The following testimony by Joseph Tremblay and is from the Mission to Catholics Challenger, March 1993.
I was a missionary in the Congregation of the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate. One day God opened my eyes, giving me to understand my sin and His way of salvation. Here is how it happened:
From childhood, my parents inculcated in me a great respect for God. I desired intensely to serve Him to the best of my ability. It was this desire to please Him that motivated my decision to take the Holy Orders of the Roman Catholic Church.
I was ordained a priest in Rome, Italy. One year later I was sent as a missionary to Bolivia and Chile where I served for more than 13 years. I had a pronounced taste for the study of the Bible. My parishioners also appreciated the Word of God, so much so that they organized a club for home Bible studies. I was compelled to give myself to earnest study of the Bible to prepare myself for the improvised home meetings.
I quickly became aware of the clarity with which certain truths are taught in Scripture. And, on the other hand, I discovered that nothing at all was written about many dogmas that I had studied. My Bible study also revealed that I did not know the Bible.
Soon, the Jesuits at Antofagasta invited me to teach the Bible at the Normal School of the University which they directed. I accepted, knowing that this new responsibility would necessitate even more serious study of the Word of God.
Someone had given me a small transistor radio on which I could listen to beautiful background music as I studied. One day I became aware that religious songs and hymns were coming through. Then followed a short Bible reading. It was from II Corinthians: “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” I was tempted to change the station, but decided to listen to the message that followed. I learned some of the most wonderful things concerning the Person of Jesus Christ. For the first time a strange feeling concerning Jesus Christ presented itself to me. He seemed to be a stranger–as if all my being were but emptiness, around which I had erected a structure of principles and theological dogmas which hadn’t touched my soul, which hadn’t changed my being.
I continued to study, but the emptiness became even greater. I turned in to every program that I could and was very much touched by all that I heard.
What struck me the most in all that I heard was salvation by grace — that all the credit for the salvation of man was given, not to the one who was saved, but to the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Saviour; that man could boast of nothing, that his works were but filthy rags, that eternal life could be received within the heart only as a free gift, that it was not a reward in exchange for merits that had been acquired, but was an unmerited gift given by God to whosoever repents of his sin and receives Jesus Christ into his heart and life as personal Saviour.
This was new to me. It was contrary to the theology I had been taught: that heaven and eternal life are gained by means of one’s merit, faithfulness, charity, and sacrifices. I said to myself, “My theology gives me no assurance of salvation; the Bible offers me that assurance. I’m confused!” I had no desire to celebrate mass nor to listen to confessions. I avoided everybody.
The Word of God was a refreshing balm as I thought upon verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Romans 3:23: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I knew these texts because I heard them often on radio station KCJB.
The idea came to me to talk to my superior. I said to him: “I would like not only to read and study the Bible, but also to try and adapt my life to it, to live according to what is written in it without other impositions of men.” He counseled me to continue reading the Bible, but reminded me that I must maintain my faithfulness to the teachings of our “mother, the holy church,” to whom one must submit himself even in the things he does not understand. But in my heart I had lost faith in my church, because it didn’t teach the assurance of salvation.
When it was my turn to preach in my parish, I chose the theme: “Religious Hypocrisy” using as my text Matthew 7:21-23. I wanted to draw attention to the vainglory manifested by certain persons with respect to good works, forgetting that very often these works are a camouflage for a corrupt heart. While giving my message, God was speaking to my heart. The words resounded: “I never knew you: depart from me.” I argued against this condemnation: “How is it possible, my God, that you would not know me? Am I not your priest? Am I not a religious? Look at all the sacrifice I have made for you: the years of study, the separation from my parents and my country, my vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, consecrating to you all my riches, my will, my body even, in order to better serve you. And you say to me that you never knew me? Consider all the sufferings that I have endured during my missionary life: I haven’t always eaten to my fill, I’ve cried with those who cried, I’ve baptized children by the hundreds, I’ve listened to all sorts of confessions, I’ve comforted so many tearful, discouraged souls, I’ve suffered cold, loneliness, contempt, ingratitude, threats. I’m ready even to give my life for you.” But in spite of all the arguments that crossed my mind, the same condemnation rang in my ears: “I never knew you.” I was about to break down and cry right there before the parishioners. Tears prevented me from continuing my sermon. I was confronted with a terrible frustration of my whole life purpose.
Taking refuge in my office, I wondered where to turn now. Perhaps my theology would save me, if I returned to it and faithfully followed all its dogmas and precepts. But that theology to which I considered attaching myself once again had already begun to experience disorder, change, destruction. This was the moment God was waiting for–to offer me His grace.
God applied His Word to my soul: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Finally, I understood my error and the reason for God’s rejection. I had been trying to save myself by my works; God wanted to save me by grace on the merits of His works. He had already taken care of my sins and of the judgment attached to them. It was for this that He died on the cross.
I remembered the words of Jesus: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ). I understood that I must go to Jesus if I wanted peace of soul. I had the intention of asking Him: “But where are you, Jesus, so that I might come to you?” Then I remembered Revelation 3:20: “Behold I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Now I knew where Jesus was. He was closer than I had thought.
“Come in, Lord Jesus; come into my heart. Be its leader, its Master, O Beloved Saviour!” Immediately I knew that I was freed. I was saved, pardoned. I had eternal life. God had begun His work in me. Now I understood II Corinthians 5:21– the verse that had caught my attention in the first place.
I continued my priestly service as best I could. But little by little, I began to feel like a stranger in that position. The grace that had saved me, that had made me a child of God, was going to enter into conflict with the “works” of the position in which I was trying to live. All that interested me was Jesus Christ: Who He is and what He had done. Finally, I asked to be released from my functions as a parish priest and returned to Quebec. I wanted to avoid falling into another theological system so I began praying for the Lord to find me brothers and sisters to whom I could join myself, so I wouldn’t feel so alone.
My superiors in Montreal called me to replace a professor of theology in a college in Rouyn. The subject I was given to teach was: “The Church.” I freely admitted that I had difficulty understanding what I was teaching. I enjoyed the study. Again I used a tape recorder. This time, to illustrate the lessons. One day I learned that an upcoming television program would be on the subject: “The Church.” I recorded it in order to use it in my classes, and discovered that the subject was treated from the point of view of what the Bible taught. I was impressed and sent a note of thanks to the preacher, inviting him to come and see me. After several visits, he invited me to his home to spend Sunday with him and his family. God had answered my prayer.
Soon I wrote to my superiors requesting that they obtain for me a dispensation from all the vows I had made to the Roman Catholic Church since I no longer considered myself a member. My life now belonged to the Lord and its direction was henceforth under His control.
The Lord liberated me, not only from sin, not only from His condemnation, but also from every system of man which burdens and suppresses. What would happen now? I had no idea. But I knew that if God had become my Father, He would take care of me.
I was accused of having lost faith in the Pope, when I left the Church of Rome. I told my accusers: “You are right! The faith I had in the Pope was transferred to the real Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ!”
Friend, if you are not saved, YOU ARE LOST! But Jesus Christ, through His Word, is at the door of your heart asking you to let Him in (Revelation 3:20). Come to Him and be saved today!