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December 2010

"WHO ARE YOU?"

JOHN BALLENTINE

 

A theologian once stated that each of us can find a character in the Bible to whom we can relate. After my conversion to Christís holy Church it occurred to me that my conversion story had already been told. The story had been published and was a best-seller for centuries. Perhaps this latest remake will provide the reader an opportunity to contemplate the depths of Sacred Scripture and discover themselves anew. With Godís graces we may get to be a main character. After all, itís for this reason that we joined the Grand Play, isnít it? So letís set our sail to catch the gift of His grace.

The story of Moses would be the first in my call to conversion. I was left on the doorstep of an orphanage run by sisters in Madrid, Spain. Like our main character, I too was born without a place to lay my head. Unfortunately, this appears to be the only similarity this two-bit actor has with the Hero of the play. I continue my practice to be His understudy, should the need arise.

On the day of my arrival at the orphanage, a sister tied a brass medal around my ankle. This medal had a woman on the front and my first state number on the back. I suppose that I was part of the Flock from the very start. At the age of three days, I was adopted by a military family stationed in Spain that very soon after moved back to the States. I then became the lost sheep for which our Hero searches.

Growing up in the Bible Belt of Protestant America, I became a cafeteria Christian. My mother, a saint in training, was a Methodist, while my father, may he also rest in peace, was a Lutheran and a very good man, only not a very religious man. Since I was their only child, they spoiled me.

The next period in my life resembles the Jews wandering the Desert of Sin. The Hebrews were trained by God for forty years. Scholars point out that had they been a bit less stiff-in-the-neck, they could have reached the Promised Land in less than two years. I cannot fault them, for it took me more than forty-three years to learn my lesson.

I sampled the various platters offered by the modern cult of Christianity. I loved the beauty of the Methodist church, the emotionalism of the Baptist, and the reverence of the Lutheran. Each one, while offering a single tasty treat, did not satisfy. Each denomination lacked what the other had, but individually they felt incomplete. That is the problem with the cafeteria approach: it leaves it up to fallen man to determine what is best for him, and often our selections arenít good for us. I personally love sweets, but would not survive long on a diet consisting solely of chocolate. Eventually Iíd become tired of it, because weíre quickly bored with the familiar. We should strive to conform to the straight rod instead of trying to bend it to our own passing whims.

I became aware of this at a rather early age. As a pre-teen, and under the watchful eye of my Lutheran "Nana," I prayed the "Our Father" before going to bed. As I concluded the prayer with the word "trespasses," my hard head felt the slap of Nanaís hand: "That is not how we say the "Our Father," she said in chastisement. (My Nana would have made a good widow nun.) I responded, "But thatís how we pray it at the Methodist ... ," at which point Nana cut me off curtly: "Well, they are wrong! The proper word is "debts," not "trespasses." If the reader can imagine a slight German accent while reading this reprimand, they will get the gist of that moment with my Nana. At an early age I was already experiencing the effects of Protestantism, a headache and an exercise in confusion. I had heard the booming voice from the Mount, albeit in a German accent, but I became confused and my mind was clouded. I thought to myself that there had to be something better. It seemed as if Moses had left the building.

The next phase of my conversion is represented by the golden calf. I opted for the dark idol instead of the golden variety and dived into rock and roll. I listened to bands called "Black Sabbath" and "Uriah Heep," and I briefly studied the black arts. If we do not consume our sins, then our sins will consume us. Like the Jews, I adopted my religion from the surrounding culture, and I too ended up drinking my own sin.

I quickly grew to resemble secular rulers like Herod and Pontius Pilate who searched for entertainment and relative truth. Like David, I sinned with women. Unlike David, I did not recognize my sin. Seven unclean spirits entered into me as I grew in apostasy and followed the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I.

I wrestled with college and finally managed to graduate. My major was "broads, booze and bongs, with a minor in history." I grappled with the rock-and-roll lifestyle, winning the crown of harder groupies and drugs. I thought I was ready for the big leagues. I thought I had a firm grasp on the handle and was in control of it all.

