From Tradition To Truth - A Priest’s Story (Part 1)

Discussion in 'Missions / Witnessing / eVangelism' started by DaveKJV1611, Sep 21, 2006.

  1. DaveKJV1611

    DaveKJV1611
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    Richard Bennett

    The Early Years
    Born Irish, in a family of eight, my early childhood was fulfilled and happy. My father was a colonel in the Irish Army until he retired when I was about nine. As a family, we loved to play, sing, and act, all within a military camp in Dublin.
    We were a typical Irish Roman Catholic family. My father sometimes knelt down to pray at his bedside in a solemn manner. Most evenings we would kneel in the living room to say the Rosary together. No one ever missed Mass on Sundays unless he was seriously ill. By the time I was about five or six years of age, Jesus Christ was a very real person to me, but so also were Mary and the saints. I can identify easily with others in traditional Catholic nations in Europe and with Hispanics and Filipinos who put Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and other saints all in one boiling pot of faith.
    The catechism was drilled into me at the Jesuit School of Belvedere, where I had all my elementary and secondary education. Like every boy who studies under the Jesuits, I could recite before the age of ten five reasons why God existed and why the Pope was head of the only true Church. Getting souls out of Purgatory was a serious matter. The often quoted words, "It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins," were memorized even though we did not know what these words meant. We were told that the Pope as head of the Church was the most important man on earth. What he said was law, and the Jesuits were his right-hand men. Even though the Mass was in Latin, I tried to attend daily because I was intrigued by the deep sense of mystery which surrounded it. We were told it was the most important way to please God. Praying to saints was encouraged, and we had patron saints for most aspects of life. I did not make a practise of that, with one exception: St. Anthony, the patron of lost objects, since I seemed to lose so many things.
    When I was fourteen years old, I sensed a call to be a missionary. This call, however, did not affect the way in which I conducted my life at that time. Age sixteen to eighteen were the most fulfilled and enjoyable years a youth could have. During this time, I did quite well both academically and athletically.
    I often had to drive my mother to the hospital for treatments. While waiting for her, I found quoted in a book these verses from Mark 10:29-30, "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life." Not having any idea of the true salvation message, I decided that I truly did have a call to be a missionary.

    Trying To Earn Salvation
    I left my family and friends in 1956 to join the Dominican Order. I spent eight years studying what it is to be a monk, the traditions of the Church, philosophy, the theology of Thomas Aquinas, and some of the Bible from a Catholic standpoint. Whatever personal faith I had was institutionalized and ritualized in the Dominican religious system. Obedience to the law, both Church and Dominican, was put before me as the means of sanctification. I often spoke to Ambrose Duffy, our Master of Students, about the law being the means of becoming holy. In addition to becoming “holy,” I wanted also to be sure of eternal salvation. I memorized part of the teaching of Pope Pius XII in which he said, “...the salvation of many depends on the prayers and sacrifices of the mystical body of Christ offered for this intention.” This idea of gaining salvation through suffering and prayer is also the basic message of Fatima and Lourdes, and I sought to win my own salvation as well as the salvation of others by such suffering and prayer. In the Dominican monastery in Tallaght, Dublin, I performed many difficult feats to win souls, such as taking cold showers in the middle of winter and beating my back with a small steel chain. The Master of Students knew what I was doing, his own austere life being part of the inspiration that I had received from the Pope's words. With rigor and determination, I studied, prayed, did penance, tried to keep the Ten Commandments and the multitude of Dominican rules and traditions.

