by Gene O.
"Lucifer has hurled into hell so great a number of souls and continues so to hurl them every day, rising up in his pride against the Almighty. In this manner has he been able to introduce into the world his tyrannical power, spreading among men forgetfulness of death, judgment, heaven and hell, and casting so many nations from abyss to abyss of darkness and bestial errors, such [as] are contained in the heresies and false sects of the infidels. Do thou therefore beware of this terrible danger, my daughter, and let not the memory of the law of thy God, his precepts and commands, and the truths of the Catholic Church and the doctrines of the Gospels ever fail in thy mind." - The Blessed Virgin Mary, speaking to the now incorrupt visionary, miracle-worker, St. Mary of Agreda [The Mystical City of God]
The lives of the Catholic saints are flowers of a celestial garden; their perilous journeys through the world are filled with mystery, passion, and the most profound holiness. If only Protestants would consider the words of the Virgin Mary to St. Mary of Agreda quoted above, they would see that many saints possessed a miraculous contact with the spiritual world. The lives of the saints clearly bear witness to the authenticity of the Roman Catholic faith.
In my personal journeys into the lives of hundreds of saints, my Protestant beliefs crumbled piece by piece; What first appeared to me as a marvelous gem (Protestantism), had turned out to be a worthless rock (heretical arrogance). This powerful journey began with a miracle-worker named St. Cuthbert, who was a hermit and Bishop of Lindisfarne. And though St. Cuthbert successfully completed my conversion, it was also strengthened by the examples in the lives of other saints. I think that it is proper to begin this article discussing my experiences with Christianity, and to save St. Cuthbert for last.
The frustrations I encountered in Protestantism lead to frustrations with Christianity as a whole. For instance, I have seen as many interpretations of the Bible as there are grains of sand on a beach; everyone swears that their interpretation is right, and that everyone else is wrong. From this, I began to unconsciously associate Christianity with arrogance. I recalled the days of my childhood when my Methodist uncle and Baptist aunt would attack each other with a plethora of Bible verses; Incidences like this increased my distaste for Christianity to the point where I was ready to burn my Bible. After constant struggling and searching, ephemeral convictions and painful doubts, I came to many conclusions that were sort of intuitive and obvious:
1. Satan is more intelligent than all of us, and has easily been deceiving us from day one.
2. We cannot fathom the depth of wisdom contained in the Bible, and yet we are so anxious to quote it and argue about it -- this is one danger I must avoid.
3. 10,000 interpretations of the Bible means that Satan invented 9,999 of them, and a lot of those interpretations are going to appear incredibly true, especially when you consider Satan‚™s cunning. If I am ever going to see what is true and what is not, I need a solid guide and the grace of humility to listen to that guide, since that guide would probably say something I don‚™t like.
4. A man's likeness to Christ must correspond with their level of spiritual insight, so I have to find the most Christ-like men and women on earth for insight into the mysterious of the Bible.
5. The true Church must contain the holiest people.
This began a four-year research into the lives of holy men in all the Christian faiths. I believed that the teaching, "By their fruits, ye will know them," contained the great secret of discernment. So I began to search for people who testified to the authenticity of their faith first with their holiness, and then with their tongues. People who acted in the reverse order reminded me too much of Satan (i.e., Martin Luther and Calvin), and since they showed no signs of Christ-like holiness, I didn't trust them. In the Protestant faiths, the only men who had achieved some degree of holiness that I saw were men like Pascal, William Law, Spinoza, Amiel, Boehme, etc. However, they seemed more like Greek philosophers to me than genuine apostles of our Lord.
