Monday, March 12, 2007

One that got away

Dr. Philip Blosser articulates a problem concerning the Church in our current times. He addresses the problem of some converts who eventually end up leaving the Church. Although it is not only just converts who experience this, but also any Catholics who really discover the Faith and all it's Tradition, only to become very confused by the often shocking differences between the Faith and the acutal practice seen in the typical parish.

So what is it that happens to Protestant reverts? While every individual's story is unique, I think some generalizations are fairly safe. These are generally souls who come from backgrounds already well-rooted in evangelical Christianity, in a life of Bible reading, prayer, and personal relationship with God. When these souls discover the truth about the Catholic Church, they fall in love with her. They are thrilled when they finally come, at least on some level, to apprehend the Catholic vision of the Church and to see and and understand her glory -- "ever ancient, ever new." They love the Church that spans the ages, the Church of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman, Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict XVI. They love the moral courage of the Church, which stands like an adamantine bulwark against the evils of abortion, pornography, and relativism. They love the magnificent beauty of her ancient European cathedrals, her basilicas, her paintings and sculptures, her Gregorian chant and polyphony (readily accessible in any music store). They love her theology, which they encounter in the writings of great doctors and theologians of the Church. They love her incarnational vision of life, which they encounter in the writings of numerous Catholic novelists.

But then they join a local Catholic parish ...

The process usually begins with a desert experience called RCIA (Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults) -- a series of meetings and classes in which they are treated more like preschoolers than intelligent adults, spoon fed pathological doses of hand-holding and introspection, and treated to ample quantities of shared feelings. If they survive that, they're welcomed into an Amchurch parish, whose music is Haugan and Haas, whose homilies are psychology tips from Dr. Phil, whose art and architecture is a combination of bog Bauhaus and degenerate Art Deco, and whose members never read traditional Catholic authors but whose discussion groups can't stop talking about Richard Rohr, Thomas Groome, Anthony Tambasco, Sr. Joan Chittister, Andrew Sullivan, and John Dominic Crossan.

It's something I can relate to having been extremely lukewarm in my Catholic faith growing up mainly becuase of the folksy liturgies I experienced growing up (and looking back, the parish I grew up in was actually pretty tame and conservative!).
It wasn't until I was able to spend a semester in Rome and see the beauty, history, tradition, and glory of the Catholic Church that I really began to discover the treasury of the Catholic Faith. I devoured books about theology, Saints, spirituality, etc. But then a great confusion sets in as you learn more and more about the Faith, yet see such a contradiction in how that is actually played out in real life.

This is also where a very awkward situation arises when you have people who become curious about the Catholic Faith and become interested in joining the Church. I had this happen firsthand when I was working in Corporate America, and a friend of mine began looking at the question of his faith and began seriously seeking God. There were a few of us in our department who were Catholic, and so he began asking me about the Catholic Faith. I gave him a Baltimore Catechism which he read cover to cover in a month or two. Then he asked about joining the Church. At that point I was rather at a loss as to what to do. The parishes closest to him were not going to give him much in terms of RCIA. I had tried to get him to go the parish I went to, which had excellent RCIA, but it was just too far for him and his schedule. I tried to gently encourage him to go to a good RCIA, but eventually our company was bought, layoffs happened, the department was disbanded, and we lost touch as he relocated to another state.

It has always frustrated me that it can be such delicate work to help someone to learn and embrace the Catholic Faith. It's like guiding someone through a minefield. Sometimes some of the biggest hindrances to conversions are Catholics themselves, i.e. people who have no business teaching RCIA but are in charge of it, priests who don't teach the Faith or follow the liturigical laws, laity who just believe whatever they want to bust still call themselves Catholic, and Catholics who just don't care about their Faith. How am I supposed to be tell someone the Catholic Church contains the fullness of God's Truth and then all around me there is so much scandal (not just the sexual scandals, but those who don't live their Faith according to the teachings of Christ through His Church)?

I guess it is just something that will always be. Even Christ was betrayed by one of his own Apostles. Thankfully the Holy Spirit gives the grace of conversion, often in spite of current situations in our lives.

This does remind me of a great posting I saw last year at the Pontifications blog as a response to someone who was in an RCIA but was not wanting to accept all the Catholic faith.

I think the response the post should be read at all RCIA classes (and maybe to all Catholics at Mass too).

Please read the whole post though, it is certainly worth it. Here's a sample:

For the Catholic, the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the decision to accept the authority of the Church is one decision. They cannot be separated, for the risen Christ will not be separated from his mystical body. We love to manufacture religions that express our own ideological and religious preferences; we love to remake Christ into our own image. As Luther once remarked, “Every man is born with a Pope in his belly.” The grace of the Catholic Church, with all her weaknesses, sins, and failures, is that she confronts me as other. She is not, and refuses to be, a projection of my ego. She simply is. She speaks with a voice that is not my own. She challenges me with the authority of God. Here is one meaning of the ancient Christian dictum extra ecclesiam nulla salus: outside the Church there is no salvation. The Church saves me. She saves me from the sin of self because she cannot be assimilated into my self; I must be assimilated into her. I am the one who must change. I am the one who must be willing to submit my intellect to her wisdom and knowledge. Incorporated into the Catholic Church I am simultaneously incorporated into the glorified and risen Christ and brought into the ecstatic life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus ...


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