Tag Archive | Conversion

. . .as we forgive those who trespass against us.

From infancy on, anger is a constant threat that can damage each one of us in emotional, physical, and spiritual ways. Few learn how to handle it in a healthy manner and so our society suffers because of anger issues. Retaliation only ramps up the hostility while ignoring the issue turns the victim into a neurotic door mat. Today’s news, conversations with neighbors, and reports from our childrendreamstime_xl_22824210 will again be filled with episodes of aggression,antagonism, opposition, intimidation, and anger.

No wonder God insisted on that “Forgiveness Clause” in the Lord’s Prayer that nearly all Christians memorize as children and repeat daily. It ties our own forgiveness from Him to the extent of our willingness to forgive the ones who hurt us. May each of us who claim to be a Little Christ take that clause seriously, learn how to forgive instead of stuffing anger down below our conscious level, and truly forgive others no matter how often or how seriously they hurt us.

“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Have Thine Own Way, Lord

“Thou Art The Potter, I Am The Clay”

I couldn’t quite figure out the look on their faces as I opened the door for my parent’s friends, Frank and Lexi. So, shy seven-year-old that I was, I silently escorted them to the kitchen where my mother was cleaning up after supper. I retreated to my room to live again in the fantasy world of the latest library book.

After eagerly finishing yet another Bobbsey Twin mystery, I realized no one had scolded me for staying up too late. So I ventured back to the adult world to see what they were up to.

There they stood, almost in a circle. All were silent except my little brother whose latest accomplishment was a joyful “Da Da” that he was practicing confidently and continuously. Everyone else now shared that same somber look that Frank and Lexi had brought in the front door.

Instantly, I knew. “Daddy died, didn’t he?” No one said a word, but looking at the tears, I knew that I was right.

He had died in a fiery plane crash that afternoon. It shouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t his plane; he wasn’t flying it. He had merely gone along for the ride. Another flight instructor had just repaired a small single engine Piper Cub and needed to test it before his next student took it up for a lesson. They identified the two young fathers by the flight records from the airport. There wasn’t enough left of the bodies.

I stood with the grieving adults for a few minutes trying to absorb the news. When they began making lists and phone calls, I slipped back to the comfort of my own room to cry alone. We had just won World War II and now everything was supposed to be okay. How could God have made such a mistake? Wasn’t He paying attention?

Just 11 months earlier, He had taken away my beloved grandfather. But Granddaddy suffered from heart trouble and had been sick several months. Much as I missed his gentle hug and courtly manners, I could understand that he was old and had earned the right to go to heaven for a rest. All through the war he had sat silently praying during daily newscasts by H.V. Kaltenborn and Gabriel Heatter. He had lived to see his native England spared, celebrated V-E day in May, and then clung to life until victory over Japan was assured. Two days later, with his work done, he went home to be with the Lord.

But Daddy was only 28 years old. He had three children to care for. He wasn’t supposed to die. They told me that God loved me. How could He do this to me twice in one year?

I talked to God a lot about it, angrily, pleadingly, and finally, submissively. When none of the adults was around, I would sit at the piano, pick out the tune, and sing “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” and offer my life to Him again and again. I considered myself one of His even though I hadn’t been baptized yet. No one could help ease the pain, but I turned to God because I had memorized that verse in Matthew that says, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I didn’t know how or when I would find comfort, but the Bible offered the only hope I could find.

My mother and grandmother were devout Southern Baptists who accepted only believers’ baptism. I had wanted to be baptized and “officially” a Christian for as long as I could remember. But to get to that point, one had to go to the front of the church during an altar call, cry because of your sins, and write on a card that you wanted to be baptized. I really wanted to do all of that. I knew that I mustn’t “deny Him before man” and that I must stand up for my faith. But it took me a couple more anguished years to work up the courage to walk down the long church aisle all alone and make my profession of faith.

We descended from a long line of Protestants who took religion seriously. Church work, prayer, and attendance at the three major church services every week were part of the family heritage, if not the genetic code. And we continued the pattern with even more fervor after that fateful day in July 1946.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Part 2

“Mold me and make me after Thy will”

There has been a longstanding joke in the South that every loving Southern Baptist parent prays that his children will grow up and become successful enough to join the Episcopal church. To the casual observer, my conversion to the Episcopal church certainly fit that paradigm.

