In the past I’ve written about some of the circumstances surrounding my departure from the Roman Catholic church, but today I’d like to go into a little more detail.
I was baptized into the church as an infant and our family attended mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation. My five older sisters and I were all sent to Catholic grammar school and high school. I received the sacraments of penance and first communion when I was seven years old and was confirmed at the age of ten. I served as an altar boy from fifth through eighth grade and even desired to eventually enter the priesthood. But along with adolescence came the usual distractions and I lost interest in the church and religion.
After my wife and I married, had our two sons, and moved into our first house, the responsibility of fatherhood weighed upon me and I set about to raise our two boys in the Catholic faith. I began attending mass on Sunday at the local church and even arranged for the parish priest to come over and bless our new house. As part of my return to the faith, I also went out and bought a Catholic bible and began reading the New Testament voraciously. In twelve years of Catholic training, we had never read the Bible. I was amazed that the Bible contradicted many of the teachings of the Catholic church. I was so distraught that I finally stopped attending mass.
Through God’s Word and the witness of some Christians and Christian materials I was convicted of my sinfulness by the Holy Spirit and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior by faith in 1983. Hallelujah! What joy! What peace! In all those years of religious indoctrination I had never come to know Jesus as my Savior. My Catholic family and friends didn’t know Christ, either. Catholicism was all about obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church rules and trying to merit Heaven. There were lots of ritual and formality but no personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Catholicism is a religion of ritual and ceremony which includes extensive record keeping. In parish archives there’s records of baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, etc. As a Christian who had come out of Catholicism, I wasn’t sure what to do next. Does one who leaves the church request an excommunication? My mother-in-law, who divorced and remarried in the 1950s, had been formally excommunicated from the church and I desired the same. I wrote a letter to the parish priest explaining my new status in Christ and asked to be excommunicated. He wrote back saying the Holy Spirit blows where He will and wished me well. Hmph! No excommunication? No anathemas condemning me to the depths of Hell? My, things had certainly changed!
In centuries past, people such as myself who left the church and aligned with evangelical Protestantism were condemned as heretics and schismatics. What about today? Does the church teach I can still merit Heaven since I left the “one, true church” of my own accord? It depends on who you ask but according to the conservative Catholic source below, if a person abandons the faith “through their own fault” as I did, they will “bear the eternal consequence of doing so,” whatever that means.
But let’s reason this out. Since the church’s salvation doctrine has “evolved” to the point where the current pope teaches that even “good” atheists are able to merit Heaven, it can’t very well arbitrarily condemn all those who left the ranks as it did in the past. Make no mistake, the Catholic church still has its excommunication canons in its Code of Canon Law, but if it had served excommunication papers on everyone who left or stopped attending over the last forty years, there wouldn’t have been time or resources for anything else.
Thank you, Lord God, for drawing me out of legalistic religion and opening my eyes to your “Good News” and saving me. Baptism, sacraments, and church membership don’t save. Only accepting Jesus Christ as Savior by faith and trusting in Him alone leads to salvation.