December 14, 2017

Where have you gone, Thomas Merton?

mertonwood.jpgThis essay would be appreciated most by those who read my essay recounting my history of appreciating Roman Catholicism. Sadly, I could not write that essay today.

I took an hour out of my time this afternoon and reread a large section of Thomas Merton’s outstanding spiritual biography, The Seven Storey Mountain. I was looking for a single sentence, and I finally found it.

Merton is attending mass for the first time. He’s not yet a Christian or a Catholic. As he comes into the church, he comments that the people gathered for worship were there to pray and there was no sense that they were aware of one another. This, he says, is different from Protestant churches where it seems that everyone is conscious of being in a crowd and has half an eye on the other people present.

I wanted to find that sentence because, as far as I know, it’s the single instance that I recall of even a moderate criticism of Protestantism in Merton’s writings.

In the thousands of pages and hundreds of hours I’ve spent inside Tom Merton’s books, journals and journey, he never tried to convert me. Even the intensity of Seven Storey Mountain is absent the fervor of the proselyter.

This was my experience of Roman Catholicism until the last few months. When I grew up with my Catholic friends the Martins, they never tried to convert me. (I, on the other hand, diligently worked to get them to a Billy Graham film and various revivals. The conversion of one of my other friends led to such strident effort to evangelize my Catholic friends that all of our friendships suffered.)

When I visited the Catholic bookstore and spent time there visiting with the ladies who ran it, they never tried to convert me or even recommended any books aimed at conversion.

When I became part of the Catholic Charismatic prayer group that met in the museum basement, no one tried to convert me to Catholicism.

When I dated a Catholic girl for several months, no one tried to convert me. The subject never came up.

This all happened in a community where division and prejudice between Protestants and Catholics was strong. Perhaps those historic divisions of school, neighborhoods, businesses and teams made it easier to let the other person be what they were and to leave them alone.

When I started visiting monasteries, reading Merton, reading Nouwen and appreciating Catholicism from a more informed viewpoint, I never encountered a single person who confronted me in order to convert me from my Baptist faith to the Roman Catholic Church.

I’ve worked with two Roman Catholics on staff at the ministry where I serve. One was a doctor, and I spent many afternoons talking with him. He was as devout a Catholic as I ever met, and he never tried to convince any of us that we needed to go to Rome. The other person was a convert himself, a young man who had crossed to Rome in college. He was treated poorly by some of the anti-catholics on our staff, and I sided with him. I objected to the use of anti-catholic literature with our students. He never attempted to convert me.

I’m not naive. I knew that Peter Kreeft was a convert. I knew that Thomas Howard- Elizabeth Elliot’s brother!- was a convert. I knew that Richard Niehaus was a convert. I didn’t think any of them were freaks for doing so.

Even as a Calvinist, I never saw the point of arguments meant to persuade the rest of evangelicals to switch denominations. I actually found Calvinism to be a welcome kind of ecumenism compared to the narrow fundamentalism of my upbringing.

All of this left me in a position that has always been very positive for me: I have always been an appreciator of Catholicism and one who benefited from the many strengths that Catholicism possessed in contrast to my own tradition.

Merton and Nouwen, in particular, were on consistently good terms with other traditions, beginning with protestants of all kinds. Merton regularly encountered Protestants from the seminaries in Louisville, and came to be friends with Protestant professors and pastors who visited him at the monastery. Merton’s spiritual awakening and overall direction in life took him into relationships with other traditions that were broad and inclusive. That absence of the need to debate and convert others was the atmosphere that allowed me to appreciate hundreds of aspects of Catholicism.

It was in this mindset that I wrote my first IM essays on Roman Catholicism, especially an essay that caused the Reformed Baptist watchbloggers to combine their efforts to label me apostate and spiritually fraudulent and dangerous. If I had joined the typical reformed rejection of Catholics as Christians, I would have a significantly more friendly reception in the blogosphere, as opposed to being the anti-Challies.

More recently, however, my experience with Roman Catholicism has changed. Part of this is my own fault because of my interactions with Catholic commenters on this blog who were arguing against Protestantism. Part of it has been inevitable as I have articulated my evangelicalism and my Baptist views on the church more clearly and more often, attracting more polemic responses.

But there is no doubt that my experience of the internet is not populated with Merton/Nouwen Catholics. The evangelical internet is the favorite battle zone for a breed of Catholic apologist who relishes the opportunity to defend Roman Catholicism, attack Protestantism’s weak points and evangelize Protestants openly and aggressively.

Bolstered with the resources of EWTN, Catholic Answers and a whole generation of Catholic converts turned apologists for the church, the influence of this kind of RC presence on the internet has repeatedly placed me in the position of having to defend my own Christianity against the claims of a superior version.

These apologists and their students are effective. They have made inroads into my own family that have deeply effected relationships and caused tremendous tension. The issues of Trent’s anathemas and the status of Protestants as actual Christians in actual churches are real life struggles in my life. Anyone reading IM these past few months is aware of this. If you haven’t understood all that has been going on, let me assure you that the questions of exclusion and conversion are very, very pertinent to my life and relationships.

I understand apologetics. I am, in my way, greatly in sympathy with these apologists. I understand from my own life experience the extent to which Roman Catholicism is misunderstood, misrepresented and spoken for instead of listened to. I know that some prominent evangelical internet apologists take steady and continual aim at Roman Catholics and a fully equal or superior response is appropriate. I know that despite high profile conversions, the RCC continues to lose many people, especially ethnics and young people, to evangelical churches and Catholics must address such losses.

I have no objection to these efforts and have no criticism for them. Please hear the last part of this post as honest and sincere. I love you people.

My problem is two fold:

1) I bitterly resent all efforts of one Christian to evangelize another. It is a matter of integrity that has deep roots in my own understanding of what it means to belong to Jesus Christ. I have refused to do this consistently. In my ministry I have been criticized continually for not evangelizing Catholics. I will never do so, and I will never respond to being evangelized with appreciation.

I know that many converts to the RCC are excited and want to tell their story and recount the answers that are significant for them. I saw this same phenomenon in Calvinism. I have the same advice: moderate yourself. Especially around fellow believers. I assume that you are part of your tradition because you believe it is right. It would be insulting for me to assault that belief.

I want to understand Catholicism better and I want to be correct and clear in what I say. (I do understand that I will disagree with some Catholics over exactly what the church does say.) I want my fellow Christians to always feel free to add to my understanding and appreciation of Catholicism. I’ve asked many questions on this blog with the desire to understand and learn.

