I was raised in the Catholic Church by parents who loved the faith. We went to Mass every Sunday, I received my sacraments, but I never really considered myself a Christian. In fact, I didn’t know if I believed in God. I didn’t like going to Mass to worship a God that I wasn’t even sure was real, and the Bible seemed to contradict what I was taught in public school science. Bottom line: religion seemed silly and a waste of time.
Skepticism and a Place for God
In 2016, my conversion to Christ began. I realized that evil actually exists in this world and in many of its institutions. Then I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit. I immediately experienced a radical transformation of heart and deep sorrow for my sins, and I had a sense of “knowing” (through infused grace) that the Trinity and the Bible are true. I knew my confusion about the Bible contradicting what passed for science was just that: confusion on my part. I instantly knew that Satan is the prince of this world. I ordered my first Bible and started to read the New Testament fervently and surround myself with people who were more spiritually advanced.
I joined a group on Facebook for Christian women. The Torah and Mosaic Law were emphasized. Hungry for truth and a babe in my journey, I had no reason to doubt their interpretations. I didn’t realize there were so many different Christian sects. I researched Mosaic Law, and my family began celebrating the biblical feasts. I covered my head (which I still do when I pray) and called Jesus Yeshua. I lived according to Torah as much as possible from 2016 to the beginning of 2019.
I started speaking against the Catholic Church. My topics of choice: “Worship” of Mary, the “wafer-bread” Jesus, the hierarchy in the Church, and the Papacy. I was convinced the Catholic Church was the Great Whore of Babylon, and I prayed fervently that God would help my family leave Catholicism.
I began doubting adherence to the Torah when I realized that the Mosaic Law was a slippery slope to self-righteousness, and I heeded St. Paul’s warning about putting myself, a Christian, under the Law.
Jesus didn’t point to the Mosaic Law as the way to encounter God. Jesus says He is the way. It is God’s Law, and indeed the whole of salvation history, which point to Jesus and reveal Jesus as the source of our salvation.
I realized that sola Scriptura is unsustainable. Too many Christians interpreted the Bible on their own, debated, and accused one another of bad exegesis, yet all claimed to be led by the Holy Spirit.
The issues they disagreed about were serious. By what form and by whose name is one baptized? Is speaking in tongues the proof that one has been baptized by the Holy Spirit, and therefore saved? Should Christians celebrate holidays such as Christmas and Easter?
There was much condemnation between the different sects, and my unbelieving friends wanted to believe, but they messaged me frequently that they couldn’t become Christian with its hypocrisy and chaos. It reminded me of Jesus’ prayer on the night of the Last Supper. Our disunity keeps an unbelieving world from recognizing Christ and His Church. Our fragmentation messes with the minds of non-believers.
I wanted only to do what is right in the eyes of God, but I didn’t know what that was, and I didn’t see how anyone could know. How could I claim that the Holy Spirit was leading me into truth but someone else (who was claiming the Holy Spirit’s leading) misunderstood the Spirit when he interpreted key passages vastly different from the way I did?
God finally opened the door for a conversation with my family about Catholicism. My aunt was raised Catholic, became Protestant for 20 years, and then returned to Catholicism. She added me to a Catholic Facebook group. I was initially frustrated that she was trying to convert me. She knew I despised Catholicism.
She also knew the Bible well. How could she go back to the Catholic Church? I honestly believed that Catholics were only Catholic because they hadn’t read the Bible.
We went back and forth debating Scripture, and I eventually told her I would research with an open mind and asked for recommendations on where I might begin my studies. I was looking forward to disproving the Catholic Church.
She recommended a book called Rome Sweet Home. It’s the story of a Presbyterian pastor (who was also very anti-Catholic) who became Catholic. It was interesting and gave a good defense of Catholic teachings, but I wanted sources from the early Church.
I discovered that there were historical writings from the early church fathers and martyrs. Ignatius (3rd bishop of Antioch) and Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna), who were disciples of the Apostle St. John and both martyrs — they had left written documents.
Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp and bishop at the Church of Lyons, was a martyr. Justin Martyr, a Christian convert in 130 AD and Christian apologist, was martyred in 165 AD. These two had also left written documents.
Clement of Rome was ordained by Peter and along with Peter was a martyr for the early Church. There were preserved documents from him.
