How I Solved the Catholic Problem
By Kristine Franklin
Envoy Nov/Dec 1996
Guatemala is at a turning point. Historically it’s been a 100% Catholic country – but that’s changing – rapidly. Demographers predict that early in the next century Guatemala will become the first mostly-Protestant Latin American country.
The jet made a careful descent between the three volcanoes that ring the sprawl of Guatemala City. It was April 19th, 1992. My husband, Marty, and I had reached the end of eight years of preparation to be Evangelical Protestant missionaries.
We were finally here, excited and eager to settle in Guatemala. We knew our faith would be challenged and stretched, but we were more than ready for it because above all else, we desired to serve God with everything we could offer. Our new life as missionaries had just begun.
I didn’t feel even a twinge of regret over what we’d left behind in the States: family, friends, a familiar language and culture, and amenities like clean water and good roads we Americans so often take for granted. In spite of the unknowns ahead, I knew we were being obedient, regardless of the cost. We were living smack in the middle of God’s will, and it gave us a great feeling of security. We had given ourselves fully to bringing Christ’s light to the darkness of this impoverished, Catholic country.
As the jet touched down onto the bumpy runway, tears welled in my eyes. “Thank you, Jesus,” I whispered as I reached over to squeeze my husband’s hand. Marty and I had come to the end of a long journey, but we were also beginning a new one. “Some day, Lord,” I prayed silently, “I hope this foreign place will feel like home.”
I was elated as we walked down the exit ramp from the plane and began the long-awaited adventure of being Protestant missionaries – missionaries sent to “rescue” Catholics from the darkness of their religion’s superstition and man-made traditions and bring them into the light of Protestantism.
There’s no way I could have known that three years later, almost to the day, my husband and my two children and I would stand holding hands again, elated again, waiting to be received into the Catholic Church. Let me explain what happened that led me, a staunch Evangelical, to become Catholic.
In the Beginning
I was raised in a devout Fundamentalist home. When I was 5 years old I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I was watching cartoons and it was time for a commercial. I figured that was as good a time as any to get saved. I’d been told many times by my folks that all I had to do was “open up a little door in my heart and let Jesus come in, and I would be a true Christian.”
That was it. Once Jesus was in, He would never go away. And when I died, I would go to heaven. It was a sure thing, the best deal in life, the free gift of eternal life. I couldn’t earn it, I could only ask for it, and as soon as I asked (if I really meant it), then it was a done deal! One minute I was a little sinner on the way to hell, the next minute I was a Christian.
When I told my mom I’d become a Christian, she wept for joy. I didn’t feel any different, but I knew my black heart was now as white as snow. No matter how bad I was, no matter what naughty things I did, when God looked at my heart from now on, all He would see was white, because Jesus was my personal Savior. As I grew up and found myself involved in sins of one kind or another, I doubted the sincerity of my “conversion” at age 5 and, just in case, I got “born-again” at least on two other occasions (just to be sure).
This is the Catch-22 of the typical “born-again” theology taught by many Evangelical and Fundamentalist denominations: Although we were taught that “faith alone” saved a person, the assumption was that right away the convert would exhibit a changed life and would continue growing in holiness out of sheer gratefulness to God for the gift of salvation. Under this system, the whole conversion event was completely subjective and valid only with the right measure of sincerity and true repentance – what Evangelicals call “saving faith.”
On the other hand, if a person known to be “born again” falls away from Christ, it’s said that he had “never really been born again.” In other words, the possibility always exists that you might not actually be a Christian, though you might be completely convinced that you are. (Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants would never say it that way, nor do they even like to think about it, but they do recognize that this is so.)
The “Catholic Problem”…
Just as I knew for certain I was a Christian at 5 years old, I knew with equal certainty that there were others who were not Christians. I had been taught that some of these non-Christian people lived in places like Africa and Asia. Missionaries were frequent visitors at our little church and we listened with awe to their stories. Once some missionaries came from Mexico, where, tragically enough, the people thought they were Christians, even though they weren’t. The Mexicans, we were reminded, were a lot worse off than the heathens in Africa. At least the heathens knew they worshipped demons and false gods. But the poor Mexicans were Catholics. They had been deceived into thinking they were real Christians, and this made them a lot harder to convert.
