One Reader’s Pilgrimage
THE GOOD ATHEIST
Thomas K. Tomosky, Ph.D.
FROM CATHOLIC TO ATHEIST
When I was in the first grade in Catholic school, I loved to hear about Jesus – how He helped people, how He healed people. Later in grade school, I became an altar boy and a choir boy, and I just loved being in Church. In sixth grade I received the Sacrament of Confirmation. At this time I wanted more than anything else to be a “soldier for Jesus.” I wanted to help Jesus help other people.
God had blessed me with a really good brain. I was always at the top of my class, and became fascinated with Chemistry. In grade school, I was reading high school chemistry books. In high school, I studied college-level chemistry books. I took the Chemistry Achievement Test in high school before I had taken high school chemistry. Not only did I get a perfect score of 800 on the test, but I also found a mistake in the test as well! I didn’t have to take chemistry after that, although I helped tutor it. I went on to college and then to graduate school. I received my Ph.D. in Neuropharmacology, an area of brain research, from The Johns Hopkins University, when I was only twenty-four years old.
But, there was a downside to all of this intelligence. My enthusiasm for God in my grade school days developed into suspicion of God as I became an agnostic in high school, and into an outright rejection of God as I became an atheist in college. Why? I became arrogant in my knowledge, believing that science and human reason could explain all things. I was so smart that I felt that I didn’t need other people, and certainly not a God that I couldn’t see, or touch, or measure in any way. I didn’t know then that God was the source of all of my abilities, desires, and goals.
There was one incident in high school that caused me to pause and think that there may be something real about religion. A girl I was dating was having some personal problems. Strictly as a “line” to gain her confidence, I told her that God could help her. If she trusted Him and did her best to follow Him, He would hear her pleas and help her. I even quoted the Bible to her. Now I wasn’t sure that I believed any of this. But amazingly, it worked! She got closer to God and her problems were resolved. Although I was quite surprised at the outcome, I concluded that she was helped only by the “psychology” I used, and not by “God.” Today I know that God is merciful and loving, and that “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword … and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s word has power, even if an unbeliever is the messenger.
In college, I still wanted to help people, but not with God – that wasn’t a “real-life” approach. So, I would listen to various social or political groups that said they had the answer. I attended meetings of groups from the far left to the far right – from the Communist Party to the John Birch Society. These groups spent more time fighting among themselves than helping others. They clearly didn’t have the answer. At other times I checked out various religious groups that said they had the answer to life: Hindus, Hare Krishnas, Buddhists. Although somewhat interesting, none of these approaches were very compelling either.
Since God seemed so far removed from my daily life, I wondered if there really was a God. In my great scientific wisdom, I concluded that God did not exist. God was an unnecessary hypothesis that primitive people made up a long time ago because they didn’t understand life and the universe the way we modern, sophisticated people do.
I actually did have faith – but not in God. As an atheist, I had faith in my belief that there was no God. Like many scientists, I had faith – I worshipped at the altar of science, of logic, of human intelligence. I worshipped the god of human reason – which I have come to know as a false god.
See, I was so smart and so dumb at the same time. Science is great for what it is – a system to make sense out of what our physical senses can perceive. If something can be seen, touched, or measured, then science is great for that. But science doesn’t deal with the ultimate questions, the more interesting, important questions, such as: Why is the world here?, What is its purpose? Where did the world come from? By the way, the “Big Bang Theory” is not an answer to where the world came from – because where did the material, the energy, the system, the principles, and the laws to cause the Big Bang come from? Science cannot answer that. There are other, more personal questions that science cannot answer: Why am I here?, Where am I headed? What is the purpose of my life? But science has been so successful in transforming our physical world, it’s easy to forget that there is a whole realm of existence that science has nothing to do with. This is the non-physical side of reality – commonly called the spiritual world. This is a world of purpose, reasons, and meaning. A world of why things are the way they are. A world of faith, hope, and love. In short, the world of God.
