Any Good One Liners?

May 27, 2009

In my evangelical days, I always heard to “have your testimony ready” to share with unbelievers. More often, in the Catholic realm, they tell you to be ready to defend your faith. Only a slight difference, emphasis shifted. In that spirit, I’m now on a hunt for a good one liner to explain myself once I do take the plunge and make it public with my family and the rest of my friends. I have to ask, does anybody have any good ones?? And can I plagiarize?

I know my family in particular will only listen to the first sentence I say before they begin to compose their testimonial sermon in response. They have my best interests at heart, are concerned, and want to urge me in the “right” direction. I don’t really mind so much, but it makes them rather poor listeners. So the posed question will be: “Why are you becoming Catholic?” and my pondered responses are:

  • Because I have to follow God’s will in my life. (leaves room for doubt that I believe these things?)
  • Because I’m convinced the Catholic Church is Christ’s church continued through apostolic succession. (maybe too long for their attention span?)
  • Because I believe they have the truth. (implies I believe my family does not have the truth?)
  • Because the Catholic Church is where I can best become like Christ. (shrug)

Chris’s favorite suggestion:

  • Because Catholicism is right, and Protestantism is wrong.

Everything sounds hokey or aggressive. I just don’t know.

When my dad recently asked Chris why he was Catholic, Chris had the chance to share with him about the Eucharist, and the Catholic view of John 6. He told him the Catholic interpretation makes more sense to him, refraining from using words like “right” and “wrong” at this point. My dad responded with a “Well, if it’s not in the Bible, I don’t believe in it.”

*sigh*

Maybe I’m expecting a flood when there will be a light drizzle. Either way, I want to be prepared.


The Mystery of the Resurrection

May 21, 2009

Alright, maybe I can’t get babies and a puppy under control enough to blog more often right now! But that’s okay… right? So, the mystery of the Resurrection:

Right now, I’m not really talking about Christ’s resurrection, but the resurrection of the saints. It’s a strange thing. I remember in my Protestant days there wasn’t a heck of a lot of talk about our physical resurrection. We more heard about heaven and worshiping in the presence of God, clouds and music, that sort of thing. I don’t know if I remember it this way because of my muddled and childish view of things or if Protestants really ignore the physical resurrection as some kind of side-note in the Bible. In my adult days, I can’t remember any “hope of the resurrection” sermons. But I remember being afraid of heaven when I was little. Weird reaction to people’s attempted description of paradise, I know. But I thought everyone’s formless spirits all lined up singing, which was my child-like view of worship, sounded boring. Now I realize there is a lot more to worship than just singing. To love our God, in His perfection, is to worship Him. That relationship with God, to perfectly know and be known, will fulfill the godly nature of our Earthly desires. Nothing bad about that.

Heaven is one thing I can accept now, but what about our physical bodies, raised from the dead, like Lazarus, glorified like Christ’s? Now that’s something else entirely. I feel like there’s some deep truth hidden behind the resurrection, and the Eucharist, and Christ’s words “It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” It’s out of my grasp, but I can feel it, a mystery in the hope of Christians. Why is that our hope? Why isn’t heaven our final goal?

And why don’t Protestants talk about it that much, and instead focus on going to heaven? After reading the wiki-page on the resurrection of the dead, and the section on the modern “de-emphasis”, I’ve decided I’m not crazy! Since the 17th century, Protestants have focused more on souls going to heaven instead of the hope of the resurrection. The author of the wiki-page offers some suggestions as to the cause:

  • Interviewed by Time in 2008 senior Anglican bishop and theologian N.T. Wright spoke of “the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk about their ‘souls going to Heaven,'” adding: “I’ve often heard people say, ‘I’m going to heaven soon, and I won’t need this stupid body there, thank goodness.’ That’s a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.”
  • Early church fathers defended the resurrection of the dead against the pagan belief that the immortal soul went to heaven immediately after death.
  • Dartigues has observed that especially “from the 17th to the 19th century, the language of popular piety no longer evoked the resurrection of the soul but everlasting life.

