As an infant, I was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church because my Mom and her mother insisted on this. Mom was a devout Roman Catholic. Her mother – she called herself Mimi – was so fanatically legalistic that no one wanted to be near her, including Mom.
I remember coming home for Christmas my first year in university, and Mom wanting to host Christmas for everyone as a “homecoming” for me, the first Gray to go to university. So, Mom asked Mimi to visit and help with preparations.
When I entered our home, I found Mom crying uncontrollably – emotionally and physically distraught – barely able to mumble, “I just can’t please her. Nothing I do is right. I can’t please her. Jesus, please help me.” I had never seen Mom so upset, but I immediately knew why – and what to do about it.
I took Mimi into a bedroom, closed the door, looked her in the eye, and said what everyone had wanted to say, “When you are in our home, I want you to treat my mother properly. If you can’t, I want you to leave right now.”
As she usually did to make us feel guilty and get her way, Mimi replied, “You don’t love Mimi.”
I was ready for this typical guilt-trip, and said, “That’s not the point. When you are in our home, I want you to treat my mother properly. If you won’t do this, I want you to leave right now.”
Mimi repeated her guilt-trip mantra one more time, and I repeated my assertion one more time. Then, she packed her bags and left.
Mom was happy once again and Dad was thankful, because he wanted to please Mimi to please Mom, but never could satisfy Mimi’s expectations. Everyone, except Mimi, enjoyed a memorable Christmas together. I share this story because it provides the context for my being reared as a Roman Catholic. I had no say-so in my infant baptism. Nor did my Dad, who had converted from being a strong Congregational Christian to become Roman Catholic, as best he could, to please Mom and Mimi.
After we three children grew up and left home, Mom and Dad amicably divorced because of irreconcilable differences mostly caused by their very different religious backgrounds. I’ve often wondered if God used this so each would separately become Born Again. But that’s a story I’ll share later.
Four things should be emphasized at this point in His Story about me: First, as an infant I did not choose to become a Roman Catholic. I had no intellectual faith to justify making this decision, myself. So, I grew up accepting the Teachings and Rules of the “one true Church” with blind faith.
Second, as a devout Catholic I wanted to celebrate the Mass the priest celebrated in Latin each Sunday – so I studied Latin (the only high school course I earned less than A). But, I never questioned what I was taught. Being a good student, I caught what was taught – but I never caught a personal relationship with Jesus, because this was never taught.
Third, as a “good son” who wanted to please my parents, I tried to Be a “good” Catholic (no impure thoughts) and to Behave like a “good” Catholic (no bad behaviors) in order to Become a “good” Catholic. But, practicing such religious legalism prevented me from having a personal relationship with Jesus and wanting to please Him in gratitude for who He is and what He did – for me, just as I am.
No one explained that Jesus would have died just for me, even if I’d been the only one he died to redeem and reconcile to His Father. Much later, I understood that Jesus died for me – just as I am – to save me for eternal salvation with Him and to give me present salvation here.
Fourth, if anyone back then had asked me, “Are you a Christian?” I would have proudly replied, “I’m a Roman Catholic.” If pressed to explain why, I’d recite the Nicene Creed – the Catholic version of The Apostles Creed – that I believed to be true:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
As you continue reading, you’ll understand the many years of Learning–Unlearning–Relearning for me to understand what occurred back then, and afterward, right up to the present. So that I can now affirm what the apostle Peter replied when Jesus asked if any of the Twelve Apostles were going to leave Him:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are theHoly One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
As a devout Roman Catholic, I did not understand that Christianity is Christ (I didn’t have saving faith in Christ as Lord and Savior). I knew nothing about developing a ˆ with Jesus in any way, but instead, engaged in ˆ (Religious Legalism) based on Church Teachings and Rules.
Why is Being and Behaving “Good” Never “Good Enough”?
As a young devout Roman Catholic, I believed that I had to Be “good enough” (devout) and Behave “good enough” (keep the Rules of the Church) to Become a “good” Roman Catholic. So, I gladly went to Confession each Saturday and said 5 to 9 Hail Marys and 2 to 4 Our Fathers to do penance. I recited more Hail Marys because there are 50 of them and only 6 Our Fathers on most rosaries, like the kind I used while praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary each night.
I don’t recall any priest ever asking me to truly repent of my sins so my life had a different bent (thinking and acting more Christ- like). No one explained that Jesus died and rose again to set this captive free from those continuing thoughts and behaviors that enslaved me – which necessitated my going to Confession each week for absolution, by doing penance each week.
I didn’t know there is a real difference between doing penance and true repentance (turning away from ungodliness). But, I did know this: I often felt guilty for my sins – even after receiving absolution from a priest and doing penance. It didn’t matter whether they were venial (lesser) sins, or mortal sins against God that would cause me to go straight to hell while skipping purgatory. I never felt totally forgiven by confessing sins to a priest and doing penance by reciting Hail Marys and Our Fathers the priest prescribed. But, I did feel self-righteous.
Jesus did not tell us to do penance, but to “Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15 NLT) Penance is punishment for sinning, such as saying a prescribed number of Hail Marys and Our Fathers after going to Confession – like I did as a young devout Roman Catholic. Repentance, not doing penance, results in salvation, which is a gift from God.
As I went forward to take Communion each Sunday morning, I often felt superior (self-righteous) to those sitting in the pews I walked pass, wondering what terrible, non-confessed sins they must have committed, so that they could not take communion. I still remember how my feelings went down or up like a see-saw, feeling guilty when I failed to keep the Rules of the Church or feeling self-righteous when my efforts were successful. Without knowing it, I was being held captive to doing religious practices because I did not understand that Jesus came to set the captives free from such Religious Legalism and free from ungodly thoughts and behaviors that enslaved these captives.