II

Jacob wrestled with an angel and managed to do quite well. He was marked for life with only a limp, and he had his name changed, by God himself, to "Israel." I wrestled with the wrong angel. I fell to a fallen angel and ended up marked for life with another number. I was renamed by the state as "convict." God giveth and God taketh away, but I cannot blame Him for my wrong choices and their consequences. I put myself in prison, I fought the law and the law won. But God has turned even that bad into His glory.

My hard-headedness in prison parallels that of Pharaoh in Egypt. The plagues hit me and with each one I thought I had hit rock bottom. Yet I did not have the eyes to see or the ears to hear. I made my "reputation" the hard way (i.e., by fighting with both fists and knives). I still carry the marks of those battles. I was a rough and tough Davy-Crockett, John-Wayne-style American, the epitome of the enlightened modern man, as it were. I told people that nothing could make me snap. I bragged that the only thing that could get to me was if something happened to my mother while I was still in prison.

Job could have taught me never to say, "things canít get worse." God called my countless bluffs and boasts. He pulled my hold-card. My mother died a slow, terrible death from cancer.

I took the news very stoically. Internally I was driven mad with rage against everything that prevented me from being with her, but I had no one to rail against but myself. I had not been there when she needed me most. The first-born had failed miserably in every possible area of his puny little life. The story of Martha and Lazarus is apt, for I also had the audacity to accuse God of allowing my loved one to die. I somehow felt that if I had been with my mother, perhaps she would at least have had a happier death, or maybe somehow I could have saved her.

Through the sharp pangs of my agonizing pride, I finally decided to honour my motherís departure with my presence. It was quite the scandalous event as the sinner – who was obvious to everyone, since he was clad in bright orange attire and wearing the shock vest accessory, shackled hand and foot, and escorted by prison guards – entered the chapel. Through the tears that I was unable to wipe away I noticed a lot of people looking at me very strangely that day. I could see the scandal of my presence among the righteous as they may have thought, "thank God I am not like him." But I was determined to pay my last respects to the woman who had freely chosen to love and raise me as her own. Not all the people in attendance were shaken by my infamy and public shame. A few loved ones came forward with open arms to welcome me and wipe my tears away.

I didnít know about the Churchís teaching on humility and suffering, but God did, and I guess that my offering that day may have been what allowed me to experience the graces He would soon send me. Upon returning to prison, I managed to be "under control" for a few days, but then, suddenly, I found myself nose-to-nose and toe-to-toe with a guard. With spittle flying, I invited him to take off his radio so that we could settle our differences "man to man." I donít recall what made me so irate and caused me to put myself in such a position. All I remember is the explosion.

My "stickman" (prison slang for friend) and cellmate Brad quickly pulled me away from that nasty situation. He pointed out the obvious, which I could not see, and told me to "get it together." I took his sage advice and even managed to return the favour a few months later, but Iím getting ahead of myself.

The obvious problem with Bradís advice is that I thought I was in control all along. I thought I had a firm grasp on the handle of my life, but, unfortunately, the handle had fallen off. Any honest person will reach a point in his life when he realizes that he is neither large nor in charge. It may have taken a while, but like one born out of due time, I was also knocked off my horse and blind-sided. Like Paul, I thought that I was leading the caravan, but I was actually being primed to start following.

I had lost everything, or at least all that was important to me. My mother and father had been torn from me. Gone too was my home, my career, and my good name. I was nothing but an empty shell of my former self.

On a slow sticky summer night, I tossed and turned in anguish on the hard bed that I had made. My feverish limbs flailed and thrashed about as I tried to find the bottom of the seemingly endless hole in my sick soul. I did not know what to do with myself, and I was afraid. I finally fell asleep, and it was at that moment that God released His big dogs to search for and rescue me.

