In 2009, I would like to record many of my experiences over the course of my reunion with the Catholic Church. Mere weeks after the completion of the 2008 Generation of Youth for Christ Conference, I would like to share several personal experience from the 2005 GYC (then "General Youth Conference"). This post represents the first.
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The 2005 GYC was more prophecy-driven than many GYCs, with several seminar tracks discussing last-day events, trends, and conspiracies. I gravitated toward these, fascinated by the Adventist fear of Catholicism, from which fear I had only recently escaped. At one, G. Edward Reid, author of Sunday's Coming, was introduced as an expert on Catholicism and end-time events.
At one point during his session "The Sabbath and the Reformation," he claimed the Church sold indulgences to remove thousands of years from one's stay in purgatory. He then triumphantly asked if anyone knew how long purgatory ultimately lasts. No Catholic to date had been able to tell him, he said; "they keep it unknown so you're always paying more money to get. . . less time in purgatory." He pressed his listeners with the challenge to show him a Catholic document indicating the duration of purgatory. As much as I wanted to publicly respond, I knew the seminar hall was not the proper forum to answer a question intended as rhetorical. (Audio of this presentation may be downloaded here, proceed 12:50 min. into the file.)
Instead, an hour later, I met him privately. I explained, citing Catholic sources, that when "an indulgence of so many days or years" was granted, "it cancels an amount of purgatorial punishment equivalent to that which would have been remitted, in the sight of God, by the performance of so many days or years of the ancient canonical penance," not that one subtracts that duration of time from the "time" spent in purgatory (Catholic Encyclopedia , "Indulgences"). I reviewed the origins of the language of "days and years," the doctrine of purgatory, and the suppression of the language of "days and years" in Paul VI's Indulgentiarum Doctrina. He listed patiently for five minutes.
Finally he responded: "Catholicism is so intentionally deceptive! It confuses you with all these contradicting statements, in order to lead you away from Christ. I'm a lawyer, and I see this all the time in Catholic documents; you cannot believe any of them."
I learned that some do not want Catholicism to be simple. They need it to be complex, contradictory, and insincere. They want it to conform to their misinterpretations, and when it does not, they force those misinterpretations upon it, or charge their misunderstanding on Catholicism itself. They rely upon the critics of the Church to teach them what she "truly" believes, and they instinctively dismiss the Church's own explanations.
Ironically, as a teenage Adventist, I was an admirer of G. Edward Reid's Sunday Coming. I trusted it as an excellent piece of research into Catholic movements in our day. Looking back at that exchange, I cannot believe I ever trusted him to explain Catholicism to me. I cannot believe I ever trusted Adventism to explain the Catholic faith to me.
Today, the internet has made the Catholic Church's own teachings readily accessible (e.g., the Vatican website). I will not be the last Adventist young person to realize that much of what Adventists teach about Catholicism in their families, churches, or schools is rooted in ignorance (sometimes willful). Where will this realization lead Adventist youth except to a distrust of their church's claims, and an ultimate realization that its prophetic identities are rooted in similar ignorance?