But I cannot respond positively to being taunted about “How do you know you church is right?” and “Did Jesus lie?” and other immature, rude and unwanted expressions of the desire to evangelize. My feelings on this issue are becoming threadbare. Whatever you’ve read on Internet Monk about Catholicism, no one can say this site has refused to recognize the faith of Catholic brothers and sisters or despised the Catholic tradition. If I have erred out of ignorance, I apologize, but I love what Catholicism has meant in my life, and I am truly despondent that my internet experience has been so different. (Good Catholic internet friends, don’t take this as talking about you. I”ve tried to be clear about what I’m referring to.)

2) I want my experience of Catholicism to reflect my years of submerging myself in Merton, Nouwen, retreats with Benedictines and my relationships with Catholic friends. This is, I suppose, too much to ask for in the real world. I know that I was sheltered and my experience was distorted. But it is that experience that I want back.

I’m particularly distressed that my internet experience is now bleeding over into the real world. My occasional visits to mass are difficult. Arguments over Catholicism have been too frequent. A feeling of inevitable confrontation has become too frequent.

One thing I have learned is that there are very, very wise and inclusive voices in Catholicism among those with a perspective not shaped so deeply by conversion from evangelicalism or polemic confrontations with evangelicalism. I hope my future experiences can benefit from those voices.

Comments

  1. Michael:

    Some thoughts.

    1) It is very clear, and has been for anyone with a modicum of intuition, that this a personal issue for you.

    Dealing with these things on the internet is sticky. It is sticky because you are expressing part of what is in you, but not all of it because of the personal nature of the matter. I would suggest that when we are grappling with such an issue – in which there are general theological issues as well as profound personal ones that we are not ready to share, we have to use judgment as to whether it is perhaps best to not speak of them at all because we can’t give completely honest accountings of what the issue is for us and we can’t really properly engage the theology.

    You have a “confessional” persona, it is true, but I don’t know if working this particular issue out in public, particularly if there are parts of the story you are not telling (for good reason) is a good idea. You end up lashing out when, I think, lashing out is an overreaction.

    (Not talking about this post in particular. This one is fairly calm)

    I say this because I am reminded of a friend of mine who (I am trying to be vague here) made a big decision that he had to announce of the internet because the decision related to part of his public persona. He could not, however, tell the whole story of why he made this decision, and in my opinion, ended up wasting many hours of his life defending himself against haters in fruitless ways, not being able to say what the point really was. I don’t know what the answer was for him – he was really in a hard place – but there was just a lot of unncessary pain in that public tussle over a personal situation.

    Perhaps related, perhaps not.

    2) I suspect that part of the reason you are beset upon by Catholic apologists is (beside the fact that at some points you have seemed so open to Catholicism) is that you do tend to display a lack of understanding of certain areas of Catholicism, and they are persistent, perhaps because you can’t “see” with Catholic eyes, and that is okay. You have mentioned before, either here or at Boarshead, that you are in private communication with certain Catholics who know their stuff, and that is good, but some of what you claim about Catholics just isn’t true, or is so unnuanced as to veer into untruth, for whatever reason.

    You are generous about Catholicism, it is true. But even though you probably don’t mean to, and even though it might even be unconscious on your part, there is a definite thread in your conversations about Catholicism that still poses Catholicism against the Bible. It’s there, people pick up on it, and, since you have advertised yourself as open-minded they want to discuss it with you. Perhaps some of that is unwarranted and unwanted, but there are times at which I read your responses to folks who simply answer questions about Catholicism or try to follow up with questions of their own to you, asking you to discuss the basis of your contentions, that you throw up your hands and declare that you’re being attacked. On that score, I’ve never quite understood the rules around here. Your recent post on Witherington’s book is a case in point. Witherington basically says that Catholicism has the Lord’s Supper wrong and you enthusiastically agreed with him. And Catholics are just supposed to nod and thank you for being a bridge-builder?

    My final point is the real point.

    3) Catholicism is BIG. I think that might be the fundamental point to wrap our heads around. It is BIG. You are put off by enthusiastic converts from evangelical Protestantism? Some are put off by Opus Dei or Focolari or Pax Christi or Franciscans or Jesuits. Some are put off by the pomp on exhibit today at the Consistory for the Creation of Cardinals, some are put off by the radical pacifism of Dorothy Day or the stands most US bishops are taking on immigration these days. Some are pulled into Catholicism by an experience of visiting Rome, some are totally put off by it. Some are pulled in Thomas Merton, some are put off by him.

    But it’s ALL Catholicism. It’s a huge, messy room, reflective of all of human experience. It’s what makes it so absorbing and so frustrating, as well.

    It is not that we should find our little niche within Catholicism, latch on to what appeals to us, be secure in that and thumb our noses at the rest. It is that we have to – we HAVE to – take a deep breath, a deep leap of faith and (if Catholicism strikes us as true) accept at a very deep level that Catholicism is this mysterious organic Body that truly has many members, some of which seem radically different than others, but are actually united, as Pentecost experience expresses.

    I am the most unorganized, intuitive person in the world, so something like Opus Dei is definitely not my thing – at all, and never would be. I know OD folks, I respect them and like them, but would not, in a million years see it as a meaningful spiritual discipline for me. But what I see in OD, its members and its apostolates of charity and education that it is the fruit of deeply faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who are just different from me.

    I am more of a Communion and Liberation type (if I can use the New Movements as shorthand for what I’m talking about), but I am certain that many Catholics and would-be Catholics would be put off by the rather intuitive, responsive charism of exploring and experience that seems to me to define C & L.

    And that is okay. It is even necessary.

    So it is with apologists. I don’t share any disdain or discomfort with that element of religious life, because I see it as a necessity and a gift. People are going to ask guestions and seek answers, and they deserve those answers, the best that can be offered. If someone (not you) says, for example, “Catholicism is unBiblical because of the Assumption of Mary, and therefore Catholics are not true Christians” I am glad that there are people out there to respond to that (and I do some of it myself, as a matter of fact.)

    But it’s not the only aspect of Catholic religiosity – there are a million others – and they all work together for the good, and they are all necessary, all touching various points of human experience in our search for God and truth.

    (It is not that all things that spring up within the context of Catholicism are fantastic, either. But that is why bishops exist – to sort out the wheat and the chaff as best as can be done here on earth.)

    There is just no point in searching for a Catholicism that reflects anything particular about my experience as the normative expression of Catholicism. Catholicism just is. It is just sort of everything – it is life…like a Body.

