TOO MANY GOSPELS
By Deborah Danielski
[Jesus] said to them, "Go into the whole
world and proclaim the gospel to every creature."
All my life, I searched for love and for truth. There was nearly always someone nearby, proclaiming "the gospel" -- my grandmother, a Sunday School teacher and even a few complete strangers who suddenly showed up at my door or reached out to me through others. "God is love," I was told. "Jesus loves you," they said. Unfortunately, once they got past that basic truth, the "gospel" one messenger proclaimed was seldom the same "gospel" proclaimed by the one before them.
"You'll never find a church where you agree with everything they teach," I was repeatedly told. "Just find one where you feel comfortable, where you like the people, and where you can agree on the important things."
Like many others, I accepted that advice. Shopping for a church was a lot like shopping for a home. Will you feel comfortable there? Do you like the neighbors? Does the design fit your lifestyle? If you made a mistake, however, it was much easier to change churches than homes. You had less invested in the church. That, I now realize is the nature of denominationalism. That's how it began four hundred years ago and how it continues to create new denominations to this day.
In his second letter to Timothy, Saint Paul warned that a time such as this would come.
"For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths." (II Timothy 4:3-4)
In the course of my life, I accumulated quite a number of "teachers." In my earliest years, I knew nothing of religion, but dearly loved Jesus Christ. My relationship with Him was a personal one, shared only with my sole religious "teacher" -- my grandmother. In adolescence, I turned away from my grandmother's simple faith to follow more "learned" teachers. Embracing science and the theory of evolution, I abandoned the entire concept of a supreme being or "mastermind." Man displaced God as the center of my universe.
By the time I reached my early 20s, however, I realized science and reason would never completely satisfy my "insatiable curiosity" or fill the longing for something greater than myself that still gnawed at the very center of my being. Grasping at the advice of yet another "teacher," I turned to psychedelic drugs as a gateway to the spiritual dimension. That "teacher" led to others of like mind who guided me down the paths of Oriental mysticism, Yoga, transcendental meditation. There was always a "teacher" available for each of my ever-changing desires.
In my late 20s, when everything I'd tried failed to satisfy by insatiable longings, I returned to "the gospel" of my childhood, embracing it first in the Baptist church. "Just accept Jesus into your heart and your salvation is assured," I was told. I watched as scores of people came into the church, made a public profession of faith, and seldom or never returned. Others stayed for a while and appeared to be on fire for God before returning to their former worldly lives.
"They were never really saved in the first place," the pastor would say in answer to my questioning. The more I examined his answer, the less reasonable and acceptable it became.
I soon turned to the Assembly of God. "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall have whatsoever you say," I was taught there. I tried hard to follow that teaching. When asked the inevitable "how are you," I always responded with "I'm having the best day of my life," or "I'm walking in divine health." Never mind that I was coughing, sneezing and my eyes and nose were running like waterfalls. If I "said" I was fine, the physical evidence would soon line up with my words -- usually in seven to ten days. Inevitably, however, a serious problem eventually appeared that did not. After "giving in" to a doctor who said only emergency surgery would save my life, I had to conclude there was either something terribly wrong "the gospel" I'd been taught, or something terribly wrong with me.
I devoured the Scriptures, trying to discern the "truth," but never quite found it. "Truth" it seemed was relative to whichever denomination or organization presented it and each one had a seemingly endless list of Scriptures to "prove it." The more I examined each "truth" the less substantial it became. And because the "gospel" I'd learned was so ephemeral, it was easy to rationalize it away entirely.
Yet Jesus made a promise to His disciples that I could not ignore. "But when he comes, the Spirit of Truth, he will guide you to all truth."
There finally came a time when I realized "I" could not possibly be the "you" Jesus referred to. My "truth" changed as often as the Midwest weather. So who was this "you," who would be "guided into all truth?" Was God playing favorites?
By the time I was in my early 30s, I'd given up. I still believed in God. I still believed in the Gospel, but with thousands of "teachers" and ten thousand beliefs to choose from, I abandoned any hope of every discerning the "truth."
For ten years, I stopped looking. Then suddenly, when I least expected it, another teacher appeared on the scene, one I found I could not ignore. For my 42nd birthday, a friend gave me a book about apparitions of the Virgin Mary. With years of anti-Catholicism to my "credit," I read the book with only one intention -- to save my friend from her "unholy obsession." Not far into the book, however, my perspective began to change.
"I have come to tell you that God exists and that He loves you," I read the words attributed to Mary. Those words constituted essentially the same "gospel" I'd been hearing all my life. Yet, this time, they pierced my heart and led me down a path I'd thus far refused to explore.
During my years as a Pentecostal, I had embraced evangelist Jimmy Swaggert as my favorite "teacher." In his version of the gospel, Swaggert often railed against the idolatry of Catholicism, particularly its "worship" of Mary.
"When Jesus Christ returns to this earth, He won't be saying 'Hail Mary,'" Swaggert would proclaim, and I would be among the first to say "Amen!"
How ironic that in the end, it was the Virgin Mary herself, who opened my eyes and restored my faith in love, truth and the Gospel. At first I thought I could embrace Mary as my teacher without exploring the other "objectionable" aspects of Catholicism. Soon, however, I began to wonder, if the "you" Christ promised to lead into all truth was not me or any other individual, or even the invisible, mystical body I'd previously acknowledged. Could it be that there really was a "true church," a visible, divinely appointed, unified body of Christians led by the Spirit into all truth?
Though it flew in the face of everything I'd previously believed, I had to admit that in an ever-changing world, there had been one steady, unchanging gospel light for nearly 2,000 years -- the Catholic Church.
It didn't take long for the Spirit of Truth to reveal to me that my prejudice against the Catholic Church had been based on myth and misunderstanding. When I opened my heart to Mary, one by one my other anti-Catholic prejudices fell away. I discovered the Catholic teachings I'd rejected out-of-hand were firmly grounded in Scripture and tradition. I delighted in the liturgy, found communion with the living Christ in the Eucharist, absolute assurance of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and true comfort and inspiration through the Communion of Saints.
The more I questioned the Catholic "gospel," the more thoroughly I examined it, the more substantial it became. I began to understand the necessity of man's cooperation with the free gift of God's grace and the true value of man's willingness to suffer with Christ. My faith no longer required me to abandon reason. My reason was illuminated by faith. God had not played favorites by obscuring the truth from sincere seekers, but had nourished and watered it in the one Church he had promised to lead into all truth. And when my heart was ready, He sent the Blessed Virgin Mary to open my blinded eyes. When I found Mary and -- through her -- the Catholic Church, I found Truth and I found Love. I found Christ.
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free," Jesus promised.
For me, there is no greater freedom than that which I found when I abandoned my search and submitted my "insatiable curiosity" to the clearest and most consistent revelation of Divine Truth available to us on earth -- the Roman Catholic Church. I no longer base my faith on individual experience or egotistical desires, but on the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, preserved through the ages in the Church -- built upon the Rock and against which the gates of hell will never prevail.
Finally, I've stopped shopping. I found my home.
© Deborah Danielski 1997 (This story was first published in the December 1997 issue of This Rock, a publication of Catholic Answers)