In the Midst of Cradle Catholics

I’ve been a member of the mom’s group at our church for a little while, and recently joined a Bible study with some of the women. We had our second session yesterday and I was struck, as I was at the first meeting, by the strangeness of being the “voice of orthodoxy” in a group of Catholics, when I’m not even Catholic yet. All of them are cradle Catholics, and it’s really strange the questions I was getting asked.

The first session, we were sharing a little of our background, and when it came to light that I was in RCIA I was asked, “What’s the difference between Protestants and Catholics?” This completely stumped me! I mean, where do I start? I muttered something about there’s a lot of differences and we even use the same words in a different way. When pressed, I gave a brief synopsis of “saved by faith through grace” meaning different things for Protestants and Catholics. What I should have said was something along the lines of acknowledging the authority of the church through the anointing of Christ on the Apostles and their successors vs. believing that the Bible itself is our only authority. The question took me too off guard though. It’s good practice for my coming out.

At the second session, I was more used as a different perspective. This time I was asked, “So why did you convert? What made you believe the Catholic Church was the true church?” The real clincher for me was that the Catholic Church possesses the authority of Christ through Apostolic succession. I got it right that time, and thought I’d said something common to the group. Until someone said, “What do you mean? How is that different than any other church?” Uh… I tried to explain as concisely as possible that Christ instituted the church at the Last Supper, and sent the Holy Spirit to guide His Church in all truth, that the Apostles laid hands on their successors to confer the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that there is a direct line of those they’ve ordained from current priests and bishops going back to the Apostles and Christ. I felt like I was speaking a foreign language though.

The conversation took a weird turn, in which she said she couldn’t defend being Catholic at all. Her husband is not Catholic. She doesn’t know why she should be Catholic, other than she is and she won’t be anything else. Kudos to her for sticking with what she knows is right, even if she’s not sure why it is. That was always a problem for me when I was young. If I wasn’t as clear on my reasons, people could talk me into their perspective. This woman said she’s heard something to the effect of: Catholics just trust other people to figure things out and follow along uneducated and unquestioning. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to say that obedience doesn’t equal blind following and that we have to understand the rules of the faith if we want to grow in our faith at all! At least I had a chance to tell her, when she pointed out how screwed up the leaders of the church can be, that this is one reason the Catholics have it right. Everyone’s screwed up. We can’t let people we elect direct our faith because they’re so holy and smart. They’re not good enough. Man’s best is not good enough. That is why we trust that God is able to do His will and the Holy Spirit will direct His church through fallen and faulty men. Otherwise, we are just like the rest of them.

I wonder how common this is for cradle Catholics. I worry that not everyone who lacks apologetic prowess will be as resilient as the woman I was talking to against the reasonable sounding wolves that will question their faith. It’s a real danger for people not well educated in their faith, that someone will come along, point out a few difficulties (not inconsistencies!) of belief and *poof* they’ll turn coat faster than Benedict Arnold. It’s easy enough to see how it could happen. Chris has been scouring Out of the Labyrinth, a book “disproving” Catholicism which was written by an ex-priest who ought to have known better! It contains so many just plain wrong representations of Catholic beliefs, it’s no wonder people can show them to be unbiblical and persuade believers to turn Protestant. If you don’t know enough about what the Church teaches to point out the flaws of their arguments, what defense will you have except plain old stubbornness?

Chris thinks every parish ought to have a basic apologetics course available, on top of RCIA, since RCIA really only describes Catholicism in its most basic form. It’s a good idea. Until then, here I am, explaining orthodox Catholic beliefs to people who have always believed them but don’t know why. The leader of the group says she’s glad to have my perspective, thinks converts make the best Catholics, and says she’ll ask me many more questions. I hope I can do the Church justice. I’ve already found myself having a typical over-reaction against anything that smacks of my Protestant experiences, even when they’re alright for Catholics. The Bible study is focused on the Holy Spirit, and of course, there’s a lot of run ins with charasmatic Protestantism which I usually run from screaming. I have to watch myself and try not to let the pendulum swing too far off center. So pray for me, that I will say what God wants me to say when the time comes.

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11 Responses to In the Midst of Cradle Catholics

  1. lenetta says:

    Prayers indeed! At one of our Bible studies, someone was quoting scripture that the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. I’ll try to find it for you. Never be afraid to tell them that you’ll get back to them on something, though. :>) (Then write it down so you don’t forget! Or is that just me?) :>)

    And yes, we cradle Catholics are *all too often* lax in our faith. I like Chris’ idea a lot on the extra class. We could use it!

    I think you’re going to be a wonderful addition to the group. Sounds like they need you!

