I was thinking earlier," What did I think of the Catholic Church when I was a Protestant?" But when? When I was a boy? When I was a youth? Or just before I became a Catholic? I suppose the most important time is just before I became a Catholic. If I were to share the wonderful things before that time that prepared me, they would perhaps mean nothing to those who stand without. Let me do what's best then, and maybe I will tell those thing after.
So, what did I think of the Catholic Church as a Protestant? Well, I will not hesitate to tell you that. I was like a Muslim. My holy book and my God. I thought that I didn't need anything, because I knew what my bible said. I didn't need anyone to agree with me. And though I believed I needed the fellowship of fellow believers, because it is written," Do not forsake the brethren." I did not believe that I needed anyone to approve of my conclusions. I believed this because of the scripture," But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court... He who judges me is the Lord." I was a minimalist, just like the Muslim. "Let me have nothing beyond Christ and the scriptures." I do not say God, though I was not offended at the Father and the Holy Spirit. But what a liar I would be if I said that a hateful distaste and suspicion did not lurk, if anyone would say," In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
I did not realize then how susceptible I was to pretexting, viz. taking a text out of context, marrying it to my preconceived notions and conclusions, holding it in one hand with another scripture, or several others, imagining that I had made a coherent and true deduction that was authoritative (because it was scripture). I believed I needed nothing beyond this. And though I believed that I could certainly learn from spiritual leaders, and that I ought to have a pastor, whatever he said to me had to gain my approval. Not that he only had to say things that I liked, or that built me up, but that whatever he said had to agree with whatever I had determined the scriptures to say, or could be persuaded to believe they said. And if I did not agree, so much the less was my obligation to submit to him, to hear him, or to take his example earnestly. Such was my thinking. And if it became too much, I could go at will elsewhere, until I became discontent with my new pastor.
I did not need a book of prayers, I had my own prayers. I did not need confession, I confessed to God directly. And if I was having a hard time with a sin, I would help myself to a hand-picked "accountability partner," that I chose by no other standard than that he seemed to know something, was grave, and appeared upright. I didn't even have a concept of what a sacrament was, how could I know I needed them? Let alone the sacrament of confession!? How could I see, when the light that was in me was darkness? And how great was that darkness! If only I had known that the priest was declaring God's forgiveness to me, which was the ministry given to the Apostles by Christ! And that they priests were uniquely participating in their ministry?
How is it that I read scripture so much, but missed that the Apostles passed on the Holy Spirit by the laying on of their apostolic hands? How did I miss that they dispensed certain ministries, unique to persons according to their ability. What an idiot I was, to think that it was in the believer's hands to declare the "gift" they imagined themselves to have, which ever ministry they were most lustful for. " I lust to be a teacher... a prophet... an apostle... a preacher... an evangelist. Therefore, I am." I believed my own pride and my lust were the Holy Spirit. How is it that I did not see that it was by the imposition of apostolic hands that the Spirit was given, without which one may not participate in apostolic ministry?
As for saints, why would I have need of them? Why would I need to know about people who were no better off than myself. What did they have that I didn't? Surely, all anyone really has is the scripture and God. What could they add unto me? As St. Paul says," But of those who seemed to be something,(whatever they were makes no difference to me, for God is no respecter of persons) for they who seemed to be something added nothing to me." Foolish man! I did not know or perceive that St. Paul mean, they did not add to his Gospel which he received from Jesus Christ, not that he had no regard for the saints, or that he spurned the apostles. How corrupt my understanding was!
When I though of the saints, I thought," Who needs all that clutter, distracting me from Christ?" and of praying to saints," God forbid." How is it that I did not perceive that God is a God of the living and not of the dead? How did I not perceive that our priesthood in Christ is not a meaningless honorary title, that gives us authority in our private homes? Can you see how shallow my understanding was? But how did I fail to see? For if Christ is sacrificed, and no more sacrifice is to be made, how is it that we are priest's forever? A priest offers sacrifice; what then is offered, if He offered Himself once and for all as the High priest, and yet also as the sacrifice? My foolish mind indeed did see that we make offerings of our lives, and of prayer, but how could I have been so confused to think that it stopped at the grave? How did I have such temerity as to contradict the Holy Spirit? And how is it that I did not see the sacrifice of the Eucharist?
I did not see that it was the saints and the Church alone who could and would teach me to walk in the truth. It was them that could make me understand. It was they alone who could teach me to pray. Their lives were not clutter, they were examples available to me of how to please my Master, as often as I should resort to them. I was badly mistake, so eager was Satan to deprive me of their counsel and my heritage.
And what a hypocrite I was! Scoffing at the notion of genuflecting, bowing, and prostrating. And yet against whom did I bring an accusation for lifting hands, in their wild forms of praise and worship? I was well acquainted with the scripture,"... lift up holy hands unto the Lord." With the same text whereby I excused disorderly and wild gestures, even defending them and compelling myself to partake (so that through my discomfort and embarrassment I might make a sacrificial offering of praise), I foolishly condemned the more reverent, appropriate, and orderly sort of gestures.
Yes, I think it was the veneration of the saints that was the biggest stumbling block for this prideful fool. I did not know that St. Thomas could teach me theology, not corrupt me. That St. Francis could teach me to love poverty and charity, not confuse me. That St. Philomena could teach me to love purity, not contaminate me. That St. Josemaria Escriva could teach me to love the work of God, not to abandon it. I did not know that St. Pio could open the mysteries of heaven to me, thinking rather that such would lead me to demons. It was I was deceived by the demons. It was I, not them, who had forsaken the brethren. I did not know of Godly vision, and mystical consolations meant nothing to me, I did not know them. I thought Mary's apparitions were demonic, I wouldn't even listen or hear them. But when I did, they only pointed to Christ. Always her message about her Son, and the favors He bestowed through her supplication, just as He did at the wedding feast at Cana. It was then I realized that God had raised her up as a sign of hope to all Christians, as a typification of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and all the Glory He will bestow upon it in the end. Holy Theotokos forgive me for those days!
Yes, it was the heroes of the faith, the most godly of the human race, those who had truly become Christ... they were the stumbling block. I was perishing, and languishing. For it is written," I lay in Zion a precious cornerstone... and whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to dust." Christ came to be the first of many, and as many as became "christs" I stumbled at. These men and women from whom I could truly learn to please God and live a holy life, these Satan had taught me to hate. The heresy I was brought up in taught me to hate these beloved of God. The demons of that doctrine taught me that to venerate them, and to follow their example was demonic. But by the grace of God, I was overpowered by their love and their piety. Through their obedience to Christ, I was saved from the demonic doctrine that told me to go near them was to risk shipwreck. Their triumph through Christ's name was powerful to work in me, long after they had put off the flesh through mortification and through death. I had stumble upon the foundation upon which Christ had built His Church, St. Peter, and rested there like a stone. Finally, a good foundation! No more shifting sand. Thanks be to God!
"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~