Some time ago, I read Augustine’s homily on John 6, where Christ says “It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” He compares these words to the words in 1 Corinthians 8:1 “Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies.” Augustine points out that this doesn’t mean knowledge is useless, but that without love it is useless. Likewise, he says, when Christ says “It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” He doesn’t mean that flesh never profits, but that without the spirit, flesh profits nothing. Augustine explains this is how we must understand Christ to understand Him consistently after He has just commanded us to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and that we have no life in us unless we do. Seems rather obvious when he puts it like that, now, doesn’t it?

There’s a connection between the physical world and the spiritual world, in which physical things are moved by the spirit. Yet we can’t abandon the physical for that which moves it. Our ultimate goal is to exist as we were first created, body and spirit together. After the resurrection, we’ll be as we were intended, our glorified bodies in unity with our Father. All we can conclude is that Augustine is right, and flesh profits. We see it in the Eucharist, as Christ’s Body and Blood give us life. And now we see it in the resurrection, our goal. Personally, I’m glad. I can’t fathom God’s understanding of these things, but I love the works of His hands. I love the stars, the ocean, the fields, and a breeze on my skin after it’s been warmed by the sun. I love eating a good food prepared by a good cook, and waking up from a good nights sleep (though that’s a distant memory). Almost with some level of absurdity, I love Chris’s touch. It is the spirit that gives life, but I know at some level the physical moves the spiritual as well.

On Called to Communion, Brian Cross writes: “The interior is more important than the exterior. But, (and here is what so many people miss, and what gnostic Christianity misses entirely) the bodily and the external is what incites our affections to submit to God. The exterior moves the interior. Why? Precisely because we are humans, and not angels trapped in bodies. This is why it is connatural to us, says Aquinas, to proceed from the sensible (i.e. the physical, external, material) to the intelligible (i.e. the internal, the spiritual).”

This is exactly the train of thought that I’ve been on. The resurrection is pointless unless the physical matters, and gnostic Christianity, popular Protestantism, the evangelical traditions that have been thoughtlessly handed down to us, miss it entirely! They miss it in the sacraments, too, not realizing that God uses material things to move the spiritual. The spirit gives the flesh life, so the flesh profits! They miss it in worship, in reverence, in anything sacred itself. I posted before that I believe the Reformation destroyed the sacred, and this must be why. It’s a confusing turn in theology in which Protestants look solely to the spiritual realm, to the interior, for benefits. This must be why Protestants have all but abandoned the resurrection as well sacraments, sacrifice, and all things sacred. Basically any words beginning with “sacr”.

The dual nature of humanity is new to me. At least the importance and inextricable qualities of it are new to me. And as always, light is shed on issues I never expected with this new understanding. All these thoughts tumbling around my insufficient brain, and I keep hearing these words ringing in my ears: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

Interesting links:

Google book on the creed

Catholic view of the resurrection


I Am Changed

May 14, 2009

In a recent post, I mentioned that two of my best friends from college came to visit me for my birthday. One of them, my first roommate from freshman year, has been through some of the darkest moments of my life with me. She even moved out of the room we shared because of my emotional angst. Although most eighteen year olds can’t claim an overabundance of maturity, I was markedly insecure, emotionally unstable, and prone to “moods.” When I first came to college, I was avoiding church, for reasons explained here. I was also dating the first in a short line of bad boyfriends.

Arguably, any college freshman doesn’t know what they want or what their purpose in life is, and I was the epitome of such a neophyte. With relish, I displayed the infantile stereotypical female behavior as seen in P.S. I Love You. If this stereotype could talk, it would say:

“I don’t know what I want, but demand it from others, especially my significant other. Read my mind, though I don’t know my own. Cherish me to the extent that my every secret whimsical desire becomes your command. When you don’t comply, I will respond with withdrawn pouting fits or outright anger. I will try anything to satisfy this instinctual desire to be loved, including guilt and manipulation.”

