Earlier I mentioned this book, Far from Rome, Near to God – a book that gives the testimonies of fifty Roman Catholic priests who left Rome after they were converted to the Christian faith. I recently read one account that is worth sharing here. It is a story in the life of one priest who had been questioning some of Rome’s traditions. In the middle of his doubts and questions, this happened:
“I was summoned to administer the last rites to a dying man. He was not very old, but he looked exhausted, by illness, poverty, or hard labor and he was near death and seemed already unconscious. I thought I had lost my last change to hear his confession and give him absolution. I stood there worried, feeling completely helpless in spite of all the means provided by the Church to save a perishing soul.”
“In my distress, I looked once more at his sallow and emaciated face and then noticed that his lips were continually moving. I brought my ear close to his lips. Only then did I hear a very faint whisper. I concentrated all my attention and was able to catch it. It was, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’”
“This dying man who did not see anything, hear anything or feel anything continued to repeat these words. And so he died. The Church, or her rites, failed to save his soul, but however sinful it might have been [in the eyes of the Church] the Lord gave me the strongest assurance at that moment that this man did not need my absolution, that he did not need any rites or sacraments. He did not need my priestly help to be saved, because he could be saved already by faith in the only real Priest and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
“This was a real revelation to me and the best lecture in theology in my life, because the Lord himself taught me at the bedside of this dying man that the salvation of a soul does not depend upon any human effort, rites, or doctrines, but upon Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and our own faith in him and through our Father in heaven. Only later on, after my conversion, I found the confirmation of this truth in the Scriptures, both in the Old Testament, ‘The just shall live by faith’ (Hab. 2:4) and in the New, ‘For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith’ (Rom. 1:17). The revelation of this truth has shattered my former belief in the Roman dogma about the automatic power of rites and sacraments” (p. 218-219).