(Source : Dorcy, Marie Jean. St. Dominic’s Family. Tan Books and Publishers, 1983)
“Henry Suso is a bundle of contradictions, and a person, moreover, who has gathered legends about him like a snowball rolling downhill. He was a poet, which is not always a key to happiness in this world; a mystic of the highest order; a hard working Dominican; and a man with a positive genius for getting into embarrassing situations. He has suffered at the hands of chroniclers who dislike his followers, or his tactics, or his poetry; he is all but canonized by those who see in him the Dominican mystic. It will require many years of exhaustive research to sort out the diverse elements in his personality, if, indeed, it can ever be accomplished. Poets are not easy to analyze, and Henry, before all else, was a poet.
Henry was born in Switzerland, in 1290, the son of a warlike family of counts and crusaders. His father said more than once that he wished Henry had been a girl and some of his spirited daughters had been boys; for Henry was not a type to carry a sword. Henry was a gentle, dreamy lad, who liked to accompany his mother on pilgrimages and read about heroic deeds. He had taken his mother’s name of Suso, perhaps out of sheer inability to live up to the warlike title of the Count von Berg.
After a number of unsuccessful attempts to make a soldier out of Henry, his father abandoned the task and sent him, when he was barely thirteen years old, to the Dominican convent near Lake Constance. At the convent, Henry found a happy life, one that he did not know existed. Like a starved child who has had no happiness before, he revelled in the companionship of friendly people and the beauty of community prayers. For five years it did not occur to him that there was anything more to religious life than the gay and irresponsible way he lived. This brief paradise came to an abrupt end when he was eighteen. He sat one day in chapel, restless and worried, because suddenly it had dawned upon him that he was not really getting anywhere, and without warning he fell into an ecstasy that lasted more than an hour. Arousing from the ecstasy, he was a different person, and a whole new life began.
First of all Henry looked with wide opened eyes on the lukewarm life he had been living. Considering his age, we would be inclined to suspect that it was not so much lukewarm as adolescent, but it appeared to him that he was a great sinner and should do great penance. The penance he performed for the next sixteen years became notorious, even in that age of extremes; an iron chain, and an undershirt studded with nails, were the most mentionable of the methods he used. At night, he tied his hands so that he could not slap at the mosquitoes that infested his room. Out of determination to overcome his natural taste for cleanliness, he bent over backwards in the opposite direction to torture himself into submission and to make himself ready for the grace of God, which he felt that he so little deserved. At the end of sixteen years, he was favored with another vision, telling him that the physical phase of his suffering was over, but to be prepared for mental torments.
While all this interior purification was being accomplished in his soul, Henry was busy about the ordinary work of a priest. He preached and taught and heard confessions, never absenting himself from apostolic work under the impression that pure contemplation would be better. Some of his travels got him into weird situations, and legends began building up around the strange young priest whose penances had already earned him the name of eccentric. Things happened to him that just never happened to other people.
One time ha was on a journey with a lay brother who was not very bright. While Henry was looking for lodgings in a strange village, the lay brother went into a tavern, and, with the help of some of its customers, rapidly got out of hand. In order to direct attention away from himself, he told the men they should go after the priest who was with him; he said that the Jews had hired Henry to poison their wells, and that he was now out investigating how it could be done. It was possibly only the lay brother’s heavy humor, but the townspeople did not think it was funny, and they went in pursuit of Henry. Seeing himself chased by men with clubs, Henry did what most people do he ran. He hid all night in a hedge, and the next day he had to get the lay brother out of jail.
He fell into rivers and almost drowned. He became innocently involved in family feuds and was nearly killed for interfering. People tried to poison him. As prior, he ran the house finances into such a snarl that no one could untangle them. As if he did not have enough trouble, one of his penitents at least he thought she was penitent decided to blackmail him, and told all over town that he was the father of her child. To clean up the ensuing scandal, he stood formal trial with his superiors, and was, of course, proved innocent but no one could stop the scandal which had by this time gone to the four winds.
As a last terrible trial, his own sister, who had gone into religion against her will, fell into serious sin and ran away from the monastery. The convent from which she had escaped was a relaxed and worldly place, but she was legally a fugitive. Henry got permission to go and look for her, and, after a long search, he found her repentant, penniless, and terrified in a tavern. He brought her to another monastery, where a strict rule was observed, and he stayed until she was firmly settled and living a good religious life. How any man could write poetry while trying to keep up with such events is hard to say, but some of the finest poetry in medieval German poured from the pen of this gifted man during the years when life was most difficult for him. His prose, too, was almost poetry perhaps this is why his writings have always been so popular with women.
We are indebted to the sisters whose consciences Henry directed for all that we know of his writing. They kept careful track of all of it and made copies to circulate among a discreet circle of friends. In fact, it is from this circumstance that the unhappy charges against Suso stem. Some of the sisters, making their personal copies, took down notes indiscriminately from Suso, Tauler, and Master Eckhart and it was practically impossible to untangle them. Only the persistent scholarship of Father Denifle, in the past century, has identified the writings of each of these men, and exonerated both Tauler and Suso of the charges that caused Eckhart to be censured.
The best known work of Henry Suso is his Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, which is a classic of spiritual writing. He also composed many other short treatises on the mystical union of the soul with God, all written with the same poetic language and the same intensity of feeling. The man who had carved “the lovely name of Jesus” into the flesh over his heart was just as intense in his spiritual life. He had an outstanding devotion to the Mother of God, which he expressed very beautifully.
Henry died in 1365, in Ulm, and was buried there in the convent of St. Paul. However, in spite of the fact that his body was found intact and giving forth a sweet odor two hundred and fifty years later, the beatification was delayed until 1831. The relics, meantime, had disappeared entirely and have never been recovered.”
“In the midst of a wild theological discussion, some Evangelical acquaintances asked me what I had gained by converting to Catholicism. I had embraced Evangelicalism for about five years, but its theological and spiritual inadequacies contributed to my nearly losing faith in Christ. Catholicism restored and deepened both my faith in and my love for Christ, and in so doing it began to fulfill my deepest spiritual and intellectual longings.
Raised at first as a Lutheran and then as a Presbyterian, by the time I finished high school I nevertheless had become an atheist of the scientific humanist sort. Scientific objections to Christianity, such as evolutionary theory, had been my primary stumbling block. But within a year of graduating from high school, during a personal crisis concerning the meaning of life and after I had made a commitment to embrace truth whatever it might be, I read How Should We Then Live? by the Evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer.
His reasoned critique of humanism opened my heart to the gospel, and, recognizing myself as a sinner and morally guilty before God, I believed that through Christ’s sacrifice my sins had been forgiven. I identified my conversion experience as the “born again” experience I had heard so much about during high school, and my attitudes towards life truly began to change.
Schaeffer’s interpretation of Christianity left a decisive mark on me. On the positive side, I gained an interest in defending Christianity intellectually (especially through philosophy) and a fascination with the history of theology, philosophy, and culture. For this reason, he still remains a man I admire.
On the negative side, Schaeffer left me with the conviction that true Christianity equals Reformation Christianity, represented in the modern world by Evangelicalism. For the next five years I would assume, virtually without question, that Christianity stands or falls with Evangelicalism. However fascinating the Catholic intellectual and spiritual tradition might appear to be—and during the next few years I occasionally would feel a pull in this direction—intellectually I was convinced that Catholicism was an apostate religion.
Yet it was the expectations concerning Christianity raised by Schaeffer which ultimately would make my departure from Evangelicalism necessary. These expectations are best expressed by something Schaeffer wrote in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century. He explained that Christianity is the true and highest mysticism, for it is a personal relationship with God which is grounded in rationality. In other words, Christianity is a rational answer to the question of the meaning of life, one which fulfills man’s deepest spiritual longings and resolves his deepest spiritual problems. Two developments would lead me to conclude that Evangelicalism could not fulfill these expectations and that, if Evangelicalism equals Christianity, I should have to abandon the latter as well.
First, a number of emphases within Evangelicalism would contribute to my having a spiritual burnout. Second, I came to believe that Evangelical thought, based ostensibly on the Bible as its sole authority, was incapable of meeting the many intellectual challenges facing it. I would come to the conclusion that Schaeffer’s defense of Reformation Christianity had serious limitations even though his critique of humanism contained important insights.
