THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG TESTIMONY
OF JACKIE ALNOR
|You know the saying, "Once a
Catholic, always a Catholic." Well, for a majority of Catholics. thatís
true. Itís harder to get out of the grotto, than out of the ghetto. (For
you non-Catholics, a grotto is a shrine to the Virgin Mary many Catholics
have in their yards.)
In fact, if it werenít for the merciful ever-loving God intervening
in my life, I might still be living under the fear of Purgatory or a worse
fiery judgment. But, Jesus brought me to peace with my heavenly Father and
I no longer have to be afraid of losing my eternal salvation. I have
something I could never attain as a Roman Catholic Ė ASSURANCE!
I remember attending mass as a youngster and being trained to whisper and show utmost respect for the mysterious presence of the Lord in the tabernacle. I would get goosebumps and reverential awe at the high mass when the incense would fill the church. The priest was closer to God than we in the pews in my estimation.
My dad converted to Catholicism in order to marry my mom. He had been raised as a nominal Christian in a little country church in his home state of Oklahoma. His grandmother, a Dutch immigrant, was a disciple of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. His biblical knowledge was poor but I believe he made a true confession of faith during a bout with spinal meningitis during World War II while stationed in India. He saw his fiancťís insistence on converting to Rome as Godís guidance when he made it home alive in spite of dire predictions by medical experts. He studied Catholic teachings religiously and became a strong devotee to the Virgin Mary.
My motherís Catholic roots were very deep. Her mother was a native of Mexico and her father a political refugee from Yugoslavia. Both her parents had inborn allegiance to the Vatican. My motherís Catholicism has always been very superstitious, probably due to her Mexican Indian heritage where Romeís converts were encouraged to adapt Catholic teachings to their own spiritualism of their pagan tribes.
While growing up, my mom would read me my daily horoscope and buy me Ouija boards as Christmas presents. After I got saved as an adult, she would remind me of what the spirits contacted on the board had predicted 30 years earlier regarding my life. At my baby shower for our first child, mom reminded me that the spirit had said I would have three boys. Well, they were both wrong. I responded, "Mom, those were demons and my life is no longer any of their business." At that same shower, her sister said to me, "Jackie, your babyís going to be a Capricorn," and I retorted, "Sorry, but I donít follow demonic astrology now that Iím a child of God."
My upbringing in "Mother Church" consisted of a regimen of weekly Mass, daily rosary, indoctrination in the lives of the "saints" and a study of the Catholic catechism. I was seen as an ongoing project to be worked on. My parentsí success as good Catholics hinged on the outcome of their nine childrenís allegiance to Rome continuing into adulthood.
Stories of the ghostly apparitions of Mary had a real hold on me. I would listen to the stories of the three children at Fatima and pray and pray that Mary would honor me with a visit. I would stare at the sun, as the pilgrims to Fatima do, and only hurt my eyes. I would wear my brown scapular as one of the apparitions said we should so that she could get us out of Purgatory on the first Saturday after our demise. My dad read to us from the Fatima letters, warning about atomic war hitting planet earth if we did not pray for the conversion of Russia.
I remember my first experience with someone questioning my belief system happened when I was but 7 years old. Walking home from school with my sisters, wearing my uniform, some kids from the public elementary school began teasing us for being Catholics. I approached one and asked, "Why donít you like us? What have we done?" The little boy responded, "You worship statues and light candles to them and one of the 10 commandments says not to make any molten images."
I was flabbergasted. I ran the rest of the way home and went straight to my mom and asked her if that was true. She said that we donít worship the statues, but only what they represent. I asked about the commandment, and she explained to me that they didnít list it as a commandment because it is the same as the first commandment to love the Lord GodÖ I was somewhat relieved, but I still felt something was not quite right.
One consoling practice in the Catholic Church was the stations of the cross. This is a ceremony held every Friday during Lent where more scripture verses are read than in any other Catholic ritual. We would follow the "passion" of Christ, showing how He was brutally scourged and mocked and nailed to the cross. My heart would be touched so deeply while reading the Gospel accounts that I would walk away from there with a real sense of remorse that He had to suffer for my sins.
I never got much out of daily mass especially since I learned the liturgy in Latin. I could say every response, yet I hadnít the slightest idea of what I was saying. But I took pride in myself that I could say those mysterious words so well. I felt I was doing something religious when I would have to fast for three hours before communion and when I would abstain from eating meat on Fridays. But, then of course, it was a sin not to and I didnít want to have any black stains on my soul.
But at the age of 12 during the time I was being prepped for receiving my Confirmation, the Vatican II changes began to take effect at our church. I was told it was no longer necessary to fast before communion and I could now eat meat on Fridays except during Lent.. And the mass was now said in English instead of Latin and it seemed so alien to me.