This was a generation in touch with the original foot soldiers for Christ.
Former Baptist Steve Ray and theologian Brant Pitre helped me discover apostolic succession by taking a closer look at Peter’s name change (from Simon to Peter) and the meaning behind Jesus giving Peter the keys to the kingdom and the power to bind and loose sin.
These Apostles and their successors spread the gospel and appointed elders at each of the churches. When people were baptized, they came into an actual church institution under the authority of these bishops. When a bishop could no longer carry out his duty, the office passed to another. The first time apostolic succession appears in the Bible is in Acts 1, after Judas had killed himself. The other eleven Apostles came together to appoint someone to take his place.
I came across 1 Timothy 3:1–15, which describes the kind of man who aspires to the office of overseer (bishop). This passage ends with a surprising claim. Paul writes in verse 15 that, if he is delayed, we will know how to live within the household of God, which is the Church, the pillar and bulwark of truth. According to the Bible, the Church is the pillar of truth, not the Bible!
I turned to many verses, like Acts 20:28, which is directed to Church leadership. The second chapter of Titus defines an overseer as God’s steward and a man above reproach. In 1 Peter 5:2, the shepherds of the flock are warned about the exercise of their authority, that it be not under compulsion and not for shameful gain. Hebrews 13:17 tells us to obey these leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over our souls, as those who will have to give an account. These verses and many more (1 Timothy 4:14, James 5:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, Ephesians 4:11–14, Acts 15) put to rest any doubt whatsoever of their God-given authority.
The early Church Fathers echo these things in their writings as well:
The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (187–189) says that the apostles knew there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate, so they appointed ministers and gave instructions that, when they passed away, other approved men must replace them.
In the Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Ignatius makes it clear that each one must live according to the will of one’s bishop. He goes so far as to say that we ought to look upon the bishop as we would upon the Lord himself. Ignatius also repeats the absolute requirement of a believer’s subjection to bishops as to the will of God in letters to the Trallians, Smyrnaeans, Philadelphians, and Philippians.
I had found a powerful case for apostolic succession, but what about the papacy? Was that a man-made tradition? I used to think so, but the Bible proved me wrong.
In Matthew 16, Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi, where he renamed Simon, giving him the name Peter, which means Rock, and it is there that He gave Peter the keys to the kingdom. I used to believe this meant we all had the keys to the kingdom, the keys being the gospel. That is not what the early Church believed, and that is not how a first-century Jew would have understood it.
In Isaiah 22:20–22, the king chooses a second in command (known as the royal steward or prime minister) who literally wore a large key as a symbol of his office and who spoke with the authority of the king, though never contrary to what that king wanted. I was not familiar with Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. He was clothed in a robe, a sash fastened around him, and given authority. He would become a father to those living in Jerusalem and belonging to the house of Judah. Upon his shoulder, the keys to the house of David were placed. What he shut, nobody could open. What he opened, nobody could shut.
Does Jesus use similar language at Caesarea Philippi? If so, what is the connection between the old and the new office?
In Matthew 16:13–19 Jesus named Peter His royal steward and gave him the keys to the kingdom as the symbol of his authority to speak in Christ’s name. I realized that, since Jesus is an eternal king, the office of royal steward would never end, not even when Peter died.
But who would replace Peter? And what did the early Church say about this one who is “Peter” in every generation? I was about to find out from other voices:
Cyprian of Carthage (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition, A.D. 251): “If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?”
Ephraim the Syrian (Homilies 4:1, A.D. 351): “[Jesus said,] Simon, my follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church.… You are the inspector of those who will build on Earth a Church for me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which my teaching flows; you are the chief of my disciples.”
Pope Leo I (Letters 10:1, A.D. 445]): “[Jesus] has placed the principal charge on the blessed Peter, chief of all the apostles… so that anyone who dares to secede from Peter’s solid rock may understand that he has no part or lot in the divine mystery.”
Pope Leo I (ibid., 10:2–3): “[Jesus] wanted his gifts to flow into the entire body from Peter himself, as if from the head, in such a way that anyone who had dared to separate himself from the solidarity of Peter would realize that he was himself no longer a sharer in the divine mystery.”
I’d clearly been wrong about Church hierarchy and authority. I’d been wrong about there being no actual Church institution. I’d been wrong about the Pope.