The book Do You Think I’m Beautiful (highly recommended) brought much of these needs of mine to the forefront of my consciousness, but did nothing to change my behavior. Chris married me in this state. I peppered him with high expectations of romantic gifts and emotional sensitivity. Chris responded with a highly practical Northern Irish “Catch yourself on!” He’s not an overly romantic type, although he does show up spontaneously with flowers. Holidays aren’t much of an occasion for him and love letters are restricted to times of separation. His sacrifices for me are more on a practical level than an emotional one. For mother’s day, instead of a card, I got seven hours out of the house and dinner with my mom and a flower shopping trip.

When I told Chris I was pregnant only shortly after our engagement (unexpectedly, and yes, pre-marriage) he was on a plane and in the country in less than a week, facing the music. He was there rubbing my back to calm me during my vomitous morning sickness and seven months later marrying me, and eight months later in the horrifying birthing room (first time was rough!). He’s provided for me and my children, materially and spiritually. He’s fought me tooth and nail on issues like birth control and even getting a second car, because it’s not good for us no matter how much I want it. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a man like any other and has his good and bad moments. But in everything important, Chris has always been there for me, acting in love. He seeks my good instead of my desires.

Although I recognized this solid way in which Chris loved me, and married him for it, I wanted more. I wanted what I wanted. For the first year of our marriage and maybe some time after, I kept on with my “moods”. I would lament my sacrificed career. I displayed angst over my confining situation, the menial work, and lack of appreciation for it. If Chris didn’t respond sympathetically, I threw a fit. Sometimes I would sulk all day long if he didn’t instantly make me feel better. I wanted a house and a car, but we had to live with my parents for seven months until he got a work permit. Although we moved into an apartment within weeks of getting his new job, which was almost immediately after getting his permit for all the job hunting he had done, I tormented him with house hunting continuously for the next year.

Basically, I was trying to manipulate Chris to cater to my every subconscious whim, like a mind-reading puppy. You must understand that any failure of Chris’s to satisfy these desires of mine was not a short-coming on his part. It’s ridiculous for either partner in a marriage to put unrealistic expectations on their spouse and look for certain needs to be met by the other person, such as expecting the other person to make you happy. I think typical expectations put on husbands is that they be a warped Cary Grant role, manly and romantic, with a relentless need to make us women happy because they adore us so much. Unrealistic expectations of women tend to involve delusions of hyper-sex kitten status with mysterious allure and lack of need for brushing your hair or teeth in the morning. I’m less familiar with what men want from women, but I know they have different expectations and needs. The male version of Do You Think I’m Beautiful is Wild at Heart. Experts could explain that side better than I! But meeting these needs are not what marriage is about, and that’s not the way to have a successful relationship. My dad always told me you can’t change other people, you can only change the way you respond to them. And nobody can make you unhappy, only you can make yourself happy. Really all you can do is change your own behavior, and stop expecting fulfillment from a mere human.

Slowly, I began to change. I stopped throwing fits if I didn’t get my way. My moods started disappearing, giving way to a more stable acceptance of my daily grind. I started setting budget limits on birthday and Christmas gifts, far below my usual splurges. I satisfied myself with telling Chris what gifts I wanted instead of expecting him to read my mind. I began to value things that others didn’t recognize, things like family priorities and hard work done in obscurity. Suddenly, doing good for the sake of pleasing my God became important, for my sanctification and that of those around me. I focused more on the eternal value of what I do instead of the temporal value, much easier to do once you believe there is eternal value in what we do! With this change of values came a sense of security and peace. I don’t as much require someone to tell me what I’m doing is worthwhile, or need their approval and praise. I know what I’m about and why.

I don’t know when it started, but I know why. As time passed, I began to understand the Catholic Faith more. My entire world shifted off of my self and my desires as my understanding Catholicism helped me better understand what the imitation of Christ actually means. I grew closer to God in that I more desire His will rather than my own. I see Christ in those around me and want to serve them as if He’s standing there, my own Lord and savior. I remember first hearing Mother Teresa speak of seeing Christ in those she served and it sounded like some kind of backward nonsense to me. I had always heard we should be the light of Christ for others, not that they are that for us. Doesn’t that seem so backward now? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24) “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33) or “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Give up our selves. Give up our own perspective, our own desires, our own interpretation of the Bible, our own mission. Follow Christ, obey His Church, become His servant. I get it now, and it has changed me.

