Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Being Catholic

Writing a blog post with this title fills me with tremendous joy.

At the end of the Easter Vigil, Father Michael addressed our RCIA group all sitting together.  He started out,
"And to all of our new Catholics, not the elect, not the candidates, but fully-fledged Catholics..."

I still must remind myself that I am one of them.  I'm no longer special or a subject of uncertainty or in some difficult-to-explain state.  I'm just your normal, garden-variety Catholic.

Here is how I feel about that:

The Meat of This Post:
One question I have is how to relate to my Protestant friends and family.  On the surface, this question is very simple: with love, of course.

But digging a little deeper, I find some real uncertainty.  Am I to hope and fervently pray that my Protestant loved ones come to the Catholic Church?

Coming to the Catholic Church was like coming home for me.  It's competitively in the running for the best decision I've ever made and the best thing that's ever happened to me.  The beauty of this faith, the lucidity of its doctrines, the deep unity that binds the Church together, and the breathless, giddy joy of quietly discovering it all for the first time... I want that for my loved ones.
And of course, receiving the Eucharist is glorious and moving in a thousand tiny ways.  I desperately want that for my loved ones. Naturally, if I think I've found home, I want my friends and relatives to come home, too.

Yet... their faith is so true and real, and always has been.  I know this; I've lived it.  How can I look at my devout mother and tell her her faith lacks something vital? 

I struggle with balancing between two extremes:
  1. Protestantism is basically as good as Catholicism; it all depends on what you want and where God puts you.  The Church is the Church; it's all good.
  2. Protestantism is sufficient, but only just; it really lacks something.  Protestants are not in full communion with the real Church Jesus established.
Does anyone else have this problem?

I am beginning to think that the answer may lie in Acts 10:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
   Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

In this case, the Holy Spirit came on the household of Cornelius.  Cornelius was a devout man, honoring God as he knew how.   For the believers at the time, the shocking part was that Cornelius was a Gentile. But it is also unusual for the Holy Spirit to come on someone not yet baptized.  Yet God chose to bless this man and his household with a special and unusual outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  This outpouring was real, it was from God, and it produced the gifts of the Spirit demonstrated in the older believers.

However, Peter did not begin looking to Cornelius for advice.  This event was seen as a special gift of God, not implemented as normal for the rest of the Church.  Eventually, Cornelius and his family were given the normative Sacrament of Christian conversion: baptism.

Perhaps Cornelius' household can help us see how to interact with our Protestant brothers and sisters.  In His wisdom and kindness, God appears to have given our Protestant brothers and sisters the Holy Spirit, along with the fruits of the Spirit and the love by which believers are to be known.  Their faith is real, it is from God, and it produces the devotion to God and love for one another we see in faithful Catholics.

Despite this, I do not believe division from the original Church is the normative state.  I think the validity of Protestantism is a special gift of God, not the rule.  God in His goodness may maintain this special gift to Protestants all their lives, or He may choose to call them to the Catholic Church.  Which He does is, of course, entirely His business.  (Of course, in a different sense, God alone gifts the Catholic Church with its faith, too!)

Does this Scripture actually apply?  How have you handled Protestant friends or family members in your life?  Feel free to comment or PM me if you have insights.

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