But it wasn’t just the Mexicans we worried about and prayed for.
Most of our neighbors weren’t Christian either. Most were Roman Catholics. Their kids went to Sacred Heart school, where nuns and priests taught them to worship statues and pray to Mary whom – we were repeatedly warned – Catholics thought was more powerful than God Himself. I was taught to feel sorry for Catholics, because they were members of a cult, and they didn’t even know it. They were like Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had been deceived into thinking that their good works would get them to heaven.
All of my father’s relatives were Catholic. I remember when one of them died, my mother cried bitterly because he was in hell, not because he was a great sinner, but because he was Catholic. And there was no way a Catholic could be a “born again” Christian. In fact, as far as we were concerned, being Catholic was far worse than being simply unchurched. Being Catholic was to live a lie, a lie which would only be exposed at death, when the unsuspecting person ended up in hell for believing he could work himself to heaven by good deeds. This was the way Catholics and their theology was explained to me.
I was not allowed to go to the funerals of any of my Catholic relatives. It was too sad, my Mom told me. Funerals were supposed to be happy because the person who had died (if he had been “born again”) was with Jesus, free from suffering and pain. Catholic funerals weren’t happy at all. A lot of people cried because they didn’t know for sure if their loved one was in heaven. But we would know, Mom assured us. That was the great thing about being real Christians.
These prejudices and misconceptions about Catholicism were reinforced continually throughout my childhood. Not only did I hear strong opinions against Catholicism, but also against most other Protestants, those in other denominations.
We were taught that only in our church, or a church which shared our Dispensational interpretive system,1 could a person find the complete truth about the Bible. The big denominations, the “mainline churches,” were all apostate we were warned. Those churches were best avoided, for in them, a person would hear error taught and might be deceived into believing it. Errors included things such as infant baptism, amillennialism, speaking in tongues, faith healing or, worst of all, that a Christian could lose his salvation through serious sin.
We had the truth at our church, period. Anyone who wanted the whole story about God would have to come to our church and study the Bible the way we did. When meeting someone from another denomination for the first time, we were taught to view with suspicion that person’s claim to being a Christian. If they didn’t believe pretty much what we did, there was a good chance they weren’t really “born again.” We were constantly reminded by our pastor that we were obligated to share the real truth with them, especially if they were Catholics. We had Jesus, they didn’t. It was that simple.
Over the years I came to know many “true Christians” from these other “erroneous” churches. This had an effect on me. I gradually loosened my Fundamentalist views on truth and adopted the typical, somewhat vague belief of contemporary evangelicalism that as long as one has a “personal relationship with Christ,” that’s all that matters. To my shock, I even met a few Catholics whom I judged to be “born again,” (though I could only wonder how they could possibly grow spiritually within the Catholic Church, and I had no idea why they remained in it). As their friend, I saw it as my duty to urge those “Christian” Catholics to find a better church, a Bible-believing church. And some of them took my advice and left the Catholic Church. Some however, stuck with Catholicism, which only made me question the validity of their commitment to Christ.
From the time I was a kid, I was taught that in the hierarchy of careers, foreign missionary service was right at the top of the list of things that please God. Marty and I discussed the possibility of his teaching in a school for missionary children. Since he already spoke Spanish, we knew it was likely we’d end up in Latin America or Spain. We prayed that God would use us as missionaries to bring Catholics to Christ. We wanted to bring them “true Christianity.” From the time we made that decision until our arrival in Guatemala, a little over eight years went by.
Shortly after we arrived in Guatemala my tidy paradigm of “true Christianity” began to disintegrate. For more than two years, I experienced a persistent nagging at the back of my consciousness regarding several theological issues. Getting to the mission field brought those problems to the fore.
Perhaps the most distasteful of the nagging issues was what I had come to see as the cultural hegemony inherent in Evangelicalism’s mission strategy. Evangelicals were (and are) importing wholesale a specifically American brand of piety, imposing the forms and symbols and jargon of “American Christianity” on the people in other countries. This religious colonialism bothered me a lot.