    I have had a couple of particularly excellent experiences of Catholic life here and there. But I would be very wrong to define Catholicism by what spoke to me at one particular moment, and then lose my faith because I can’t recreate that in the here and now. I have had horrendous experiences as well. There are things about the Church that, if I could, I would get rid of with a snap of my fingers.

    But that is not what the Church is. It’s not me

    God bless you for all you do.

  2. Thanks for your response, Amy.

    A few responses.

    1) Having an evangelical view of the Lord’s Supper is not the same as attempting to evangelize Roman Catholics. If I’ve fallen short of that ideal, I apologize.

    2) I have published 99% of all Roman Catholic comments on here without response.

    3) I’ve disallowed a few, and I’ve disallowed more than a few Protestant rejoinders that were uncivil and ugly.

    4) How many times do I have to be asked certain questions that have been running around since the Reformation before I can feel legitimately annoyed that someone thinks we are really going to accomplish anything by talking about them? When I’m addressed as if I were the first Protestant, you’re right- I’m exasperated. Mutual understanding should happen in a different kind of dialog than a conversation between people who think the other person is not a Christian or must change churches to be a “real” Christian.

    5) The majority of my frustration has come from one question. It’s apparently a question that isn’t going to be answered in a way that I can be satisfied with because of the nature of the Catholic view of the question. So it’s my fault that I keep asking it, and I need to stop. The problem is that the question has deep roots in my relationships right now, and all involved would like it answered. Interestingly, Fr. Al Kimel said, in these comments, that I wouldn’t get a good answer for my question from internet apologists and needed to go into a rather in-depth study of Catholicism to get it. If I seem frustrated at this, it’s because I am.

    6) If you detect that I sense some tension between Catholicism as I understand it and the Bible as I understand it, then I’m unclear as to the problem. I thought all of us thought the other party was in some way falling short of the Bible’s answers to the important questions. Again, talking about a subject from the standpoint of mutual understanding is different than telling someone to repent and abandon ship. In experience, it’s rare for anyone to say their position has been correctly understood by anyone who openly differs with them on the final conclusion.

    7) You say

    there is a definite thread in your conversations about Catholicism that still poses Catholicism against the Bible. It’s there, people pick up on it, and, since you have advertised yourself as open-minded they want to discuss it with you.

    I’ve never, to my recollection, been invited to discuss a Biblical text by a RC commenter. I’ve been asked several times how I have any idea whatsoever what the Bible actually teaches.

    8) “Fairly calm?” I don’t think I’m quite as upset as some of the reading public imagines me to be.

    peace

    MS

  3. Michael:
    I appreciate and applaud your interest in the Catholicism of Thomas Merton. It was my privilege to live near Gethsemani for almost 12 years and have spent many hours walking the trails and singing the daily offices with the brothers there.

    In my many visits to Gethsemani and other Catholic monasteries, convents and retreat houses, I never once felt pressured to convert. I am a life-long Baptist, but my spiritual journey has been enriched by my associations with my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.

    What bothers me, however, is the rather disrespectful tone and your flippant references to Fr Louis–Thomas Merton as “Tommy.” Perhaps only to his closet friends and associates (some of whom I know) was he ever “Tom,” and certainly never “Tommy.”

    Feigned familiarity is contemptuous.

  4. Again, thank you, iMonk. My husband and I have put ourselves through over a year of great frustration by reading blogs/commentary by these Catholic apologists. We are probably going to be received into the RCC next Easter vigil, but it will be in spite of the internet apologists rather than because of them.
    (I am dying to name names here… but won’t.)
    We are both appalled at the way Protestantism is vilified- and I do mean that strong word- in some of the more “moderate” Catholic blogs, and the seemingly professional blog commenters (how do they find time to hold a job?) who hold forth there.
    Merton is a favorite of mine too, and I wonder what he would have thought of…

  5. My apologies “Rob.”

    I didn’t mean to offend or show disrespect. I’ve amended the title. Forgive me for “the rather disrespectful tone” and “flippant references.”

  6. Michael:

    Thanks…I’m not trying to be a pain in the ass or a Merton purist.

    He’s been a remarkable presence in my life, and if he has been in yours to the degree you seem to indicate by your post, then he deserves appropriate respect.

  7. Ah. Now I understand.

    I was almost in this same situation myself, and my father-in-law actually was in such a situation for a thankfully brief period of time. I understand that it’s painful for all involved. You have my prayers and my apologies for any comments that may have poured salt on the wound.

  8. Michael,

    I have never posted here before but know what you’re talking about. I’m Catholic and try very hard to stay to the post on hand and be very respectful of other people’s faiths.

    I can wax poetically about Catholic theology for hours and know that people take their religion very seriously.

    I think that the best thing I can say is to please not be discouraged by a few overzealous Catholics. As Amy said, it’s a BIG Church and quite honestly, not everybody is likable–I know I don’t like everyone in it. (We’re called to love everyone–not necessarily like everyone).

    From reading the few posts of yours that I have read, I do know this. God has wonderful plans for you. Have faith in where He’s taking you and ignore the people you don’t like. I’ll even not take offense if you ignore this post.

    May God bless you.

  9. I was brought up Roman Catholic and the reason I left 24 years later was because I was “born again”. An evangelical co-worker preached the gospel to me. My parents told me their RC priest had warned their church community about “born again” Christians. Less than 10 years later the RCC was changing their terminology; e.g my youngest brother mentioned that he had gone for “reconciliation” aka confession.

    Personally I cannot return to catholicism because of extra-biblical teaching. It is noteworthy that those evangelicals that do convert are sometimes better RCs than those brought up as Rcs. But then that is typical of most conversions. My point, it can be meaningful to them re. their relationship with Christ.

    I suppose if my husband was inclined to go back to the RCC I might consider attending 2 services, one at the RCC without taking communion, and one at the evangelical church. or maybe not. I do not know. However, when I was in a situation where I could no longer attend the the meetings with the evangelical group I was with, I did not want my husband to just follow me out of the group unless he was fully convinced that he should leave.

    Best wishes to you and yours.
    Peace.
    Marcia M

  10. Michael, Just wanted you to know that I am praying that God will encourage you and give you His wisdom as you work through this. — Vance

  11. Have you been on Catholic answers as of late? They are kicking off all the Eastern Orthodox and squashing the Eastern Catholics. It seems that Roman Catholics on CAF in general are changing in tone. They are often actively trying to convert others. And when the Eastern Orthodox had a good number of converts, they felt threatened and kicked us all off. What was “Eastern Christianity” became “Eastern Catholicism” and it is now primarily populated my Roman Catholics trying to blast all things eastern.