Ultimately, and much to my surprise, I would find that it is the Catholic intellectual tradition which fits the glowing descriptions Schaeffer had penned of Christianity’s intellectual viability and that it is Catholic spirituality which most adequately fulfills the Christian mysticism Schaeffer hinted at.
After my conversion experience, my first Evangelical involvement was as a member of a Lutheran church. I remained as such for two years, when, through the influence of Campus Crusade for Christ, I left to become a Baptist. Looking back, I realized that part of my discontent with Lutheranism came from this: Although Lutheranism acknowledges the importance of doing good works, it seems more interested in consoling sinners than in showing them how to overcome sin. One of the benefits of being a Catholic, I have found, is a spiritual discipline centered around mortification and penance. This discipline is powerful in overcoming sin.
In the same year of my conversion, shortly after I joined the Lutheran Church, I became involved in Campus Crusade. At first Campus Crusade benefited me greatly, both spiritually and socially. Crusade’s emphasis on the Spirit-filled life helped me grow in personal character, and I was encouraged to spend time reading the Bible daily.
This I loved to do, and I became an avid student of Scripture, eventually beginning a personal study of Greek in order to draw closer to the meaning of the New Testament. In addition to these spiritual benefits, Crusade’s emphasis on evangelism and discipleship helped me learn to communicate my beliefs with boldness, and through the love and acceptance I found in this group I progressed considerably in social maturity.
I immersed myself in the Crusade way of life, evangelizing frequently and conducting small discipleship groups. One semester I led the Crusade group at a local community college. But the overall spirituality and practice of Crusade worked to inflict on me an intense spiritual burnout, almost destroying my Christian life. And this spirituality and practice, I would discover, is fairly typical of large segments of Evangelicalism.
The major cause of this burnout was Campus Crusade’s emphasis on activity. I found that the genuineness of one’s spirituality was measured by his involvement in evangelism and discipleship. This pressure created in me an assumption that, if I did not have a personal ministry, I was not living the true Christian life.
In many ways this would have a corrupting influence on me, an experience which, I would insist, is shared by other Evangelicals. For example, the need to find opportunities to share our faith and win disciples would lead us to develop friendships with people—Christians and non-Christians alike—for an ulterior motive: the practical goal of fulfilling the Great Commission. People tended to become means for us to achieve our ministry objectives and this because our lives were dominated and motivated by an activist cause.
Perhaps the most corrupting effect was the way this activism turned me into a manipulator of people. It was bad enough that I felt manipulated by my fellow Crusaders, but it hurt me more that I began to manipulate others. People had applied subtle pressure on me to become involved, and as I sought my own disciples I put pressure on them. The great amount of recognition given to those with a successful ministry further fueled this manipulation.
I fell victim to this syndrome because my life had become identified with a cause and my participation in this cause was my primary source of satisfaction. It has required Catholic spirituality with its emphasis on the path of humility and on the performing of quiet deeds of mercy and charity to begin uprooting these tendencies from my heart.
One might wonder what became of the personal relationship with Christ so tirelessly preached by Evangelicals. Certainly Crusaders emphasized the importance of this relationship, but in my experience their practical orientation limited its development.
Scripture became a tool to be controlled by the reader to develop his character and increase his ministry. Absent was the Catholic understanding that through receptive, loving meditation on Scripture Christ is conceived in our souls and begotten into the world through deeds of love. Even our praising of God was strictly active, as we looked for attributes of God in Scripture for which we could praise him. Absent was the Catholic understanding of silent, loving adoration.
As my burnout developed, I dreaded the very idea of discipleship, and my Christian life became strained. I sought deeper roots in the Baptist church I had started attending, one of the finest Evangelical churches in my area. Unfortunately, this church could do little to help me regain a sound Christian life for the simple reason that its spirituality differed little from Crusade’s.
It really should not have surprised me that this church should have the same orientation as Crusade; after all, Evangelicals define themselves as Christians committed to the spread of the gospel. Their defining characteristic and reason for existing is commitment to a particular cause. This was shown vividly during a talk by a professor from Talbot Seminary. He explained we were put on Earth not to learn to worship God–after all, he reasoned, we will worship God better when we see him face to face in heaven–but to evangelize.
Evangelicals are limited by the press of practical activity. The efficacy of their public worship is crippled by its subordination to practical activity. I found that Baptist-type worship is essentially the same as Crusade’s: The singing and other activities are structured primarily to encourage enthusiasm in the congregants (and to evangelize non-Christians).
Both Crusade and contemporary Evangelicalism are descended from nineteenth-century revivalism. A hallmark of revivalism was the belief that excitement was necessary to spread and revive the true religion. Often Evangelical church services are conducted as if they were designed for entertainment; there is never any dead time. The congregation is fed songs, novel prayers, and preaching, with no opportunity for contemplative prayer.
Catholicism subordinates all causes to worship. In Catholicism, the summit of the Christian life is public worship of God in the liturgy, in continuity with the worship of God in heaven by the angels and saints. There is an essential continuity between our lives in heaven and on earth. This liturgical worship begins in receptivity—that is, in contemplation, which is nothing other than receptivity to reality and to God—and ends in sacrifice as we offer ourselves to God after receiving him deeper into our lives through the Eucharist.
This worship overflows into all of life, even the most active life, for even the most active life is subordinate to contemplative and sacrificial worship. From this overflow all of our activity is elevated to worship insofar as we become living sacrifices to God, expressed through our deeds of love. Evangelism is one form of these good deeds, an act of mercy to the souls of others as we, nourished by worship, draw others through their repentance and conversion into the true worship and adoration of God. Through the examples of Catholic saints such as Dominic and Catherine of Siena I have been filled with a new desire for the salvation of others. But Dominic in particular has shown me how to evangelize in accord with my own abilities and personality—through my love of learning—rather than according to the legalistic mold of Campus Crusade.
Thus for me the greatest benefit of Catholicism has been the restoration of a deep relationship with Christ, and I learned this through reading classical Catholic spiritual writers and theologians. Contrary to popular opinion, Catholic thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas, always understood the need for a personal relationship with Christ.
They never used this term since, after all, even enemies can know each other personally, but explained instead that by justification we are made friends and lovers of God. And these Catholic writers understood what it meant to be a friend and lover of God better than any Evangelical writer I had ever encountered.
I learned from Bernard of Clairvaux and Catherine of Siena that the most fundamental form of prayer is the loving adoration of God, a prayer which exceeds the ability of words to express. Whereas Evangelicals often think of the Spirit-filled life as one in which the Spirit controls us, Catholic writers teach that being Spirit-filled means that, as we meditate on and contemplate Christ and the Trinity, the Spirit ignites our hearts with love, and thus we willingly obey God.
Evangelicals speak often of a relationship with God based on the gratitude felt when they realized that God loves the unlovable, but my gratitude and love for God has deepened as I’ve learned that God by his grace goes even further and makes us lovable in his sight. It is a commonplace among Catholic writers that God by grace beautifies the soul, adorning it with virtues; he does not leave us hateful to him, but dignifies us by enabling us through the grace of the indwelling Spirit of Christ to become worthy of eternal life.
The two aspects of Catholicism which Evangelicals most often claim are a hindrance to a personal relationship with Christ, ritual and hierarchy, have become for me a tremendous help in developing that relationship.
The sacrament of the Eucharist has created in me a deep awareness of my dependence on the grace of God. Genuflecting at Mass moves me to bow before Christ’s authority in all areas of my life, an experience which reflects the Catholic principle that bodily acts can influence the soul’s disposition.
The hierarchical elements of the Church have helped me draw nearer to Christ. Going to confession humbles me and helps uproot sinful tendencies from my heart. Obedience to the teachings and authority of the bishops and the Pope has helped free me from bondage to my own interpretations as the measure of truth. I believe my capacity to receive Christ has been deepened through this obedience. After all, Jesus said that whoever receives His messengers receives Him (Matt. 10:40).