There was also the problem of illiteracy in Latin America. Since childhood I had been steeped in the mindset that the Bible is the literal touchstone of all things Christian. Consequently, I had a hard time integrating the Evangelical “read it for yourself” approach with a culture in which many people couldn’t read.
And finally, the Protestant notion of sola scriptura (the Bible alone) fell apart each time I tried to test it. I began to see that Evangelicalism’s insistence on going by the Bible alone led continually into division and problems. Worse yet, claiming to go by the Bible alone didn’t really provide any certitude of belief for believers.
Because of my upbringing and theological training, I didn’t realize at first that as soon as I allowed myself to question these three problem areas I was pointing myself in the direction of Rome. I thought I was just settling some troubling issues, but it was really at this point that my journey into the Catholic Church began.
I believed, as most Evangelicals do, that my own brand of Christianity was the most “authentic,” i.e. the closest to the New Testament beliefs and practice – the most “biblical.” In Guatemala I was confronted with something I had never considered before: that my Christianity was in fact, a largely American phenomenon.
Marty and I spent our first few months in Guatemala “looking for a church.” What we expected to find was authentic, Latin American Christianity. What we found was simply transplanted American Evangelicalism, the only difference being the language. It was like watching the Dukes of Hazard dubbed into Spanish. Guatemalan Evangelicalism was a clone of its stateside counterpart. The music was American, the Sunday School curriculum was American. Church government was copied from whatever denomination had founded that particular church. Evangelism was geared, like advertising, to reaching the most people with the most attractive gospel. In most churches, American missionaries wielded a powerful influence, despite the fact that evangelicalism has been present in Guatemala for over 100 years. I realized pretty quickly that Americans are boss there. There are native Evangelical pastors, sure, but the real influence and authority lay in the hands of the Americans.
There were other unfortunate parallels with evangelicalism in America. Poor people went to poor churches; the middle-class and wealthy attended more upscale churches which attracted people from their particular level of society. Only in one large, downtown Evangelical church did we ever see rich and poor in fairly equal numbers, though most of the poor people sat in the balcony, not down front where the more affluent folks sat. I had never, until then, realized how Protestant churches are almost always separated by class. I was unsettled to realize that I had never attended a church with poor people. I had always looked for a church with people “like me.” Where was the One Church of Jesus Christ which embraced rich and poor alike? For some reason, I had expected to find it in Guatemala. I didn’t.
I began to reflect upon something I’d heard from a visiting missionary years before. He’d said their mission had begun to target only the wealthy and middle-classes in large urban areas with the gospel. The reason for this was that “poor people would want to be like the rich,” so, according to his logic, starting churches among the rich made it easier to reach the poor. Starting a church among the poor however, would not reap a harvest with the rich later on. After all, the rich don’t want to be associated with a “poor people’s religion.”
I remember reading an article on church growth in which the Evangelical author stated that “multiplication occurs in homogeneous churches.” Translation: If you want lots of people to come to your church, don’t mix the poor and the rich, and don’t mix the races. Many Evangelicals would balk at such a blunt way of characterizing this attitude toward Latin Americans, but it is a fact, and the proof is the way Evangelical “missions” are run down there.
In Guatemala there are the Ladinos, predominately European of Spanish descent. They make up the ruling class. The underclass, for the most part, are pure Mayan Indian. There were Ladino churches and Indian churches. If you saw a woman in a Ladino (upper class) church dressed in native clothing, it was a good bet she was someone’s maid. This stratification of Evangelical churches had never bothered me before. In fact, I had never really considered it. But now my conscience was pricking me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Evangelicalism was not promoting harmony between the races and classes but, rather, was structured so as to reinforce these social and cultural separation between believers. What bothered me most was that this attitude was very American.