After my father’s death, my mother took a crash course in shorthand and typing so she could get a job, worked to pay off the business debts associated with my father’s nascent Flight Training School, then put herself through college while rearing us three children.

Each of us, in turn, worked and earned scholarships to complete our college education. Eight months after graduation, I married my knight in shining armor and began to live the Great American Dream of Success and Happiness with him.

I had earnestly prayed that God would preserve me from the temptation of falling in love with a Catholic and was quite relieved when the man of my dreams turned out to be a fellow Southern Baptist from South Carolina. I gladly moved east, away from my family in Texas, and tried to become his perfect “help-meet.”

The most wonderful part was mothering our four children. No feminist has ever shown me any project that is more challenging, exhilarating, or rewarding than nurturing your own children. I relished every year of it. Of necessity, I had been a latchkey kid a whole generation before the term was invented. Every day that I had come home from school to an empty house, I swore that somehow, someway, I would be there for my own children.

Being a helpmeet also meant refinishing furniture, making curtains, cooking gourmet meals, befriending the neighbors, and volunteering to improve the community. As a couple, we eagerly participated in each church we joined, serving as Sunday School teachers, committee chairmen and prayer group leaders. As we moved “up the ladder” financially and socially, we also began to entertain more frequently and more lavishly.

I certainly thought of the many stylish parties we could have the first time I saw The House on Valley Road. Its elegance took my breath away. Architectural details like solid mahogany paneling in the library, Waterford chandeliers, triple solid brass hinges on every door, custom-milled windows and woodwork, and twelve foot ceilings were flourishes that I had never dared to dream of owning. As I mentally measured the rooms, I couldn’t help but contrast it with the houses of my youth, including the one-room shack that had lacked indoor plumbing.

I wanted it so much I could hardly relax until we paid our earnest money and signed a sales contract. Yet, I was afraid of my intense desire. On the morning of the closing I prayed that it would not become an idol to us and that God would use our family and our house to be a witness to him in the new community. In my arrogance, I somehow thought that God would be pleased that a family of sincere Christians lived in the most beautiful home in the county.

With the home came a move to another town and to the Episcopal Church. But it wasn’t just a desire for status or a chance to get to know the “movers and shakers” of the community better that drew me there. It was the liturgy.

After attending one service, I knew that this was what I wanted and had wanted for a long time without knowing what to ask for. The solemn procession, the skillfully written order of service, the music, the rituals, and the Eucharist transformed Sunday morning services into a divine appointment. It was as if I suddenly had permission to enjoy beauty for its own sake, that it was Godly, not frivolous. I had grown up relishing the earnest preaching from evangelicals. As an adult, I had reveled in the exuberance of a Pentecostal church. But here, in this service, I felt like I glimpsed heaven itself.

We took the Christian formation classes and quickly became leaders in the Episcopal parish, eventually serving in almost every possible capacity. I learned to appreciate the gentle discipline inherent in the church calendar. I gradually relaxed and began to value the theology. Instead of militantly being on guard to “promote the faith,” I learned to appreciate God’s mercy – and my own need to call upon God for mercy every day. We parishioners supported each other emotionally and spiritually while we fervently prayed for our church leaders to come in from left field and return to the basics of faith. In fact, when the media drumbeat reached a crescendo for the leadership in the Catholic Church to liberalize its views during John Paul II’s visit in 1993, we jocularly suggested among ourselves that perhaps all the liberal Catholics should join the Episcopal church and all of us conservative Episcopalians should become Catholic. Yet none of us made a move.

But my life in Camelot ended several years before World Youth Day in Denver.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Part 3

“Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!”

I groggily became aware of bright lights everywhere; slowly the three green clad figures came into focus. My surgeon walked over and asked, “Do you know what we had to do?”

I then noticed the burning circle where my right breast used to be. Yes, once again I knew the bad news without being told. Two more surgeries within the next nine weeks marked a second mastectomy and a failed reconstruction attempt. These were just punctuation marks in a list of tragedies that had plagued me for the last several years.

