Skip to comments.A Baptist's Search For Historical Proof of St. Patrick Takes Her To Rome
Posted on 07/10/2003 10:32:55 AM PDT by NYer
It was St. Patrick's Day. When most people think of St. Patrick, they think of shamrocks and green beer. When I think about St. Patrick I remember the night two years earlier when out of curiosity I plugged "St. Patrick" into my search engine just to see if there was any historical proof that such a person existed. My daughter and I had been studying our Scottish Irish heritage and earlier that day we had attended the St. Patrick's Day Parade as kind of a fieldtrip. I had felt very uncomfortable with the Bishop, the Knights of Columbus, and the retiring Priest. Why did the Irish have to be so Catholic?
I had been raised in a Baptist family. My father was my Pastor a good deal of my life. We had been raised with a strictly sola scriptura mind set. In more recent years our leanings had grown more Calvinist as my brother James had studied Calvin's writings and shared his findings with us. Both my brother and I had left the Southern Baptist Church we had attended for years with our parents and had gone to more Reformed, more Calvinist churches in the Phoenix area.
I loved our Church. My faith had grown immensely since starting there. I had enjoyed years of deep intimacy with God. I enjoyed the joy of his presence and had learned to respond to his promptings. I loved my Abba and I knew he loved me. I was willing to do whatever he asked of me and to go wherever he sent me.
I was deeply involved in our counseling/discipleship ministry. This ministry had meant much to me in overcoming hurts I had carried for years. I knew the biblical principles we taught worked because they had radically changed my own walk with God. I had the privilege of helping others apply God's word to their lives and watch Him heal and deliver them and conform them to His image.
Being a five point Calvinist in an extremely Calvinist environment meant that I saw myself as being in the center God's revealed truth. I actually thanked him regularly for choosing me to be one of his children and blessing me with the truth that the vast majority of the world was deprived of. I saw those in my church and the few in the world who agreed with us doctrinally as the sole possessors and defenders of the whole counsel of God. All other denominations, especially the Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses were deceived by Satan and bound for Hell. What a pity. I thanked God I was not like other people, deceived and steeped in false religion. My brother dedicated his life to defending our faith against these religions specifically. Our family was supportive of his efforts.
God had given me a verse during my discipleship period that became and continues to be my life verse. John 14:21 says "They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them" I had learned through my discipleship training that true believers in Christ, were people of obedience. In fact, I had come to believe that those who claimed to be believers in Christ, but did not live lives of obedience to Christ were deceiving themselves. I had seen the difference my own obedience had made in my relationship to God. I began to see that in spite of all our talk about Predestination and the irresistible grace of God, there had to be effort on our part. I was not quite sure how to reconcile those two things.
When my search engine came back with a list of web sites, I noticed one that was called "The Confessions of St. Patrick." I was ignorant of that term, so I figured that this site was about misdeeds St. Patrick had committed that the Irish would probably prefer we not know about. So, of course, I clicked that one.
What I discovered in St. Patrick's Confessions was a humble and Godly man who knew God the way I had come to know him. Now for some people this might not have been very eventful, but for me this discovery was seismic. I had believed that Catholic Bishops were Satan's henchmen. They wore those "fish" hats that I had been told were fashioned after a pagan fish god. They took part in idolatrous worship and led people astray by the millions. How could this Catholic Bishop be my brother? How could he love and respond to my God the way I did? How did he get into my elite group? It was like having the walls of my little spiritual house blown out. At that moment, the Holy Spirit birthed in me the need to know; to understand what was believed in Patrick's day.
