A couple of weeks ago, I got a postcard in the mail from our old church advertising a three-week session on Catholicism - you know, how to talk with these misguided folks who live across the Reformational Hedge that separates our two properties. (Yes, that's right, I go to the Catholic Church next door to my old Protestant Church. A dense strip of coniferous and deciduous vegetation keeps them visibly separated. Denseness, in general, keeps them spiritually separated.) So on Saturday, I met with my former Pastor of Adult Ministries to discuss Catholicism. I would have preferred going out to a restaurant and having the discussion, but instead we met, very pastorally, in his office. This man has been influential in my life, please don't think I view him with anything other than respect - he's one of the godliest men I know and has taught me much. He's also nutty about Puritan writers, but someone has to be. Right?
So I sat down across from this giant of a man, my San Damiano Cross between chest and shirt, my Bible and notepad on the table in front of me. We opened with prayer and I told him of my journey to Catholicism.
On Sunday, he was going to present the difference in views between the Catholic and the Protestant way to get to heaven - a whole "Different Gospel" sort of presentation. He showed me his information - information that he said he got from a Catholic booklet forwarded by Cardinal O'Connor (God rest his soul).
It showed how Protestants base their entire lives of sanctification on their one-time declaration of justification. And how Catholics live their lives sacramentally, building and building upon their own righteousness until, hopefully, they end their lives with a declaration of justification from God.
This information was the heart of our discussion. What does justification mean to a Catholic? (Because we both know what it means to a Protestant.)
Frankly, he completely misreads the Church's view of justification. Yes, Catholics believe in infused righteousness (Christ actually makes us righteous). Yes, Protestants believe in imputed righteousness (Christ actually gives us His righteousness). These are theological terms that, in my opinion, obfuscate rather than illuminate our relationship with God. Both Catholics and Protestants believe in an admixture of infusion and imputation, regardless of what anyone might say. And to say that justification for a Catholic is simply an endgame issue is ridiculous. It is the foundation of our faith working through love - how could it be anything else? Faith is justification.
So here I am, telling him that I agree with so many of his statements on salvation and Christian living and that the Church agrees with them. And he is telling me that the Church does not agree with them.
He, just as my father-in-law did, tried to use fear to make me reconsider my decision: You will be fine, but what about your children? What is up with this kind of fear mongering? I asked him if he thought his church had taught his children the faith or if he and his wife had taught their children the faith? Me and my wife. Why, then, should my children be trained any differently - merely products of the Church's seeming unwillingness or inability to instruct adult parishioners? Even in Protestant churches one who knows his faith is one who is privately motivated.
This line of reasoning about my children, honestly, is incredibly offensive. As if your Protestant church could churn out a mature believer. As if.
Maturity is the work of the Spirit and of no man.
The other doubt he injected into the conversation was a lecture(?) on my being a stay-at-home dad. As if my not working has something to do with my reversion to Catholicism - idle hands are the devil's hands? Or as if my being at home is sinful in some way, thus opening up the door to further deception? I don't understand his point here. He also talked about the importance of a proper understanding of roles for my children at the ages they are in.
First, my being a stay-at-home dad has never been my choice. Second, I not only take care of my children but am currently quite busy with freelance work. Third, how dare you attack something that God is doing in my life and the life of my family?
Fear and doubt are the enemy. They have no part in a theological discussion, let alone within a relationship. In my opinion, a person who uses them in an argument is a person without an argument. At best.
The discussion led nowhere.
I remain a little frustrated, however, if you haven't noticed.
I am tired of being told what Catholicism teaches by Protestants who operate in open opposition to, if not hatred of, Catholicism. I am tired of being treated as a leper by former friends and family. I am God's servant and will be judged by God.
Here's my request: If you love me and my family, then love me and my family. Do not treat us differently because of a faith decision. Love us. For God's sake, love us. If you never did love us, walk away. I certainly do not need you hanging about making half-assed comments about me and my relationship to my Lord.
If you ain't got love, you ain't got squat.
A final thought on justification that I learned from Tom Wright. Many Catholics and Protestants would do well to learn from it: We are justified by faith. We are not justified by believing in justification by faith. Justification should be drawing us together, not pushing us apart.
Our faith, itself a gift, is the source and sign of our justification. I am justified because I believe. And you can know that I am justified because of that belief. That's the core. But faith was also never meant to be a gift bloated from malnutrition, but fat in its largess. It must walk with hope and love. Our faith should not be about essential belief but rather about the fullness of our belief. Why nibble at a table bowed under the weight of its richness?