I grew up in a nominally Catholic home; one in which I was forced to go to church about 49 or 50 Sundays of every year. (The other two or three Sundays, either I or one of my siblings managed to convince my parents we were so exhausted that we just couldn’t possibly be roused that morning. Eventually, mom and dad caved and gave up trying.) The practice of my faith consisted only of going to church weekly (weakly?) and attending Catholic grade and high school. That was about it.
The parish I grew up in was rather nominally Catholic at the time as well, as were my grade and high schools; which is to say they were all questionable in terms of their orthodoxy, lacklustre in terms of vibrancy. To give you some idea, one of a handful of religion classes I was required to take in high school was called, “Images of God in Art”. Sounds good. Except that the class was all about Roman and Greek mythology. So, it was really, “Images of Pagan Gods in Art.”
Nothing wrong with learning about pagan mythology. In fact, reading pagan creation stories helps cast the Judeo-Christian creation story in a new and actually very beautiful, rather than “hum-drum” light. But to imply that pagan gods and the Judeo-Christian God are “interchangeable” is obviously a conspicuous error.
God Woke Me Up
At the age of 12, just prior to high school, God came and “woke me up.” While hanging out in my room one day, I suddenly had a classically termed “spiritual experience.” (Lest anyone get any funny ideas, I’m not special. God wants to do this with everyone who spiritually sleeps.) It was a very quiet, very “non-descript” experience – I didn’t hear any angels singing, didn’t see a bright light, or anything of that sort; there were no tangible signs left behind afterward – but a powerful one, just the same. Suddenly, over the course of about half a minute to a minute, as I was just “hanging out”, I became keenly and acutely aware of the fact that God was actually very real. Suddenly…gently, but powerfully…I just knew.
It wasn’t a thought. I hadn’t been ruminating on theological issues prior to this event. It wasn’t a “feeling” in the sense of a sudden temporal “inspiration”, or surge of happiness that I deduced must have come from God or anything of the sort. It was a very simple and yet difficult-to-articulate experience of a dimension of human life that I had never before been conscious of. I knew all the “stories” about Jesus and the Saints and all that and “believed” them. But I put the word in quotes because, until that experience, I only believed in my head, not in my heart. After the experience, I no longer merely “believed” but knew I had a soul because I felt it and felt God in it, and all around it.
When the experience was over, that was it for a while. There were no immediate observable results. I went on to continue to live a normal twelve-year-old boy’s life…sort of.
All was as it was before over the course of the next six years – except that all the books that I owned slowly but surely started changing from secular to Christian. Same story with the pictures on my wall. And the music I was listening to. At the time, I was not aware of any solid Catholic resources, so the change had a strong Protestant bent for a while – Protestant novels and books on theology, Protestant pictures on my wall, Protestant radio, Protestant TV.
My First Truly Catholic Resource
Then, at the age of 18, I finally came across my first orthodox Catholic resource – a bookstore a few miles from home – and began to frequent it. The owner, who worked in the store, got to know me and eventually invited me to a weekly rosary-based prayer meeting she attended. I took her up on the offer and that’s when everything changed.
Up until I began a solid life of prayer and devotion to the Sacraments, I had always had a generalized sense that it was “cool” to be Catholic because our Church was universal and had the pope as its head, etc. But my grasp of the faith until then was from a very worldly vantage point, not a spiritual one. So, I didn’t really get it. While liking the fact that I was Catholic, which meant I had the pope, at the same time I lamented the fact that he and the bishops of the Church were more or less old men from other countries who didn’t really get what life was actually supposed to be like for American Catholics. Yeah, they had “their own personal input”, but that’s all I considered things like encyclicals and so forth.
Once I began a serious prayer and sacramental life, or in other words, invited the Holy Spirit to come and take over, my perspective changed drastically. I finally saw the light. I got it. Led by the Spirit, I began to appreciate very deeply how these “old men in Rome” were not worldly agents of their own, but rather very intentional channels of the Holy Spirit.
No Sooner Grasped Than Challenged
But no sooner did I finally truly understand what it was I believed and appreciate it than I began having it challenged.
A friend of mine from work introduced me to one of the pastors at his non-denominational church. The pastor found out I was Catholic and quickly launched into a series of, “Did you know that the Bible teaches X but Catholicism teaches Y” questions. I was nineteen at the time and only newly awakened to the truth, so I wasn’t sure about his claims. “Was it so?” I wondered. At the time, I only had a general appreciation of the fact that the Bible was “God’s book”, so it was important that we listened to it. I didn’t understand it very much beyond that, but I was resolved to find out if it was true or not. Did the Bible really teach things that were contrary to the Catholic faith? If so, I was going to have to rethink what I was doing.
