If I had to choose the single most striking thing about our transition from conservative Presbyterianism to the Catholic Church, it’d be a tough call. There are quite a number of things I have changed my mind about, and it all adds up to a different, better religious life than what I had before.
But the thing the had the biggest personal impact on me is probably not what I would have expected. Changing my mind about Sola Scriptura, Mary and the saints, the Pope, images…these are not small issues. But the thing I least expected is far more subtle, and yet had an enormous impact on my conversion. What is this mighty thing?
Protestants have a lot of different perspectives on Catholics, and so if I seem to paint with a broad brush, forgive me. I speak from what I know and where I was. And where I was, I didn’t understand Catholic piety and spirituality at all, or even really believe it existed. I looked at the Church and her strange (to me) ways, and saw scary, creepy heresy. I saw layers of medieval superstition, instead of the clean, spare brightness of the Reformed tradition. I saw people enslaved to the outer trappings of an empty tradition.
In other words, I saw a fantasy concocted in my own mind and imbibed from the world in which I moved.
As I mentioned in my Reflection after the Easter Vigil, a memory that had a huge impact on me was that of hearing a gentleman behind me at Mass in our early days of visiting; he was participating in the prayers, and his voice overflowed with genuine faith. That moment has since struck me as a turning point in my attitude toward the Church and toward Catholics. It was the moment when I really internalized the fact that I had been dead wrong about the question of whether Catholics possessed a living faith in Jesus.
There was so much more to the journey, and so many questions that had to be explored. This could never have been “The Reason” I converted, but that experience has become symbolic to meas that time I recognized the presence of my Lord, and could never look back.
So, I want to start a series on Catholic prayers and piety; a basic rundown of some of the classic Catholic prayers and how they reveal the heart of the Catholic Church. These prayers are a wealth of spiritual truths, and I think I am not the first nor the last Protestant to be surprised at the depths of love and faith that the Church has to share with the world.
The Anima Christi
Soul of Christ, sanctify me Body of Christ, save me Blood of Christ, inebriate me Water from the side of Christ, wash me Passion of Christ, strengthen me O good Jesus, hear me Within Thy wounds hide me Separated from Thee let me never be From the malicious enemy defend me In the hour of my death call me And bid me come unto Thee That I may praise Thee with Thy saints Forever and ever Amen
Praying and reflecting on these ancient words pulls the mind and heart to Christ. To someone who didn’t understand that the Catholic Church is all about Jesus, listening to the entirety of a large parish recite such a Christ-centered prayer with feeling was an experience that contributed to my changing perceptions of Catholics.
Also known as The Aspirations of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Dates from the early 14th century
Often mistakenly ascribed to St. Ignatius Loyola, but predates him. St. Ignatius often references the prayer in his Spiritual Exercises
Often used as a communion hymn or prayer – sometimes in responsorial fashion
Anima Christi Prayer Card – I love prayer cards. My memory is not fabulous, and I’m still new at the whole rote prayer thing – I did not learn these as a child. Prayer cards are my answer to this problem!
In closing, I’d like to share with you a beautiful rendition of the Anima Christi by John Michael Talbot (whose music is very worth exploring). I was familiar with John Michael Talbot before I knew much of anything about Catholicism, so I knew this song long before I knew where it came from.
I plan to make this an ongoing series. Do you have a favorite prayer that you’d like me to write about? Comment and let me know!
I used to think Catholics taught salvation by works, not grace. After all, they do teach that works are necessary for salvation, and that’s pretty much the same thing.
Well, no. I’ve mentioned before that as a new convert to the Catholic Church, I was continually surprised by the faith and piety that I encountered. I still notice, with joy and wonder, every time I go to a different parish and it, too, is jam-packed with people who obviously take their faith very seriously.
The same thing happened every time I dug into Catholic theology, including on the topics of grace, faith, works, and justification. I expected to find terrible, man-centered heresy. Instead, I found truth, and beauty.
So, I had some things wrong about grace, works, and merit before I converted.
“Catholics think they are saved by religion, not by Jesus.”
This is a common charge, and I would have said something like that, back in the day. I love this quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:
“Christianity is not a system of ethics, it is a life. It is not good advice, it is divine adoption. Being a Christian does not consist in just being kind to the poor, going to church, singing hymns, or serving on parish committees, though it includes all of these. It is first and foremost a love relationship with Jesus Christ.”
A lot of Protestants, my former self included, would be confused at best to hear these words coming from a highly respected Catholic. “A love relationship with Jesus Christ”? Sounds like something straight out of a Bible church to me!
“Catholics think they are saved by their merit, not grace.”
The Catholic doctrines of merit sound like a foreign language to Protestants. Words and phrases like “merit,” the “treasury of merit,” or “indulgences” communicate to Protestants concepts that Catholics do not intend or believe. The main thing to bear in mind is that “merit,” when speaking of the merits of the saints, or our merits before God, doesn’t refer to anything that comes from us. Consider this quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, found online here:
“The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.” – Catechism, Article 2, Section 1
Or this quote from St. Therese of Liseaux:
“After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.” – St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “Act of Offering” in Story of a Soul, tr. John Clarke (Washington DC: ICS, 1981), 277
For a more in-depth treatment, try this post from Called to Communion.
“Catholics think they are saved by faith + works, not faith alone.” There’s no room for grace.
You know, I remember from many conversations among Reformed friends about justification the favorite saying that “we are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” I thought that the Catholic view that works, sanctification, etc., are all a part of justification was a corruption of the Gospel, detracting from the work of Christ on the cross.