While I was working on my Ph.D., I delighted – truly delighted – in persecuting Christians and making fun of all the old silly fairy tales they believed. I thought I did a fairly good imitation of Saul of Tarsus who persecuted Christians after the time of Jesus. These non-rational Christians were so easy to put down – it was like shooting fish in a barrel. They couldn’t even answer my “good atheist” argument. I would say:
I’m a good person. I do more good things for more people than you do. You say there is a God and that He’s good. Is this good God of yours going to punish me and send me to hell forever, just because I don’t kneel down to Him, Someone I can’t see or touch? That wouldn’t be very fair or loving of Him, would it?
No Christian I met could answer that argument. They would say something like: “Gee, I guess you’re right. A good God wouldn’t punish you and send you to hell, since you’re such a good person.” So I would say, “What’s the point of believing then? God doesn’t matter!”
After making fun of many Christians, I noticed that their lives often did not seem to be in full conformity with what they said they believed. If they truly had life-changing good news about Jesus that could affect one’s existence for eternity, they didn’t do a lot to spread this good news, this GREAT news, to others. If they really believed the things they said, their lives should have been committed to spreading this message. I would challenge them: “If what you say about God is true – that God made the heavens, the earth, and everything in it, that God holds everything in the palm of His hand and can crush it in an instant if He wishes, that God has spoken through His prophets and His Church, then I suggest you pay a whole lot more attention to what He’s been saying and live your life accordingly.” (And here I am, an atheist, telling this to Christians!) Someone with all this power, this majesty, is not someone to trifle with. If He really exists, He deserves the utmost respect and obedience and love. As an atheist, I sensed this deeply – if you believe in God, then act like it!
As an atheist scientist, one experience made me stop and wonder. At Columbia University in New York, as a Post-Doctoral Fellow, I studied individual nerve cells. I fully expected a single nerve cell to be relatively simple when compared with the whole brain. What I found astounded me. Instead of simplicity, I found something like a whole new universe inside of each cell. Complex systems and even more complex subsystems were present. I was in awe of the phenomenal complexity inside those nerve cells – there was no way that this all happened randomly. There had to be some master mind behind all of this. I remember thinking: “I don’t believe in God, but I can see why some people do.”
I became married for the first time – an atheist to another atheist. This decision was made on the spur of the moment, and it was a marriage explicitly without God. Being a committed atheist, I told the Justice of the Peace that she could not use the word “God” in the ceremony. I aggressively pursued worldly success – especially going after new and exciting jobs. We had one child, but the marriage eventually fell apart. Looking back, there was nothing holding this marriage together, because God was not invited to be present.
FROM ATHEIST TO “BORN-AGAIN” CHRISTIAN
As stated above, no Christian I met could show me where I was wrong with my “good atheist” argument. No Christian, that is, until I met Jack Farley.
I was working at Hewlett-Packard in Rockville, Maryland. I was in the midst of a successful career change – from brains to computers. I had conquered two complex fields – not just one. I was smart! I was also in the midst of this failing marriage and I was drinking heavily. I was so smart.
At Hewlett-Packard, I worked closely with Jack, who was a computer systems engineer. He was the smartest person I had ever met in my life. He was at least ten times smarter than I was! Jack knew everything about computers, everything about cars, everything about everything! Surprisingly, he was also friendly – willing to explain anything to anyone. He wasn’t arrogant at all, as I had become. I respected Jack tremendously. He was my hero. One night a co-worker and I were out drinking. Chuck said that Jack was a Christian. Now, I had known Jack for well over a year. Jack was smart – he NEVER would believe in that silly Christian stuff. I told Chuck he was pulling my leg – this was impossible! But Chuck insisted he was right.