Even though I value these spiritual benefits more than any other benefit, it was the intellectual struggles I went through which sealed my burnout and paved the way for my turning toward Catholicism. While in Crusade I spent much time in personal evangelism. As I shared my faith with other college students, intellectual objections to Christianity were hurled at me.
Being convinced that Christianity is not an irrational religion, I strove to find answers. I consulted commentaries and the writings of various Evangelicals to find solutions. Gradually, I began to find these answers inadequate and became disillusioned with Evangelical thought, wondering if my relationship with Christ was being maintained at the expense of truth.
The first category of intellectual difficulties comprised biblical passages which conflicted with Evangelical theology. For example, in preaching that we are justified by faith alone, I often encountered the objection that James, in the second chapter of his epistle, clearly states we are not justified by faith alone.
Evangelical commentators offered explanations of how this passage could agree with the Protestant interpretation of Paul’s doctrine of justification. I never found these interpretations satisfactory. I had the uneasy feeling that the passage was being explained away rather than explained.
Jesus’ emphasis on the role of works in salvation further disturbed me, while Paul himself never uses the phrase “faith alone.” In fact, the only time “faith alone” or “faith only” is used in Scripture is by James, and he conclusively rejects the concept: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Schaeffer’s influence prevented me from finding a solution to this problem so long as I remained a committed Evangelical.
Many other passages I encountered seemed to conflict with the broad outline of Evangelical theology and spirituality. This left me with a feeling of unease, yet I was hopeful that by trying to be more objective I could develop a more accurate understanding of biblical theology and spirituality. I was never able to do this while an Evangelical.
As I realize now, the narrow confines of Protestant theology had constricted my ability to penetrate deep into the teachings of Scripture. Ironically, after I began to read Catholic writers, especially the Church Fathers and medieval writers, Scripture began to make more sense to me.
Catholic thought opened Scripture up to me in a way Evangelical thought never could. From my Bible study I knew many Bible verses, but as I now realize their rich meanings typically eluded me. The truly decisive intellectual problem for me centered around the second pillar of Evangelicalism, the doctrine of sola scriptura, the Bible as the sole authority of faith and practice. This problem would involve me in epistemology, the study of how we can have knowledge at all.
Several specific issues gradually wore away my belief in sola scriptura. First, in my Baptist days I became interested in evangelizing Catholics, even acquiring materials from Mission to Catholics for this purpose. Seeking to find and expose the errors in the Catholic view of tradition and Church authority, I studied passages of Scripture used by Evangelicals in their polemic against the Church. Ultimately I found these arguments wanting.
Evangelicals argue that the injunction in Revelation 22:18-19 against adding anything to the “words of the prophecy of this book” secured sola scriptura and precluded Catholic tradition. But this “book of prophecy” refers only to the book of Revelation. This book was written as an individual book, not as the last section of an already-compiled New Testament.
Furthermore, I encountered passages of Scripture which positively suggested the Catholic view. In John 16:13-15 Jesus tells his apostles that the Spirit will guide them into “all truth.” This presented a dilemma for me. If we allowed that this promise extended beyond the eleven apostles then present, the Catholic understanding of Tradition and the infallibility of the magisterium would become reasonable. If the promise applied only to those present and to no one else, then many of the New Testament writers, such as Paul, could not have been inspired.
One could reply that the original apostles could pass on the grace of this spiritual guidance to others, but this implies successors to the apostles—and that is precisely the Catholic position.
It is not enough to say, as some Evangelicals do, that the apostles, such as Peter, merely approved what non-apostles, such as Mark, had written. If Mark’s Gospel was only “approved” by Peter, then that Gospel is only accurate, not inspired. For it to be inspired, the grace of the Spirit described in John 16 must have been passed on to Mark so he too would be inspired. Furthermore, this Evangelical argument concedes that it required the authority of the Church, with the apostles as its spokesmen, to determine what should be included in Scripture.
The challenge of secularism and atheism, from which Christianity had originally rescued me, still haunted me. I decided as I finished my studies in English to pursue a second major in philosophy, hoping to work through the philosophical challenges I had encountered while evangelizing. My studies began with epistemology.
Exposed to the scourges of positivism and Humean empiricism, I sought a foundation for response in the thought of Carl F. H. Henry, a leading Evangelical thinker. He did not help much; conceding much ground to empiricism, he argues that reason cannot prove the existence of God. Instead, all theology must be based on a single presupposition: the living God revealed in his Word. Henry presupposes the truth of (Evangelical) Christianity and proceeds to show the flaws of every other system of thought.
This question-begging not only failed to convince me, but it also showed the impoverishment of sola scriptura. Henry claimed his theory of knowledge was the biblical view, but it really stems from Descartes and post-Cartesian philosophy. It became apparent that in practice even Evangelicals don’t follow sola scriptura.
I had some familiarity with the historical defense of the authority of Scripture proposed by John Warwick Montgomery, an important Evangelical theologian opposed to presuppositionalism. In his view, we become convinced by historical evidence that Christ is the Son of God and that he spoke of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. This historical approach suggested Catholicism rather than Evangelicalism.
In the next phase on my studies I began investigating the thought of philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, Hegel, and Heidegger. These writers exhibited a depth of thought and, yes, spirituality I never had found as an Evangelical. Although I could not give up my love for Christ, I was taken captive by philosophy. Two parallel processes began. On the one hand, I moved in the direction of the liberal experience-based theology which originated with Schleiermacher in the nineteenth century. In this approach, theology is essentially reflection on personal experiences.
On the other hand, while doing research for my master’s, I began studying writings of the Church Fathers and medieval theologians and mystics. I was struck by the sublimity of their reflections on the Incarnation and the Trinity, for these doctrines–or rather the realities they express–were an integral part of Catholic spirituality, not simply doctrines that must be reluctantly defended, mere intellectual liabilities. I fell in love with these central Christian truths, but they were undermined by the man-centered spirituality of the liberal theology I had embraced.
Liberation from this new spiritual mire came though Catholic thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas, who had confronted philosophy and transformed it in the light of Christian revelation rather than retreating into an anti-intellectual ghetto. In doing this they were following the example of the apostle Paul, who exhorted us to bring every thought captive to Christ and who in his own preaching, as in Acts 17:28 and in his epistle to the Colossians, made use of Greek thought to communicate the gospel. This philosophical tradition helped me rediscover the reasonableness of the Christian faith and thus fulfilled the expectations raised by Schaeffer.
The final moment of my liberation from man-centered spirituality came with my discovery of Thomist realism, an alternative to empiricism and idealism. Three books especially helpful here were Ten Philosophical Mistakes by Mortimer Adler, Three Reformers by Jacques Maritain, and Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper. Realism allows us to reach beyond our sense impressions, unlike empiricism, and to be receptive to reality outside ourselves, unlike idealism. The receptivity of Catholic philosophy fully supports the receptivity of genuine Christian spirituality. Catholic philosophy and spirituality, I found, form an integral unity.
My spiritual and intellectual journey has taken me into Catholicism, where I have found the true and highest mysticism, in which there are no limitations to the depth of the loving relationship we can have with Christ, a relationship which allows us to live in accord with truth and rationality. Although I have only begun to grasp the riches of Catholic spirituality, I have no doubt that in finding Catholicism I found Christ in a more profound way than ever before in my Christian experience.”
“The floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops” – ST. ATHANASIUS
“The road to Hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts” – ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM.
“The road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” – ST. JOHN EUDES
“I do not think that there are many among bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish.” – ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, EXTRACT FROM ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HOMILY III ON ACTS 1:12
“The floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” – ST. ATHANASIUS, COUNCIL OF NICAEA, AD 325.
“It is better that scandals arise than truth be suppressed.” – POPE ST. GREGORY THE GREAT.
“It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate, even publicly” – ST THOMAS AQUINAS, SUMMA THEOLOGICA II, II q.33
“Mercy detached from Justice and the Truth about Good and Evil, quickly disintegrates into mere sentimentalism, irrationality and a gross inability to think logically and clearly about right or wrong – or anything at all.” -Paige
“Who’s going to save our Church? It’s not our bishops, it’s not our priests and it is not the religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that the priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and the religious act like religious.” – Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
“Friends, I am truly honored to share this post with you today, the first in what I hope will be a long-running series lifting up the voices of survivors.
