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.

Salvation in the Body of Christ

January 12, 2009

In my previous post, we were discussing extra ecclesia nulla salum, or “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” which I understand to mean that outside the mystical body of Christ, there is no salvation. We also discussed the phrase “Muslims, who together with us adore the one true God” and my understanding that this doesn’t comment on the salvation of Muslims, just that they worship the God of Abraham.

Rhology last said:

I’m not at all sure that there is alot of room in RC dogma to make a distinction between invisible and visible church, so I’d suggest you take some looking before you leap over there.

So, one can worship the one true God but not be saved? How does that work?

Further, there are plenty of anathemas flung Protestants’ way, and then CCC calls us “separated brethren”. I don’t quite get it.

Here is my reply:

In “Discovering Saint Patrick“, by Thomas O’Loughlin, a theological historian, he notes that early Christians thought that extra ecclesia nulla salus referred to the mystical church and was interchangable with “body of Christ”. They even thought it stemmed from “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Biblically, we have “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor 12:27) to support the mystical church as the body of Christ.

Also from the Catechism, as you may have been reading at Beggars All, it explains the exception of those who are outside of knowledge of Christ or are mistaken in their understanding of how to follow God’s will may possibly be saved as a part of the body of Christ, despite that lack of knowledge. That includes Protestants and people on a remote isle in the South Pacific alike.

Here’s quotes from the Catechism to support this:

The mystical body of Christ includes: “‘At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what is right has been acceptable to him.'” and “All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God. . . . And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation.” and “Those ‘who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.'”

The Catechism excludes from the body of Christ even insincere Catholics: “Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but ‘in body’ not ‘in heart.'”

It also reminds Christians that “Christ ‘is the head of the body, the Church.'”

This is all similar to the Protestant notions of the mystical body of Christ extending to all those Christ has saved through a living faith.

For your second point, ask yourself this: Can someone worship the true God, such as the person in church next to you on Sunday, but not worship Him sincerely, not turn his heart to God, and not repent and be saved? If my understanding of your views is right, then you already agree with the Catholic doctrine on this point, but don’t recognize the language.

Lastly, in the Catholic Encyclopedia it says “Anathema remains a major excommunication… implying exclusion from the society of the faithful.” Wouldn’t you say that you are not in communion with the Catholic Church when you agree with one of the anathema statements? Do you want to be, or why does this upset you?

Even the most extreme anathema measure “anathema maranatha” means to leave the person up to the judgement of God. It does not pronounce judgement on his soul, as we humans should not. Here’s an excerpt: “Maranatha has become a very solemn formula as anathema, by which the criminal is excommunicated, abandoned to the judgment of God, and rejected from the bosom of the Church until the coming of the Lord.”

Interestingly, I found this in the Catholic encyclopedia’s entry on anathema: “More than that, it is with this purpose in view that she[the Church] takes such rigorous measures[pronounces anathema] against him[a sinner], in order that by the mortification of his body his soul may be saved on the last day.” It’s somewhat remeniscent on your explanation of withholding forgiveness, isn’t it? By understanding the severity of our sin, we begin the walk toward repentance and salvation.

Being Catholic may not be the only way to salvation, as the catechism and historians alike confirm, but they believe it is the best way. Knowing the truth and walking in truth is a much better way to get where you’re going than to blunder through life like a blind man. Although those who earnestly seek God will find Him, it’s better to have a map.