“The Church teaches that it’s God’s grace from beginning to end which justifies, sanctifies, and saves us. As Paul explains in Philippians 2:13, ‘God is the one, who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.’
Notice that Paul’s words presuppose that the faithful Christian is not just desiring to be righteous, but is actively working toward it. This is the second half of the justification equation, and Protestants either miss or ignore it.”
Or these quotes from Saint Augustine, widely loved and respected by Protestants:
“What merits of his own has the saved to boast of when, if he were dealt with according to his merits, he would be nothing if not damned? Have the just then no merits at all? Of course they do, for they are the just. But they had no merits by which they were made just” (Letters 194:3:6 [A.D. 412]).
“What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace, when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us?” (Letters 194:5:19).
If you want to dig into this a little more, this article from Catholic Answers (quoted above) is very thorough and included a helpful compilation of quotes from the Church Fathers. Also, Jimmy Akin has a characteristically super-thorough post on Justification by Faith Alone.
The Canons Council of Orange (529 A.D.) – the Council all Calvinists should read
I’m going to get really specific here for a minute. I was a Reformed Calvinist Protestant. Anyone who is, was, or knows a Calvinist needs to read and share the Canons of the Council of Orange. (You can find it online here.) It really tears down the idea that Catholics believe that they contribute anything to their salvation that does not come from God in the first place. In trying to select some quotes, I got frustrated, because I really want to share the whole thing with you! But here is a sample:
“That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.” Canon 20
“Concerning those things that belong to man. No man has anything of his own but untruth and sin. But if a man has any truth or righteousness, it is from that fountain for which we must thirst in this desert, so that we may be refreshed from it as by drops of water and not faint on the way.” Canon 22
“Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.” Canon 23
While I’m getting a little more technical than usual, some say that the Council of Trent (online here) contradicts the Council of Orange. Bryan Cross wrote a good post on that a while ago, found here.
So, when I was investigating the Catholic Church, I found out that my preconceptions and assumptions about the Church’s teaching on grace and works were plain wrong. You can go as deep as you want on this topic (see some recommended reading below), but Archbishop Sheen summed up the simple truth perfectly in the quote from above:
“Christianity is not a system of ethics, it is a life. It is not good advice, it isdivine adoption…It is first and foremost a love relationship with Jesus Christ.”
“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day.” ~ St. Gianna
So the last few years, my life has felt like one long stroll in front of a firehose. Can you relate? I don’t need to rehash all the things that have happened – some wonderful, some hard, some heartbreaking. Some I have written about, and some are just too personal to share with you all. We all have those times, and even in the times when life is on the calm side, kids get crazy. Like all day, every day crazy!
In the middle of it all, moms have to ride the crazy and be a mother to each of her kids. Every one of them is a blessing and a gift, and each one needs and deserves a mother who is present to them, now, even especially when life Just. Won’t. Stop.
How do we weather these days with grace? I’m not getting any younger, and neither are my kids. I refuse to lose these years to the crazy. My baby boy will only be two once; he can’t wait for when my life stops falling apart and we get all the pieces picked up.
I believe the answer lies in St. Gianna’s quote, above. I need to be present. I need to remain IN the present moment, not aching for the past or being crushed by fear of the future. Each day, each minute, each child, each and every glass of water and skinned knee and sibling squabble and knotted shoelace matters. It deserves my attention. It’s important. More important, even, than my big grown-up problems that never seem to go away.
I’ve also found that remaining firmly in the present moment is the best way to respond gently (or at least appropriately) to the endless stream of needs that a pack of kids will bring. The child standing in front of me has a need. I might feel impatient, because I have been responding to a lot of needs, all day long (and none of them mine). It can seem like somebody is always skinning their knee around here (but mostly it’s just Emily, over and over and over again. That poor kid is, um, accident-prone, shall we say??). But, assuming that the need is legitimate, the ones that came before don’t really matter, nor do the ones that will come after. The need in front of me is what matters.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the fifth band-aid I have doled out that morning; the bumps and bruises of childhood hurt just as much the fifth time as they did the first, and deserve as much mercy every time. (Even for the reallyclumsy accident-prone 4-year-old.)
It doesn’t matter to my 2-year-old that I have heard all his stories before, from siblings who told me the same ones years before he was born. He needs me to hear him, to delight in him, today.
It doesn’t matter how many glasses of water I have handed out. The kid is still thirsty, and deserves not only a glass of water, but a dose of love and cheerfulness to go with it.
I daresay that if we could apply this principle to how we think about not just our own children and routine chores, but also to how we think of those in need around us, it might revolutionize our attitude. It’s great if we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and buried the dead yesterday. The dead may be satisfied, but I guarantee the hungry will get hungry again. Every day, just like the rest of us. One more reason I am delighted to be a part of the Catholic Church is that I get to be a part of the largest humanitarian organization in the world! One person can’t do everything (even us moms, guys. Seriously). But being part of a network where we all pitch in to see to the needs of those around us day in and day out is a privilege.
So, whether life is sailing along or falling to pieces, I’m certain that St. Gianna is right. Each moment of our lives, good or bad, has value, and has a purpose. A life lived well is really only a collection of moments used well, or moments used badly, but learned from and forgiven.