Giving even a passing thought to the Catholic faith was so frightening to me that I decided I should visit my brother's web site and remind myself of all the reasons that Catholics were wrong. I could not remember his web address, so I again employed my search engine and plugged in his name. One web site caught my eye. It was titled "James White does it again." Knowing that James was always having lively debates with people, I smiled and wondered what kind of battle was raging this time. The site was by a Protestant and it mentioned that there were hundreds of scripture verses that disproved the "once saved, always saved" theory. Having been confident of the doctrine of eternal security I just chuckled and closed the web site. But as I went back to the list to find my brother's site, the Holy Spirit spoke in words that made me catch my breath. " . . . and you know they are there." He was right. I had read hundreds of verses in both testaments that mentioned the need for us to follow and not turn back. Scripture is filled with "if" clauses. But I always had a "weknow" to cover them. A "weknow" is a presupposition that we apply to a scripture that keeps us from seeing what is really written there. For instance, in 1 Peter 3:21 we read that baptism now saves us. But we just apply our "weknow" and tell ourselves that "we know that it does not mean water baptism because "we know" baptism does not save us. I had been a big user of "weknows" and now the Holy Spirit was causing me to see all those scriptures at face value. It would require taking off my Protestant glasses and taking the chance of discovering I had been wrong. It was terrifying.
I had no idea where to begin. I had a friend at work, Magdaline Pettigrew, who was Catholic. We had talked about our faiths some. I was surprised at how similar our beliefs were. Where was all the Mary worship and idolatry? I actually felt there was a good chance that if she came to my church she might feel so much at home she might decide to stay. At the same time I wanted to see a Catholic Mass and satisfy my curiosity. So I came up with a plan. I called her and asked if she would come visit my church if I came and visited hers. She was willing, so we made plans. The next evening I was on my way to a Catholic Mass. What was I doing? Had I lost my mind? The very thought of stepping into a Catholic Church gave me the creeps.
I was comforted by the constant use of scripture. I believed all those stories about Catholics burning Bibles or chaining them to the pulpit so only the Priests would know the truth, but here in this gathering the Holy Scriptures were given the utmost honor and the undivided attention of the congregation.
The Eucharist began. My mind was on trying to keep up with all the congregational activity; distracted from what was happening before me. Suddenly the Presence of God fell upon that place in power like I had never known before. The room was flooded with light and his embrace and all I could do was sit and bask in him.
Too quickly the Mass was over and I told my friend goodbye and walked to the parking lot. I could not feel my feet on the ground. My spirit was still resonating with the bliss of that moment in his Presence. I was praying frantically. O Lord, was that you? But Lord, I didn't think you even attended Catholic Church, let alone fill the place like that? I need answers Father. There are so many issues to tackle. What about Mary, Saints, Purgatory, salvation by works, etc. Where do I begin? His answer came back clear and unmistakable. "Start with what draws you, start with the Eucharist."
I cried out to the Lord and asked for his guidance in discerning the truth. I remembered a game we played in Junior High Youth group called "telephone." The leader would whisper a message to the first person in the room and that person would whisper it to the next and so forth. When the message got to the back of the room the last person would say the message out loud and everyone would laugh. The message had morphed into something completely different and the original meaning was gone. I saw the Christian faith like a game of telephone. The message had started out pure, straight from the lips of Jesus and the Apostles. I could trust that message. Now I was holding to a faith that I believed with all my heart. But was it the faith that the Apostles taught the first generation of Christians? I found myself wanting to talk to the first few people in that line. What was the message back then? Did I have the message straight? Or had I been the victim of someone's editorializing?
For the next several months I found some creative ways of finding objective information about the Catholic faith without buying a Catholic book and without being discovered. I would not have been caught dead buying a Catholic book or even entering a Catholic bookstore. I had a reputation to protect. In my family and in my circle of friends, to have even considered the Catholic faith would have been fatal to my reputation.
I had been receiving Chiropractic care from Dr. Brad Matson for about seven years. I had heard he was a Catholic, and yet I had felt he was a true believer in Christ. That made him an oxymoron in my vocabulary. I had refused to even consider his spiritual life for years. Now I needed to know what he really believed. I knew he would not blow my cover and that he would be open with me. I began asking him questions about his faith. Again, as with my friend Magdaline, I was amazed at the scriptural answers I was getting. Finally I opened up to him and told him that I was actually considering the Catholic faith for myself. I could see the surprise on his face. He suggested a book by Dr. Scott Hahn and his wife Kimberly called "Rome Sweet Home." I was surprised to hear that a Protestant had actually become Catholic. I had never heard of such a thing. I knew many former Catholics who were now part of Protestant churches, but never the reverse. What could have made this couple cross the Tiber?
