Sunday, January 29, 2006

On Catholicism

As I've mentioned before, I would describe my current faith as being most closely reflected in the activity and beliefs of the group that calls itself emerging - on the conservative end of things, to be sure, but emergent. I've never had anyone approach me about this statement negatively. Maybe it's because of your fear of offending. Maybe it's because you couldn't care less. Maybe it's because you don't really understand what being emerging means. (Maybe it's because you don't read my blog - he he he.) Maybe it's because you know me and you understand my passion for the Lord and are, therefore, content with my movements/adjustments within my faith. I hope your reason is the last in my overwrought list.

But I want to be engaged. I want to be asked questions. So please don't ever feel badly about bringing up a faith issue with me.

With this in mind, I'd like to directly ask you a question about faith, practice, and unity. It follows.

How would you respond if I told you I was deliberating over whether I should join the Roman Catholic Church (RCC)? Would you respond positively? Negatively? What are your arguments in favor of my consideration or against it? How would you respond to me personally, religion aside - in other words, would our relationship change if I became Catholic? Does it even matter to you?

Now, what I'm looking for is detailed (though not necessarily lengthy), rational arguments rather than stereotypical statements like "Pope worship," "Maryolatry," or some such nonsense. I give these examples because I know the majority of my handful of readers are Protestants as I am. I want specifics. If you are Protestant, why are you not Catholic? If you are Catholic, why are you Catholic? (Remember, I'm asking this question based on my deliberation - a Protestant's deliberation - over Catholicism.)

Some of you, I know, feel like you have vested interest in this decision because you are family. I don't mind the expression of those feelings. I welcome them. But I would also like to hear your arguments against or for such a decision rather than some heated, regrettable lashing-out.

I have been up-front about how I feel about unity within the body of Christ on this blog. It is extremely important to me because I believe that it is the heart of God as well as the heart of our being a missional people. In that light, what prevents our unity with the RCC? Is the RCC apostate? Is it a cult? Or is it walking in truth?

I desire for each of you to examine what you believe and why you believe it. So I ask that you take the post seriously. And a thank-you to those of you willing to engage me here.

Now excuse me, but I've got to get to church.


Birdie said...

I grew up Catholic, attended church almost every day of my life until I ran away from home when I was sixteen. My running away had nothing to do with the Church, and everything to do with my parents.

But twenty-something years later, I don't attend Catholic Church. I stopped going when I felt no love from any god. I had a crisis of existence, much more than a crisis of faith. I tried on so many religions, tried born again evangelism, unitarianism, protestant faiths, tried to pull God from hymnals and wooden pews. I couldn't find him. So I settled into a practice of zazen, sitting on a maroon pillow, letting thoughts pass through me, sat for over sixteen years in search of something deep inside myself.

All the while, I grew a family, gave birth to a beautiful boy (one of five!) who turned sixteen, told me he was gay. He's generous, sweet, kind, unusual, artistic, graceful, loving, loves men. I see him flirt with his college peers, see him hang with his year-long love, and I know if anyone is touched by God it's him.

I can't go back to the Church. I can't say it's OK to be a woman and not be allowed the rite of celebration, can't say it's OK to worship in a place that doesn't allow my son to partner with the person he chooses.

But, having said all that, the ways the Church failed me, I say Yes to you joining. You have to follow the thread of grace in your own heart, whereever it leads you. It led me on a winding path to a marroon pillow, to a silly blog about my career, to all my friends, my children. Whatever God is, whoever (s)he is, there's some kind of path laid down for you to chase. Go for it, man.

mom said...


