Saturday, September 02, 2006

I Was Robbed! - Part Four

Maybe this is a good place to debunk a myth that desperately needs debunking.

One of the classic lines from dissenting Catholics is this: "The Church needs to change its outdated teachings and must ordain women, replace the patriarchal language in the liturgy, allow divorce and remarriage, sanction birth control, masturbation, homosexuality, abortion [and so on, ad nauseum]. Young people are leaving the Church in droves because of its refusal to conform to the times!"

As a young person, I tell you this is rubbish. It is a smokescreen.

I do not dispute that there are many young, "enlightened" Catholics who have left the Church with these reasons on their lips. But they are using these reasons as excuses to mask the real problem: They have either lost their faith or they never really had it. The need in this case is not for accommodation, but for conversion. These young Catholics have never been taught that Christianity is not about self-fulfillment, it's about self-denial; it's not about worldly power, it's about humility; it's not about control, it's about obedience; and it's not about some misguided, gender feminist idea of equality, it's about Truth.

But for all of the young Catholics who leave the Church because it is not politically correct enough for them, there are equal numbers (mainly those who have begun families) who are leaving for opposite reasons; namely, they feel the Church has become too liberal, too morally lax, too reflective of the secular culture. These Catholics are filling the pews of fundamentalist and evangelical churches, whose leaders hold fast to Christian morality, and where the Ten Commandments are still understood to be commands, not suggestions. These young adults are searching for an anchor in a world gone mad. They are searching for Christ and a high standard of Christian morality, and they don't believe they can find either in the Catholic Church. (Ironically, by leaving the Catholic Church, they are actually walking away from the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and leaving the faith that holds the highest and most difficult moral code of them all!)

I leaned toward a Bible church because of the moral courage I knew I would find there, because of the pride in Christ Jesus that so permeated the place, and because I would receive instruction in my faith, not an apology for it. Yet if you ask a dissenting Catholic why Catholics are leaving the Church, they'll tell you it's because we haven't gone far enough in liberalizing the Faith! It's as if they're saying, "Let's neutralize Christianity completely, ignore our heritage and traditions, throw out the sacraments, deny the existence of Original Sin, disclaim the divinity of Christ, drain the Faith of any truth or meaning, and then the churches will be bursting at the seams!" It makes you wonder if the people so hell-bent on liberalizing the Catholic Church are acting out of love for the Faith or acting out of a desire to destroy it.

Nevertheless, by February of 1995, I just wanted out. I was ready to send out a trial balloon to my mom, to see how she would react to my inclination to leave the Church. I specifically did not approach my dad first, as I knew he would be heartbroken at the thought; but because my mother was raised a Protestant (she came into the Catholic Church when I was three); I thought she would be easier to talk to. Mom is a very rational and stoic person, and she is known for giving sound advice. After I popped the question: "How would you feel if I left the Church for a Bible church?", she gave me the answer that would change not only my life, but the lives of many others as well. She said, "Before you leave, you should find out what it is that you're leaving."

She then proceeded to give me some of the reasons she had left Protestantism. For instance, she said it never made sense to her that Protestants place all their belief in the Bible alone. The question for her became, which Bible? There were so many different translations, and everyone had a different view on which version was authoritative. She was also wary of non-denominational churches in general, and she talked about "the cult of the personality," or the tendency in such churches for the congregation to rally around a well-liked, dynamic pastor who usually had a new and "brilliant" interpretation of Scripture. He would be the reason that they came, and if that particular pastor left, the congregation would leave with him.

Everything she said made sense to me, and that evening my thoughts of leaving Catholicism were at least neutralized. The big blow came a couple of weeks later when my mom, in her matter-of-fact way, presented me with a book. It was the kind of book I had never seen before. The kind of book I never knew existed. It was a book of Catholic apologetics. It was Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism.

Some people may roll their eyes in disbelief when I say that I never knew such a book existed. I don't blame them -- even I cannot believe that it never occurred to me that someone out there might find it necessary, useful, even noble to defend the Faith! It seems so silly to me now. How could I have been ready to jump ship to a Bible church without even investigating the doctrinal issues involved? Why did it never even cross my mind that a Church of 2,000 years might be able to present an argument on her behalf? Maybe it's because in my lifetime as a Catholic, I had never heard anyone defend the Faith. No one had ever given me any reasons why Catholics were right, why we had the fullest truth. The only thing approaching an apologetics argument was my parents' statements that ours was the oldest Christian church. That we Catholics were here first! During my childhood and adolescence, I remember being quite proud of that fact. Too bad no one ever elaborated on that point.