Oh, I’m still flawed. I have my days where I call Chris way too often at the office to whine about whiny babies. I have the hardest time seeing Christ in a three year old who far too often repeats “I want…” and “Why does it rain?” or “Why does Daddy have to go back to work?” without listening to the answers. It’s hard to take a servant’s attitude for a one year old who sits in his crib for an hour kicking his aquarium instead of sleeping. I snap and I yell. But now I hazard to call myself emotionally stable. My attitude has changed and my behavior is changing for the better. I’m nowhere near where I ought to be, but I can see a difference in myself and know what I’m working toward. I have peace.

My mom told me quite recently how she was proud to have a compassionate daughter like me, referring to how I treat those in need, the sick, and elderly. She said it seems to come naturally to me. It’s kind of funny, but it really doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I remember when I was young once, the hotels in the town we were visiting were full up, so we had to stay in the nursing home’s extra rooms. It caused me so much anxiety to be there that I got physically sick and was throwing up. Definitely not natural. But the way I see things is changing. I look at my 94 year old grandma, who’s frighteningly thin and has a hard time remembering us, and generally thinks all children are girls no matter how often she’s told otherwise, and she looks beautiful to me. I see her soul near the end of its journey on Earth and on the verge of passing on to meet our Lord, and I’m not afraid or repulsed anymore. She tells us how there’s nothing nicer than a family, and repeats how much she loves us, though she can’t remember exactly how I’m related to her, or how many children she has anymore. She remembers what matters. Looking at her, I realize I’m not as afraid of growing old anymore.

My friend from college noticed a change in me as well. During her visit, I told her how I’m so much happier and secure in what I’m doing now than I ever have been, and she can see it. She remembers my dark moments and sees them disappearing. She’s encouraging my Catholic conversion, though I don’t think she understands much of what I’m doing or why.

If someone wants proof of Catholicism, it’s here in the pudding. God gives us the grace to have faith, believe, and be changed, if we only let Him. I know not much we can say will change anyone’s mind, but I pray that God gives every unbeliever who reads this an open heart toward the Catholic faith, and gives believers encouragement in their faith.


The Catholic Heart

May 4, 2009

In my semi-long absence, I’ve lost my trains of thought. I planned to update my thoughts on Redeeming Love since finishing it. I have several posts about Calvin’s use of the Church Fathers percolating. There’s a lot I’ve planned to write, but here’s what’s been on my mind recently: the heart of the Catholic Faith is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and it’s beautiful.

What I mean is that the deep root of Catholicism is surrender to Christ. We are called to deny our selves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. (Matt 16:24,25) Seeking to be our own master is at the heart of our separation from God, and at the heart of reuniting us to Him is rejecting our own desires, submitting to God’s plan, and accepting His way for us in Christ. We are even called to submit to those in authority over us here on Earth, regardless of their behavior. Contrary to what Luther taught (see his bio), this includes those in authority over us in the Church here on Earth.

In the Catholic Faith, every belief, every practice, every prayer, is permeated with submission to God’s will. This is acted out in submission to Christ’s Church and His way for us here on Earth. It is a practical submission, whose efforts are not confined to the spiritual realm, nor are the commands to which we submit. Once the Catholic Church is recognized as Christ’s Church, the dogmas and practices of the Church are to be obeyed and believed as if Christ Himself is speaking to us. For the good Catholic, this includes attending mass every Sunday, believing in the Real Presence, going to confession and accepting penance, obeying your priest in matters of confidence and your bishop and Pope in matters of faith and morals. This includes not getting an abortion if you should find yourself inconveniently pregnant, or not giving into the temptation of homosexuality if that is present. The list goes on, but these are practical things that a faithful person may not always want to obey, but does, not for fear of men in an institution, but for love of our Lord and the desire to do His will instead of our own.

