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Finding Mere Catholicism

Peggy Frye

I was raised in a loving, nominally Protestant home. We went to church on Sunday, prayed before meals, and tried to live by the Ten Commandments. That was it. We gave God his hour on Sunday and then politely moved him to the periphery of our daily lives.

Anti-Catholic prejudice has deep roots on both sides of my family. Growing up, I heard stories about Catholics worshiping statues, talking to the dead, being forced to have many kids, and confessing their sins to a priest. I wondered if my Catholic neighbor talked to the dead and worshiped a statue in his house. Catholicism’s mysterious, almost magical appeal fascinated me. But that fascination flickered out quickly, since I knew such thoughts were best kept to myself.

During my teens, my life began to take a different turn. I joined the youth group at a Lutheran church and later received confirmation. My social life flourished but my faith never took root. I became preoccupied by the distractions of life and started thinking less about God and more about myself. Before long, I quit going to church, and by the time I was a senior in high school, I was an agnostic and wanted nothing to do with organized religion. Yet no matter what I did, I always came up empty and wanting something more.

This search for “something more” opened a door to things I wish I never knew existed. It was 1969—the height of the ’60s counterculture movement—when I first experienced my newfound freedom. Unconventional, permissive attitudes (sex, drugs, rock ’n roll) that were once anathema to me began to shape my life. I broke almost every commandment.

In 1974, I had a moment of grace. While working at an insurance company, some born-again Christians took an active interest in my soul. I couldn’t escape these people. Every chance they got they would tell me how God was working in their lives, how he was answering their prayers. I didn’t want to hear about Jesus. I was getting ready to tell them to take their conversation elsewhere when the Lord intervened.

One day after work, one of the Christians asked me to read a book on Christ. To avoid a conversation, I took it, threw it in my purse and bolted out the door. Later that evening while rummaging through my bag, I found the book. It was a thin paperback by C. S. Lewis entitled Mere Christianity. I was ready to toss it on the bed when, for reasons I cannot fully explain, I felt compelled to open it and read it. I couldn’t put it down.

The Jesus I knew was no more than a good man. Lewis said:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.

I wanted to throw the book in the trash. This “there’s only one way to Jesus” message offended me. The authority of Christ offended me. Submitting to Christ meant giving up my personal freedom to choose what I wanted to do in life. I kept reading and thinking. Is Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Is he the only way to God? Can I trust him? It was Lewis’s “Lord, liar, or lunatic” argument that eventually pulled me off the fence and placed me gently in the arms of Christ.

A month later, I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer and gave my life to the Lord. For the next several months, those who led me to God drew me under their wings and nurtured me in the faith. My love for Christ deepened through prayer and the study of his word. Whenever God gave me an opportunity, I evangelized. Bringing people to church and watching them go forward to an altar call was spiritually gratifying.

While my spiritual life blossomed, so did my anti-Catholic attitude. The Catholicism I found mysterious and intriguing as a child I now viewed as the enemy of true Christianity. Though I never investigated the true doctrine (and claims) of the Catholic Church, the testimonies of former Catholics were compelling enough to convince me that Catholicism was not of God. I felt pity for Catholics. They were spiritually lost, they needed Christ, and I wanted to help them find him. But God had other plans for me.

Eighteen years and three children later, I began my final journey home. I was sitting in church reading my Bible, waiting for the service to start when, suddenly, I felt a strong desire for the Eucharist. It was so intense that it startled me, and it intensified throughout the service to the point that it became a distraction. For some unknown reason, every Catholic church I passed on my way home loomed larger than life.

Communion in my church was offered only one evening every other month, which made it almost impossible for me to attend. I called the church office on Monday to see if there was a chance communion could be offered at the morning services. The secretary was sympathetic, but she didn’t give me hope that things would change anytime soon.

I went on with my business, only to have those strange promptings return. Every time I’d pass a Catholic church, the promptings would increase. I remember asking the Lord, “What are you trying to tell me?” He seemed to be awaiting that question, because it then occurred to me that the centerpiece of the Catholic Church was the Eucharist, and it was offered every day.

I hated the idea of becoming Catholic. I was happy as an Evangelical, my children were happy, and my husband was happy that we were all happy. Why would I want to leave when everything seemed so right? Besides, if the Catholic Church was the true Church, then why did Catholics eagerly leave their Church to join my church? Everything seemed so messy.

I continued to pray. Then one day while cleaning my bookshelf, I came across my old copy of Mere Christianity. When I picked it up I noticed an old bookmark. I opened it to the page and my eyes fell on the words I had read eighteen years ago when I was struggling with the claims of Christ. It was the page where Lewis said that you must make your choice. Either Jesus was, and is, the Son of God, or else he was a madman or worse.

I wanted to ignore what I read, but I couldn’t. I heard the Shepherd’s voice in those words. Later that night while looking through my new stack of books for something to read, I came across Karl Adam’s The Spirit of Catholicism. Flipping through the book, I read these words:

This exclusiveness (the Church) is rooted in the exclusiveness of Christ, in his claim to be the bringer of the new life, to be the way, the truth and the life. The fullness of the divinity was revealed to us in Christ. The Incarnate God is the last and most perfect self-revelation of God. God’s wisdom, goodness and mercy became incarnate in him. “Of his fullness we all have received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16). And therefore there is no other road to God except through Christ. There is “no other name under heaven given to men, whereby they must be saved” (Acts 4:12). But we can grasp Christ only through his Church.

My mind went back again to the argument Lewis made about Christ: Christ claims to be the only way to God, the only truth, and the only way to be saved (John 10:8–10; 25:5–7; Acts 4:11–13; 16:30–32). The claims of Christ are profound. Either he’s God or he’s a madman—or worse. There is no middle ground. I saw how the same scrutiny must be given to the claims of the Church: Either the Church is the true Church Christ established on earth, or it’s the greatest heresy in the history of the world and Catholics worship bread.

By the grace of God, I let go of my pride and bent my knee to Rome. When I accepted the faith under the teaching authority of the Church, all arguments I had with the Church fell like dominoes.

I saw how the Church existed before the Bible was written. I discovered that authority began with Jesus, who established the Catholic Church on the unshakeable rock of Peter (1 Tim. 3:15), and that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth (cf. John 16), and whoever hears it hears Jesus himself (cf. Luke 10:16). I saw how the Church had the authority to determine what was Scripture. And, if the Church was entrusted to determine the canon, isn’t it reasonable that the Church had authority to do other things as well—such as interpret Scripture?

I remember telling Catholics that being fed on God’s word—the Bible—was superior to being fed on the Bread of Life, the Eucharist. Through the Holy Spirit, I came to understand that being fed, as Jesus speaks of in John 6, is not reading Scripture, good preaching, or praise and worship. The real food is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament—body, blood, soul, and divinity. And the only place to be fed the very Bread of Life is in the Catholic Church. I couldn’t wait to receive him every day.

That was over thirteen years ago. There has never been a day since my becoming Catholic that I have ever doubted my decision. I am convinced the Church is what it says it is: the true Church established by Jesus Christ. And I thank God for the grace that brought my journey to completion on February 2, 1991, when I was received into the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.

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