But once that glorious book was placed in my hands, it was all over. I was excited, amazed, impressed that someone had taken the time to spell out the differences between Protestants and Catholics, not mechanically and neutrally, but passionately and full of love for the Catholic Faith! And Mr. Keating used the Bible itself to illustrate the truth of Catholic doctrine! It only took reading a few pages of this wonderful book to not only keep me Catholic, but to set me on a path of knowledge that has led my soul to burn for the Faith. Sound dramatic? It is! Thanks to two years of study and the grace of God, I have found treasures that I never dreamed possible in this world, and yet I have come to understand that I have only dipped my little toe into the vast and glorious ocean that is Catholicism.

Over the next several months, my friend Kim and I engaged in a series of friendly, but extremely intense, theological debates. We went back and forth about issues such as Papal authority, the Real Presence, Mary, sanctification of the soul, and the implications of the Inquisition. We gave special attention to the two doctrines that separate Protestants and Catholics: sola scriptura (the Reformers' belief that the Bible is a Christian's only authority) and sola fide (the Reformers' belief that we are saved by our faith alone). At times it was like the blind leading the blind, but I used the best arguments for Catholicism I knew at the time, and Kim got a hold of the best apologetics that Protestantism had to offer.

The phone calls were intense, and they would leave us physically and emotionally drained. A couple of our conversations lasted seven hours! After about six months of this mini replay of the Reformation, we hit what we call "the brick wall" and we agreed it was time to stop talking about theology for awhile, as we were frustrated and getting nowhere.

Meanwhile, my husband Dean was being sucked into all this "God talk" whether he wanted to or not (I was so excited about what I was learning that I discussed it with him when he let me). Together, Kim and I had "discovered" the Old Testament prophesies which so clearly vindicate Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, and I excitedly pointed out these passages to my dear Jewish husband. I'll never forget the almost panicked look in Dean's eyes when he reluctantly admitted one night that it appeared Jesus might actually be the Son of God.

In their own journeys to faith, both Dean and Kim had one overriding principle: They were searching for objective truth. They didn't make their faith decisions based on their own opinions or what "felt right." They weren't looking for what was comfortable, they were looking for what was true. And of course that's what God asks of each of us. Just as the Savior took up His Cross, we are each expected to take up our own, following in the footsteps of Truth Himself, even if it costs us our comfort, our security, even our very lives.

In Kim's quest for Truth at all costs, she kept praying and studying, even after we hit our "brick wall." She gave the Catholics one last chance to prove themselves by reading Patrick Madrid's now legendary book, Surprised By Truth, in which eleven converts -- many of them Protestant ministers -- give their reasons for becoming Catholic. In three nights (she calls them the darkest nights of her life), she was shown the Biblical and historical truth of Catholicism. Six months later, at great personal cost but with great joy, Kim did what was previously inconceivable to her: She received the Sacraments of the Church, and is now a devout Catholic. Within a year, and after an initial reluctance, her husband announced his own intention to convert. And with great rejoicing and all gratitude to God, I can report my husband Dean's profound conversion as well. (Yep, I got a Catholic husband after all, and a devout one at that!)

Some other fruits of my "conversion"? I have returned to confession after more than fifteen years, and I now reap the graces of that wonderful, previously unknown sacrament. Mass, which I once avoided, is now an other-worldly experience for me. Contraception? Gone, with great benefit to my marriage. I continue to uncover the treasures of Christ's Church, and Kim and I now teach the Faith to others. I guess you could say that in Catholicism I've found the secret of the universe, and nothing can compare to its majesty.

Which brings me back to a sadness. How easily I could have lost it all! How easily my friends and contemporaries have lost or could lose a Faith they never really understood. Feel-good, inoffensive, nebulous psycho-babble catechesis doesn't provide an even minimal foundation of faith, and a faith built on such a weak and erroneous foundation could not withstand even the smallest challenge. For proof of this, note that fundamentalist Christians have successfully pulled millions of Catholics out of the Church just by quoting a few Bible verses out of their proper context. And at the other end of the spectrum, feminists and New Agers lure Generation Xers out of Catholicism simply by loudly and repeatedly applying snide labels to the Church, such as "patriarchal," "oppressive," "reactionary," "judgmental," "irrelevant," etc. A poorly catechized Catholic is virtually helpless against these tactics.