My husband, James, was born and raised Catholic, but I had the good fortune of getting to evangelize him right out of the Catholic Church and turn him into a good Methodist, where we eventually served together as Methodist youth ministers. I believed that his Catholic upbringing lacked correct doctrinal teachings and biblical knowledge, centering instead on faithful Mass attendance and ceremonial practices, without understanding the realities behind them. The incorrect doctrinal teaching he received made my job of separating him from the Catholic Church all the easier. I saved him, so I thought, from a man-made tradition that taught a faithless works theology, fraught with paganism and superstition. He joined me in my Protestant enthusiasm, criticizing the Catholic Church.
You can imagine how dismayed we were when very dear friends of ours announced to us that they were walking away from Methodist ministry to join the Catholic Church! We shed tears for their souls. We immediately planned an overnight trip to visit them and save them from this treacherous mistake. From the outside, it would appear that this trip began my journey to the Catholic Church, but God had laid the foundations for this journey years earlier.
In early childhood, I had a natural attraction to the cross. It was through the cross that I first discovered who Jesus was. Close to 1980, at about age five, I wept sobbing tears to my closest non-family mentor, Mildred Monk, about what Jesus did on the cross, and she comforted me and guided me beautifully. Because of my simple love for Jesus’ gift on the cross, I wanted “one of those cross necklaces with Jesus on it.” At about age eight, my grandmother took me shopping for a nice cross necklace, but she would not buy me one with Jesus on it, because “those are for the Catholics.” She continued, “Catholics like to remember Him dead; we like to remember Him alive.” This was the first “Catholic teaching” I received. To be sure to present the truth of my grandmother, she was the most wonderful and the biggest influence in my Christian faith. I owe my formation to her, Mrs. Monk, and many others in Centenary United Methodist Church. It just so happened my grandmother did not like the Catholic Church. She never spoke of the Catholic Church again, though, until I decided to become a Catholic at age 30.
My teen years and early twenties were packed with apologetics and biblical studies. I hungered so deeply for knowledge that it felt like I could never be satisfied. It was an aggressive hunger that stayed with me throughout that period. I fell into sin for a brief period, but my journey out of that caused me to grow deeper in my relationship to God and my desire to know absolute truth. My primary driving force for knowledge stemmed from the overwhelming number of different Christian denominations, all claiming that they follow the same Holy Spirit in how they interpret the same Bible. As a child, I had been ridiculed by other Protestant denominations for my Methodist beliefs. In college, I witnessed unhealthy debates between different Christian faith groups, and I actually participated in them. One thing I noticed was that every Christian denomination suddenly found unity in their aversion towards Catholicism. I became interested in the reasons for this, which led me into defending all Protestantism against the Catholic Church. I had turned to prominent Protestant theologians for knowledge of Catholic teachings, and I discovered that those teachings were in such opposition to what most Protestants do agree on that it was obvious to me Catholic teaching was grotesque heresy. I was driven to seek out anything that taught against Catholicism and build my arsenal of anti-Catholic arguments in this war for truth. Basically, I wanted to battle against false teachings so that people could know the real Jesus.
It never occurred to me that my sources were not credible. After all, the men I gained my information from came from several different Protestant denominations, received Master of Art degrees in things like Church History and Philosophy of Christian Thought, Doctorates in Ministry and Divinity, etc. These were supposed to be people I could trust to know everything needed to form an educated understanding of truth. I trusted them and devoured anything I could that they taught concerning Protestantism and Catholicism. I had an argument for every argument, a counter to every counter argument.
At the same time, though, there was an undercurrent of discomfort in the fact that these Protestant theologians also did not agree with each other. I needed to know which church was correct. How was I to protect myself from doctrinal error? I began deeply studying the Bible in order to find out what God wants Christians to believe in matters such as Baptism, communion, moral decisions, free will and predestination, etc. I wanted to do what was right in God’s eyes, but working to save people from the Catholic Faith was my main focus by the time I met my husband in 1997.
He was easy to “save” from Catholicism. But looking back, I saved James from the Catholic Church by teaching him Catholic theology on salvation. I did not realize I was doing that, because neither of us actually knew what Catholicism taught on the subject. Everything I told him was based solely on Scripture, and it made sense to his discerning heart. It fit in with my Methodist upbringing because John Wesley’s teachings on salvation were very similar to Catholic teachings — so much so, he was often accused of being a Catholic sympathizer.
James and I were married in 1999, and he made a wonderful Methodist. I loved having a husband serving in ministry alongside me. I truly cherish my upbringing and service in the United Methodist Church. Neither of us was ordained, but his education in finance and my background in education and family studies proved helpful within the structure of the United Methodist Church. We eventually served together as youth ministers, which leads me back to the part of this testimony concerning our closest Methodist friends.