…I have received responses from 21 people who have experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and agreed to share their voices in this way. I am grateful to be able to include a diverse collection of perspectives – from women and men, young and old, those who were abused as children and those abused as adults, those who have remained Catholic and those who have left the Church (and every gray area in between).
Full disclosure: Right now, this Survivor Voices Panel does not accurately reflect the demographics of survivors as a whole. I have more personal connections with female survivors, so the panel has a heavy bias towards women’s voices. Also, the majority of these respondents are people who have remained Catholic, which is by no means representative of all survivors. Finally, this panel only includes the voices of three people of color, which I recognize as a deficit, especially as we are coming to understand the underreporting of abuse in historically marginalized communities. I hope to continue to add voices to this panel and create more balance over time.
If you have experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I would be honored to include your perspective in this “Survivors’ Voices” series.
For July, I asked the Survivor Voices Panel to share responses to this question:
What is one thing you would like to say to Catholics about the problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church?
This post contains responses directly from 12 survivors (some of whom shared more than one response). Each of these survivors speaks solely for themselves and their particular experiences. I have only made minor edits for spelling, grammar, and clarity. More responses to this question will be included in Part 2, which I will published next week.
Without further ado, here is what these survivors had to say:
I’d like Catholics to know that the response to survivors is NOT what it seems; I’ve received nothing in terms of help. And worse. This is despite Vos Estis Lux Mundi, the Pope’s (supposed) bill of rights for survivors. I know for a fact that I’m not the only survivor in such a situation, and I suspect people like me are in the majority.
I believe clergy sexual abuse is greatly under-reported. Most victims I know have never reported. The climate is still not safe to disclose these secrets.
Within the sexual abuse, there is often spiritual abuse, which has been incredibly difficult for me to come to terms with. The name of God was used as a weapon, and many beautiful Bible passages were used to manipulate and control me. It has greatly affected my faith, and made me feel, in a way, that I was abused by God. My head knows that this is not true, but it wasn’t just my body that was violated, it was my soul as well.
The problem is not fixed. Some strides have been made, but the default is still to protect the priest or bishop and to silence the victim.
Despite the fact that the abuse is not the fault of the victim, we still carry guilt and shame. Although many people think that clericalism is getting better, it is still alive and well, even if we choose not to see it. I have found I have received more empathy and compassion from those that have experienced deep pain or loss, or have themselves been victims. The most judgement and condemnation has come from scrupulous, conservative Catholics, many of whom were people that I was close to; that in itself was another form of betrayal.
Most abusers are charming and well liked. Do not assume your priest “could never.”
Please take safe environment stuff seriously and hold to a culture of accountability. Abuse can happen anywhere, but it’s more likely to happen in places where safe environment rules aren’t in place. It’s definitely the first thing I notice about a parish now – whether or not they apply this consistently, or whether certain people are the “exception.”
Priests and parishioners quickly jump to “Church-haters” as the reason this issue comes up. The truth is too much to bear, so they jump to denial.
Throughout history, the Catholic Church has had soaring highs and deep lows. This crisis has truly been a new low in its broadness and scope. Pray to Jesus to heal the wounds of the victims and of the Church as we continue to move forward toward revision and accountability.
The responsibility of every Catholic is to be vigilant; if you see something, say something. Report to law enforcement. C-A-L-L T-H-E P-O-L-I-C-E!!!
One problem is that the sexual abuse is perpetrated by a man ordained in-the-person-of-Christ, another-Christ, a man referred to as “Father,” a person within a self-governing, powerful faith institution entrenched in history. For decades I cowered under this enormous mountain of impossible darkness. As a child the conflict, terror, and shame sent my soul hiding, my mouth silenced, my brain spinning in confusion and guilt, and my gut unable to function properly at times. To deny the negative effects of doctrine and praxis that link god too closely with select humans is a problem.
Victim isn’t a bad word, and victims aren’t people to be afraid of. We aren’t something the Church needs defending from. As we learn in the Tenth Station [of the Cross], the Body of Christ is herself the body of a sexual abuse victim. Jesus Himself suffered this abuse; He does not want you to look away from that, He needs you to love Him in that.
The root of the problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is abuse of power and clericalism. The power and authority a priest has over those entrusted to his spiritual care can easily become a weapon when a priest possesses evil intent. Clericalism leads to the pedestals so many Catholics blindly place priests upon, which enable sexual predator priests – both in their actions and in keeping their victims silent.
The reality of the response of the Catholic Church to survivors, is that “Your Mileage May Vary.” Things vary for survivors according to when and where you were abused and, in my case, who witnessed your abuse and their current position in the hierarchy of the church. Vos Estis was supposed to solve this problem, but it’s not being enforced, despite my pleas to the Pope.
I would like Catholics to know that helping survivors should not have a “one stop shop” approach. It is not enough to have an office of protection or resolution. The laity and regular churchgoers have to be compassionate. The priests, other clergy, nuns and religious have to also welcome those in need of support. There has to be an end to slamming the door in the face of those in need, for when this is done, it is done to Our Lord, as He said in Scripture.
Part of the problem is that priests are accountable to no one but themselves. A priest has no wife or family to question him about unexplained absences, inappropriate behavior, flirtations, unhealthy relationships/boundaries, and it’s rare that a well-meaning parishioner would address it because “he’s the priest.” This gives a priest with evil designs prime opportunity to manipulate and take advantage of a vulnerable person he sets his sights on. This is not a problem of the past, this happens today.
Do not remain silent. If you see injustice towards survivors in your community or parish, say something. Silence from fellow Catholics is exquisitely painful for survivors. Educate yourselves on the effects of the trauma experienced as a result of sexual abuse by someone in the Church. Be gentle with survivors; we aren’t perfect. We are striving to find our way in the midst of a great deal of pain. The place that was once safe for us turned into a place of physical, emotional and/or spiritual torture; coming back to that requires immense trust. We need gentleness, empathy, mercy, and love. Defending priests/parish staff who don’t handle abuse well is not helpful. While praying for survivors is definitely a gift, we need action along with your prayers.
The crisis is not over. There are still untold numbers of victims who have never disclosed.
Abuse in the Catholic Church is unlike abuse in any other institution: home, family, school, work. We can flee from those places and those people to the safety of our loving God, to our church, the body of Christ. When abuse occurs within our religious tradition, our faith – our one place of refuge – suffers a wound like no other.
THE COVER UP. I want people to know it’s real and it’s still going on. Everything I was taught about Catholicism – when I was a boy and I wanted to be a priest – has been shattered. For example, the Catholic Church continues fighting against victim compensation for their own criminal acts of sexual abuse. That’s the complete opposite of the values I was taught in CCD and decades of attending church.
Priests do not become child molesters. Child molesters become priests.
I had a priest tell me on and on about how abuse victims are: Church-haters, money-grubbers, etc. I finally stopped him and said, “Father, you’re talking to one right now.” He was completely thrown off. Confused. Finally he said, “That’s not possible. You love the Church.” I said, “I do love the Church. And I am one of the victims.” It shifted his thinking, what he thought he knew. We’re still friends but have far deeper conversations.
Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have NEVER taken responsibility for their part in the sex abuse scandal. They both knew it was happening and stayed silent.
[When I reported my abuse], I felt as if I was seen as a problem that had to be dealt with, carefully, and at a distance. When in reality, I was the women at the well, drowning in my shame. I was the hemorrhaging woman, grasping for the hem of the Lord’s cloak, desperate for His healing, but also, desperate for the Lord, in His Body, to come close. To see and hear me. To accept me as I was, even as I was in shock from all that had been lost, and to show me first how to stop the bleeding, and then to sit with me while I grieved, and finally to help me find a way forward.
As victim-survivors we often have to make choices that others will disagree or find fault with, such as whether or not we can attend Mass. For many of us, Mass is a trigger, and we need to learn to be gentle with ourselves by avoiding those activities, actions, or people that cause us to be triggered. Being told that we are in the wrong for making these choices only hurts more. Please support our decisions rather than judge them or judge us.”