No one encouraged me to have a personal relationship with Jesus as the only way to have access to God the Father and become empowered by the Holy Spirit. Instead, I gave whole-hearted mental affirmation to the Rules and Teachings of the Church.
I religiously went to Confession every Saturday, took Holy Communion every Sunday, genuflected each time I entered the pew, made the Sign of the Cross each time I entered or left the church, never ate meat on Friday (only fish), prayed on my knees each night to the Virgin Mary for her intercession, lighted lots of candles, and prayed to lots of saints. You name it; I did it devoutly and often in order to Be and Behave “good enough” to Become a “good” Catholic.
Besides memorizing The Nicene Creed, I also memorized portions of The Missal in Latin so I could mentally celebrate this as the priest Celebrated the Mass. I could also recite The Lord’s Prayer in Latin. I felt indescribably pleased about fully participating in the same “Order of the Mass” every Sunday morning from 9 to 9:50, when the priest promptly dismissed us so the next group of parishioners could attend Mass.
Because reading the Bible was not emphasized, I never read the Word of God first-hand, to understand and apply this to my life. I didn’t know The Holy Bible had been Holy Spirit inspired and written down by 40 authors over a 1,500 year period, and then preserved as the most accurately transcribed and unchanged book from all of antiquity (the Old Testament is 2,500 years old; the New Testament is 2,000 years old). The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 by young Muslim boys at Qumran, confirmed this.
The Catholic Churches our family attended didn’t have Hymnals, so I never sang hymns. I still regret this because I can sing more Rock-and-Rock lyrics from memory than hymns. As I look back, I realize that I devoutly held many religious beliefs about God – but did not have faith in God like I have now. I believed the Doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Especially these two: It is the one true church. If I died without confessing a venial sin, I’d go to purgatory instead of heaven.
Don’t laugh, but I believed so strongly in purgatory that on February 3, 1959 – the day that my boyhood hero, Buddy Holly, died in a plane crash – I fell to my knees and prayed that God would take him from purgatory into heaven. I wanted Buddy Holly to be in heaven when I got there – so I could meet him and thank him for helping me get through adolescence. Buddy was one of the pioneers of Rock & Roll Music and very popular. His songs were my favorites to listen to and sing (I still do this). But why pray for Buddy Holly?
I overcame severe self-consciousness as a teenager by wearing black horn-rimmed glasses like Buddy wore – to look cool like him. After that, no one called me ‘four eyes.’ So, I prayed each night for Buddy to go from purgatory to heaven. I devoutly did this for the next three years because I believed my earnest prayers would make this happen.
I also believed the creeds I recited, what the priests taught, what the Catholic Missal stated. I devoutly believed that every ritual I religiously performed was important for Becoming a good Catholic. These beliefs would indeed be essential if Christianity required religious practices like other major religions. For example, Judaism has its Mosaic Law (The Ten Commandments) that practicing Jews obey in order to earn God’s blessings. Islam’s Sharia Law prescribes religious behaviors that Muslims must perform to earn Paradise, such as praying five times a day, lying prostrate, while facing towards Mecca. No one taught me that God does not want us to perform religious practices, but to whole-heartedly “delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4 NASB)
No one taught me that a Believer must Become Born Again by having a saving faith in Jesus because of who Jesus is and what He did (died to pay the penalty for my sins, was crucified and buried, resurrected from the dead, and ascended into heaven to send the Holy Spirit of Truth to indwell those who Become Born Again in spirit and truth).
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again … unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:3, 5-6)
No one explained this, or taught me that God forgives sins confessed to Him – not to a priest:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
What Do You Focus On?
Focus on the picture below. Do NOT read anything beneath it.
Imagine you’re lost in the middle of a severe snowstorm.
Snow is everywhere. Even worse … this white stuff is piling up all around you so you are slowly being covered by it. As you look around, what do you see? More snow falling everywhere?
You are becoming afraid of being buried alive! You are feeling desperate!
Do you see any “help” in the midst of this mounting snow?
Until you see “help” in the snow, do NOT read further.
The image circulated in Britain since the late 1950s. It contains a face of Christ, but not everyone can see it straight away. The story that goes with it says it was taken by a Chinese photographer who was riding home one day through the snow. According to the storyHis soul was troubled. He had been witnessing a great movement towards Christianity among his friends since the Japanese invasion. He longed to know the truth of what he had been hearing from Christian missionaries. As he rode along he said, “Lord, if I could only see your face, I would believe.” Instantly a voice spoke to his heart, “Take a picture. Take a picture.” He developed the film. Out from the black and white areas of the snow a face looked at him, full of tenderness and love - the face of Christ. He became a Christian as a result of this experience. The Church of St Ninian’s in Prestwick, Ayrshire, was given a copy of the image in the 1980s, and had it displayed outside their church hall.
(Reference: http://www.rejesus.co.uk/site/module/unexpected_faces/P7/ )
At this stage of my life, I would have “seen” the face of the Blessed Virgin Mary because I prayed to her often – envisioning her statue or face in a painting. Now, I’d “see” Jesus’ face – because of what I Learned, Unlearned and Relearned – to finally Become Born Again.
Lessons Learned: When I left home to attend university, I left equipped with devout beliefs in the Teachings and Rules of the Roman Catholic Church. I had never questioned any of this, but naively expected to practice Roman Catholicism during all four years of higher education.
Spiritual Insights: Performing religious practices (going to Confession; doing penance) and reciting words from the Mass (Nicene Creed; Kyrie Eleison) strengthened my beliefs about God. But no matter how devoutly I tried, I could not Be “good enough” and Behave “good enough” to have a personal relationship with Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. This wasn’t taught to me, so it wasn’t caught by me – until much later.