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...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Repair My Church, Not Start A New One

"Repair my church, for it is in ruins."

These are the famous words that St. Francis of Assisi heard from an icon of Christ on the cross in the Church of San Damiano outside of Assisi, Italy. He took the vision to be referring to the particular church in which he was praying and so began work to have it restored.

In retrospect, however, with all that Francis did to re-invigorate the Church at large, many believe that Francis misunderstood - that the vision was speaking of the Church.

St. Francis continues to inspire many today, including many in the Protestant tradition. Most recently, I heard Shane Claiborne cite this particular story of Francis' life in a talk he gave, adding that many Christians felt they were hearing the same thing today.

While I deeply respect many within the Protestant tradition who are inspired by Francis (such as Claiborne), I'm not sure that they realize the irony of the situation: Francis heard a voice that told him to repair the Church, not to abandon the current one. And yet, many Christians who cite Francis as an inspiration stand at best in an ecclesial no-mans-land if not explicitly within the Protestant tradition.

Francis was a Catholic, a devout Catholic. He encouraged Catholics to take their Catholicity more seriously.  Francis was not a stand-alone revolutionary, nor a rebel who cast off the structures of the Catholic Church in order to get to "the real core" of the Christian life. Although the Church of his day was full of blatant corruption among clergy- including the selling of Church offices and openly ignoring vows of celibacy - Francis exhorted Catholics to continue to reverence clerics and to respect them as the only ministers of the Eucharist, which he believed to be the real presence of the Body and Blood of our Lord. He encouraged people to confess their sins to priests and to follow the teaching of the Church. He submitted himself to the authority of the Pope.

And to those who try to dismiss his Catholicity with a suggestion that there was somehow no other option, I remind you that what I explained in my post "Heresy Has Always Been an Option" was true of Francis as well (e.g. the Cathars, the Waldensians, etc). Francis was not Catholic by default.

St. Francis is indeed a model for us today. Let us follow him in living our Christian life in the only place that we can do so fully - the Catholic Church. And as we inevitably encounter sin, problems, and disappointments, let us work in a spirit of humility, love, and obedience to repair the Church.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Backpedaling Without Knowing It: "Rediscovery" in Protestantism

Many Protestant churches today have been rediscovering lost Christian practices of the past. Some have begun to incorporate art into their worship. Others are beginning to use ritual again, reviving old Christian rites. There is a movement nowadays called the New Monasticism. There is even a renewed interested in Mary and doctrines related to her.

But in truth, these things were not lost. This is true in two ways.

First, these things were not lost, they were rejected – protested against, to be more specific. They were deemed to be a part of the corruption of the Whore of Babylon – that is, the Catholic Church – and were reformed out of the communities of Reformers.

Second, these things were not lost seeing as they have been a part of the Catholic Church this whole time. Want to see an appreciation for Christian art? Step inside a cathedral. Want to experience ancient Christian ritual? Attend a Mass. Looking for communities of Christians dedicated to living a life together devoted to God? There are Catholic monasteries and convents all over the world. Interested in how Jesus’ mother Mary, the woman who bore the Son of God in her womb, relates to salvation history? Open up the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Many churches with contemporary services have been acknowledging that they have been neglecting the arts. Many are now encouraging their congregations to create Christian art for use in their churches. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, was the patron of great masterpieces such as the Sistine Chapel and Notre Dame. But even walk into newly built local Catholic Churches and you will most likely find beautiful art throughout.

Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today, has written the book Beyond Bells & Smells calling Christians to return to liturgy. The Catholic Church has maintained essentially the same Mass for centuries.

Shane Claiborne, co-founder of The Simple Way (a community associated with the “new monasticism”) says that he has been inspired by St. Francis of Assisi (see his book Irresistible Revolution, good book by the way). Well, there are thousands of Franciscan monks still around today. No need revive something that wasn't ever lost.

Several news outlets, including TIME (read the subtitle on the right) and US News and World Report, have run stories in the last few years regarding a renewed interest in Mary by Protestants. One article, published in Christianity Today, was entitled "The Mary We Never Knew". Catholics have only been growing in their understanding and appreciation of Mary over the centuries while Protestants are now trying to play catch up.

As Protestants of today find themselves feeling the void which the lack of these things have left, I ask them to remember why their communities don’t have them in the first place.

Remember, it's not that the Catholic Church "rediscovered" these things a few years before Protestants. Catholics have had these things for centuries. They had them before, during, and after the Reformation.

These things that are being “revived” are good, and now that Protestants are removed far enough from the Reformation that they are open to learn from Catholics, they are seeing the goodness of these things as well.

The wisdom and truth of the Catholic Church has stood the test of time.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Christ is Risen, Alleluia!

Today the Church celebrates one of the most central mysteries of the Christian faith: the resurrection of Christ.

We were fully received into the Church at Easter Vigil yesterday, receiving the sacrament of Confirmation and our first Holy Communion! Praise the Lord.

And because we've been busy with everything related to that, no long blog post this week.

But I would like to share just a few short things though.

In the Catholic Church, the day of Easter does not stand alone. It is only the beginning of a 50 day Easter season of celebrations of the resurrection of Christ. Of course we celebrate the resurrection all year, but it is during this time that we particularly meditate upon it.

I will leave you with one formulations of 'the mystery of faith' used in the Mass:

Dying you destroyed our death. Rising your restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.

Amen. Happy Easter. Let our 50 day celebration begin.