Very early in 2005, they called us to say that they had decided to leave a thriving ordained Methodist ministry to become Catholic. They lived two hours from us, so we packed up our baby and toddler and headed to their house that next weekend.
Our friends welcomed us with open arms and minds. The husband said it was exactly what he needed — a chance to put his new Catholic faith to the test in a lively debate with solidly grounded Protestant friends. What if he was wrong for throwing his Methodist ministry career away to join the Catholic Church, with no possible career opportunities in sight, all while trying to provide for his six kids (at the time) and a wife? This would be his chance to find out. He respected our intellect, knowing it was going to be a long night. And it was.
At the time, I was an enthusiastic debater. James looked forward to joining forces and winning this battle for the sake of our friends. It did not take long for the debate to begin. Our first topic? Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). I had won this battle before against Catholic acquaintances. I started out fine, but not long into it, I had the theological rug jerked out from underneath me. How could I have been so blind! I was in shock. I hid everything I was feeling, and for the remainder of the night, I largely stayed silent.
Leading up to this point, I had discovered quite by accident that the Bible refers to an incident not found in the Bible, and in order to understand what was going on, a person must look outside the Bible. The incident is found in Jude, verse 9, and reads, “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’” I was studying ways of rebuking the devil, and wanting to know more, I turned to a passage in Deuteronomy where Moses was buried, expecting to read a little about this exchange between St. Michael and the devil, but it was not there. I was purposefully avoiding Bible commentaries, so I had reached an impasse to further understanding based on Scripture alone. If I wanted to know what this inspired biblical author was talking about, I would need to read an ancient book, The Assumption of Moses, that contains the story which the biblical author refers to. Basically, to understand the Bible I was being forced outside the Bible. This particular verse may not be an issue for most people, but God laid it heavily on my mind. Why would the Bible force me outside the Bible? We should not need to look elsewhere for understanding. I had been contemplating this issue for months prior to debating Catholicism with our friends, so when our friend said, “How can we say ‘Bible alone’? The printing press wasn’t even invented for the first 1,500 years of Christianity.” Wow! For the first time I realized that for 1,500 years Christians had to look outside the Bible for understanding because they did not have easy access to the Bible! I no longer wanted to talk; God spiritually woke me up at that moment. “Listen! Listen!” And I did. James was confused by my silence. He kept up the debate independent of me all through the night, but inside he felt like his battle buddy had deserted him. He wondered why I had not at least backed him up on what he was saying. He never stopped to ask me; he just went on from topic to topic, losing the debate one step at a time. As for me, my heart was in a mess. I stayed calm and played with the baby, and I just repeated over and over in my head what was said that took me off my feet.
Our Protestant arguments that had served us so well over the years crumbled with each topic, and our friend had loads of Bible verses to back up everything he was saying. With the correct understanding of subjects like purgatory and apostolic succession, combined with relevant Scripture verses, I saw no way to win the battle and save my friends. My anxiety was through the roof. For the first time, I was hearing correctly articulated Catholic teaching from knowledgeable people as opposed to misconceptions and misrepresentations of Catholic teaching like I’d received over the years.
Since I had spent years loading my mind with an anti-Catholic education that now seemed incorrect, I felt like I was somehow losing my identity. I should not have learned about the Catholic Faith from Protestants. I should not have learned about the Catholic Faith from a Catholic who did not know his or her faith. But these were my only sources. I never once looked for truth in the right place. For the sake of intellectual integrity, I should have studied the Catholic Faith from Catholic sources, because then I would have known what was actually taught in the Catholic Church; then, if I disagreed, I would have disagreed with factual teachings and not false information, which is what many Protestant arguments against Catholicism are largely based on. This was by far the most heartbreaking thing for me. I actually hurt daily over this, but the pain I was feeling the night of this great debate was far worse. It was clear my arguments were built on sand.I should not have learned about the Catholic Faith from Protestants. I should not have learned about the Catholic Faith from a Catholic who did not know his or her faith. But these were my only sources. Click To Tweet
The ride home that next evening was a long one. The baby did not want to be in her car seat and cried the whole two hours without stopping, which did not allow James and me any time to discuss what happened back at our friends’ house. Once home, there was no time for discussion before bed. I was alone in my thoughts as I tried to fall asleep. I felt overwhelmed by the realization that Jesus did not give us a book as His sole authority over doctrinal correctness. He never even alludes to this in any of the records of His spoken words. When I was a kid, I looked at all the different Christian denominations with disparagement, because I learned early on that every denomination disagrees with every other denomination, yet they all used the same Bible in their intellectual battles against each other. By age 11 or 12, I was confident that all these denominations were the devil’s work — divide and conquer.