Segregation was only one of the problems I observed with the imported evangelicalism of Guatemala. A bigger problem is the disease of dissension, which is endemic to protestantism. When the Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Fundamentalists, and the other well-meaning missionaries came to Guatemala, they brought with them all the doctrinal spats that American churches split over. Guatemalan churches, like their American counterparts, are constantly in a state of strife and doctrinal turmoil, splitting into new churches. New denominations spring up in Guatemala at a breathtaking rate. Pastors, (often self-proclaimed, with little or no education) found new churches, taking large portions of their former congregations with them.
In one little Evangelical church the leaders decided to get hymnals (at great expense to the members) and tone down the music on Sundays, so the neighbors wouldn’t think they were Pentecostals. Some members left because they didn’t want to give up swaying and hand-clapping during worship.
Another church split over the election of a female elder. Splinter groups split from splinter groups which had split from other splinter groups. The church was “multiplying,” all right.
American Evangelical missionaries pour into the country to do what they called “church planting.” This means that the newly arrived American “pastor” goes door-knocking until he finds a handful of converts, then they proceed to meet and call it “church.” (This is typical of non-denominational Evangelism the world over.) Although several missions groups, including the one which had brought us to Guatemala, work to unite Protestants and help them work together, I realized that there is no reason to assume that unity can be established when unity has never been established between Protestants, since Luther’s day!
I asked myself where was the “one body, one faith, and one baptism” St. Paul spoke about so passionately? I began to fear that the answer could not be what American missionaries were peddling, at least it couldn’t be the whole answer.
One day we drove through a small village where I counted three Pentecostal churches on one block. Before the arrival of protestantism, this town was united in its Catholicism. The Catholic parish used to be the center of the community, but now there were multitudes of competing Protestant churches, each promoting its particular brand of evangelicalism: Church of Christ, Presbyterian, non-denominational, Assemblies of God, Mennonite Brethren, and Baptists of every conceivable stripe were all there, scratching around for converts, and reminding their flocks that all the other groups were wrong (especially, of course, the Catholics).
I thought about this choose-your-own-church syndrome constantly. While all of us missionaries from these various denominations proclaimed the purity of our gospel, the truth was, there was no way for any of us to know for sure which of us had it “most right.”
I had no doubt that people who previously had no relationship with Jesus Christ were being saved and brought into God’s family through the great efforts and sacrifices of Evangelical missionaries. Still, along with the message “You must be born again,” came all the same difficulties of disunity and division that plague American evangelicalism.
The problem of the poor and illiterate forced me to rethink several issues. For one thing, I had been taught that to know God one must know the Bible. I had been taught a very detailed, specific interpretive system and had a great deal of experience in using it to understand Scripture. I’d been reading and memorizing Scripture passages since childhood and, I thought, I knew what it all meant. I knew the Bible was meant to be taken literally, most of the time, especially regarding creation and the End Times. I knew the spots where taking it literally could get you into trouble. A good example being the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 or the teaching on justification in James 2:24. Regardless of what other denominations taught, I knew the truth because I knew how to study Scripture for myself. At least that’s what I thought.
Most educated Evangelicals are confident in their theology, and I was no exception. For example, if I met a pastor who taught that infant baptism was acceptable, I knew he was wrong and I could prove it from Scripture. I could read the Bible and understand it and apply it to my life. I could use the study tools necessary to understand what it meant. I had well-used lexicons and concordances and had studied the Bible for years. But when I came to Guatemala, living in a country of high illiteracy, I was forced to ask the following question for the first time in my life:
“If a person’s knowledge of truth depends to a great measure upon his ability to read and understand and use Scripture, and if that person’s growth in Christ depends upon his being able to do the same, what about the illiterate?”
Guatemala has an illiteracy rate of about 50 percent. How would those illiterate believers grow in Christ? How could they fulfill the mandate of prayer and daily personal Bible study? Translating the Bible into a person’s native language, (Guatemala has over 22 distinct Mayan languages in addition to Spanish) wouldn’t even begin to help him understand, in context, Scripture’s meaning. Illiterate people have always depended for knowledge of the truth and for spiritual growth, not on the Bible, a book they can’t read, but on the Church and its teaching and preaching.
