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Emmaus by Way of Richmond

This testimony relates my personal experiences on the path to becoming a Catholic in the hope that others may somehow benefit. I don’t believe that my testimony alone will move anyone to faith. Perhaps it will cause other Catholics to better recognize the great gift they have been given and to strengthen their commitments to Christ and their obedience to the teachings of his Church.

My problems with becoming a Christian were largely intellectual. Testimonies such as mine may have value for someone with similar intellectual problems. This testimony will have much less value for someone who has moral problems with becoming a Christian. What do I mean by moral problems? These might include pride, a lack of concern for finding the truth, or dislike for a particular teaching. If a person can approach this topic with openness and eagerness then I would suspect he has no strong moral barriers keeping him from the truth.

Before I go any further I want to thank the many dear people who helped me along the way, with information, encouragement, and prayer. I hope God blesses each one of you.

As a child I did not attend church but believed in the existence of God. Although I was baptized Catholic, I knew little about the faith. I only remember attending church a handful of times.

In 1989 I began a friendship with a Catholic coworker, Mike. We began having occasional lunch discussions about politics and religion. We disagreed on the subject of abortion. I thought abortion should be legal. Being agnostic, I also suspected that when a person dies he ceases to exist. I slowly began to realize Mike was right—the right to life was the most fundamental right, and if you took that right away from someone no other rights remained.

Due to Mike’s influence, over the next several years I began supporting pro-life activities financially and personally. I never spoke against Christianity because I considered Christians friends of the unborn and Christianity a force for good in the world.

During this time I met my wife Cyndi. She was in the process of finishing her degree. We wanted to wait until her graduation (another year) before starting our family. My friend Mike introduced us to natural family planning. This is a technique where a couple desiring to delay pregnancy can accurately determine when the woman is fertile and practice short periods of abstinence. We chose this method because we found that all the birth control pills currently on the market prevented birth at least some of the time by preventing the new life from implanting in the womb—basically performing very early chemical abortions.

Cyndi and I became familiar with the Buddhist religion. This religion did not ask us to accept anything on faith or anything that conflicted with “reality.” It claimed that suffering was a part of life, suffering was caused by desire, and the key to overcoming suffering was to conquer desire. Desire was overcome by following a path of right conduct, right thought, and right speech. Following this path offered growth in understanding and wisdom. God was not part of this religion. If he did exist, he was unknowable. This religion gave my wife and I a moral framework in which to raise our children; I felt that was important. There are wide variations in Buddhist beliefs, practices, and superstitions. In its simplest form it is merely a search for understanding and goodness. The statement, “Avoid evil, cultivate good, purify your mind” sums up the Buddhist path. My wife and I stayed on this path for two years.

The Search Begins

In December 1998 some pro-life friends lent my wife and I a book, Won by Love, written by Norma McCorvey, the “Roe” of Roe v. Wade. In the book she describes how after years in the abortion industry she became a pro-life Christian because of crisis pregnancy counselors and members of Operation Rescue. (Later she became Catholic.) This book moved my wife and me. Cyndi thought we should look into Christianity. I wasn’t that moved but agreed anyway.

I was not convinced the Catholic Church was God’s church, I just thought it was a good starting point. I had figured that, if we found faith, our investigation would turn into an evaluation of the various denominations. We decided to talk to a priest we had met at a Human Life International conference about eight months earlier, Fr. Tom.

Fr. Tom concluded that I needed evidence of the miraculous to convince me of the gospel message. He offered me information on various miracles documented by the Catholic Church. I searched out some others myself. In order for me to believe in God, I would need to see something supernatural or somehow be able to confirm something miraculous. This miracle would also have to point to God. The Catholic Church has documented many miracles in the course of its history. Although I did not have a specific problem with the integrity of the leaders of the Catholic Church, I would not accept the validity of a miracle on their testimony alone. I wanted evidence I could personally examine and direct testimony I could cross-examine.

I had figured this inquiry would be something we did together, but one night Cyndi had a revelation. We were praying, and I left the room to change a diaper. While I was gone Cyndi prayed for me to find the truth. Suddenly she realized that Jesus Christ was Lord and Savior. She was firm in her belief. She said that God had just raised the stakes for me. We both knew that raising children in a mixed-faith household was a formula for future problems.