This submission carries over into the attitude that Catholics have in life. Remember when my manicurist asked if I was Catholic? It was because he recognized (or so I believe) my acceptance of God’s will in my family life and faith in His grace. The good Catholic surrenders control of their daily life to God, gladly accepts their calling, and does all work for the glory of God. If you need proof of this, consider the “Universal Call to Holiness”, Opus Dei, Josemaria Escriva, Thomas A. Kempis, Brother Lawrence, and so many others. Also, like in no other faith, Catholics can accept struggles along the way because they put value in it! Every thing is offered to the Lord, so that we may be united to Christ in our suffering, and so become co-heirs and share in His glory. There is merit in our actions, value in our suffering, and reward for faithfulness, unlike anything acknowledged by the Reformed faith and Protestant theologies.

Some may not have read about my ecclesiastic past, so I’ll briefly describe my parent’s Word of Faith beliefs. Besides believing that there is power in words, by virtue of speaking them, Word of Faith-ers also generally believe in “name it, claim it” or “health and wealth” theologies. My parents deny this sort of theology that demands what it wants of God, yet they still believe since we are adopted sons and daughters of God, Christ has already suffered all that we must suffer and God’s riches are our inheritance in this life. They believe prosperity and health are for the taking, freely distributed by God to those who have enough faith, all for the purpose of His glory and to win converts. Although the Word of Faith ideas that my parents adhere to are extreme, I watch them live out such a violent resistance against the struggles in life. I believe this resistance is characteristic of Protestant faith. They lose any benefit they should gain from their struggles and fall into despair, believing that they should overcome their sins and afflictions in this world and not the next. I so much desire for my parents to find peace in these things that I believe they can only find as Catholics.

Protestants may have good intentions to submit to God’s will, and although there are good Protestants who may seek His will in all that they do, the beliefs and actions of the faith are not helpful and in fact hinder growth in surrender to Christ. Consider the once saved, always saved idea. Not only does this lead people to believe that they should be immediately and permanently changed, it nullifies the value of any efforts on their part to change after salvation. The struggle with sin becomes a struggle to prove your salvation experience was real, instead of a process of working out your salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). On a side note, I was listening to a Protestant radio show a couple weeks ago and found myself listening to the Catholic “saved and being saved” message of justification. It seems there are plenty of non-denominational Protestants returning to Catholic ideas to avoid Reformed pitfalls.

Catholics are more equipped to live out the imitation of Christ and share in His suffering because of the Catholic view of ongoing salvation. Our struggles not only unite us to Christ in our suffering, but we also become co-redeemers with Christ, by God’s grace and through the merit and sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Every step matters, and like a faithful marriage which can’t be called faithful unless it is faithful every day until death, faithfulness to Christ throughout our entire lives is what we must strive for. With this perspective, it becomes delightful to submit to your calling in life, and valuable to bear burdens of sickness and frustration, that we may have been justified and are justified still. Even in their darkest struggles, the good Catholic can say, like Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Keep in mind that I’m talking about the good Catholics. Every religion will produce faithful followers and lazy followers. There are those who take their faith to heart and live out their beliefs. Then there are those who go through Sundays like most of us go through high school. All they were supposed to get out of it is lost, and they’re just happy to leave when the bell rings. The rules of any faith have a life of their own; it’s the personality of the institution, and it is seen in the best of the faithful. The form of Catholicism is seen in the Catholic saints. This is the heart of the Faith that I’m talking about.

The submissive Catholic heart is exemplified in one of her saints, Mother Teresa (obviously one of my favorites, and for this very reason). She experienced a call, in her early closeness to Jesus, to go and love the poor of India and to win souls for Jesus. She felt this call intensely and earnestly, but constantly sought the direction of her spiritual superiors – first her priest, then her bishop. In every step, she did her best to obey their advice, even in remaining silent and “forgetting” about her call for some time. I’ve since learned that this is a common Catholic test of the validity of a call in someone’s life. Those in authority test the spirit of those under them to see if they are obedient, the first sign that their call is from God. I can’t help thinking that if Martin Luther’s superiors tested him in such a way, that he failed miserably. Mother Teresa’s submissive faith continues in her later years, when she experiences a separation from the presence of God, she continues to follow His will for her faithfully. I want to be that kind of saint.


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