It had started Christmas of 1983 when my “knight” began to side with the dragon, instead of with our four children and me. We all tried to smooth out the tattered relationship, but a phone call from a stranger revealed the real problem, another woman.

Rather than angry confrontations, I went the self-improvement route – new diet, new clothes, new make-up, new hair-do, new attentiveness, new passion, and new marital counseling.

I’ve often said that if I were to write about that hapless period of my life, it would be, not a book, but a multi-volume soap opera where I was the embarrassed and unwilling star. Incident after troublesome incident piled up on an almost daily basis. First, I put my finger in the dike, then my whole body, until finally the dyke broke and I was swept away like flotsam and jetsam to a world with new realities and new rules.

I could frame my life in regular two year cycles for awhile: two years to try to save my marriage, two years to wait for a civil trial, two years to obtain the meager settlement allotted to me, two years to try to find a new pattern for living, two years to battle cancer and its financial burden without insurance. And even more years passed before I began to find a new place for myself in society.

In my experience everyone who gave his or her Christian testimony always came through any trial within a defined period of time and with at least some spiritual victory to claim at the end. But as the years rolled on, I could find neither an end nor a victory.

In God’s mercy, there is no time frame for the book of Job, so he became my closest friend as I read and re-read that book searching for some answer or some promise of resolution. Like Job, I felt rejected and accursed by God and I, too, enjoyed the comfort of well meaning friends.

Like Job, I frequently argued with God over the way He was treating one of His best (in my own somewhat arrogant eyes) friends. In frustration and anger I even threw pillows at the ceiling one night as I cried in bed. “Take that and that!” The whole scene seems so ludicrous now; I must have given all the heavenly hosts a really good laugh. I kept complaining that I couldn’t go on, that He demanded too much, that life wasn’t worth living. But I could not find a way out.

The worst part was the loss of my dreams. One day I was financially and socially secure, working toward apparently godly goals for my family and myself. Then I unwittingly found myself with no husband, no security, no place in society, no goals beyond mere survival, no beautiful home, and no hope. I couldn’t even find a real job to pay for groceries.

I considered my experience of rearing four children, running a complicated household, organizing charities, and creating charitable events as least as demanding as running a successful small business. But sixty-seven different employers who needed help refused to allow me to show them what a conscientious and intelligent worker I was. From 1986 to 1998, I could find only occasional odd jobs. In materialistic America therefore, I had no identity and no “raison d’ être.”

My friends got tired of bring sympathetic and I got tired of being plucky. Suffering is a scandal to us Americans. We are quite willing to help each other out if problems can be fixed fairly rapidly. But affliction over long periods of time frustrates us.

Tacitly, if not theologically, many American Protestants have adopted the idea that earthly success illustrates God’s favor. It’s not really suitable to actually be a victim or a failure unless, at some point, you emerge as a hero. Au contraire, a little sleight of hand, a little manipulation, a little winking of the eye is not only sometimes acceptable, it’s almost a proof of righteous intelligence. Surely those hapless victims deserve their fate somehow, while successful people have certainly earned whatever advantages they’ve managed to grab for themselves.

As the popular song suggests, we want to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again toward the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are allowed to stumble along the way, but we must become successful. As months of picking myself up stretched into years of dusting myself off and countless failures at starting all over again, I began to wonder what was wrong with me. How could I be such a failure when I tried so hard? I even wrote an essay describing my (and other rejected wives’) plight that won first place in a national professional writers contest. However, no one would publish it because there was no happy ending or resolution. I could not find the way out of the financial, social, and emotional morass for myself, much less describe the path for others.

The problem wasn’t just that I had suffered, but that it appeared so random, so useless and so meaningless. As Viktor Frankl wrote from a Nazi death camp:

Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain, but rather to see a

            meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to

            be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.

I didn’t learn any great spiritual nuggets of truth. Nor did I come to a great awakening to the need for repentance although my friends, enemies, and family no doubt would love to show me some blind spots that I should work on. My suffering certainly didn’t help proclaim the gospel. In fact, my experiences probably caused many to either doubt that God was loving and powerful or that I was really a Christian. There was no result to allow me to believe that any good whatsoever came out of it.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Part 4

“Touch me and heal me, Savior divine”

Although I marvel at the stories of converts who actually studied and wrestled their way into the Catholic Church, my conversion was pure grace. God was so gracious and so gentle that I was unconscious of the direction I was headed until a month before I decided to call a priest to inquire about the process. Almost imperceptibly through the years all the stumbling blocks about the Catholic faith that I had inherited from evangelical Protestantism and from not knowing any Catholics fell by the wayside.