“The second remedy for the ills that come to us from thinking about time is what might be called the sanctification of the moment — or the Now. Our Lord laid down the rule for us in these words: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt 6:34). This means that each day has its own trials; we are not to borrow troubles from tomorrow, because that day too will have its cross. We are to leave the past to divine mercy and to trust the future, whatever its trials, to God’s loving providence. Each minute of life has its peculiar duty — regardless of the appearance that minute may take. The Now-moment is the moment of salvation. Each complaint against it is a defeat; each act of resignation to it is a victory.” (From From the Angel’s Blackboard, as quoted in a wonderful reflection on this subject by Fr. Andrew Apostoli. Emphasis mine.)
None of this is to say that we should enjoy every moment; it not a mom guilt thing. Please no! There are so many tough moments in our lives. We just don’t need to make them harder than they are by dwelling on the ones that came before, or the ones sure to come after. Sure, there will be muddy floors, broken dishes and broken hearts in the days to come. Of course there will. And of course, we carry the scars of our past. We just don’t have to live there.
Today’s trouble is enough for today. I have that on good authority.
“Mary, if you are there, pray for me. Jesus, if this is wrong, show me. And forgive me.”
I prayed that little prayer silently in my head, too scared to whisper it out loud. It was the first evening that what Mark and I had both been thinking had been broached out loud – should we be Catholic?
So began my sojourn into the Catholic Church. As a staunch, old-school Presbyterian, I was terrified at the Catholic thoughts racing around my head, but there was no forgetting the things that I had recently learned, or the doubts that had been raised. After some talking, and some crying, I went to bed feeling as though my whole world was being shaken.
Over the next few weeks, I devoured all the literature I could find on Catholic “hot button” topics, and Mary was at the top of the list. I had held the opinion for a long time that Catholic beliefs about Mary were idolatrous. But, like a number of other things, once I really dug into the Catholic perspective, my objections began to crumble. In my reading, I didn’t find the “superstitious medievalism” that I expected. Instead, I found some things that I had never heard of or considered. There are some wonderful and profound truths in the Marian doctrines.
But first things first. Because if praying to Mary is actually idolatrous, I was going to be off the train to Rome as abruptly as I got on.
Like pretty much every other problematic doctrine we came across in our conversion, the questions about Mary brought us back to that foundational doctrinal problem of Sola Scriptura – the Protestant idea that Scripture alone is the sole authority of the church, without the Tradition of the Church.
Sola Scriptura is the lynchpin of the question of Mary. If Protestants are right that the Bible alone is the only rule of faith and practice, then it’s pretty clear that the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about the relationship of the Church to the Mother of her Lord – not if you are lacking an infallible guide to help illumine the places that teach about her. Lacking any clear command to give her any particular honor or expect a relationship with her, Protestants insist that to do so is an extraneous invention, at best superfluous and at worst idolatrous, taking away from or even destroying our relationship with Jesus.
When Sola Scriptura fell apart for me, it was the beginning of a huge cascade of doctrinal questions and changes. I really don’t believe that many of the disputes between Protestants and Catholics can ever be resolved without resolving the relationship of Scripture and Tradition first. Until then, we’re just talking past each other.
For a quick refutation of Sola Scriptura, see here. For a longer one, try Sola Scriptura and Private Judgement by Jimmy Akin. The latter impacted me deeply when I first read it; we had been recently ejected from our Protestant church home of 14 years over a minor doctrinal dispute, and the wounds were very fresh. I’m thankful for those wounds now – they began my journey to the Catholic Church.
Don’t we only pray to God? Isn’t it the very definition of idolatry to pray to a creature?
In the many years since the Reformation, the development of a language barrier has deepened and hardened the divide between the Church and her separated Protestant brethren.
You see, when Protestants hear the term, “pray to,” it automatically says to them, “pray to a deity, for the kinds of things one prays to a deity for.”
Well, sure. Under that definition, praying to Mary would automatically be idolatrous, wouldn’t it?
But, I learned that that isn’t what Catholics mean. When a Catholic says that they are going to pray to Mary or another saint, they mean “pray” in the different, older sense that has fallen out of common usage in the modern Protestant world; as in, “I pray thee,” or, “pray proceed.” It meant (and means still) simply, “I ask you.” You could say it to literally anyone.
Catholics are simply asking Mary (and the saints) to pray for us, because “the prayer of a righteous man has great power” (James 5:16).
Even so, why would anyone think that Mary, or any other saint that has passed on, CAN or DOES pray for us?
Well, it turns out that the Church has believed this to be the case from the very earliest days. From Psalms to Revelation, from Clement of Alexandria to Augustine, we see this beautiful belief supported. This article from EWTN offers the grand tour of quotes on this subject from the Fathers.
Oh, the Rosary. How much my opinion has changed!
To my Protestant brain, the Rosary was the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the Catholic Church. Vain repetition? Check. Idolatrous prayer to Mary? Check. Participation in extra-Biblical traditions? Check. Belief in doctrines or events not directly stated in the Bible (like the Coronation of Mary)? Check. Some people even use images of Christ to aid their reflection – violation of the 2nd Commandment? Check!
Boom. The Rosary was one concentrated slug of Papist heresy, hung on a little string of beads.
If you had told me that in a few years, I would come to love praying the Rosary, and that I would carry one in my purse, I might have replied that I would be better off dead.
Ouch. Sorry. I changed my mind.
The Rosary is a beautiful and profound tour of the life of Christ. (It’s also not required, for the record. I used to think that to be Catholic you HAD to pray the Rosary. This is not the case.) Each decade of the Rosary leads you to reflect on a different event relating to Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. You meditate on the spiritual implications and fruit of that event, and how it impacts you where you are right now.