Brad promised to bring me the book. I reminded him that I was a sola scriptura kind of person and if the Catholic faith was not faithful to scripture, I would not be going there. He just smiled and assured me that the Catholic faith was based in scripture. I asked for a catechism as well. I wanted more than just a testimonial; I wanted to know what the Church actually taught.
Reading Rome Sweet Home was like watching God dismantle my foundation piece by piece. I could not put it down. I soaked in the book the entire weekend. By Monday morning I knew I was in trouble. I made notes in the margins . . . check this out . . . look this up . . . read this in context. I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I had been tutoring at the High School that summer and I had been helping students with American Government. As the Lord would have it, just days before I read Rome Sweet Home I had been explaining to the students that the American Constitution is a marvelous document. Countries all over the world pattern their constitutions after it. But as wonderful as our Constitution is, it cannot interpret or enforce itself. We need government to interpret the Constitution and to enforce that interpretation in the lives of our citizens. As I read Rome Sweet Home, I realized that the same was true of the scriptures. I remembered the web site I found with hundreds of verses that disagreed with my position on "once saved, always saved." I realized that with every church I saw along the streets of Phoenix, there was yet another interpretation of scripture. Who had the authority to determine what scripture really meant? Where was the unity Jesus prayed for?
I had always mistrusted people of other faiths, especially Catholics. So before I would completely trust this Dr. Hahn fellow, I had to check out his quotations of the Early Church fathers. If he was right, I had finally heard from the first few people in line after the Apostles, and they were not Baptists by any means. I got on the internet and searched for the quotations Dr. Hahn had used. Surely they were taken out of context or in someway misquoted. What I discovered was not only were the Fathers not misquoted, but I had found a gold mine of spiritual wisdom from the first few generations of Christians. These people had passed the faith along in oral Tradition as meticulously as they had preserved sacred scripture. They had guarded the truth by the promise of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit and the gates of hell had not prevailed. (ref) This was not a game of telephone, this was God's provision for us today so that we could know the fullness of the truth with certainty, with authority.
Fear struck me as I considered the implications of what I was discovering. I had to be sure before I jeopardized my reputation, my family, the feelings and trust of those I loved. I had to scrutinize my own heart and motivations.
My brother had written a number of books in an attempt to refute the Catholic faith. I saw them as being the most anti-Catholic books I could possibly read. I felt that I owed it to my children and to my husband and to my own soul to be sure before I made any move toward Rome.
I had already read his book on Mary, but I took two others off the shelf at home and began reading. In short order it became clear that he was fighting a Church that did not exist. He did a great job of destroying the teachings he wrongly ascribed to the Catholic Church, but his barrage of anti-Catholic rhetoric left the pure teaching of the Church unscathed. His misinterpretation of the Eucharist as a repeated crucifixion of Christ demonstrated his earthbound view of heavenly reality. You cannot repeat a sacrifice that exists perpetually in the eternal present of heaven. His denial of the existence of temporal punishment, examples of which fill scripture, fueled his argument against Purgatory. After wading through the vast majority of two other books, I reached the realization that I no longer had a choice. I had to embrace the Catholic faith, or run from the truth and go back to where I had been and spare myself the humiliation I knew converting would bring. But if Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist, no price was too high for the gift of receiving him.
