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Posts Tagged ‘Protestantism’

The Role of Church History in Conversion to Catholicism

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2014/03/13 at 12:00 AM

by Father John McCloskey

I am often asked to speak about conversions since I have been instrumental in bringing some people to the Faith. I have been invited to speak chiefly on account of the notoriety of a handful. Some were Protestant ministers of various denominations, others well known men of business, others intellectuals, and some politicians and journalists. A good number have been Jews, one the head of a synagogue when I first met him on the Internet. They represent a few of the many with whom I have dealt. I have written a short piece, available on my website, entitled “Winning Converts” with a companion piece entitled “Recovering Stray Catholics.” I am working on a book on this topic in collaboration with Mr. Russell Shaw to be published by Sophia Institute Press.

Now, what do these “high” level converts have in common? Very little except several traits that are highly valued, at least by this priest. They are all men of high intelligence, with a voracious and insatiable appetite for books, and most importantly, an unending thirst for the truth in all matters religious. Many of them faced familial opposition, the possible loss of reputation, and in some cases possible high political office. But their increasing conviction that they had encountered “the pearl of great price,” the Historical Church that is co-terminus with the Lord and Savior, conquered all doubts. Their assent was not simply “notional” to use Newmanian terms, but truly “real.” In some cases, their conversion was a question of years, or more than a decade of patient dealing backed by true friendship, prayer, and sacrifice. The sweetest words that I have ever heard and, thanks be to God, I have heard them often, are “I want to become a Catholic.”

No doubt, the historical argument was powerful in these conversions. Some of the better known converts have already told their story in print or tape, others will, I trust, do the same in the future. I always required that they read several books on the history of the Church because I do believe the argument, at least rationally, is unassailable—the Catholic Church is true, and no other has ever made a credible claim to be the one that was founded by Him. Either the Lord of History established a church with a visible structure on this earth until He comes again or there is simply no authority that guides and must be obeyed. From the time of the great Schism and the Protestant revolution, the principle of private judgment has given rise to thousands of Christian sects and denominations. That is hardly what was intended when He asked His Father “that all may be one.”

Those men and women whom I have instructed in the Faith over the last 20 years have read Philip Hughes, Ronald Knox, G.K. Chesterton, Robert Hugh Benson, Louis Bouyer, Warren Carroll, Orestes Brownson, Russell Shaw, Ken Whitehead and many others. They have also read many anthologies of converts telling how they came to that “Ancient Beauty, ever new.” History is at the heart of all conversion: personal histories and history as it is written by the historian, Flavius Josephus or Pliny the Younger, or Bede the Venerable or even enemies like Gibbon or Macaulay, all give witness to the One Church.

History, in fact, provides an essential perspective for the mission of conversion, and we must understand the historical moment in which we live. It is a post-Christian era in some respects. This is particularly true in what some decades ago was known as the First World, i.e. Europe and North America. Even though it pains us, it should not surprise us. After all, Christianity has all but disappeared at other times in history, for instance in the Middle East and northern Africa after the invasion of Islam by conquering forces. Now an even more rapid and unsettling de-Christianization is occurring in Europe, through minimal practice of faith in any traditional sense, a collapse of morality based on natural law and the Commandments, and a continental suicide of the native peoples by contraception. Hilaire Belloc, one of the great popular Catholic historians, could not have imagined how wrong he was when he said that:” Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe.” I am sure all of us are aware of the masterful work of historian Philip Jenkins who points out convincingly that the greatest recent growth in Christianity, both in numbers and orthodoxy, has been and will continue to be in Africa and Asia.

As for us in the United State, liberal Protestantism is fading fast with large decreases in membership and almost no creedal belief that distinguishes one sect from another. Virtually all have caved in on the moral issues having to do with marriage, family, and sexuality. “Private judgment” basically assures that Protestant sects and denominations will not evidence any belief in an objective moral teaching through Revelation. The upcoming 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, 1517, will show I think, that mainstream Protestantism in any culture transforming sense is finished in America. And there is no possibility of a Third or Fourth Great Awakening because secularism and the new paganism in a society sated by undreamt of affluence is not going to lead anyone simply to read the Bible and be converted. America is not a Christian nation in any sense other than that probably a plurality of our fellow citizens have been baptized, although that may change in the decades to come.