I dreamed of my motherís soothing voice talking to me, comforting me, telling me that everything would be okay. That voice was exactly as when I had scraped myself as a child and mommy would heal my "boo-boo." My mother said that I should look and search and remember, because she had taught me well. She said that it was time for me to start using my head and to be good. My mother said that I would always have a mom. I wish that I could remember more of the dream, but I canít, no matter how hard I try. Yet this small moment was grace enough for me.

The word of the Lord was precious to me, especially in those days, for I did not know Him. Looking back now, I donít know if it was my guardian angel, Mother Mary, or if God allowed my own mother to speak to me. I suppose it really doesnít matter, does it? The grace came from God, so it matters little who the bearer of the grace was. I awoke the following morning with a peace in my soul that I had never known. I was at peace with myself. His peace had been given to me. I had been adopted yet again. Only much later did I come to realize the obvious. My mother had long ago named me "John," and Jesus had bequeathed Mary to this very disciple. Mother had visited her sickly son.

I rubbed my eyes the next morning and the first thing I saw was my old medal that had been my companion since day-three of my life. Like me, it was dented, needed cleaning, and had a few scars. I had no idea what it was supposed to represent, but I had it hanging on a string over my bunk. I looked at the woman on the front of the medal and, for the first time in weeks, I smiled. I pulled the piece of brass down to clean and study it more closely, and then I decided to start using my head and investigate.

As I was going to get my morning "joe," I passed a lone Catholic in the pod and asked him about the medal. He pulled a bright and shiny one out of his pocket and proceeded to tell me about it. I was kind of shocked to discover that it was "Catholic." This was at the height of the homosexual scandal and I had been raised in the Bible Belt, so I had all of the usual prejudices against the Church. After I had thanked him for the information, the Catholic said, "we meet on Mondays, in case you are interested in attending." I think I had taken him unawares, because he had known me for a decade, and this was the first time Iíd engaged him in any religious banter. I responded with a polite, but curt, "no thanks."

Did I mention that I am very hard-headed? I still didnít get it. I still thought that I was in charge and had simply experienced a good nightís sleep. I put the old medal in my pocket and carried it with me that day. Fingering it somehow seemed to help me swallow the bitter pill of my pride as I apologized to the guard for my tantrum the day before. I felt very comfortable with that ever-old but ever-new medal. It was as if I had a helper with me as I engaged in battle with my greatest foe – myself.

III

The next part of my story resembles that of the ten cured lepers, I being the one who returned to thank Jesus. That one outcast Samaritan managed to get an added bonus for his extra effort. I suppose that this section of the story also resembles the Magdaleneís search for her Lord at the Resurrection.

I went to the library that same day. I didnít want to go to a religious library because I was an "enlightened" man. I didnít want any biases clouding my research. I just wanted the facts, maíam. But I simply had to look into something that was suddenly bothering me. I wanted to thank God for the dream and the peace of mind. I wanted to find out where my Lord was. It did not seem possible, logically, that an all-wise God would have so many conflicting faiths. I had enough experience to know that truth doesnít contradict itself, but lies do. There is only one God, so it stands to reason that there is only one Church that represents Him.

I never bought into that New Age, touchy-feely, politically correct stuff about "many roads lead to God." Iíd travelled enough to know that if you want to go to a specific place then you have to take a specific route. Some roads may lead you to the general vicinity of your destination, but only one road leads to the exact place. I always got a chuckle out of those trying to sell me, a country boy, that bill of New Age goods. I would tell them that they needed to go get lost in the woods and then tell me how their philosophy worked out for them.

Many roads are called a maze. I am no mouse. I was a lost sheep in search of my Shepherdís home. There are many ways to mess up an equation, but there is only one way to solve an equation properly, and I was going to do this properly.

