Lingering Pains After Leaving the Catholic Church
Question: I'm a former Roman Catholic who is still having difficulties leaving behind the Roman Catholic Church. It's been about ten years since I left the Catholic Church, and yet I still have lingering pains and doubts of many kinds. Tell me about your life as a Roman Catholic and your conversion experience. It's been difficult to leave my Italian-Catholic roots. How about you?
Answer: The Roman Catholic Church holds its members in a firm psychological grip. They feel guilty of denying God Himself if ever they leave "The Church." As you and I know well enough, Catholics are conditioned and indoctrinated from infancy, and many remain trapped in the system for their entire life. Only by the grace of God could a Catholic be freed from the Roman clutch.
Even after a Catholic is freed, many questions and doubts remain looming in the mind. My conversion experience was a prolonged and painful process. At first, I resisted with all my strength the Protestant challenge that the Catholic teaching on salvation was erroneous. After many months of reading the Bible and discussing the issues with Catholic friends and priests, my convictions gradually changed in favour of evangelical Christianity. Finally I came to a point when, by God's good grace, I realized the simplicity of the Gospel. Salvation is not my work, but the work of the Saviour, Jesus Christ.
I remember the day when, all alone with God, I committed my soul to His care. I asked the Lord Jesus Christ to save me from my sin because I could do nothing meritorious to save myself. The Spirit convinced me that Jesus was my substitute who died on the cross in my place to pay the debt of my sins. From then on, my only desire was to live for the One who loves me so much.
The next Sunday I went to Mass as usual. The priest was preaching about the merit of good works for salvation. There was nothing new in his teaching that I did not hear many times before. I discussed this "merit" business with an old friend of mine, Jesmond, who was sitting beside me. At the time I only knew two Bible passages by heart: John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8,9. I whispered to my friend: "Did you hear what the priest said about good works, that they gain us merit for salvation? The Bible says that we are saved by grace, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works unless anyone should boast." I'm not sure whether he understood my argument. But I continued, surprising him and myself, with this statement: "This is the last time that I shall ever attend Mass."
The next Sunday I did not go to Mass. To say the least, that Sunday was rather strange. I had regularly attended Mass since infancy. Moreover, I had been indoctrinated that attendance to Mass on Sunday was obligatory by God in the third commandment, and failing to do so constitutes a mortal sin. It is not surprising that as a young and immature Christian, I had my doubts and guilt feelings.
More anxieties were awaiting me. I live in a predominantly Catholic country with more than 95% of the Maltese population being Catholic, at least nominally. The social pressure and intimidation is sometimes subtle and at other times more direct. The most painful was the strained relationship with my own family, especially my mother.
I offended my mother greatly. Being a devout Catholic, she could not understand why I wouldn't go to church anymore and naturally she tried to persuade me to remain faithful to the Church. Her love, grief and good motives made it more difficult to stick to my decision. By leaving the Catholic Church I was hurting the woman who loves me so much! It is no wonder that I felt uneasy.
My only comfort was this - I had to abide by my conscience; my decision did not spring from hatred or animosity to anyone in the Catholic Church or my family. I wanted to be consistent with the Word of God that teaches salvation by grace through faith and apart from human works. I loved the Lord above all, and to be obedient to Him was more important than anything else.
Over the past 20 years I have regularly studied the Holy Scriptures, as well as Christian and Catholic books. I am grateful to my parents and Catholic teachers and priests who taught me religion as best as they knew how. Their teaching was mixed with some serious errors; yet much of it is true and biblical. This includes the fundamental doctrines of Christianity - the nature of the Holy Scriptures, the Trinity and the incarnation of Christ, and other doctrines listed in the ancient creeds. I never rejected these doctrines that I learned in the Catholic Church and by the grace of God I shall continue to uphold and defend them from the Holy Scriptures with all my heart. Again, I repeat, for such things I am grateful.
Sadly that is not the whole story. As a system, Catholicism is fatally wounded. I have studied (and continue to study) Catholic doctrine in the light of Scripture, and I cannot but refuse all things that are contrary to the Word of God. I want to live with a clear conscience. The natural consequence for me is social and cultural isolation, and that is painfully depressing. Yet even that is a small price to pay for the wonderful privilege of knowing Christ my Lord and Savior.
© Dr Joseph Mizzi