A few days later, I approached Jack and said: “Jack, I’m sorry to bother you with this, but Chuck says you’re a Christian. Now I know that you’re too smart for this nonsense, so that was just a joke – right?” Jack calmly looked at me, and said “Chuck’s right – I am a Christian.” I said “You can’t be! You’re too smart for that nonsense. Are you telling that you believe in God, in angels and devils, in Adam and Eve, and all those silly stories?” Jack quietly, but confidently, said that he did believe in all of that, and that he didn’t think they were silly stories at all. I couldn’t believe it – here was this brilliant friend of mine with such goofy ideas.
Confident of my position, I tried my “Good Atheist” argument on him. I stated that I was a good atheist doing lots of good things. How was his good God going to handle that? Again, very calmly, Jack quoted the prophet Isaiah and told me that all of my good works were like “filthy rags” in the sight of the Lord, and that I would go straight to hell if I didn’t believe in God! No one had ever spoken to me like that before! I didn’t believe Jack, but I was truly touched by his conviction.
I was intrigued. I reasoned with Jack. I argued with Jack. But I couldn’t make fun of Jack – because he was smarter than I was. (Remember – I worshipped human intelligence.) I felt sad for Jack – such a fine mind wasted! I thought that there must have been some terrible emotional ordeal that crippled his mind and made him use this crutch of religion. I was truly moved to tears once, feeling so sad for Jack.
But one morning I woke up and thought: “Wait a minute. Jack’s the smartest person I’ve ever met in my life. He’s smarter than I am. What if he’s not flipped out? What if he’s … right?” So, for no other reason than out of sheer respect for Jack’s brilliance, I finally listened to Jack. I began to ask Jack more and more questions about God. We had started playing tennis and were spending more time talking about God than we were playing. Finally, after several weeks, we walked onto a tennis court and didn’t play at all. We just talked. That day, I came to realize that there was a God, that this God loved me, and that the only thing that God wanted was for me to love Him back. I had condemned and abandoned God, but God is true and faithful – He never condemned or abandoned me. I was blind but now I see. Crying like a baby, I gave my heart and life back to God, on a tennis court, in Maryland. Maryland, the land of Mary. Thank you Jesus!
As a side note, that tennis court wasn’t far from where I lived in Damascus, Maryland. In fact, it was literally “on the road to Damascus” that I saw the light and found Jesus. Sound familiar? Saul of Tarsus, whom I imitated and who became the Apostle Paul, had a similar story. Years later my wife, Chris, and I named our first son Paul, after this great Apostle of God.
A few days later, I went with Jack to his non-denominational, fundamentalist Church and became an official “born-again, Spirit-filled” Christian.
Months later, I was laying face-down on the floor one day, “praying in the Spirit” for over an hour. I wasn’t consciously thinking about anything. My eyes were closed. It was all dark. All of a sudden, I saw a clear picture in my mind – an internal vision. I saw a picture of a small boy, his fists clenched, his eyes closed, his head tilted upward, saying with all of his heart: “Jesus, I want to be a soldier for you.” I knew that this boy was me. I knew that this really happened – decades ago in the sixth grade when I was preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. This was God’s way of telling me that although I strayed from Him, that although I denounced and denied Him, that He will never leave me nor forsake me. He will always be there waiting for me – and for you – no matter what. God is faithful.
And so I now walk by faith in God – and not on the power of any of my abilities. I trust that God will lead me in the right direction. Instead of me controlling my life, I am constantly seeking God’s will as to what He wants me to do. Just as I was impressed by Jack’s ten-fold greater smartness, I humble myself to God’s infinitely greater wisdom.
