Though I prayed to God, a part of me felt that He was distant. Instead, 'Mary' appeared to me as more relatable.
My love for 'Mary' was deep. I defended Marian practices and doctrines with all my strength. I was particularly fascinated by her apparitions: at Lourdes, Fatima, and Garabandal. By the time I was fourteen years old, I had read The Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.
I prayed the Rosary nearly every day. I wore my scapular faithfully in honor of Mary. I even joined the Universal Living Rosary Association of St. Philomena. On March 25, 2000, I formally consecrated myself to her Immaculate Heart. From that day, I renewed my consecration to her every day, saying, I am all yours, my Queen and Mother. And all I have is also yours. I knew little about the Bible then, except the Bible readings at Mass.
I didn't pay attention to the allegations of idolatry leveled against the Catholic Church. If anything, these accusations only strengthened my resolve to be a faithful Catholic. I didn't know what it meant to be born again, though I had heard the expression. I knew I had to repent of my sin and confess them to a priest, obtain absolution, and repeat the process as often as I sinned.
I believed that adherence to the Catholic sacraments and the Church's teachings would help me go to heaven, especially the Sacrament of Confession, the Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick (and Viaticum, Holy Communion for the dying), and devotion to Mary. I prayed that God would deliver me from sudden (unprepared) death and grant me the grace of receiving the Sacraments before my death. Like most Catholics, I dreaded Purgatory.
But the Catholic Church offered some hope in the form of Indulgences. So, from time to time, I tried to obtain as many indulgences as possible (both plenary and partial indulgences), through attending Mass, praying the Rosary or spending time before the Blessed Sacrament (i.e. the communion bread in the Catholic tabernacle). Moreover, Mary had made several promises about salvation for all who prayed the Rosary and devoted themselves to her. I did my part to avoid mortal sin or at least confess them if I sinned. In my mind, the combined effect of the above practices gave me hope of making it to heaven. Due to a strong desire to do God's work, I became a Catholic priest and served for over seven years.
I was free from the deceptions in the Catholic Church, but little did I know that I wasn't out of the woods yet. Because of my exposure to Joseph Prince's teachings on grace, I fell for the doctrine of eternal security. Though I hardly used the expression eternal security or once saved always saved, in principle, that is what I believed.
The more I studied the Scriptures, the more I realized that the doctrine of eternal security was a snare. Since the latter part of last year, the Lord showed me mercy by leading me to the biblical truth about sin, repentance, judgment and the free yet conditional nature of eternal salvation. He helped me to grasp the necessity of crucifying the flesh through self-denial (being dead to sin once for all, Rom 6:1-11; Gal 5:24; 1 Peter 4:1-2), in order to become free for righteousness.
The Lord has helped me to directly confront sin in my life, repent with godly sorrow and tears, and to cut ties with all things that pollute the spirit and body (2 Corinthians 7:1). I thank God for leading me to this place of truth and real freedom. I thank Him for delivering me from the deceptions within Catholicism as well as the snares outside Catholicism. It hasn't been long, but I know this is where the Lord has always wanted me to be. And I am happy to be here, walking with Him in obedience and submission, guided by the light of the Scriptures. God bless you, Stephen.