I told Cyndi that I would never believe or pretend to believe something simply because it made things easier for raising my family. I never wanted to mislead my children. Cyndi was confident that I would come around. Her confidence became stronger when soon after we discovered she was pregnant with our third child. Because the stakes were now raised, I had to put some serious effort into this inquiry.

The following arguments are what convinced me of the validity of the Catholic Church (as opposed to a faith based on the Bible alone). These were not arguments presented succinctly to me by one source but conclusions I was able to reach as the evidence mounted.

1. The Catholic Church has solid responses to the challenges made against its history and teachings.

2. Scripture describes a Church, a Church that sounds surprisingly Catholic, that will guide Christians.

3. The Catholic Church has been more consistent in the teaching of faith and morals than so-called Bible-based churches.

Response to the Challenges

I believed that an investigation into a religion or denomination would be incomplete without testing it against the challenges made by its opponents.

I began by searching for challenges to the Catholic Church on the Internet. In general, I did not find most of these criticisms to be convincing. Most were not saying Catholic teachings were in conflict with the Bible, just that they were not addressed in the Bible. Also, many showed Protestant misunderstandings of Catholicism.

A Protestant friend came into my office one day and was surprised to see a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He commented that it was pretty heavy reading for an unbeliever. I explained what was going on. He suggested that I not spend too much time focusing on the Catholic Church, but instead stick to the Bible. I explained that the Bible seemed to offer support for the Catholic Church.

He told me he had some information that might convince me otherwise and lent me a copy of A Woman Rides the Beast by David Hunt. It showed how Catholic teachings were flawed, the Church was the whore of Babylon described in the book of Revelation, and the pope was the Antichrist.

I had planned on meeting with Fr. Tom go discuss the challenges to the faith I thought were legitimate. Now I was reluctant to do so. I wanted to challenge the Catholic Church, but the challenges in this book were so strong that I was afraid I would offend him. I told Fr. Tom that I was not looking forward to our meeting and showed him the book. He told me he was familiar with the author and not to worry.

What were some of my challenges? The Assumption and Immaculate Conception of Mary. Confession and indulgences. Call no man “father.” Immoral popes. Mary’s perpetual virginity. Salvation through works. Praying to saints. The Inquisition. Changes in Church teaching. Apostolic succession. Papal infallibility.

I started with some of the less offensive criticisms, and Fr. Tom’s responses made sense. For the next two and a half hours I played “Stump the Priest” and lost. He effectively dealt with every challenge. His arguments were not just plausible, they were convincing. (I know people who have left the Catholic Church. I am convinced they never raised their issues with a knowledgeable priest or Catholic apologist.) At the end I told him I would go home and tell my wife that he had survived the inquisition.

The Church of Scripture

I need to include a little disclaimer here. I didn’t discover all of this by myself. I had some help from some Catholic apologists—Fr. Tom, Tim Staples, Scott Hahn, and Steve Wood. I am just presenting the information that made sense to me.

What did I learn from reading the Bible?

The church established by Christ is the basis for our knowledge of truth. I think it is important to note that Scripture stated that the Church, not the Bible, was the basis for truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The word used for church is ekklesia. (This word is used over one hundred times in the Bible, never to describe an “invisible church” that has been posited by some Fundamentalists.)

Peter was the head of this church (Matt. 16:18). Petra is Greek for a large rock, petros is a masculine version of this feminine noun. It doesn’t mean “small rock,” as some Protestants claim. “Small rock” in Greek is lythos. In reality, he was called Kepha (Cephas), which means “large rock” in Aramaic. (Evna means “small rock.”) Peter was given authority to speak for God on earth. Obviously, for his authority to be valid he would have to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Christ continues by giving Peter the authority over the house of his kingdom, to act as the prime minister (Matt. 16:19), and Jesus was not going to abandon his church (Matt. 28:20).

Jesus Christ prayed for a unity in the Church so that it will be obvious to the world it is of God (John 17:21). Jesus sent the apostles as he was sent (John 20:21–23). He specifically authorized them to forgive sins. Although not explicitly stated, this passage shows Christ was sent with the authority to send others. Since the apostles were sent as Christ was sent, they would have this authority, too. This authority is the basis for apostolic succession. This is the practice in the church of ordination of bishops and priests by bishops. Basically, only those with the authority to send others (the apostles and their successors, bishops) can ordain. This authority was first demonstrated in the replacement of Judas’s successor (Acts 1:15–26).