Of the many wonderful events that have happened to me since becoming a believer in the one, true God, let me relate only two of them. Kenneth Copeland is a well-known teacher in the “faith movement.” The teaching is basically to learn what God promises in the Bible and to believe that you receive these blessings. Not long after I was “born-again,” I transferred from the Hewlett-Packard office in Maryland to one in California. I had a tremendous desire to hear Kenneth Copeland speak. It was THE desire of my heart. But he wasn’t speaking anywhere in my area. One day God blessed me with another “inner vision.” I saw a picture – my hand was reaching out for a bunch of grapes. They were so close to my hand. I didn’t have the grapes yet, but I knew that I would get them soon. And I somehow knew that this related to my being able to hear Kenneth Copeland speak. But he wasn’t speaking in the area, I had a new job and couldn’t take time off, and I didn’t have the extra money anyway. It just couldn’t possibly work out. But our God is the God of the impossible. Jesus tells us in the Gospels: “With God, ALL things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Within one week of this inner vision, the following events happened: My boss unexpectedly handed in his resignation. He was ready to go on an important two-week nation-wide tour, promoting some new computer products. He was willing to do the tour, but our management didn’t want him to represent the company since he was leaving. They asked quite a few other product managers to take his place – people who could have relatively easily substituted for him. But no one was able to go, for one reason or another. Finally, they came down to me – the new guy who was there only a few months. They asked me to go. I had been very involved in my new Church in California, and had commitments there. I didn’t want the devil to steal this time away – no way! So I told my management “No.” They asked me to PLEASE RECONSIDER – there was NO ONE ELSE. I said I’d think about it. I began to pray at work. I began to get a sense that it was the right thing to do, although I didn’t understand it at all, since it would take me away from Church. So somewhat reluctantly, I said “OK – I’ll do the tour.” They were happy and gave me the itinerary. Leaving San Francisco, I’d go to Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and other cities. Philadelphia. Philadelphia. There was something familiar about Philadelphia. Kenneth Copeland! Philadelphia was one of the cities in which he was speaking. I called a few people to get Copeland’s schedule. At first, it was almost too much to actually believe that our schedules would overlap. But before I finally got his schedule, I KNEW in my heart that it would work out. And it did. I was to fly into Philadelphia the night he was starting his speaking engagement, and I would be there for the two or three days of the meeting.
When I arrived in Philadelphia, I had been given instructions on how to get to their Civic Center downtown. The instructions referred to all these roads by name. As I was leaving the airport, all the signs were for route numbers. Totally moving in God’s flow, I laughed out loud, crumpled up the directions I had, threw them in the back seat, and said: “Holy Spirit, You got me this far, You’re not going to let me down now.” I then blindly proceeded to take what turned out to be the most direct route to the Civic Center. I arrived and the place was packed. I found a seat in one of the front rows where I like to sit, and sat down ten minutes before Kenneth Copeland came out. For the next few days I was tremendously blessed with his teachings.
So within two weeks of having this inner vision of my hand ready to grasp the bunch of grapes, here I was. My boss had quit, he was to go on a nation-wide tour, no one else was available, my managers begged me to go, and so I was given the time and had an all-expenses paid trip to see Copeland, which was the desire of my heart. Psalm 37:4 states: “Delight yourself in the Lord: and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Amen!
Here is another story of what it was like to flow with God. A year or so after I was “born-again,” I desired to go to a Bible school in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. I applied, and was accepted. I needed a job, and had a great desire to work at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. I had meetings with a Dean and an Assistant Dean. They were very interested in me, but no jobs were available in the college or the medical school. I really wanted to work in the Biology or Chemistry department in the college, and not in the medical school they had. I desperately needed money. I was then offered an excellent job with an oil company, to act as a consultant to work with their computer databases. I was an expert with Hewlett-Packard databases, and this is what they used. They offered me over $30,000 per year (and this is in 1982) just to be on-call for four hours per day! I didn’t even have to show up if there weren’t any problems! Again, I really needed the money. My car was being repossessed when I made the decision to turn their offer down. The reason? I truly believed that God was going to make a way for me to be at Oral Roberts University and that this was the right thing to do.