It was time to inform my husband of my discoveries. I shot up my first prayer to The Blessed Virgin Mary as I asked Richard for a few moments of his time. I sat him down and in fear and trepidation I began explaining that I had been studying the Catholic faith and had been surprised by truth over and over again. I told him that I wanted to enroll in classes at a local Parish and learn more. What did he think? I waited, barely breathing. I honestly expected an explosion and the fight of our lives. Richard has been raised Baptist, but I did not know how anti-Catholic he was. I was afraid that he would feel he needed to protect our children from their "deceived Mother" and that he might actually leave me and take them with him. I was terrified by the prospect of losing my children and my husband, but I could not turn my back on what I had learned.
Rather than explode, Richard calmly said I should do whatever I felt I needed to. I pushed the issue a bit further and asked what his reaction might be if my studied made it necessary for me to become Catholic. His answer was the same. I could see the unhappiness in his eyes, but he was willing to let me pursue God in whatever way I felt I needed to. I was free to follow Christ home to his Church.
In September, I finally reached the point where I could not hide any longer. Richard was willing to defend my right to follow Christ and the home front was stable, so I felt it was time to come out of the closet so to speak. I wrote a letter to my friends and sent it by email. I knew there was no turning back. It was only a matter of time before my family would find out. I needed to write to them before they found out from someone else. I knew that would not take more than a few weeks. The clock was ticking.
My youngest daughter asked for some Mother-Daughter time on Oct 10th and we agreed to get an ice cream cone down the street and have some girl talk. As we sat down on the bench outside the store I asked her what she wanted to talk about. She said, "I want to talk about the Mass." It had only been about a month before that she had come to me crying and saying that she was trying to learn to be a Christian and now I wanted her to learn to be a Catholic. Now she was sitting with me licking her ice cream and calmly asking about the Mass. I silently gave thanks for God's grace and prayed for the right words. I walked through the Mass for her and explained what happened and what we believe about the Eucharist in general terms that a twelve-year-old with a Baptist background would understand. Her eyes lit up and she took in everything I said. When I finished she told me she wanted to go to Mass with me the next time I went
We had a birthday gift for my mother and that was our next stop. As we drove to their house I did what I had been doing for some time, I put my crucifix under my shirt where it could not be seen. So far it had kept my secret secure. I promised the Lord that this was the last time I would hide him. I would write that letter this week and I would not deny my faith before them ever again. It was a terrifying thought, but I could not live like this any longer.
We sat and visited with my mother and father and an ex-Catholic friend of theirs for some time. My mother had received a necklace for her birthday from someone else and she was showing it to me. I guess it was the subject of necklaces that made her notice the chain that ran around my neck and under my shirt. Before I knew what was happening, her hand was on my chain pulling my crucifix from its hiding place. I knew that if she uncovered a crucifix in front of her ex-Catholic, presently Baptist friend, it would be humiliating for her, so I quickly placed my hand over my crucifix and held it to my chest. Esther shot out of her chair and nearly bolted for the door. Dread of an emotional explosion gripped us both. I asked my mother if we could step outside for a moment.
We walked out the front door with my mother and I could see the anxiety in her eyes. I tried to assure her of my devotion to Christ and my concern for her feelings before she proceeded to reveal my crucifix. When she laid eyes on the crucifix and the St. Barbara medal that hung behind it, she paused for a moment to get a grip on what she was seeing. Then with a gasp she dropped them and shrieked, "Catholic? Oh Pat, why Catholic?" She grabbed handfuls of her hair as though she was going to pull it out. She was grief stricken, angry and, frightened. I laid my hands on her face and tried to assure her of my love for her and for the Lord, but she was not hearing me. She was wailing like the mourners of Jesus time at the bedside of a dead relative. From her perspective she was mourning my death. She threw her hands in my face to hide from my words and ran into the house. Esther and I looked at each other, took each other's hand, and headed for the car. On the way home, Esther told me that now she knew I was right about the Catholic faith, because she had seen me stand up for what I believed. My little one was coming home.
