Friday, January 04, 2008

This Post Is No Foreshadow of Things to Come This Year on My Blog


Now the following frustrations/questions are directed more at my friends and family who are Evangelical - though if you are Catholic or Orthodox you may feel free to contribute. (And it obviously - as so many of my readers here exemplify - does not apply to all who claim the name Protestant Evangelical.) That being said, I would love to hear your insight into the following dilemma: How is it that in an otherwise amicable conversation about Christian things, when conversation turns to some Catholic belief that is in disagreement with what some of the conversationalists believe, they immediately ask, "So what you're saying is that I'm not saved?"

Huh? Has anyone else run across this phenomenon? Have you felt this way in a conversation with a Catholic or Orthodox Christian?

It's seeming out-of-the-blueness shocks me every time. And, for me, has nothing to do with the topic at hand. It is almost as if because I believe that they are wrong about believing this or that that I also, necessarily, believe they are "in a handbasket" and on their way, so to speak. It's as if every disagreement is grounds for condemnation.

Let me give you some context so you're not saying Huh? about my question. I was in a conversation with my brother and sister-in-law about heaven over Christmas and unity came up and I was sharing my heart with them and made an assumption too large - that they, as devout Evangelicals, understood that Catholics and Evangelicals could not share in receiving holy Eucharist. (It breaks my heart that we cannot.) As soon as I said it, they looked at me as if I had grown a third eye. And immediately the question was asked: Since I can't/won't share in Holy Communion with them, or let them partake with me, I necessarily believe that they are going to That Place Reserved for the Devil and His Angels.

Now, I understand where they are coming from, after hearing them out to whatever degree they let me. But this has happened more than once, and it is frustrating to be engaged in a conversation when, at each disagreement, they think I'm inferring that they are not saved.

Listen, dear reader, if I think you are in danger of hell because of your belief or unbelief, I will tell you so.

One more, less lengthy and less frustrating issue: My niece has begun dating a Catholic boy (Woo-hoo!). My sister, whom I love dearly, continues to refer to him as a Christian Catholic. The assumption implicit in such a label irritates me, though not greatly. Should I start referring to believing Baptists as Christian Southern Baptists, or Christian Christian Reformed, or Christian Grace Brethren, or, well ... you understand my frustration.

So if one feels the need to qualify "Catholic," make Christian the noun and Catholic the adjective (a Catholic Christian). Not vice versa.

I only ask these things so that what hair I have left that is not gray will stay the youthful black that it has always been. If you have suggestions for me, as a Catholic, as to what would be good manners for me in addressing Evangelicals (other than saying nothing, which is perhaps the best advice at this point in my journey), please let me know.


Ry said...

I'm a young convert and have come across this a few times...

I think part of it is the whole justification issue- for example, because I believe that (ordinarily) to receive forgiveness for mortal sins one must go to confession, this would automatically exclude a Protestant from receiving God's loving mercy.

Obviously, that is not the case. But for a person who does not understand the Church's teachings on the issue might see it that way.

truevyne said...

Dear Scott,
You may already understand that with my involvement with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I hang out with Catholics and Episcopalians who must wrestle the issue of Eucharist at all of our meetings. It is painful not to receive with my dearest of friends. It's especially awkward for me as Christian but not Catholic nor Episcopalian, I strangely feel most at home going to but not partaking in the Catholic Eucharist than I do being invited to the Episcopalian table. I could explain this further if you ever want.
As for the "So you think I'm not saved" phenomenon. I think I get it. Protestants tend to focus on the sin part of the cross. Christ died for our sins. I see Catholics go straight to the heart of the relationship with Christ and His great love shown at the cross. Christ loves us and endured the cross to restore relaionship with us. There's such a huge difference, and I can't tell you how glad I am to have learned a more "Catholic" perspective. The focus is Christ Himself not our sin.
All conversation hinges on salvation and acknowlegement of sin for Protestants and more on the relationship with Christ for Catholics.
I hope I haven't offended anyone, but I am almost certain I have. I'm open to talking this through with other readers whom I've hurt.

And, Scott. Better read Hawk and the Dove Triology by Penelope Wilcox if you haven't yet. I'm savoring every word- fictional monks and mothers teaching me about love and forgiveness. In my top five books ever list already and I'm not finished.

Dan said...

Interesting post, and fodder for thinking. I've thought about this a bit as well, considering the in home mass that my brother performed over Christmas, where I, as the lone non-Catholic, couldn't partake in communion with the rest of my family. Lot's of thoughts on this, but it's around 3:00 in the morning, so they'll have to wait, but here's a question that I would like to pose to my family, and I guess I would pose it to you as well, and turn the issue on its head a bit: how do you view the many years of communion that you partook of prior to becoming Catholic? Was there grace extended to you through breaking bread with other believers, or was it merely symbolic? I don't know how my family would answer this.