I moved hesitantly to my next point of disagreement, the perpetual virginity of Mary and her queenship in Heaven. Dr. Edward Sri shed light on all things Mary. I found very quickly that her perpetual virginity was not questioned during the first 1500 years of the Church. Even Martin Luther believed Mary was a perpetual virgin, and her queenship was never questioned.
In ancient Israel, the queen was not the king’s wife. She was his mother. Most kings had many wives. King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). There was no way for his wife to reign as queen without a host of other women standing jealously in the wings. Yet, since each king had only one mother, the queenship was given to her. Problem solved.
When the Old Testament introduced a new king of Judah, the king’s mother is named alongside her royal offspring. I learned that the king’s mother was the greatest member of the royal court. She wore a crown (Jeremiah 13:18). She was at the top of the list of palace officials (2 Kings 24:12–15). She shared in her son’s reign (Jeremiah 13:18–20) and served as the king’s counselor (Proverbs 31). The queen mother was an advocate for the people. She heard their petitions and presented them to the king. Dr. Edward Sri was a great help in my search for biblical support of Mary as Queen Mother.
He pointed to Bathsheba for understanding the role Mary was meant to play. When David reigns, Bathsheba enters the royal chamber and approaches him like most subjects would: bowing her face to the ground in homage and saying, “May my lord King David live forever!” (1 Kings 1:16, 31). After David’s death, her son Solomon becomes king. Right away a man from the kingdom recognizes Bathsheba’s role as advocate and asks her to take a petition to the king. We see that her role has greatly expanded with the new role of her son.
Bathsheba enters the royal chamber, but this time she receives royal treatment as the queen mother. The king stands, then bows before her. He orders a throne to be brought in for her, and she is seated to his right (1 Kings 2:19–20; cf. Psalm 110:1). Solomon invites her to share her petition and assures her that he will receive that petition and respond generously.
In the first chapter of Luke, the angel Gabriel tells Mary she will become the mother of a royal Son who will fulfill the Old Testament promise of a Messiah. Luke clearly states that this child will enjoy an everlasting reign as the descendent and fulfillment of the David Kingdom. The angel said: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31–33).
Elizabeth helped me to see Mary as Queen Mother. At the Visitation, Elizabeth greets Mary saying, “Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). My research into Mary helped me recognize this as royal-court language right out of ancient Israel. By using the title “my Lord,” Elizabeth links the ancient Israel monarchy to the Messiah-King within Mary’s womb.
Perhaps the greatest support for Mary’s queenship is in Revelation twelve: “And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child…” (Revelation 12:1–2).
I had believed this referred to Israel or the Church, but could it also be a reference to Mary? If there is no denying that the male child is a reference to Jesus, then the woman can be just one woman. Mary is, without a doubt, the woman of Revelations 12.
The crown affirms her royal status. The attack upon her and the child indicate Satan’s use of Herod to destroy the infant-king. The twelve stars on her crown establish her reign in the Church which flows from the 12 tribes of Israel and is founded on the 12 Apostles.
Indeed, Mary is the Queen Mother of this New Covenant and eternal kingdom. It all came together for me. Her maternity, her royalty, her intercessory role, her authority.
The last subject I researched was the claim of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Again, I realized this belief was never debated in the early Church. They believed that the bread they broke during Mass was the true flesh of Jesus and the wine they drank was the true blood of Christ. It is scriptural. Jesus announces it seven times, in seven different ways in John 6. Those He had fed the night before tracked Him down the next morning. Instead of again multiplying food for them, He leads them into discourse about the Eucharist. Jesus’ followers leave Him over this teaching. Only the Twelve remain.
It is an amazing turn of events. Jesus fed the crowds, and they wanted more of this easy food. Jesus says they will receive a food greater than the manna in the desert. They want this food until they realize Jesus is talking about His own flesh and blood.
St. Paul has much to say on the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion in chapters 10 and 11 of 1 Corinthians. The only way one can read these two chapters and cling to the notion that Communion is a just symbol is to study these chapters with this pre-conceived symbolism idea and a stubborn desire to come out the other side with an unchanged interpretation.