Eventually, I reluctantly decided to give the Roman Catholic Church one chance. I began studying the lives of their saints, and was puzzled by the many peculiarities I encountered in my studies. There were reports of men who walked on water, raised the dead, tamed wild animals, healed the blind and the possessed, bi-located, levitated, spoke with God in ecstasy, bore the stigmata, were visibly ministered to by angels, possessed a powerful spirit of prophecy, had hearts that literally burned with the love of God, were united to Christ in mystical espousals, etc. This was significant to me in that the apostles possessed many gifts of this nature, and the Roman Catholic Church claimed apostolic succession. I began to wonder if the miraculous powers given to the apostles had somehow transferred to their successors, if they truly did have successors. I wondered, but withheld my judgment. What amazed me even more was that the holiness of these miracle-workers and mystics corresponded perfectly to the miracles themselves, and corresponded also to the mystical phenomena in their lives. I read of thousands of incidences of these people demonstrating remarkable humility, wisdom, love, charity, courage, perseverance, faith, power in prayer, etc. And in many cases, these invisible miracles often could not be separated from the visible ones.
I was finally converted to the Catholic faith when I accidentally landed on the works of a man named St. Bede the Venerable. (1) He wrote the biography of a Bishop named St. Cuthbert, who was also a hermit on the island of Lindisfarne. "Cuthbert?" I thought to myself, "Who on earth is that?" Despite this puzzlement, I was initially impressed by how St. Bede had first established the credibility of his biography. Noting his sincerity, I began to read the biography; and by the time I was finished reading it, I wholeheartedly embraced the Roman Catholic Faith.
When I recall my conversion, I also remember that of a Lutheran Signor Abresch. Like myself, he experienced a powerful conversion when he came in contact with an extraordinary saint: the stigmatist, St. Padre Pio. Signor Abresch one day went to St. Padre Pio to see if he could test the holy man. By the time the Protestantism left him, he said, "Not only do I believe in the dogmas of the Catholic Church, but in everything she teaches. And I could not lose this faith without also losing my life." He and his wife both became Franciscan tertiaries, and moved to a home that was closer to St. Padre Pio. St. Padre Pio also prophesied that their son would one day be ordained a priest. His name is Msgr. Pio Abresch, and is currently working at the Vatican. (2) My conversion is similar to this in that I was converted to the Catholic faith when I came in contact with the biography of St. Cuthbert, the holy Bishop of Lindisfarne. And I know full well that if I were to ever break away from this Church -- God forbid -- I would most certainly perish in my sins.
The conversion of Signor Abresch lead to his son becoming a priest. Similarly, the conversion I experienced after reading the life of St. Cuthbert was the first step towards my desire for the priesthood. Providence has certainly embarrassed me, but in a good and loving way. One day, I had an aversion for Catholic priests, and now I have a tremendous desire to be one. Without St. Cuthbert, none of this would have ever happened.
What first amazed me about St. Cuthbert is what compelled St. Bede to write about him. It was the discovery of the saint's incorrupt body, which is said to have emitted a supernatural fragrance that filled the air. I thought to myself that, if St. Cuthbert was truly a holy man, such phenomena must be of heavenly origin, and God must want us to recognize the holiness of His saint. Not only was his body found incorrupt after his death, but 418 years later, it was still completely incorrupt and it emitted a sweet fragrance. "But he's a Catholic!" I thought, "I‚™ve never known a good priest in my life. But he's a Catholic priest!" The Catholic priests I had known in the past did not strike me as very holy people, but as a bunch of pretenders wearing fancy robes. However, I restrained my prejudices and began to read the biography. If I were to discuss the biography in intricate detail, it would take years to write this, so I'll simply get to some points that struck me the most about St. Cuthbert.
God has promised a special assistance to those who truly do His will on earth. This is marvelously displayed in the life of St. Cuthbert. St. Bede says that once St. Cuthbert's "knee was seized with a sudden pain, and began to swell into a large tumor; the nerves of his thigh became contracted, and he was obliged to walk lamely, dragging after him his diseased leg, until at length the pain increased, and he was unable to walk at all." He goes on to say that one day, St. Cuthbert's attendants took him outside, leaving him to relax in the open air. A man dressed in white garments, riding on a horse of incomparable beauty then approached St. Cuthbert. He saluted the saint and gave him a strange remedy that miraculously healed his diseased leg. St. Bede says that St. Cuthbert instantly discerned the man to be an angel in corporeal firm, whom God had sent to aid the holy man. The very fact that God would do such a thing for a mere man amazed me. I thought to myself, "What kind of man of this who merited such a favor? A Catholic priest? I wondered. Perhaps Catholic priests weren't so bad after all. But, I thought, maybe the miracle wasn't true. I've never seen it. Then I remembered that I wasn't worthy to see it either. Nonetheless, St. Bede shut me up at the end by saying, "If any one think it incredible that an angel should appear on horseback, let him read the history of the Maccabees, in which angels are said to have come on horseback to the assistance of Judas Maccabaeus, and to defend God's own temple." Sadly, I had not the slightest idea what was written in either of the two books of Maccabees!