This realization was earth-shaking. I saw that evangelicalism had become, by its “Bible alone” principle, a religion of the literate elite. As a missionary taking the gospel to illiterate people, I realized I had to be absolutely sure, before God, that what I was telling them was, in fact, the Christian Faith, free from error. It had to be 100 percent Truth with a capital T. The problem was, using the “Bible alone” principle I had been taught, I had no way to be absolutely sure.
I witnessed among Guatemalan Evangelicals a cacophony of conflicting teachings. Pentecostal television preachers railed against the devil and cast out demons right and left. Fundamentalist non-Pentecostal preachers were just as busy railing against the Pentecostals for speaking in tongues, which was, they warned, a sure sign that they were in cahoots with the devil.
Some preachers were teaching a “health and wealth gospel” in one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nations. Many preached American-style democracy as the “biblical” government God wanted to see in Guatemala. Baptists preached that infant baptism didn’t count and that those who practice it aren’t “true Christians.” Lutheran missionaries were busy baptizing babies. Quakers told people they didn’t need any outward symbols of Christianity.
Every Evangelical preacher waved his Bible around, claiming it as his authority. “The Bible says . . .” is perhaps the most common phrase heard on the radio in Guatemala these days.
With all the competing voices, how was one to know who was right? What mere man could stand up with a clear conscience before a group of illiterate people and say, “This is what the Bible means?” The sheer arrogance of what was going on made it difficult for me to listen to sermons after a while. All of them were “preaching the gospel.” But whose gospel? I wondered. Around that time, a more fundamental question loomed: What is the gospel?
I remember hearing one day how a Methodist missionary on one side of the mountain made a deal with the Pentecostal missionary on the other side saying, “I won’t tell your people they need to baptize their babies if you won’t tell mine that they need to speak in tongues.”
I had plenty of theological training. I knew the answers I’d learned in my Bible classes at college. I knew what I’d been told was true, but I also knew many good Christians who did not hold to some of those teachings. Even I held opinions which differed from what I was taught as a child. Still, I wanted to be able to tell a new Christian where he or she could go to church and really learn the truth about God. I began to ask myself, “What exactly is my personal theology?” I felt if only I could firm up my own beliefs, I’d be able to find the answer. The more I thought about this, the scarier my conclusions became, because the bottom line for me and for every other individual Protestant Christian was this: Theology for the modern Evangelical is a matter of his own opinion about what Scripture means.
For years my husband and I had chosen where to attend church based on the following criteria: First, the teachings and doctrinal statement had to agree with our own conclusions. Second, there had to be a group of people of our socio-economic level with whom we could share good fellowship. And third, we had to be comfortable with the style of worship. The question, “Do they teach the whole truth?” never entered into the equation, because in the Protestant system of individual interpretation of Scripture, there is no way to know who has the whole truth. Protestantism offers a sort of functional agnosticism with regard to the meaning of Scripture. One simply can’t know for sure. But I knew that Christ established a Church, and He meant it to contain all Truth. And I was beginning to see that in the Protestant scheme of things, this was completely unattainable.
We observed many of our non-denominational missionary friends urging these people to find a “bible believing church” where Scripture was taught accurately. This was especially the case after a large crusade in which hundreds came forward to “get saved.” The interesting thing was, if the missionaries were Pentecostals or Charismatics, what they meant by a “Bible-believing church” was a “Spirit-filled” church with lively music and overt expressions of the sign gifts. If the missionaries were Baptists or some other form of Fundamentalists, what they meant by “bible-believing” was a non-pentecostal church with heavy emphasis on exegetical preaching and personal Bible study (assuming, of course that the people in question could read). In our dealings with people, what we ended up telling them was to choose a church in which they were comfortable. It was the best we could honestly suggest, because every single church claimed to teach God’s truth, straight out of the Bible. Who were we to say one was better, or truer, or more “bible-believing” than another?
At this point I read two important books that rattled me even more. The first was Randall Balmer’s fascinating, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Evangelical Sub-culture in America. Balmer, a Columbia University history professor, explored the roots and traditions of my childhood religion with great respect but, nonetheless, with the impartial eye of the outside observer. For the first time, I climbed out of the fishbowl and looked in, and what I saw astounded me. My theological roots were at most only 150 years deep. Contrary to what I had been taught, my version of Christianity didn’t go all the way back to the New Testament. Not even close.
