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Easter’s New Life - Croce

Belief that Church is founded on more than scripture leads Assembly of God missionary to Catholic Church

The following story appeared in the April 29 Idaho Catholic Register.

Gene Fadness

Editor's note

One was the pastor of evangelical churches throughout the Intermountain West, who later became so discouraged he ended up agnostic and alcoholic.

Another grew up in a home where one side of the family was rabidly anti-Catholic while the other side included a man who was recently declared Venerated by Pope Francis.

Two were students who determined Catholicism was true in the quiet of their own apartments by watching YouTube videos and reading Catholic blogs.

Two families escaped a civil war in Burma and life in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to Boise, meeting each other, marrying and later, mother, father and two children were received into the Catholic faith.

The journeys are as varied as are the people and their circumstances, but the destination, in the end, was the same: the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church that in an age of increasing secularism still has the power to draw searching minds and hearts.

This issue of the Idaho Catholic Register spotlights the stories of just some of the hundreds received into the Church during the Easter Vigil in the Diocese of Boise. Some wrote their own stories, while others were interviewed to let us summarize their stories.

Their stories, while different, confirm the message shared by Bishop Peter Christensen during his Easter message at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist: “Jesus is among the living.”

“Why do you seek the living One among the dead?” the women are asked by the men who appear to them in St. Luke’s Gospel. “He is not here, but He has been raised.”

The truth that He lives and moves in the hearts of His people is repeated over and again with each baptism, with each Confirmation, with each first reception of the Holy Eucharist, with each marriage validation that takes place at thousands of Easter Vigil Masses across the globe.

By Benjamin Croce

NAMPA – I grew up in a non-denominational Christian home in California and was baptized during my high school years. My parents taught my siblings and me from a young age to own our own faith. I thank my parents for the education I had because they helped me know, in a positive way, that I shouldn’t simply believe what I believe because I grew up with it. They knew I had to set out to know it for myself.

It is good to know why you believe something, especially if it is the truth, so you’re not at the mercy of every passing rhetoric. That said, my faith formation isn’t all intellectual. I also learned when I was young that the head and the heart must work together. So as I looked around at all the different Christian denominations and their differences in doctrine, I was able to figure out what mattered most and what they all had in common was the importance of our relationship with God. I have had my ups and downs like anyone else, but I have been guided by my values for truth, faith in Him and in His Word and wrestling with how best to live it all out.

In 2016, I moved to Louisiana for trade school where I had no friends or family. Some heartbreaking and painful events happened shortly thereafter that sent me into a downward spiral away from God and into some misery and debauchery. However, I had known and experienced too much of God at that point to know I could not stay there long if I wanted my life back. Even though I was going to church on Sunday and playing music with the worship team, I knew that just “believing” in God while living in darkness wasn’t going to cut it. Every Sunday at my small Nazarene Church came with a gut punch of conviction because I was aware of my hypocrisy. I knew even more that Jesus was calling me to Him-self with His mercy. I knew that if I was going to be a Christian and stay out of trouble, I had to do more than go to church on Sunday. I needed to put myself in a place where I could actually live out my faith during the week.

This led me to get involved in a campus ministry with the Assembly of God Church. There, God put me back together and healed my heart in many ways. After graduating from my two-year trade school, I stayed an extra three years to be a full-time campus missionary with this ministry.

The search for how best to live out my faith intensified while I was in Louisiana. There were all sorts of experiences, people, and heart searches that ended up leading me to Catholicism.

One of the more notable of these searches was digging into the Hebrew-Jewish roots of the faith. In seeking to understand exactly how the Old Covenant should inform the New Covenant, I began to find some of my non-denominational beliefs lacking. I started to realize how ancient Israel had an authority structure that was respected as well as holy objects and holy spaces to be venerated. It also had many kinds of rituals, beautiful feast days, and a liturgy instituted by God. I was seeking to understand more deeply how all these messianic prophecies and types and symbols point us to Christ.

I felt like something was missing from the main-line Protestantism. Meditating on scripture, I started to notice the value of structure, Tradition, liturgy, and authority. I started to see how the experience of God’s people gets written down in scripture, and continues to be lived out in Tradition. I had previously held pretty strongly to the Protestant belief in “sola scriptura” (“scripture alone” is the sole authority to determine truth), believing that scripture was my primary safeguard against deception.

The authority of scripture is a safeguard against deception, but I also started to realize the flaw behind sola scriptura – namely that scripture itself does not teach sola scriptura, but points to something greater.

The fullness of the Christian faith is too vast to be confined to the pages of holy scripture, holy as it is. The faith in its entirety is passed down via Tradition from generation to generation. Jesus, in establishing the New Covenant, did not write down a single page that we have record of. Instead, His disciples wrote some of it down, much to our benefit. St. John wrote, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

Scripture is important, but Jesus was primarily concerned with discipleship and action that leads to the abundant life. How can we possibly fit this life of faith, fully expressed, entirely into scripture? The most scripture can do is point us to this fullness of faith expressed in works. Thus, we see the sequel to the gospels is named the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts, the resurrected Jesus stays and teaches His disciples for 40 days before He ascended. One question echoed through my mind when I read this as a Protestant: What did He teach? What was so important that he hadn’t taught already, and why wasn’t it written down in the Gospels? Our Christian faith was never meant to be passed down simply through a book. It is meant to be passed down through people. Thus, St. Paul writes in his letter to Timothy that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

(1 Tim. 3:14-15)

It is the Church, that is to say, the people, which is the pillar and foundation of truth, not just scripture. St. Paul continues in his next letter, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim. 1:13-14), and it says shortly thereafter, “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim. 2:2) Faith is passed down from person to person, through those who are qualified to teach others.

As I write this, there is a beautiful sunset happening. To the west the clouds are shining around the sun; the sky is gold. Above me are rain clouds, half-gold, raining down in the midst of a clearly visible sunset, and to the east is the most full and bright rainbow I’ve ever seen. A picture could not have adequately captured this. Some settle for scripture alone to experience the Christian faith. The picture is excellent, yes, but the experience is so much better, and makes the picture that much more meaningful.

Editor’s note: After his three-year mission experience in Louisiana concluded, Benjamin moved to Idaho where his parents had moved from California.

Even though he was beginning to explore Catholicism in Louisiana, he became part of an evangelical church in Nampa where he sang for the worship team.

He says while he enjoyed the praise and compliments he received for his music, that praise “exposed a flaw, however small, in contemporary Protestant worship.” He longed for something deeper in his worship experience; something that moved the focus from him and the praise music to worship centered on Christ.

That Sunday night, he attended a Mass at Holy Apostles Parish in Meridian.

“I finally felt able to fully worship and focus on God because I knew exactly where He was calling me. After all the things swirling in my head, I had finally found the rest I was looking for in Catholicism.”

He immediately enrolled in RCIA at Holy Apostles in late fall and then picked it up in January at his home parish of St. Paul’s in Nampa.

He was Confirmed into the Church on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 24, at St. Paul’s, and is part of the music ministry there.

He concludes his essay with this passage from Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand by the earliest roads. Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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