You know. Awful stuff, that.
So is the Rosary “vain repetition” like Jesus warned against in Matthew 6:7?
Father Dwight Longenecker puts it this way: “Sure, when we pray the rosary there is a lot of repetition. The problem is not repetition but vain repetition. If repetition were the problem Jesus would…have an “Errrm whadabout..” moment with Psalm 136 in which every verse ends with “for his mercy endures forever.” No there’s not a problem with repetition was such, but with vain repetition.”
And from the same article, “The rosary is therefore a powerful symbol of the whole of Catholic theology. Our religion is not an escape from reality or an avoidance of the physical. Instead it is an immersion in reality and a full participation in the physical. Our religion is not an escape from this world, but an embrace of this world. It is not a mental opt out, but a fully human opting in. Christian prayer is not an ethereal experience of another world, but a super charged experience of the other world penetrating this one through the mystery of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity into this world through the amazing action of taking flesh of the Blessed Virgin.
The rosary is powerful and transformative because it is a daily, simply, prayerful and powerful participation in this mystery of our redemption and the redemption of the whole world.”
I thought his statement that the rosary is a symbol of the whole of Catholic theology was really fascinating, given my previous belief that it encompassed everything that was wrong with the Church!
Not the car. I’m sorry, but growing up we had a yellow Fiat, and that’s what I always think of..convert problems, I guess!
No, Mary’s “fiat” refers to her perfect “yes,” her full submission to the will of God when she replied to the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
This is not so much something that I learned about Mary from the Catholic Church; I knew this one already. But this is a profound spiritual truth that I am learning from her. When Mary said “yes,” she held nothing back, and her entire life changed in the blink of an eye. From the ridicule she must have endured as an unmarried mother, to the sword that pierced her heart at the violent death of her Son, and all the joy and heartache in between, she was never the same.
But she said, “Yes.” Just yes. I pray the Joyful Mysteries more than any other, because I want that “yes” in my heart, too.
Resources for Further Study
Hail Holy Queen – Scott Hahn. This is a wonderful Protestant’s intro to Mary.
As I mentioned recently, we’ve put our two older boys in Cub Scouts, which is a new adventure for our family. We don’t really have the skills that one would wish for in Scout parents, so we kind of have to wing it and hope for the best.
The first project was the Pinewood Derby. The boys get a little kit to build a car out of a wooden block, and then they race them.
Well, you have to cut that block into a shape (I mean, you don’t have to, but if you don’t, your child’s car will lose the race and everyone will feel sorry for him, so you kind of do have to). I don’t own any power tools, or very many other tools either. We ran out and bought a saw, sketched a few lines, shrugged off my lack of skill, and went at it.
It wasn’t ten minutes before I was bleeding. I learned how to use a saw, years ago, but it’s been awhile, and I maybe forgot a few safety rules. I lost control of the saw, and it bit into my knuckle. It hurt like the dickens, and it bled profusely, and I was scared I had seriously hurt myself. So, I did what any mature, responsible adult would do: I mopped up the blood, put on a bandage, and promised myself I’d look at it later. I went right back to sawing…and hurt myself again. I’m telling you, I am a born Scout mom.
I went through the whole day, uneasily noting that the blood was soaking the bandage, and postponing the inevitable unwrapping. I didn’t want to take the bandage off. It was bound to hurt, and I didn’t want to see the wound, didn’t want to face how bad it might be.
Is your prayer life ever like that?
Sometimes in the hard seasons of life, we try to cope with the pain by forgetting it, by burying it under all the to-dos on our list. That tactic gets us through our days, but it does nothing to bring healing and health to a soul that is wounded by sorrow or sin.
Spending time in prayer, though, rips off the band-aid. The wound is exposed, the blood (and the tears) can flow, and we might have to feel the pain that we’ve been ignoring, the fear that we’ve been burying. We naturally try to avoid that pain – but like avoiding the doctor for fear of stitches, that natural impulse leads us away from true comfort and true healing.
I go up to our parish chapel for prayer when I can. It’s more private than home, usually, and there’s something about walking through the door that says, “I choose to be here; there are a lot of things I have to do, and a lot of things on my mind, but this is the door I will walk through today.”
Once I’m there, though, it can be hard to begin. When your heart is aching, it’s hard to know what to say, and hard to overcome the desire to avoid opening that wound up. As a convert to the Catholic Church, I have come to deeply appreciate the rich tradition of recitation of rote prayers.I used to think they were empty, just mindless words, but they aren’t. They are the things our soul needs to say when we don’t know how.
So start with a Rosary. Start with the Our Father. Start with the Memorare, or the Magnificat. Just start. And maybe that day, your heart and mind won’t cooperate, and you just won’t feel a thing. That’s okay, because God was there. He heard you anyway, and He can still answer those prayers. Or maybe that day, the band-aid will come off, and your Savior will comfort your wounds and give you strength to walk out into the rain and carry on.
If you’re wondering, I have to admit that I never did look at my finger that day. Around supper time, I accepted that I was just too chicken to look for myself. I asked my teenage daughter, who has had some veterinary training, to take a look for me and see what she thought. I had a nasty cut, but it didn’t end up needing medical attention.
It might have made a better wrap-up if I’d looked at it myself and gone and got stitches. But I guess sometimes we’re not that strong. It’s a good thing prayer isn’t a magic fix that we take upon ourselves to accomplish. It’s just asking for some help from someone who knows what He’s doing.