From that point on I had a deep desire to understand historic Christianity. I borrowed Paul Johnson’s book, The History of Christianity, from a missionary friend. Over the next year I read several books on Church history. I read the works of men I had never heard of before: Anthony of the Desert, Cyril of Jerusalem, Clement of Alexandria, Basil, Ambrose, Eusebius, Ignatius of Antioch. It felt like finding new friends, Christians who knew my Lord so intimately. But their words also profoundly shook my Evangelical theology. The fact that these men were Catholic made me embarrassed and indignant. In all my years as a Christian I had never heard of these people, let alone studied their writings.
I didn’t know much about the early Christian Church. In seminary (we attended Biola, in Southern California) we had been taught to believe that after the death of the Apostles, the Church slid immediately into error and stayed that way until Luther nailed his Theses to the door, and then the “real” Christians came out of hiding.
But what I found as I read was that in those formative first thousand years of Christian history the great doctrines, the “fundamentals” of my Christian Faith had been hammered out by the Catholics in councils and synods and by the Church Fathers who wrote and taught and preached! I discovered that although the Reformers were hailed as our heroes, the “Evangelical Protestantism” I had been raised with was quite a long way from the theology promoted by the Reformers. My denomination was a splinter group – a little, teeny, unhistorical, brand-new splinter of a splinter of a splinter. I didn’t want the splinter any more. Part of the Church Christ established just wasn’t enough. I wanted the whole Church, if it still existed.
This is the point at which I began to have serious doubts about the doctrine of sola scriptura. I noticed that the early Church did not follow the Protestant concept of going by the Bible alone. That was a shocker! My study of the early Church showed that Scripture and Sacred Tradition, promulgated by the Church’s teaching magisterium, was the model of authority for the early Christians.
In place of the “One Faith,” I saw in Guatemala hundreds of “faiths,” hundreds of competing preachers. When there was One Faith, Christianity swept the world like wildfire. At no time in the history of Protestantism has an entire pagan nation turned to Christ. I thought of all the many pagan groups to whom the Catholic Church came and preached the Gospel and who were converted to Christ as a result: the Slavs, the Irish, the Gauls, the Saxons, the fierce Nordic races, the Japanese, Indians of South America, Africans, the list was endless. And here we were in Guatemala as “missionaries,” making Catholics into Protestants. These people had been Catholic for five hundred years. All we were doing was “converting” Christians to our way of understanding the Bible. Not a very impressive thing when you compare it to the 2000 years of Catholic evangelization.
The most astonishing discovery came when it dawned on me through long hours of reading and studying Scripture and conservative Evangelical commentaries on biblical sufficiency that Scripture doesn’t even teach that it alone is sufficient for knowing all Truth about the Faith. Protestants presuppose sola scriptura, without giving the slightest thought to the possibility that the “Bible alone” is an incorrect view. If that presupposition were erroneous, I reasoned, then everything which was built upon it would be dubious as well.
I knew I couldn’t stay where I was as an Evangelical. I had been sharing my struggles with Marty, and he had been doing similar study and soul searching. We decided to resign from our mission board and return to the United States, where my husband took a job teaching in a public high school. Upon arrival back in the States we didn’t know where we were headed theologically, but we did know that Evangelicalism was behind us forever. From the time we made this difficult decision to the time we entered the Catholic Church, six months went by.
At first we attended a small Episcopal church, where our need for solemn worship, liturgy, and a meaningful Eucharistic experience was met to a certain extent. At this time the Catechism of the Catholic Church had just been published in English. I bought a copy and Marty and I began to read. It didn’t take long for us to realize, with a mixture of anxiety, relief, and joy, that we had finally found the answers to all those doctrinal and moral questions Protestantism could never hope to answer.
The Catechism was the first Catholic book I had ever read. Many more Catholic works soon followed, as well as wrenching sessions in prayer, as the truth became clear and the cost of discipleship became obvious.
