My Testimony



Looking back I can see how God was working in my life for a very long time and was drawing me to Himself.  I was born into a Roman Catholic family.  I wasn’t baptized until almost two years old because my parents waited for my godfather to return from the War.  At 7 I made my First Communion and was confirmed when in the eighth grade.  The people in my home town  are predominately Catholic.  My family is Croatian and the church and our culture were intertwined.

I liked going to catechism and was so proud when I could recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments.  Making my First Communion was a very big event.  I was excited about taking part in the ceremony, wearing my white dress and veil, getting my very own missal and rosary beads, and of course, receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament for the first time.  When preparing for First Communion, the nun told us when we sinned there was a big black spot on our souls.  But, she said, after each confession, that black spot would be gone and our souls would be clean.  After First Communion, I’d often literally skip the several blocks to church on Sunday mornings repeating a little ditty I made up:  “My hair is clean, my clothes are clean, my shoes are clean, and my soul is clean.”  I was clean both outside and inside and ready to receive Jesus in Holy Communion.

Music and singing were a large part of my family life, so one Sunday after mass when a nun asked the children sitting in the front pew if they would like to join a choir she was forming, I quickly raised my hand.  In those days there wasn’t corporate singing at mass, only the choirs sang.  I was so happy to be able to sing in church.  The mass was in Latin and I followed along in my little white missal.  The left page of the missal contained the prayers of the mass in Latin and the right page was in English.  My parents didn’t attend church regularly, usually just on holidays, so my brother and I went alone.  After receiving Confirmation we were no longer required to go to religious education classes.  From then on the 10–15 minute sermon at mass each Sunday was the only religious teaching I received.  I didn’t eat meat on Fridays, went to confession regularly, never took the Lord’s name in vain, and to the best of my ability kept the rest of the rules of the church.  I was taught and believed that if I died without a mortal sin on my soul I would be guaranteed of eventually going to heaven after spending some time in purgatory having my venial sins purified by its fires.  I was a good practicing Catholic, a good person by my own estimation, a good religious person.

My husband was raised in the First Christian Church and was baptized there when he was 12 years old.  His family eventually drifted away and no longer attended church.  When we married he converted to Catholicism.  Several years later, we attended a few inquiry classes at our parish which were designed for adult Catholics who wanted to know more about their faith as well as for those inquiring about the faith for the first time.  A friend who also attended these classes moved away.  When we visited him and his family the following summer we learned he had become a Jehovah’s Witness.  The day we arrived at their home he and I sat up until 2am discussing religion.  He kept telling me that Jesus was “a god” as stated in John 1:1 in the Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible.  I knew nothing about the bible but I was taught and firmly believed that Jesus was God and not “a god”.  He also brought up scripture that said we’re not to call any man “father” in the religious sense, or pray before statues.  I defended Catholic teaching to the best of my knowledge even though, secretly, he made sense to me on these two issues.  These conversations continued the whole week we were camping with them.  His wife did not share his new beliefs and my husband wasn’t interested in these conversations.

It was 1973 and the Jesus Movement was going strong that summer.  When stories would come on the television evening news about the “Jesus Freaks” I would stop my dinner preparations to watch.  Those stories interested me, and those previous conversations with our friend were often on my mind.  I was being drawn!

In September our oldest son began 1st grade, his second year at Catholic school.  I resumed teaching CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, i.e. catechism) on Saturday mornings to first graders.  That fall I was also reacquainted with an old neighbor of my cousins at a child observation class I attended with my youngest son.

This old neighbor and her husband had been good Catholics when I knew them earlier.  I learned they had been involved in the Catholic Charismatic Movement but left Catholicism several months prior to our getting reacquainted.  She unashamedly and very naturally spoke of Jesus and her relationship with Him to all who would listen.  Her boldness impressed me.  Alice spoke so personally of Jesus; sometimes her eyes would well up with tears when speaking of Him.  She had a relationship that was different than mine.  He wasn’t just “up in heaven” or in the Blessed Sacrament locked up in the tabernacle at church.  Their leaving the church also intrigued me; how could they do that, for after all, wasn’t the Roman Catholic Church the one true church?  Something I never really believed.

Alice invited me to attend a prayer meeting with her and her husband, but I wasn’t able to go at night.  Shortly after her invitation a day time Charismatic prayer meeting was announced in the church bulletin.  This was my chance!  The first time I attended my head was bowed but my eyes were opened as I slyly glanced around the room observing these women and the nuns as they prayed.  This spontaneous prayer was so different from the usual rote prayers I was used to.  At the end of my second or third prayer meeting, one of the ladies asked if I was born again.  I said I didn’t think so.  She replied that I should be, but didn’t say anything further.  She and I chuckled months later about this encounter when I was born again and both of us were no longer in the church.