Since I’m learning to incorporate the liturgical year into family life at the same time I’m adjusting to being a new Catholic, living in a new state, being a first-time homeowner, homeschooling with some unique challenges, and recovering from a serious financial slump, I’m keeping it simple. And cheap. I spent about 20 minutes on our Lent decor, if you include the time it took to figure out where they keep the plastic flowers at Walmart.
Of course, I’d probably keep it simple and cheap no matter what. I like it that way.
First up: our Lenten front door wreath, pictured above. I love having something on the front door! I picked up a grapevine wreath for $5 at Walmart, and I got the purple flower at the same time for $2.50. I don’t have a glue gun, or florist wire, or the ability to care about that, so I just cut the stem to a good length and wove it into the wreath. It took about two minutes, minus the Walmart-roving, and this way the flower could be readily removed to make way for some other seasonal whim.
Next, the dresser in our dining room, which houses playdoh, school games, art stuff, and various junk that I shove in there when company is coming. I put our Advent wreath on it this Advent past, and liked it so much I decided to just leave the space for “liturgical year stuff.” (There’s probably a better name for that).
Anyway, the purple cloth is actually just my favorite t-shirt (which is at least 10 years old). On top of that is Lenten Sacrifice Beans. I got both the idea and the free printable from Lacy at Catholic Icing. The only thing I bought for this was the purple ribbon and the flowers.
We “buried the alleuia” this year, too. This idea I got from Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas – both the idea itself and the inspiration to keep it simple. I was happy that I was able to fancy up the Sharpie with some glitter paint that I borrowed from the three year old, though.
I made this on Ash Wednesday, but we forgot to bury it till the Tuesday following.
The last thing I did was change the top of the bookshelf by the door. It’s only vaguely Lenten, with purple candles and a plain basket, which I recently snagged at the thrift store for a couple bucks. The rest I already had.
Cost: about $2
Lenten cooking is on my mind, and we tried tofu for the first time in years this week. Last time I made it, it was awful; I think I tried putting it in lasagna, or something equally egregious. This time, I fried it and put sweet and sour sauce on it, and it was actually quite tasty. I have a Pinterest board for Meatless and Fish dishes, come on over and visit for some new Friday ideas.
Lent seems long, just now, as sacrifices already grow tiresome and I become forgetful of the positive additions I am trying to make to my day during this time. One thing I have learned to appreciate, though, in becoming Catholic, is the sense of the value of time. The value of waiting, of walking through the process instead of skipping to the end. Honestly, I don’t fully intuitively grasp the value of fasting (and I mean fasting in a broad sense) yet, though I have read enough about it by now that I should. I don’t understand it, or why it is beneficial, but I do accept that it is, and I hope to gain a clearer vision of that in this season.
Incorporating the liturgical year into our family uncovers these kinds of gaps in understanding. It brings to mind how, as a Protestant, I would not do something I did not understand the value of or see the Biblical mandate for. Each hymn I sang, each prayer I read, all had to be screened – by me, of course. I love that I can learn by doing, by following the ancient practices of the Church and discovering the richness of it as I go.
“In his heart, Frodo begins to understand. The quest will claim his life.” ~ Galadriel, The Two Towers (2002)
Lent 2016 began on February 10.
On February 11, 2016, Mark sent another query letter to another job opening across the country from our home. It was no big deal. We had done this hundreds of times before. Usually, we heard nothing back.
To us, these two things had nothing to do with each other. The timing was an accident – I didn’t even notice it. But the coincidence later came to hold a permanent significance to me.
You see, I didn’t intend to give up anything for Lent last year. It was my very first serious Lent, and I wasn’t fully Catholic yet. I was still a Candidate.
I thought (with some justification) that my life in general was, at that time, penitential to a degree that I just wasn’t sure I could keep it together if it got any harder. So, I changed our family “fun jar” (where anyone can contribute their pennies and the savings can be spent on a fun outing) to a “giving jar,” I committed to pray the Morning Offering daily, and I obeyed the Friday abstinence (which I do year-round anyway). And that was it.
I had no way of knowing what Lent would really be like for me as a Candidate. That job application, for all its importance, was only part of the story of my first Lent.
The road into the Catholic Church is a long, beautiful, and sometimes painful one. At the beginning, I really didn’t understand why it had to take so long. But I found that there are some things that one can’t learn in a book, or by pulling a late night on Google (no, seriously). Some paths simply must be walked, even especially when we don’t understand, when we can’t see. There were certain things that had to happen during Lent, for me. They were hard things, but also things that turned my heart more firmly toward Christ.
One, I needed to make my first Confession. This was a deeply difficult experience for me, which I have written more about here. In Confession, I gave up my pride. My appearance of having it all (or maybe any of it) together. I also gave up my fear – fear of judgement, of rejection. I had been rejected before, in a church where I thought I was safely at home. It was doubly tough to then bare my soul with the ruthless honesty required to make a good confession, and it took me a long time afterward to relax and believe that it was really going to be okay. (But it was, more than okay. Confession is awesome, guys, I don’t know how I lived without it).
