Joe Mizzi of Just for Catholics talks with ROCK Ministry (RM) about his country, his life and the Roman Catholic Church.
RM: Just to clarify, are we doing this interview to spew out some anti-Catholic, judgmental and unloving rants? Are we going to misrepresent and misunderstood the Catholic Church here?
Joe: I have no such intentions. I honestly love Roman Catholics – most of my dearest friends, relatives and colleagues are Catholics. I simply desire to share the Gospel with them. It is with an attitude of sincere love that I speak or write – even when I criticize certain aspects of the Catholic religion.
RM: I never heard of Malta. I know it is mentioned somewhere in the New Testament. Very recently I saw a video about it being a great and peace loving country -- low crime rates, peaceful people and low illiteracy rate! Can you tell about your country? Is it a Catholic country like the Philippines? How is the spiritual state of Malta?
Joe: You make it sound like Malta is another name for Paradise. We have out problems too, believe me! Malta is mentioned in the Book of Acts; the apostle Paul and Dr Luke were shipwrecked on our shores. Most Maltese (>95%) are Roman Catholics, at least in name. When I was young, over 90% of the entire population attended Mass on Sundays; now it has dropped to about 50%. The onslaught of secular humanism is taking its toll. Sadly many Maltese people live as if God does not exist, but there are others who are truly religious and devout.
RM: Tell me about your upbringing in a Catholic family. Are there things from your Catholic past that still help you now that you have become a Bible-believing Christian?
Joe: We were six children in our family; my parents insisted that all of us learned Catholic doctrine, attended Mass on Sunday and on most days of the week, and that we said the Rosary together every evening. I thank God for my parents’ discipline. They taught me by their example to be a hard-working person and what faithfulness in marriage is all about. Moreover they taught me the fear of God. I was taught that I always lived in the Presence of God, even when I was alone, and that I am responsible to him for all that I do and say. The Gospel message of salvation, which I learned in its purity from the reading of the Bible, made sense to me because I was aware of my accountability to God.
RM: I was myself a former Catholic and I had no sense of peace that when I die I will go to heaven. How about you, Joe, what did you do to overcome the fear of death?
Joe: I went through childhood thinking that I was not too bad to go to hell; and yet not good enough to go to heaven either. The prospect of spending time in the fires of purgatory was something that I tried to get out of my mind. Each time I went to confession, I committed myself to a new start, but of course, it was a futile exercise. I failed and failed again. I attended Mass regularly, did the penance prescribed (usually saying a few prayers), and said the Rosary with the hope that purgatory would be as short and bearable as possible. But I could never find peace as long as I looked to myself, my achievements and failures, rather than looking to the Lord Jesus Christ.
RM: Then your brother became a Christian, saved by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ at the cross. What was your reaction? How about your family?
Joe: I thought my brother, Paul, had done the worst mistake that he could possibly do by leaving the Roman Catholic Church, the one true church of Christ. My parents were also worried about the situation, especially when you consider that Malta is an intensely Roman Catholic country. Leaving Catholicism is like committing social and cultural suicide; you isolate yourself from the rest of the community.
RM: In your testimony you said that he shared the gospel with you; he was trying to convert you to his religion. How did you react? Was your attitude like, ‘I was born Catholic and I will die Catholic!’?
Joe: No, not really, I was genuinely interested in the message of the Gospel. At that time I was entirely convinced that the teaching of the Catholic Church is true and perfectly consistent with the Bible. The thought of leaving the Catholic Church did not even cross my mind. My brother’s intention may have been to convert me, but mine were equally clear - I wanted to convert him back to Mother Church!
RM: You went to the Bible for two years to study it. This became your task to help him get back to the fold of the ‘one true church’. Can you tell me about the process you went through? What did you found out?
Joe: I read the New Testament, and especially the Gospel of John, and Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Romans and Ephesians. I often consulted my Religion teacher, a priest, asking him the same questions that my brother used to ask me. I discussed and debated with my brother on several occasions. But eventually I came to realize that the Roman Catholic distinctives have little or no support in the Bible, and in some instances, some doctrines seem to contradict the Scripture.
But eventually my interest shifted from the Catholic/Protestant debate, and away from my brother, to my personal relationship with God and the salvation of my soul. One day, after finishing the Gospel of John I realized that God wanted me to believe on his Son to have eternal life. In a way I had already ‘believed’ in Jesus, but mere intellectual consent was not enough. By God’s grace, I entrusted my soul, my salvation, my eternal destiny in Jesus’ hands. No longer would I do religious works to merit eternal life, or call on the name of Mary to help me obtain salvation. From then on I trusted in Jesus Christ, wholly and completely, relying solely on him for the salvation of my soul.
I lost the argument with my brother, but thank God, I was then won over by my Saviour, Jesus Christ.