Years of prejudice and ignorance do not disappear overnight. We had to lay aside our Protestant glasses, as it were, and see things with Catholic eyes. Having lived in more than one culture, we’d had some practice at this. Still, it was difficult because we were on the verge of giving up our autonomy as determiners of Truth. We had always been in charge of what we believed. Our beliefs had always been stated, “I believe Scripture teaches,” and now, in exploring Catholicism, we realized we were heading toward a Faith that would require us to state and believe, “The Church teaches . . .” In some ways leaving Protestantism was like a death. But new life was just around the corner.
In February, 1995, Marty dialed the number for the priest at Blessed Sacrament Church and asked if we could have an appointment. Although I had led the way in some respects toward Rome by my incessant reading and discussion and questions, when it came right down to it, Marty was the one who made the call and said it was time we acted upon what we now knew was the truth. We were on the brink of a life-changing decision. Everything up to that point had been a kind of intense theological investigation without any sort of real commitment. Were we ready to take the next step? Were we willing to go wherever Christ led us?
We had been willing to give up our home and friends in America and go live as missionaries in a foreign land. But now we asked ourselves if we were willing to give up everything for the sake of the gospel – not just material possessions or a job, but our reputations and the respect of our family and friends as well. We had done all the reading and studying, and praying. Now the time had come to speak with a Catholic priest.
I was never more nervous in my life than I was the afternoon Marty and I walked up the steps of the rectory at Blessed Sacrament parish and rang the bell.
Marty gave Fr. O’Donnell a brief explanation of our story and at the end said, “We’re pretty sure we want to be Catholics.”
Father smiled warmly, “Only the Holy Spirit could have done this in your lives. Welcome home.” I fought back the tears that welled up in my eyes. The relief was overwhelming. Home? I’d begun to think finding our true Christian home was an impossible quest. But now I knew it had been there all along – Holy Mother Church, waiting for her children to find their way into Her arms.
The news of our conversion to the Catholic Church didn’t go over well. Friends and family were shocked and many were angry with us. We heard all the questions and challenges.
“How could Kris and Marty Franklin buy into the deceptions of the Roman Catholic Church?”
“What went wrong?” they asked us and each other in dismay.
“Nothing went wrong,” we assured them. “In fact, everything is finally right.” But they couldn’t hear us.
There was a lot of speculation about why we were becoming Catholics, much of it unpleasant, all of it inaccurate. Some thought we’d simply grown weary of fighting the “good fight.” Others thought we couldn’t handle the pressures of missionary life and had popped our spiritual corks. Some thought we must have been lured by the strange attractiveness of the Catholic liturgy, or by some wily, fast-talking, Scripture-twisting priest. One of my family members told us we had lost our faith completely and had walked straight into the jaws of Satan.
The truth was just the opposite. We had found Jesus Christ in the last place anyone, ourselves especially, could have imagined, and His arms were opened wide to welcome us.
Blessed Sacrament Church was packed for the Easter Vigil Mass. At Communion, the priest leaned close and whispered, “Kris, you’ve waited all your life for this.” Then he held up Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life and smiled and said, “The Body of Christ.”
“Amen,” I said. “I believe it.” As I received Jesus sacramentally in Holy Communion for the first time, I thanked Him with all my heart for the miracle of grace He had worked in my life to unite me to Himself in this way, in a wonderful, mysterious way I could never have imagined possible. The day we landed in Guatemala City for the first time, I had hoped we were home. In reality, we were only en route to our real home, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
In the Catholic Church we have found the fullness of the Christian Faith. Not seventy-five percent of the Truth, not ninety percent, but all of it, one hundred percent. We have found real worship, shaped by and focused on Jesus Christ, not on this minister or that minister’s opinion about this or that passage of Scripture. We have embraced the Faith of our Fathers, the teachings which Christ intended us to have.
We found in our long, circuitous journey home to the Catholic Church that there is indeed only one Gospel, the Catholic Gospel. There is only one place where one can find the fullness of truth and the most personal of relationships with Jesus Christ – and it isn’t Protestantism. The last place we looked for truth was where the Truth had been all along. We are home to stay.