    Outward Pomp -- Inner Emptiness
    Then in 1963 at the age of twenty-five I was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and went on to finish my course of studies of Thomas Aquinas at The Angelicum University in Rome. But there I had difficulty with both the outward pomp and the inner emptiness. Over the years I had formed, from pictures and books, pictures in my mind of the Holy See and the Holy City. Could this be the same city? At the Angelicum University I was also shocked that hundreds of others who poured into our morning classes seemed quite disinterested in theology. I noticed Time and Newsweek magazines being read during classes. Those who were interested in what was being taught seemed only to be looking for either degrees or positions within the Catholic Church in their homelands.
    One day I went for a walk in the Colosseum so that my feet might tread the ground where the blood of so many Christians had been poured out. I walked to the arena in the Forum. I tried to picture in my mind those men and women who knew Christ so well that they were joyfully willing to be burned at the stake or devoured alive by beasts because of His overpowering love. The joy of this experience was marred, however, for as I went back in the bus I was insulted by jeering youths shouting words meaning “scum or garbage.” I sensed their motivation for such insults was not because I stood for Christ as the early Christians did but because they saw in me the Roman Catholic system. Quickly, I put this contrast out of my mind, yet what I had been taught about the present glories of Rome now seemed very irrelevant and empty.
    One night soon after that, I prayed for two hours in front of the main altar in the church of San Clemente. Remembering my earlier youthful call to be a missionary and the hundredfold promise of Mark 10:29-30, I decided not to take the theological degree that had been my ambition since beginning study of the theology of Thomas Aquinas. This was a major decision, but after long prayer I was sure I had decided correctly.
    The priest who was to direct my thesis did not want to accept my decision. In order to make the degree easier, he offered me a thesis written several years earlier. He said I could use it as my own if only I would do the oral defense. This turned my stomach. It was similar to what I had seen a few weeks earlier in a city park: elegant prostitutes parading themselves in their black leather boots. What he was offering was equally sinful. I held to my decision, finishing at the University at the ordinary academic level, without the degree.
    On returning from Rome, I received official word that I had been assigned to do a three year course at Cork University. I prayed earnestly about my missionary call. To my surprise, I received orders in late August 1964 to go to Trinidad, West Indies, as a missionary.

    Pride, Fall, And A New Hunger
    On October 1, 1964, I arrived in Trinidad, and for seven years I was a successful priest, in Roman Catholic terms, doing all my duties and getting many people to come to Mass. By 1972 I had become quite involved in the Catholic Charismatic Movement. Then, at a prayer meeting on March 16th of that year, I thanked the Lord that I was such a good priest and requested that if it were His will, He humble me that I might be even better. Later that same evening I had a freak accident, splitting the back of my head and hurting my spine in many places. Without thus coming close to death, I doubt that I would ever have gotten out of my self-satisfied state. Rote, set prayer showed its emptiness as I cried out to God in my pain.
    In the suffering that I went through in the weeks after the accident, I began to find some comfort in direct personal prayer. I stopped saying the Breviary (the Roman Catholic Church's official prayer for clergy) and the Rosary and began to pray using parts of the Bible itself. This was a very slow process. I did not know my way through the Bible and the little I had learned over the years had taught me more to distrust it rather than to trust it. My training in philosophy and in the theology of Thomas Aquinas left me helpless, so that coming into the Bible now to find the Lord was like going into a huge dark woods without a map.
    When assigned to a new parish later that year, I found that I was to work side-by-side with a Dominican priest who had been a brother to me over the years. For more than two years we were to work together, fully seeking God as best we knew in the parish of Pointe-a-Pierre. We read, studied, prayed, and put into practise what we had been taught in Church teaching. We built up communities in Gasparillo, Claxton Bay, and Marabella, just to mention the main villages. In a Catholic religious sense we were very successful. Many people attended Mass. The Catechism was taught in many schools, including government schools. I continued my personal search into the Bible, but it did not much affect the work we were doing; rather it showed me how little I really knew about the Lord and His Word. It was at this time that Philippians 3:10 became the cry of my heart, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection....”
     
  2. DaveKJV1611

    DaveKJV1611
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    A Conversation Between Two Former Catholic Priests

    "This testimony was sent to me by Richard Bennett for the purpose of posting it on forums." DaveKJV1611
     

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