By the time I was a young adult, I did not feel that any denomination understood truth one hundred percent, but I thought one hundred percent of all doctrinal truth was contained in the Bible. I rested my belief solely on Scripture alone, and I believed it was the one tool given to all Christianity throughout history for that purpose. Through the Bible, we could find Christian unity if we could just figure out the right way to interpret it. The Bible was my only authority, my security from following doctrinal error. I had devoted my life to finding truth through the Bible alone. Now I had come to realize that this was never meant to be, and that Jesus would not have let 1,500 years of history go by with His followers lacking easy access to the Bible if it were the only means of authority on truth.
Besides, illiteracy was widespread throughout history. How were Christians preserved from error? More importantly, how was I myself supposed to be preserved from error? The thousands of different Christian denominations, all claiming they follow the same Bible, was the added testimony that there was another way that Jesus intended for us to follow to know the truth. But what was it?
I cried into my pillow thinking over these things. I finally fell asleep, and I remember the moment I woke up the next morning. I sat up in bed; it was sunny outside. Even though I was not yet in agreement with Catholicism, I somehow instantly knew that God’s authority related somehow to the Pope. I said out loud to myself, “I love my Pope.” It was an utterance that came from the Holy Spirit and gave me peace, but I still mistrusted Catholicism at that point.
The next day, James and I unloaded to one another all that we were experiencing. He now understood my silence during the debating, and I learned that he was intrigued with our friends’ explanations. He had come home with three books, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David B. Currie, Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn, and Journeys Home by Marcus Grodi. He was ready to start reading; I was not.
I needed something outside all the standard pathways. I needed numbers. James was at the computer, so I asked him to look up populations of religious groups. Out of these numbers, one realization in particular pressed in hard on me. At the time, if you added up all the different Protestant denominations, including all the ones that some would not consider “Christian,” the Catholic Church was more than double in size compared to all those denominations combined. Combined! I was left to ponder that fact, while I went back to my daily activities of motherhood and housework. I had no interest in reading those “brainwashing” books that our friends had given us.
James, on the other hand, started right away. Within hours, he came out of the bedroom with tears in his eyes, telling me I had to read this chapter. Up until this time, James never knew my most recent prayers at the communion rail in our Methodist Church. Along my journey through my anti-Catholic education, I had learned that Catholics believed the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood, and that Catholics believe they are truly eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood. To me, this was heresy, idolatry, and gross. I had understood this belief to be invented by Catholics centuries ago, during a time when sensationalism and superstition dominated the religious world. But for some reason, out of all the Catholic teachings I thought I understood, this one became something I craved. Over the course of about three years, this hunger was growing, until I found myself begging God at every communion rail to change the bread and juice I was about to receive into His real Flesh and Blood. I would silently call out to God, “Please, Lord! Please, do this for me! I know it is not right, or natural, but I want this from You!”
It got to a point where I was shedding tears on the communion rail every Communion Sunday, begging God for this special gift. I do believe this hunger was a gift from Him. He pursued me, and I longed to be united to Jesus in this way. James had no hint about any of this. I find it to be divine intervention that the chapter that James wanted to share with me was chapter two from David Currie’s book, “Communion and the Real Presence.”
Currie starts off pointing out the exactness of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26). I take a literal approach to scriptural interpretation, unless it is obvious that something is meant allegorically. I had never considered Jesus’ words at the Last Supper to be literal, yet there is no reason in Scripture to see His words as anything other than literal truth. From there, Currie leads the reader through John 6. He provides the full text of Jesus’ sermon, removing the other dialogue, and allows Christ’s own words to speak for themselves (Currie, pp 36-37). I had never paid that much attention to this sermon, even though it is one of the longest recorded of Jesus. Everything in John 6, which took place during Passover, likely one year prior to the Crucifixion, supports a literal interpretation of Jesus’ words, “This is my body …. This is my blood.”
The most telling part of John 6 is verse 66, which is the first time recorded in Scripture that disciples walk away from following Jesus because this teaching is too hard. What struck me is that He allowed them to leave. He did not try to add further explanation about an analogy He was trying to make, but rather, He kept emphasizing that we will need to eat (“chew” in the original Greek) His flesh if we were to have eternal life (ibid, pg 38). He repeats this several times and says His Flesh is food indeed and His Blood is drink indeed (see Jn 6:55).