  12. Micheal,
    I really enjoy your blog and read it every day.I felt from the tone of this post that you are very fed up.
    I come at this topic from the opposite angle. I grew up in the Catholic church, I left in my late teens. This was a source of considerable strife with my family as I’m Irish so the notion of Catholicism and Identity are emeshed. It has taken a long time to rebuild a relationship with my family. I do not know if I would have had the courage to leave had I fully understood what it would entail vis a vis my relationship with my family and old friends.
    The impetus for leaving came from reading a modern translation of the bible and encountering Jesus as a powerful, wonderful Saviour. The Catholicism of my youth centred on Mary, Mass, Saints, Novenas, Rosary, Miraclous Medals, Scapulars, Legion of Mary etc with little mention of Jesus or the wonderful meaning of the Cross or the marvel of who Jesus is.
    In the interim I have read Catholic writers who have blessed my life and do not regard myself as anti-Catholic, I’m grateful for many aspects of my childhood.
    I get the feeling you are on a journey, I reached a crisis early on in my journey reading the bible where I wondered what I should do, I asked God to show me, I’m not someone given to making extravagent claims re God speaking to me however He showed me clearly that I was to follow Him as He was leading me so I did. I was a long time on my own before I found a church to attend.
    You and your family need to know where God is leading you, your choices will never meet with universal approval so I suggest you use your forthcoming sabattical as a time to pray, study, talk etc. I see you as a pilgrim who is loved by God.The voice you most need to plug into now is His.
    I’ll be praying for you.

  13. Memphis Aggie says:

    Hi Michael,

    I appreciate the advice. You’re right as a recent convert I can go overboard. Ironically not so long ago the most compelling witness in my own conversion was silent. The thing that first attracted my to Catholicism was the joyful Italian families who generously included me as a teen – and never pressed Christ or Catholicism.

  14. Michael,
    I have read your site off and on for several years now. As one of those who was first in line to start and argument about faith and doctrine when I was younger, I could see my old self in your comments. I was raised in a Baptist home and taught by my grandmother to search the scriptures and know them. For many years I would go out of my way to start a “discussion” with people from other faith backgrounds. I have increasingly tempered myself as the years go on and taken the approach of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:15: All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. The trick of course is that I humbly point out that this can go either way in that I may be the mature one or the immature one in the matter at hand. Either way, I am content to take the information and bring it back to the light of the Scripture for confirmation. I have certain core beliefs which I would be willing to still contend for, but there are many things I would once have fought for tooth and nail that I now find do more harm to the cause of Christ and the Gospel that benefit. I appreciate your openness and honesty as you grapple with life and faith. I have found myself many times pondering the issues that you raise and discuss. Thanks for your site and your candor.
    Jeff

  15. I don’t think I’ve ever had Catholics attempt to convert me. I have had various non-denominational Fundamentalists attempt to convert me away from Pentecostalism, and an Orthodox friend who’s trying to get me to leave Protestantism.

    I haven’t tried to convert these folks to my own sect. I perceive they’re all Christians, so there’s no need. They’re a bit overzealous for their theology; I keep telling them they need to focus their efforts on the pagans and not on me. If they have a relationship with Jesus they should be more interested in sharing Him and what He’s doing in their lives rather than engaging me in a philosophical discussion about what takes priority in our spiritual formation: the teachings of the Apostolic Church, or the way C.I. Scofield understood the King James Version.

    However: I have admittedly tried to evangelize people who already think of themselves as Christians. Mainly this is because I’ve got to know them well enough to see a lack of spiritual fruit in their lives. In those cases I want to make sure they actually understand what Christianity’s all about. There are quite a lot of churches that assume we’d pick up such things by osmosis, and a lot of people who think they’ve become Christians in the same way. If they haven’t had the Gospel spelled out for them yet, I want to make sure they’ve heard it.

    My purpose isn’t to convert them to Protestantism, or Pentecostalism, or my denomination, or anything other than mere Christianity. I can defend my church’s beliefs (most of ’em, anyway) but I’m preaching Jesus, not my church. I like my church, believe most of its teachings, and love the folks in it; but if Jesus ever told me to go, I’m gone. Compared to my loyalty to Christ, I have no loyalty to my church and its teachings. That being the case, how can I preach my church and its teachings when Christ can so easily make me turn traitor?

    Not that I ever expect Him to do this. It’s His church, after all, and it proclaims His Gospel. I’m really just trying to give an idea of how I stand. Trouble is, many Christians don’t make such a distinction, which is why we often try to convert one another to different churches… as if they were all different Christs to follow.

  16. Nicholas Anton says:

    I am puzzled by the openness of many to the possibility of the Catholic institution as being a Christian simply because they affirm the Apostles creed or because they are called Christian. I am not denying the possibility of some of them being Christian, because they have enough core beliefs to find the Truth, but I personally have seen no evidence that the average Catholic or the institution itself is such.
    Someone has written;
    “It is true that some Catholics do find and follow Christ in the Catholic Church, but we believe that happens not because of those who claim to be the “Vicars of Christ”, but in spite of them. The sad truth, as history shows, is that the papacy has modeled itself after the Emperors of Rome, rather than the Carpenter of Nazareth, and has thereby produced “Supreme Pontiffs” who were more “Rivals of Christ” than “Vicars of Christ”.
    Take for instance the practice of selling indulgences.
    “It was in the area of indulgences that Sixtus showed a touch of genius. He was the first pontiff to decide that they could be applied to the dead. Even he was overwhelmed by their popularity. Here was an infinite source of revenue that even his greediest predecessors had not dreamed of. It was breathtaking in its implications: the pope, creature of flesh and blood, had power over the regions of the dead. Souls in torment for their misdemeanors could be released by his word, provided their pious relatives dipped into their pockets. And which of them wouldn’t if they had a spark of Christian decency? Widows and widowers, bereaved parents spent their all trying to get their loved ones out of Purgatory, painted in ever more lurid colors. Praying for the dead was one thing, paying for them another.”
    In contrast to the selling of indulgences, the concept of “An eye for an eye” is not altogether bad, in that it eliminates the mega law suits as practiced in the Western world. There however is a better way. Christ’s way. His alternative to the “eye for eye” concept is “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you”.
    Nor was it Jesus Who taught His followers the concept of paying money in exchange of an eye or a tooth or for the forgiveness of sins, but the Catholic church in it’s concept of penance and indulgences. Actually, many countries simply have augmented the concepts of penance, indulgences and simony taken from the pages of Catholic law and practice to include civil and secular law as well. And thus, in western civilization, most any secular position of power or absolution of crime/secular sin can be bought with money. At present, Evangelicals as a group are not much better.
    Therefore, both Catholics and Evangelicals need to be evangelized, not by an institution, but by the True Believers.
    Before the Reformation, many tried to reform the church, but were opposed, persecuted and killed for it by the church. The same will happen in our lifetime. The True Church is not the institution, but the individuals who Truly Believe.