One day soon after, I was “praying in the Spirit” for about three hours about the job situation. Then a very strange experience happened. A voice “bubbled” out of my center, a near-audible voice, and it said “Pharmacology.” I immediately knew this was an answer to my prayers, that God was telling me to apply to the Pharmacology Department at the medical school for a job. And I answered right back, out loud: “No.” I really didn’t want to be in the medical school, even though that was exactly my background. I wanted to teach science at the college level. I prayed for two more hours. The voice “bubbles” up again: “Pharmacology.” My answer: “No.” I prayed for another hour. The voice “bubbles” up again: “Pharmacology.” By the third time, I got the message. VERY reluctantly, I called the medical school up, and asked for the Pharmacology department. All I wanted was the name of the chairman of the department, so I could (eventually) send a letter. I was speaking to the secretary of the department, and in the middle of our conversation, there were a bunch of buzzes and clicks on the line, and then a male voice saying, “Hello, Hello, who’s there?” Well it turned out to be the chairman of the department. He wanted to know why I called. I said all I wanted was his name and address. He insisted that I tell him right then about myself – regarding both science and religion. He was most interested in me, and wanted me to come in right away for an interview. He also wanted to convert me back to the Catholic Church, which I had walked away from. I was NOT happy with any of this. Within a few weeks I gave a seminar, and I had the job. The chairman of the department had made a job appear where none had existed.
Although I wanted to be at Oral Roberts University, but not in the medical school, it turned out to be very good move for a number of reasons. I and others were quite blessed by my being there, which almost didn’t happen because of my original “No” answers. God is patient, God is full of mercy. God is willing to lead us, if we are humble enough to follow.
These two stories (Going to the Copeland meeting and getting the job at Oral Roberts University) are just two of many peculiar (or I prefer to call them Miraculous) events that have happened since I became a Christian. They have inspired me to continue to walk in faith, to follow God. Even though I don’t always know EXACTLY how things will end up, I DO know that the results will be good if I trust God.
FROM “BORN-AGAIN” CHRISTIAN TO CATHOLIC
After the Oral Roberts University incident, I became married again – this time as a “born-again” Christian to another “born-again” Christian. This marriage should have lasted forever, because we were both Christians. But I was still pursuing worldly success – exciting jobs and money. We moved seven times in seven years across the country, as I went from job to job. We had one child, but this marriage also failed after a few years. Looking back, God was present, but He was not first in my life.
After a number of years of being a “born-again” Christian in various non-denominational, fundamentalist Churches, I just didn’t find it “fulfilling.” Things weren’t working out. I had quit praying and quit going to Church. This second marriage was failing, and I was drinking more again. Life felt empty. Worldly successes and money were a fraud. Like the song, I said, “Is that all there is?” Something was definitely lacking, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even know where to look for the answer anymore.
At this point in time, I had been moving all over the country for twenty years – looking for more exciting jobs and more money. The disillusionment that accompanied this lifestyle had taken its toll on me. I began to miss close family connections, especially when a personal tragedy occurred. I decided to move back to western Pennsylvania. This was my first step in coming back home.
One day while I was driving around just to think and to be alone, a sign for a Catholic Church caught my attention. In an instant I knew that God was saying, “There’s your answer.” My immediate response: “No way. I’m never going back to the Catholic Church. Anything but that!” I had been taught by the Protestant non- denominational fundamentalists that the Catholic Church was the greatest mistake ever. It had piled up one man-made tradition after another. It was full of falsehoods. Truth was not to be found there. It was the “Whore of Babylon” in the Book of Revelation.
But that sign wouldn’t leave my thoughts. A few days later, I “just happened” to find myself driving in the same area, saw the sign again, and thought: “What a ridiculous idea!” But as if slowly being drawn by a magnet, I decided to just drive by the Church. I saw it. It was a nice building, with stained glass windows, but this type of Church wasn’t part of me anymore. I just drove past the Church. A few days later, still being slowly drawn, I drove to the Church again. This time I was bold enough to go into the parking lot. I stayed for ten or fifteen minutes. Not thinking, just sitting and looking.