At the prayer meeting I met another old friend who asked what I thought of the gatherings.  I expressed to her that I really wanted to learn about the bible.  I didn’t own one myself but had borrowed my cousins since she didn’t read it.  It was difficult to understand.  Naturally, I began at the beginning, Genesis 1.  She invited me to a ladies Bible study at a large local Protestant church which I promptly attended the next week.

I was learning so much at Bible study and was convicted of many sins, things that I hadn’t considered wrong before.  I realized how they were causing many of the problems in my life.  By mid- or the end of November 1973, late one night, alone and crying in my kitchen, I told God that my life was a mess and I desperately needed Him.  No fireworks went off and I didn’t hear a voice, but I had such a tremendous sense of peace like I’d never experienced before.  I knew I wasn’t alone and things would be okay.  In the weeks that followed I was shocked with the realization that although I was a faithful Catholic, kept the rules of the church, was a “good person”, kept my home and children clean, had dinner on the table every evening, etc., yet despite all those “good works”, without Jesus I had been headed for an eternity apart from Him.

I began watching a Christian television program late at night when my husband and the boys were asleep.  The hosts would often lead a “prayer of salvation”.  A voice began whispering in my ear telling me I wasn’t saved at all because I had not prayed an official salvation prayer.  I believed that wasn’t true because God knew the cry of my heart when I called out to Him that night even though my words weren’t exactly like the salvation prayer they said on the television.  So one day I knelt down at my bedside and told the devil that to quiet him I was now praying an official salvation prayer and he was to leave me alone.  After that the whispers stopped.

We were taught in catechism that lay people couldn’t understand the Bible, only the priests and nuns who had been taught could interpret it for us.  But now it was alive and I understood what I read.  Jesus was real, we were developing a relationship, and I was growing spiritually.  As I read scripture and continued in Bible study I noticed differences in what I was taught growing up and what the Bible said, and I wondered why.  During visits with Alice and her husband we discussed Jesus and the scriptures.  I would ask:  Why does the church teach such-and-such when the scriptures say thus-and-so?  They would shrug their shoulders and coyly reply, “I don’t know.”  Later I learned they were praying that the Lord would show me the truth from His word.  Their prayers were answered!

I remember the day at my kitchen table after reading one of these differences, I told God I believed the Bible was His word and anything I read that was contradictory to what I had been taught as a Catholic I would disregard as being the teaching of man and believe His word ( Matthew 15:6-9; Mark 7:6-9, 13; Colossians 2:20-23).  Page after page, it seemed, brought new truths.

By now it was springtime 1974 and I was wrestling with leaving the church.  There were things I didn’t believe any more so why stay, I reasoned.  With my commitment to believe and obey what I read in God’s word I was silent in certain parts of the Mass, specifically asking Mary and the saints to pray for me, and the prayers for the dead.  I had always wondered when we would know those souls were out of purgatory and in heaven and no longer needing our prayers.  Yet what held me there was participating in communion.

May is Mary’s month in Catholicism.  A statue of Mary is crowned as she is hailed “Queen of Heaven” and “Mother of God,” then the statue is carried in a procession of veneration, Rosaries are recited, and songs honoring her are sung.  I was instructed to teach my first grade CCD students prayers and songs for the upcoming Saturday celebration our class would take part in.  But I had read in the scripture that only God was to be worshipped (Luke 4:8), Jesus was the only mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), and that teachers would incur a stricter judgment, i.e. be accountable for what they taught (James 3:1).  I took this admonition very seriously and didn’t teach these children the prayers and songs of worship to Mary.  I also didn’t teach them the very fundamental Catholic doctrine that original sin was washed away when they were baptized as babies thus making them a Christian.  One Saturday a priest visited my class and sat on the floor with the children asking them questions, one I recall regarded their baptism.  They must have had blank stares on their faces because he looked up to me and asked, “Just what are these children being taught?”  I don’t recall my answer to him, nor do I recall just what I taught them the day the lesson on baptism should have been.  But I do know that as I was learning I was careful what I taught those precious first graders.