Also, in Acts 10:25–48 and 15:1–12, the apostles (clearly led by Peter) made what are arguably the most important decisions of the new church without referring to sacred scripture or Christ’s teachings.

I would like to emphasize the above texts were among those I found convincing. The truth is I have only included a small portion of Scripture supporting the Catholic Church.

Moral Issues

While it is true that the Church has clarified some of its moral teachings over time, claims that it has done an about-face on such teachings evaporate upon careful examination.

The consistency of the Catholic Church needs to be compared with that of the Protestant churches on morality. This is a comparison that can be made without even opening the Bible merely by looking at what churches teach. First, are they consistent among themselves on moral issues? Second, on moral issues that all Protestants are now in agreement, did they always hold those views?

There is a wide variety of moral teachings among Protestant churches today. There are differences of opinion on homosexuality, divorce, and even abortion. Many Protestants know that the Catholic Church teaches that the use of artificial contraception is sinful. I am not aware of any Protestant church that shares this belief. What most people do not realize is that up until 1930 every Protestant denomination was in agreement that artificial contraception was sinful.

In 1930 the Anglican Church decided that artificial contraception was permissible between married couples for serious reasons. Between 1930 and 1960, all Protestant churches dropped their stands against artificial contraception. In the 1960s, the Catholic Church felt strong pressure, both internally and externally, to depart from what until this century had been consistent Christian teaching.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical, Humanae Vitae, restating that artificial contraception was intrinsically evil and making several predictions about what would happen to societies where use of artificial contraception was widespread. These predictions included increases in abortions, forced contraception (e.g., China), and a loosening of morality. It’s not hard to see how prescient Pope Paul VI’s predictions were.

If the Protestant churches are now right that artificial contraception is largely a non-moral issue, then every church—including the Catholic Church—was wrong before 1930. I do not believe this is possible because Jesus Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would guide his Church forever.

Faith Issues

The Catholic Church believes in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist—body, blood, soul, and divinity. Many Protestants disagree with this belief of Catholics. What did Christ say? Please read John 6:51–66.

Christ makes a point of saying he is not speaking symbolically in verse 55 when he says, “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” He does this even though many followers abandon him at this teaching. How can we tell what early Christians thought? A review of the writings of the Church Fathers supports the Catholic view, but there is more. All of the Orthodox churches, those that broke from the Catholic Church in the schism of the eleventh century, still hold that belief, offering proof for modern man that this was a common belief in the first millennia of Christianity.

So we have what appears to be an essential Christian doctrine of the original church that the vast majority of Protestant denominations do not accept. “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60). This discussion is not meant to be an argument for the validity of the Catholic Church teaching on the Eucharist, which I accept fully. I am merely trying to argue that most Protestant churches have moved away from historic Christian beliefs.

May I Have a Miracle, Please?

A Catholic friend of mine lent me a cassette tape on which Dr. Scott Hahn, a Presbyterian minister, college professor, and professed anti-Catholic, described how he became convinced of the authenticity of the Catholic Church. Dr. Hahn relates that at one point he had accepted most of the doctrines of the Church but was having trouble with Mary. So he prayed the rosary and asked for an impossible favor. His problem was solved three months later. An acquaintance of his had a similar experience after three weeks of prayer.

I had been praying for faith or evidence for months, and during some of that time I had prayed the rosary. I decided to do what Scott Hahn suggested. I asked for Mary’s intercession. I committed to pray the rosary daily for three weeks and asked that I be given sufficient evidence, but not only that, I wanted the evidence given to me in a miraculous way. I added the second part out of a feeling that I had to ask for the truly impossible, although I knew I did not deserve this kind of gift.

Here’s what happened during the three weeks that I prayed the rosary.

Fr. Tom had gone to Lourdes, France, and when he returned spoke at our church about his visit. He had some information on an approved miracle of Lourdes, but there was no way for me to cross-examine the doctor involved and confirm his competence and integrity. Fr. Tom told me that a famous American doctor had witnessed a cure and became Catholic as a result. He did not know the name of the doctor but knew a priest in New York who did, Fr. Benedict Groeschel.