RM: But isn't the Catholic Church founded on Peter? Catholics can trace their church back to the time of Christ. They are rich in history. As for us, Protestants, we just ‘protested’ or got tired of the Roman Catholic Church because we wanted our own thing and interpreted the Bible our own way …
Joe: The church is built upon Peter and the other apostles if and when the church is obedient to their teaching in the New Testament. The history of the Roman Catholic Church goes back to the time of the apostles – that’s almost two thousand years; and that’s a very long time for the leaven of false doctrines to infiltrate the system and cause the havoc that it did. The Protestant reformers did not want to start something new, but simply to go back to the teaching and practice of the early apostolic church, free from the burden of human tradition and superstition. Our desire today is much the same, even if we do not conform to the popular religion of our day.
RM: But aren't Catholics good people? How could one billion Catholics be wrong?
Joe: There are ‘good’ Muslims and ‘good’ Hindi and ‘good’ atheists and so on – but that does not make Islam, Hinduism or atheism true. Moreover, one must come to realize that he or she is not ‘good’ – God alone is good. It is only after admitting that I was not good, indeed that I am a sinner, that I begun to feel the need to come to Christ for salvation. Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners; he will not save ‘good’ people.
Moreover, truth is not determined by numbers or the majority vote. A million Muslims could be, and indeed are wrong in their denial of the blessed Trinity. The great majority of the people in Jesus’ days thought that he deserved to be crucified. He alone was right; all the rest were miserably wrong. A million Catholics believe that they ought to merit the graces to obtain eternal life, as they have been taught; but that does not change the biblical truth that eternal life is a free gift and that salvation is received by faith and not obtained by our works.
RM: Was it difficult for you to leave the Catholic Church? How did your family react? How about your brother?
Joe: It was not easy to leave the church I had grown in, and even now, I still cherish the good things I received from the church, not least the Bible, the creeds, the knowledge of God and Christian ethics.
For me Catholicism was more than a religion, it was a way of life. So leaving Catholicism was like stepping out of a cultural and social nest into the unknown. Yet I was constrained by my conscience to take the painful decision. Soon after my conversion, I was listening to the sermon during Sunday Mass. The priest was speaking about the importance of good works to merit salvation. I did not know much of the Scripture at that time, but I knew Ephesians 2:8, 9. I turned to my friend and said, ‘Have you heard what he just said about meriting salvation by our works? The Bible says we are saved by grace through faith, and not of our works!’ When I left Mass that day, I had left the Catholic Church for good.
My parents tried to force me to go back to Mass, but I was resolute, and I respectfully refused to act against my conscience. Eventually they too trusted in Christ for salvation! My brother, well, I guess he was happy to see me turn to Christ for salvation. His prayers, and the prayers of many others, were answered.
RM: Will a Catholic still find salvation in the Catholic system?
Joe: No, salvation is not found in any system, Catholic or otherwise, but in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. There is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved. My hope and prayer is that despite the many errors of Catholicism, some, or perhaps many Roman Catholics, are given the gift of faith by God to entrust their soul in Jesus’ care, even though they remain entrapped in the system.
RM: There is a sort of revival, the charismatic movement, in the Catholic Church. What can you say about this group? Some claims that they are born again and saved by faith. Do they need to separate themselves to Roman Catholic Church?
Joe: Again I sincerely hope that there are many true believers in the Catholic renewal, and in other Catholic groups, that have come to a saving knowledge of Christ. Whether they should come of the Roman Catholic Church is an entirely different issue. If they claim to be saved by grace through faith apart from the merits of their works, as the Bible teaches, it is inconsistent for them to remain faithful members of an institution that denies this blessed truth.
RM: What’s the difference with Joe the Catholic and Joe saved biblically?
Joe: Both are undeserving sinners; the first tried to make up for his sins by doing penance and to merit eternal life by his works; the other despaired of himself and trusted himself wholly in the loving hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first worked to be loved by God, the second works even harder and cheerfully because his heart is full of gratitude for the infinite love of God.
RM: Thanks Joe, now please tell us about your family, your profession and your Internet ministry.
Joe: I am married to a wonderful woman, Joanne … she’s God’s special gift to me; I don’t know what I would do without her. We have a precious son, John, and he’s quite a character! A few weeks ago we were sitting at table with the grandparents, and as we bowed our head in prayer before dinner, John also eagerly bowed his head … right down into the spaghetti. When we said ‘Amen’ his nose and face were covered with tomato sauce. We laughed, and I think that Jesus also smiled in heaven.
As a pediatrician, I simply love working with children. There are moments of joy and moments of profound sadness, especially when a baby or a child dies.
As for my website, ‘Just for Catholics’, it is my gift to the people I am indebted so much. My purpose is certainly not take away their faith, but that they may purify it from the dross of human tradition, that they may entrust themselves wholly in the hands of Christ the Lord and enjoy the abundant life that he freely gives. I invite your readers to take a look at the website for themselves.
Sincere thanks for the opportunity to talk about the Gospel.