There wasn’t even a Catholic mission in my Protestant hometown. Neither Catholics, nor Catholic churches appeared on my radar screen until I was in college. Then I briefly dated a couple while fervently, but ineffectually, praying they would come to “know the Lord Jesus Christ as their savior” and join a Protestant church. Not until I was involved in the Charismatic Renewal did I understand that Catholics were actually Christians too.

Looking back, it was probably the Old Testament class I took in high school that laid the foundation for my eventual entry into the Church. There the elegant, patrician Mrs. Reuben Schmidt introduced me to the Jews and to the riches of the Old Testament in one of the most rigorous courses I’ve ever taken. Her attention to detail coupled with her enthusiasm laid the groundwork for my avocation of studying the Jewish heritage of our Christian faith.

She taught the foreshadowing of the Messiah in the prophets, the exodus, the tabernacle, the festivals, and the Jewish history. We also gained an appreciation of theocracy, a nation where God rules. By extrapolation it seemed that right there was a course in “How to Live Successfully” if one correctly applied the concepts in the societal laws to present day situations.

As I studied in the Episcopal Church, I discovered that the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist had developed from the Jewish worship service and the last Passover Seder that Jesus celebrated with His disciples. I also learned about the real presence of Jesus in the wafer and the wine, although many Episcopalians do not accept that tenet of the faith.

The first time that I heard Mary referred to as the Second Eve, years of study popped into perspective and I understood why she had been a part of salvation history too. Eve was immaculately conceived also, but she said, “Non serviam,” while Mary said, “Fiat voluntas tuas.” Later parallels with Mary and the Ark of the Covenant and Mary and the role of the queen mother made perfect sense because I already had the background. I only wondered why more Protestants had not seen the parallels.

Even the title “Co-Redemptrix” ceased to rankle when I realized that all of us are, or desire to be, co-redeemers also. No, God doesn’t need our help; Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient. We don’t volunteer to crawl upon a cross, but we do hope that our prayers and witness will help pave the way for others’ entry into the Kingdom of God.

Through my interest in Judaism, I first understood the joy and beauty of marital sex in a rhythmic style. Even today observant Jews honor the “whites and the reds.” Devout women go through a purification rite in preparation for a return to the marital embrace after days of abstinence. The forced periods apart, according to the Rabbis, develop the spousal relationship and make the conjugal act more pleasurable. It is contrary to everything our hedonistic society thinks makes for “good sex.” But it works. Both Jews and Catholics who practice this lifestyle report greater satisfaction with their marriage than those who don’t.

As a casualty of a contraceptive marriage, I can only attest to what doesn’t work. After my divorce, I read a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal from a Catholic layman who defended Humanae Vitae and Pope Paul VI’s teaching. I knew that this was another way the Catholics got it right. They had applied a concept of Old Testament theocracy to one more area of living life God’s way. I can only weep for the married Catholics who miss out on the joy of obedience.

Although those usual barriers to the Catholic faith were behind me, the immediate reason for reconciliation with the Church was that there was nowhere else to go. I had moved away from my old Episcopal parish and neither of the ones in the new town seemed to fit. I visited some non-liturgical churches in the area, but decided I couldn’t live without the Mass. So that left only the nearby Catholic Church.

I hesitated for several months, but once I made the decision to leave Protestantism behind, all heaven broke loose. I left the steerage compartment of the ocean liner where I had lived on crackers and cheese and entered the Captain’s dining room where table after table was crowded with delightful gourmet treats to feed the soul.

The Catholic teaching on suffering was for me the most rewarding aspect of reconciliation, one of the many lavish spreads for believers. The Catholic Church’s doctrine brought meaning to my suffering and lifted an intolerable burden from my life.

Suffering is no anomaly to true Catholics; they have learned to rejoice in it just as the New Testament teaches. Instead of turning away from it, they use it. “Offer it up,” they shout, “Use it for good.” Like St. Paul in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” they offer their suffering to God along with their prayers and their tithes.

