A Man Who Found It
As told to “Awake!” correspondent in Burma
I WAS born into a family of very devout Roman Catholics. In fact, two of my uncles joined the teaching order of the Roman Catholic Brothers. I was baptized at the age of three weeks. Roman Catholics believe that if a child dies before it can be baptized, it will go to a place called “Limbo,” which is neither Heaven nor Hell.
When I was attending St. Paul’s High School, in Rangoon, Burma, I had Catholicism drummed into my head by the Roman Catholic Brothers, who taught us that the Catholic religion was the only true one. As an impressionable youngster, I felt very proud to be a Catholic. On the other hand, I felt quite sorry for some of my classmates who were, I thought, not fortunate enough to be Catholics. It was an honor, we were often told, to be associated with the only true religion. The religious pomp and ceremony that went on in church appealed to me.
But this attitude did not last. On entering my mid-twenties I gradually became disenchanted with the Roman Catholic way of worship. Eventually the Mass, which at one time had impressed me so much, became empty ritual and quite meaningless. Every Sunday the priest performed the same ceremony without teaching the congregation anything new spiritually. Though still feeling a need for religion in my life, I stopped going to church.
During my twenties I became what might be described as an ‘on again, off again’ Catholic. At the age of 30, I met my future wife. Four years later, at a Nuptial Mass with organ music and choir singing, a really beautiful ceremony, we got married. Though my wife came from a Buddhist family, she became a convert to Catholicism a week before we got married. This had required her to visit the parish priest each weekend for quite some time before our marriage in order to receive religious instruction. Considerable travel was involved, for she lived eight miles (13 kilometers) out of the city.
After getting married, it seemed good that I take the lead in religious activities. I began attending church regularly, took an interest in church activities, became a church elder and even began publicly reading the Epistle at Sunday Mass, which was by then being conducted in English. Gradually this burst of religious zeal waned, and again I quit attending church.
A Wonderful Awakening
In 1976 something wonderful happened to me. I came to know that God had a personal name, JEHOVAH. As a Catholic I didn’t know that God had a name. This was the beginning of a fine education that my wife and I gained when a married couple who are Jehovah’s Witnesses conducted a Bible study with us. It impressed me that each week they would travel six miles (10 kilometers) to our home under difficult conditions. You would have to experience a ride in one of Rangoon’s buses to know what I mean. A bus that holds 40 persons comfortably is forced to carry over 100 passengers pressed together like sardines. I can’t imagine a priest doing the same thing to teach someone the Catholic religion.
As I progressed, taking in Bible knowledge, it became clear that many of my Catholic beliefs did not harmonize with the Word of God. Evidently my religion was not pleasing God. Let me explain.
Religious Pictures and Images
Look inside any Catholic church and you will find religious pictures and images that are given prominence and honor. You will also find the same things in Catholic homes. Pictures, images, medals and even “relics” of “saints” are objects of reverence by Catholics.
From our Bible study, we learned that image worship does not please God. For example, the Scriptures warn against it at Isaiah 42:8, which says: “I am Jehovah. That is my name; and to no one else shall I give my own glory, neither my praise to graven images.” Indicating his attitude toward images, God declared in the second of the Ten Commandments: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.” (Ex. 20:4, 5) Yet, in the Catholic religion candles are burned in front of statues, and flowers and money are offered to them, while worshipers bow or kneel in prayer before them. I used to do the same thing.
Catholics believe that image worship can cause the “saints” to act as mediators between God and the worshiper. However, the Bible indicates that this is wrong, for we read: “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, a man, Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 2:5) Besides Jesus Christ, none can mediate with God on our behalf. (Compare John 14:6; Acts 4:12.) It amazed us to learn that we had been giving more honor to created persons and things than to the Creator.—Rom. 1:25.
An example of praying to persons other than God is the Confiteor (meaning “I Confess”), a prayer used during Mass. It includes the following: “I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and to all the saints, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed.” According to the Bible, though, it is God alone who is the “Hearer of prayer.” (Ps. 65:2) Jesus taught that prayers should be directed to “Our Father in the heavens.”—Matt. 6:9.
That raised a question in our minds about the rosary, which involves repeating particular prayers many times, especially a prayer to Mary called the “Hail Mary.” In view of what we had been learning from the Bible, it dawned on us that prayers to Mary and “saints” could not be pleasing to God.
Moreover, Jesus himself showed that God does not favor repetitious prayers, when he said: “But when praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do.” (Matt. 6:7) What does the rosary involve, if not saying the same thing over and over again? As for calling Mary “ever Virgin,” did you know that she gave birth to several children after Jesus? We read at Matthew 13:55, 56: “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?” To us this was quite a revelation.
Immortality of the Soul
As a Catholic I was taught that my soul is immortal, that when I die my body will return to dust but my soul will leave the body. Church teaching has it that, according to my conduct while alive on earth, the soul will go either to Heaven, to a fiery Hell or to a torturous place of temporary punishment called Purgatory.
Through Bible study, however, I learned that the human soul is the entire person, not an invisible part of him. Consider some Biblical evidence of this:
“And Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt were two souls.” (Gen. 46:27) “Now in case some soul would present as an offering a grain offering to Jehovah . . .” (Lev. 2:1) “In case a soul sins by mistake . . .” (Lev. 4:2) “No soul of you must eat blood.” (Lev. 17:12) “Fear began to fall upon every soul.” (Acts 2:43) “Now, all together, we souls in the boat were about two hundred and seventy-six.”—Acts 27:37.
Of course, if the soul is the person himself, when an individual dies, the soul dies. That is why the Bible repeatedly mentions souls dying or being destroyed. For instance, it states: “I must destroy that soul from among his people.” (Lev. 23:30) Jesus asked: “Is it lawful on the sabbath . . . to save or to destroy a soul?” (Luke 6:9) As for the condition of the dead, the Scriptures pointedly state: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”—Eccl. 9:5.
In the short space of one year, I learned more about God and the Bible than during all of my 46 years as a Catholic. What I learned was truly “good news.” Bible study has certainly made me appreciate Jesus’ words: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) My wife, my eldest son and I symbolized our dedication to God by water baptism during the “Joyful Workers” District Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1977. How happy we are at last to have found the way of worship that truly pleases God!