Everything Currie wrote in this chapter played a part in my understanding, but I became convinced when he pointed out that “In the early Church, everyone who wrote anything about the Eucharist believed in the Real Presence of Christ” (ibid, p 41). Currie gave examples, one of which was from Ignatius of Antioch (c. ad 107), which proves this doctrine was not created by men in the Dark Ages of history; this doctrine was believed all along. At this point, I became aware that what I had been craving in Holy Communion was something I could have. I was not weird for craving it; I was being called to it. John 6:44a says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Believing in the miracle of Holy Communion in the Catholic Church, that the bread and wine become Christ’s actual Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity is challenging to modern reason, but biblically, historically, and personally I could no longer deny this miracle. This is the point at which I joined my husband in a desire to learn more. It was almost the beginning of Lent 2005, and we slept an average of five hours a night for the next couple of months, devoting ourselves to reading and researching.
With each quest for knowledge about different aspects of the Church, I discovered little by little that what I thought the Catholic Church taught was incorrect, and what the Catholic Church actually taught was what I had believed from my years of studying the Bible in search of truth. The doctrines about papal authority and the Magisterium were new concepts for me, but I knew the Scripture that supported papal authority and the Magisterium, and for me, it came alive in a way it never had before. Phrases like “laying on of hands” had a significant meaning I had previously overlooked (see 2 Tim 1:6; Acts 6:6). Matthew 16:13- 20 has no better explanation than what is found in Catholicism. Protestant teachings and commentary have to go to great lengths to explain against the Catholic claim to Peter’s authority granted to Him by Christ. If a person reads it plainly without outside influence, it is clear that Peter is granted special authority. The simple facts of how many times Peter is written about, compared to all the other Apostles, and that he is always listed first (and understanding that “first” was not ordinal, but a position of rank) were exciting discoveries. Some aspects of God’s justice eluded me until I heard the truth about purgatory.
One by one, James and I picked apart each doctrine. One answered question led to the next, and eventually I had enough answers. I could find no reason to continue to remain in protest of the Catholic Faith. My personal war against the Catholic Church was over, and I was anxious to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
It was the beginning of Holy Week when James and I made our realization. He was sitting on the floor in front of me. He kept saying, “I need to go back. I could just go to confession and go back to the Church. It’s that easy for me.” He was in tears, and I believe he was close to doing just that, but he decided to wait for me. I did not ask him. I could never have asked him to wait, but he wanted to go through RCIA with me. We interviewed a local priest for two hours during Holy Week in order to hear consistency between what is written and what is spoken by an actual ordained minister. From that interview, I was invited to join a fast-paced RCIA class that the bishop had approved for a couple of long-time Catholic Church attenders. It began not long after Easter, and I was received into the Catholic Church that summer, June 25, 2005.
James and I both received the Eucharist together, unexpectedly on our knees, because the priest walked to us first, before anyone lined up, and offered us the Body and Blood of Jesus. About a year prior to this moment, God spoke to me while in the middle of worship in the Methodist church. As the preacher was reading the Beatitudes, and read “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Lk 6:21 NIV), I thought, “I hunger and thirst,” remembering the unsatisfied hunger I mentioned earlier. God said to me, “You are about to be filled!” I could feel His excitement! Now, my mysterious hunger was satisfied in that moment of receiving Christ in the Eucharist. I was filled! I kept trying to satisfy it through filling my mind with more information, but it was satisfied directly into my body and soul and continues to be.
I was excited to be Catholic, and James was excited to be back home, but we had no one to celebrate with. No close friends were happy for us. My family was heartbroken. But I had peace that surpassed all understanding, and it was a beautiful day.
It has been 14 years since I was received into the Catholic Church, and I have experienced many different emotions along the way. I have hurt deeply because of the separation I used to feel from my extended family. Through the years, they have become used to my being Catholic, so it doesn’t pain me as badly now. It still hurts, though, since I long daily for Christian unity. I have experienced anger towards Protestant Christian experts, and I have allowed God to help me overcome this. I have been confused over my role as a reconciler to the Catholic Faith — not knowing what to share, how to share, or even if I should. Mostly, though, I have experienced overwhelming peace. I no longer worry about being in error. I can embrace every aspect of Jesus and my faith with complete trust, and because of that, I enjoy my relationship with Jesus far more than ever before.
James and I are now homeschooling parents of five wonderfully Catholic kids. We teach junior high in our Parish School of Religion, and my family serves in various ways during the Mass. Now, after having 14 years to contemplate my Catholic Faith, God is calling me to step out a bit further, although I do not yet know what that will look like.