What a joy it was to find both the theology and the people who affirmed that my life had not been some tragic mistake, especially not one I had subconsciously engineered. No. It could be an offering of love acceptable to God – a way to bring healing to the world. No longer secretly embarrassed at my own failures, I could now ask God to take those years of unmitigated, blind pain and use it for His purposes. What a relief! What bliss!

For a Catholic, life here is the atrium of heaven. Like St. Paul in I Corinthians 13:12, now we can only see “as through a glass darkly,” but we do see. We do understand that life on earth is but a preparation for our ultimate goal, our ultimate joy. Success during our lifetime is meaningless compared to what lies before us. Both failures and triumphs are but opportunities to bring God’s purposes into fruition.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord Part 5

“’Till all shall see Christ only, always, living in me.”

I remain ever grateful for my Christian heritage and the godly examples my Protestant family and friends set for me. Under their tutelage, I received a thorough grounding in scripture, developed a desire to please God, learned the necessity of maintaining a tender conscience, and discovered the basics of Christianity such as the blood of Jesus, God’s unfathomable love, the efficacy of prayer, the necessity for repentance and the certain knowledge that I will answer to God for every action and decision in my life.

Yet, I now see that the Catholic Church holds the fullness of revelation. As a Protestant, I kept thinking that there had to be more — more help, more guidance, more understanding, more ‘something’ from God. Often the services, Bible studies, and prayer groups I attended left me spiritually hungry rather than satisfied. Now, I find that the answer is in the Catholic Church. We Protestants too often ignored the gifts God has provided for us through such treasures as: the Real Presence, the communion of saints, the Magisterium, the novenas, the emphasis on developing virtue, the sacraments and the sacramentals. Like a Jew who accepts the Messiah sees himself as a completed Jew, I see myself now as a completed Christian.

Some of the issues that friends outside the Catholic Church have raised in conversation about my reconciliation (in no particular order) are:

  1. Salvation: As a good charismatic Baptist-Episcopalian, I had been thoroughly versed in the basic tenet of the Protestant Reformation — justification by faith.

But I had worried for years about “cheap grace.” Too many “good” Protestants live as though it didn’t matter how they acted after they have made a profession of faith. Not that they became notorious sinners, but that they easily rationalize this action or that decision. This tenet has led to many fervent converts who quickly lose their desire to make Jesus the absolute Boss of their lives.

The book of James very clearly states that faith without works is dead and that we exhibit our faith by our works. Romans 2:7 mentions that we must persevere in well doing if we want to reap eternal life. Galatians 6:6-10 also reinforces that concept. And Philippians 2:12 talks about working out our salvation in fear and trembling.

In less theological terms, “works” is merely putting your money where your mouth is.

Yes, we are saved by grace, not by our own merits. But even our faith is a gift of grace from God, as well as the desire to do good works to bring honor to Him. So the answer is that grace from God is the means of our salvation, but that both faith and works are necessary elements in salvation. “Sola fide” is not the answer, just as the Catholic Church has stated through the years.

2. The foundation of truth: Again, the Protestant Reformation stands on the principle of “Sola Scriptura.” However, therein lies an inherent inconsistency. Neither the term nor the principle is to be found in any Biblical text. A non- Scriptural doctrine that says only Scriptural doctrines can be authentic contradicts itself.

 Baptists, like the Jews, even like to call themselves the “People of the Book.” But now I see that while the Bible is true and can be relied upon as written by God Himself in the form of the Holy Spirit inspiring men to write, it cannot stand alone as the foundation of truth. In II Thessalonians 2:15, we read, “So, then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”

Even Baptists accept and believe things, the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, that are not stated explicitly in the Bible. So they indirectly admit that there are foundational truths that have been handed down by word of mouth as well as truth written and accepted into the canon.

None of the truths or traditions accepted by the Catholic Church by word of mouth from the Apostles contradicts the written Word; they merely enhance it.

  1. Baptism: Even after my entry into the Episcopal Church, I, true to my early Christian education, privately believed that baptism should be for believers only, not children.