There is another account of a group of sailors stuck in a treacherous storm. The men and women on the shore observed these sailors from a distance; they began to curse their foolishness and showed no compassion for them. St. Bede then writes that, "Cuthbert restrained the insults of the blasphemers, saying, 'What are you doing, my brethren, in thus reviling those whom you see hurried to destruction? Would it not be better and more humane to entreat the Lord in their behalf, than thus to take delight in their misfortunes?'" Sadly, no one listened to him, and so the holy saint dropped to his knees and began to pray. Instantly, the storm ceased, the sailors came to the shore, and those men who insulted them were speechless before the Catholic priest, and they were amazed by the supernatural power in his prayers. I was deeply moved by his compassion, faith, and miraculous prayer life. It was through him that I learned to pray for others, which I never did before.
St. Cuthbert's life was filled with the supernatural. He was tempted and attacked by devils that visibly appeared to him and attacked him near his hermitage, as is related in the lives of Sts. Catherine of Siena, Padre Pio, John Masias, Veronica Giuliani, Louis of Montfort, Gemma Galgani, and Anthony of Egypt. He served everyone in the name of charity, and guided his fellow monks in simplicity and wisdom, teaching first with his example and then with his words. His love for God was seen in God's miraculously display of love for him, for our Lord blessed him with the gifts of humility, prophecy (He predicted the day of his own death), wisdom, understanding, science, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear. His modesty and his humility in wanting to remain a simple hermit was inspiring; In the words of St. Bede, "Cuthbert told us [about the] prophecy [made by a monk named] Boisil, that this, our holy servant of Christ, should attain to the office of a bishop; though he, in his eagerness after the heavenly life, felt horrified at the announcement." He was so saddened by being named a bishop that he could not help but shed tears when the request was made.
All throughout his life, he had hundreds of supernatural experiences. He changed water into wine, cured the dying, healed the diseased, and witnessed souls being taken up to heaven by angels (including the holy soul of Bishop St. Aidan). One such miraculous incident demonstrates his amazing trust in Divine Providence: Some of St. Cuthbert‚s brethren noted he had no water on his island hermitage. To this, St. Cuthbert said, "You see that my dwelling is destitute of water; but I pray you, let us beseech Him who turned the solid rock into a pool of water and stones into fountains, that giving glory, not to us, but to his own name, He may vouchsafe to open to us a spring of water, even from this stony rock. Let us dig in the middle of my hut, and, I believe, out of his good pleasure, He will give us drink." Suddenly, a spring of pure water sprouted out from the middle of his hut, while his brethren stood speechless.
Overall, St. Cuthbert was more like Christ than any human being I have ever encountered in my life. I believe that people who achieved such an incredible level of holiness should be revered, but many of the infidels in the times of St. Cuthbert despised him. Still, to demonstrate my belief that we owe special veneration and obedience to the saints. And to show this, "I will here mention a miracle which he then wrought, in order that it may be more evident to all men what obedience should be rendered to [God's] saints, even in the case of commands which they seem to have given with carelessness or indifference." St. Cuthbert commanded a few men who came to his island hermitage to simply rest and eat the goose that was there for them before they returned to the mainland. But they believed their judgment to be greater than his own, and decided to disobey St. Cuthbert and set sail for Ireland. St. Bede then relates that, "they tried to go on board their vessel, but a sudden storm utterly prevented them from putting to sea. They were thus detained seven days in the island by the roughness of the waves, and yet they could not call to mind what fault they had committed."
