I have a confession to make: as a rabid Catholic (nay, a Cathoholic), I tend to have episodes where I look down my nose in stuffy superiority at things Protestants are doing, as if they were children playing in a sandbox, in desperate need of a knowledgeable Catholic to swoop in and introduce them to REAL spirituality. This, of course, makes me a total jerk.
It’s really a matter of pride, and not the good kind, either. It’s entirely possible, and in fact devilishly easy, to fall into a certain smugness about being part of the One True Church, about having a proper understanding of God and His Church and His Sacraments and all that business which we make our business because we want Him to make us His business.
As I have said, I am often incredibly guilty of this injurious sense of pride, and it has led to a horrifying tendency within my own heart and mind: I find myself sometimes bored with the Gospel.
By that, I mean those words and phrases which American Protestants use so frequently, because they have no other language with which to speak, and those concepts upon which they harp so much, because they have so few aspects of the faith to consider. For example, consider these oft-heard phrases: “Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior.” “The Bible is the Word of God.” “I have given my life over to Christ.” “Jesus died for your sins.” “Jesus paid the debt for my soul that I could not pay myself.” “I realized my sinful wickedness, and gave my life over to Jesus.”
Perhaps I am unique in my particular flavor of pride (though I suspect not), but when I hear these phrases, sometimes I am inclined to sigh and roll my eyes, saying, “Yes, yes, we’ve all heard that before.” I get tired of hearing how sinful this person’s ways were until they discovered Jesus and then their chains were gone and they were set free, preferring to arrogantly assert, “Sure, that’s great, but you’re missing the Eucharist and Marian devotions and the principle of subsidiarity and Confession…” and so on and so forth. It doesn’t help, either, that many of my friends are converts, who, once they have become Catholic, seek affirmation in the choice they have made by having wink-wink nudge-nudge “oh those silly Protestants” conversations the day after their Confirmation at Easter Vigil.
|“YES! Now I can joke with you guys about burning the heretics, right?”|
But if I’m being truly honest about it, and especially about my love for Christ, then shouldn’t these so-called “Protestant sayings” be part of my life as well? Shouldn’t I rejoice over these things in just as great a degree (if not more so) than my Protestant brethren? What is it within me that is so averse to the phrase “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” Perhaps it is partly my recognition of the inaccurate sola fide theology usually attached to this statement, or perhaps it is partly my distaste for porcelain smiles and hair spray, but deep down inside, I know the ultimate reasoning is actually the lack of proper reasoning we call “pride.”
The fact of the matter is, I should rejoice in the Gospel, even if it is only at work in its barest possible form. Nothing should be more joyous to me than to see another soul won over into love of Christ, bought by blood ransom from the clutches of the devil. Nothing should enrapture my heart more than to read Luke 23 and see that Jesus… He… DIED for my sins. Nothing should be a greater cause for rejoicing in my life than the fact that the stone was rolled away and Jesus rose again, conquering sin and death by rising from the grave. If I am truly a believer in Christ, what is it that keeps me from pumping my fist in the air every day, shouting, “Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior!” over and over again while standing on my office desk and terrifying the parish secretary?
It is true that Catholicism has everything right, and Protestantism (if it is actually possible to speak of the phenomenon of Protestantism as a collective whole) has only partial truth, a fragmented reflection of the real thing. But darn it, they DO have something, some part of the real thing. There is legitimacy to what Protestants do have, and throwing the baby out with the bath water is not only a terrible mentality for me to hold, it’s also precisely the type of mentality that started the Protestant Reformation in the first place.
|Couldn’t find a good picture of a baby getting thrown out with the bathwater,
so I substituted Grace Kelly. You’re welcome.
Martin Luther and the other Reformers were unwilling to recognize so much of the good in the Church because of all the evils they saw (and yes, let’s not pull punches, “evils” is an accurate description of some of the things they saw). They hardened their hearts to the Bride in trying to protect themselves from these things, and ultimately that led to their fall into heresy. But in hindsight, we can easily look back and say, “Well, Mr. Luther, why didn’t you do what St. Francis of Assisi did and reform the Church from the inside?” It’s easy enough to ask the question when you’re not the one dealing with the problem.
The Reformers’ actions, though not justified, were at least understandable, and even forgivable (had they repented and gone to Confession as good little wayward Catholics should). Their hearts were set on the preservation of the most basic, primal, fundamental message of the Gospel: that a certain man 2000 years ago just happened to be God In The Flesh, and He DIED for love of you and me, for the forgiveness of our sins. He was, and is, and will always be, my personal Lord and Savior. I have had my sins washed away by the power of His Blood, and nothing can separate me from His grasp. He conquered death and rose again, so that we might all be saved. Marcel LeJeune once said, “If we ever lose sight of the message of the Gospel, we’ve lost sight of our Catholic faith entirely.”
The hallways of time echo and resound with the pounding of the nails on Calvary. Each wounded, human cry and sob of pain from Jesus’ lips still brings all heaven and earth to a breathless halt, hanging on the lips of the Savior. One drop of His sweat, one breath of air from His mouth, is worth more than all the sweetest things the created world has to offer. The Gospel, that salvation by the death of Jesus, is at the heart of our faith, and it is only through accepting Him as our personal Lord and Savior that we can find unprecedented solace, unmerited grace, undeserved blessing, and unthinkable humility in the Holy Eucharist. We should never lose sight of that fact – nor should we forget that our Protestant brothers and sisters know a little something about it, too.