Mary prejudice

Mary Prejudice

It has been 3.5 years now, but I remember a conversation that I had with my friend (a convert and eventual sponsor) Rigsby. It had became very clear to me that my Protestant denomination was straying further and further from the truth. For a short period I considered myself adrift and was therefore in full research mode.

The Catholic Church was not initially at the top of my list. Or in second place. Or third. There were just too many issues (I thought). One-by-one the Protestant communities that I was interested in were found to be wanting, having their own issues with the truth.

I believe now that the Holy Spirit basically boxed me in and forced me to fairly look at the Catholic Church. I was really surprised by what I found. Before I went further, I needed to address…   “the Mary issue”.

I might have asked Rigsby about Marian doctrines, exactly what they were, why they were believed, their historical basis, their scriptural basis, or even their logical and rational basis – all of which would have shed light. I didn’t because I assumed they were wrong and that I could not believe them as Catholics do. This seemed like a big hurdle. My question was instead “do Catholics have to believe that stuff?” Oy vey!

My problem was good, old-fashioned prejudice against the Catholic understanding of Mary. My Protestant denomination was closer to Catholic beliefs than many, but a real gap in understanding and belief was still there. Before going any further, I list here the 4 Marian dogmas:

  • Mother of God: while Jesus’ divinity is eternal, His human incarnation was not and Mary was the mother of that; this title was settled at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431
  • Perpetual Virginity: ever virgin, before and after Jesus’ birth (and no, there is no properly understood scriptural evidence to the contrary – quite the opposite actually); explicitly recognized at the Council of the Lateran in AD 649
  • Immaculate Conception: refers to Mary’s birth, not Jesus’ – she was born without the taint of original sin; why would God provide any less for the mother of His Son?; would the King of kings be born of a sinful womb?
  • Assumption: like Enoch and Elijah, Mary was assumed into heaven at the end of her life on Earth; would Jesus do less for His mother than these prophets?; BTW – this is assumption, not ascension

Additionally and expanding on the above:

  • Mary’s impeccability (sinlessness): Mary was born and preserved sinless; this is related to the dogma of her immaculate conception
  • mediatrix: via her role in salvation history and closeness to Our Lord; this does not make her divine in any way; see also advocatrix, co-redemptrix, mediatrix and advocate of all graces
  • Queen of Heaven and Earth: not dogma (yet), but how else would Christ honor and elevate His mother?; she is the queen to His kingship
  • veneration: because of all the above!; rest assured that we do NOT worship her – she is the most worthy Saint, but not divine / not God in any way

My purpose here is not to provide apologetics to defend each of these items (many very thorough ones are available), but rather to list “issues” that may be separating you from the fullness of the Church Our Lord founded. My suggestion is this: put them aside for now. This is similar to taking a test and coming to a halt on a difficult question. Do not get hung-up, move on and come back later. You may find this hard to believe now, but someday you will find it difficult to understand why all Christians do not understand Mary as Catholics do. They are missing so much (note on that point: the Protestant “reformers” retained much of these beliefs, but over time their divergent creations have fallen further and further away.)

As you study with an open mind and heart other Catholic claims, you will find their truth. Expect to be surprised! Eventually your “master list” of issues will dwindle, but by then you will accept the Church is who she says she is and trust her. If unresolved issues such as this remain, you will see them at most as difficulties in understanding – not claims that you deny. At that point, you are ready to become Catholic. Actually, at that point you are already in communion with the Catholic Church, albeit informally. You accept most teaching and lean on the authority and infallibility of the Church (given by Christ) for any remaining difficult part. You will be not all that different than the Apostles as described in John:

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Indeed! I will close with the following video for your consideration. It is far from the complete story, but makes many important (in hindsight obvious) connections for scriptural blockheads like me. It is one of my favorites and still touches me every time I watch it:

(If you do not see a video above, click here.)

Seeking unity

Seeking Unity

We Christians have our work cut-out for us in an increasingly secular, anti-Christian world. Our mission, at the most basic level is to save souls, starting with our own. We also work together in a wide array of worthy, charitable and political efforts. Many of us have signed the Manhattan Declaration, for instance.