When the day of my Confirmation came and I was to have hands lain on me by the bishop, my doubts were nagging at me. I did not want to go through with the ceremony, but I didnít have any choice in the matter. The bishop also wanted my Confirmation class to take an oath never to drink alcohol and we were told to stand up and swear not to ever drink. I stayed seated as did a few others, because though I wasnít interested in drinking booze, I knew my dad did and the priests drank wine at mass and I didnít want to promise something I might not be able to keep.
Vatican II, in essence, said to me that the Catholic Church authorities were admitting they were wrong about something and that their claims of infallibility were a big cosmic joke. I knew that truth doesnít change even though I never heard the scripture verse: "Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever." I no longer had any confidence in their teachings since I knew the teachings could change with the next church council.
And about this time, I had a horrible episode with the pastor of our church. Monsignor McGuiness was a mean old European immigrant with a strong accent and a strict disciplinarian. He would give out the report cards in our classroom and if anyone had an ĎFí he would turn them over his knee and spank them in front of the entire class. It was as humiliating as it was painful, though fortunately for me, I never failed a class.
One day after school my friend, Christine, and I were walking from school to her house when some guys from our class began chasing us and throwing eggs. We ran into the church thinking that they would never follow us in there. But one boy, Howard, waited outside, hiding in the bushes to ambush us after we came out.
We were hiding in the girls bathroom inside the church when we heard Mgr. McGuinessí loud, booming voice yell at someone outside the bathroom window. We looked outside as the pastor grabbed Howard by the collar and began smacking him in the face over and over again. The egg he held in his hand broke all over the priestís black robe. We ran out the church in the opposite direction. The violence that was perpetrated against that 12-year-old kid is something I never can forget. Howard grew up with a drug problem that took his life at a young age.
THE DARK AGES
By the time I was in high school, I wanted nothing to do with church whatsoever. My parents insisted that I go to Mass as long as I lived under their roof, so I would walk into the church, grab a bulletin, and then leave and show them the bulletin when they asked me if I went to Mass. I told them I got nothing out of going, but they didnít care, I must go.
I rebelled against authority as a teen and I hated being told what to do. I had no confidence at all in my parents or the Catholic Church and Iím sure those attitudes contributed to my rebellious nature. I left home at the age of 17 and left my home in a Los Angeles suburb to join my hippie friends in northern California. I wanted nothing at all to do with religion, although I still had an interest in my Ouija board, astrology, and was advancing into other occult practices, such as Tarot cards and palm reading.
It didnít take long for me to fall into great trouble and despair. I became pregnant by my hippie boyfriend who was already trying to distance himself from me when the rabbit died. He wanted nothing to do with me or our unborn baby.
My first impulse was to run to "Mother Church" since I was 500 miles from home, alone, and scared. I ran to a Catholic church in San Jose, California, where confessions were being done. I confessed my sins and told the priest what peril I was in, being 17, pregnant, and without a job or money or a high school diploma. I was astounded that the priest did not want to discuss my problem but dismissed me with a penance of 10 Hail Maryís and 5 Our Fathers.
I never did the penance. I was devastated! I went home to southern California where I was sent to the Catholic home for unwed mothers in LA and given a pregnant nun as a roommate who had taken some sort of vow of silence, so she wasnít much company. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and was forced to give her up for adoption because nobody would take us in. (We found each other when she was 26 years old and are now friends and she is born-again, Praise the Lord!)
I continued to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ but I felt let down by his church. I would go to mass on Easter and midnight mass every Christmas for the next 10 years. I had some sort of strange connection to "Mother Church," but my many questions about the truth of their teachings prevented me from any further involvement; but it was all the religion I knew.
At the age of 21 I saw an opportunity to have some of my objections to Catholic teachings answered. I was living with my older sister, recently estranged from her husband, who was having an affair with a young priest who was stationed at our parish church. He would come over to spend some intimate moments with her and I confronted him one night on my way out of the house which was the arrangement my sister made so that I would give them some privacy for the night.
I didnít confront him about breaking his celibacy vows, but I confronted him about church teachings that I saw as contradictory or unnecessary. He would not answer a single question and told me something to the effect that he was not currently on duty and did not want to discuss business.
So I went out partying with my friends and came home at about 5 a.m. He was still there and was making phone calls with a desperate look on his face. I asked my sister what was going on and she said, "Peter canít reach the priest who usually hears his confession on Saturday nights. Heís got to find a priest in another parish close by so he can run and do a confession in order to be able to say mass this morning." I thought the whole thing was laughable at the time, now I see it as downright pathetic! While he was sleeping with their daughter, he would hear my parentsí confession and serve them communion.