Then at our monthly teachers meeting, the priest who oversaw CCD said he would appreciate us submitting our questions to him prior to the next meeting in order for him to be better prepared to answer them.  I became very excited thinking that at last my questions regarding the differences in what I had been taught and the scripture I read would be answered by “the authority” who knew the Bible much better than I.  Surely he would give me scriptural reasons.  I diligently prepared my questions and submitted them prior to the meeting along with scriptures supporting them.  I could hardly wait until we met again.  With Bible and note pad in hand, I went to the meeting ready to hear and record the answers the priest would give from scriptures.  Instead, he leaned back on the teacher’s desk in the classroom and said, “Before we begin this meeting I have to say that I was very surprised at some of the questions submitted by you CCD teachers.  And it is very apparent to me that at least six or seven of you are attending Protestant Bible studies.”  Not one of my questions was answered!  I felt they were honest and fair and I expected answers, but what answers could he give to doctrines that were in obvious contradiction to God’s word?   Some questions, comments and scripture I remember submitting were:
            ~ Why do we baptize babies when scripture says repent and be baptized?  Acts 2:38.  Repentance comes first and a baby can’t believe or repent since they have no knowledge of sin, so aren’t we getting the cart before the horse?  Luke 13:3; Acts 3:19; 26:20; 2 Peter 3:9.
            ~ Why do we pray to Mary and the saints when scripture says there is only one mediator who intercedes for us, Jesus?  1 Timothy 2:5; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24.
           ~ Why do we say that Mary was ever virgin when scripture says Joseph kept her a virgin until Jesus was born and then speaks of other children and even names them?  Matthew 1:24-25; 12:46; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14; Matthew 13:53-56; Galatians 1:19.
           ~ Where did the doctrine of purgatory come from when scripture says that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord if a person is a believer in Jesus?  2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23.  There’s no stopping off place.

I was disappointed to say the least, and his disregard for our questions added to my thoughts of leaving the church.  There was so much at stake though because all my family and friends were Catholics.  How would those relationships be affected?  Then one morning at a funeral Mass while the priest was preparing communion, I was set free from Catholicism.

As I knelt at my pew and the altar boy rang the bells to get our attention to this most important part of the Mass, and the priest held up the host declaring, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, it was as though a light bulb went off in front of my face and I instantly said in my heart, “That isn’t the Lamb of God, it’s a piece of bread!  Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven!” (Hebrews 1:3, 8:1).  I can recall it as if it was yesterday!  You see, I had been reading through the book of Hebrews and it says Christ died once, and the priest doesn’t have to stand daily offering up a sacrifice to take away sins, Jesus did it once.  There no longer is a need for a sacrifice!  All that flashed instantly before me!  (Hebrews 7:26-27; 9:12; 24-28; 10:10-14; 18)

The Mass, or officially the “Sacrifice of the Mass”, is central to Catholic worship.  Catholicism teaches that the priest has the power through transubstantiation to change the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus.  Then he offers Jesus again as a sacrifice, “in an unbloody manner”.  Think of it.  Each time mass is celebrated a priest stands daily –- hundreds of times a day, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, all over the world –- and offers Jesus again as a sacrifice “in an unbloody manner”.  I slid back off the kneeler, sat on the pew and told myself that I wouldn’t be coming back.  Participating in communion was the one thing keeping me in the church, but that morning the Holy Spirit revealed truth to me and I knew I could no longer worship as a Catholic.  Jesus said in John 4:23-24 that the Father is seeking true worshippers who will worship in spirit and truth.  They MUST worship in spirit and truth, He said.  The central focus of Catholic worship, that “offering Jesus again in an unbloody manner”, is not worship in truth.

I talked to my husband about leaving the church.  He wasn’t a believer in Jesus and hardly went to mass anymore.  He told me to do whatever I wanted.  Then I talked to my mother. I was concerned what her oldest sister would say because my aunt and I were the only ones in the family that regularly attended mass and were involved in the church.  Mom said not to worry about my aunt, and do what I needed to do. but she was concerned that my sons wouldn’t make their First Communion.  I told her not to worry that indeed they would take their “first communion” it just wouldn’t be in the formal Catholic ceremony.  So after months of prayer and thought, I made  the decision to leave Catholicism.  I didn’t tell anyone at church or at my son’s school.  I didn’t want the possibility of him being treated differently if they knew we were leaving.  We stopped going to Mass, the CCD year ended, we didn’t register our boys for Catholic school in the fall, and I began looking for a new church where the boys and I could grow in our knowledge of God.

As of this writing, it’s almost 36 years since that night I cried out to God in my kitchen. It’s been 35 years since I left the Catholic Church.  As a result of my decision to leave Catholicism, relationships with family and friends were affected.  I would be less than honest if I didn’t say  that some things that have happened over the years and were said hurt very deeply.  But I know my decision was the right one, one I don’t regret.  Those things that hurt can’t compare to the joy and peace I’ve experienced knowing Jesus Christ personally.


(All scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible)