Friday, June 02, 2006

The Importance Of Being Earnest Protestants

Among the myriad 180-degree turnabouts in perception that transpire both during and after conversion to the Catholic Faith from Protestantism is the new knowledge of and deep appreciation for the sacramental life. It has been ten years since I was received into the Faith of the Fathers, and it is just now that I am beginning to appreciate the enormous emptiness of my Christian faith prior to the Sacraments.

In short, the Sacraments provide a real, tangible way for every Joe and Jane, regardless of their lot or station in life, to be as close to God as possible this side of the Beatific Vision. It doesn’t matter how educated they are, how devout they are, how well they understand the nuances of Scripture and doctrines, or even how holy they might be. Being “Nearer My God To Thee” is as near as the nearest Tabernacle. Even if they are in a state of mortal sin, the Sacrament of Penance is always there, always available.

Before I became a Catholic, this was always the eternal question, the eternal struggle—and I continue to see this struggle played-out in the lives of my friends and family members who remain Protestant. How do I get (feel) closer to Jesus? Outside of the Sacraments, this could only be achieved by increasing intellectual activity. Think about Jesus more. Read the Bible more. And if that doesn’t work, think about Jesus more while reading the Bible more. More Bible studies, longer worship services, bigger pot-luck dinners. Pray more—which, though certainly a good endeavor, is still only an intellectual endeavor.

But if I’m a REALLY earnest Protestant, even this is not enough. I must go off to seminary so I can become a pastor and seed my own churches, or I must go off to the mission field in the most dangerous part of the world. Again, not that seminary and /or missionary work aren’t good and noble things, it’s just that there is no appreciation for the potential holiness of ordinary life, of the “little ways” as it were. And this lack of understanding begins, I believe, with the absence of the sacramental life. If one doesn’t believe that Christ can get closer to us through ordinary bread and wine, through ordinary water, in an ordinary confessional, through ordinary men—then we must do something extra-ordinary to get closer to Him.

19 Comments:

Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

"Being “Nearer My God To Thee” is as near as the nearest Tabernacle."

Another classic Frankism.

Monday, June 05, 2006 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Justin said...

This post doesn't seem particularly charitable to the breadth of Protestantism. The older (and what I take to be the more orthodox) strands of Protestantism - Lutheranism, Reformed, and Anglican - share an appreciation and reliance on the Sacraments. Certainly, they limit the number of Sacraments, but the sort of psychological calm that you can experience via Penance doesn't seem all that different than the Protestant who reads her Bible endlessly.

Ultimately, (and I hope Protestants and Catholics can agree about this) it's not our Bible reading or participation in Penance that bring us *closer* to God. Rather, it's the Father through his risen Son who condescends to us in all our fraility, and I'm convinced that this can occur during the Protestant's so called "quiet time" just as easily as during the Sacrament of Penance.

Thursday, June 08, 2006 9:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Frank said...

Justin,



Thanks for you thoughtful comments. I should have been more precise in making the distinction that I was referring to my evangelical, non-denomination protestant background. Certainly there are particular Protestant traditions that have a greater appreciation of Sacramental theology than others.



As to one of your other points, the Catholic understanding is that there is an ~infinite~ difference between even something as noble as reading one's Bible and participating in the Sacraments. The Sacraments, received properly, really and truly infuse the Grace of God into our souls, whereas other acts of Christian piety do not normally accomplish this-- and in the extremely rare cases they do, it is because the soul performing the pious act has reached a state of spiritual communion that has the approximation of a Sacrament. For example, the woman reading her Bible making an ejaculatory act of perfect penitence. In such a case, it is the act of perfect penitence-- a approximation of the Sacrament of Penance-- which infuses her soul with Grace, not the reading of the Bible, per se.



Another important aspect of the Sacraments is they their efficacy is not dependant on my emotional or physical state. Again, if received properly, they infuse one's soul with Grace regardless of ones ~experience~ of the Sacrament. If one makes a good confession, their soul is cleansed-- even if they don't feel like it is. The unconscious man's soul is infused with Grace with the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, even though he isn't aware that it is being given to him.



However, if I read the Bible but don't particularly "get into it" because I am distracted, or I am ill, or I am tired, what has my soul gained? Would the state of the unconscious man's soul change if someone read the Bible at his bed-side?



Finally, you noted,



"Ultimately, (and I hope Protestants and Catholics can agree about this) it's not our Bible reading or participation in Penance that bring us *closer* to God. Rather, it's the Father through his risen Son who condescends to us in all our frailty..."



Yes, it certainly is God who condescends to us in our frailty, through Jesus Christ, and He does this ~normally~ through the Sacraments. These are the ordinary means by which He pours His Grace out to us. Certainly, there are extraordinary means which He may sometimes choose-- but they are, in fact, extraordinary.



And so, the Sacraments do in fact bring us closer to God-- but only because He has provided them as Gifts to His Earthly Church. He has provided the means, and we apply these means to ourselves or others.

Frank

Thursday, June 08, 2006 12:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Justin said...

Frank,

Well, being Protestant, I don't think that Penance is a sacrament. However, I do think that Baptism and Communion are sacraments. Now, I suspect that our views on baptism aren't that far apart, but I only affirm Christ's Spiritual presence in the elements - not a substantial change.

Anyway, given my sacramental theology, I disagree with there being some significant difference between Penance and Bible reading. But the main point of the post didn't seem to be about Penance (more like you used Penance as a paradigmatic case of how sacramental theology can change our day to day lives). So if that's the main point you're trying to communicate to Protestants, then I'll happily agree (while still disagreeing about how many sacraments there are).

I think most of your second paragraph is right-on (with the exception of the mention of Penance), and I appreciated that you recognized that some Protestant groups affirm historical, orthodox, and catholic sacramental theology.

Friday, June 09, 2006 8:13:00 AM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Justin,

If I might but in temporarily--Frank won't be able to respond until Monday or so--why do you reject the other five Sacraments? Just curious.

Friday, June 09, 2006 4:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Justin said...

Trent,

I'm also going to be unable to give a sufficient answer until Monday. I just saw your comment, and I'm not going to be able to formulate a particularly coherent answer without thinking about it some more (and I'll be pretty busy tomorrow). Plus, I need to finish my pipe. So hopefully on Monday I can work out something rigorous.

The short answer (of course) is that I'm a good Calvinist. ;)

Saturday, June 10, 2006 9:06:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Ah well then I guess I'm predestined to disagree with the answer. Still, I'll try to keep an open mind (can I try to be predestined to do so?).

0:-)~

Saturday, June 10, 2006 9:42:00 PM  
Blogger TheHype1 said...

It seems like a particularly Protestant concern to be so worried about the well-being and downright salvation of other faiths based on their practice and customs.

Thursday, July 06, 2006 10:47:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

I have no idea what you could mean by that.

Friday, July 07, 2006 7:46:00 AM  
Blogger TheHype1 said...

My previous comment left some explanation, but I try not to waste too muc time of other readers (although why else would they be here?).

The writer mentions:

"I continue to see this struggle played-out in the lives of my friends and family members who remain Protestant."

It's been my experience that Protestants are typically more interested in confronting others about faith than Catholics. The irony here is that the writer has found a home with the Catholic faith but seems to hold on to the Protestant practice of worrying about others who don't follow the same prescription. It starts out with the writer explaining why he's happy to be Catholic, but then drifts into criticism of Protestants.

Friday, July 07, 2006 7:33:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Take a look at the two things you said. Context implies that you think they amount to the same thing, but they are *quite* different.

"It seems like a particularly Protestant concern to be so worried about the well-being and downright salvation of other faiths based on their practice and customs."

"It's been my experience that Protestants are typically more interested in confronting others about faith than Catholics."

The first statement is false, in my experience, even though the second is clearly true. What's clearly true is the second statement that Protestants are typically more confrontational. However, in my experience, Catholics actually *care* more about the people and their salvation, they just express it non-confrontationally.

When I was a Protestant--which was for more than a decade I think (Southern Baptist for part and Bible Church for part)--I was very confrontational. I called it "evangelism" or "witnessing" or "sharing my faith" but it was really just a competition for notches on my belt. It was an adrenaline rush and proof that was a good evangelical, and the thrill of victory, etc.

I gesture at the difference between Catholic and "evangelical" evangelism in this post on my personal blog.

Friday, July 07, 2006 9:05:00 PM  
Blogger TheHype1 said...

You are selectively answering my questions. Can't the writer be enthusiastic about his faith without being critical of Protestants? That is my main reason for the comments, and you appear to be clarifying semantics without addressing the issue.

While I don't mind corresponding with you, you aren't the writer here.

Friday, July 07, 2006 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

"Can't the writer be enthusiastic about his faith without being critical of Protestants?"

A. I don't think he's being critical of Protestants, he's making an interesting observation in the sociology of religion.

B. Yes, he can. I've known him for over a decade and his love for the Catholic Church is utterly independent of any feelings for Protestantism. He came into the Church because he thought her claims were true (which truths entail the falsity of much of the core of Protestantism).

"While I don't mind corresponding with you, you aren't the writer here."

I don't need to be the writer to answer these questions. If the writer wishes to respond, I'm sure he will when he has time. I'm glad you don't mind corresponding with me and I'll be happy to address any concerns you have regarding the truth of the Catholic Faith.

Friday, July 07, 2006 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger TheHype1 said...

If you think he needs a mouthpiece, then fine.

What are your qualifications to answer any questions that I may have regarding the "truth" of the Catholic faith? You can only speak of Catholic "truth" as you see it. Besides, I don't recall asking any questions about "truth".

I'm having a hard time answering this in a polite way, so forgive me if it comes across as being rude...your presumption to answer questions about Catholic "truth" appear to be a bit egotistical. I'll refer to a Chruch official for that type of information. If I care to read you OPINION on the Catholic faith, I'll check back with you.

Have a nice weekend!

Saturday, July 08, 2006 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

"If you think he needs a mouthpiece, then fine."

He doesn't need one and I'm not being one. You asked a question on a blog I admin which was not clearly addressed to the author alone and I addressed it. There's nothing untoward about that.

"What are your qualifications to answer any questions that I may have regarding the "truth" of the Catholic faith?"

The most important kind: a truth-seeking Catholic convert.

"You can only speak of Catholic "truth" as you see it."

That's true of any person/topic pair thus otiose.

"Besides, I don't recall asking any questions about "truth"."

It's a simple semantic fact about the English language that sentences uttered in the interrogative mood assume answers in the indicative mood and that--except in special contexts (and maybe even then)--indicative sentences express propositions which have a truth-value (either true or false). So unless your questions were rhetorical questions, they were questions about truth.

"I'm having a hard time answering this in a polite way"

Um, yeah. I can tell.

"forgive me if it comes across as being rude"

You're forgiven.

"your presumption to answer questions about Catholic "truth" appear to be a bit egotistical"

How so? What do you mean by the term "egotistical"? Either you're using the term in a non-standard way or you are making some questionable assumptions.

"I'll refer to a Chruch [sic] official for that type of information."

I see no reason why you would need to do that in all cases. In fact, in most cases they'd probably refer you to a lay specialist, like someone with doctoral work in philosophy of religion (like me, that is).

"If I care to read you OPINION on the Catholic faith, I'll check back with you."

No need to shout. I hope you do check back if you really are seeking truth (the tone does, I must say, cast a shadow of doubt on that).

"Have a nice weekend!"

Thanks, you do.

Saturday, July 08, 2006 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger TheHype1 said...

You've already admitted that while practicing other religions you made sport of trying to call out others who you felt didn't live up to your standards. I'm struggling to see the difference here.

Welcome to the Catholic faith! I made be wrong in my interpretation of the posts on this site, but (based on some of what I've read) you guys seem to have a problem with lifelong Catholics and nuns. I'm not so sure why.

I, for one, am happy that you've become Catholic. However, the fact that you're a convert holds no special meaning for me. Do you fel that it puts you in some sort of higher position?

At this point, I don't think I'll take advantage of your self-proclaimed brilliance regarding the Catholic faith.

Saturday, July 08, 2006 1:51:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

"You've already admitted that while practicing other religions you made sport of trying to call out others who you felt didn't live up to your standards. I'm struggling to see the difference here."

I have no idea what you're talking about. I didn't say anything about standards. I'm struggling to see what on Earth you're talking about.

"Welcome to the Catholic faith! I made be wrong in my interpretation of the posts on this site, but (based on some of what I've read) you guys seem to have a problem with lifelong Catholics and nuns. I'm not so sure why."

You are projecting. I've responded to your comments on those posts.

"I, for one, am happy that you've become Catholic. However, the fact that you're a convert holds no special meaning for me. Do you fel [sic] that it puts you in some sort of higher position?"

I'm happy you're happy. Since I assume I've never met you and you don't seem to like me for some reason I don't expect my conversion to have any "special meaning" for you. I merely offered to give you my perspective, which is all I have. Methinks thou doth protest too much.

"At this point, I don't think I'll take advantage of your self-proclaimed brilliance regarding the Catholic faith."

A. At no point did I proclaim to have any brilliance. B. I'm sorry you're not interested in examining the truth-claims of Mother Church in this forum.

Saturday, July 08, 2006 2:13:00 PM  
Blogger TheHype1 said...

Good luck with your forum.

Peace.

Sunday, July 09, 2006 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Frank Hogrebe said...

The gist of my original post was simply to observe that as a Protestant I often struggled with the question, "I'm saved-- now what?" Of course, at the time, I would never have put it in such terms.

I see this same struggle played out in the lives of my family and friends who are Protestant-- though they too would never express it this particular way.

Monday, July 10, 2006 8:07:00 AM  

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