I also knew that God isnít a respecter of persons. He calls a club a club, and if you get offended, then you are free not to follow Him. God taught about Hell and I donít think He makes empty threats or teaches for no reason or purpose, and so the modern unitarian sects and all their brethren were ruled out of my consideration. So too were the pseudo-religions of the East that were all the vogue when I was in college. I had studied Confucius, Buddha, and Nirvana (both the band and the end-game). All of those multi-god religions with their ways of enlightenment arenít true religions, but rather a system of turning man back into himself. They have some truly neat sayings, but none of their founders claimed to be divine. It just didnít make sense to me that an all-powerful God would recycle souls when He could create new ones. It isnít logical that an infinite God could be incomplete until man pours his soul back into Him. Man changes, but God doesnít change. He cannot decrease and increase. The God I was looking for had made his indelible imprint on my character, so He wasnít awaiting my union with Him so that He could become complete.

What I was searching for was what my dream seemed to tell me. That dream was not merely a feeling among many other feelings, or a way among many ways, but rather a very specific feeling unlike all the others. Therefore, there must be a corresponding very specific way unlike all the others. I wanted the Chief God, not the sub-gods. I went about it factually and historically. I went to the reference section of the library, opened up the world Atlas and Almanac, and went down the listing of just how many religious "roads" I had not studied or experienced. As I went down the list – Baptist? Check. Lutheran? Check. Methodist? Check – I noted that each was listed with its "date of birth" and founder.

I thought to myself, "Iíve hit the goldmine! This will save me a lot of valuable time. Iíll just look for the one with the date closest to when Christ walked this earth." It quickly became evident that most Christian churches had started in the sixteenth century. "Yes," I thought to myself, "I remember the Reformation, but how could a man reform a divine religion? Everything man touches becomes soiled." This theory was reinforced as I scrolled down the numerous denominations. The Lutherans, who followed Martin Luther, begot the Calvinists, who followed John Calvin. Then the Methodists, who followed Wesley, were the stepchildren of the Anglicans who followed Henry VIII, King of England. Each denomination followed a human founder and although one was a king, he was a human king, not the divine King I was looking for. No human being had provided for my salvation or my dream. Prince Charles was not my idea of Godís representative on earth. I didnít need another man-made religion. I wanted to follow Jesus Christ.

"How did Christianity start," I asked myself. "What kept the Faith and the Bible alive for those 1,500 years until some men decided to Ďreformí it according to their personal or political agenda?"

I had been trained since childhood that – in matters of religion – tradition did not matter. The past was not important – never was nor ever would be. But what does that tell us about the here and now? I like to think that I am somewhat important. In real life, tradition is very important. From learning to ride a bike to holiday feasts and family reunions, my life had been filled with tradition. Things were not adding up. I was stuck in solving my equation.

And then my little world got rocked. Time stood still as I continued to scan down the list of pure data with no religious undertones. There, in black and white, I found the only Church which not only began at the time of Jesus on this earth but which also claimed Him as her founder. My jaw hit the floor and my brain screamed "Noooo!" as I read the entry for "Roman Catholic." I thought of strange foreign ladies with beads and of the Iron Maiden. I did not want my eyes to see, but the damage had already been done. God had opened my eyes enough to open my mind. Then He allowed me the grace to continue searching beyond that first scrap of evidence so I could at last open my heart.

The Ark had been set before the walls of Jericho. The trumpets blasted and the walls fell. My Protestant mindset of individualism and isolationism began to fold faster than Superman on laundry day. Things started to make sense. Pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. Of course! The Catholic Church, through various ups and downs, had kept the Faith going for 1,500 years so the Protestants could properly reform it! The Catholic Church had provided for Christís sheep long before there was even a sole rule of faith, the Bible. In fact, the Catholic Church had determined what books comprised that Holy Bible. "How ironic," I thought, "the Catholic Church provided the martyrs to die for the Faith long before there was even a Bible to thump!" By means of the tradition of teaching received from the Hebrews, the perfected Chosen People had passed on Christianity from the very start.

I still didnít want to give in. Did I mention that I am hard-headed? At least my stiff neck was beginning to grow a little weary from supporting this big rock. It bowed just a little bit.