But as I studied the Jewish roots of Christianity, it dawned on me that children, at eight days of age, became members of the First Covenant by an act of their parents. The Jews circumcised their sons without the baby’s approval or consent. Later they instructed them in the faith and formally admitted them as members of the congregation at a Bar Mitzvah, about age 12 or 13.

Early Christians adapted the same process, except the sign of the New Covenant was baptism, not circumcision. If they were adults, they experienced a Believer’s baptism, as in Acts 8:36-39 when Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. If there were children in the family, they were baptized at the same time as their parents. This is implied, not explicitly stated, in passages such as Acts 16:15 (And when she [Lydia] was baptized, with her household, she besought us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.) Like the Jews, the church then trained these children in the faith and held a Confirmation service to admit them into full membership at about 12 or 13.

The question is, if children were admitted into the Old Covenant by an act of faith on the part of their parents, why would it be any different for the New Covenant? And if it is to be different, why do the scriptures not explicitly state that only believers can be baptized?

Besides, our American culture is infused with a fairly new Lone Ranger mentality that glorifies the individual apart from the group. I often wonder if the tenet of Believer’s Baptism would flourish in any other society. The Jewish way of life has always emphasized the family and God’s dealing with the family as a whole. (Of course, throughout the Old Testament there was always a special concern for anyone who happened to be really alone – “the stranger in your midst.”)

  1. The Lord’s Supper: I, like many Episcopalians, have long understood that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ when blessed at the altar. So this was not a stumbling block for me. In fact, I am delighted to be in a church that revels in this truth, instead of merely mentioning it in confirmation class.

But for those of you to whom this is new, let me encourage you to re-read John 6:41-59. There Jesus definitely states, to the dismay of many Jews who had been trained to avoid eating or drinking the blood of any animal because of the Old Testament laws, that His disciples would eat His flesh and drink His blood.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh…Truly, truly, I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

Those four strong statements can only point to the reality of transubstantiation. Jesus repeats the words for emphasis rather than “explaining them away.” (By the way, He only said, “You must be born again,” once.) Furthermore, they emphasize the importance of communion as a vital part of the Christian life, not just a once-a- quarter reminder of Christ’s death.

Later in the gospels, when Jesus celebrates His last Passover Seder with His disciples, he changes the liturgy of the Seder to tell them that the unleavened bread and the wine of the Seder would now become the flesh and blood of the New Covenant. In Matthew 26:26-28 we read: Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins….”

The first Passover in Egypt required the lamb to be slain; the blood sprinkled for the household with a hyssop branch, and the paschal lamb had to be eaten by those who would be saved. Couple that with Jesus’ strong statements about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, to begin to understand the partaking of Jesus’ body and blood and becoming one with Him. He is our Pascal Lamb. Understanding this, you gain a whole new desire for partaking of the Eucharist as often as possible.

Celebrating salvation through the administration of the Eucharist became the chief method of worship in the early church. Indeed, it also appears to be the chief form of worship in heaven; both worship scenes in Isaiah and St. John’s Revelation sound a lot like the Mass in the church.

  1. Unity in the Church: I have been concerned, as has every Christian, about the major divisions in the Protestant churches. When I read Jesus’ prayer for His followers (…that they may be one, even as we are one. John 17:11b), I can’t help but feel sorry and guilty because the church is so divided that we mar our witness to unbelievers. While claiming to have access to ultimate Truth, the many contradictory variations of Christian practice belie our assertions. To list all of the official Protestant denominations here in the United States takes two to three hundred printed pages. Then there are all the house-church groups that form and meet without submitting to any authority.

And every Protestant friend I have is somewhat dissatisfied with his church. Many friends seek daily for a new church home. But, like me, they look everywhere except in the Catholic Church. I assure you, that finally, after a lifetime of seeking God, I can now say that I have found a home in the Catholic Church. Could it be that Jesus wants us all to belong to the one great Church He authorized during His time on earth?

  1. Authority: We all know how Protestants interpret Matthew 16:18-19 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” But have you ever considered that it means just what it says?

In the Old Covenant the rabbis had the authority and obligation to bind and loose in regards to Halakah for the community where they served. So giving this authority in the New Covenant primarily to Peter just continues the same concept, but in regards to the things Jesus has taught His disciples while on earth.

