Monday, April 26, 2010

TrueStory: Undercover Catholic

On my way to the Catholic Church my Junior year of college, I felt inspired to meet with learned Protestants I respected and ask them the question, "Why are you not Catholic?" Many answers I received stunned me. 

But one conversation wins the crown for the most shocking.

Let me set the scene: It was spring semester. Krista and I had just gotten engaged. I was getting marriage advice at the house of a professor who was married and had seven children. The pastor of the conservative Anglican church they attended happened to stop by while I was there. The church he pastored was a thriving, life-filled church that many students, faculty, and staff from Wheaton College attended, including the Provost.

I introduced myself and mentioned that I had been attending his church but was now attending a Catholic church. He seemed to think that was great.

I explained that our meeting was convenient since I had been intending to email him to try to set up a time to meet to ask him my question, "Why are you not Catholic?" He said his schedule was very busy and that we should just talk right then because otherwise we probably never would.


Over the next 45 minutes or so, he explained that (1) he believed that the Catholic Church was the fullest manifestation of God's Church on earth, (2) the Pope is our Holy Father with whom we should all be in communion, (3) as an Anglican priest he was not in perfect communion with the Pope as he should, (4) it was his hope - if not mere belief - that the Anglican Church would eventually recommune with the Catholic Church.

My jaw dropped as I heard him speak.

He recommended Catholic authors to me and encouraged me to become Catholic: "Do it now. It'll only get harder to do the older you get." He said he'd had many similar conversations with people he had eventually directed on to the Catholic Church.

At first I was somewhat disoriented in the conversation. This was not what I was expecting! I asked him questions, trying to understand how he justified remaining outside of the Catholic Church.

First, he explained that he felt God was calling him to ministry at that church and that he would stay as long as felt called to do so. He saw himself as something as a weigh station for protestants, particularly evangelicals. People who would never step inside a Catholic church would come to his, even though many of their beliefs and practices were identical, because they were "Protestant".

Second, he felt that what he saw as the general lifelessness and poverty of good instruction on the parish level in most American Catholic churches justified his existence. His believed his church was doing a much better job than most Catholic churches. He said that he only felt comfortable directing people to the Catholic Church if he thought they were already well-grounded in their faith.

He recognized some tension with his beliefs and exactly how he was living his life, and said that if his conscience ever led him to the Catholic Church, he would have to oblige.

The Catholic Church has allies in more places than one might expect...

7 comments:

  1. I have to say, I was primarily taught the Catholic faith by an Episcopal Priest. And it is also true that when I left the Baptist Church and joined the Episcopal Church I probably would not have been willing to even experiment with becoming Catholic.

    If all I knew about the faith was what I had learned since coming into the Church I wouldn't know too much. Some of our parishes do a lousy job of RCIA and of catechising the young.

    A friend of mine who teaches the youth in our parish tells me that what they DON'T KNOW about the faith or Christianity in general is really scary.

    We should be really ashamed that some Protestant ministers are doing a better job of leading people to the fullness of Catholic belief than many Catholics are.

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  2. Brantly, do you think this pastor would be OK with it if he knew this was posted here? Just something to consider.

    -Ruth

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  3. Wow, what a fascinating story! Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Hey Ruth,
    I mean, he doesn't seem to be hiding anything exactly. I've talked to other people who knew about his Catholic leanings.

    Hey Jennifer,
    Thanks for the encouragement!

    Brantly

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  5. Hey Bad Catholic,
    Thanks for your comment, too. You bring up a good point. While there are many priests who do a great job, there does seem to be a great lack of good education. A priest who worked at the Catholic high school I attended used to joke that if a student knew Scripture, he could assume that they were Protestant.

    I would offer that many Protestant churches struggle with good education. I've known many Protestants who have gone to church their whole life and have a very limited understanding of Scripture and theology.

    Brantly

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  6. The pastor's reasons for not being Catholic strike me as extremely weak. His church might well be "better" than your average RC parish, but that's all the more reason God needs his dynamic ministry inside the Church. I myself had many selfish reasons to resist converting from Evangelicalism, American Catholic nominalism and liberalism chief among them... ultimately I had to realize that if the God of the universe emptied himself, suffered, and died for my sake, the least I could do is give myself to the Church he founded, and labor faithfully in his vineyard without counting the cost. And in exchange, he gives me his True Body and Blood, the protection and intercession of his mother and the saints, absolution of my sins, and an the benefits of an unbroken apostolic tradition.

    Ultimately either the Church's teachings, including her claims about herself, are true or not true. If you don't believe, you shouldn't join. But if you do believe, the Holy Spirit has given you a gift of faith, and you better get inside.

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  7. To an extent, I can understand the philosophy of the pastor. I recall reading a statement by Dinesh D'Souza about conversions of Catholics in Latin America to Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, that although the Catholic Church is the church Christ established, it might be a net gain for Christianity to go from being a lukewarm Catholic to a fervent Evangelical or Pentecostal. The reason about 17% of the world is Catholic as opposed to it being 17% noncatholic, has a lot to do with the practical problems of Catholicism, rather than the easily visible intellectual and theological superiority of Catholicism over all other religions, if one investigates logically with only truth as the criteria. The practical problems are that most people are not theologians or intellectuals, and often base their decision on feelings and emotions. They may have not met Catholics that are good examples and knowledgeable about their faith. Often, many Catholics are poorly taught, and part of lukewarm Catholic communities. This might lead them to Agnosticism, Apatheism, Syncretism, and various manifestations of Deism and Paganism, while if they were Evangelicals, atleast they would be much closer to the truth.

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