  17. Nicholas,
    For a better understanding of indulgences check out the informative post by Aimee Milborn:
    http://aimeemilburn.typepad.com/my_weblog/indulgences/index.html
    Another great resource would be The Catechism

    Michael,
    One reason you may encounter a high number of self-proclaimed catholic apologists on the blogosphere is because there are so many misunderstandings and falsehoods about The Church that are passed off as true by non-catholic Christians.

  18. scuba steve says:

    I’ve been a long-time reader and am a first-time caller. Michael, I really appreciate the site and your commentary.

    I converted to evangelical Protestantism from the EO church of my parents, like Marcia, because I was “born again.” I met Jesus reading the Scriptures (actually, the letter to the Galatians) to defend my EO beliefs against my Protestant friends’ innocuous questions. Once I realized that the multiple authorities of the EO church were in conflict with one another at a fundamental level I had no other option but to select one, and I chose Scripture. (EO apologists, yes I am vastly oversimplifying and I do understand the EO doctrines on canonization and inspiration quite well — this is only by way of introduction and not debate).

    Simply put, the EO church in which I was raised was full of hypocrites — very religious, but Jesus was not in any way Lord and King — he was a Sunday-morning ritual. I was of these hypocrites myself. This is not to say that all EO folks are not believers and are condemned. I know (by their fruit) several in the church in which I was raised who are truly born-again believers in Jesus and remain EO. I’m no basher of these saints’ faith. But by and large, the church in which I was raised was populated by people without a relationship with the Lord but very good at following rules. I understand that many Protestant churches are this way as well, and this criticism can be applied equally there.

    That’s why I would be careful with your assertion #1. To respect the faith (in disagreement, even) of another brother (RC, EO, Protestant, whatever…) without telling them they need to change churches, endorse your doctrine, etc…that is a wise and noble thing, reflective of how ecumenism should be practiced in love. These people you know by their fruit. But for those with no or bad fruit, to not desire that they would be “converted” (and by this I DO NOT mean “to change churches” — I mean to have receive a new heart) and be faithful to Jesus in however He brings that about (praying for them, reasoning with them, sharing the Gospel etc.) is not loving them at all.

    Grace and peace.

  19. Interestingly, I have the opposite problem. I have a good Catholic friend who at best is gently suggesting things to read to better inform me of what the Catholic Church teaches. We have interesting discussions and the whole thing is rather non-threatening and very fun and interesting to me.

    On the other hand, my parents have been attending a Southern Baptist church for the last few years after being in the Pentecostal realm for decades. They are very involved especially in this evangelism program they do that teaches people how to share their faith in virtually every situation. Now, on the surface that sounds nice, but the way it plays out is that my parents (and others at the church) sort of look down their nose at churches that don’t make evangelism the Numero Uno priority (manifested in things such as altar calls at every service, going door to door in neighborhoods “witnessing”, taking 20 minutes in the store to “witness” to the sales clerk about to get a sale from us, stopping the waitress at the restaurant to “witness” to her for 10 minutes when she has other tables to attend to and last but not least, inviting us to every activity the church does in hopes that we will see the light and join their church also. I’ve been a solid, engaged, fruitful Christian for 20+ years but I’m being constantly evangelized by my Baptist convert parents.

    So in that sense, I understand your frustration Michael. It’s just coming from the other side in my case.

  20. Memphis Aggie says:

    I think I might have something helpful to add here, Nicholas, even if I’m Catholic. At the core of any authentic Christian is the living the life God instructed us to live. He lays it out for us in simple terms, the parables “the Golden Rule” and even tells us not to over think it, since we are to be like children. So, if we authentically live that life, for Him in His name I believe His infinite Mercy will forgive our doctrinal differences and our real world failings.

    Obviously, to everyone who’s ever tried to live a life of charity and love towards all, we fail regularly. I personally failed to listen to Michael and understand his sense of rejection in regard to communion. Sometimes we operate on the letter rather than the Spirit of the law. The Spirit is open and generous but the letter says “Well first you must stipulate that …”.
    This dualism is frustrating and confusing and can be offensive.

    Further there is a dualism that exists now and has always existed in the Catholic Church ( and likely all Christian Churches). Simply the Church is for God but run by men. Like Christ it is both God and Man, Holy and ordinary. Unlike Christ however the human part of the Church is prone to err and the Holy part of the Church is extrinsic: a pure gift from God to His unworthy worshipers. We all know this, it’s elementary.

    What’s hard is forgiving and forgetting the slights that each denomination showers on each other.
    So last Easter when I went to the Bellevue Baptist production of the passion play, I had to ignore the various “Baptist” touches in order to enjoy, what was a very moving, high quality, and doubtless heartfelt production. Likewise when I lived in California and I was occasionally beset with bad liturgy, poor quality music and poor quality sermons in my own Catholic Church. This kind of filtering is part of the program.

    I don’t expect that I will ever fully understand the faith or the nature of God and I pray he’ll forgive me when I misstate or misunderstand this verse or that teaching. The Christian core is clear enough and crosses denominations. I’ve found the love of God and neighbor in my little Catholic parish and I do not doubt for minute that it also can be found in the Church of Christ down the street or the Bellevue Baptists.

  21. I agree with your two points. I also think that the internet brings out the worst argumentative side of people, and hope that these attacks you receive do not continue in real life interactions.

    I think there are a lot of non Christians we can evangelize, instead of trying to evangelize each other. That is, if anyone ever bothers to go and meet and make friends with non Christians.

  22. I bitterly resent all efforts of one Christian to evangelize another. — IMonk

    It’s called “Sheep Rustling”, and I’ve seen it go both ways. Everybody’s obsessed with getting Those Other Christians behind THEIR four walls while all the non-Christians on the outside scratch their heads and go their merry way.