As for the Evangelicals and fundamentalists, I have great respect and affection for our fellow Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible as the sole source of revelation and salvation. I do not believe, however, that a Christian faith without the sacraments, without the liturgy, and without authority, can bring about a renewal of Christian life in our country. Indeed, without denigrating in any way the numerous dialogues that take place at the diocesan, national, and even international level between Catholics and Protestants, I simply do not believe there is any possibility of any one of the Protestant denominations as a group coming home given the decrepit state of their practice and belief. Ironically enough, it might have been possible 75 years ago when Catholic and Protestants generally shared a common moral belief with important doctrinal disagreements, but not now.

Truth be told, (and indeed are we not all truth-tellers?), there is also little possibility of any of the autonomous Orthodox Churches acknowledging the primacy of Peter and arriving at full allegiance to the dogmas and moral life of the Catholic Church. We know there has been virtually no development of common doctrine after the first seven ecumenical councils in the East. How could there be, given there is no universal shepherd of the Orthodox to call and ratify ecumenical Councils? Indeed, separated from the fullness of truth and the magisterium, the moral teachings in some areas have also deteriorated. The result has been a mystical spiritual theology, of great interest to monks, but not applicable to the Eastern Christian in the street. There is no evangelizing zeal, or lay spirituality. The Eastern Churches are largely sacramental and indeed, if a Patriarch were to return home to Rome, how many of his faithful would there be to follow? We must pray above all for a change in heart in our Eastern Orthodox brethren so we can welcome them home.

Having said all of this, I have to acknowledge openly that the Spirit blows where it will, and God’s grace poured into open hearts can indeed perform miracles of mass or denominational conversion to Catholicism. It can happen when and how the Lord wants, but, I think it safe to say that for the foreseeable future which is our lifespan, converts coming to the fullness of faith will come one by one, or family by family, and occasionally congregation by congregation. And that is the way it should be. Early Christianity grew over the course of some 275 years to its legalization. Starting with Pentecost, it spread from 12 to hundreds and eventually to millions until at the beginning of 4tth century, it composed 10 percent of the Roman Empire. The Church was legalized in 313 and less than a century later was the state religion. The remarkable growth was not the result of mass conversion, but rather of the personal witness in behavior of individual persons and families, including confessors and martyrs fortified by prayer and the sacraments.

We must remind ourselves that each year there are hundreds of thousands of adults who are either baptized during the Easter vigil or received into full communion within the Church. This number is growing, and while always a small percentage of the whole, it does mean that an increasing number of “serious” Catholics are entering the Church, the great majority of them removed from the controversies of the post-conciliar Church in the United States. We may take heart in that younger priests ordained within the last 15 years (given the advanced age of current pastors, they will soon become pastors themselves) are more oriented towards evangelization of persons, families, and the society than those who were ordained prior to the pontificate of John Paul II. The Holy Father’s example of his living the “duc In altum” in order to fish souls without apologies will be the standard modus operandi of bishops and priests certainly well into this new century.

Two other factors are helping to break through the wall of mistrust in this post-Christian era. One is various new ecclesial institutions and movements whose impact is just now being felt in the US. They operate with full approval of the Church, are lay oriented, and by their very nature are apostolic and evangelizing. They provide yet another way for non-Catholics to witness a lived Christianity in the world that over time may bring millions to the Church in the years ahead. One of these movements is the Coming Home Network itself, which has contributed to the conversion of thousands of Protestant ministers into the Catholic Church and will be seen in the English speaking world, I believe, as the 21st century equivalent of the Oxford movement of the 19th century England of my hero, Venerable John Henry Newman to whom we should all pray for the unity of Christians in the Catholic Church. He, as many converts, knew the sleepless nights, the serious study, the long hours of prayer, the fears of loss of income, of friends and even the love of family that is involved in coming home to the Church. Such it will always be for acquiring the pearl of great price.

