “personal worship experience,” but a gathering of individuals into the one Body of Jesus Christ and offering to God the Father the acceptable sacrifice of His Son.
I learned about the Mass through a booklet my father sent me, called A Minute in The Church: the Mass, by Gus Lloyd. The entirety of the liturgy is significant and part of a sacramental, heavenly reality. Talk about a real Open Heaven! Now that I understood the Mass, I started to enjoy it. In a complete turnabout since walking away from the Mass as a teenager, I no longer felt like I needed a Protestant worship service. The fullness of Christ is in the Mass, and the Catholic Mass is orderly and beautiful. I was finding rest in the authority of the Church and her tradition.
One morning, I was pondering the Reformation and thinking about schism and why it happened. Luther was prideful and disobedient, and I felt like he made the wrong decision. I recalled listening to Fr. Mike’s podcast about the divided kingdom and realized this wasn’t the first time the Lord had to put up with a divided people. Fr. Mike had said that the Southern Kingdom retained the unbroken succession of kings. Pulling out my Bible Timeline, I took another look. Right there in the history of the Southern Kingdom, I saw the kingship of Christ. The genealogies in Matthew and Luke establish the bloodline. The Northern Kingdom goes into exile and is subsequently cut out of the bloodline of the Messiah (the “lost tribes”), while the bloodline is retained in Judah, even in her own exile, all the way down to Christ. If Peter’s keys are truly Jesus’ executive authority as premier bishop (Matthew 16), if apostolic succession really happened, could it be that that ancient split between Israel and Judah was a type of the Reformation? If the bloodline of Christ continued on to the Apostles, then the Catholic Church must be the true Church, and all other churches are ignorantly (or willfully) in false worship and schism. It occurred to me to look at the Vatican website. I did so and saw the unbroken succession of the Popes. I read books From Peter to John Paul II (Korn, a historical work) and Pope Peter (Heschmeyer, an exegetical work). Suddenly, I was like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. I had discovered the pearl of great price! I started making plans to sell everything so that I could buy this field. I had to strategize. How was I going to tell my husband? How was I going to revoke my membership at the Baptist church? How was I going to tell my prayer groups? But I was overjoyed! I knew the Catholic Church is true, and I awoke every morning, eager to learn more about this mystical body of Christ called the Catholic Church.
While I figured out how to sell everything and buy the field, I kept doing my due diligence in studying the Catholic Church. In my Protestant churches, we never talked about the early Church Fathers, and we didn’t have any Doctors of the Church. I read a book called Four Witnesses (Bennett) to learn about our earliest Fathers: Clement of Rome (Peter’s third successor), Ignatius of Antioch (Bishop of Antioch, 100 AD), Justin Martyr (130 AD, defended Christianity to high rulers) and Irenaeus of Lyons (wrote Against Heresies, friend of Polycarp, who in turn was a friend of the Apostle John). They were all Catholic! Indeed, it was Ignatius who coined our first written reference to the faith as Catholic as he defended the Church against all the heresies and schisms that were cropping up (see his Letter to the Church at Smyrna).
When the Ashes of Lent Settled
The Holy Spirit converted me during Lent. My heart had returned to the Catholic Church, but there was work to do to gain full restoration, mainly due to my marriage outside the Church in 1989. This required obedience, patience, sacrifice, fasting and prayer — waiting in my tomb. I would go to Mass but not receive Holy Communion. I did, however, get in the communion line for a priestly blessing. I was the persistent woman in front of the judge, the dog searching for crumbs under the master’s table.
Eventually, with the agreement of my loving husband and the help of clergy in both Oklahoma and North Carolina, I was fully restored to the Church. I received my first Communion in 39 years on September 1, 2021, at Catholic Charities in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was confirmed on November 7, 2021, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina I arose and walked out of my tomb!
In 2021, I read 91 books and papal encyclicals. I received Our Lord’s true Body and Blood in the Mass. The daily Rosary drew me into the mysteries of our Lord and his mother. The liturgical calendar is ordered around the life of Christ. The priestly vestments reflect the liturgical calendar. For Catholics, all of time is pregnant with Jesus Christ. The rhythm of the Body of Christ is beautiful.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, we read in Psalm 48: “Go about Zion, walk all around it, note the number of its towers. Consider the ramparts, examine its citadels, that you may tell future generations.”
I have examined the Catholic Church, her ramparts, her citadels, and I am ready to proclaim it all to future generations.