    And on the Net, it’s probably just another manifestation of the “Net Drunks” phenomenon. When you’re anonymous behind a handle and safely out of fist range, something just…SNAPS in a lot of people and they become uber-overbearing and uber-obnoxious. (There is still one guy I AM going to punch out if I ever see him FTF, and that dates from five years ago.)

    And Prots & Caths refighting the Reformation War over the Net is nothing. Check out Trekkies vs B5ers/Jedi/Browncoats/all comers sometime. Or PC vs Mac. Now THOSE are Holy Wars!

  23. I don’t think I’ve ever had Catholics attempt to convert me. — K.W.Leslie

    Then you’ve never ran into someone I used to know, a recent convert herself. Was to other Protestants like a recent ex-smoker to other smokers. Or a brand-new Vegan to meat-eaters.

    Thing was, her and her husband were my mentors in Catholicism, but over time they became so control-freak about it (and generally flaky, the Catholic version of IMonk’s “Long Slow Drive Over the Edge”) that my contact with them blew up completely around 10 years ago.

  24. What was “Eastern Christianity” became “Eastern Catholicism” and it is now primarily populated my Roman Catholics trying to blast all things eastern. — Quinalt

    What is this? Roman-rite Catholics blasting and flaming Eastern-rite Catholics? If the Nicene Creed was changed to read “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, except for those Eastern Rites”, I sure didn’t get that memo. WTF?

  25. Memphis Aggie says:

    I have an acquaintance who describes himself as a “recovering Catholic”, although he’s Agnostic. One of rare things we agree on is that kids should go to Catholic Grade School. I think they’ll learn to love the faith there and he says they’ll learn to hate it. I can’t say there isn’t some truth there.

  26. As a Catholic deacon I appreciate imonk across-the-board and in particular your posts on Pater Tom. I can vouch for Michael’s very generous moderating style. As of late I have been fascinated on Michael’s evangelical perspective on the Lord’s Supper. Heck, even the fact that Catholics and Evangelicals are dialoguing at any level about this central component of Christian faith is very encouraging.

  27. Thanks for this informative and interesting discussion. I am a ‘born again’ Baptist and my partner is Catholic,both of us in our 50’s. All I knew about the Catholic church was the predjudices that I had learned within my own faith. God has challenged me to go deep into His word to examine and explore new ideas and to grow spiritually through this experience.

    Our bond is the Lord, when he commissioned the disciples to go out and evangelise the world,denominations were unknown, maybe we should go back to the roots of our faith ,the church as a whole has slipped far away from its origins.There we will find the ties that bind.

  28. Everyone has reasons for why they believe what they do. People employ logic, history, biblical passages, all with the goal of defining a theology. The first step, of course, is to define a personal theology. Is Christianity real? If so, what does that mean? The second step is communion with other like minded believers. Ideally, those other like minded believers would include the people closest to us: our spouse, children, friends, etc… Lets just say that I know all to well that, unfortunately, it does not always turn out that way.

    There are good arguments on both sides of the Tiber. Currently, those arguments are causing me to straddle the river. It would be much easier to submit to belief in one side or the other. But I can’t believe in something because of convenience. I want to believe it because it’s true.

    How does someone go from doubt to absolute certainty? Obviously, through Faith. But strong faith exists on both sides, as evidenced by Michael’s post, Amy response, and the many commentators on this blog. So faith can’t settle the issue.

    Michael has heard the arguments. He has made his decision. Other’s have heard the same arguments and converted. It all comes down to two questions: Did God intended the Apostles to set up an organized Church with uniform beliefs and authority to define doctrine? If so, is the Catholic Church that church?

    I fear that there is no way to definitively answer those questions. What if, after examining all the evidence, well educated completely rational people could decide either way? What does that say about the necessity for picking a denomination?

    I am on a life long journey to find Christian truth. Reading intellectually honest debate (conducted with an attitude of mutual respect) would greatly help me along. There are real differences between denominations, but only one is right (if any). I agree that we should limit “ambush” apologetics, and the “I’m a better Christian” mentality.

    As a lawyer, I get paid to argue for a side. I emphasize the evidence that helps my client, and minimize the evidence against him. Religious debate should not be about that. It should not even be about trying to win an argument. Instead, religious debate should be about Christians coming together to look for the truth, with open hearts and minds.

    Keep on keeping on.

  29. Nicholas Anton says:

    Michael;

    re; “I bitterly resent all efforts of one Christian to evangelize another.”

    Are you speaking of “denominational”, “nominal”, or “actual” Christians? For one who believes that one is saved by grace through faith alone, which I believe you do, to suggest that those who have become Christians (?) by accident (paedobaptism), by subscribing to a denomination, or by any other way than faith in the historic Jesus are out of bounds for evangelism, puzzles me.
    On one hand you encourage evangelism, and on the other hand you seem to place most of the population of unbelievers in the Western world out of bounds. Are inhabitants of the USA out of bounds because the USA is called a Christian nation? Are Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox, Mennonites, United Church of Canada etc. out of bounds because they carry a church or Christian nomenclature? Are the pre Christian Catholic inhabitants of South America out of bounds? What about the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses etc?
    If you are referring to denominational church stealing, I to some degree see your point. On the other hand, if you are referring to evangelizing the unbelieving majority in most denominations, I would disagree.
    We are to bring the Gospel to every human, irrespective of denomination, religion and location, and that includes all who do not adhere to the Gospel as taught by Jesus and His Apostles.

  30. I think he’s talking about evangelizing other Christians to their particular flavor (Baptist, Calvinist, Catholic, Pentecostal, etc) of Christianity. It’s not enough to show them Christ, they must also get them to dot all the “I’s” and cross all the “T’s” with regard to views on baptism, Holy Communion, authority structures, eternal security, sovereign election, and so on.

  31. Ragamuffin,

    I agree with what you think Michael is saying. I share the same feelings.

    I am bothered by the assumptions of various Christian groups, that others are automatically not-Christian, when part of the problem is that different religious languages are spoken. And many times, translation between them is very hard, if not impossible. I’m somewhat religiously bi-lingual, and the various things that Baptists hold true and dear, just don’t even have counterparts in Catholicism. (And the reverse.)

    I also think that part of the problem of sheep stealing is that it is the easier way to evangelize. It’s so much easier to get a positive response, when someone respects the Bible, knows at the least the name of Jesus, etc. Try talking to a Hindu immigrant to America, or a Muslim.

