Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism 9 (Dad’s Story)

Phyllis Nissila

Again today I am prompted to respond to a reader’s comments within which she linked to the story of her experiences in prayer and intercession for her own relatives (mother and brother) before they passed on, although they were not Roman Catholics. Very inspiring—and encouraging. See “poetry cottage’s” comment and link in the previous post, part 8 of this series. Today I’m adding the story of my father’s conversion shortly before his death, as a kind of book-end to the story of my mother, here, and more encouragement for those of you in similar situations: http://pnissila.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/on-witnessing-to-a-roman-catholic-an-explanation-a-story-and-an-exposition/

THE CONFLICTS

Some years ago I wrote the story for a Christian magazine about the circumstances of my father’s conversion just days before he died, November 21, 1985. Here it is in the context of how difficult it can be to reach a Roman Catholic. But, then again, “all things are possible.”

In Dad’s case, just two things hampered us when witnessing to him in his last years. He was a very cynical man, and, unfortunately, very intelligent as well [1]. He died of pancreatic cancer after a two-year remission from an advanced stage of that disease (such a lengthy remission was unheard of back in the eighties). And he was very angry over this bad turn of events. Very.

My Christian siblings and I prayed for him and tried to witness. I say tried to, because at one point, my mother, the other hampering element, you might put it, actually told one of us to not even think of coming into the house with a Bible.

My mother at that time declared Dad was a Roman Catholic and he was just fine with God. And my mother ruled the spiritual roost with iron resolve. It would be many years before she softened. She was always present when we visited him at home and later, during his hospital stays, to discourage any non-Catholic talk or Bible sharing. Granted, those were back in our sometimes-annoying zealot days; nevertheless, we loved Dad and had a great burden for him. So we prayed—mostly for opportunity.

And then, the miracle.

THE CONVERSION

When I came to the hospital to visit him during his final stay (this was ten days before his death), whereas there were always at least two or three of us (many) siblings in his room visiting and tending him, everybody was in a waiting room down the hall!

Mom included.

As I approached the waiting area, about 100 feet from Dad’s room, Mom came out of the door with a kind of puzzled look on her face. “Phyllis,” she said, “Dad (who was still alert but very tired) said he wants to see you.” He had already told me the first day he was here, when he was still hopping mad over the whole business—and with God—to “take care of your mother,” so I knew it had to be something else important. He was a man of few words.

Whoa.

Alone?

Apparently!

Nobody followed me down the hall except one of my sisters who had recently become a believer.

We looked at one another and proceeded. Maybe this was our opportunity?

When we entered, Dad was laying down, morphine drip at half-bag, other IVs and tubes threading in and out of his frail, gaunt body sustaining what little was left of his life.

He turned his head slowly when we came in and smiled. “Hi, Phyll,” he said.

I gulped, mentally praying for courage and the right words to proceed. My sister and I pulled up chairs on either side of his bed, being careful of the medical equipment softly blinking and beeping.

I had an idea: ask him if he had noticed a change in each of us.

“Dad,” I began, “have you noticed a change in each of us in the last few years?” He smiled and nodded. Whereas we weren’t necessarily rebellious or trouble-causing, each of us was already experiencing and expressing the heart and life-softening changes wrought by the refining power of the Holy Spirit in our life, even in those early years of our conversions, even despite my occasional outbursts of zealotry…

“Yes,” he replied.

“Well, it’s because of the Holy Spirit and our conversion to faith in Jesus Christ…”

And there, in that busy oncology ward, people and staff coming and going—although until all was accomplished in that room, nobody else entered—Dad heard our testimonies, and he let us explain the process of salvation and pray with him.

And we told him about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, too, and prayed with him for that, as well.

I will never forget the change in the countenance of the angry, cynical man who resisted God’s call on his life for over 63 years. A kind of glow settled over him. A peaceful glow we had never seen before.

At the very moment we were finished, after about fifteen minutes, a nurse came in the room to check his IVs, and other family members returned.

Perfect timing.

THE CONCLUSION

During his remaining few days, even as his strength and life receded, the peace remained. Everyone noticed it. He had a few more questions for another sister who was more Bible literate. And Mom no longer hindered us from praying or singing hymns or sharing. By that time, I think Mom was, more than anything else, glad for the support and company.

