There are indeed two Roman roads, and I’ve walked them both.
The first was the Roman Catholic road.
At two weeks old, I was “born-again” at my baptism. The decision to perform this “sacrament” was made for me by my parents and two “god-parents”. Nonetheless, I was “born-again” according to the definition set forth by the pavers of this Roman road.
When I began to attend Catholic school, I was soon taught how to honor Mary, saints, and angels through repetitious prayer. I would attend Mass every school day as well as on Sunday. They taught me to pray the rosary, and I spent many hours in obedience to my teachers in hopes that I would somehow please God by repeating all the prayers I had memorized..
When I was in second grade, I was instructed in the sacrament of penance. This was not an individual act, but everyone in the second grade participated. I have to admit that this was very hard as a child.
I often got a sense of panic when I went into the little dark closet waiting for the priest to open the small window. My fear often made me forget half of the sins I’d committed and I sometimes confessed several that I did not do. When it came time for penance, I always tried to add an extra “Hail Mary” or “Our Father” to make up for the mistakes.
I hoped that God would understand and forgive me, but I was never really sure He heard me. Most often, I would pray to Mary, because I was sure that God would hear her because she was perfect and she was His Mother.
By third grade, our whole class was introduced to the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was never an individual or personal decision. The Church made the decision for all of us.
As an eight-year-old, this was a very big event. I felt so holy! I got to walk up the aisle in a pretty white dress, like a bride, to “eat God”.
The Church taught me carefully not to eat anything after midnight, neither was I permitted to touch the host, chew it, or even let my teeth touch it. Sometimes the host got stuck to the roof of my mouth, and I was terrified that I would hurt Jesus trying to get “Him” loose.
I would not be offered the cup to “drink” because I might cause “Jesus’ blood” to spill. Once, a friend of mine ate a piece of bread before communion and lived for years in fear of eternal hell. The way they taught us to take communion only added to the fear and guilt a Catholic child often suffers.
Since there was never any way to know if God was mad, or happy with me, most of my life I searched for ways to make God like me. For all the Masses, rosaries, scapulars, prayers to saints, novenas, and obedience to the Catholic faith, I never knew where I was going when I died. I never knew peace with God.
The next sacrament that I received was Confirmation. As with the previous sacraments, it was not a personal decision, but rather a group effort that was expected of everyone in the sixth grade. I had hoped that after the bishop laid his hands on me I would be different, but there was no change. Another sacrament, and still no assurance of salvation. I was no better off than before.
As an adult, I taught C.C.D. and still did not know where I stood in the eyes of God. My best expectation after my death was to go to purgatory. I was sure that I was not that bad, even better than many. Besides, I’d never murdered anyone. I’d just hoped that the good I did do would somehow outweigh the bad.
One day, someone challenged my Catholic faith. But, I was so sure Catholicism was founded on the Word of God that I boldly began to read my Bible, believing God would vindicate my faith in my Catholic religion. However, I unexpectedly discovered another Roman road. This road was the complete opposite of the one I had been travelling for the last 30 years!
As I walked through the Book of Romans, I was so surprised to read, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (3:10) This scripture was amazing to me, since I had often prayed to saints that I thought were more righteous than me.
As I continued walking, I discovered these verses: “…Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by the faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (3:18-23).
Here I was reading for the first time that NO FLESH would be justified by the deeds of the law. No flesh meant me, too. I started seeing myself differently. I went from thinking that I wasn’t “that bad” to seeing myself as the sinner I really am. It was true that no matter how hard I tried, I could not reach that perfection that our holy God required.
My curiosity kept me walking down this road to find out what lay ahead. When I reached Romans 6:23, I found those precious words: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I clearly understood what a wage was…it was something I had to earn.
By my sins, I had earned death. It was the last part of that verse that touched my heart, that great promise of God offered to man, “…the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus”. I knew that a gift is not something I could purchase or earn. It was something I could either accept or reject. If I tried to buy it, I would not only be insulting the one who purchased it, but it would no longer be a gift.
Romans 11:6 made it very clear about this grace of God: “And if by grace, then is it no more works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Rom.11:6)
Romans 10:10-13 says: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, ‘Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
I called upon the name of the Lord and became a “whosoever”!
Romans 5:1-2 says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
Knowing I am justified by faith brought me great peace with God.
I, like Paul, am now persuaded, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)
After reading this Biblical Roman road, I learned something else was very important. I learned that knowing God meant knowing him personally, not as a group performing vain and repetitious acts. It meant making a decision to have faith in Him, and not in my religion.
It meant travelling down the road of grace paved so clearly by God in the Book of Romans, instead of the road of works paved by the Catholic Church.
The Biblical road promises peace with God; the Roman Catholic road delivers only fear, guilt and bondage.
The Biblical road gives us blessed assurance; the Roman Catholic road delivers no such assurance, even to its most devoted followers.
The Biblical road leads to eternal life; the Roman Catholic road leads to eternal hell.
If you choose the Biblical road to eternal life in Heaven, as we pray you will, won’t you become Born Again right now, in the privacy of your own home? You do not need, nor do you want, a priest to show you the way, as Jesus’ Plan of Salvation abolished all priests. Once you see how simple, and yet how profound, the true Plan of Salvation is, you will be both amazed and enlightened. But, most importantly, your heart will know true peace with God, for the first time in your life!
Understand also that you will be speaking directly to Jesus Christ, Whom the Bible correctly identifies as the “only Advocate between God and man”. [1 John 2:1-4; 1 Timothy 2:5]
Written by David Bay and Rebecca Sexton, Former Catholics for Christ