  32. marymargaret says:

    Michael, I have thought for awhile about responding to this post. I have usually responded to posts asking questions about Catholicism (always intending to be charitable–if I have failed in this, please forgive me) and to other posts which have particularly touched me. You are my brother in Christ and have brought both joy and a better understanding of Jesus to me. For this I thank you unreservedly.

    I am not an apologist (and don’t play one on TV). I personally find proselytizing distasteful, as it sounds that you do, and try to avoid it. I have wondered why I have heard an edge to you in discussing the Catholic church lately, but now I think I get it. Some Catholic apologists are so happy and thrilled with their new hammer, that they see everyone who isn’t a Catholic as a nail. I appreciate their enthusiasm, and many of them have helped me to grow in my faith, but I’ll admit that sometimes, some of them can even grate on my nerves!

    I hate to be too long-winded (it’s the Irish in me–I can’t help it!), but I want to explain how I feel about my brother Christians.

    By the age of 13, I had lost both my parents, and had no relatives (other than my 16 yr old brother) in my home town. The family of a very dear friend took me into their home and cared for me and about me. I now consider them a second family (this all happened 35 years ago, BTW). They were/are very devout Protestants, and very good Christian people. They did not try to change my faith, but encouraged me to live it. I failed miserably at this for many years, but it was through no fault of theirs. I respect their faith, and I respect and love them. I may disagree with them on certain aspects of their understanding, and we have discussed these issues (okay, argued about them) with passion, but we love each other, and I do NOT consider them less Christian than I am. Because of their witness to me, through their actions and through their faith, I have a better understanding of, and love for, my Protestant brothers and sisters.

    Now, other Protestants have been, frankly, insulting to me personally because I am a Catholic and insulting to my Church. This used to infuriate me and hurt me deeply. As time has gone by, I have become somewhat immune to it. I suggest that you take a deep breath, and try to realize that, although some Catholics will insult you for your understanding of Christianity, the vast majority of us continue to love your writing, and appreciate your faith. God bless you and keep you, Michael. Enjoy the sabbatical!

  33. Nicholas Anton says:

    To those who resent “…one Christian evangelizing another”, please define who is a Christian. If being a Christian involves believing in the Christ of the Bible, does it entail believing a correct understanding of Him? If being a Christian involves confirming what is called the Apostles Creed, is a Christian one who knows and understands it accurately, plus believes and follows it, one who simply understands and believes it to be true without any commitment to it, or can it simply entail anyone affiliated with a group that affirms it, irrespective of that person’s actually knowing, believing, or following it?

    From what I have seen, in Catholic circles, Catholic membership and personal faith in Jesus Christ have little in common. The majority of the Catholic and Orthodox people I know believe almost nothing. The majority of the children even in otherwise non practicing Catholic homes are baptized as infants. They are therefore on the church roll and assumed to be part of the Catholic church, which the church claims to be the universal church (Unum sanctum catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam). Note the following statistics by Boston Globe;
    “A survey of the concerns of U.S. Roman Catholics this political season shows that the vehement opposition by the church to same-sex marriage will have little effect on how Catholics will vote in the coming elections.”
    “…63 percent saying they disagree with church teaching (on divorce).
    “…54 percent – of local Catholics say they disagree with the church’s opposition to premarital sex.”
    “…51 percent – also say they disagree with the church’s teachings on homosexuality,…”
    “…48 percent said they disagree with church teachings on abortion,…”
    “…74 percent of local Catholics disagree with the church’s teaching that priests should remain celibate,…”
    “…65 percent of local Catholics disagree with the church’s position that women should not be ordained as priests.”

    “Only 20 per cent of respondents (in Quebec) of a survey conducted in 2000 said they attended church on a weekly basis,…” (CBC News)

    Contemporary Protestant records and opinions are not much better, or possibly even worse. According to a Barna pole I read a few years ago, only about 8 percent of the “born again” people are “evangelical” in belief.

    By the way, the Catholic church technically does not recognize other denominations as part of the One True Universal Church. Note what they claim;
    “Jesus can have but one spouse, and his spouse is the Catholic Church.”
    Therefore, to them, proselytizing other “so called” christians is not sheep stealing. Likewise, many Protestant denominations do not recognize the Catholic church to be The True Church, and to them, converting a Catholic is not sheep stealing either.

    In that many Evangelical Christians that I know don’t have a clue as to what Scriptures actually teach, and, in that most Catholics and Orthodox I know don’t know what the their churches teach, much less what Scripture teaches, and couldn’t care less, and in that most Liberal churches don’t require knowing and believing anything, let us be careful as to whom and what we call Christian.
    In the mean time, let us evangelize and teach all people and nations as Jesus instructed us.

  34. Nicolas, as one, who like you, is passionate about the vital importance of adhering to the Truth, still, I keep wondering: what about the thief on the cross? He surely didn’t know much theology, and yet, Jesus assured him he’d presently be with Him in Paradise.

    How much correct doctrine is necessary for God to recognize us as genuine sheep? (Case in pt: the pastor of the church I attend asserts that you can’t claim to be a genuine Christian unless you affirm the Trinity, but hey, that doctrine didn’t become one until 325, and even then, for decades more, there was “no little debate” [ACTS] about what it really meant. So, were all the folks before Nicaea banned from heaven bec. of their deficient understanding in this area?)

  35. Nicholas wrote: To those who resent “…one Christian evangelizing another”, please define who is a Christian.

    Harken to the Parable of the Weeds, as written in Matthew Nicholas 13:24-30:

    24Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

    27″The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

    28” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

    “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

    29” ‘Oh yes, absolutely,’ he answered. ‘You are my servants, and I certainly trust your judgment. 30Better get cracking now, no time to lose — get those weeds to the fire!’ “

  36. Hmm. Apparently the <del> and <sup> HTML tags aren’t supported on here.

  37. Memphis Aggie says:

    Thank you Jazzki for the thief example. I’d also add that Christ said we must become like little children in order to enter Heaven. I read that as faith is our salvation, not our understanding of theology. It was St Jerome that said the scriptures are shallow enough for a lamb to wade in yet deep enough for an Elephant to swim.

  38. I’ve been enjoying the podcasts on “Mere Christianity”. They actually prompted me to go back and read the book again. Lewis’s comparison of the etymology of the word (Christian) to the word (gentleman) is amazing. A word loses it’s objective meaning if everone can come to their own conclusion about what it means.

    I think the word (Christian) as it was first used in the Acts of the Apostles has alway been the catholic understanding of who is a Christian.