But what do the first generations after the Ascension have to say? In chapter seven of the Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius says that heretics abstain from the Eucharist and prayer because they don’t believe the Eucharist to be the flesh of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps one of the most convincing extra-biblical accounts of the Real Presence comes to us from St. Justin Martyr in the year 151 A.D.:
For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him… is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus (First Apology 66).
It may have been overkill, but I kept going and realized that Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Cyprian of Carthage all wrote of the true presence of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine. They talk about the need to accept this teaching and the gravity of ignoring or denying it.
My research took me to another passage from St. John’s Gospel. John 17 gives us the words of Jesus at the table. Knowing that He would die, rise, and eventually ascend, Jesus institutes a most amazing ritual. He leaves them His own Body and Blood.
Aphraahat the Persian Sage (Treatises 12:6, A.D. 340): “After having spoken thus [at the Last Supper], the Lord rose up from the place where he had made the Passover and had given his body as food and his blood as drink.… With his own hands the Lord presented his own body to be eaten, and before he was crucified, he gave his blood as drink.”
Augustine (Explanations of the Psalms 33:1–10, A.D. 405): “Christ was carried in his own hands when, referring to his own body, he said, ‘This is my body.’”
Augustine (Sermons 227, A.D. 411): “What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ, and the chalice is the blood of Christ.”
Everything I had tried to debunk about the Catholic Church I found to be true. There was always a hierarchy, in place by the will of God. Mary was always believed to be a perpetual virgin and the Queen of Heaven. And finally, the early Church believed in the literal, true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Only heretics disagreed.
When I shared my findings with my husband (a firm Bible-alone Protestant, as I had been), he wasn’t open to hearing the information, and he didn’t want me to investigate it any more. I had once felt the same, so I treaded lightly. I decided that, ultimately, it was more important for me to submit to my husband, so I let the research go in April of 2019.
As the year progressed, the division among my Protestant friends became ugly. Around Christmas of 2019, things became unbearable. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when I made a post about baking cookies and listening to Christmas music. It was as if World War III broke out on my Facebook wall. I was messaged a couple of times each week by people in various Christian sects asking me why I was celebrating “pagan” Christmas? Why wasn’t I following Mosaic Law any more? Why was I wearing makeup? Why would I wear pants? Had I spoken in tongues to know I had received the Holy Spirit and been saved?
There was also a little girl who had passed away, and many were praying for her resurrection. Other Christians jumped in, saying this prayer was wrong. The bickering was toxic and cruel.
Each person claimed an interpretation given by the Holy Spirit. If you didn’t agree with their interpretation, it was because you hadn’t studied enough. The theory was self-refuting. If the Holy Spirit was leading people to truth, then there wouldn’t be multiple denominations. In fact, we would all be one.
The lack of unity violated Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:10, Romans 16:17–18, Titus 3:9–11, not to mention our Lord’s prayer in John 17 that we would all be one with the same unity that Jesus has with the Father.
We simply cannot give ourselves a pass on this. The early Church Fathers are clear. Ignatius (Epistle to the Philadelphians 3, 8, A.D. 108) says if any man follows a schismatic, he will not inherit the kingdom of God. He also says the Spirit proclaims that we must do nothing without the bishop, but we must be temples of God, love unity, avoid divisions. Again, in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius says, “Where the bishop is, let the people be; even as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
The Change in Me
When the priest processes in for Mass, my heart is overwhelmed with joy to the point of tears. There are Psalms, hymns, and Scripture. There are prayers for people in need and the Passover Meal of the New Covenant which Jesus instituted himself: the Eucharist. I have never felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as I do now!
The backlash I experienced after becoming Catholic was intense. I lost close friends; nevertheless, I have never felt such peace. My husband did not convert with me, but he attends Mass with me and is considering RCIA. It is a relief to know, after all this seeking and reading, that I no longer have to guess what I should do as a Christian. We have teachers today who were given authority by Christ Himself! I still seek; I still read; I still study. But now it is with total confidence in our Catholic Faith.
The first thing Satan did in the garden was to get Eve to question what God really said. This is the precise deception of Sola Scriptura. It causes us to waste our time debating instead of being the Church, serving the poor, helping the needy, receiving the Eucharist, sharing the good news.
I set out to disprove the Catholic Church and deliver my family from it, and I ended up returning to the Church and embracing even those things I had once ridiculed and resisted.