Just for Catholics - Testimonies

Christians Cared for Me

By Kirk Patrick Haggerty

I was born and raised in a suburb of Los Angeles, California. My parents were devout Catholics. I remember going to Mass with my mother when I was a young boy. The priests were consecrating the host, and the altar boys were ringing bells at their sides while kneeling next to the altar. I asked my mother what was happening, and she told me to be quiet because Jesus himself stood before us in the form of the bread-host. I didn’t understand what she meant. I couldn’t see Jesus. I only saw the priest holding the bread-host high in the air. Jesus, to me, was a picture of a man I had seen in a children’s Bible.

It wasn’t intellectual thinking that started me questioning the Catholic faith, but a personal event. When I was nineteen years old, I was involved in a Catholic teen retreat called Turning Point. We were planning a seminar when one of the girls attending the retreat asked us a question. Her name was Rose, and she had recently become a born-again Christian. She asked the group, “Who is Jesus?” She asked me, “Who is Jesus?” I couldn’t give her an answer. I was stunned. After years of going to retreats and attending Sunday Mass, I couldn’t say who Jesus was. Rose provided her own answer by saying, “Jesus is my savior.” The whole concept of Jesus as savior was new to me! I had never heard that before. What did it mean?

One day in the fall of 1986, when I was going to college, I saw some elderly men passing out little green books to the students. Most of the students didn’t take them or left them lying all over the campus grounds. I found one of them on a bench. It was a Bible. More specifically, it was a New Testament and Psalms (King James Version) printed by the Gideons. I found it interesting, so I placed it in my book bag and went on my way.

A couple of months later, I found myself facing a variety of trials. I had little money and had to work to pay for college. My mother was a widow and had to work hard to make ends meet, and my older brother had become very rebellious. Life in the household became very difficult. Nothing seemed to be right. In addition to my financial struggles, I wrestled with what I should do with the rest of my life. All in all it was a very difficult time.

Shortly after Christmas, I was sitting in my room thinking about all the problems whirling around me and feeling very sad. I opened my book bag and found the little green Gideons Bible. I thumbed through it and in the back found something like a “Romans Road” tract. It was a simple four-point presentation of the Gospel using passages from the Book of Romans to explain the Gospel. It talked about God’s love (Romans 5:8), our sin and condemnation (Romans 3:23), Jesus’ death for our sin and salvation (Romans 6:23) and our decision to accept by faith, Jesus as our savior (Romans 10:9-13).

I suddenly remembered Rose’s statement about who Jesus was in her life. At first I thought it looked too easy. As a “good” Catholic I had to admit that I was a sinner, but at the moment none of my good actions were helping me very much. There was a signature line at the bottom of the page where I could mark my intention to accept Jesus as my savior. I hesitated, but thought to myself, “Yes, this is what I want to do. It is not what my mother wants or what the church wants, but what I want.” So I signed it!

At first nothing happened. For several months, nothing happened. Deep inside me I somehow began to feel a calling from God. There is no other way of explaining it. I was still going to Mass and doing all the Catholic things. I thought God was calling me to be a priest!

In October 1987, God opened another door in my spiritual journey. He led me to a Christian meeting at the student center. Here was something entirely different. It was completely new. The students wanted to know and worship God. They wanted to study about Him in the Bible. I liked it so much that I kept going back. I joined one of the Bible studies and met once a week to go over the basics of the Christian faith.

At this point I was still very confused. My Bible study group knew I was a Catholic, but I never told them I was thinking of becoming a priest. I saw the dynamic faith and knowledge of Jesus that these non-Catholic believers possessed. I still believed that the Catholic Church was the true church, and I thought that God was calling me to take these principles with me to seminary and ultimately to the Catholic Church as a priest.

I approached my parish priest and told him I wanted to go to seminary. Little did I realize that I was setting myself on a collision course. I had three unforeseen problems. First, the Catholic Church would never accept me as a priest if I were to apply and preach the biblical principles I was learning at this Christian organization. Second, I was going into the priesthood to escape problems that God wanted me to deal with. Third, I was not prepared to live the celibate life of a priest. I had dated girls since high school and had a girlfriend during this period.

In 1989 I moved away from home to live in a house with 4 other students. All of them were born-again Christians. One evening one of my roommates named Don approached me about the Catholic Church. He was convinced that the Catholic Church was apostate and cult-like. He claimed it taught a works-salvation, an unbiblical priesthood, an unbiblical sacrifice, and an idolatrous worship of Mary and the saints. He also claimed the Church was led by a pope who was accountable to no one.

At first I was angry with Don. I tried to defend my Catholic faith, but I had no good counter-arguments. Don told me, “Kirk, I can see your sincerity, but I am convinced that you are sincerely wrong.” He challenged me to prove him wrong by comparing Catholic doctrine with the Bible alone. I did my research and did some asking around, but it took time.

I graduated from college in 1990, and that same summer I decided not to apply for seminary. By now I had learned that ALL believers in Christ are priests (1 Peter 2:4-9), and they ALL have direct access to God (Romans 5:1-2). Furthermore I had concluded that Jesus made the final sacrifice for sin on the cross almost two thousand years ago. A constant priestly sacrifice of the Eucharist is absolutely unnecessary and unscriptural (Hebrews 10:11-18).

In 1992 I moved to Germany to get married. I met my wife at college a couple of years earlier. A foreign student from Munich, she was also a Catholic who became a born-again Christian. Meanwhile, spiritual growth for us was slow until 1994, when a new pastor, Lars, arrived at the expat church in Munich. One evening my wife and I visited Lars. He pulled out a Bible and showed me from the Gospel According to Mark where Jesus accused the Pharisees of subverting God’s truth with their own religious traditions (Mark 7:1-13). Lars then made an analogy between the Catholic Church and the Pharisees, and showed how the Gospel was smothered layer upon layer with traditions that have accumulated through the centuries by the Catholic Church. This impressed me very much and I wanted to learn more from him.

After a period of study and prayer, My wife and I decided to receive believers’ baptism. In March 1995, we were baptized along with a small group of other believers in the Olympic swimming pool in Munich.

God has shown me many things in my growth as a Christian, and I am confident that Jesus will guide us by His grace daily until we see Him face to face one day in great joy.

For Catholic readers who perhaps wants to know more. I would recommend the following books for study:

  • The Gospel According to Rome; by James McCarthy

  • Faith Alone; by R.C. Sproul

  • Far from Rome, Near to God; by Richard Bennett.

There may be much confusion to former Catholics after accepting Christ as saviour, just as it happened to me. Many teachings in the Catholic mindset could take years to work out. The Catholic who is recently born again may still have a performance attitude stuck in his/her mind; that is, one may not completely understand God’s perfect love, grace, forgiveness, and acceptance for the sinner who pleads to Jesus for mercy in prayer and repentance. To some Catholics, deep down inside, one still needs to do something, or perform, in order to be saved, loved and accepted.

Communication with other Christians involved in biblical churches is essential for former Catholics to grow in their faith! Don’t be afraid or ashamed to be honest with other Christians and say to them that you are confused over many things concerning Catholicism and the Bible. In my early years as a Christian I hesitated for a long time before I was able to open up and get help. Because of this my spiritual growth was stifled. In my case, it was not “head knowledge” that finally made me decide to leave the Catholic Church, it was personal relationships with Christians who love and care. Remember as a new believer, you need to be reminded daily of the following biblical facts:

You are deeply loved,
Completely forgiven,
Fully pleasing,
Totally accepted,
And complete in Christ!