And truevyne's comments are intriguing to me. I think if you would ask Protestants, they would actually claim that they focus on their relationship with Christ more than anything. It's even part of the Protestant lingo: "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?" I believe that Catholics focus on the Cross more than Protestants do, and that for Catholics, the focus is primarily on the Eucharist and Christ's body broken for us on the cross, which of course brings us back into relationship with Jesus Christ.

I think that it's a fair statement to say that the Catholic church historically hasn't focused on the possible intimacy with Christ that it could have, though I know that is changing. In large part, I believe this can be attributed to the many numbers of former protestants flooding Catholic churches now who carry with them the very Protestant notion of an intimate, one on one relationship with Christ. Over Christmas, my dad, a former evangelical, stated essentially the same thing when he said that one of the greatest blessings of the Catholic Church in the past decade or so has been the influx of former protestants and the view they carry of the possibility of having an intimate relationship with Christ.

I guess it suggests to me that there is much to be learned and gained from the many varied facets of Christendom.

But now I'm rambling, and the light should really be off. Let's hope I can fall asleep--insomnia has been my plight of late.

Dan said...

A few more thoughts, in the middle of the day rather than in the middle of the night this time around. I think the notion of Catholics not sharing communion with Protestants is basically just a foreign idea. Pretty much all Protestant denominations have the "open table" belief that just so long as you're a believer, you're part of the fellowship, as it were. The refusal of Catholics to participate in this is baffling to most Protestants, I think.

Now, I suppose I know more about it than your average Protestant. I just accept and respect the belief of the Catholic Church, and it's out of love of my family, and sufficient respect of Catholicism that I don't waltz up the aisle anytime I'm at a Catholic Church when communion begins. Belief is a funny thing, isn't it? As to how I believe about the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, I don't view it any differently than I view communion at First Baptist, so in light of my framework of belief, I wouldn't have any compunction about partaking in communion at a Catholic church, surreptitiously mind you, but out of my respect for the beliefs of my Catholic brothers and sisters, and my own family, I would never do it. Perhaps Catholics are right, and perhaps they're not. My belief doesn't make it one way or the other, but our actions are guided by our beliefs. As for me and my beliefs, I just don’t share the same view of the Eucharist that Catholics do, specifically their reasons for a prohibition against sharing the communion table with non-Catholics.

So then in your discussions with your family, or other non-Catholics, you run ramrod into different paradigms. You said to your brother that evangelicals and Catholics can't partake in communion together. That's obviously something that your brother and sis-in-law don't believe themselves. What they DO believe is that all Christians are welcome at the communion table of our Savior, so by you saying to them that you won't/can't/aren't allowed to participate with them in communion, it says that you aren't in the same fellowship of believers. It could be construed by them as nearly being the same thing as suggesting to them that they're Mormon, so I can understand the umbrage that they took at the statement, though of course it wasn't your meaning.

You’re at an interesting crossroads Scott. The question that I am most curious about is why do you continue to have these discussions? I was in the opposite camp for a long time, surrounded by a family who was zealously becoming Catholic. When conversations turned towards beliefs, and their newly found zeal for Catholicism, the mood and tenor of our family gatherings became decidedly un-Christlike. It was ugly, uncomfortable, unnerving and at times angry. It finally reached such a fever pitch at one family gathering, at a point when I was the lone guy, where I had to make a request to the rest of my family that they not discuss it any longer, at least when I was there. Our fellowship as a family, and unity as a family, was far more important than any discussion about our faith, or the differences between us.

The bottom line is that my family and I share far more than we disagree on. The minuscule differences between are just not talked about. I don’t talk about my disagreements with them, and I bite my tongue out of love for them, and they don’t try to proselytize me for the same reason. I find it sad that your Christmas was tainted by this, and I’m sure the frustration you feel is also felt by your brother. At some point, I think you need to ask yourself what cost are you willing to pay to continue having these sorts of discussions. It sounds like a high price is being paid. In the perfect world, we could talk about everything with everyone, and be open about everything. But if this is exacting a huge toll on you and your family, I don’t think it’s wise. I’d like to challenge you at your next family gathering to never bring up the subject, and even if it’s brought up by someone else, to not discuss it and say to the rest of your family that you don’t want a discussion about differences of belief to interfere with your enjoyment of each other. Your love for each other is what’s most important, far more important than whether or not you happen to share the same belief about communion. And as to Tania’s comments, can you just laugh that away? I think to say Christian Catholic is just silly, as silly as saying Christian Baptist. Hey, and remember: You don’t have to take on the burden for all of Rome, Scott. Love God and love the Catholic Church with all your heart, and trust that God will lead others to it in his time. Sometimes I feel like you feel the burden to be an uber-apologist—that’s a heavy load to be carrying.

Scott Lyons said...