-by Carl Olson, Carl grew up in a Fundamentalist Protestant home and attended Briercrest Bible College, an Evangelical school in Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife, Heather, were married in 1994 and entered the Catholic Church together in 1997. Their conversion story appears in the book, Surprised By Truth 3 (Sophia Institute Press, 2002).
“This year marks the twentieth anniversary of my wife and me entering the Catholic Church from Evangelicalism. My upbringing skewed strongly toward the Fundamentalist end of the spectrum while hers was more mainstream Evangelical. Both of us were graduates of Evangelical Bible colleges, so we had a fairly in-depth understanding and experience of American Evangelicalism, which is a complicated and even bewildering world of denominations, para-church organizations, and movements.
My interest in apologetics started when I read works by C.S. Lewis, who played a significant role in our journey into the Church. Like so many other Evangelicals who “poped,” I worked through a wide range of questions about Mary, the saints, authority, the sacraments, purgatory, and Tradition. In fact, the very first article I ever had published was a detailed account of that search and study for This Rock (the predecessor to Catholic Answers Magazine), “Joining the Unsaved” (June 1998). The experience could be likened to being dropped into a huge and exotic forest and spending countless hours studying the flora and fauna, trying to grasp their curious and often surprising details.
During that time, I ended up writing a lengthy letter to my parents. In a way, it was like sending them a box with samples from the forest with a mixture of tree leaves, flowers, and rocks. A few years later, when I re-read the letter, I saw that my explanation of Catholicism, while still correct and on point—and there were many points—lacked a sense of the big picture. Although I was able to defend against the negative stereotypes and false concepts that good people like my parents were tossing at me, I did not and could not provide a positive, succinct picture of the essence of Catholicism.
Something was missing
This sense of incompleteness was especially strong when it came to the Church’s teaching about salvation. I knew the Church did not teach that our works alone save us, but I also knew that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). How so? I understood the importance of the sacraments; it was, after all, the reality of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist that drew my wife and me so powerfully to the Church. But, to continue the analogy, how did that fit into the bigger picture of the forest of Catholicism? In what way could the forest be brought into focus and best understood?
The answer is a word every Catholic needs to know: theosis. It is also known as deification, divinization, participation, and divine sonship. The essence of Christianity and the gospel is that the triune God, who is perfect communion, “in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1). The Father desires to give us his actual life and make us, through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit, true children of God. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us,” states St. John, “that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
Now, as a young Evangelical Protestant I never questioned the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation—but I also rarely contemplated in depth what those two great mysteries had to do with me. Sure, I knew God created me. I accepted that God became man. But these were more points of doctrine than realities to be contemplated and explored. And, to be fair and blunt, that says more about my own personal failings than it does about failings in Evangelical theology. When I finally began to grasp the startling truth of theosis, I began to see and understand the details of the forest in an even more vibrant and life-changing way.
Considering this, how do essential but often overlooked truths—the subject of a detailed book I co-edited with Fr. David Meconi, S.J.—help the apologist? Here are three basic ways:
Most Fundamentalists and many Evangelicals see Catholicism as a religious system based on works, ritual, and “doing stuff.” What they don’t see, first, is that they themselves—for all the talk of a “personal relationship” with Christ—take part in a system based on works, ritual, and “doing stuff.” After all, they insist on the necessity of going to church, participating in some form of communal worship, doing good works, and so forth.
The heart of Catholicism is having a personal relationship with Christ. Yes, there is a lot of debate over whether or not Catholics should use such language, but to me it’s quite simple: the triune God, who is Creator of all, is perfect communion and love. He is relationship. And Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is one of three divine persons. So, yes, having a personal relationship with each person of the Trinity is the very essence of being a Catholic:
“O blessed light, O Trinity and first Unity!” God is eternal blessedness, undying life, unfading light. God is love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God freely wills to communicate the glory of His blessed life. Such is the “plan of His loving kindness,” conceived by the Father before the foundation of the world, in His beloved Son: “He destined us in love to be His sons” and “to be conformed to the image of His Son,” through “the spirit of sonship” (CCC 257).
Rules, rules, rules?
Catholicism, being deeply communal, familial, and covenantal, is never satisfied by a mere legal or juridical understanding of salvation. The irony is that the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who insist that salvation is juridical and reflects a sort of divine courtroom denounce Catholicism for being impersonal and devoid of relationship. That’s absurd. As Catholics, we always understand that laws and rules are rooted in the familial, communal nature of God, because they orient us toward our final beatitude, by God’s grace.
The reality of grace
The biggest divide between Catholics and many Protestants is the nature of grace. “Grace,” as the Catechism so succinctly states, “is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life” (CCC 1997). This is why Catholics can say that the sacraments aren’t just symbols but signs that really accomplish, by the power of God’s grace, what they signify. We insist that we don’t receive bread at Holy Communion but the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.
Because we are filled, animated, and joined by the trinitarian life of God, we participate in the heavenly realities, being truly part of Christ’s body—not just in a metaphorical sense but in a way that is truly real.
If we are really “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), then our deeds are not the works of slaves trying to impress a master but the joyful works of sons and daughters on behalf our Father, joined to Christ our Savior, aided by the Holy Spirit our advocate. Catholicism, then, is not a religion of “works righteousness” but of righteous, holy children, growing even more righteous and holy as we continue to conform to the will and way of God. Understanding this theosis is a deeply biblical and traditional view of the dense forest of doctrine and spirituality should guide the apologist in debates and conversations.”
“The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” – St Gregory of Nyssa
[Ed. it is MOST IMPORTANT to note, theosis does NOT imply an ontological change. We do not become gods ourselves! Athanasius is terribly often misquoted to say “a god”, which implies ontological change and which is blasphemy and heresy of the highest form, by the uninformed.]
“When Cardinal Timothy Dolan was a young priest, he was in charge of running an RCIA program for adults who wanted to convert and become Catholic. One man was going through the classes to please his wife, and he challenged Fr. Dolan almost every class on some issue or another. He seemed to be truly wrestling with the Faith. Finally, at the end of the last class, Fr. Dolan asked the man if he had any questions about the Catholic Faith. The man replied, “Yeah, there’s one thing I just don’t get.”
Fr. Dolan braced himself – would it be a hot-button issue like the Church’s teaching on birth control or marriage?
The man continued, “I just don’t get your teaching on grace. You said that God literally comes to dwell in your soul. That seems too good to be true – I must have misunderstood.”
Fr. Dolan breathed a sigh of relief and said, “You understood me perfectly – that is grace.”
Often we focus on the Father’s creation, or the Son’s death on the Cross, or the Holy Spirit inspiring the Apostles. But the entire Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is not just out there but comes to dwell in our soul through grace.
I don’t think we fully appreciate what an amazing gift this is! In Catholic theology, this is called theosis or divinization – that we become so filled with God that we resemble God, we contain God, we radiate God, we become transformed into God. As St. Athanasius put it so succinctly, “God became man so that man might become God.” What an amazing gift! Christianity isn’t about us becoming nice people – Christianity is about becoming so filled with the Blessed Trinity that we become like Him.
Now, we need to make a careful distinction. Although we are truly divinized, we are not God.We don’t stop being creatures even when the Creator has drawn us into Himself. Some New-Age followers believe that we are “all part of the divine” and that we just need to tap into the “god within”. That’s pantheism, and it is not what we believe.
Rather, we believe that, because of the free gift of God’s grace, He does three things. First, He comes to dwell in our soul. Second, He makes us adopted sons and daughters of God, which means that we share in His nature. Third, He transforms us until we start to share His glory. How remarkable! This is so much more than just “getting to Purgatory by the skin of our teeth” – this is an invitation to participate in the inner life of the Trinity?
Lest we get too abstract, let’s look at three practical consequences of this “theosis”.
First, it means that we must always live in the state of grace (that is, free of all mortal sins). St. Teresa of Avila said that if we could see a soul in the state of grace, we would be tempted to worship it! So make sure your soul is always a dwelling-place for the Trinity. This means avoiding mortal sins like missing Mass, getting drunk or using drugs, or any sexual activity outside of marriage. If we happen to fall into any of these mortal sins, run to Confession to get back into the state of grace, which will allow God to literally dwell in your soul again!