I went back to the pod and told the lone Catholic that I would take him up on his offer to attend services, but only the services! I didnít need any Bible study. I had seen a lot of those "jail-house conversions" that last only for a couple of months. I wasnít going to play games with God. At least I had that much common sense. I didnít know much about Him, but I figured that God would not be too pleased with two-faced people. He wants us to be either hot or cold, not lukewarm. I was as cool as a cucumber. I was just going to thank Him and skedaddle. He had done me a "solid." I was going to do my duty and that would be that.

Satan managed to keep me from the services for as long as he could, cancelling my attendance for almost two months. That is the devilís job, to come between God and man. He is pretty good at it, especially nowadays when he has everyone convinced that he doesnít even exist. He is still after me, principally because I was such a willing slave to him for so long, but I have strong help with me now. I wear my Catholic dog-tags into battle. Like the Hebrews, Catholics carry the New Ark with them, only now around their necks.

IV

During the two months I continued my search I realized how little the Faith had changed over the centuries. It really didnít seem like a change either, at least not like the radical about-face conducted by Protestants in the 1500s, but more like a gradual growth in understanding. I felt as if I was reading the history of an organic being that was growing into maturity. Sure there were ups and downs, as is the case in any life, but it amazed me that this Church had lasted longer than any human institution or corporation, and it was still going strong. This Church had been attacked by every conceivable force of the worldís philosophy and technology, and yet she still stands, thriving up to this very day. I thought I was unique in discovering this fact, but I learned later that I was only the latest one to do so.

One evening, as I was reading a passage in the Bible where Jesus says that the world will hate those who keep His word, but that His disciples shouldnít worry because the world hated Him first, I looked up at the news on television and it featured a priest-scandal as the top story. Buried deep in the show, after a feature about a dog who looked like his owner, was a ten-second segment on a Baptist pastor who had held up a bank. (Evidently, he thought Jesus had said, "take all and follow me.") It occurred to me that the world seemed to expect greater things from the Catholic Church. The scandal of a Baptist was hardly newsworthy. His story had decreased while the story on the Bride to the Bridegroom had to increase.

If all denominations are truly considered equal, then one man of the cloth sinning should be as scandalous as another man of the cloth sinning. Yet the news reports would downplay a problem found everywhere in public education and other religions in order to spend more time railing against the Catholic Church. What was newsworthy wasnít the fact of men behaving badly, for that was to be expected. What was newsworthy was misbehaviour in the Mother from whom all the other denominations had broken off. It seemed that the world held a special grudge against the only Church who would not change her teachings to fit the modern mentality and who stood firmly against falsity. I realized I could not reject Jesus just because Judas had not lived up to his holy calling.

I also read a curious book about the "Lost Books of the Bible." Here I learned that a bishop of the second century had used the word "Catholic" and had said that this was where Christ and the Church could be found. It appeared as if the Almanac had been correct. Only the Catholic Church harked back to Christís time. I also read about a bishop of Rome who wrote to the very same churches mentioned in the Bible. This really caught my interest. The Apostle John was still alive at the time, and to my Protestant mindset, it seemed rather obvious that if there was a problem in the Corinth community, they should have gone to the "beloved disciple" and gotten the facts straight from the horseís mouth, so to speak. Who better to instruct them? It seemed strange that an original Apostle would not have had the power and authority of the Roman bishop! And yet here was this Pope correcting the wild people of Corinth!

When I finally got to the Catholic service, I was enthralled. There were only twelve men attending the service out of a prison population of more than three thousand. It seemed that many were called, but few chose to show up. Some of the twelve flashed what appeared to be gang signs thrice upon their chests. Some popped up and down like Whack-a-moles. Even more curious was the fact that the priest up front wasnít yelling or screaming, trying to be the center of attention. He wasnít stretching the title "Lord Jesus Christ" into a dozen or more syllables. He wasnít performing. All of the attention seemed to be totally focused on a mysterious little cookie.

And I was so very hungry.

