Why be a Marian Christian? (in other words, why be Catholic?)

A truly Catholic Christian is a Marian Christian; a believer in the Trinity of Father Son and Holy Spirit who stands in relationship to the great cloud of witnesses, the Body of Christ in heaven and on earth, and thus also in relationship to Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. In short, the Marian Christian is one who imitates Christ not only in prayerfully submitting his life to God, not only in denying himself and daily taking up his cross, not only in loving God with all of his heart, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself, but also in loving Mary as Christ does.

One mark of a Marian Christian is a deep understanding of the virtue of purity. In recent years the ideal of purity, especially sexual purity, has been more publicly defamed than ever before. Not only are young people bombarded by a culture that promises the reward of sexual fulfillment without the responsibility of child-bearing, but countless well-funded pro-gay lobbies have raised their voices to establish a climate in which any voice but theirs will be tagged as hateful, bigoted, and thus, immoral and finally illegal. With each victory in the press and in the courts they wax bolder and more aggressive.

As the sexual confusion of the western world threatens to spiral out of control, no one has made a more cogent case for the traditional Christian view of the sanctity of marriage than John Paul II in his Theology of the Body. He builds his case on a strong philosophical foundation as he approaches the biblical texts with both freshness and reverence. His is a remarkable point of view, like all things genuinely Catholic, forever young and new, yet always ancient and old.

A marked decay is observable in Protestant teaching in this area. At my college I am surrounded by colleagues who are convinced Christians must support gay rights. And I observe an increase in confusion and a sort of amorphous helplessness amongst my more conservative Protestant friends.

I would submit that one of the reasons that Marian Christians understand these issues best (along with the other issues related to human sexuality-abortion, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, artificial birth control, etc) is precisely because they are Marian. There is something about taking her out of the picture, as Protestants do, that leaves only two options: cave in or be angry.

The Marian Catholic has more spiritual resources and a deeper understanding of what purity means. Thus, the Marian Christian is better at being pro-life without being angry. I think there are good reasons for this and suggest that the non-Marian Christian should think about them.

Perhaps it’s time to think about coming home.

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Mary, Mother of Our Lord

And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Luke 1:42-44

Except for salvation, there is no single Catholic teaching more troublesome to Protestants than the veneration of Mary. I did not feel any differently than most Protestants. I had been taught from the very beginning of my Christian walk that Catholics worship Mary; that all the time and effort they spend talking to her, praying endless Rosaries, and participating in pilgrimages to Marian shrines, was all time and effort that should have been spent worshipping Jesus.

Through my studies up to this point I had begun to see not only good sense, but also a compelling cohesiveness in the fabric of Catholic doctrine. At the same time, Catholic teachings on Mary represented an insurmountable obstacle to my ever fully embracing the Catholic faith. I had read, talked, and prayed my way most of the way into the Catholic Church, and all along the way I had been surprised at how wrong Protestants were about many things. I was willing to be docile, to listen to what the Church teaches through the Doctors, Fathers, Saints, Popes and Magisterium; but I was not going to become an idol worshiper! Catholics had been misled into a devious form of idol worship—my job as a Christian was certainly not to join them in that idol worship, but to lead them out of it.

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Defending the Prayers of Heaven (and almost everything Catholic with it)

A while back, two years ago actually, I went to the movie The Passion of the Christ with friends: Protestant friends. Afterwards, we went out to a local tavern and enjoyed what turned out to be quite lively and pleasant conversation. One of the participants in the conversation, a good friend, made the comment, “in The Passion of the Christ, we were presented with the great beauty of Mary’s humanity, not the picture of some saint.” This comment struck me as quite incongruous. What is there about Mary’s humanity, her “humanness” as it were, which would contradict her being recognized as a saint, a resident of heaven? What sort of understanding of the Catholic canon of saints did my friend’s opinion reflect?

I am a convert from evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism. Such conversions do not happen overnight. From the first uncanny inkling that there might be something to this Catholic Church, to the joy of being received into her, many tumultuous years went by. It all began with reading a book by Alan Schreck, Catholic and Christian, which presents Catholic explanations on a number of topics typically misunderstood by Protestants. The explanations seemed quite reasonable, and, as I weighed them one by one in my mind, they initiated a development, slowly but surely, which would eventually change my Christian views completely.

I began to read about Christianity from a Catholic point of view, from authors such as G.K. Chesterton, John Henry Newman, Karl Adam, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Hans Urs von Balthazar, Joseph Pieper, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Avery Dulles, Patrick Madrid, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard, David Currie, Karl Keating, James Pearce, Scott Hahn, etc. They made some very strong arguments for the truth of Catholicism. I also discovered the very early Church Fathers: St. Clement, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin Martyr, St. Cyprian, Tertullian, Origin, who were members of the pre-Constantine Church of the Catacombs. It was very hard, but I had to admit it was true; the very early Church was many things, and opinions vary as to what those things mean for us today, but it was not Protestant. The Church gathered around the Eucharist, which was a re-presentation of the Sacrifice on Calvary. The Eucharist was heaven come to earth; a true communion with the living God, whose very Son had taken on human flesh. To worship in such a Church was to touch, to taste, to see and to know the Supernatural, the Eternal, and the All-powerful in the bread and the wine become His Flesh and Blood. Unity was expressed around the office and authority of the bishop. The bishop of Rome exercised an authority which was different from the other bishops, not just in degree, but in kind. No, this was not the Protestant church.

As each issue presented itself I would study, consulting both orthodox Catholic sources, as well as the best of Protestant arguments against the Catholic position. And I was in a position to do so; I was a tenured faculty member at Trinity International University in Deerfield Illinois, one of the leading Evangelical Protestant institutions in the world. I had access to an excellent library and to some of the best-trained minds on the Evangelical scene. Over time, a pattern emerged. With almost every issue, I would begin to see some good sense in what the Church teaches. I began to notice that my thinking up to that point had been founded, at least in part, on misperceptions or false assumptions. This was disturbing. The whole reason I became a Christian in the first place was based on conviction that Christianity was true. As I persevered in study it became clear that many Protestant arguments against Catholic doctrines such as the visible Church, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the authority of a bishop, the authority of the Pope, Purgatory, salvation by faith formed in love, and finally Mary, the Rosary, and the communion of saints are based upon misperceptions, exaggerations, and even purposeful misrepresentations of what the Church really teaches. I began to realize that I had been misled into a way of thinking which was not entirely free of bigotry and unexamined anti-Catholic bias, with its own prejudice and its own intolerance.

So when my friend made her comment about the saints I suspected she was operating under of one of those classic Protestant misperceptions. She had been raised in a very conservative branch of the Lutheran Church. It has been my experience that some pretty big accusations are brought against the Catholic Church by people from such denominations. My friend had likely been told that Catholics are guilty of idol worship, necromancy, salvation by works, and being duped by a Roman power-monger. Such biases run deep.

It is exciting and humbling when someone you know and respect asks about your faith. But answering takes time, it can’t be done quickly, certainly not all at one sitting. The Catholic faith is both colorful and complex, and all of its various topics and themes are intertwined. The issues are so closely related that addressing one of them immediately necessitates at least skirting a number of others. In reality however, each conversation begins with one topic at a time; in this case the topic was Mary and the saints.

The following represents much of what I said, and more of what I would have said if there had been time, in attempting to answer to my friend’s question.

What, or . . . who, in fact, is a saint?

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