Second, since we believe that God is in our soul, we do not need to go to great lengths to pray – we can pray anywhere, and have a continual conversation with the God Who dwells within. Yes, it is often helpful to go to a church or a prayer room in your house, but even if you’re in the dentist chair or on a ski lift or sitting on the school bus, you can converse with God living in your soul. Converse with Him often throughout the day!
Third, if the Trinity dwells in me and you, then how must we treat each other? One time, St. Jacinta Marta, the young shepherd girl who was one of the visionaries at Fatima, was too sick to attend Mass. When her cousin Lucia came home from Mass, Jacinta came up to her and sat next to her, resting her head on her cousin’s shoulder. Lucia asked why she was being so affectionate, and Jacinta replied, “Since you received Jesus at Mass, being next to you is like being next to the tabernacle! I just want to pray to Jesus who is living in your soul!”
How much respect and love we ought to pay to one another if we knew the other person was preparing for eternal glory! How would we treat another person if we knew their soul housed the Triune God! This should be our attitude toward all, knowing that God desires all to become transformed into Him.
Divinization. Theosis. This teaching of our Catholic Faith is so tremendously awesome that I am speechless in the sight of such a mystery. So I will conclude, then, with words that are not my own, but come from an early church Father, St. Irenaeus: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, through His transcendent love, became what we are, that He might bring us to become even what He is Himself.”
“The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” – St Gregory of Nyssa
-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.
“In John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, he presents a view of man that is very much like Luther’s but contrary to what we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Calvin used texts such as Genesis 6:5—“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”—and Romans 3:10ff—“None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one ”—to prove that man is utterly depraved through the fall of Adam and Eve.
Calvin’s conclusion from these texts and others was to say, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 26).
What say we?
The context of the texts Calvin used actually demonstrates the opposite of his claim. For example, if we read forward just four verses in Genesis 6, we find: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. . . . Noah was a righteous [“just”] man, blameless in his generation” (Gen. 6:8-9). While we Catholics agree that God’s grace or “favor” was essential for Noah to be truly “just” before God, nevertheless Noah was truly just, according to the text.
As far as the quote from Romans is concerned, the greater context of the entire epistle must be understood. One of the central themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (cf. Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (cf. Romans 11:22). It is solely because of God’s grace that we become truly just:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death . . . in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:2,4).
Notice the emphasis on the fact that man is made truly just so much so that he can fulfill “the just requirement of the law.” It doesn’t get any more just, or righteous, than that!
Thus, Romans 3:10ff simply does not teach total depravity in a Calvinist sense. It cannot when the context is understood.
Moreover, if we examine the verses where St. Paul paints his picture of the wicked who have “turned aside” and “done wrong,” we find he actually quotes Psalm 14:3. The next two verses of this Psalm explain who these “evil ones” are:
Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.
The Psalmist clearly refers to both evildoers and the righteous.
These and other passages from Romans tell us that Christ came to make us just, not that there are absolutely none who are just. We must stress again that it is because of the justice of Christ communicated to the faithful that their actions and, indeed, they themselves are truly made just. But they indeed are truly made just.
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right (Gr., ho poion tein dikaiousunein/ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην—“the one doing justice”) is righteous (Gr., dikaios estin/δίκαιός ἐστιν—“is just”) as He is righteous (Gr., kathos ekeinos dikaios estin/καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν—“as He is just”). -1 Jn 3:7
Scripture couldn’t be clearer that the faithful are made truly just in their being and in their actions through the grace of Christ.
The problem magnified
More grave problems arise when we begin to follow the path Calvin lays for us with his first principle. Even when considering the unregenerate, Calvin is wrong about total depravity, because Scripture tells us even those outside of the law can “do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15).
Though Catholics agree with Calvinists that grace is necessary even for those who are ignorant of the law in order for them to be just before God—in other words, this text is not saying these pagans can be justified apart from grace—the text does infer that nature is not totally depraved, because man can clearly act justly on a natural level and by nature.
But an even more grave error comes to the fore when we consider his notion of the depravity of the just.
“Depravity of the just?” Yes. That was not a typo. According to John Calvin, even those who have been justified by Christ “cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation” (Institutes, bk. III, ch. 9, para. 9). What a far cry this is from “he that acts justly is just” (I John 3:7) or the plain words of the Psalmist, who uses similar words as found in Genesis with regard to Abraham being justified by faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). In the Psalms we read: “Then Phineas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation” (Ps. 106:30-31).
Clearly, Phineas was justified by his works and not only by faith. In other words, Phineas’s works are truly “just as he is just,” to use the words of I John 3:7.
There are a multitude of biblical texts that come to mind at this point, but here are only three:
“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”? (Matt. 12:37).
“By works a man is justified and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24).
“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).
These texts do not even come close to saying all of these works were “worthy of condemnation.” They say just the opposite!
We should be clear here: All “good works” man performs that contribute to his salvation are first and foremost God’s gifts, which, along with his cooperation, truly make him just and worthy to “walk with [Christ] in white; for [he is] worthy” (Rev. 3:4) by God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot escape the biblical fact that these works are truly just and they are truly the fruit of the just man himself.
Understanding the strange
When John Calvin says man is utterly dependent upon God for every single just thought in his mind (cf. Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 27), Catholics will happily agree. And they would be correct: We do agree. However, appearances can be deceiving, because there is meaning beneath those words that Catholics cannot agree with.
With Calvin, there is no sense of grace aiding and empowering our wills as St. Augustine taught and the Catholic Church teaches. For Calvin, being “dependent upon God” means our free cooperation or free will has no part to play. God does not merely empower our wills; He operates them.
In the end, this may well be the most disturbing idea stemming from Calvin’s notion of total depravity: Man is essentially God’s puppet, a notion that led to Calvin attributing both the good and the evil actions of man to God.
And mind you, Calvin rejects and ridicules the Catholic notion of God merely permitting evil and working all things together for good. In his words:
Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting, because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that He directs their malice to whatever end He pleases” (Institutes, bk. I, ch. XVIII, para. 1).
Evildoers do not commit acts of depravity in spite of the command of God, but because of the command of God, according to Calvin (ibid., para. 4)!
Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 are used to teach that there is no evil that occurs that is not “impelled” by God’s positive command (ibid., para. 2).
God is the author of all those things that, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. [45:7]); that no evil happens which he hath not done (Amos [3:6]) (ibid., para. 3).
As Catholics we understand, as St. Paul teaches, “[S]ince they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom. 1:28). This means God may well remove grace that is rejected. He may also hold back grace as well, but this is, as St. Augustine said, God’s “just judgment.”
But according to Calvin’s unbiblical teaching, God does not give grace in the first place and then “impels” men to act sinfully. As quoted above, according to Calvin, God causes evil. And we are not talking about physical evil here; we are talking about moral evil. That is categorically absurd! God cannot “do” or “impel” moral evil because He is infinitely and absolutely good.
God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:8, Numbers 23:19); “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) or act contrary to His nature. If God’s nature is one of love and pure being, it is absurd to say that He can “do” evil, which is by nature a lack of some perfection that ought to be present in a given nature. In fact, James 1:13 tells us that God not only cannot cause this kind of evil, He cannot even tempt anyone with evil. That is contrary to His nature.
The bottom line
When Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 say God “creates evil” and “does evil,” this must be seen only in a sense in which it does not contradict God’s nature and what is clearly revealed to us about God in Scripture. God can directly cause physical evil, such as the ten plagues he released against Egypt in Exodus. But this was an act of justice, which was morally upright and justified.
We can also say that God permits evil in view of the fact that He chose to create us with freedom. But even there, God permits evil only in view of His promise to bring good out of that evil, as is most profoundly demonstrated through the greatest evil in the history of the world: the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this greatest evil God brings about the greatest good: the redemption of the world. God did not kill Christ, nor did he “impel” anyone to kill Christ.
But by virtue of His Omnipotence, He brings good out of the evil acts committed.”