I now know what a sin it was for me to partake of that "cookie." I also know that God uses evil for good, so this part of my story mirrors the story of Balaam and Belshazzar, for I saw the writing on the wall. I had been weighed and found very wanting. Spiritually I was empty. Thus, I was starving. Full of ignorance and laden with sin, I approached the narrow line. While most of the others received their "cookie" in their hand, I for some reason dropped to my knees on the cold hard concrete floor and opened my mouth. I suppose it was a reflex action. Every time I went to an earthly doctor for my ailments I opened my mouth, stuck out my tongue and said "ahhh." I did the same with the Holy Physician.

I returned to my seat oblivious to the scowl which my Catholic friend was giving me for receiving the sacred Host without a clue. I knew nothing of discerning the body. But God chose to use my ignorance for good. He seems to work in strange ways like that. Instead of sitting down, I returned to my knees and prayed, "Okay, God, as far as I can tell, this is Your Church. I just wanted to thank You for that dream and for my mom and dad, and I am sorry for making such a mess out of my life."

The wafer at the roof of my mouth dissolved. It was at that moment that the Body discerned me.

I heard my fatherís voice say to me, "Welcome home, son." It had been some thirteen years since my father had passed away, but it was as if he were standing right behind me. I recognized his voice instantly from all the years of him yelling for me to cut down the volume of my "hippie music." I almost got whiplash from jerking my head around to look for him as the moment was so real. But of course, he was not to be seen. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. The spiritual was acting in my physical world. Yet I knew that, in reality, he was there with me. Where else could I go? I converted at that moment.

V

I came back to the cell that night and could not stop talking. My poor cell-mate and I had lived together for more than ten years. We played sports and music together. We worked the same job. We even finished each otherís sentences. After politely allowing me to ramble for hours, Brad finally looked at me and said, "Dude, can you talk about something else?"

When the Holy Spirit had quickened my soul, Brad had been, dare I say the word, left behind. I looked at him for a moment and considered his question. Finally I responded, "No." I could not talk about anything else, for I had been touched by the grace of God. I did not understand what had happened, but I did know that something had indeed happened. I was like that leper who had been healed by Jesus and told to "tell no one." That story mystifies me. I cannot comprehend how Jesus could expect anybody not to do what the cured leper did, which was to go blab to everyone! If I had kept quiet, the steel and concrete would have cried out, for just a taste of the Holy Spirit is a load for mere humans to handle. When we get a taste of Him, watch out world! People who once hid in fear in upper rooms run outside like drunken madmen, having no concern about how they look or what time it is. Itís what we call Pentecost. Monasteries and hospitals are built, universities are established.

I have been running wide open ever since that moment four years ago. At times I have to ask Him to ease up. I feel like Iíve had too much coffee. Iím full of cracks and I leak out on all sides, but luckily I have recourse to His holy filling-station at Mass.

From that moment it has been on like itís never been on before. The Hound of Heaven has this whelp by the scruff of his stiff neck. I began to read about the saints and their lives. Since I was living a forced monastic life, I dived into the Fathers. I was two thousand years behind in reading all the books that the earth could not contain, but I was speed-reading to catch up.

I read a verse that really touched me. Our divine Leader states that he who brings a lost sheep into the Church covers a multitude of sins. Although it is unclear as to who exactly gets the multitude of sins covered, whether it be the evangelistís or the convertís, I like to think it is a holy "two-for-one deal" with both parties gaining graces out the kazoo. God gives freely, so Iím sure both parties get a lot more than they deserve. As the observant reader may have guessed, I am stricken with M.S.S., a not so rare disease called massive multiple sin syndrome. I have a long litany of known and unknown sins. My middle name should be "Legion." Iím not saying that Iím the greatest sinner there is, but I know that the greatest did mess with me. Thatís why I needed Holy Church.

So I jumped on that holy two-for-one deal with both feet (what would Jesus do?). Christ had left His ninety-nine sheep to go find me. We are to put on Christ. I was to go find a lost sheep, or a million of them. As Providence would have it, I had a lost sheep conveniently cornered, locked up in the same 6' by 9' cell with me.