I was raised Catholic, also. Even spent a year in a convent where, incidently, all those things you often hear about happening, don't. I will have to say that all those years spent as a Catholic, were some of the closest with the Lord. You see, there are born again Christians in the Catholic Church, also, they are not only in the Protestant Churches. I can say that the Catholics are less judgmental, and, that's a good thing. There are fewer hypocrits. If they want to smoke, drink or whatever, they do then confess, again & again. My greatest memories are from my Catholic era including the Latin forward to the audible messages from the Lord. I was blessed. Because of my insightful children I explored other churches & since have become a Baptist. I do not feel more saved, forgiven or perfect. I have learned that what we take to church, we leave with. When we go to Heaven our denominational tags will blow off. Our mission is love. When we get that down, there will be a perfect church & it will not be known as we know others. From the looks of things it will not be in my lifetime. In the meantime, I do believe the Bible to be Truth. My first question to anyone I meet is not "What Church do you attend?" I can tell by their eyes what kind of soul they have. We cannot worry about others judging our beliefs...these are core...what we are made of.

Scott said...

Birdie, you're a poet.

For all you knew, this may have been a place inhabited by a man who would only scramble for stones. Therefore, thank you for your honesty. And thank you for your considered response and your encouragement about me following my 'thread of grace.' You and your family are welcome here.

My mom stole my thunder, but I grew up Catholic as well. My family left the RCC when I was ten (or thereabouts). I was too young to truly understand our leaving (you'll have to ask her), but as I grew in my Protestant faith I developed my own understandings of why I wasn't Catholic. Some of those understandings have, honestly, become brittle and fragile and not-things in my heart and mind. I'm dissatisfied. I have not made any decisions. And, of course, my wife is part of that decision-making process as well since it involves her and our children. I know that we will walk our road, whatever it may be, together.

And I believe and hope that wherever that path leads, it will lead to a greater love for God, a greater love for people, and a more generous and gracious table.

Mom, thanks for your comments. There is a lot of good there. Too often in my life I've lived drawing too-small circles. Perhaps I'll get it one of these days. It is about love, after all.

truevyne said...

I'm going to answer your question without much to do. Scott Hahn (read him?)put it straight for me when wrestling why or not to become Roman Catholic. It's not Mary or the Pope who hold me back either. I simply haven't had a conversion experience. I asked God for one if it was something He wanted for me.
Another perspective rings in my ear just now too...dear friend of mine said he'd realized he'd be breaking community with too many
non-catholics if he did so, and the R Catholics accepted him as he is.

Dan M. said...

Hmm...thinking of joining the Catholic church, eh? Those are words I've heard before...from a few people I know pretty well. (One of them's now a Father Steve.) They're happier than they've ever been with their spiritual life, all of them. I think that's where God wanted become Catholic if it's where you're supposed to be. For me...not the place, and I can't see it ever being a home for me either. I feel like our family was a part of a diaspora from the Catholic church, but unlike my parents and siblings, I've never longed for "home."

Scott said...

Truevyne, I haven't read Scott Hahn, though I've heard of him and been interested in reading him. Do you have a particular book you'd suggest? Also, what exactly do you mean by "conversion experience"? Is this something that Hahn talks about in his books when he became Catholic?

Dan, I'm thinking about it, but I can't say what will happen with it. There is part of me that feels right about it. I'd love to hear your reservations even in the midst of such a forceful homegoing by your family. Maybe the next time I'm in the area . . .

I actually e-mailed your brother last week about some of my very general questions about the RCC (saw his name in the comments of a blog I read and e-mailed him to see if it was him). I'm interested in reading his responses.

Ogilvie said...

I would recommend Hahn's 'Rome Sweet Rome.' I've loved the Catholic Church all my life, and help teach a program to people wishing to become Catholics. All I would say is this: Someone once said that no one really hates the Catholic Church; they only hate what they wrongly believe it to be. The misconceptions that are out there are numerous, fuelled to some extent by the media, most of whom no little about any religion. So you'll have to find out the truth about the faith before you decide. As you'll see from Hahn's book, sometimes Catholics, including some priests, are not a great help in this regard. If you know anyone who is a Catholic, and who enjoys being a Catholic, ask him or her to recommend a priest they think would be a good solid
advisor for you. All the best!

Jamie Dawn said...

