I was raised in the Methodist Church but as it preached its "social gospel" during the 1950s and ’60s, my interest waned. I drifted from one Protestant church to another as a lukewarm believer. After my marriage this trend continued.
My wife had been talking religion with her Catholic brother for many years and she joined the Catholic Church in 1994. I was a bit upset about it; I just couldn’t see it. Too much ritual and formality and a whole new "language" to learn; too much at a time when I wanted to simplify my life.
In mid-1997 I got newsletter in the mail from a financial service with some predictions for the near future. One was about what the New World Order people planned to do. Part of that was their plan to do away with monotheistic religions and replace them with a New-Age, inclusive "religion" based largely on Buddhism.
At the same time my wife read a book by a Catholic visionary and she encouraged me to read it. When I finally got around to it, it hit me that the visionary was talking about the same thing as the newsletter writer, although from an different viewpoint. Both concluded that God would win the battle in the end. Whether or not these predictions will come about is immaterial, but I like to be on the winning team, and it started me thinking. When I do serious thinking I usually write about it.
I showed what I had written to a couple people, one being a Jehovah’s Witness in-law. She came back at me with several "facts," mostly knee-jerk reactions to anything Catholic. One thing in particular that struck me was the contention that the apostle Peter was never in Rome. I didn’t know enough Christian history to comment on that; in fact, I wasn’t even sure it was important. But I was wondering why the Witnesses thought it was important. So I did some reading. I remembered from my younger days in the Methodist Church that Andrew introduced his brother Simon to Jesus, and that Jesus renamed Simon "Peter," the rock. I skimmed through the New Testament and could not find anything about what Peter had done and where he had traveled after Christ’s Ascension. By then my curiosity was aroused and I went into it more thoroughly. I read a couple of books about Peter.
Protestants do a lot of Bible studying but do not talk much about early church history; after all, they were not part of it. I started reading about Peter and others and then later took a 10-part course in Church history taught at St Joseph Radio in Orange, California, by a very knowledgeable convert, Rick Howick.
I learned that Peter was considered the final authority at the meeting of the disciples in Jerusalem about A.D. 41; this was where Paul confronted Peter about the conditions required of Gentiles coming into the Church. Howick made mention of Peter traveling to Antioch with Paul for a while and from there to Rome. Several sources said Peter was martyred in Rome around 67. I learned how the Bible books were selected and about the approval of the list of scriptural books by Pope Boniface I in 419. By this acceptance, the scriptures were considered the sacred words of the Lord. There was only one Christian Church at that time, centered in Rome, to approve the canon of the Bible. For the next ten centuries there was bo significant argument in the Church that this canon of the Bible constituted the Sacred Scriptures.
The Council of Trent (15451563) was called to counter the Protestant "reformers"; in the end it published a long list of canons and decrees, and one of them emphasized again the original canon of the Sacred Scriptures adopted in 419 AD. The council decreed that no one relying on his own judgment and conceptions should presume to interpret the Bible to mean other than what was originally approved. To do so was heresy.
The Sacred Scriptures outline only a small fraction of what transpired in the early days of the Christian Church. If you intend to follow and understand all that happened in that period, you sure won’t find satisfaction in the Bible alone! Fortunately, several of the early Church fathers wrote many works that fill in a lot of the early history and teachings. This is the major reason that it is impossible to describe the history and traditions of the Christian Church using only the Bible. The Catholic Church calls itself a teaching church, and for good reason.
This is where the Protestants fall down; they ignore all the history and teachings of the Church not in the Bible. Making the Bible the sole authority is a man-made construct growing out of the lack of holy authority when the reformers left the Catholic Church. They abandoned all the sacred traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church that support the Bible.