I wanted to go to a Sunday Mass. Not to join again, not to make any commitments – I just wanted to go. With an excitement I didn’t understand, I couldn’t wait for Sunday to arrive. I went in and the Church was beautiful. The altar, the statues, the stained glass windows – everything was beautiful. Even though non-denominational Churches generally have much more spirited singing, the familiar music was so beautiful to my ears. The Mass was beautiful. I don’t remember now what the sermon was about, but I thought it was beautiful too. Of course, I didn’t go to Communion, but I was touched to see all the others going up to receive the Body of Christ.
Well, that Mass clinched it. I knew I was going to rejoin the Church. I truly could not rationalize any of this. The Church was supposed to be this terrible institution, but I knew that this simply couldn’t be true. So eleven years after becoming a “born-again” Christian, I returned to the Catholic Church. It was “Home, Sweet Home” to me! I found that what I had been looking for all of these years is something I already had.
The next Sunday, I showed up early so that I could go to Confession. No Priest was there though. I asked someone about this and he said that he could get the priest if I really wanted. I said “Yes!” The priest came. I went into the confessional. I was so excited! “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was about twenty-five years ago …”
Because of my long list of serious sins, I expected that the penance would be about a thousand Our Fathers and a thousand Hail Marys. But the penance was to say one Our Father. God is so good. I was so touched by that loving penance. I knew for sure that I had made the right decision in coming back to the Catholic Church.
Looking back, I realize that because of receiving the Sacrament of Baptism in the Catholic Church as an infant, I was already “born-again.” Because of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church as a sixth-grader, I was already “Spirit-filled.” I already had all these graces from God, but just didn’t realize it. I thank the non-denominational fundamentalists for helping me be aware of these wonderful gifts and how to use them.
I now truly put God first in my life. The Bible says “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). These “things” refer to food, drink, and clothing, as well as to Godly love, peace, and fulfillment. I have stopped pursuing worldly success and money. In fact, I have less money now than I’ve ever had, but I am also more content and have more peace. I stopped worshipping the idols of science and human reason.
However, I had become very distrustful of marriage because of all the hurt and pain of two broken marriages. I cried over the hurt to the two innocent children. But God showed me that love and marriage were still possible and good. I became married for the third time – as a Catholic to another Catholic. My wife, Chris, and I recognize that our marriage is a covenant with God. He is first in our lives. We now have a wonderful marriage, and have been blessed with three beautiful children.
The Catholic life permeates our every day. We consecrate our children to God and Mary daily, we try to attend daily Mass when possible, we say a family Rosary, and have an altar in our home. We look forward to Sunday Mass. We enjoy sharing our faith with others.
But what about the first two marriages? Part of being a follower of Jesus is to love and to forgive. As regards the first marriage, my ex-wife and I who were both atheists, are now both Christians. There has been lots of forgiveness and lots of healing. I’m proud to say that we can now call each other “friend.” In the second marriage, there has been some forgiveness and some healing. We’re in the process of learning to trust each other again. I’m looking forward to the day when we can call each other “friend.” God and His time are both healers of broken relationships.
WHAT I VALUE ABOUT CATHOLICISM
I have come to appreciate that Jesus established one Church, with one man to be the leader of that Church (Matthew 16:18). I believe that the Catholic Church is the one, holy, universal, and apostolic Church. The man to lead the Church is the Pope, who is the vicar (substitute) of Christ under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Men have divided the Church into thousands of denominations. These denominations have gone their own separate ways and have interpreted scripture for their own purposes. Jesus established the Church to be a visible sign of unity, so that non-believers would see the power of God and be converted. Jesus said that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide us in all things. The Holy Spirit has revealed Truth to us – truth about the Church, the saints, Mary, the Magisterium, and the infallibility of the Pope. Many Protestants think that the Holy Spirit has done little with the Church since Pentecost, since they reject many teachings of the Catholic Church. They confuse man-made traditions (which Jesus rightly rejected) with the legitimate traditions established by the Church under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
The Church is an organization that has both divine and human components. I recognize that the Catholic Church has made mistakes in the past, such as the Inquisitions, and some of the Crusades. But I see that these failures are attributable to the fallible human component of the Church. Because of its divine component, Jesus said that the gates of hell will NEVER prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). The Church has always gotten back onto the right path.
