Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Catholicism: Letters to Daniel (part 4)

Dear Daniel,
Your last letter was quite poignant, so I'm going to try to answer it all now, before I go away tomorrow. At least you'll be gone for a week overlapping, so I'll have some time to catch up when I return.

I had said: "While while others have done a wonderful job of answering your objections to not receiving Communion, I just wanted to echo what has been said. Communion is just that: Coming together in Union with both God and each other. Specifically, it is the symbol of that Union (though, of course, as a Sacrament, it also effects what it symbolises). Thus, to receive Communion, one must believe along with the Community."

You replied that you do (rather emphasising that point) belong to the community. As I tried to say above, no, Daniel, you do not belong to the Catholic community. Yes, you are a Christian, but you are not a Catholic, and protest against certain Catholic beliefs--as such, you cannot be a part of the Catholic community. Regardless of what other Christian communions hold in regard to who can receive their Eucharist, the Catholic Church has said that only Catholics who are in a state of grace may receive the Catholic Eucharist. They say this because, as the Bible states, there are serious repercussions to receiving the Eucharist unworthily.

As others again point out, to receive the Eucharist, saying "Amen!" after the minister proclaims "The Body of Christ" (literally meaning "This is actually Jesus Himself, not just a representation of Him") without actually believing that it is, in fact, Jesus Himself, would be lying. Or, think of it this way:

If we, as Catholics, are right in believing that Jesus is really, literally, and tangibly present in the Eucharist and that He comes into us powerfully and mystically through receiving, and you do not believe this, then if you received the Eucharist without believing it was Jesus, you are imperiling your soul and even your body.

If, on the other hand, we as Catholics are wrong in believing that Jesus is really, literally, and tangibly present in the Eucharist, etc., then in calling the Bread and the Wine "Jesus" and kneeling before it in worship, believing that the Bread and Wine is, in fact, our God who died to save us, we are guilty of the most tragic and worst kind of Idolatry--and you, as an obedient Christian, would rather decry our pagan practices, rather than desire to participate in them.

So either we are right, and wish to prevent you from sinning, or you are right and should wish not to sin. The only other alternative is that you believe that we are right (at least on this point), but you have nevertheless brought yourself into conformity with that belief by joining the Community. And if you are unwilling to take the final step of acknowledging your unity with us, you cannot then receive of the ultimate symbol and reward of that unity. The Eucharist, after all, is not for Catholics some dispensible or secondary rite. It is, as has been stated by Catechisms and Popes and Church Fathers for the past 2000 years, "The Source and Summit of our Faith."

If I visited your family, no, I wouldn't think I would be allowed to help clean up. Why not? Because I am a guest. I am an outsider. I am not part of the family. When I first started dating my wife, and visited her family, I was unwelcome to help--but once I had been coming for a while, it actually became a part of my role to help set up the extra table and even do dishes afterward, because I had really been welcomed into the family. That your grandmother would not let me serve if I visited demonstrates the exact same principle that I was trying to illustrate. There are simply things that one, as a visitor, has no part in, until that one actually fully enters into the community.

You claim that there is very little tradition in your church, if any at all. I disagree, but we may be disagreeing about the term tradition. It applies to more than simply how the service is carried out, or whether the pastor wears particular vestments. Traditions include the beliefs you hold, especially those which are not specifically found in the Bible, as well as the ways in which you would interpret what is found in the Bible. I cannot necessarily offer examples of this since I'm not sure of all that you believe--but I'll take a stab in the dark of an example: The Bible itself--how many books does it have? Protestants would say 66, while Catholics would say 73. How do we know? Tradition. Ours is the Tradition of the Early Church Councils which canonised Scripture, while yours is the tradition of the non-Christian Jews who removed 7+ books from their Old Testament in AD 90 in order to further differentiate from and fight against Christianity. This decision of the Jews was adopted some 1500 years later by Martin Luther, and was handed down to all of Protestantism at that time. Since the Bible itself has no inspired "table of contents", the only way we could know which books belong or not is precisely tradition.

What you claim not to have is not tradition, per se, but ritual. And you may very well not have much established ritual--but it is a tradition not to have ritual, while in the Catholic Church it is a tradition to have ritual. You seem to believe that an absense of ritual makes the Spirit more free to move however He wants to. I admit to having believed the same thing when I was a Pentecostal. But this belief is itself a tradition, rather than something that could be proved from Scripture. The Bible says that we should worship in spirit and truth. It says we should be open to the moving of the Spirit. But none of these things demonstrate either that ritual obstructs the movement of the Spirit or aids it, or whether worshipping in spirit and truth can be done ritualistically or not. It is your (non)denomination's tradition that tells you ritual is counter-productive to the movement of the Spirit, and my Church's tradition which tells me that is not the case whatsoever.

So you see, if we pressed the issue by examining every belief and practice of your church, I would show you that, though you aren't as ritualistic, you are at least as traditional as we are. The question then becomes not "Is tradition wrong?" (which Protestants love to say it is, while denying that the traditions they themselves hold are "traditions"), but rather, "Can tradition come from God?" and if so, "Which traditions came from God?"

I admit that I'm not entirely sure what you were trying to say with your anecdote of the conversation on your way to Illinois. Perhaps you might elaborate?

You write: "I was discussing Catholicism with my trainer, and he was saying it was only at like, third grade you can ask Jesus into your heart, but I think that's wrong, because, suppose they learn the difference between good and evil before that, and something happens to them and they die. Well, they'll go to hell. And obviously, that isn't a good thing. And the same trainer had never heard of super natural healing before he came to the Church he's at now."

Was your trainer once a Catholic? If so, he seems to be precisely the sort of Catholic which I mentioned above--namely, the kind who left Catholicism because they never really understood it in the first place.

First of all, Catholicism teaches that in Baptism you are born again--that is, for all intents and purposes, "saved." As Catholics practice infant baptism, we would hold that, because of the faith of the parents standing in for the child, that child is saved--until such a time as they can make the choice for themselves.

Typically, First Communion and First Reconciliation (Confession) occur for the child at about the age of 7 (at least where I'm from--it's different in different dioceses, because really, it's not a question of doctrine). They do not "become saved" at this point, since, as a baptised Catholic, they already were, so to speak. (I say so to speak because we believe that one is only ultimately saved if they die in the state of God's grace. Life from baptism until death is an ongoing process of salvation which a person can walk away from through serious sin at any time, and thus forfeit his salvation, baptism or no.)

As for your 'trainer' never hearing of supernatural healing until coming to the church he now attends, that is an odd thing. The Bible is full of such healings, and history has only continued them. The Catholic Church has never denied them, and indeed has a Sacrament specifically dedicated to healing: The Anointing of the Sick. Whatever background your friend came from, I submit that not to have heard of miracles was simply to not have been paying attention.

I'm glad to hear you've almost reached your financial goal! I hope sincerely that you succeed and will offer a prayer for you.

As to which book of the Bible is your favourite, you stated that you had only ever read Romans. You now have added Revelation to that list. If you've only read 2, one or the other (or perhaps both) must be your 'favourite'. How can something you've never read be your favourite book?

And I still remember my New Testament Professor (who was working on his Doctorate in the book of Revelation) bellowing out in his Nigerian accent, "Revlation! Not Revelations! There is only one!"

As to taking tangible steps, of course Jesus looks at the heart--but He still demands that steps be taken! He could not have praised the widow for offering her little bit of money if she had not, in fact, offered that money! Why we do things is perhaps more important than what we do--but we still have to do them. If I chose to go through the process of becoming a Catholic just so that I could marry my Catholic wife, say, then I would be doing it insincerely--and while the priest might not have known for certain my true motives, Jesus Himself would, and I would have been no better off as a Catholic. In fact, I probably would be worse, as I was a Catholic youth minister and taught others the Catholic faith and I currently write Catholic apologetic material! I would be a hypocrite of the worst sort!

But rather, sincerely desiring to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, I became a Catholic out of pure motives, which I appeal to Christ to judge! Thus my motives backed up and reinforced my actions--but while I had the motive (which I did for three years before I converted) it did me no good until I actually took the steps. Faith, after all, is dead without works, according to St. James.

For the record, those wafers are bread. The Epsicopal church serves the same elements as the Catholic Church, in mainly the same way. The difference is that trying to pin down an Episcopal minister on whether it's really Jesus or just a symbol is pretty tricky, and often differs from church to church.

Since the rest of the conversation seems to have derailed into a discussion of when Jesus was born, I have no idea where you got the idea, Daniel, that it could have been 4000 years ago. Jesus was born roughly 2000 years ago, give or take a decade (since it's 2007 after all...) Whether the earth is 4000 years older than Jesus, or 64 million, I'm not prepared to answer (though I lean toward the latter). But when Jesus lived is hardly in dispute.

I hope you see miracles in Peru--but I'm curious, what will it mean if you don't? If you go to Peru, pray for the sick or the possessed or whatever, and nothing seems to happen, what will that mean to you and for you?

I hope to hear from you soon.
God bless

(Category: The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Catholicism: Letters to Daniel (Part 3)

Dear Daniel,
I'm glad my replies have been enlightening. Our correspondence has been a great joy to me. However, I should let you know that I'm heading away for two weeks on vacation, so I may not be able to reply to anything you write until I get back, which is a great disappointment to me. I'll try to catch up here when I return. That said, I'll just take a second to address what has been said already.

First, your comment on Religion, being "man made" dos and don'ts: I'm wondering how you would apply that to the Israelite religion, as handed down in the Torah (ignoring, for the moment, the Pharisaical Judaism of Jesus' day, or the Judaism of modern times). If, as a Christian, you believe the Bible to be the Inspired Word of God, then the "dos and don'ts" of Exodus, Leviticus, et al. would comprise a religion that was not "man made", but "God made." Thus, decrying "religion" simply because it is dos and don'ts won't work, since God has Himself given us dos and don'ts. Decrying religion as "man made" begs the question of whether or not God gave us any religions, or whether all of them are, in fact, man made. Now, since we know that God made the religion of Moses, that becomes a bit of a problem. Since we know that Jesus came to found a Church, that poses even more of a problem.

You can hate all you like "man made" religions, but you cannot lump all religions into that category. If the Bible, which comes from God, gives us "dos and don'ts", which it does (even your favourite book, Romans, has a pretty hefty list), then the Christian religion, coming from God, is neither free from rules, nor man made.

You protest very loudly against the Catholic practice of the "Closed Table", saying that, as a Christian, you should be entitled to receive Communion along with Catholics. It is a complaint with which I strongly sympathise, having gone through that turmoil myself, and while others have done a wonderful job of answering your objections to not being able to receive Communion, I just wanted to echo what has been said. Communion is just that: Coming together in Union with both God and each other. Specifically, it is the symbol of that Union (though, of course, as a Sacrament, it also effects what it symbolises). Thus, to receive Communion, one must believe along with the Community.

In my Pentecostal church growing up, where the Communion elements (crackers and grape juice) were thought to simply symbolise and commemorate our Lord's passion for us, the requirement for receiving was being a Christian, or at least professing to be so, since we cannot judge hearts. It seems that your own tradition holds a similar belief.

But for the Catholic, we believe that when the Priest has prayed the words of Jesus over the elements (unleavened bread and wine) those elements actually change from bread and wine into Jesus--His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity are entirely present in the elements. We refer to this as "Transubstantiation" because, while the "accidents" (the outer appearance) of the bread and the wine remain the same, the "substance" (the inner nature--that which makes bread, bread and wine, wine) has changed into the Substance of Jesus.

Now, believing this leads to certain conclusions: namely that those who do not believe this would, when partaking, profane the sacred reality before us--they would, in effect, be assaulting Jesus. In 1 Corinthians, it specifically tells us (chapter 11) that those who partake unworthily (that is, without recognising Christ's body--11:27-30) will actually become sick or possibly even die. Now, someone who does not believe that Christ's body is present would obviously fall under this warning--as would someone who is living in a state of unconfessed sin, and so the Church says even a Catholic who has not repented is barred from Communion.

Now, on the other hand, you might say, as I myself reasonably could have just five years ago, that I believe in the Real Presence, and, as I had done even though not a Catholic, confessed my sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, why therefore could I not participate? The reason is because of the second meaning of Communion--that is, Unity with the community of believers--in this case, Catholics. Protestants, having protested Catholic teachings (including, especially, this one which we are discussing), have separated themselves from the unity of the Catholic Church. In restoring that unity, it's not quite enough to say, "I think Catholics are nice people, or Christians, or whatnot, and that Pope is a cool guy--Can I have Communion?" No, actual tangible steps must be taken, similar to how a person immigrating to your country must take oaths and tests of citizenship. Thus, for one desiring to receive Catholic Communion, one must be Confirmed as a Catholic.

As far as understanding our rituals go, I would suggest seeing if your former Catholic friends are willing, and knew enough about Catholicism to remember, they might be able to help guide you through a Mass. Though I'm not too hopeful on that, since most former Catholics that I've met or dealt with, didn't really know much about their faith when they left.

You say these rituals and rules and exclusive nature make Catholicism seem like a "secret club", but you must keep in mind that there are things that one has to be a part of before one can really "get" them. It's not a matter of secrecy, or even really exclusivity. It's just common sense. Your family, for example, would probably seem rather like a "secret club" to me, if I was invited over for dinner. I wouldn't know where dishes went if I offered to help clean up. I wouldn't even necessarily know where to sit. It's simply a matter of being "foreign" rather than "secret." With Catholicism, there is a lot of symbolism and ritual (truthfully, there is probably as much ritual in your church services, but since a) you're used to them, and b) they probably aren't emphasised in the same way in your tradition, you might not really realise that they're there. I know I never did in my PAOC days. It just is what it is--familiar to those for whom it is familiar, and dreadfully strange for those for whom it is new.

I'm afraid that as far as that goes, all I can recommend is an open mind and a willingness to understand--both things which you have so far demonstrated.

I eagerly hope to renew our discussion when I return from my vacation.
God bless

(Category: The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Catholicism: Letters to Daniel (Part 2)

Dear Daniel,
I understand that you are and have been busy. I lament the fact that you smell like beer--it is a horrid smell. I used to smell like beer from working at a recycling plant. Now the only time I smell like beer is when I drink it on occasion. Your reason of fundraising towards a mission trip seems a much nobler one.

In reading, or rather, skimming, my last letter, answering your several questions about Catholicism, you complain that you didn't once see mention of RHEMA Bible Institute. Nor would you have. I never spoke of RHEMA or Kenneth Hagin or any of your heroes. I answered your questions about Catholicism. I have no idea what my mention or lack of mention of RHEMA, Kenneth Hagin, the "Word-Faith Movement" et al. would have to do with the questions that you asked, and can hardly see why you would take no interest in a Catholic's response to questions about Catholicism because it didn't mention factors of personal interest to you which weren't actually a part of your line of questioning. In fact, I have no idea why RHEMA would have been brought up except to say that it stems from your personal brand of Protestant experience.

And yes, Daniel, despite your protestations to the contrary, you are a 'Protestant'. Let's trace a bit of history out for you, shall we?

Jesus founded one Church. That Church, to differentiate it from various competing heresies such as Gnosticism, which all claimed to be "Christian", called itself the Catholic Church (as early as AD 110). It survived persecutions, heresies, and even peace for about a millenium, enduring various controversies all throughout. However, the Greek-speaking East and the Latin-speaking West had different ways of expressing theology, and this led to various miscommunications and modes of expression which were taken very seriously. Through various power-plays and whatnot, there came about the Great Schism, in which the Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Catholic Church in AD 1054 (this, of course, is a tragic oversimplification of the matter, but, as you are prone to skimming, I figure you won't actually mind).

Catholicism continued on (as did Eastern Orthodoxy), thriving primarily in the west, still battling heretical groups who tried to pervert the Gospel. In around AD 1517, a monk named Martin Luther, battling personal issues of sinfulness, had what he considered a religious revelation, and, because of this revelation, broke away from the Catholic Church, teaching two very new and very different doctrines than those taught in the previous 1500 years of the Church (East or West): Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura. Other men caught on to these two doctrines (known as the pillars of the Reformation) and interpreted them as they felt they should. Thus Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anglicanism, and the Anabaptists appeared on the scene. But these four groups were themselves prone to division, so that the Lutherans broke into several sub-Lutheran categories, the Calvinists into Baptists, Presbyterians, Christian Reform, and the like; the Anglicans broke further down into Anglican, Episcopalian, Methodist, Wesleyan, Puritan, Evangelical Missionary, Pentecostalism, and on and on, and the Anabaptists became groups like Quakers, Salvation Army, Mennonites, Amish, etc. Since there are over 20 000 different Protestant denominations, this is far from an exhaustive list, but this is the progression of denominations--beginning with Luther, to what we have today.

What do all these denominations have in common? A professed belief in Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura (though these are interpreted differently from group to group), and a protestation of Catholic teaching. Hence, all these post-Reformation Christians are known collectively as "Protestants".

Most Non-Denominational churches, such as you claim to belong to, split off of one Protestant denomination or another. Kenneth Hagin himself comes from a Pentecostal background, and your (non)denomination stems, it seems, from Kenneth Hagin and the Word-Faith Movement (which, since it can be labelled as a group, is by definition a denomination). And, even if it is truly "non-denominational", it is still Protestant, as it objects to certain Catholic beliefs, as you yourself have done here.

The Catholic Church, by the way, and even many Protestant denominations, would consider Word-Faith to be heretical, making God out to be rather a Divine Santa Claus. The "Prosperity Gospel" flies right in the face of Jesus' words, "Go, sell all that you have, and give to the poor" and "Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart, so store up treasure in Heaven."

To your statement that you have never read the book of James, and only ever really read Romans, I have to express my concern--especially for one who has professed a desire to be a minister of Christ. Romans is a wonderful book, but it is only one of 73 (for Catholics) or 66 (for Protestants). You are severely limiting your understanding of 'the whole council of God' by sticking only with Romans. Especially since, historically in the Church, it is the Fourfold Gospel which has been accorded primacy of place. If there was any book (or group of books) to be read exclusively, it would be Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

And finally, on what grounds do you "hate" religion? I've heard that phrase tossed around a lot, especially by "non-denominational Christians", all the while they fail to realise that they are, themselves, religious.

Anyway, I would greatly appreciate it if you would reread my first letter to you. I put quite a bit of effort into it. I'm afraid that our conversation cannot progress very far unless you take the time to absorb what I am telling you. Again, I understand that you are busy, so please, take your time with this. I am in no rush.

God bless

(Category: The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)

Catholicism: Letters to Daniel (Part 1)

Recently I was involved in a discussion forum at a Catholic group on Facebook with a Protestant fellow who was asking questions about Catholicism from his non-denominational, charismatic, Kenneth-Hagin-esque background. Our conversation was quite fruitful and enjoyable, and I hope it continues. Unfortunately, it won't continue at that venue, because of the poor treatment that my friend feels he received from the other Catholics at that forum. I mention this only to say that as apologists, we must always be diligent to present the truth we believe in a loving and considerate manner.

When Daniel left the discussion, either he or someone else deleted his contributions to the thread, so what I am reproducing here will be somewhat different than the usual exchanges I have put on this blog. That is to say, it will be almost exclusively my side of the conversation, except where I quote him. As such, I think it will end up reading, and I hope it does, more similarly to what C.S. Lewis achieved in his correspondence with his fictional friend, in
Prayer: Letters to Malcolm. Hence the title of these series of posts, "Catholicism: Letters to Daniel". In keeping with that purposeful stylistic device, I've edited the correspondences slightly to conform them more to letters than posts on a discussion board. But enough has been said about these posts. It is now time to allow you to read them. God bless.

Dear Daniel,
I recently read the several questions which you recently asked about Catholicism, and thought I would write to you my answers to those questions. I'll try to tackle them all at once, but of course, that might make it dreadfully long. I do hope you will take the time to read my communiqu├ęs all through.

The answer to your first question, "Why Catholicism?" can, of course, only be a personal answer, and not one that can or should be applied all across the board. For 20-odd years of my life, I grew up in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) which, since you are, seemingly, from the States, is the sister denomination to the Assemblies of God. I was intensely devoted to Jesus (I still am) and was a tongues-speaking, hand-waving, well, the best word I can think of for it is 'zealot'. At 15, I felt called to go into the ministry, and pursued that vocation to Bible College. As I dug deeper, though, I realised that I didn't agree with some of the core teachings of the PAOC, especially that one which taught that in order to really have been "baptised with the Holy Spirit" one must have spoken in tongues (remember, I do speak in tongues, so I wasn't disillusioned about this because it hadn't happened to me, yet). I felt that the biblical arguments for this doctrine were rather less than compelling, and were even contradicted by other passages of Scripture.

As someone aspiring to minister for Jesus in the PAOC, I felt that it would be dishonest of me to become a Pentecostal pastor all the while not believing in one of its core, distinctive doctrines. So I opted to go to a Protestant Bible College with a good cross-section of denominational representation. I chose Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener, Ontario, which was officially an Evangelical Missionary school, but which, out of roughly 350 students, had over 40 denominations represented, including EMC, Pentecostal, Baptist, Mennonite, Missionary Alliance, Lutheran, Anglican (Episcopalian), United, Presbyterian, Christian Reform, and several that I'd never even heard of. They ranged from fundamentalist to liberal, Calvinist to Arminian, Pre-Millenarianist to Amillenarianist, charismatic to cessationalist, and any other range of doctrinal perspective that you can think of.

Trying to suss out for myself which denomination I should align myself with, as well as wanting to pursue apologetic ministry, I examined these various perspectives with a rather keen interest (one which actually distracted me from my studies!), asking, as if I had all the answers, "which denomination agrees with me?" I thought that that question meant "which denomination accurately represents 'orthodox Christianity'?" since I was, obviously, an orthodox Christian. But, knowing that I had a lot to learn (and a passion for learning it) I thought I'd read up on what the people said who really 'figured out' what Christianity actually believed, in opposition to historical heresies. So I went to that dustiest of corners of our school's library, passing by Jack Hayford, Tim LaHaye, Charles Swindoll, and all the pop-Christian writers. I even went by Leon Morris and John L. Maier and other scholars and historians. I went to the Early Church Fathers, such as St. Augustine and St. Hilary and St. Irenaeus. And the surprising thing that I found, about these people who defined for all time what "Christianity" really taught, was that they were (gasp) Catholic!

During this time at Bible College, I also took several courses which helped me along this strange discovery: History of Christianity (taught by the most anti-Catholic professor you could ever hope to meet, who ridiculed Catholic teachings as preposterous--and even though I knew next to nothing about them other than his description, I could see clear biblical rationale for each of them); a 'Spiritual formation and discipleship' course that taught us about the various spiritual practices of a number of Christian traditions, such as speaking in tongues and stuff that I already was familiar with, as well as things like the Rosary, Lectio Divina, the Jesus Prayer, and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola--and the surprising thing, in learning about the people who practised these, was that their lives were punctuated by a greater relationship with God than I had ever experienced in any ecstasy of charismatic prayer! And they were, again (gasp) Catholic!--; and finally, a course on Worship and Music, in which we learned about modern styles of worship, with drums and guitars and choruses, which I was well familiar with as a Pentecostal, but also about this thing called 'the Liturgy'. Our professor broke down the different parts of it, explaining the meanings behind the prayers and the symbols, so that, when I actually went to a Mass for the first time, I knew exactly what was going on. After all the hype and excitement of Pentecostal 'God-time', people expected that the Mass would bore me considerably, being the same thing week-after-week, with 'no room for the Spirit to move', but it was quite the opposite! Even though as a Protestant visitor, I couldn't partake of the Eucharist at that time (indeed, it wouldn't be for another three years), the tangible sense of Jesus' Presence pervaded eveything in a huge way that rivalled, if not surpassed, the 'movement of the Spirit' in any of the 'Free Church' services that I'd experienced before.

Of course, I still had questions, and issues, such as Mary, Purgatory, and the Eucharist itself, which kept niggling for the next three years, and keeping me from converting, but finally it was that very Eucharist, and Jesus beckoning me from It, that won me over.

As I look back on the journey, I remember the question I asked when I began it: "Which denomination agrees with me?" I realised, in the end, that I was asking that question precisely backwards. In joining the Catholic Church, I was joining the one branch of Christianity that, really, didn't give a damn about what I believed, but demanded that I submit to Her. I didn't have it all figured out, and still don't. But if this is the Church, the pillar and foundation of the truth, whom the Holy Spirit protects from error, the answer to the question is not about me at all!

G.K. Chesterton once summed up the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism in an article he wrote contrasting the two great poets, Shakespeare and Milton. He said,

But here, at least, is one way of putting the difference between the religions of Shakspere and Milton. Milton is possessed with what is, I suppose, the first and finest idea of Protestantism--the idea of the individual soul actually testing and tasting all the truth there is, and calling that truth which it has not tasted or tested truth of a less valuable and vivid kind. But Shakspere is possessed through and through with the feeling which is the first and finest idea of Catholicism--that truth exists whether we like it or not, and that it is for us to accommodate ourselves to it... But I really do not know how this indescribable matter can be better described than simply saying this; that Milton's religion was Milton's religion, and that Shakspere's religion was not Shakspere's.
That's why I converted to Catholicism in 2004.

Your second question was whether Catholics believe in praying in other tongues? Well, if you took the trouble to read through what I wrote above, I'd hope that the answer is plain. I could not have converted to Catholicism, as a tongues-speaking Christian, if speaking in tongues was somehow condemned. But no, in fact Catholicism is one of the only Christian traditions (I assume along with Orthodoxy) that has always believed in and practised glossolalia (though perhaps not en masse, as is often the case today). Great saints, such as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Jean Vianney were known to speak in tongues long before the advent of Azuza Street, or the later Catholic Charismatic Movement.

Since 'praying in tongues' seems to have branched out into a further question of 'letting the Spirit move' or of the miraculous, you should know that, again, Catholics have been the ones who have consistently upheld the miraculous, as when St. Francis de Sales (a Catholic priest who, during the Reformation, won many converts back from Protestantism) demonstrated that Catholicism was indeed the true Church because of Her many miracles (Calvinists, as you may know, during the Reformation and henceforth, denied the validity of miracles, saying they 'ceased' with the Canonisation of Scripture, primarily to derail Catholics who pointed to the miraculous events of the Church in Her defence). Miracles continue even today, and if you go to places such as the Grotto in Lourdes, France, where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette, or to St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, Quebec (what is it about those French?), you can see the walls and ceilings lined with crutches, thousands upon thousands, testifying to the miracles which their owners received.

Your third question inquires about the Catholic Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This issue, I admit, was one that troubled me greatly as a Protestant, and haunted me still when I was in the process of converting. I hope you can read my answer then, as one who sympathises with your own apprehension.

The Bible tells us that "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:17). No one is more righteous than the saints in heaven, who have been purified of all sins and are now completely holy (since there can be no sin in the presence of God). If it is right to enumerate 'degrees' of holiness, then the Virgin Mary (whom, on the grounds of the Greek meaning of 'full of grace' in Luke 1:28) we believe was conceived in a way that God, through His grace, preserved her from the effects of Original Sin, so that she was born able to live, in grace, a sinless life, she is therefore the holiest of the holy men and women of God. On top of that, since it is a commandment that we honour our parents, and since Mary is Jesus' Mother, and Jesus fully obeyed the Commandments (and does so still), Jesus holds Mary in a special place of honour. And since she is our Mother, too (Revelation 12:17), and we are called to imitate Jesus, we hold her in special honour, as well.

Thus, honouring her such, and knowing that her prayers are effective because of her holy obedience to the will of God, and because of the honour which Jesus gives her, we pray to her, trusting that she will pray for us to Jesus, even when we don't know how we should pray--just as you might pray for me, or me for you. There is no difference, except that Mary's simply a better intercessor than you or I (especially since she doesn't forget when someone asks her to pray for them, as I frequently do, to my chagrin).

It seems that the office of the priesthood troubles you as well, as it does for many Protestaonts. You say that you don't see priest mentioned in the five ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11 (Apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher), but we see "priest" everywhere that an English Bible refers to an "elder" since "Priest" is nothing more than an older English contraction of the Greek word "Presbyter." The priest's role in the Church is that of "Pastor" in the 5-fold ministry. Notably, the Bishop fills the role of "Apostle". I wonder, in the denomination you belong to, where your "Apostles" are?

You follow up your troubles with the priesthood with a final question about the sacrament of Confession--suggesting that, being part of the New Covenant and not the Old Covenant, Confession is somehow unneeded, and yet I'm not entirely sure where I see "Confession" as such in the Old Testament. Rather, I see injunctions in the New Testament to "confess" our sins, and injunctions and descriptions of the Apostles and the presbyters as forgiving those sins. It seems a simple deduction.

There are many truths about Confession, which, when explained as they have been so far to you, describing simply the emotional or psychological benefits of Confession, may make it seem like an "optional good idea". That there are obvious benefits to Confession (such as the chance to truly humble yourself--it's rather difficult to tell your deepest, darkest secret to a man you admire and look up to--, the audible, definite assurance of forgiveness, etc.), we must remember that it really is not optional.

When we are baptised, we are born again into a New Covenant of Grace. We are made alive in Christ in a brand new way. However, that life of grace must be lived out through our obedience to Christ (Phil 2:12-13, John 15:14, 1 John 1:6-8, etc.). When we fall into a mortal sin (a deliberate act of the will in committing a gravely immoral act against the Law of God), we effectively kill the life of Grace within us, and cut ourselves off from the Covenant. Since there is only "one baptism", we cannot be re-baptised to re-enter the Covenant: something else must repair the damage. Hence, Christ gave us Confession, in which He, through the priest, abolishes our sin and reinstates us in the New Covenant. The reason why, in the case of Mortal Sin, we cannot simply go "Straight to Jesus" is because through that sin we have re-declared our enmity with Him. We no longer have access to "the throne of grace with confidence". We must make reparation, first.

In Catholicism, there is also the doctrine of "venial" sin in contrast with "mortal" sin. A venial sin is a sin that is not a very grave matter, or one which, if it is grave, was not fully understood to be so or completely chosen by ourselves. While still a sin, and still serious enough, it does not completely kill the life of Grace within us, but only wounds it (of course, enough undealt with wounds can still be fatal). In the case of venial sins, we can still "go straight to Jesus" for forgiveness in the sense in which a Protestant typically means that phrase.

(For biblical evidence that there is mortal and venial sins, see 1 John 5:16-17.)

Anyway, I again apologise for the length. I hope you were able to endure it all. I shall write again soon.
God bless,

(Category: The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)