“On Thursday 6/17/2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city of Philadelphia engaged in discrimination when it refused to contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) to place children in adoptive homes. The city claimed that it would not work with organizations that refuse to place children with same-sex couples. The Court rules that the city was not justified in preventing CSS from carrying out its free exercise of religion and this exercise did not sufficiently burden the city to justify its decision.
I won’t get into the legal specifics of this case. Instead, I want to focus on the broader arguments it raises when people hear about it. The biggest is the claim that Catholic adoption agencies engage in unjust discrimination when they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. How should Christians respond to this claim?
It’s not wise to use phrases like “children need a mother and a father.” Some people will think you’re equating having opposite-sex parents with a biological need like food or shelter. They might point to studies or anecdotal accounts of children raised by same-sex couples who “turned out just fine.”
In some contexts, you might find it helpful to point out the flaws in studies that purport to prove that same-sex households are just as good as, if not superior to, opposite-sex couples. Some of the flaws include the fact that respondents (usually only a handful of them) volunteered for these studies, so the more obviously dysfunctional same-sex couples didn’t bother applying in the first place. However, this approach can get you off the main moral principle too quickly and muddy the waters into debates about whether certain groups constitute “good parents.”
In fact, some parents who experience unintended pregnancies will probably be worse at parenting than a saintly, infertile opposite-sex couple. But it doesn’t follow that we should place a child with those parents because some study says they’d probably be better. Instead, we should follow principles or justice rather than the dictates of social scientists. In doing that, we should shift from saying “children need a mother and a father,” which is an empirical claim about well-being, and say “children have a right to their mother and father.”
This is why we don’t remove children from their biological parents unless the parents are deemed unfit. Even if the child would do better in another home, the child has a right to his parents. In fact, the Catechism says:
‘A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The “supreme gift of marriage” is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception” (CCC 2378).’
So what do we do with a child who has a right to his parents but can’t be raised by them—because they have died, for example, or are unable to care for him? In that case, justice demands that we replicate what he has lost as best as we can. Part of that includes the irreplaceable and unique elements that fatherhood and motherhood give to a child.
This does not mean that all same-sex couples would be prohibited from raising children. For example, an orphaned child might be raised by her grandmother and aunt. In this case, strong familial bonds can substitute for a fatherly presence.
But notice that same-sex couples are not equal to opposite-sex couples. While it’s not politically correct to say this, it is still correct: Catholic adoption agencies should not deliberately place children in homes with disordered sexual behavior. I am not claiming people with same-sex attraction are more likely to abuse a child. My point is instead that Catholic adoption agencies are committed to helping children grow up in healthy families. And while our culture defines healthy families without any regard for the harms associated with no-fault divorce, fornication, and sodomy, the Church does not, and its institutions should be free to practice their faith in accord with this (correct) view of the family.
One final objection would be that it is hypocritical for Catholics to be so firmly against abortion and yet be opposed to same-sex couples adopting children. Would they prefer that the child be aborted instead?
First, even if the lack of same-sex adoptions led to increased rates of abortion, that wouldn’t mean Catholics would be morally responsible for those children’s deaths. That culpability lies with the child’s parents—and especially the abortionist himself—because they are choosing to end the child’s life. Banning crimes like prostitution could have the unintended consequence of increases in sex-trafficking, but that would not mean that it is wrong to try to rid society of the scourge of prostitution.
Second, this objection is based on a false dilemma. It makes it seem as if either Catholics can choose either abortion or adoption by a same-sex couple. But the vast majority of children waiting to be adopted in this country are older children in the foster care system. Many of these children were wanted by their parents, who lost custody of them due to criminal behavior or being deemed unfit to care for their children. Some of them can’t even be adopted because their parents have not lost their legal parental rights.
However, newborn children are an entirely different story. Prospective adoptive parents can wait for years to adopt a newborn, and some sources indicate that there are two million couples waiting to adopt. Therefore, it isn’t the case that a child from an unintended pregnancy must either be adopted by a same-sex couple or be aborted. There are many opposite-sex couples waiting to adopt these children. They should be commended for their heroism. If Catholic adoption agencies choose to work with them, the State should not punish them for carrying out what they know to be in the best interests of the children they serve.”
God determines our identity. We respond in grace and free will; either correctly or incorrectly, either in good or evil, either in obedience or disobedience, as God defines them and us. We do not decide. God does. THY WILL be done. Thy Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.
“Philosophically there is much attention to the concept of identity. In sacred scripture the same is the case. What constitutes our identity?
In the philosophy that examines “being” or ontology, our identity is rooted in our “whatness.” What you are, determined who you are. This whatness is not merely your essence, but it’s tied intrinsically to your “why-ness” that is a pre-determined purpose that is imposed upon you by your existence. To some this seems oppressive, to others it’s a matter of discovery and humility. In this category one does not determine their own purpose. Psychologically that would be absurd since one is drawing from their nature to determine a preferential purpose, thus at least latently basing their existential self first in their own nature. This is where the notion of dignity stems from, and since it is rooted in our being, personal choices do not dissolve this dignity, nor do states of development.
The second type of identity is sometimes called “moral character.” This, while of itself springs from our nature, nonetheless does carry with it existential notions of self-creation. Here, we are not creating “being” or “what/why we are” but “how” we are. For the Christian, this is what, in part, determines our our salvation, in conjunction with or without our cooperation with grace. We are responsible here for our moral character, and sometimes this is how people identity.
Today, sexual relativism defines identity around sexual attractions, or affective states. The primary focus is not on one’s ontology as a human (male or female), but rather the sexual inclinations and affective-guided self concept. Sexual attraction is often conflated with the tautology “love is love.” Love is not initially defined as to will the good of the other here, otherwise further phrases such as “you don’t choose who you love” would not accompany the movement. This is about desire, since in disinterested friendships love can be chosen and should be as such.
Since Christ, our identity has been rooted in His choice to adopt us as His children, not in one’s sexual disposition, or affective desires in any particular regard, including pleasure, wealth, money or power. In baptism the Church teaches that one is changed “ontologically.” Thus the identity in whatness and whyness has also changed. God extends this call to be changed by His love, which transcends mere sexual desires, but pertains to a concern primarily for the good of the other.
Knowing these distinctions is important as it will help people navigate chronic shame, and be rooted in not something ultimately hedonistic or defined primarily by affective desires, but rather rooted in the Creator Who defines us by the relationship He freely and universally extends to all, that some may be saved.”
-by Bill Rutland, a former Evangelical minister. He and his wife, Linda, became Catholics in August 1999. He writes from Rogers, Arizona, where he is the DRE for St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.
“The hand of God plants the seeds of the extraordinary in the ordinary events of our lives. Little did I know that stepping over the threshold of that little bookstore in Alabama was the first step in my long journey home to the Catholic Church. As I searched the shelves, a book entitled The Seven Storey Mountain caught my eye. There was something about the title that intrigued me. I had no idea who the author, Thomas Merton, was, certainly not that he was a Catholic.
It didn’t take me long to realize the book I had purchased was a “Catholic book.” I thought of putting it down, but Merton’s engaging style and the fact that I had paid my hard-earned money for the book goaded me on, page by page. I was shocked at Merton’s love for Jesus and the depth of his theology. I had always believed that the Catholic Church was an apostate church, but this certainly didn’t seem like the writhing of a heretic.
Growing up deep in the Bible belt, I didn’t meet many Catholics, and the ones I did meet didn’t advertise the fact. My first exposure to the Catholic Church was when I was about ten years old. My uncle had committed what amounted to family treason by marrying a Catholic girl in Charleston, South Carolina. There are only three things that I remember about that wedding: My Presbyterian grandmother was scandalized, the ceremony seemed to go on and on, and I got to sneak a glass of champagne at the reception. It took a while, but we eventually forgave my uncle, chalking it up to the fact that love is blind. His wife’s reprieve was not so easily won.
When I bought Merton’s book, my wife, Linda, and I had moved back to Alabama from Norman, Oklahoma, where we had been pastoring a church with the Salvation Army. I had taken a job as a printer, but my heart still yearned for the ministry. Linda and I settled into a small Southern Baptist Church where I became the associate pastor. It gave me the opportunity to teach and preach, but I wanted a full-time church of my own. An unfulfilled dream and a restless spirit are dangerous things. When a friend of mine who was the pastor of the local Salvation Army asked me to come to work for him managing his homeless shelter and thrift store, I jumped at the chance.