Then, one more miracle of timing.

The sister who stayed over with Mom the night Dad passed into the presence of the Lord, was “taking her turn” holding his hand so Mom could take her turn trying to get a little sleep. At one point, my sister said, she felt strongly to tell Mom to take over. She felt it was “of the Lord.” She made an excuse that she had to use the restroom. And that was how Mom got to be the one to hold Dad’s hand when he passed from this life and to “feel,” she later put it, “a slight release the moment his spirit lifted” and his shallow, labored breathing ceased…

Yes, there is always hope.

Some years later when the story came out in the magazine, I gave it to Mom to read, although I was still very careful as to how and when I shared my faith with her. She didn’t say anything, but she kept the magazine.

You never know. Perhaps the story was of some comfort to her.

Perhaps more than that…

I trust I will see her and Dad again one day and maybe discuss the whole business.

Or maybe not, as we rest forever in the presence of extraordinary grace and get on with the business of eternity.

In the meantime, however, back to work.

(Did I mention I come from a large family?)

***

[1] UPDATE: this is not to imply that intelligence and faith are mutually exclusive. Rather, intelligence, like any other human gift or achievement, can more easily, I think, cause those who possess a great amount of it–and who are yet to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and the riches of God’s wisdom–to come up with more ways to explain away faith in God and/or relegate such faith to the lesser intelligent. Think of how Christians are generally characterized in secular media and films, and in popular culture. Add a hefty dose of cynicism such as Dad possessed, and the mix can be almost lethal, spiritually speaking.

Posted in Ex-Roman Catholic/Catholicism, Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism, Witnessing to Roman Catholics | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism 8 (Witnessing to RC’s–A Labor of Love and of Angst)

Phyllis Nissila

From the riches of reader responses to my posts, I often glean inspiration for more essays, devotionals, and commentaries. This reader, with whom I share a common joy–having through time come further out of and away from the non-biblical aspects of Roman Catholicism–inspired me today with the next installment in this series. She writes:

This has been a grueling journey, out of the Bondage of Roman Catholicism. Slowly, the Chains are coming off. It’s hard, when your Family, believe in, the System, and you are opposed utterly!
This has been my 7 year awakening, when, I was chosen, by the Lord. I am, so blessed to know, He has adopted me, into the Family of God, as a Child Of God!
Sister In Christ…

DEAR SISTER,

“Slowly the Chains are coming off…” I can so relate. When God opens our eyes through the truth of His Word and we SEE what the mind, soul, and spirit-benders have been up to in the name of Christ to often further their own agenda, it causes what I think can be described as “righteous” anger.

The hard part in our deliverance process, I believe, is to know how to appropriately apply this anger and how and when to let it go so that it doesn’t damage us—and others. At least this is what I’ve found.

I’ve come a long way from my early zealot days of putting the flamey tracts with the devils on the covers inside the priest’s lectionary up near the altar, but those old feelings can still flare up when I hear of yet one more outrageous thing coming from the papacy.

For just one example, how about maybe fifteen, twenty years ago when the papacy announced there were no longer a sum total of 36, as I recall the number printed, “mortal sins,” but now just the original, far fewer, “seven deadlies” that would automatically re-assign one to Hell and cancel grace (remember this? But I don’t want to spoil your day, here ;))? [1]

Okay, so, when I read about this, I screamed inside my head, So, is there an ex post facto provision included for Catholics assigned to Hell through the ages BEFORE the papacy, speaking “ex cathedra” (“as if God on matters of faith and morals”) came up with this little gem?

And I don’t care what papal word-smithing convinced the faithful this was what God was now saying after all those centuries. I teach word-smithing, that is, how to discern it in the process of critical thinking. THE EMPEROR IS STILL NAKED. As it were…

Okay.

I’m done…

(Breathe…)

What we DID hear of the Word of God (in Mass “readings”), carefully wrapped up in Catholic dogma, was often so overshadowed by all the pomp and circumstance, incense and presumption, except for the grace and power of God, how could we have understood it, let alone have believed it?