I am no longer a young man, a bit long in the tooth. I cannot go running after prey like a young cheetah, but I had a cornered cheetah who was much younger than I. He had pulled me away from a nasty situation with a guard, and I would return the favour.

As I devoured book after book, I would make comments or read certain passages aloud. His responses ranged from the obligatory but absent-minded "uh-huh," to "hey, that was pretty cool." When I dipped into the deep pool of St. Thomas, I finally heard what I was looking for, "Dude, that is deep! Who said that?" Brad began attending Bible study with me within a few months. Within a year we were both card-carrying Catholics, well practiced in both apologetics and the secret handshake.

You have heard it said that it is a jungle out there. In this world of concrete and steel, it is more so. Soon the "Sons of Thunder" were on the prowl on the recreation yard, eyeing Protestant prey in the deep grass. As they say in the military, it is a target-rich environment. At first the protestors tried to reform any conversation. When they realized that after only a few months of thinking with the mind of the Church I could rationally and biblically make their positions look foolish, they soon started avoiding conversations. I will never forget one soul who, in desperation, said that he "recognized Jesus as Lord." I responded that even the devils recognized Jesus, but that didnít qualify them as His disciples.

I had to have the younger and faster cheetah begin to chase and corner them while I huffed and puffed my way to the scene. The "beloved disciple" would respectfully await the old manís arrival and then together we would engage in a dialogue with the bewildered beasts, who could not pull verses out of context fast enough. Our favourite conversation opener was to discuss the Calvinist concept of the "invisible church of believers," which has managed to infect most modern-day Protestants. Itís ironic that Calvinism has all but disappeared, yet this cancer lives on and multiplies. The generic word "Protestant" is also disappearing, for many people now refuse the older label and simply refer to themselves as members of "the church." I would point out that their Bible tells them to take problems to the Church, and that now entails some half-billion believers. That is a lot of work. In fact, it is impossible to do. Would Jesus give us a command to do something that is impossible? If the Church is the pillar of truth, and each individual is the Church, then there are a lot of conflicting truths out there. That argument seems to play holy havoc with most peopleís thinking.

Iím a firm believer in offensive apologetics. The best defense is a good offense, and since we have the full Truth, why should we apologize? We werenít the ones who left Christís Church, so what is there to feel defensive about? Some people wish to begin their discussion with the old horror stories concerning the Inquisition, and then I like to add the story of merry ole England or the Salem witch trials, or the peasant revolution in Germany due to Martin Lutherís teaching. If one wishes to talk history, then letís talk history.

I have been blessed to have fathered five god-children. Just this year Bradís parents were also confirmed into the Holy Faith. One of my god-children has already left his life-sentence behind to begin his purgatory-time. He was snatched from Satan only a year away from a much harsher sentence. God gets all the glory for the victories, the many failures are mine.

VI

The sisters Martha and Mary now take the stage in my story. Martha teaches the lesson of busy service to God. For the last four years I have been very busy spending most of my spare time learning. Martha represents my single-minded focus and determination. I discovered that the flock here in prison were involved in a very watered-down Bible study that did everything but call God "she." Many of the students were clueless abut the most basic concepts of the Catholic Faith. Some of the study didnít jive with what Iíd been reading. I mentioned this fact to the leader of the group and was met with a "spirit of Vatican II" response. I offered to make a Bible study from the book of Acts, since I had a couple of commentaries by Augustine and Chrysostom concerning that subject. To his credit, the leader allowed me to do so.

I also noticed the total absence of a group Rosary. I knew that we had to honour the Mother of the Child, so I began my "teaching" with the story of Jacobís ladder and how the Rosary is our ladder to Heaven. I went Curé díArs on them, raising Cain so that Heaven would stand a chance. We began studying Scripture, Tradition, the Mass, and the prayer of the Church. Momma Mary must have been pleased to see six "hardened criminals," grown men reading the beads like old women. She began to send us more souls.