The second factor is tens of millions of Hispanic immigrants in our country with surely more to come regardless of changes in immigration laws. Sadly and ironically, without them the Unites States would be in negative population growth as we are now hovering at the lowest per capita birth rate in our history as a nation. Abortion and contraception continue to take their deadly toll. Without the Hispanics, virtually all of who are at least culturally Catholic, we as a nation would be doomed to the almost certain fate of continental Europe: demographic suicide within several decades. The catechesis and evangelization of Hispanic Catholics is therefore crucial for the health of the Church and country, an important means of breaking through the wall of mistrust to bring other Christians home.

But far beyond all these signs that, in time, the wall of mistrust will fall looms the magnificent figure of John Paul II. The greatest Pope of the last 500 years will leave much magisterial teaching behind for us to study and implement in the decades ahead. Although he has many important themes in his Pontificate, the one that is clearly closest to his heart and to that of Christ is that all may be one. His ecumenical outreach to his fellow Christians has been tireless and nothing less than extraordinary. He has not spared any effort to reach out to fellow Christians, urging them to recognize and embrace” the fullness of truth” in the Catholic Church, always with great respect and kindness in acknowledging all that is true in their traditions, whether Orthodox or Protestant. In virtually every one of the over 100 papal trips, he has always scheduled, when feasible, meetings with other Christian leaders to extend a hand of friendship and fellowship. At times, he has done so and exposed himself to coolness, indifference, and even insult. In doing so, he imitates the example of the Lord and his Apostle Paul, preaching “opportune et importune” (in season and out).

Pope John Paul’s extraordinary witness alone has been enough for millions to become Catholic and for many millions to return to the Faith. I share his vision of the springtime of the Church in this century and pray that the crowning achievement of this springtime will be the unity of all Christians. The favorite short prayer of Saint Jose Maria Escriva, a man whose example and writings have brought many home to the Church, was “Omnes cum Petro ad Jesus per Mariam (All with Peter, to Jesus through Mary!). May it be so.


The Siblings of Christ?

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2013/08/09 at 12:00 AM

Converts to Catholicism from Protestantism often experience doctrinal problems with the role of Mary as the Mother of God and the devotion shown to her by the Catholic Church. Part of the reason is that Mary has very little status in the Protestant Church beyond the acknowledgement of her maternity. When Luther started the Protestant religion, he was reacting to the abuses in the Catholic Church at that time. What he failed to understand is that moral abuses cannot be corrected by doctrinal deviations. Thus, he rejected, among other traditional beliefs, the doctrine of the saints. Protestantism today has almost no interest in saints, preferring to put all their emphasis on Christ and the Father. This is not wrong in itself, but it is incomplete. Modern Protestant Sunday practice, with few exceptions, consists of a song and a sermon with emphasis on Christ and little else.

In the matter of Mary, she is just about invisible and unknown except as a typical Jewish woman who had one unusual experience (the birth of Christ) and then went on to make a family with her husband, Joseph. Thus, Protestantism has taught that Mary had other children which meant that Christ had siblings. While the Protestant emphasis has been on the other children of Mary, they failed to see that, if there were other children, there would also be presumably grandchildren and descendants. There is no evidence or even mention of this natural progression in the Protestant world.

The Catholic Church teaches that Mary did not have other children, and that the Biblical word the Protestants translate as “brothers” can be translated as “cousins” just as accurately. “Brother” is a frequently used religious term of address in both the Protestant and Catholic Churches, suggesting in no way genetic family relationships. Baptists often address one another as “brother” or “sister”, and Catholics have a type of religious group known as “brothers”. Priests often address their congregations as “brothers and sisters”. No one understands the words literally.

If Mary and Joseph did have children, they would not be siblings of Christ because Joseph was not the real father of Christ; they would only be half-siblings.

Can we really imagine a house full of children, one of them Divine God Himself, and not be a source of some kind of turmoil? A sinless child among normal children? It would not be a usual household at all.

The Bible is very generous with names of significant persons. It seems reasonable that siblings of Christ would be named as were Mary and Joseph. Lesser personages, than those siblings would have been, were named: the Apostles, Jairus, Pilate, Simon of Cyrene. Why not the literal “brothers” of Christ?