My sister gave Father Peter the slip after finding out that he had another lover at the other parish where he would say mass. He found that girl in the same way he found my sister, confessing the right sort of sins in the confessional, and assisting them in obtaining marriage annulments.
SEEDS OF THE TRUTH
About this same time, I came upon a book that taught me something I had never heard of before Ė Jesus was coming back to planet earth to set up His earthly kingdom. The book was called, "666," and it was a novel written by Salem Kirban. I didnít even know that Jesus was coming again and the book quoted so many Bible verses and I knew in my spirit there was something to this.
I remember reading it on my breaks while working for the County of Los Angelesís Venereal Disease Control where I was a clerk-typist. My fellow workers were also curious about the book and I began taking names as to who was next in line to read it. By the time I got it back, it had to be held together by rubber-band, all the pages were falling out of it.
Only one girl had known about the Second Coming at VD Control; that was my best friend Karen. She was raised a Mormon but had been going to tent meetings at a place called, Calvary Chapel. She was no longer going because she was living with her boyfriend and knew that Pastor Chuck Smith would not approve of that, so she chose her boyfriend over her church. We who read the "666" book would absolutely drill Karen for answers, we were so curious.
I later put the book aside but stored its knowledge in my heart for a later date. I didnít like Christians or Jesus Freaks as we called them and had no desire to go to Calvary Chapel. Another friend of mine I had known since we were babies had become a Jesus Freak and went to Calvary. She told me about people speaking in unknown tongues and I thought she had gone crazy. I didnít want anything to do with that. It just wasnít hep.
I spent most of my twenties bouncing from relationship to relationship, never making contact with what I could consider a soul-mate. I was unlucky in love. I found that I couldnít have fun on a Friday or Saturday night without the aid of a gram or two of cocaine. My brother-in-law introduced me to the mood-altering drug, and my mood needed major altering. He gave me a leather-bound gold-plated coke paraphernalia kit for Christmas one year. It contained a gold snorting straw, gold plated mirror, gold razor-blade and a vial with a lid to hold the cocaine.
I was proud of the fancy kit and would bring it out and share my stash with close associates at parties and nightclubs. For a while I just pushed my religious questions out of my mind and coke helped to alleviate my emptiness.
I was an avid reader and belonged to the "Book of the Month Club." I looked forward to reading anything I could get my hands on if it was exciting and spooky. Stephen King was my favorite author.
But one day I got a book in the mail called, "Michelle Remembers." It was a "true" story a girl gave while under hypnosis, recalling hidden memories of a childhood of satanic ritualistic abuse. As she gave the gruesome details of watching human sacrifices and mutilations while in a trance state, she would manifest ugly welts on her skin in the shape of the devilís tail. The book included photographs of this phenomena.
This book really scared me. I had just finished reading a book called "The Entity," which was another "true" story of a Los Angeles woman being sexually assaulted by unseen demons and between the two books I was convinced of the existence of the devil. I said to myself, "if the devil is real, and I believe he is, then there must be a God."
FROM FUTILITY TO FAITH
I ran out to the local Catholic book store and bought a Catholic Bible. I began reading the Old Testament, I thought I knew the New Testament already, but I was only slightly familiar with the four gospels. The Bible began to be a source of encouragement to me and I was becoming convinced that it was truly Godís word to man. I felt comforted knowing that God was real too and that the devil was not stronger than God.
But my life didnít change much just because I was again open to matters of faith. I was going through a difficult time in a bad relationship (which is another story, too involved to get into here) and I was facing another Christmas alone. At 27 years old I felt like an old maid. Most of my sisters were married and divorced already and I was always a bridesmaid. Christmas was particularly hard because everyone would gather at my parents house with their spouses and children and I would be alone in their midst.
So for the first Christmas in my life I attended a "Protestant" church instead of Mass for Christmas. I went to the only church I knew of that taught the Bible, and that was Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. The pastor, Chuck Smith, taught on the pagan roots of Christmas that originated from the winterís solstice of Saturnalia.
I was very much amused by it and bore witness to what he was saying. I was impressed. The people didnít look at all like the Jesus Freaks I had envisioned. I held on to the bulletin and put it in my nightstand drawer and forgot about it.
I continued to read the Bible off and on and during a crisis with my louse of a boyfriend. I came under intense conviction of my sin while reading the Gospel of John. I cried out to God to save me and I was determined under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to forsake my way of life and turn the reins over to Jesus Christ. But I didnít know how to pray. It was three in the morning and I felt disgusted with myself and didnít know how to present my petitions to the Lord.
I opened my nightstand drawer and pulled out the Calvary Chapel bulletin. Here it was the Fourth of July, and I had held onto it since the previous Christmas. It had the phone number of a 24-hour prayer hotline and I dialed the number expectantly. The first words out of my mouth when the guy answered was, "Help me! I want to pray and I donít know how. Iíve been a Catholic all my life and we always recited Hail Maryís and other prayers, but that wonít do for me now. I want to know how to pray in the right way."