An associate pastor of my former church called and asked to meet with me. I was nervous because although I had answered my questions about the Catholic faith, I was very new at defending what I had come to believe. We sat down in his office and I tried to explain what had happened to me over the past several months. He made two statements while we talked that have stuck with me and were a great encouragement to me. I am sure he did not mean them that way, but they are some of the strongest reasons to become and stay Catholic that I have ever heard. At one moment of frustration with me he said, "Patty, you can read scripture from the vantage point of the Reformation, or you can read scripture from the vantage point of Tradition." I just smiled. He was so right. I could choose to interpret scripture through the grid of Sacred Tradition, or I could choose to interpret scripture through any one of the 33,000 grids of protestant tradition. Later in our discussion he mentioned that he had received an email that contained a Catholic document that apparently came out of the Vatican that made it clear that the Catholic Church had not changed their position on soteriology in two thousand years. This time I am sure the ear to ear grin was annoyingly obvious. What a glorious thought! I was embracing truth that had never changed from the beginning! He realized he was not impacting me in the least, so he grabbed his keys and brought our meeting to an end. I left rejoicing.
I had developed an intense hunger for the Eucharist from the moment I found the quote Dr. Hahn had used from Ignatius of Antioch: "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes." I had counted the days till Easter from 233 on. It was a painful wait. In our Parish the candidates can walk in the communion line and receive a blessing. It was both a blessing and a heartbreak to walk forward each week and be so close to the Precious Body and Blood of my Lord and not be able to receive him.
At long last Easter Vigil arrived. Our daughter Esther and I were received into the Church at Easter Vigil. Our sacramental life began with the joy of being Confirmed in our Patron Saint's name. Then we were at last fed with the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ who loved us too much to leave us where we had been. He loved us all the way home.
Now here we stood, at Richard and Kimberly's third scrutiny. The aisles were filled with those coming into the Church this year along with their families and sponsors. Our Parish community was reaching out with open arms and welcoming our new siblings home. There, before my eyes, my husband and daughter received their blessings and went to dismissal in preparation of receiving the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist in a matter of days. Our middle daughter, Sarah received her Rite of Acceptance a couple of weeks earlier. By this time next year we hope to be a united Catholic family. What seemed like the possible end of our family has become a new beginning. The joy of sharing the Catholic faith with each other has deepened our relationships.
My extended family still grieves over our conversion. It is impossible to explain to them what only the Holy Spirit can reveal. We pray that they will someday come to understand and embrace the obvious truth of history and scripture. We love them and long for them to know the joy and peace we know in the bosom of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
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What an inspirational story! A long but worthwhile read.
Patty Bonds writes for the EnvoyMagazine blog site.
What an inspirational story! A long but worthwhile read.
Patty Bonds writes for the EnvoyMagazine blog site.
I was raised Catholic, fell away from the faith, then came back as an Evangelical... but getting involved in my local Catholic Church... I remember reading Lewis- Mere Christianity while my friend was reading Surprise by Truth!
I asked him what his book was about, and he said people converting to the Catholic Church... I was like who in their right mind would do that... He suggested Rome Sweet Home... and the rest is pretty much History!
(1) She was apparently drawn to investigate Catholicism by reading the Confession of St. Patrick and agreeing with the doctrine he expressed therein.
It seems as if intellectual curiosity preceded emotion in this case.If her conversion was a purely emotional one based on "happy warm fuzzies", then it wouldn't really have been sustainable in the face of her mother's melodrama.
(3) She seems to have been raised in a home (and I in fact know she was raised in a home) where fairly sophisticated doctrinal discourse was a part of her upbringing.
She had a well-articulated doctrinal background and she wouldn't be able to consider Catholicism without having strong doctrinal conviction.
Welcome back. I'm sorry you ever had to leave.
I dunno... thinking of St. Paul here. Had the experience and then learned the doctrine.
After the shock of this sudden awakening wore off, a second one came along a few days later, with me realizing that with True Faith, I now had the power to conquer my major sins. So I stopped, cold turkey, the profanity, lies, and lust, I had been a slave to before.
"Who by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, recovered strength from weakness, became valiant in battle, put to flight the armies of foreigners." (Hewbrews 11.33-34)
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