Second, during Lent, I came to really embrace the Catholic attitude toward the Magisterium of the church. I had been Reformed, a child of Luther and Calvin, for a long time. As a passionate adherent to Sola Scriptura, what I believed had had to come down to my own interpretation of the Bible. I could be advised, informed, inspired by the church and by the great (protestant) theologians, but I couldn’t trust them. I could only, in the end, trust my own study, my own judgement of what the Bible taught. (That got me in plenty trouble.) As a Catholic, I am no longer the final authority on what the Bible is saying on any given topic. Just because it’s clear to me, doesn’t make it so. (And if “clear to me” was the same as “clear,” we wouldn’t have so many denominations.) That’s remarkably freeing, a weight of misplaced responsibility lifted – but it’s humbling, too.
Finally, during Lent, I came to something of a breaking point in my personal life. Our steady downward financial spiral and our long, fruitless job search were a torment to me. It’s seriously humiliating to have a lot of kids and be in financial trouble. It’s terrifying and all-around stressful. I spent most of my “free” time either filling out job applications, researching academic job search strategies, or finding creative ways to juggle our finances so nothing got shut off that month.
For years, I had prayed and hoped and worked for and agonized over financial stability as an obvious good – which of course it is. But not every obvious good is given to every person. This one certainly had eluded us, in spite of our neverending efforts to pull ourselves out of our mess.
As it happened, that query letter that Mark sent out on February 11 got answered, which meant we were now ready for the nail-biting joy of Skype interviews. We had had several very near misses in Mark’s job search in previous years, sometimes making it to the very final round of interviews. My prayers over those were always variations on a theme: “Please, we need this job. Please, give us the opportunity to fully provide for ourselves. Allow us the dignity of a job that pays our bills. Allow us rest from this trial.” And sometimes, when the rejection letters came, they felt like rejection letters from God Himself. I knew it wasn’t so, in my head, but I couldn’t change how I felt. The stress was unbelievable.
This was how I came, one day during Lent, during the weeks of interviews, to a broken moment of prayer, crumpled in a heap on the bathroom floor (where else can a busy mom pray?). I could no longer hold onto the hopes and dreams for our future and family that had driven me for so long. I had a death grip on my idea of the way my life ought to go, and too many of my prayers had been little more than one long, loud tantrum that it wasn’t turning out that way.
This time was different. This time, the spirit of Lent took hold of my tired heart. In that moment of prayer, I gave up those dreams for Lent. I gave up my own hopes, goals, and plans for my life and for our family. I gave up wanting what I wanted, and asked for the heart to want what God wanted, instead- even if what He wanted was for us to remain trapped in a hole that was growing ever deeper. Not just to accept it – but to want it – because what I really want is God, and for God to draw my soul nearer to him. If the best way to do that is by this or that grim trial, then I can know that what I am getting is precisely what I really wanted all along.
In that moment, I understood. For my first Lent, I had to give up myself.
And in a truly poetic turn, Mark got that job. Our job search and our church transition came to completion at about the same time, around that Easter of 2016.
I haven’t fully worked out yet how we will observe Lent 2017, but I will always remember my first Lent. The spirit of that season, of laying down our wordly loads and loves, and turning our hearts and lives toward the cross, dwells in the Church and in the lives of her people, of which I am privileged to be a part.
Truth, friends. As a Protestant, I was immersed in my own culture, and looking in, good grief. All this praying to dead people, and burning incense, and…the bones. I went to a cathedral in Guatemala City once, and bones. People bones. It creeped me out for days.
The thing is, we shouldn’t judge Truth on whether we’re used to it or not. The biggest barrier to my conversion to the Catholic Church was the layers and layers of confusion, misinformation, and misunderstanding that clouded my vision.
Catholics are obsessed with death.
Well, you know. The relics. The crucifixes. Good Friday. All Souls Day.
I never liked crucifixes even as a child raised outside of church. I refused to believe that Jesus had really had nails driven through His hands. It was too graphic for me, I guess.
As a convert coming in from a conservative Presbyterian background, where any pictures of Christ are considered to violate the 2nd Commandment, I had a hard time with the crucifix in church. I could hardly look at it, for months.
But I’ve found that it’s not that Catholics are obsessed with death and suffering. It’s that they don’t fear it. Not just in an esoteric, I’m going to heaven kind of way, but in an everyday mercy kind of way. They feel the call to be messengers of mercy, healing, and love in the very darkest places – including the deathbed. They know that our suffering has great value in the eyes of God, and that it is a critical part of our growth as His children.
Catholics think they have to get married to go to heaven.
I didn’t think this one myself, but friends have challenged me with it. This example highlights how otherwise highly informed Protestants have been seriously misinformed about the Church. The splintering that goes on and on feeds on this kind of thing. (And it goes both ways, for sure.)
No. Of course not. Priests, nuns, etc., are celibate, for one thing, so that would be an extremely odd doctrine. Marriage is a sacrament, but so are Holy Orders, so most people don’t receive all seven sacraments in their lifetime – only a rare minority, such as perhaps a widower who then became a priest. Neither is required – it depends on one’s vocation and state of life.
Catholics live in a state of medieval superstition and fear.
This one I did think. In the sign of the cross, in the incense, in the candles, the holy water, the different gestures…I saw all these things as superstitious nonsense, silly things probably done to ward off evil spirits or something. My more austere Reformed spirituality seemed more logical and more Biblical, free of outward tangible signs of spiritual realities, beyond the two sacraments I accepted at the time.
But as I mentioned in my previous list of misconceptions, we are beings who are both physical and spiritual. Catholic practice is not superstitious – these practices all express and point to spiritual realities which are, for the most part, also accepted by our Protestant brothers and sisters. But, they do so in a way that understands that people are more than just a brain, or more than just a heart. We are physical beings, and our minds and hearts are informed and strengthened by things we encounter in the physical world.