Sin and penance was ever paramount; grace, just another word for legalism (“Just do this,” the venerable ones would hawk, “and you, too, can get some time off of the fires of Purgatory! Get re-saved, even, should you commit mortal sin!”).

And yet, look at you and I, sister, WE’RE OUT! And millions of others through time, as well.

The Jesuits, with whom you often seem most frustrated, and their ilk are smart, well-educated, rich, and exceedingly powerful in the things of this world; however, all of that is nothing compared with the power of God, as His Word–even a fragment here, a shard, there—penetrates those sincerely seeking Him…and transforms them, minute by day by month by year …

JESUS’ RESPONSES TO TWO

I have often thought about two difficult relationships Jesus had in his earthly ministry. The first one was Judas, of course. Judas was in Jesus’ closest circle of friends and disciples, one of the original apostles. And yet Jesus, who could discern hearts, knew who he was.

Jesus ate, traveled, and spent his life, those last three years, with this saboteur close by. Yet He, God’s expression of love incarnate, also loved Judas.

I wonder, HOW did Jesus withstand the temptation to frustration (for He was tempted in all ways, as Scripture notes, was this one of them?). HOW did He do it, knowing that despite His transforming Words of truth and hope and redemption and healing spoken and exemplified 24/7 to His intimate circle, this one, Judas, would remain double-minded, double-hearted?

I think about how hard, at the end, it must have been for Jesus the human, to LET Judas go to do what he did as a necessary player in the final, bloody tableau, while at the same time Jesus, the Redemptor, knew this needed to happen?

So I believe Jesus understands how much harder it is for us with our loved ones still caught up in religious systems (or no faith “systems” at all) while still dealing with our own fears and angst and frustration as we process through the exit… But yet we can still have the hope that even as we came out, so can they…

I also think about the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23) who asked Jesus what else he needed to do to attain salvation. Jesus, again, knowing men’s hearts and this young man’s attachment to his riches, a hindrance specific to him, told the youth to sell what he had, give to the poor, and follow Him (Jesus).

The story continues: the rich man turned back because, as verse 23 notes, “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.”

If it were me talking to this dude, I think I would have RUN AFTER HIM IMPLORING HIM TO LISTEN! PLEASE! LET ME EXPLAIN!…THERE’S AN ETERNITY AHEAD WITH ONLY TWO DESTINATIONS! TRUST ME! I KNOW ABOUT THIS! ONE OF THOSE PLACES IS REALLY REALLY GOOD AND THE OTHER IS REALLY REALLY BAD! YOU WILL BE SO GLAD YOU FOLLOWED ME INSTEAD OF GOLD AND SILVER AND POWER!!! Or something like that, in the Aramaic.

But we don’t read that Jesus did this. We realize only, from the narrative, that Jesus. Let. Him. Go.

(And, being human, did Jesus’ heart break a little for him even though He may have foreseen that one day this man, too, would realize with new understanding that what transpired there between him and the Son of God was the prelude to his opportunity to trade the transient baubles and bangles of earth for the riches of eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ…?)

Maybe the latter, I’m thinking, because elsewhere, when queried by his disciples about whether or not it was possible for rich men to enter the kingdom, especially after hearing how difficult it is, Jesus replied, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

And so, as we “plant the seeds” of the Word of God, or “water them,” or get to be present at the “harvest”, whatever is our specific ministry, we can have this hope, too, for all the people in our own intimate circles, whatever the nature of their particular “riches,” be it money, power, false doctrine, or something else.

And when we are tempted to frustration by all the “wealth” of Roman Catholicism, consider this: In a sense, but a kind of stealth sense, if you will, all those “readings” at Mass, even though blended with Roman Catholic dogma, are far, far more powerful as the potent Word of God planted in people’s minds and hearts than even the Jesuits can comprehend.

(But shhhhh…let’s not tell them….)

In the meantime, from one “gardener” to another, hope and encouragement to you.

Blessings,

P.