While there are differences, we share core Christian beliefs. There is only one God who created everything, Jesus is His Son conceived by the Holy Spirit, heaven and hell exist, our sins condemn us to hell but we are saved through Jesus sacrifice.

In addition to our shared beliefs, we have shared problems too. We are all discouraged when our members leave the faith, either formally or by simply not coming to church. Another problem we share is ineffective catechesis, how many in our congregations and parishes really know and live the faith? Too many people are Christian “in name only.”

I think it is fair to say that we all seek to learn and correctly interpret Christ’s teaching. One of those teachings is that we are one Church. When we meet in heaven, we will all know the one truth.

From the Catholic point of view, all Christians are at least partially Catholic. The forefathers of Protestants, for example, were Catholic until the 1400s. Protestant theology borrows much from Catholic theology, adding a little and generally removing a lot. The specific degree of change varies widely between denominations and over time. We see non-Catholic Christians as simply not being in full communion with us. Not as outsiders, but as brothers and sisters in Christ.

When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, my extended family was solidly Protestant (although some were of different denominations). In all my Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, Catechism classes, etc. – comparative Christian beliefs was barely touched. There was some brief (and inaccurate) coverage of Catholics, but I remember no coverage of other Protestant denominations. I thought that we were all more-or-less the same. I think that many Protestants think that today!

The fact is, Protestant beliefs vary hugely: how and when one is saved, how are sins forgiven, is communion only symbolic, when to baptize, did Mary remain a virgin / was she immaculately conceived / her assumption, what is heaven and hell, did Jesus literally rise from the dead, is there original sin, will there be a “rapture” and so much more. Even agreeing on who is Protestant varies!

While they were all created by individual men sometime after 1,500 years of Christian history, the main thing Protestant denominations can claim in common is that they are not Catholic! I mean that only partly in jest. Ironically, some denominations are far closer to Catholic beliefs than they are to some other Protestants.

How many Protestant denominations are there? No one knows – really. I tend to think of a dozen larger ones by name but that really doesn’t cover it. If you define a denomination as people with formally shared beliefs, then the number is very large…   in some cases arguably to the level of individual members. Much more conservative numbers place it anywhere between 5,000 to 30,000 denominations.

Even if you look only at the largest denominations such as Anglican, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians – you will find not only do they differ greatly from each other, but they are all also highly divided internally. Each of these has deepening, severe divisions between internal groups.

I think lack of theological authority is the root of the problem. Catholics believe strongly in Apostolic succession – that the Apostles were the first bishops, Peter was the first pope. Their succession has continued through today and will continue to the end of time. Faithful Catholics accept the teaching of our Magisterium (bishops) as led by the pope. This is how Jesus Himself structured the Church He protected by the Holy Spirit. It is not a democracy. The most important roles of the Magisterium are to teach and *protect* the faith (i.e. NOT change it). If it was true when Jesus taught it, it is true today.

Once men entered into schism with the Church in the 1400s, needless-to-say, they could no longer recognize that authority. I am no expert in this, but it appears that most Protestant denominations work as a democracy where matters of faith are decided by votes of delegates. For example, most Lutherans choose “voting members” to fit this formula:

Voting members of the Churchwide Assembly must be voting members of a congregation of this church. The rules governing the selection of voting members also direct that 60 percent of the voting members will be lay persons, half of whom are female and half of whom are male. At least 10 percent of the voting members are to be persons of color or whose primary language is other than English.

ELCA website

It seems politically correct and very democratic. To be perfectly honest, I just do not understand how the absolute truth can be arrived at democratically. The truth is the truth, period. It doesn’t change over time or need updating. Can a good democratic process – particularly of those not well educated in theology – somehow arrive at that truth? Apparently not if you look at how this continues to distance Protestants from each other. Often instead of focusing on the unchanging, revealed truth, such processes result only in adapting the faith to modern secular viewpoints.

Catholics often pray that we will once again be unified. We are saddened when that hope is made more difficult through continual change and splintering. Personally, I just do not have the mental horsepower to see a path to complete unification in the near term. Some trends are interesting however.