At the time of the Crucifixion, Our Lord designated St. John as the guardian of His Mother. It would have been more normal and reasonable for one of the siblings to have taken that role. Evidently there were no other children to assume that role.

Mary and Joseph were legally married, and there was nothing in law or nature to prevent them from having children. That’s what everyone did normally. But perhaps, since they both had experienced extraordinary events with the Divine, it would seem anti-climactic to produce human children after being so favored by God. They would have known that normal children would create unusual problems for all concerned because normal children would be sinners in a family of three persons unusually close to God. (In fact, one was God, and the other was Mary, who according to the Catholic doctrine, did not have the taint of Original Sin.) Mary and Joseph knew that they were unusually privileged people, and it would be reasonable, understanding that gift, that they knew life for them was not be lived in the ordinary human way. Thus, it can be inferred that after a divine child was born to Mary, a human child would not seem appropriate. Contemporary culture cannot fathom that a couple would choose not to avail themselves of marital rights; therefore, they must have.

In the Gospel story of Mary and Martha of Bethany, there is a lesson to be drawn that experiencing divinity is better than not experiencing it, and that mundane household chores, good in themselves, fade away in comparison to contemplation of the divine. Martha was not told that she was doing anything wrong, but only inferior to what Mary had chosen. Intimacy with God changes a person from merely human to a special relationship with God. Mary of Bethany deemed it better to be with Christ than to do chores, and Christ confirmed her choice. At the same time, he undoubtedly ate the meal that Martha had prepared. So also, Mary, the Mother of Christ, had this special relationship and could not be content with anything lesser.

Consider all the men and women saints of the Catholic Church who had direct, personal and visual interaction with God or His Mother: St. Margaret Mary (devotion to the Sacred Heart), St. Faustina Kowalska (devotion to the Divine Mercy), St. Bernadette (of Lourdes), Sr. Lucia of Fatima, St. Catherine of Siena, St.Teresa of Avila, and many more whose lives were intimately involved with God and the things of God. Once they had experienced God, their lives never went back to “normal” and they devoted their whole life to things divine, the better choice. So, too, it can be implied ever more strongly that Mary of Nazareth would respond in an even stronger way by contemplating God for all of her days.

But does it really make any difference? The Catholics say Mary was a perpetual Virgin, and the Protestants claim she had a normal family life with other children. Modern culture would say, “You believe what you want, and I’ll believe what I want. Everybody’s happy.” That sounds so generous and tolerant, but there is a contradiction involved, and that means one side is wrong. To be willing to live on the wrong side is not a sign of the tolerance our culture so applauds, but a sign of weak thinking or the unwillingness to think.

It does matter, because the things of God MUST be dealt with as He wants them dealt with, not according to the whims of humans. There is an answer.

Christ promised his Church divine protection and guidance until the end of time. There is no way whatsoever to explain the continued existence of the Catholic Church, in spite of all her problems, both internal and external, for 2000 years except by divine protection. The Protestant Church lacks this protection and guidance, and that is why there are 30,000+ sects within Protestantism while there are no doctrinal divisions in the Catholic Church. (This not to imply that the Catholic Church is full of saints … far from it.) The Church has always believed that Mary was a perpetual Virgin. If the Holy Spirit guides the Church, the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity must be true because the Holy Spirit does not make mistakes.

We can be assured that Mary of Nazareth is everything the Church says she is. Therefore, she is worthy of the great devotion shown to her because she is a truly unique woman; veneration (not worship) of her is not uncalled for, but raises poor souls to a higher degree of piety. Most men respect their mothers, and most men favor anyone else who respects them. I doubt if Christ frowns upon the devotion shown to His mother, but He may frown on the lack of it in the Protestant Church.

I’ll grant that I have made inferences based on the Bible narrative of the New Testament. But inferences are not false if they are based on reasonable evidence. The evidence for Mary’s other children is slim to none beyond the dubious translation of a word.

We should embrace devotion to Mary because, as the story of Cana shows, Christ does what His Mothers asks … and she is the holiest of all humans who ever existed. If she is on our side, we are in good hands.

The siblings of Christ? The preponderance of evidence indicates there were none.

Oh, Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Blessed Mary, Ever Virgin

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2011/07/22 at 10:11 PM

One of the more notable differences between Catholicism and Protestantism’s is their respective attitudes toward Mary, the Mother of Christ. Catholicism shows a great veneration and respect for her while Protestantism gives her little attention or a token mention on Christmas. (This attitude will vary in degrees among various denominations.) Many prospective converts to the Catholic Church find the Marian doctrines sometimes difficult to grasp, mainly because of what they have heard from or been told by fellow Protestants. Some have heard that the Church worships Mary which is not true.Others have heard that Catholics consider her divine, on a par with God, which is also not true. Probably the most common difference is the respective beliefs about the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Or, to ask it another way, did Mary have other children conceived the normal way?  This is a relatively recent idea because the founding fathers of Protestantism, Martin Luther and John Calvin, both believed that Mary lived and died a virgin.

The Christian Church from the beginning has always believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary.  It is so stated in the Apostles’ Creed. Later Protestants began to question this doctrine  and offered unconvincing arguments that Mary had had more children.  One of the arguments in favor of perpetual virginity is that the Catholic Church has always believed it, and, since the Catholic Church is under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit, it cannot teach doctrinal errors. If this were an error, it would have died out  in the early days. Thus, the Catholic Church has taught this doctrine for two millennia without objection, as it were, from the Holy Spirit. God would simply not allow the Church to preach a false doctrine.

The Church has always maintained that the word “brothers” referring to Christ’s relations was not limited to siblings but  included extended family. Protestants reject this idea out of hand.  They take the word brother in a very literal sense.  (Interestingly, they do not take other Gospel words literally when those words do not meet with their approval.)  Yet, at the same time, in many denominations, “Brother” and “Sister” are freely used among members with no thought that they are referring to siblings.

The reason for this insistence on Mary’s non-virginity is the Protestant doctrine of “Sola Scripture”, the Bible alone contains all the truth. (Yet, the Bible itself do not say this.)  The effect of this doctrine is to close off Protestants to the writings of the early Church Fathers, the ecumenical Church councils and writings of various Popes on the subject.  Just as we read the writings of the American Founding Fathers to shed light on their beliefs, so the Church Fathers tell us more than what is in the Bible about early Christian beliefs. The Bible is not self-explanatory; this is why there are so many thousands of Protestant denominations.

Joseph is heard of no more after the incident of finding the Child in the Temple.  If he had fathered other children prior to that, why is it not mentioned? This would preclude any accusations of immorality against Mary, his wife.

If Mary and Joseph had had other children, it would have been an odd family set-up: one sinless divine child with a sinless mother and other normal children with all their good and bad actions. It would have been an untenable situation.

If Christ did have siblings, why were none of them at Calvary? Normally, at least one would have bonded with Christ, but there was no sign of any kinsmen at Calvary (except Mary)

We can assume that at the of the Crucifixion Mary was probably a widow; otherwise, Joseph certainly would have been there. In a few hours, Mary would be alone in the world, but no son would allow that if he could do otherwise. Thus, Mary is entrusted to St. John, the beloved disciple. If Mary had had other children, it would be  normal  for one or more of them to assume her care.

Mary and Joseph were both holy people attuned to the Divine Will. She was called “full of grace”, and he was described as a “just man”, a high accolade in the Bible. This being the case, they would have deemed even licit marital relations to be unbecoming, almost anticlimactic in the light of the extraordinary supernatural events they both experienced. The body that housed and delivered God would seem very unsuitable for natural children. Based on Jewish practice at the time, it is not unreasonable to assume that,  like some married couples, they took a vow of virginity as a means of pleasing God. (Of course, in our culture that would make you verifiably loony.)

Why then does so much Protestant teaching stress the children of Mary? I offer an opinion, and it is only an opinion. For a long time, Protestantism has been watering down or discarding Christian doctrine and morals. Many now accept abortion, contraception, women clergy, active homosexual clergy, same-sex unions and marriage. This would have been unheard of 75 years ago. It seems to me that many Protestants, especially leaders, do not have a valid idea of who Christ is and what He signifies. This is why they have abandoned so much of His teaching, particularly that of the Eucharist.

Thus, the emphasis on Mary’s multiple children is another attempt to denigrate the Incarnation, and without that, Christianity is dead. If Mary is just another women who experienced a unique event, then there is not much special about her or the event. It is a short step to the idea that Jesus Christ was merely a good man, a great teacher, a philosopher but no one eternally significant.

Ideas have consequences, and false ideas lead to negative consequences. The worst consequence of this particular false idea about May’s perpetual virginity is that the Protestant world has lost out and is still losing out by rejecting the one human being that God Himself selected and crafted from the beginning for a special role in salvation and human history. The Catholic world is full of the effects of the positive role of Mary in the life of the Church and the individual Catholic.

You may rejoice in the Father and the Son, but without the Mother, your spiritual family is simply not complete.

Catholic Christian?

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2011/04/08 at 6:14 PM

A Baptist friend of ours in California asked the following question.

As my only resident expert on Catholicism, I have a question……do you regard Catholics Christian? If yes, why…and if no, why….I know virtually nothing about their beliefs and hear that they are not Christian…and just want to know what you think…thanks…

Reply: This accusation is an old one from years and years ago when there was much overt anti-Catholicism in the US. There is absolutely no foundation for such a charge. It is based on abysmal ignorance of the Catholic Church.

If you define a  Christian Church as one that believes in the God of the Bible, the Trinity, the Second Person of that Trinity taking on human form while still remaining divine, accepting death for human sin to make salvation (heaven) possible again, that He rose from the dead and is now very much alive in heaven, then the Catholic Church is totally Christian. It believes all that and much more found in the Bible.

In some denominations, the Sunday service includes the recitation of the Nicean Creed, a creed set up by the Catholic Church in 325 AD at the Council of Nicea.

If you say that the Catholic Church is not Christian, then you have to say that the Christian Church did not begin until the time of Luther. Prior to him, there was no other Church except the Catholic Church. It would ignore the facts of history and human psychology for a founder to say that he would set up a church 1500 years AFTER his death.  Never happens.  Luther never said the Catholic Church was not Christian; he did say it had too much corruption at the time (which was true).

If the Protestant Churches were the beginning of the Christian Church what were they protesting?

Perhaps a more relevant question today is whether some Protestant denominations are still Christian.  Too many have succumbed to the siren of the culture and accept practicing homosexuals as they are.   Regardless of the cultural PC involved, the Bible condemns homosexuality in several places. Last time I looked, there was nothing in  the Bible about  the divine moral code being subject to contemporary human vote.

One reason the Catholic Church is not liked is because in all it history (2000 years), it has never made the current cultural attitudes the norm of its doctrine. To be specific, the matter of abortion.  The US Supreme Court can declare a divine law void, but God does not agree. The Catholic Church condemns abortion because it is evil in itself. Abortion is not a “Catholic” sin; it is a sin against nature. You can successfully argue against abortion and not mention religion because it is a sin against nature itself. What kind of society kills off 50,000,000 unborn people (humans) mostly because someone finds them inconvenient? That has nothing  to do with religion; is  naturally irrational.

To say that Catholic Church is Christian is NOT to vouch for all its members, past and present. In fact, if you look at the history of the Catholic Church, it is a wonder it has survived at all when you look at some of its members (even popes). The Catholic Church, like all churches has more belongers than believers. The Protestant Churches have broken up into about thirty THOUSAND denominations. The Catholic Church has no denominations. The doctrine of the Catholic Church is that Christ founded the Catholic Church and protects from collapsing into chaos.

Both the Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches are Christian.  Both urge their members to seek a salvific relationship with Jesus Christ. I can’t imagine that a just God would exclude Rev. Charles Stanley from heaven because he happens to be a Baptist. If more Catholics and Protestants had his faith, we’d all be better off in the USA.

Hope this helps you understand the question better.