Deeply depressed, the men returned to the saint who said to them, "Have you not left the goose still hanging in its place? What wonder is it that the storm has prevented your departure? Put it immediately into the caldron, and boil and eat it, that the sea may become tranquil, and you may return home." They obeyed, and the sea became tranquil. St. Bede says that, "[t]heir shame arose from their disobedience and dullness of comprehension, whereby, amid the chastening of their Maker, they were unable to perceive and to correct their error. They rejoiced, because they now saw what care God had for his faithful servant, so as to vindicate him from neglect, even by means of the elements. They rejoiced, too, that the Lord should have had so much regard to themselves, as to correct their offences even by an open miracle. Now this, which I have related, I did not pick up from any chance authority, but I had it from one of those who were present,-a most reverend monk and priest of the same monastery, Cynemund, who still lives, known to many in the neighborhood for his years and the purity of his life."
After reading the dozen of stories about St. Cuthbert, my love for Catholicism grew more and more. My doubts faded when I carefully observed the effort St. Bede the Venerable went through to write his biography, noting that he also knew people who personally knew St. Cuthbert. Finally, I realized that a man who achieved such an great level of holiness definitely had a greater spirit of discernment than all of us, and could easily perceive which Christian faith was the true faith. What is more, there were hundreds of others saints like him, or who even surpassed him (i.e., St. Catherine, St. Padre Pio). Their stories were also well authenticated by holy and trustworthy authors.
St. Cuthbert began my great journey into the lives of the saints. Soon, I began to notice that the Roman Catholic Saints, for twenty-one centuries have spoken in one powerful and unbroken voice. This voice is expressed well in the dying words of St. Cuthbert, who said: "...have no communion with those who err from the unity of the Catholic faith...And know and remember, that, if of two evils you are compelled to choose one, I would rather that you should take up my bones, and leave these places, to reside wherever God may send you, than consent in any way to the wickedness of schismatics, and so place a yoke upon your necks. Study diligently, and carefully observe the Catholic rules of the Fathers, and practice with zeal those institutes of the monastic life which it has pleased God to deliver to you through my ministry. For I know, that, although during my life some have despised me, yet after my death you will see what sort of man I was, and that my doctrine was by no means worthy of contempt.'"
In fulfillment of the holy man's words, God glorified the saint with the grace of incorruption. (3) And through St. Cuthbert's intercession, God performed countless miracles and strengthened the faith of Catholics throughout Europe. Even centuries later, St. Cuthbert is still working miracles, for it was the example of his life which lead to my conversion to the Catholic Faith. When all is said and done, I do not testify to my Catholic faith own my behalf, for then my testimony cannot be verified. Rather, the Saints and the Fathers of the Church bear witness to my faith with their holiness, declaring that my faith is true.
I began this article quoting the words of the Virgin Mary to St. Mary of Agreda during her apparition in Spain. I would like to end this article with the words of the Virgin Mary during her apparition at Tre Fontane to a diehard Protestant named Bruno Cornacchiola. She said, ‚I am she who is related to the Divine Trinity. I am the Virgin of Revelation. You have persecuted me, now is the time to stop! Come and be part of the Holy Fold which is the Celestial Court on earth.‚
...Just over two years [after the apparition], on 9 December 1949, Bruno was part of a group invited to pray the rosary with Pius XII in his private chapel, as part of the beginning of the 1950 Holy Year celebrations. After the rosary, the Pope asked if anyone wanted to speak to him. Bruno immediately came forward and knelt at his feet and, with tears in his eyes, showed the dagger with which he had intended to kill him, and his Protestant Bible. He begged forgiveness, which Pius XII unhesitatingly gave."
March 17, 2004
1 - Bede, Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, in a volume entitled Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. Trans. J.A. Giles, (London: J.M. Dent; New York: E.P. Dutton, 1910), pgs. 286-349.
2 - Immaculata Magazine, National Center for Padre Pio, Inc.
3 - Cruz, Joan Carroll, The Incorruptibles: A Study of the Incorruption of Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati, (Rockford IL: Tan, 1977).
4 - Tract from Theotokos Catholic Books - Approved Apparitions - www.theotokos.org.uk