Catholicism teaches that the Pope is never wrong, which is silly, because everybody knows that popes have lived scandalously and contradicted each other.
This is one I took as a given. It was incomprehensible to me that anybody could be so gullible as to actually believe that the Pope was infallible. It was patently obvious that, throughout history, there have been immoral popes who certainly weren’t infallible. And those pesky contradictions! Catholics were, to be sure, mindless automatons who never bothered to crack open a history book.
It was a top objection for me, in the early days. The problems here come really from two major misconceptions, not one:
Papal infallibility means that the Pope is perfect in every way. He does not forget phone numbers, and he sure doesn’t sin.
Nope. No, no, no. Here is an excerpt from an excellent article on the subject put out by Catholic Answers:
“…Fundamentalists and other “Bible Christians” often confuse the charism of papal ‘infallibility’ with ‘impeccability.’ They imagine Catholics believe the pope cannot sin…Given these common misapprehensions regarding the basic tenets of papal infallibility, it is necessary to explain exactly what infallibility is not. Infallibility is not the absence of sin…Some ask how popes can be infallible if some of them lived scandalously. This objection of course, illustrates the common confusion between infallibility and impeccability. There is no guarantee that popes won’t sin or give bad example. (The truly remarkable thing is the great degree of sanctity found in the papacy throughout history; the “bad popes” stand out precisely because they are so rare.)”
Catholics aren’t blind to the scandalous popes. They just know that it doesn’t have anything to do with the doctrine of infallibility.
Popes can’t be infallible because they have contradicted each other.
The historical record of this really surprised me. As a Protestant, it was a working assumption that popes had contradicted each other, not once or twice, but so many times that the whole doctrine was ridiculous.
“Other people wonder how infallibility could exist if some popes disagreed with others. This, too, shows an inaccurate understanding of infallibility, which applies only to solemn, official teachings on faith and morals, not to disciplinary decisions or even to unofficial comments on faith and morals. A pope’s private theological opinions are not infallible, only what he solemnly defines is considered to be infallible teaching.
Even Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who do not have these common misunderstandings often think infallibility means that popes are given some special grace that allows them to teach positively whatever truths need to be known, but that is not quite correct, either. Infallibility is not a substitute for theological study on the part of the pope.
What infallibility does do is prevent a pope from solemnly and formally teaching as “truth” something that is, in fact, error. It does not help him know what is true, nor does it “inspire” him to teach what is true. He has to learn the truth the way we all do—through study—though, to be sure, he has certain advantages because of his position…Turning to history, critics of the Church cite certain “errors of the popes.” Their argument is really reduced to three cases, those of Popes Liberius, Vigilius, and Honorius, the three cases to which all opponents of papal infallibility turn; because they are the only cases that do not collapse as soon as they are mentioned. There is no point in giving the details here—any good history of the Church will supply the facts—but it is enough to note that none of the cases meet the requirements outlined by the description of papal infallibility given at Vatican I (cf. Pastor Aeternus 4).”
Catholics have gone liberal and don’t practice what they preach anymore.
I talked about this a little in my first misconceptions post, but this one keeps on surprising me. Sure, yes, there are plenty of “Catholics” who aren’t serious. There are also plenty of Evangelicals who aren’t serious, who don’t read their Bible or take their morality or faith seriously. It doesn’t mean that the Evangelicals aren’t serious. It just means that the Evangelical churches have, well, people, in them. Those people are not all at the same place in their journey.
The un-serious Catholics that I met and, even more, Knew About (through hearsay) gave me an unrealistic view of the seriousness of Catholics in general. I keep meeting an endless stream of serious, sincere, practicing Catholics; I keep being surprised when I do. It’s a lovely, heart-cheering surprise, like so many facets of the Church, but I do hope my flawed, ingrained expectations begin to catch up to reality, one day.
Movies! There are some really fabulous movies out there that are wonderful to watch and share with your kiddos. We sometimes enjoy watching faith-related movies together, especially on a Sunday evening. I think they are a great way to spend time together and also grow in understanding some of the great stories in our family history. I have linked these to Amazon, but as always, if you want them, please consider saving resources – and a buck – by borrowing or buying used.
1. Clare and Francis – I loved this film! St. Francis is my oldest daughter’s confirmation saint, and is a constant inspiration for me as I struggle to balance the needs and wants of large family life, the tight budget that comes with that large family, and a desire to live a life of giving, detached from the thirst to acquire, improve, consume.
2.Restless Heart: The Confessions of Augustine – When I commented that I liked this one, but found it to be a little intense, Mark said that that was because Augustine had an intense life! This was really well-done, but does not make for light watching.
3. Jesus of Nazareth – A classic and really well done film on the life of Christ. This one is our favorite “Jesus movie” as a family. It’s extremely long – 6 and 1/2 hours! We watched it over the course of three evenings around Easter time, and it was a great way to consider the season.
4. The Chronicles of Narnia – BBC Version – Mark read these out loud to the kids before we watched the movies, and then we watched both this version and the new ones. The kids liked the newer versions fine, but Mark and I like the old BBC ones a lot better. Especially in the Dawn Treader, we felt that they really departed way too far from the original story, without any benefit. If you aren’t famliar with the Chronicles of Narnia – read them first!! 🙂
I used to have a lot of misconceptions about the Catholic church, back in my Protestant days. I am constantly blown away by how crazily inaccurate my ideas about Catholicism really were. These are NOT meant to be thorough arguments or really proofs of anything. Those things are out there, but my goal is just to flesh out some common misconceptions and how I realized I was wrong.