I would not choose to become Catholic because I have problems with some of their beliefs. I am not at all anti-Catholic though. It bugs me that priests are not allowed to marry. I find that to be very odd.
I blog with a guy that recently became Catholic. I know he'd love to discuss his reasons for doing so.
You can visit him at:

I fly into Greensboro tomorrow. I see the doc on Tuesday. If I have to have another surgery, my hubby has already booked a flight to arrive Wed at 4:30 p.m.
If you guys have Wed night open, maybe we can meet for dinner somewhere. Just leave a comment here or at my blog if this is a possibility. If so, then I will email you my cell phone number and we can try and work it out. My hubby is on the cutting edge of "religion" and church trends. He reads all the latest books and you two would probably have a good time discussing things.

Jamie Dawn said...

We both had to change our flights. We won't be able to try and meet. Maybe another time.
Have a good week!

Ogilvie said...

Sorry, that Scott Hahn book is titled, 'Rome Sweet Home', not what I wrote above.

Anna said...

I was raised an ELCA Lutheran pastor's daughter. My pastor father changed to the United Church of Christ when I was a teen. I am currently practicing my faith as a Catholic. I don't know that I'll be Catholic forever but it's the best option for me right now. As a more liberal person, I have issues with some of their teachings, but I'd like to work from within to change things in the church for the better. :)

This is a big question so please forgive me as I get long-ish.
I feel that we each have a path to God and salvation. That path is not the same for everyone. I'm glad that there are different sects that help people express their relationship with God in ways that work for them. Although I wish we could all come together as God's One Church, I think at this point that it is a good goal to work towards.

Scott said...

Ogilvie, thanks for stopping by and for the encouragement. I'll have to get a copy of Hahn's Rome Sweet Home. I appreciate the suggestion as well as the enthusiasm you show for your faith.

Jamie, any specific beliefs you have a problem with other than the celibacy of priests? And thanks for the link to Darrell - I read through some of his journey to Catholicism this morning. Interesting, and interesting that his sticking points with Catholic theology are not mine and that mine are not his. (Sorry we won't be seeing you this visit, but our families will get together sometime - best of luck on your consultation and possible surgery. Let us know if there's anything we can do for you all.)

Anna, I didn't realize you were Catholic. I apologize for the lengthiness of my questioning (all of which can not possibly be answered in a single comment, unless it ran on for pages), so don't worry about a lengthy response. Thanks for your thoughts on the RCC.

truevyne said...

Do you have a particular book you'd suggest?

I just read Scott Hahn on the web when I was wrestling my views on the Eucharist to the ground. He is compeling.

Also, what exactly do you mean by "conversion experience"?

I sure don't know what a conversion experience looks like for everyone, but I've had a three very distinct moments of connection to God unlike any others. I felt like I was changed from the inside out after,and I've never had one of these concerning Roman Catholicism.

Is this something that Hahn talks about in his books when he became Catholic?

I think Hahn did write about this but I don't know what book or web reference.

Jamie Dawn said...

I don't like that people confess sins to the priest who then gives them "Hail Marys" to say. Confession isn't a bad thing. "Confess your sins one to another." I just don't think men have the power to grant forgiveness or atonement.
Catholics pray for the dead. I don't see any purpose in that.
They pray to Saint Jude, etc. I don't get that either.
I have nothing against them at all. I know my beliefs don't match up with Scripture perfectly.
I just would not consider becoming Catholic.

Dan M said... emailed my brother...have you heard back from him? I wonder if that email is still current. I know he'd definitely relish speaking with you about it. He's actually developed a bit of a sideline--the Diocese of Lansing utilizes his speaking abilities to talk to people such as yourself about the process of "coming home." He'd really be helpful to you...but he's also quite effective. :-)

It will be interesting to see your path in this, and I'd be happy to chat sometime with you. I love the Catholic church, but there are things I can't quite get past.

Maybe I'll direct Steve to your blog...

Scott said...

Thanks, Truevyne. I'll try looking up some of his writings on-line.

JD, thanks for your response. I have problems with some of those very same things. I'm afraid I don't know how much I understand any of them at the moment.

Dan, I got a response from your brother - confirmation that it was your brother (the e-mail I used was a Mac address - there can't be too much wrong with a man who uses a Mac). He said he'd love to talk with me about it and to e-mail him or call him at the parish. That was the day before he said he was leaving on a vacation. Since then I've e-mailed him some general questions about Catholicism, but I haven't heard back from him yet. But I can wait.