Mary Magdalen had chosen the better part. I feel very close to her. We donít know if she was the adulteress caught red-lipped, so to speak, in the act. I also may have been one who had no defense when thrown at the feet of our Lord. I looked down to see that He was writing my life-story in the sand. I couldnít be certain because the wind blew it away as quickly as He wrote it. I donít think he finished the story, and I pray that it may be written in a book instead of on the quickly changing sand. I donít know that he has allowed me to alter the story of my life with a surprising and unexpected twist. Hopefully the hero of the story will find a better ending than the tragedy he was writing. May He be not my Judge, but my Saviour.

The Magdalene also teaches another valuable lesson. She was the woman with a nature to be consumed by that to which she was drawn. What she loved, she loved lavishly. There was no half-stepping or lukewarmness with this woman. Mary Magdalene committed herself totally and she didnít care a whit about other people approving her actions. She had only the best oils, ointments, and spikenard. Today we might say she had an addictive personality type.

The Magdalene refused nothing to herself, but now she refused nothing to our Lord. No shame held her back from Jesus. Today we seem to have the system down, but we have the system backwards. We go to where our excesses will be permitted. The zeal of Saul was misdirected but when he converted, he redirected it towards its proper end. Paul was the same in his nature as he was all along, travelling from town to town, but instead of persecuting the Church, he now helped build it. Paul, like the Magdalene, turned from sinner to saint by turning his nature to the One who created it.

God doesnít want to change our nature. He is the One who gave it to us to begin with. All that He created is good. Free will is in the very nature of man and is what allows us to reflect God, to be in His image. Unfortunately we let our free will get us in such a mess that God, the Good Father, has to come rescue us. He comes as one of His creatures, suffering, teaching and dying for us in order that we might make bail. The ironic twist of the Grand Play is that after all of this, He still leaves it up to you and me and our free will. We can follow Him, or not.

That is the height of Love. God doesnít ask us to change our nature, but instead to use it rightly. I suppose that was what He was trying to tell me in my dream. Mary Magdalene simply turned her addictive personality away from herself and directed it towards God. As the theologian said, she was always in love with love, she found Perfect Love.

The Church doesnít require us to become saints overnight, thank God! But I have learned from the parable of the talents that God gave me a big mouth and no fear of using it. He gave me the style and grace to be able to understand and teach. He also put a smile on my face. Those talents are not going to be hidden. I may be deeply buried in prison, but I will utilize my talents towards Him until the day that He says I can no longer be steward of His possessions.

VII

The next act in the Play is provided by Paul. As the growing flock was covering chapter nine of Acts, and how Paul sought approval for his teaching, it suddenly dawned on me that I had brought my Protestant mentality into His Church. Did I think that I was better than Godís "chosen vessel," teaching without Peterís approval? Was I running in vain? At that moment I realized that I must become certified to teach by the Church. I had spent years teaching in public schools, by both bad word and example. I must try to right that wrong. I am now pursuing my masterís degree in theology and obtaining my certification from Rome. I applied to and was accepted by the Catholic Distance University.

My call to conversion was recorded well before my birth. My patron saint Dismas will hopefully help me steal Heaven. If I aim high I could land in purgatory. It may seem shocking to those who think they are already saints, but the job of the Catholic Church is to get as many people as possible into purgatory. I have experienced both human judgment and purgatory and eagerly await the novelty of a Judge who is both just and merciful. He will be the determiner of my sainthood status.

I suppose that in the latest chapter of my conversion I resemble the Prodigal Son. I left home on my own account and squandered what Iíd inherited. After eating pig-slop (hey, have you eaten institutional food?) for entirely too long, itís time to journey back to my true home. Iíve admitted my faults and have found the path to Rome. It has been a long, strange trip, and I pray that the Father will have room for me at the big Banquet. I wonít mind at all if I sit at the kiddie-table. I will gratefully take my seat and rest my weary bones. Then if He wishes, He can tell me to move up to the adult section.

So, which character are you?

 

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