The Catholic Church is to be our Mother on earth, who gives birth to new believers and who gives spiritual nourishment to all. A divided Church is a blasphemy and does not lead unbelievers to God. There must be unity in the Christian world, under the direction of our Holy Father. We are so blessed to have Pope John Paul II who is zealously pursuing this goal of unity.
I have found family in the Church. First there are those in the local Church and diocese. I value the true humility generally found in Catholics. Many “born-again” non-denominational Christians act as if they know everything and have life and God under control. Catholics seem to be especially sensitive to the unknowable “mystery” of God, and they are quite comfortable with not being able to explain everything. Catholics also realize that before we can celebrate the glory of the resurrection with Jesus, it may be necessary to suffer the passion with Jesus as well.
The second type of family is the larger family of God – the Saints, and most especially Mary, the Mother of God. In the Book of Hebrews, we read of the men and women of great faith who have proceeded us. They are in heaven cheering us on. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). It is so enriching to be able to pray to them, to ask for their intercession. I consider some of the saints as “friends,” asking for their help or advice. Those in the Protestant world have lost so much by trying to ignore the saints. Some fear praying to saints, feeling that we should only pray to God. But prayer to a saint is nothing more than asking for help, as you would ask any friend on earth to pray for you or to pray with you. In fact, we like to have people who we think are “holy” to pray for us. We think their prayers are “special”. Well, those who love God and have died, though not alive on earth, are even “more alive” by being with God in heaven. This is what “eternal life” means. They are the most special prayer warriors we can get! When we pray to a saint, we do not see the saint as the source of help. God, of course, is the ultimate source. God’s love is about serving others. Those people in heaven are serving God and serving those of us still on earth more than ever before. I find great consolation in having friends who are so close to God.
With a family comes a Mother, and Mary is our Mother. I’ve been studying the appearances and messages of Mary and I’ve been astounded. Her messages are not just for Catholics, and not even just for Christians. They are for ALL people, because God made everyone and desires that they all come to know Him. Mary always points the way to her Son, Jesus. Mary has already brought Jesus into the world for His first coming. Now she is serving God once again by preparing us to be the Bride of Christ, for Jesus’ second coming. People just don’t seem to realize that there are MIRACLES occurring right before us! The secular press generally doesn’t report these apparitions of Mary, and even many Christians shy away from them because we’re so “modern” and “sophisticated.” Mary is our Mother, and she deserves our full love and obedience.
I love the sacramental life in the Catholic Church! When we enter into the fullness of the Sacraments, our lives become transformed by God’s grace. The Sacrament of Baptism removes original sin and we are born again into the Kingdom of God. The Catholic Church has recognized from the beginning that this grace of God is given to us without any merit on our part. Infant baptism is the norm for Catholics. It is so beautiful to see an infant being baptized, especially during Mass, with the parents and godparents speaking for the child and for the whole Church, who desires what God desires: that all might be saved. The Sacrament of Confirmation invokes the Holy Spirit to come upon us in greater measure than before, blessing us with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Going to Confession as a Catholic is so different, and so much better, than confessing your sins to God privately. The priest acts in the place of Jesus and he is empowered to forgive our sins and reconcile us to God and to the family of God. It is psychologically and spiritually much more powerful, and more cleansing, to confess sins to another human being. It is a great act of faith to open our hearts and to be vulnerable before another wounded healer.
But the premier Sacrament is that of Holy Communion. Here we receive the actual body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have just a memorial, or remembrance, of His sacrifice – we have the real thing. We re-enact the sacrifice of Jesus anew in every Mass. It is a living, dynamic celebration of His love for us, in full conformity with the scriptural command of Jesus (Matthew 26:26-28). When we eat normal food, the food changes into us. The Eucharist is the only food that changes us into what it is – the Body of Christ.