I don't know if I will be able to get past certain issues myself. Quite honestly I find some of the ideas that I'm aware of quite objectionable. Granted, I may grossly misunderstand them. I suppose that's one of the reasons I'd like more information. I am sure that I am more misinformed by those who stand against the RCC than informed by those within it. Anyway, I have questions. And, regardless of what happens, I truly believe there needs to be greater unity between both Catholics and Protestants and less condemnation. Maybe there just needs to be less fundamentalism. (Ooh, I'm going to get in trouble with that last statement.)

Anna said...

I agree that there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding Catholic beliefs. I had been given a lot of incorrect information about them growing up. I didn't know how wrong I was about the Catholic Church until I began looking into it personally.

Scott, The most useful tool I found to learn more about the Catholic Church and their truth and explanations about their beliefs was a class given by the Church. It's called an RCIA class and I believe every Cath. Church holds them. It's the class one must take to join the Church, but it's also a very informative class which gives a lot of good information. Not all the people who take it join the Church, some just take it to learn more. You might look into it.

ScottB said...

I'm calling the evangelical police. ;) Just kidding. I think it's fascinating. I have to be honest, I find myself resonating more and more with particular pieces of Catholic doctrine. I'm rather disenchanted with sola scriptura, for example - I think the Catholic approach is more honest, even if I don't give the same weight to doctrinal formulations, papal decrees, councils and all of that. But I think that the Protestant approach offers no way of mediating between different interpretations, so it's not like we've solved anything - we've just managed to keep subdividing.

My difficulties? There's a lot of extrabiblical stuff - I can't buy the whole purgatory thing, for example, or infant baptism. I don't think it's bad, necessarily, but I like to keep things simple. ;) Plus, I have a lot of sympathies for the anabaptists - I don't think you can get much farther apart from a structural perspective. Basically, I'm a believer in flattened leadership structures as a biblical mandate, so the whole clergy/laity divide is a big deal for me.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. One of my close friends is a member of the Anglican order of Dominicans and has a degree in Catholic theology - he brings a lot of balance to my low church ways. But as others have mentioned, there's a lot of distortion out and about concerning what it is that Catholics believe - I don't at all think we're as far apart as I was raised to think.

If I were going to switch, though, it would definitely be for the hats.

Scott said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Anna. I saw something about the RCIA class the other day in some of my readings. Where we live now, the nearest Catholic church is probably 30 minutes or more away from us. There is, however, one just next door to the church we currently attend. That might be fun.

Scott, I initially began thinking again about Catholicism during some of my arguments last year over the scriptures' inerrancy, infallibility, and truthfulness with various folk. It seemed to me that the conversations ultimately went nowhere because of our individual interpretations and the baggage of personal experience and education each of us carried. And for some, it was very devisive. It also became clear to me that the arguments for an objective Protestant reading were ludicrous and that the Catholics were, as you noted, more honest about how they approached the text. Ultimately, I suppose it was questions about authority and unity that once-again drew my interest. Recently, Scot McKnight had a great, though lengthy, article/pdf he linked to from "Jesus Creed" called "From Wheaton to Rome" about why Evangelicals were converting. I found myself in many of the experiences of those who had become Catholics.

So here I am. I have all the usual Protestant difficulties with Catholicism but wonder if unity within the Body is a stronger argument than any of my difficulties. Now I know that my joining the RCC will not create unity within the Body of Christ (it may, in fact, create some division), but there is part of me that feels as if me and my family would be honoring Christ in the spirit of unity by joining the RCC - I'm not sure yet if that makes any sense. And the hats would just be icing on the cake.

ScottB said...

My Dominican friend busts my chops now and again about how I want to pick and choose my traditions - in other words, it's sort of a la carte. I'll take a Nicea and a Chalcedon with a side of Augustine, hold the Trent and crusades. Believe me, I hear what you're saying - I don't think it's odd at all.

Anna said...