  2. agellius says:

    I think this sheds light on why the Church at one time was so aggressive toward heresy. To modern people it seems like the Church was “anti-diversity” and only interested in imposing its hegemony on European society. But in fact the Church was working to protect those of its lambs, probably in fact the majority, who were defenseless against doctrinal error — not because they were stupid, but simply because most people, even in a supposedly literate society like the modern United States, don’t have the time, interest or ability to master these subjects. For this reason they are often easily led astray.

    It’s for this reason too that I feel it’s extremely important to quash dissent among bishops, priests and religious nowadays: In an “open” society such as ours, where all views are supposed to be given an equal hearing, and no one is supposed to tell anyone else what to think, the very least the Church needs to do is present a united front to its own people. At least then lay Catholics will be able to clearly see the Church’s position and easily contrast it with those of the materialists, Protestants, etc. When there is wishy-washiness even among the teachers in the Church, it’s no wonder there is an enormous amount of confusion among the laity. God only knows how many souls are imperiled as a result.

  3. stirenaeus says:

    Yes, this is a common experience. Two reasons. (1) For many many years, catechesis was in ruins. It simply wasn’t done, and where it was, it was often ineffective. (2) I think there’s also a certain natural laxity among cradle catholics — when you are raised within Catholic culture, which the Catholic religion is, you can kinda take it for granted, not in a bad way, but it’s something assumed, like something that’s always there. We converts need to fight and wrestle our way in, and so we know what a pearl of great price we’ve found.

    Practically speaking, I could see you having an incredible lay ministry at a parish, teaching adults or young’uns, especially women.

  4. Stacey says:

    Netta,
    I know the verse you’re talking about it, and I think of it often! You’re right, I never think of telling people I’ll get back to them. I should do that.

    agellius,
    Agreed. Most people just lead their lives (as they should!), and don’t delve all that deep into theology and Church documents. I tend to think that in addition to orthodox bishops, the best way to combat general ignorance is to have good priests that know what the Church teaches, since after all they’re the ones who actually preach the gospel. I’ve been surprised at how briefly Church teaching is gone over in seminary (or so I’ve heard). Thankfully, we’ve had some really great “baby priests” come through our parish just out of seminary. Maybe their education is improving? Or maybe we just got lucky!

    Irenaeus,
    I think (and hope) that catechesis is on the up. It’s at least a known problem. Our RCIA class has been good so far, basic, but orthodox. I love our newest priest when he’s talking, he says things like “And there’s two candles up at the alter signifying the two natures of Christ–fully human and fully God. You can’t say he was only one or the other or part of both, that’s a heresy.” and he clarifies a lot with “You can’t say ___ that’s a heresy”, explaining tricky points of distinction between Catholic and “other”. Of course, I think he has a leg up on knowing what to clarify. His uncle’s a Presbyterian minister.

    I do hope that I can help others understand Church teachings better after all the looking into it I’ve done. As long as I can a) be prepared to give a good answer and b) not let it get to my head so I’m shoving things down people’s throats. Chris thinks I ought to train to be a catechist. I told him he ought to 🙂

  5. stirenaeus says:

    Mark Shea, Converts and Cradles: Converts think doctrine, Cradles assume family: http://catholicexchange.com/2009/10/21/114756/

  6. Tap says:

    Interesting stuff as always. I Lol’d at “reasonably sounding wolves.” She might not be a Wolf though haha. I know my Mom couldn’t defend the Catholic Faith to anybody, at least not apologetically, but when i was about 13-14yrs and told her i was considering becoming a protestant (after I’d been “convinced” by my formerly Catholic neighbor whose family had recently become protestant), She threatened to throw me out of house if i dared.

  7. Stacey says:

    Good article, Irenaeus, thanks!

  8. Stacey says:

    Tap,
    No, the poor woman is no wolf! But those who whisper in her ear may be! LOL, did your mom mean it?? I’d be too afraid to threaten my kids with that–afraid they would follow through! Isabel’s already headstrong enough, I’m sure she would if only because of a threat. Good mom, though. She doesn’t sound like the type who would be unsettled by her lack of apologetic skills, or worry if someone challenges her reasons for being Catholic. It’s those that I worry about, but then, we all have information available at our fingertips. If anyone is interested, they can find answers to troublesome questions.

  9. Tap says:

    Nah, i’m wasn’t the runaway kind of kid, my Parents were very strict. But yeah with the culture here the way it is you might not want to do that.

  10. kkollwitz says:

    I’m a Cradle Revert. The problem with many of us Cradlers is we grow up in the family of the Church and take it for granted like the air, our parents, food, clothing, shelter… we have a great child’s faith in it.

    Then we get older, but our knowledge of the Church remains that of a child. That knowledge is inadequate to support adult faith, so we fall away.

    Later on we realize we’re missing something important, and thus motivated, study our way back into the Church.

    JP2 pointed out we need Fides et Ratio, faith & reason. But adults need adult faith and adult reason.

  11. Stacey says:

    Both are good and necessary. I hope in time I can gain that familial cradle Catholic faith.

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