A tradition of the Catholic Church has been to use the Crucifix, showing the body of Christ, rather than the plain cross of the Protestants. They are quick to point out that “Jesus is off of the cross, His work is done and He is in heaven.” In a very real sense, Jesus is NOT off of the cross. We are His body. We are still suffering on earth. He would never abandon us. Jesus said that when we give food and drink and clothing to the least of His people, we give food and drink and clothing to Him (Matthew 25:40). Can He sit in heaven and be unmoved by the suffering of His body? No – He is still suffering with us, He is still on the cross. That is why it is meaningful to contemplate Jesus on the cross, the Crucifix.
While in the non-Catholic world, I viewed the Rosary as a boring, repetitious prayer that superstitious little old ladies said. I now realize that the Rosary is a beautiful meditation upon scripture. The Joyful Mysteries lead us to contemplate the miracle of God becoming man, and the early years of Jesus’ life. With the Sorrowful Mysteries we appreciate the loving sacrifice of Jesus. The Glorious Mysteries give us confidence that our trust in Jesus and in Mary is not misplaced. The Apostle’s Creed is a summary of our faith in God. The “Our Father” is a prayer that Jesus Himself taught us. The “Hail Mary” is a scriptural testimony of Mary’s role in salvation history. The “Glory Be” is a faith-filled conclusion to each decade. What a blessing the Rosary is! Mary has stated that the Rosary is the chain that will bind satan in hell forever. What a powerful prayer!
WHERE IS GOD LEADING ME NOW?
Right before my marriage to Chris, I was laid off from my job as manager of the chemistry department at a small company. I applied the same advice to myself that I’ve given to other people in similar situations: Look at this layoff as an opportunity to evaluate your life and decide what you want to do with it. My evaluation led me to teach in college (even though it pays substantially less than working in the corporate world) and to better understand my Catholic faith: Exactly what do I believe and why do I believe it? To answer these questions, and as a step of faith, I enrolled as a lay theology student at St. Vincent Seminary to pursue a Masters Degree in Theology. In the course of my studies, God has placed the topic of “Unity” on my heart – the unity of people who are truly seeking God, no matter what their religion may be. I am writing a book on unity, tentatively entitled Other Sheep. The thoughts expressed in this book are totally in line with Vatican II documents and the writings of Pope John Paul II.
The title of the book comes from the Gospel of Saint John: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:14-16). These “other sheep” are the God-seeking people in other religions, and are called “anonymous Christians” by some theologians. They are not Christian in name, but when they confront God in the afterlife, they will instantly recognize and accept the truth about Jesus Christ.
The world is in such bad shape morally and spiritually, and the religions of the world have too often been part of the problem rather than part of the solution. In fact, inter-faith and inter-denominational fighting have led many away from God. Jesus will come back one day for the spotless Bride of Christ but we are far from this pure state.
Right before His death, Jesus asked the Father to send the Holy Spirit to guide us (John 14:16-17). He specifically prayed that His followers be one, even as He and the Father are one (John 17:11). This unity must be a visible unity, “so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:21). I believe that the Holy Spirit will unite God-seeking people from all of the different religions to work together against the evil in this world. And I further believe that the Holy Spirit is working now with His spouse, Mary, the Mother of God, to make us this united, spotless Bride of Christ. Mary’s many apparitions and messages around the world to people of different faiths support this claim.
This is not to say that all religions are equal – they are not. Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, has the revelation of God Himself in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). Therefore, it is essential that Catholics work with other God-seeking people without compromising the Gospel or the Person of Jesus Christ in any way. Although Jesus is the only way to salvation, non-Christians who are seeking God can be saved as well. There are definitely obstacles to unity, but they can be surmounted. We are assured by God and by Mary of a complete and final victory!
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit! As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!