Scottb - I think picking and choosing what works for you and your personal relationship with God shows that you've really put a lot of thought and research into beliefs and that you've made them your own. You're not just blindly accepting what someone else decided. I think it shows a greater depth of faith.
(but of course I'd say that because that's what I do ;)

Birdie said...

Just want to say I've enjoyed reading these responses. I'm still a searcher, not even sure what it is my heart craves.

Meg said...

Wow... look at all of this! Scott, I need to keep more track of you. You have the most fascinating dilemmas.

I really respect your journey. I love how you express it, too.

I'm at a place of searching right now with faith in general, since sometime last year. I grew up Protestant, the daughter of a Baptist minister, and for the most part, my experiences with the church were rather ideal, really, other than some run-ins with odd congregants along the way.

I don't blast people with what I believe. I live it as best I can, extending love to whatever degree I can possibly manage. I strive to be peaceful with those around me, to receive who they are in a nonjudgmental way, and to be passionate about encouraging them.

Those things, for me, trump t-shirts and car fish and books and movements and cards and tracts and meetings and "seeker services" and quite frankly, any debate between Catholicism and Protestantism.

I see the the essence of faith as communication, both with God and one another. Labels and divisions don't generally advance those goals.

My family comes out of Northern Ireland -- we know what sectarianism did for that culture.

To join something and to leave another thing? I don't know if it's necessary. I don't know if you need to. If you give yourself to God and to people as best you can as a daily practice, labels will matter little.

Will being a Catholic make you more loving? Will being a Protestant make you more charitable? Will being a Catholic cause you to reflect more grace in your countenance? Will being a Protestant call you to a life of service to others?

I doubt it.

You will do what you do because God is present in you, and the rest, to me, seems like building walls when you mean to open windows.

Scott said...

ScottB, is it Fr. Kevin you're talking about? (He e-mailed some excellent Advent suggestions this past season - very helpful.) As Anna said, it seems as if we all pick and choose to some extent. And I would agree with her (as I know you would) that it isn't all bad - we must be discerning. How exactly does he bust your chops - that the same church that gave you Trent also gave you Chalcedon? I'd love to hear that discussion.

Birdie, it's not usually this busy over here, so I'm enjoying reading the responses as well. I'm glad you're here.

Meg, thanks for the thoughtful and insightful response.

Following Christ is, as you said, about loving God and loving others. It's about being redemptive in our neighborhood. Creating peace. Offering grace. But it's doing that, I believe, as part of a community. Yes, it importantly and certainly involves what I do with me, but it also exceeds me. It's bigger.

Now, I have, like you, strong ecumenical feelings. And quite honestly, though perhaps nonsensically, that is what is at the heart of my dilemma. Because of my involvement with a Protestant church, however, walls exist. The labels exist. I don't like the walls. But others have built them and here they are.

I would love to see the walls come down.

I understand that people will always retain their differing beliefs and practices, if only in degree, but I find it hard to understand why we refuse community with one another since we all follow the same Lord (though even this is hotly debated in some segments of the church). Would there be discussion and argument even within a visibly united church? Absolutely. But it does not need to result in division. And the older I get the more intensely I feel the importance of unity - the importance of generosity with our brothers and sisters.

I don't always do it right, obviously.

I want us to be the Church. Now becoming Catholic will not tear down any walls immediately. And I know that some people would not understand that decision. Honestly, I wouldn't have even a year ago. But it would not be a decision made in order to separate myself from them, but to become more truly myself and what I believe God wants me to be (which I also know is part of what you're saying). Fr. Neuhaus, after converting to Catholicism, said the following, which I find beautiful and compelling:

"To those of you with whom I have traveled in the past, know that we travel together still. In the mystery of Christ and his Church nothing is lost, and the broken will be mended. If, as I am persuaded, my communion with Christ’s Church is now the fuller, then it follows that my unity with all who are in Christ is now the stronger. We travel together still."

So for me, strangely, part of the draw is because of unity. Though I'm still trying to work all of that out myself. But the pull is real. And I don't expect anyone else to feel the same pull. I certainly don't demand it. I suspect the only thing that would change is how and where I worship.