I could do way more than 7, but that’s a nice manageable number to start with.
Catholics don’t really believe in anything. They are just going through the motions.
I really did believe this, and um, wow, I was really wrong. It was a reality-altering experience to get to know actual Catholics who actually believe Catholic stuff. Like the Bible. All of it. With great zeal and passion. Blew me away and took months to get used to.
Catholics worship Mary. Sure, they SAY they don’t, but the whole dulia/latria thing is just saying one thing and doing another. For that matter the whole saint thing is pretty much a pagan pantheon.
In my mind now, I see Mary and the saints as an invaluable part of the “great cloud of witnesses,” cheering us on and praying for us, as we pray and cheer for each other. We are part of a huge and glorious family with every imaginable kind of person in it!
Catholics think they can buy their way into heaven by empty ritual.
Mmm. That is what I saw in Catholic practice, and that is what many Protestants see: empty ritual. The problem with that is that I didn’t know what I was talking about. For one thing, nobody’s buying anything. All the merit comes from Christ. Full stop.
Secondly, these things that Catholics do are about as far from empty as you can get; they are full to the brim and overflowing with meaning and truth. It only looks empty if you don’t understand what you are looking at – and for me, that was an understanding that had to happen in my heart, over time.
For a concise but thorough rundown of what all the rituals mean, I love Ann Ball’s Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals. It was recommended to us in RCIA and it’s been quite useful.
Catholics think they will spend millions of years in Purgatory to pay for their sins. They don’t understand that Jesus paid for their sins.
Ah, Purgatory. That’s a big one and honestly not really a quick take at all. I’m going to cheat a little and give you some links:
My husband Mark wrote something about this that I liked. He draws up a comparison between Purgatory and indulgences and everyday family life. You can find it here.
“The Catholic Church has this massive doctrine of purgatory, invented in the middle ages. The Church used to even sell indulgences to shorten your time in purgatory by a fixed number of days. This doctrine is based on books that don’t belong in the Bible. There is no place or region in the afterlife for the saved except heaven. There is no pain in the afterlife, and the minute we die we go to heaven, as Paul says, ‘To be absent from the body is to be present with Christ,’ praying for people in purgatory makes no sense. Worst of all, it infringes on the sufficiency of Christ’s work. It is completely unbiblical. No Protestant could believe it.”
Then, he breaks that all down and goes through it, piece by piece. It’s long, but if you are serious about understanding the Catholic point of view, it’s a great place to start.
Catholics think that the water of baptism saves you, and that even if you believe and then get hit by a bus on the way to be baptized, well, tough luck, buddy. You go to Hell. Shoulda looked both ways.
Here is a longish quote from the Catechism: “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are ‘reborn of water and the Spirit.’ God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.
The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.
‘Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.’ Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”
So, yes, baptism is absolutely necessary (John 3:5). But it can happen in irregular ways, in irregular situations. That doesn’t give us liberty to disregard it, but it does show God’s love and mercy.
Catholics aren’t allowed to think for themselves, and they don’t bother reading the Bible. They just have to believe and do what the Pope says.
There is definitely a Protestant attitude that Catholics, while not actually believing anything at all (see point 1), are also mindless automatons, a legion of robotic yes-men (and women).
It’s not really funny. But it sort of is, because in getting to know the church and the people in it, I discovered that Catholics are quite the spunky, opinionated lot. They also have Bible studies, where they study the Bible. (Yes they do. I go to one.) Not only that, but a huge portion of the Mass is…the Bible. Lots of Catholics read the daily Mass readings, whether they go to daily Mass or not.
Catholics think that Christ is sacrificed over and over again at every Mass.
This is a popular one. Mark the other day pulled together a compilation of quotes about that, and I am going to steal it. Way easier than looking it up myself.
Q. 931. Is there any difference between the sacrifice of the Cross and the sacrifice of the Mass?
A. Yes; the manner in which the sacrifice is offered is different. On the Cross Christ really shed His blood and was really slain; in the Mass there is no real shedding of blood nor real death, because Christ can die no more; but the sacrifice of the Mass, through the separate consecration of the bread and the wine, represents His death on the Cross.
Catechism of Pope St. Pius X:
5 Q. Is the Sacrifice of the Mass the same as that of the Cross?
A. The Sacrifice of the Mass is substantially the same as that of the Cross, for the same Jesus Christ, Who offered Himself on the Cross, it is Who offers Himself by the hands of the priests, His ministers, on our altars; but as regards the way in which He is offered, the Sacrifice of the Mass differs from the Sacrifice of the Cross, though retaining the most intimate and essential relation to it.
6 Q. What difference and relation then is there between the Sacrifice of the Mass and that of the Cross?
A. Between the Sacrifice of the Mass and that of the Cross there is this difference and relation, that on the Cross Jesus Christ offered Himself by shedding His Blood and meriting for us; whereas on our altars He sacrifices Himself without the shedding of His Blood, and applies to us the fruits of His passion And death.
8 Q. Is not the Sacrifice of the Cross the one only Sacrifice of the New Law?
A. The Sacrifice of the Cross is the one only Sacrifice of the New Law, inasmuch as through it Our Lord satisfied Divine Justice, acquired all the merits necessary to save us, and thus, on His part, fully accomplished our redemption. These merits, however, He applies to us through the means instituted by Him in His Church, among which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.