I was choked up and found it hard to speak. There was silence for what seemed like an eternal minute on the other end of the line. Maybe the guy didnít know if I was for real. But he led me to the 6th chapter of Matthew and said, "When Jesus gave the Lordís prayer it wasnít meant to be recited by rote." He read me the verses and I followed along with him in my Bible and I was struck with awesome wonder. I understood, just by his reading, what the Bible was teaching as if blinders had been removed from my eyes. He prayed with me and I wept with the most cleansing tears ever shed in my life.
From that moment on I began to read the Bible voraciously with new understanding. Every verse I read revealed more and more about God and His Son Jesus and I couldnít get enough of it. I threw away my cocaine kit, including the half gram of coke it contained.
The first person I called to share the excitement was my mom. She listened to my testimony and my words brought her to tears. I found out later that she had assumed that I was going to come back to "Mother Church" now that I was taking the Lord seriously.
But I had no inclination at all to ever darken the doorway of a Catholic church again. I had not found the truth in that system. Even as I read my Catholic Bible, I refrained from reading the footnotes of the Catholic interpretations it contained. I wanted to hear directly from God, not from manís opinion of God. I wanted truth Ė the truth Ė Godís truth.
I knew the reality of deception, since I had been deceived already. And I did not want to end up in any religious cult or under any manís control. I had to know the mind of Christ and I could only do that by reading His word.
As I studied the Bible, so many scripture verses would condemn ideas I had been taught growing up. I discovered Bible verses that would outright condemn such Catholic ideas as Purgatory, Transubstantiation, indulgences, prayers to saints, Mary worship and the like. But what frightened me the most was when I read the 17th chapter of the book of Revelation. I could not deny the familiarity of the description of the Mother Harlot: "arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornicationÖ.(vs. 4).
I felt such a sense of betrayal by Rome. I mourned over her for a long time, but I had to put her out of my life Ė she was an imposter! I tried not to let my disgust with Rome affect my love for my parents and other Catholic relatives. But, whenever the subject of religion would come up, I earnestly contended for the faith to the point of verbal violence. Until I could learn some self-control, I could not visit my parents without fireworks going off.
My mom would not argue "religion" with me but would make comments to my siblings, that "Jackie is only going through a fad. This wonít last, nothing does with her." Now, some 21 years later she doesnít make that statement any more.
My dad, on the other hand, would get into debates with me almost every time we got together for the first few years of my born-again new life. Weíve had some intense arguments over doctrine. I remember one time he showed total exasperation when he could not tell me why the Catholic Church has a tabernacle with a veil, when the veil in the Temple was ripped down after Jesus died on the cross. He couldnít justify it to me or to himself either, apparently.
My dad died on New Yearís Eve, 1989, and at his "rosary" the priest leading the ceremony said, "Jack, during the final years of his life, would come to me with questions about church teachings that I could not answer to his satisfaction. He was having many doubts, but now his doubts are relieved." When he said this, my born-again sisters and I all looked at each other with relief and a big "Praise the Lord!" But the Catholics in our family for some reason claim that never got said. I guess they didnít hear it like we did.
In the limousine on the way to Dadís final resting place, I said to my Catholic mom and sister, "Well, how do you feel with Dad burning in Purgatory? Iím so glad to know that he is in the presence of Jesus and is in eternal glory with all the saints!" They were both indignant and said, "Dad suffered enough while he was here so he doesnít need to go to Purgatory." "Oh really, how much suffering is enough?" I responded. I guess they werenít convinced, though, because they bought their share of Mass cards and made contributions to have Masses offered up for Dadís purgatorial release. I just wouldnít let them get away with it unchallenged.
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD!
So as I reflect on my life, I see the Lordís hand on me from the beginning. He directed my steps even when I wasnít aware of His presence. My salvation is based on His finished work on the cross of Calvary. I can add NOTHING to that great atonement. Sure my life is lived in a more pure manner as a Christian than it ever was as a Catholic, but none of my selfless works add to my worthiness before my perfect Savior. He has given me a free gift Ė one I did not earn.
I love my Savior so much because, like the woman with the alabaster box, those who have been forgiven much love much (Luke 7:36-50). There are several verses of scripture I have held onto since I first got saved. These passages helped to establish me in the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Psalm 37 is one that I have returned to again and again since my born-again experience that dark Independence Day 21 years ago. I leave you with its wisdom:
"The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in time of trouble. And the Lord helps them, and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in Him" (vss. 39-40).
To read past articles by Jackie Alnor go to the Christian Sentinel site:
Jackie's apologetics page on Catholicism - Catholic Answers: