Acts 8:26-40 RSV:
But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert road. And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Can′dace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.”
So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture which he was reading was this: “As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.”
And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus, and passing on he preached the gospel to all the towns till he came to Caesarea.
I never imagined as a twenty-two year old, American, married, and now Catholic girl I would be able to identify so closely with a first century Ethiopian eunuch. I was raised in a wonderful and faithful Methodist family. However, in high school I began church hopping, or more exactly, denomination hopping. I cannot think of the reason I began to visit other churches other than the fact that none of my friends were Methodist. Most of my friends were either Baptist or Pentecostal. I continued this pattern when I began college, only to find that this flaky approach to church would prove unable to handle the spiritual problems I was about to encounter. Almost immediately after I started college in 2012, I, too, began asking the Ethiopian’s question, “How can I understand unless someone guides me?” Since all my beliefs were challenged in my classes and with new friends, I became overwhelmed by my inability to deeply understand Scripture. Simple truths in Scripture were plain to me, such as the Christian’s call to remain joyful in all circumstances; however, when deep theological questions would arise in my life, such as, “Are works necessary for salvation?” or, “Is infant baptism valid?” I felt woefully incapable of reaching a definitive answer.
Many questions I asked seemed to have multiple answers. For example, in one passage Paul tells us it is by faith we are saved, yet in another James tells us we are not saved by faith alone (see Ephesians 2:8 and James 2:24). I realized I had inadequate knowledge and wisdom to correctly interpret Scripture. I knew my tools were inadequate. So I reached out and engaged in conversations with Protestant leaders I respected on different topics like baptism, salvation, and the Holy Spirit. Instead of helping, these conversations further confused me. These men and women of faith all provided me with different answers, and they all supported their claims with Scripture. They insisted their versions of doctrine were true, but also told me that the other people I had discussed these matters with, even those who differed, were saved because they believed in Jesus.
My confusion turned into despair. None of the Protestant denominations I had attended while growing up seemed to be able to give answers that satisfied me. I didn’t really even know what all my questions were, but something about my faith was not clicking. I would read texts such as “God is not the author of confusion” (see 1 Corinthians 14:33), and since I was clearly deeply confused, I concluded I must not have the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, I reasoned, if I did not have the Holy Spirit, I could not be saved. My doubts were coupled with a tendency towards relativism. I tried to convince myself that these questions I asked did not matter as long as I knew Jesus. If I knew Jesus, then I was OK, because all other questions about baptism, authority, and church structure were secondary. This line of thinking did not comfort me in the end because many of the questions directly related to the basic question of who is and isn’t saved. This led to doubts of even the existence of God. I frequently felt depressed and as if any effort to grow in my faith was useless because I couldn’t be sure I was going about it the correct way. I gave up on the idea of truth.
My faith was being severely tested, and my thoughts became borderline agnostic. I rarely went to church, and when I did, it felt like emotional torture. Up until this point in my life, I was like the Ethiopian eunuch struggling to understand with only a book to guide me. Then, as the Lord sent Phillip to the eunuch, He sent a messenger to me in the form of a history professor during the fall semester of 2013. This man was not only a brilliant professor but a very godly man. One day, without ever mentioning his own personal faith, he gave a lecture about the pursuit of truth and how it has been lost as the main pursuit in academic circles. He provided the class with his explanation for why relativism has progressed so quickly in the past five hundred years, the period since the Protestant Reformation.
Until the fifteenth century, most people in Europe, and especially Christians in western Europe, believed truth existed and that truth resided in the Church. There was no question of which church or which doctrine was true because there was only one church in western Europe, the Catholic Church. Many of the clergy in Germany during the fifteenth century had become corrupt, and the Church in Germany was badly in need of reform. A monk named Martin Luther took it upon himself to begin this reform. His initial goal was simply reform, not separation from the Catholic Church. However, as Luther’s campaign for reform gained headway, it quickly became a protest against the Catholic Church as a whole, rather than just the corrupt individuals. Luther decided to reject the Catholic Church’s authority, but he needed to replace it with a new source of authority, leading him to declare an already authoritative source, the Bible, as his sole authority in matters of faith. However, by doing this, Luther made himself rather than the Bible his sole authority in matters of faith. This is because the Bible must be interpreted. Otherwise, the Bible is simply literature. Someone or something must give it an definitive meaning. So, in this manner Luther became his own authority on matters of faith. This doctrine of sola scriptura or “Scripture alone” quickly crumbled as Luther’s followers realized what this new doctrine actually meant. If each individual reader is responsible for deciding what Scripture means, and if he or she interprets it differently than Luther, then that reader is not bound to follow Luther. Consequently, this initial split has ultimately resulted in tens of thousands of new interpretations and denominations, of which I found myself sorting through in an attempt to determine which could tell me how to be a true disciple of Jesus.
After class, I visited this professor and explained to him my distress over the Bible and subsequent distress over my faith in general. I explained to him that I believed in Jesus, but I didn’t know why I believed the Bible was the way to Jesus other than my parents and pastor told me so. I then heard for the first time the story of the formation of the Church and the subsequent formation of the canon of Scripture. I began to see how difficult it is to understand Scripture apart from this context, hence my difficulty in understanding the Bible. When Christ came, He established the Church. He never instructed His followers to write a New Testament or even mentioned a Bible. So why do we have one? More importantly, why do we believe it is the inspired word of God or even the correct books? The Church decided we needed a Bible, and Jesus had given the Church authority. With this authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church compiled the canon of Scripture we have today. If the Church didn’t have the authority from God to do so, then the Bible cannot be trusted. But God did give authority. Therefore, if one accepts the authority of Scripture, one must accept the authority of the Church. The question, then, is which church is the true one? Only one Church existed when the Bible was compiled: the universal, or Catholic Church.
After this meeting, I resumed my search for truth. I felt for awhile that seeking truth sounded rather arrogant. But I simply desired to seek the Lord and know His will. He told His disciples the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (see John 16:13). So I went looking for that truth — all of it. It seems that Jesus cares a great deal that we should not live in confusion like I did, but with hope, faith, and love. I had known the most essential truth — that Jesus is my Savior — but that couldn’t have been the whole truth. Jesus didn’t just come to give me a ticket to heaven but to make me holy and help others to become holy so we can help His Kingdom come on earth. I needed to know how to do that. I wanted to know where and what Christ’s Church really was, and after a year long period of study with the campus minister, I decided it was the Catholic Church. My decision to become Catholic was as simple as deciding I believed the Catholic Church had the authority to help me understand what it is Christ desires for me to do.
Of course I had reservations about topics like purgatory, Mary, the saints, and confession, but ultimately it didn’t matter because I now believe the Catholic Church has the authority to decide what the truth is on those matters. Although the issue of authority first led me to inquire about the Catholic Church, further study of the other teachings I had originally been so confused about, like Baptism and the relationship between works and faith, revealed answers that not only spoke to me spiritually but also set me at ease intellectually.
This quest was uncomfortable for me and also those around me, particularly my husband, who was my fiancé at the time. But I was spurred onward in my quest by one of my heroes, C.S. Lewis: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” I had experienced the despair of possessing little to no truth. I was comforted after three years of searching when I entered into the Catholic Church on November 22, 2015 with my husband, Reece. I was comforted spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. That day, I found the Lord in bread and wine. In this way, even an illiterate person, who may never have seen a Bible, can encounter the Lord. He has healed my soul, and like the Ethiopian, I go along my way rejoicing.