  39. I’ve found that Catholics don’t try to convert you if they find you extremely irritating.

  40. Nicholas Anton says:

    Jazzki

    I will respond by repeating the conclusion of a paper I wrote a number of years ago;
    It can be argued that a 200 horsepower tractor is a 200 horsepower tractor whether it has worked 20,000 hours or non at all. It need not perform but must be capable of performing as designated. But if that tractor never was capable of working to the designated data, no matter how it looks or sounds, it simply is not a 200 horsepower tractor.
    The four essential ingredients of saving faith are Truth, Knowledge, understanding and Trust. It must contain Revelation, recognition, and response. Saving faith must be based on Truth. It must contain not only knowledge and rational assent to that Truth, but also volitional assent. True faith is a change of allegiance. To have true faith in God, one must have a correct view about the Father, the Son, Jesus, and The Spirit, believe that knowledge, be willing to trust that knowledge when that trust is required, and yield to the knowledge which one believes to be true (Saving faith ultimately is allegiance), both to the known and the unknown. This will result in following Christ in baptism, in good works, and fellowshipping with other true believers. Though these acts in themselves are not necessary to becoming a believer, nevertheless, they are not options for the believer either. The emphasis was not that baptism would initiate faith but rather that a preceding faith would initiate baptism. At the point of Salvation, Truth, the understanding of that Truth, the acknowledgement of that Truth, and salvific faith/trust in that Truth unite as one entity. That is saving faith.
    Abraham did not know where he was going, but trusted God and followed. Moses did not totally know or understand what God required of him, but believed God and followed. Rahab did not know much about the God of Israel but believed Him to be the Supreme God, and, because of it rejected her own people and followed God’s people. Likewise with Ruth. One could go on and on.
    I see little of this type of faith and resolve in contemporary nominal Christians.

  41. Memphis Aggie says:

    I notice that everybody (self included) is swayed by the actions of a few individuals. So as a Catholic my excesses may result in Michael putting Catholic teachings on the shelf out of reach. Likewise I’ve read examples hear from other Churches and I have been influenced as well by the character of those I meet in a given denomination.

    Is this a healthy practice? Should I dismiss all of those (fill in your own blank here) just because the last one I met was such a jerk/hypocrite/etc? Christ Himself said to do what the Pharisees said in temple, as long we avoid their hypocrisy.

  42. Memphis Aggie says:

    Sorry that should read “here” not “hear”. I’m forever making those phonetic errors

  43. Josh S: LMTO!

    Nicholas: Thanx 4 that. Overall, theoretically, I can give what you wrote a hearty amen, tho except for the first paragraph, those things apply more to someone who gets to live a while longer after their conversion, wouldn’t you say? 🙂

    Stated another way: when I first put my faith in Christ, I had yet to read the Bible thru (which I promptly greedily did), so my “doctrine” was limited to knowing that God was holy (knew that in my bones somehow from childhood on—probably a case of ROMANS 1), and that thru His Lamb of God 4giveness, Jesus had opened the door for us to draw near to the Father. In the decades since, my understanding has increased exponentially (altho my trust is the same caliber as day one). Still, I contend that had I died the day after my conversion, I’d have been saved just as much as now. (Otherwise, if we can “increase” in justification, aren’t we then in effect agreeing with Romanism?)

  44. A rather preipheral point to your main argument, but I found the example you have a strange one. I would have taken the things that Thomas Merton observed in his first visit to a Roman Catholic Church as a criticism of the RCC rather than of Protestantism. It seemed to be an inversion of my understanding of Christian community.

  45. To be honest, I don’t see what’ so bad about different kinds of Christians trying to “convert” one another to their way of thinking. When two Christians have a disagreement on a certain point, obviously one or both of them are wrong. It behooves them to discuss it, and each should try to defend his or her belief in the face of the contrary belief, at least until that belief becomes untenable. If one of the parties is fed up with such discussions because he or she has already had them a million times and has firmly made up his or her mind, that doesn’t mean he or she should expect never to have a 1,000,0001st such discussion.

    The fact that a Catholic and a Protestant (or Christians of any stripe) try to convert each other does not mean that each believes the other to be a non-Christian. And the mere fact that someone else is a Christian is not enough of a reason to disengage any attempt to bring that person over to one’s own understanding of what is more true.

    The clincher here is that these kinds of discussions most fruitfully take place in the context of personal relationships in which love and respect can be assured, in which each party can see when it might be appropriate to back off. The wide-open and nearly anonymous Internet is very unsuitable for this kind of discussion. The Internet is very suitable for polemics, and it attracts polemicists and would-be experts of all kinds. Anyone who expounds a viewpoint on the Internet should take it as a matter of course that people will want to argue.

    If you don’t want to argue with the Internet polemicists, it’s best to just ignore them and go on saying what you have to say without regard to them, even if they are maligning you.

  46. “From what I have seen, in Catholic circles, Catholic membership and personal faith in Jesus Christ have little in common. The majority of the Catholic and Orthodox people I know believe almost nothing.”

    Comments such as the above posted on this blog thread
    illustrate the need for Catholic apologists to be actively promoting what Catholicism is and who Catholics are.

  47. This is an excellent articulation of an emerging new threat to ecumenical gains. It has its corresponding phenomena on the Protestant side of things, but you are right to point to a real shift.

    “From what I have seen, in Catholic circles, Catholic membership and personal faith in Jesus Christ have little in common. The majority of the Catholic and Orthodox people I know believe almost nothing.”

    Comments such as the above posted on this blog thread illustrate the need for Catholic apologists to be actively promoting what Catholicism is and who Catholics are.

    And comments like that show a lack of the new Catholic apologists’ understanding of the far greater ‘apologetic’ strength of someone like Merton or John Paul II. I wish more Catholics would understand that it’s not things like “Catholic Answers” or convert-apologists that make the Catholic church attractive to Protestants. In fact, quite the contrary. It is things lik unity, liturgy, history, stability, devotion, sacrament and many other goods left alone to their own witness that make Roman Catholicism attractive.

    It’s a shame. Where have you gone Thomas Merton?

  48. sue kephart says:

    I was raised to never cry hypocrite in the church: mine own or anybody elses’. Only God sees our hearts. We don’t see someone else’s heart. If someone tells me they are a Christian I take that at face value. It is not for me to judge. It is between that person and God.

    Instead of finding what is wrong with someone else’s tradition I suggest we do two things.
    1. Tell me what you love about your tradition. How it speaks to you. Don’t say anything about another tradition.

    2. Ask yourself,”Am I a Christian? Am I living it out in my life. Could anybody tell?”