Before the crucifixion, Jesus prayed especially for Peter. After the resurrection, He specifically told Peter to “feed my sheep.” Peter was obviously a leader in the first church. He led the sermon on the First Pentecost in the New Covenant, for example. If Jesus Himself said that the foundation of the church would rest on him and his successors, why not take the scripture at face value? Don’t you think that in spite of human frailty, God would protect His church just as Jesus promised? Why not through a succession of church leaders beginning with the one He chose Himself?

Yes, there have been Popes that no one is proud of, just as many Protestant leaders bring shame to the name of Christ. Luther himself was sinfully prejudiced against the Jews, for example. But Protestants still claim that Jesus is Lord, even when the people they put their faith in fail. Can they not allow the same generosity of spirit toward the Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests who have failed? In spite of personal failures of some members, the Catholic Church has guarded steadfastly the major tenets of the faith for the last two thousand years.

We all know what happens when a little child has too much freedom. He becomes almost impossible to live with because he is too demanding and never happy or satisfied with anything. He also becomes insecure, because deep in his being he knows that he has too many decisions resting on his little shoulders. It’s more than he can bear, even though he outwardly demands to have his way. Intelligent, caring parents understand this and provide limits to his choices in relation to his age. For example, they tell him when to sleep and where, what and when to eat, what to wear, when to be quiet and when he can play loudly with abandon.

Would not our dear Heavenly Father give us untutored Gentiles similar earthly guidance about living out the Kingdom life here on earth?

 Some Protestants act like little spoiled children who have been given too much freedom when it comes to spiritual matters. They tend to pick and choose what they want to believe and what kind of authority they will submit to and under what circumstances. And when they run into someone who doesn’t agree with them, they tend to want to go elsewhere or else form a new group of “real” believers. Some have become eternal seekers, looking always for spiritual highs to maintain their faith, ignoring the necessity of nitty gritty Christian discipline and submission. But I think everyone is unhappy with this situation at some level of consciousness, even though they might declare otherwise

What I see in the Catholic Church is the spiritual authority and discipline to meet genuine spiritual needs. No, no individual or group is perfect. But here at last, I have found what I can submit to in full faith that God can bless my obedience. I have come home.

I could compare my Christian walk to directing an orchestra. I have been the conductor, directing the instruments to play music for everyone who passes by my life. At first I only had three instruments to conduct: the piano, trumpets, and bassoons. I often achieved strikingly beautiful movements. The piano carried the sweet melodies of Jesus’ life; the trumpets sounded the clarion call for repentance and the bassoons trumpeted visions of God’s judgment. When passers-by complained that the music was occasionally shrill or strident, I shrugged and replied that God was beautiful whether our ears could understand His goodness or not.

Later, as I allowed the Holy Spirit to be more active in my life through the Charismatic renewal, I found a whole section of violins that added sublime melodies and counter melodies that spotlighted the message in the other instruments. They brought a joy and coherence my music had not exhibited before. Then I discovered liturgy – the worship that we people offer to God – in the Episcopal Church. I loved having the clarinets’ haunting refrains from early Christian worship. And the drums added structure to my music, making it better than ever.

But in the Catholic Church I found all the instruments that make up a full orchestra. Their understanding of the community of saints completed my string section with violas, bass viols, and cellos. Learning more about the Virgin Mary, brought in the harp that seems to bring heaven to earth. Their tubas, counter bassoons, French horns, flutes, cornets, and even, occasionally, cymbals, enriched every song played by the first orchestra pieces. And making music is easier than ever before.

The song I’m playing is still the simple message of the gospel, so clear that it touches the lives of the simplest buffoons. Yet it is so rich that in two thousand years of dedicated human effort we have not yet begun to explore the depths of it.

Footnote: Have Thine Own Way, Lord

1. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.

Mold me and make me after Thy will,

While I am waiting, yielded and still.

2. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Search me and try me, Master, today!

Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,

As in Thy presence humbly I bow.

3.  Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!

Power, all power, surely is Thine!

Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.

4. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Hold o’er my being absolute sway!

Fill with Thy Spirit ’till all shall see

Christ only, always, living in me.

 Adelaide A. Pollard, 1907