Shortly thereafter Fr. Groeschel offered Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi celebration at our local parish, and I was able to speak with him. He told me the name of the doctor and the name of the book the doctor wrote about his conversion (Dr. Alexis Carrel, The Voyage to Lourdes). I went on the Internet and found and ordered the book. I called up the company after ordering it to see how long before it would arrive. They informed me it was out of print.

I went on the Internet again, this time armed with the title and author and did a search with perfect capitalization of author and title in quotes using the search engine Infoseek. I got two hits. The first was the place I had already called. The second was a Marian web site. This web site mentioned the book, but it also mentioned a Shroud of Turin conference in Richmond, Virginia, about ten days hence.

I had investigated the Shroud of Turin earlier at Fr. Tom’s suggestion. I had obtained the pertinent scientific papers on the Internet and had even gotten some scientific journals on file at Georgia State. I had read these and thought they made a strong case, but I had several technical questions. I had tried to contact the scientists who had written some of these papers (written over ten years ago), but I was unsuccessful.

Now scientists from around the world were going to be presenting papers at the Richmond conference, and the researchers I had wanted to see were among the presenters. I had been on several Shroud web sites and had not seen the conference. I realized I had been looking for one thing and found another. I also realized this was quite a long shot. (Had I typed my search differently, I never would have found out about the conference. I later did the same search without capitalizing any words and I got 57 million responses—I still have the summary printout to prove it.) I told myself that even if I found proof at the conference, I still did not consider the way I discovered the conference to be miraculous. I would need more.

I went to the conference armed with my papers and my questions, spoke to the researchers, got my questions answered and heard a great deal of amazing information (much of which I got to see first hand—microscope slides, photos, etc.). On the first day, the conference lasted from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. I took diligent notes and pestered the presenters on the breaks with potential problems I saw with their theories and conclusions. On the second day I took more notes and talked with the presenters as questions came up.

Sunday I sat down and reviewed everything I had seen and heard. I became overwhelmed by the realization that there was no “reasonable” explanation for all of the evidence. I had questioned the scientists and was convinced of their competence and integrity. I had all of my technical doubts reasonably answered.

Either the Shroud was genuine or these men were manufacturing incredibly complex evidence to perpetuate a fraud. They all had the credentials of serious scientists, and some I spoke with and observed seemed to have a sincere faith in Christ, a faith that would be inconsistent with participating in such a fraud. These men also challenged evidence supporting the validity of the Shroud when it did not seem sound. There was too much information for me to believe they were fooling themselves.

It could not be a medieval forgery. It contained the image of a man who had been crucified as Christ. Much of the data was buried so deep in the imaging process that only modern techniques could reveal it. The wounds on the body matched those that would have been made by a first-century Roman crucifixion in ways that medieval people would not have known, and too much more. I was not capable of coming up with an explanation to cover most of the information. There was only one reasonable explanation: I had seen evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

I wish I had enough space here to detail the evidence of the Shroud’s authenticity. Books have been written on it. My message on the Shroud is simply that the evidence for its validity is compelling. Look into it if you have doubts about the reality of the Resurrection.

On the way home I began thinking about how I had said earlier that even if I found evidence I needed at the conference I didn’t think it was handed to me in a miraculous way. I wondered if I had been too harsh in this statement. Then I realized the significance of the location the conference was held: at Mary, Mother of the Church Abbey. I had bumped into the Blessed Mother and she had said, “Look at the Shroud of Turin!”

It’s funny. The most important message on the Scott Hahn tape for me was not why the Catholic Church was faithful to Christ’s teachings but to pray the rosary and ask for an unreasonable gift.

Conclusion

I returned home from the conference. The next day I called Fr. Tom. Since I was already baptized, we arranged for me to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation two days later on the last day of the rosary. Coincidentally, this was Fr. Tom’s last day in our parish. After he gave me absolution, he finished packing and saying goodbye to friends, and headed for his next assignment.

If you are not a Christian, I challenge you to investigate Jesus Christ. Begin by reading the Gospels and asking yourself what is keeping you from following Christ. Bring these obstacles to someone with a strong faith, someone that cares about your eternal destiny. I would be very willing to help you in your search.

If you are a Protestant Christian, I would challenge you to investigate the Catholic Church. Isn’t it possible that Jesus Christ would be able to establish a real Church that would last forever and against which the gates of hell—death, even death of the apostles—would not prevail?

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