I began reading the Bible as much on its own terms as possible. I peaked at a commentary here and there. But as much as I could, I just wanted to know what the Bible itself said about “x, y, and z.” So, I read it, largely independent of anyone’s input. And the more I read, the more convinced I became of the truth of my Catholic faith.
In this way, therefore, through the reading and study of the sacred books ‘the word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified’ (2 Thess. 3:1) and the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, may more and more fill the hearts of men. Just as the life of the Church is strengthened through more frequent celebration of the Eucharistic mystery, similar we may hope for a new stimulus for the life of the Spirit from a growing reverence for the word of God, which ‘lasts forever’ (Is. 40:8; see 1 Peter 1:23-25).(Vatican II’s Dei Verbum 6, 26)
I think the biblical doctrine that stood out to me more than any of the others was the fact that God always rewards good and punishes evil. Seems obvious to most Catholics. But certain strains of Protestant Christianity believe that one can be a massive sinner on par with the devil himself. But as long as they’ve been “saved”, God overlooks all that and they go to Heaven when they die – whether they’ve repented of those sins or not. On what grounds? The grounds that Jesus already “paid the price” for our sins. I have yet to receive a cogent explanation for why, if that’s how it works, why everyone isn’t saved. But I digress…
Over and over and over and over again, to the point where there is no point in even citing some examples because it’s just so darned obvious, the Bible is manifestly clear about God being pleased with and rewarding good and punishing (unrepented) evil. But as it turns out, that’s not all the Bible is clear about.
The Bible “vs.” Catholic Doctrine?
1 Peter 3:21 says “Baptism saves you now.” 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our [post-baptismal] sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” 1 John 5:16-17 specify degrees of sin. “All wrongdoing is sin,” says verse 17, “but there is sin that is not deadly.” John 20:21-23 clearly articulates the power Christ gave to the apostles and their successors to remit other people’s sins. “My flesh is actual food and my blood is actual drink,” says John 6:55. Jesus said of the apostles that the authority of their office was his own in Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:18 and Matthew 23:1-3. Regarding the papacy specifically, Jesus says in Matthew 16, “Simon (meaning “he has heard”), you are now Peter (meaning, “rock”) and on this rock, I will build my Church.”
The Church is not merely a spiritual entity but is necessarily a physically visible/identifiable one as well, as indicated by verses such as Matthew 18:15-17. It’s described by scripture, in multiple locations, as “the kingdom of God.” What kingdom has ever existed that wasn’t hierarchical?
And, naturally, it’s the wife of the King in any kingdom who is typically the Queen. (And so Mary is the spouse of the Holy Spirit and, thus, Queen of Heaven. But not on this account alone.) Since some of the Jewish kings had multiple wives (some of them multiple hundreds of wives), they also had an obvious logistical problem: which of the king’s many wives would fill the role? The answer was actually simple. It wouldn’t be the king’s wife, it would be his mother. (cf. 1 Kings 2:19) No king could ever have more than one of those.
The Mother of the Judeo-Christian “King of kings” is described by Scripture as having been fully transformed by grace in the Greek rendering of Luke 1:28. In the gospel of John, she is never called “Mary.” She is, however, called “woman” by the King, once at the beginning of the gospel (John 2:4) and again at its end (John 19:26-27). “Woman” was a common way for men to address women in general in those days, but not their own mothers, strongly suggesting allusions to both Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12.
The Bible is a Catholic Book
The Bible was written by Catholics, compiled by Catholics at the councils of Hippo and Carthage, infallibly endorsed by Catholics (Council of Trent), and continues to be lovingly promulgated by the Catholic Church to this day. And for good reason.
In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, ‘but as what it really is, the word of God’. ‘In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them’. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 104)
My dear Protestant brothers and sisters who are zealous for Scripture, I genuinely and deeply appreciate your witness. I really, truly do. Your love for God’s word has been contagious over the past few decades and I can’t thank you enough for it. Really.
But to you and to my dear older and traditionalist Catholic brothers and sisters, the Bible is not a “Protestant” book any more than the catechism is. All Scripture does is repeatedly reinforce Catholic doctrine. In fact, in all, the index of scripture references in the 900 page catechism spans a full thirty of its pages.
It’s precisely the Bible that made me (more) Catholic.