The biggest trend is the liberal vs. conservative, progressive vs. orthodox, modern vs. ancient — or whatever you wish to call it. As touched on above, it is unfolding in each Protestant denomination. As each “side” becomes more entrenched in their own belief, those strongly not agreeing flee. In other words, it is polarizing. As whole congregations re-evaluate their faith, some are drawn to the steadfast doggedness of Catholicism. This is the case (for example) in some parts of the Anglican union, where many of their bishops and priests asked Pope Benedict to facilitate conversions of entire congregations. Under his guidance, the extraordinary step of creating an Anglican Ordinariate was taken to maintain their Anglican traditions while also being 100% Catholic. This kind of step while rare, is not unprecedented. The Catholic Church has many rites in addition to the Latin Rite many in the West are familiar with.

The other trend in support of unification is simply by individuals converting. That was my case as it is many others too. My Protestant denomination was changing in a progressive direction that I could no longer ignore. I loved my local church and the members in it, but the veracity of my faith was simply more important. You will find a wide spectrum of folks in every RCIA class (those studying Catholicism on a path of conversion).

This piece covers only the Protestant schism. The “Great Schism” of 1054 is different in many ways. Also not covered are Anglo-Catholics, Anglo-Lutheran Catholics and similar churches.

All Christians should work together – to spread the Good News, never denigrate each other and pray for our unification here on earth. Regardless of our differences here, we will be one in heaven.

Men’s Fellowship

Mens Fellowship

Long before I had any interest in joining the Catholic Church, my friend Jack (then a recent convert) invited me to the Friday Morning Men’s Fellowship. I didn’t accept his offer for a while, but he was so persistent. When I did finally go, I found it to be friendly and interesting. On the other hand, I had no interest in converting, so in some way it was an exercise in observing Catholics in their natural habitat.

After attending that first time I was back once or twice. My real interest did not come until I was in RCIA for a while and past that point of just “testing the waters.” By then I was interested in everything Catholic. I started attending the Men’s Fellowship and have not missed any since — including January 8th when conditions were so cold and icy that few made it.

The group meets in the PLC at 7:00am with about 50 or so in attendance. Everyone grabs their name tags, a cup of coffee, and a donut then greet each other while folks continue to arrive. Bill opens each meeting with a joke and announcements. A prayer is offered, and a speaker presents a topic of his interest for 10 to 15 minutes. After that each table discusses whatever they wish. My table reads and discusses a chapter from the Bible (we are currently working our way through Sirach).

One of the many nice things about the Men’s Fellowship is that you meet a lot of people and particularly get to know the guys at your table. Some of us hang around for awhile to continue our discussion or to chat about other topics.

A few weeks ago Tony was passing around the speaker sign-up sheet for the next six months. I don’t know what came over me – temporary insanity I assume – but I signed up for the first open space. That date quickly arrived – last Friday.

I decided my talk would be about those times “when the Holy Spirit insists.” That is, those times when you feel really compelled to do something, even when you would rather not. It seemed like a good topic as we approach Lent. The two recent examples I had from my own life are my conversion and this blog.

Rigsby (my good friend and RCIA sponsor) re-introduced me and offered the prayer. I then talked about my background and why I left my Protestant church (basically what I wrote about in How I came to be an ex-Protestant). That was followed by why I felt that I had to create this blog. Finally, I read a sample from the blog on why I decided to convert to Catholicism (How in the world did I end up here?).

If you have been reading this blog you already know that no one would mistake my efforts with those of good writer. Trust me, I am an even worse public speaker! I didn’t want to read a prepared speech, so my notes were just the points I hoped to make. It did not take long before I got a bit lost and ended-up skipping a bunch of them. On the positive side, I took about the allotted time, so maybe that was a good thing. I hope that it made sense and am grateful these things are not recorded.

My plan to read something in conclusion was so that no matter how scattered I might be in the rest of the presentation, I would at least end with something coherent. For the most part that worked. The only monkey wrench with the piece I read was trying not to get too emotional reading it. I made it through but I didn’t always have the steady voice I was aiming for in several parts (especially the very end).