***

[1] For one explanation on Roman Catholicism re mortal sins: http://www.catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/mortal-and-venial-sin

For another : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortal_sin

 

Posted in Commentaries, devotionals and commentaries featuring technology, encouragement in hard times, Ex-Roman Catholic/Catholicism, Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism, Purgatory, Witnessing to Roman Catholics | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

On the “Rapture” and the “Church Prevailing”—a Few Thoughts Pre-Trib

Phyllis Nissila

A RAPTURE

Rapture is a term in Christian eschatology which refers to the “being caught up” discussed in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, when the “dead in Christ” and “we who are alive and remain” will be “caught up in the clouds” to meet “the Lord in the air” [1].

The Rapture (a concept derived by Bible scholars from a study of the Greek term harpazo (to carry off, snatch up, and the Latin term, rapiemur [2]) is believed to take place sometime before, during, or after, the Great Tribulation, a period of seven years at the end of the so-called Church Age described in several books of the Bible [3]. I favor a pre-Tribulation Rapture for several reasons, two of which are discussed here: the pattern of redemption and deliverance found throughout the Scriptures and Jesus’ teaching on the Church’s “prevailing power” over “the gates of Hell.” Continue reading

Posted in Christmas themed, end times news, end times spiritual survival, most recent posts, prophecy, spiritual survival, spiritual transformation | Tagged , , , | 29 Comments

On (Spiritual) Asymmetric Warfare

Phyllis Nissila

Asymmetric warfare: noun, warfare in which opposing groups or nations have unequal military resources, and the weaker opponent uses unconventional weapons and tactics, (such) as terrorism, to exploit the vulnerabilities of the enemy. [1]

He knows he has to use it. Satan, that is. Asymmetrical warfare, that is. Continue reading

Posted in Commentaries, Devotionals, devotionals and commentaries featuring technology, encouragement in hard times, end times spiritual survival, most recent posts, spiritual survival, survival tools | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

On the Occasion of Robin Williams’ Death: Back From the Edge of Suicide (A “Toolbox” and a Miracle)

Introduction: The death by suicide of beloved comedian and film star, Robin Williams, prompted me to ask my dear friend “Bev” if she would consider guest-posting her own experience with depression and addiction that has come to a very different conclusion than Williams’. I believe her message of hope and recovery will encourage some who might find their way here, perhaps one or more even contemplating crucial decisions in their own lives just now. Continue reading

Posted in most recent posts, spiritual survival, spiritual transformation, survival tools | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism 7 (Yeast and Window Dressing)

Phyllis Nissila

I just finished listening to a “debate” between members of the current apologists of “Catholics and Evangelicals Together,” a movement spear-headed in the nineties as the next phase of the so-called, “Ecumenical Movement” [1].

One speaker was a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism, another, a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, and a third, an Anglican/Evangelical. They each described themselves as “left-brainers” (linear/logical/analytical thinkers), and each sport quite a few letters after their names. Nevertheless—or perhaps because of—their study and training, they all praised the movement cited above as a good thing because it can unite Christians of disparate denominations by focusing on the essentials of a common faith while agreeing to disagree on non-essentials.

But, gentlemen of the debate, should you read this, it’s those non-essentials that can, like bad yeast, spoil the whole loaf. Continue reading

Posted in Commentaries, Contemplative/Mysticism, Ex-Roman Catholic/Catholicism, most recent posts, Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism | Tagged , , , , | 20 Comments

On Surviving Temporal and Spiritual “Birth Pangs”

Phyllis Nissila

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs (Jesus, Matthew 24:8, NASB).

clockThe Scripture passage above is a familiar one to those tracking so-called “end time” prophecies, also known as the “end of the Church age” and the “last days (not to be confused with the end of the world).” Many Christians believe we are in “those times” just now.

Even non-Christians wonder: where is all this mayhem leading? If it isn’t man-made political chaos in just about every corner of the globe engendering the sharp rise in numbers of really angry people with way too much high-power ordnance at their disposal, it’s environmental and cosmic dangers (both normal, engineered, and some would say paranormal), and a seeming complete absence of wise leadership in response to much of it.

Jesus foresaw these times, too, as referenced above, and compared them to “birth pangs,” a phenomenon any mother can relate to. Continue reading

Posted in Commentaries, encouragement in hard times, end times news, end times spiritual survival, most recent posts, prophecy, spiritual survival, survival tools | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments