RECURRING KEY TERMS
Five years ago this fall my world got rocked. I flipped through the channels one night and stumbled on a show called Genesis to Jesus. It was an interview show focused on a theologian and his book about God’s covenant approach to humanity that is shown up as a family. I was intrigued and kept watching that show. I then bought one of his books. Then another. The attempt at approaching these subjects were not new to me but were in my experience where I thought I had “figured out” things by my comfortable Protestant experience. What was new here is that I could see God’s divine plan for saving the world through the heart of the Catholic Church. I revealed to my wife where my discernment was drawing me and after a month of prayer and study of both the Bible and history I was received into the Catholic Church. In the words of former Pentecostal pastor turned Catholic deacon “I had to. How do you look truth in the face and say, ‘No, can’t do it’?” My wife joined me after her own discernment process in 2014.
But it was not always smooth. There was tension in my household. Tension with my friends.And tension in my mind. I would watch Youtube debates between Catholics and Protestants and found myself disturbed with some wording of Catholics not rightly put in context and anecdotal stories from ex-Catholics who “know by experience”. Below I list some of the fine points that were helpful for me to consider in the intellectual part of my journey.
Homecoming versus conversion- – I prefer to say that I am not a Catholic convert. That is like saying I am an immigrant from Oregon to Arizona. I would be demeaning Oregon and I would really be not be speaking to the nature of those two subjects accurately. If someone was Catholic and became Protestant they left one Christian fellowship to another and did not “get saved out of the Catholic Church”. I consider my journey as one of coming home to the spiritual soil of what was founded and kept from error by the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to stress those last two points as something I have seen through my study of scripture, prayer and research of the early church writings.
Both/and instead of either/or- – One of the chief attacks against the Catholic Church and also Protestant communities with traditional theology of morals with human affairs is that things have to be seen as one thing or another. Frequently this is a false dichotomy. Either you support gay marriage or you want the gas chamber for gays. Either you want people free to know Jesus purely or you want to talk about sacraments. Either you go to Jesus to forgive your sins or you go to a priest. I would suggest that the answer to these emotional dares above is both/and or neither. False dichotomies end the conversation before it gets a chance to breath. There is a great need for the Holy Spirit to illuminate where two seeming paradoxes can coexist.
“with” instead of “through” in a derogatory sense- This goes a bit with the both/and but I bring this up because the Catholic Church is misunderstood to have saints who usurp the centrality of Jesus Christ in Christianity. I often consider being a very comfortable airplane passenger knowing that the captain is in charge and that there is a co-pilot. The co-pilot participates but is not in command and that is alright. “There is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus”. I can still say amen to that knowing that all Christians are called to raise up petitions to heaven for each other, the world and specifically even civil authorities. Christians can do that informed by the scriptures and as co-laborers with Christ and co-heirs in Christ. As for celestial beings in heaven being involved in that, there is scriptural precedence where it says in Revelation “When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones” (Revelation 5:8).
“ancient and enduring” instead of old– – – A common argument in modernism that newer ideas are better. Along with that, since new ideas may have a fresh car smell then the old ideas can be emotionally dismissed and may err in suspending their critical thinking skills.
But some ideas that are old and maintained for hundreds or thousands of years are still believed because they work. The Catholic Church has not only endured past the 2,000 while empires have lived and even opposed them but while ideologies would come and go. This includes ideologies that were supposed to eclipse the Catholic Church into the dustbin of history.
faith versus reason. There are too many ludicrous assertions to count that I alone have heard on this one. One example I have heard a year ago was that the more religious one is the lower their IQ is and vice-versa. That’s a worthy debate one could have hypothetically with Pope John Paul II in one of his 14 languages. He casts a wide net that sees the beauty of faith and reason in an integrated point of view.
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (John Paul II, Fides Et Ratio, 1998).
Later in his encyclical he calls out several scientific disciples including the social and the physical that are integral to the development of mankind. He expresses hope for informed consciences and not any supposed shackles of religion dictating like a micro-manager. Has all religion been so nice? Not even time but the high majority of the Catholic tradition is actually good at picking their battles on what is a big deal. As to my Protestant brothers I can assert that the Catholic Church greatly fosters critical thinking.
What does the Catholic Church actually teach rather than what you have heard? – – Someone close to me that was angry that I went from Protestant to Catholic quoted a narrative that he heard second hand that proved that Catholics worship Mary. When someone hears something outlandish of what is infallibly or even authoritatively taught by the Catholic Church they are better served by going to the Catechism of The Catholic Church. Frankly, deciding what the Catholic Church by some layperson comment account or even ones childhood memories falls short of inquiry fitting Christian conduct.
Community balance instead of either individualistic or collectivist- – When I was a new Catholic I met with the second highest deacon in my diocese regarding formation of future deacons. I mentioned that it seems like I now need to go from an individualized experience of Christianity to an collectivist one that resembles something not of western culture. He kindly corrected me and informed me that it is really a matter of community which is neither extreme.
Language of theology and language of love.- – My early discernment into the Catholic Church nearly was stopped in its tracks when I saw a debate on Youtube on Marian devotion. The quotes used by the Protestant certainly seemed worded like Mary is an object of worship. Over time I came to realize that in Catholic expression of truth there are metaphors that I can call the language love. An example I use sometimes is that if I was doctor in astrophysics and said that the sun rises and falls on my children it would be interpreted as my devotion as a father and not my estimate on solar events.
As I begin to write this it is a few month from what my Protestant brothers and sister will celebrate as the “Reformation”. Debates may spike even more for awhile but I pray that cooler heads will prevail and the Catholic Church can be taken in context rightly for how it thinks and talks rather that stereotypes.