Walking into the light

Walking Into Light

I was received into the Catholic Church on Sunday! As my new friend Russ might say, I have crossed the Tiber. I have made it to the other bank safe and sound, but the journey continues…

Before Sunday I was a Christian. After Sunday I am still a Christian. What has changed is my full participation in the only Church Jesus founded and in the fullness of faith therein. The path to here was not only one of learning but of rediscovery and exploration of my Christian roots. I am now an enthusiastic part of a community that will stay true to God’s word. I am home.

Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

It was a bright, beautiful day. We candidates sat up front with our families and sponsors. The Rite of Reception took place after the Homily and included the Sacrament of Confirmation for those of us who were not already confirmed (that was most of us, including me). Father Paul prayed for each of us with his hands placed upon our heads and anointed us with oil that we may receive the Holy Spirit. Through this simple and touching ceremony we each began our Catholic lives.

The normal Mass continues with the Liturgy of the Eucharist for everyone, including (at last!) us newly confirmed. I chose to receive Communion under both forms, although it is equally valid to receive only one. It is proper to bow in the presence of our Lord as you approach to receive Communion. This is normally done as the person in front of you receives the Eucharist and was certainly my intention. I had carefully gone over this in my head. As things worked out, when I approached no one was in front of me and in my excitement and nervousness I forgot to bow. The respect was 100% in my heart, but I did not receive the sacrament completely as I had intended. We are so new!

After Mass the newly confirmed joined the exit procession and headed to the PLC. It was Donut Sunday, so there were donuts, bagels, coffee, juice, milk, etc. plus a cake in our honor. We all enjoyed this reception and the chance to talk with family and friends. During the months in RCIA, attending Mass, various events, Men’s Fellowship, etc. I made many new friends.

There were other memorable moments too. The applause that welcomed us, friends gently touching my shoulder as they passed for Communion, a surreptitious “thumbs up,” and big smiles all stand out. I did not discover one particularly touching part until I was at home. In the envelope with my confirmation certificate were 2 handmade, personal welcomes from children in our youth classes. Crosses, stars and other adornments decorated them with “George, U Rock!,” “Keep Working!,” “Good Luck!,” “Stay Strong” and signed by the kids. Such a perfect welcome.

No rush, take your time

No Rush Take Your Time

I think a lot of us get so used to the concept of our (for lack of a better word) “time-frame” that we are fine with where we are. Some things could be a little better – we think about a newer car, more job security, or a bigger television. In general though, everything is fine.

Really OK. Not bad. Fine. Fine although we do not feel close to God. Fine although we place so much above Him, such as our job, sports, our passion for our political party, or even our favorite vice (which is not a sin at all in our personal theology).

Yup, mighty happy are we with our lives. If we think about that religious stuff, we know we can deal with it later. There are so many demands on us and so much we are interested in that this just isn’t the right time to deal with it. We have to keep our priorities straight. Going to church occasionally will suffice for now.

Consider it logically. What is the expected lifespan for our demographic? We should be able to make a statistically valid calculation on how much time we have left. We may feel slightly guilty ignoring God, but we can have fun now and get our act together later. There is time. We can have our cake and eat it too (whatever that means!).

Or maybe not. Deep in our hearts, we are uneasy. We do not know the time or place of our death. We do not like to think about it. Maybe it will be far in the future. Maybe it is tomorrow. One thing is for sure – after every hour of every day, we are one hour closer to it. A lot of hours have passed already. The only thing unknown to us is the exact time remaining on our clock.

Consider that many of us have life insurance. Why? For that same reason we can not wait until later to get serious about our relationship with God. This is the “time is running out” reason to get our act together.

Another reason, beyond not gambling on our lifespan, is true happiness right now — living as God commanded, loving Him and one another. Freed from the slavery of sin, life can be happy and considerably less complicated. It is in no way a burden, but quite the opposite. Sure, this does not please Satan, and he will continue to tempt us. With God’s help we can beat him, should we only care to try.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Each of us is living an incomplete life story. Early chapters, or even the current chapter, may chronicle lives far from God. The final chapter is not yet written and is still up to us.

The final paragraph of this post is this 2 minute video…