Thanks for your comments, Ry and True. I think it's true that much of the difference goes to a misunderstanding of what we each believe about the Church. And, True, it's an interesting proposition you share about relationship v. sin. As Dan said, I would generally think that most Protestants would be the ones who hold up the "personal relationship" sign. So I find your comments interesting. I think, especially with some Evangelicals, that it's all about belief in right belief (Not to discount or dismiss right belief.) As I think of it, this may be true of factions in every belief system. But as N.T. Wright says, it is faith that justifies, not belief in justification by faith. With Catholicism, there's a tendency to leave it all in God's grace - understanding that he is ever reaching out to every human being. So that one Calmormene soldier who worships Tash, might discover Aslan on the other side of the door. That is not, of course, to close the door on evangelism, as some have understood it. That is not, either, to say that anyone is saved outside of Christ's sacrifice or outside of his Church. We still hold all this to be true, and this is a difficult bundle of beliefs, a strange perspective, for many outside of Catholicism.

I want to primarily respond to Dan's comments. He's an old friend and has some excellent insights to share because of his similar, though opposite, situation (his entire family reverted to Catholicism, and he is the lone Protestant in his family).

Second comment first: I know that there are many men and women who are called to defend the Church, and are excellent apologists. I don't believe myself to be an apologist. I do have trouble keeping my mouth shut once the topic is brought up, unfortunately. And then I keep replaying the exchange, wondering what the other party was thinking, wondering what I was thinking - forgiving, and asking for forgiveness. I think it a good suggestion, Dan, that I demur from speaking about my Catholic faith, even if someone else in my family brings it up. I've talked to my wife about this time and again. And I fail time and again. But I feel as if I've shut up "fire in my bones" - as if, for now, part of me has to be hidden, buried. And it's further made difficult because these people I love also love to talk about their faith. It's hard to rejoice with them and talk of all that is occurring in their faith journeys and not be able to share mine with them. Perhaps that's nothing more than selfishness.

I'm willing to be silent, certainly. But it's painful - not because I want an argument or want to be "right," but because I want to share. I feel as if I've won the lottery, but no one wants a share in the money or everyone returns the gifts I offer them.

Na ja.

It was never my intention of bringing up Catholicism (or any of her beliefs) for discussion over Christmas - quite the contrary. But as my brother and I were opening our hearts to one another about "Christianly" things, I took a step too far, assumed to much. And I felt terribly about it afterward. And, of course, frustrated.

I understand the Protestant view of Open Communion. I also understand it is a relatively newcomer to Christianity. 50 years ago, no one would have blinked at the suggestion of having to be Catholic in order to receive Communion with Catholics. We live in interesting times. Dan, you're right, that's exactly what he thinks - all believers partake of the Lord's Table - therefore if I say he and myself cannot receive together then I'm making a statement about his salvation. Mea culpa. It's difficult remembering sometimes, oddly.

It is a different paradigm - and it makes talking always difficult. We talk past each other. My brother called my beliefs, because I will not share Communion with him, unbiblical. (That's a strong word coming from my brother.) And he'd be right, of course, if we all lived in the vacuum of the Present. All Christians broke bread with one another in the "New Testament Church." Certainly. But then, there was only one Church, and they believed something very specifically about what holy Eucharist meant. But that, I suppose, is where our beliefs differ.

I greatly respect where you are with your family, Dan. As I told you before, I look with hope toward the day when mine might be in the same place. But, I suppose, even then, life will be different - but with the differences accepted.

And about Tania's comments - I know she doesn't mean anything by it. I have fun with it more often than not. It is only in my darker days that those kinds of things bother me to any degree.

Now, about your first comment and the questions you brought up there. I do believe that Protestants receive grace in communion - and not just perceive grace. I know that I did as a Protestant. But to me that sings of God's kindness. He knows our hearts. He knows how we yearn for him, to be united to him - and he honors that. At the same time, I also know that I have received so much more grace in the mystery of the Catholic Eucharist. I can't explain that, and I don't say that to denigrate what I have and others do experience in a Protestant Eucharist (Communion, if some are not comfortable with the word Eucharist - it only means Thanksgiving, btw).

I would, however, disagree with you that it is only now that the Catholic Church has begun to understand the possible intimacy with Christ they can have, with the influx of Protestant believers. Theosis, or deification, is a teaching of the Church. It is all about unity with Christ. It is the purpose of the incarnation - God becoming man to re-unite divinity and humanity. It is all about intimacy with Christ. The sacraments of the Church are all about communion and intimacy with Christ. It is what being a Christian means - it is what striving to be a saint is all about. On the other hand, I would agree that in the past century such a change of many Catholics' view of intimacy has come about. I think there were many in the early part of the 20th century who did not understand that relationship. And there are many recently who are beginning to understand that relationship. It is, I suspect, why our families left Catholicism to begin with in the turmoil that followed Vatican II. And I would certainly also agree with you that the Catholic Church is less without her brothers and sisters in the Protestant communities. As John Paul II said of ecumenism - it is not an exchange of ideas, but an exchange of gifts.

Peace be with you, brother. As always, I value your comments on this subject - even though you may find that you're repeating yourself with me. I appreciate the comfort and help in the midst of the loneliness.