By now it was obvious to me why Peter is so important to any discussion of early church history. I found a couple of authoritative books about him, and reading them was fascinating. Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (Cephas in Aramaic, which doesn’t translate well to Greek). By so doing, he called Simon "Peter," the rock upon which he would build his church (Matt. 16:18). In Matthew 16:19 he gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven and gave him the power to bind and loose. In other words, Jesus gave Peter the absolute authority to lead the Christian Church. Did Peter go to Rome? Beyond a doubt. This was reported by several writers who got it directly from the disciples who were with him in Rome. The Christian Church was already there but Simon Peter assumed leadership of the Church when he went there. It was never disputed that Peter was the head of the apostles and head of the Church.
About 67 Peter was martyred in Rome by Emperor Nero. Peter chose to be crucified upside down as penance for his sins. Roman law allowed the body to be claimed by friends to be buried, and he was buried on Vatican Hill. By some reports, he was buried in the Necropolis, the "City of the Dead," a very unusual early Roman cemetery, where families built elaborate stone houses for crypts. In the fourth century Emperor Constantine leveled the area, Vatican Hill, and built the first St. Peter’s Basilica over Peter’s tomb. That basilica was later replaced by the present St. Peter’s in the seventeenth century. Peter’s tomb is now 36 feet under the floor of the Basilica.
In 1949, under the direction of Pope Pius XII, the earth under St. Peter’s was excavated and Peter’s tomb was found. Inscribed on the tomb were the Greek words"Here is Peter."
All this reading made it obvious to me that what today is the Roman Catholic Church descended from the original Christian Church in an unbroken lineage. In other words, the Roman Catholic Church is the original and only true Christian Church. All others are deviations from it. There would be no Christian churches today were it not for the Catholic Church led by Peter in Rome. There would be no Bible as we know it now.
All this history is not in the Bible, so Protestant Fundamentalists and Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot accept it. Witnesses have a strong hatred of the Catholic Church, and they would do anything to avoid the fact that Peter was the first pope and that papal succession and authority flowed from him up to the present pope, John Paul II.
The Jehovah’s Witness relative loaned me a couple of well-written JW books in the course of my research. I read them carefully and prepared a report on each to understand them better. I wasn’t impressed. Their whole "religion" seems to be based upon two things: their unrealistic and inconsistent interpretation of the book of Revelation and their boundless hatred of the Catholic Church. What a sad commentary on a large and growing religious organization! I started with the inquiry classes at the local parish church, Holy Family Cathedral in Orange County, and very quickly decided to go on. I was still in a mode of "what am I doing here?" up to the rite of welcome, but after that, I felt comfortable. The rite of welcome was a beautiful public ceremony where we agreed to continue on the path toward initiation. I don’t like imitations, so I concluded that thc only church I can truly accept is the Roman Catholic Church, and that is why I joined it at Easter Vigil, 1998.
Do I still have trouble with the ritual and formality of it? Yes, but only in that I am not as familiar with it as a "cradle Catholic" would be. As I experience each sacrament or rite, I appreciate the reason for it and the beauty of the service; you could almost call it "pageantry" in some cases. The fullness and warmth of the religion becomes evident as I experience it. I had never had this feeling in any Protestant church.
Do I have trouble with any Church laws? As I learn about each I see why it exists. In my Protestant experience these weren’t discussed much. We humans sometimes lose sight of the fundamental realities of life in the rush of our modern living, but when you learn the reasons behind the Church’s decisions, you begin to understand. As I learn about them I feel as if I am gaining a greater understanding of life, at age 68!
I am growing in the Catholic faith as I attend Mass and partake in the sacraments and as I read more about the Church and its history. My wife is quick to point out that my original attraction to the Church was intellectual and that I need to expand my spiritual experience. While my original attraction was intellectual, that is not what is keeping me there. I feel more and more that I have found the religious connection I needed. I feel like the Catholic Church is the one that really worships God, and the Protestants are more busy worshiping the Bible. I have a very strong feeling of reverence at a Catholic Mass. Every Sunday as I attend Mass I feel almost overwhelmed at the belief written on the faces of those there with me.