Linda and I donned once again the navy-blue uniforms of the Salvation Army. A little over a year later we accepted an offer to pastor a Salvation Army church in some place called Rogers, Arkansas.
We arrived in Rogers on a Wednesday, and on Thursday it started to snow—and snow and snow and snow. The next day the weather cleared up, and everything was covered in a carpet of white. My kids—Matthew, who was 13 at the time, and Lesli, who was 8—thought it was a winter wonderland. Yet to me the snow seemed somehow a bad omen.
Not long after we arrived in Rogers, Linda went into the hospital with pneumonia. She was out again in a week, but the pneumonia never really went away. She would be in the hospital three more times that year. Her doctors told us that we needed to find another line of work that was less demanding to allow Linda some time to recuperate.
Acting on their advice, I made an appointment with my Salvation Army divisional commander in Oklahoma City and told him that we had decided to resign our position because of Linda’s health. We were coming into the holiday season when every year the Salvation Army goes into overdrive. I told the divisional commander that we would stay on through the end of the year. This would give us a little time to build up our savings, which we had drained on medical bills. It would also save the Salvation Army from having to replace us in the middle of the busiest time of the year. He agreed.
The next week we received a letter stating that national headquarters wanted someone in our position immediately, and we had two weeks to leave.
You must understand that we had nothing. The Salvation Army owned everything. They owned the house, the car, the furniture—everything right down to the bed sheets and the silverware. It was two weeks before Thanksgiving, and I faced the very real possibility of being out on the street with a wife, two kids, and literally nothing but the clothes on our backs.
This probably would have happened if not for the kindness of Robert and Billi Doyal, who were the pastors of the Salvation Army church in Springdale, Arkansas. They opened their hearts and thrift store to us and helped us round up the bare necessities that a household needs. I found a job at a plant making cultured marble products and continued my Salvation Army work the best I could in the evenings.
We found a place to live and spent the remainder of our savings on rent and deposits. A member of our Salvation Army advisory committee had loaned me his spare truck so we could get back and forth to work. In the meantime, Linda had a recurrence of pneumonia, and the doctor wanted her to go back into the hospital. She refused to go until she saw that her family was settled in safe and sound.
Robert came over with his truck and helped us move in. There was an early snow that year, and as we moved our stuff it drifted down on us. Now I understood the snow’s cold prophecy the year before. Linda helped Robert and me move on a Saturday. On Sunday she went back into the hospital.
When fear and hopelessness are wed, despair is born. I had no idea how I was going to make the rent or the bills. I had two kids to look after, and my wife was in the hospital with no medical insurance. The snow had turned to ice and the roads were treacherous.
As I drove I thought how easy it would be to just slip off the road into one of the deep gullies on either side. For the first time, I actually considered taking my own life, and it scared me. Then from somewhere down deep in my soul, came an unbidden cry—”Mother Mary, help me!” It wasn’t really a prayer, it was more like a frightened child calling out for his mother. I was shocked. I didn’t believe in Mary.
Three days later, against her doctor’s orders, Linda was out of the hospital. She had found a new job, and there was no way that she was going to miss the first day. The next week she was back in the hospital on an outpatient basis for an infusion of gammaglobulin. Her doctor hoped that this would build up her immune system and keep her out of the hospital. The injection process takes about four hours, and there is little more to do than just lie there.
After I got off work that afternoon, I went to pick up Linda. She was waiting for me in the emergency room. The first words out of her mouth were, “Bill, I had a visitor.”
“Oh,” I said, “who was it?”
She looked down. “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was lying there during the injection worrying about you and the kids and my new job and the money. And all of the sudden, this tremendous feeling of peace came over me. I had the feeling that there was someone in the room with me. I looked up and there was a lady in a long robe standing at the foot of my bed.”
“What did she say?” I interrupted.
Linda paused. “Nothing. I just felt this great empathy and love.”
There are questions you know the answer to but you ask anyway. “Who was she?” I asked.
Linda look up, a confused look on her face. “It was Mary!”
In God’s wonderful mercy, the spring soothes the winter’s harsh wounds. We had managed to buy a used car, and we moved into a duplex that was much more affordable than where we had been living.
During this time I became friends with a young man named David who worked at the local Catholic bookstore. Although I had come to respect certain Catholic writers, I still believed that I was head and shoulders above Catholics when it came to the Bible and theology. In David I found my Waterloo.
We would talk between customers about Catholic theology. In David I also recognized something of myself. There was in him a deep, abiding sadness, the kind that comes only from the death of a dream. David had been in training to become a Jesuit priest but had been asked to leave in his second year. He was struggling, just as I was, with a God that all too often seemed to yank the rug out from under your feet.
Every payday I would go to the bookstore to buy another book and to challenge David with some new question. One day I was in the middle of one of my usual orations when David stopped me. I will never forget the seriousness in his face. “Bill”—he spoke slowly, letting each word hit its mark—”there comes a time when you have to put down the books.” In that moment every argument fell away. I was speechless.
It was Easter of that year that I took David’s advice. Our church was not having an early Easter service, so we decided to go to early Easter Mass. I really didn’t know what to expect. My kids thought we had lost our minds. Good Baptists that we were, we sat as far back in the church as we could. But somehow, for all the Mass’s strangeness, Linda and I felt very much at home.
I had gotten a new job that paid a little better, and Linda was doing well. We were beginning to settle into some kind of normalcy. My study of the Catholic Church had become more intense, but I still had a lot of problems with its theology. I was reading a book called Crossing the Tiber by ex-Protestant Stephen Ray when I was stopped cold in my tracks by his statement that the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura—the doctrine that the Bible alone is the sole authority in Christian faith and practice—could not be supported by Scripture.
I had never questioned the doctrine. I just assumed that it was somewhere in the Bible. But search as I might, I could not find it in Scripture. I had encountered the Achilles’ heel of Protestant theology: The very doctrine that tells Protestants they can accept no doctrine that is not in the Bible is itself not in the Bible! No matter how much I tried, I could not get around it. The doctrine of sola scriptura, one of the two foundational doctrines of the Protestant faith, was self-defeating.
Another theological issue had been weighing on my mind: the question of the Eucharist or what Baptists call the Lord’s Supper. We Baptists took the Lord’s Supper only four times a year, and on these occasions the pastor went to great lengths to explain that we did not believe that Jesus was really present in the elements. “After all,” he pointed out, “Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’”
But Jesus had also said, “This is my Body. . . . This is my Blood.” I had come to believe almost a year earlier that these words must be taken literally. As I sat holding the cracker and little plastic cup of grape juice, a disturbing thought formed in my head. The preacher was right—this was not the Body and Blood of our Lord, because this was not a true communion. We were very sincere and reverent, and in our hearts we truly loved Jesus. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were only children at a tea party calling to God from a distance. There was a Church that had the true Communion, and I knew where it was.
Linda and I had started attending RCIA at the local Catholic parish, St. Vincent de Paul. Earlier we had visited with the pastor, Fr. Mike Sinkler, and were surprised to find that he was nothing like we had expected a Catholic priest to be. Fr. Mike was warm and open and answered many of our concerns. As strange as this “Catholic thing” was, more strange was that we felt so much at home.
Though a man cannot walk two separate paths at the same time, I tried. On one hand, Linda and I were becoming more and more immersed in the Catholic Church. On the other hand, I seemed to be more and more immersed in Baptist ministry. Almost every Sunday Linda and I would go to early Mass, then I would preach from a Southern Baptist pulpit. I felt a little guilty about it, but I justified it by thinking that it gave me an opportunity to preach, and it provided some sorely needed extra income.
There comes a time in the RCIA program where you are asked to decide if you are going to come into communion with the Catholic Church. For Linda and me, this time was rapidly approaching. We were torn. We knew that it would mean the loss of some good friends, but of greater concern was that our kids were very opposed to the Catholic Church. We told them that we would not force them to come with us. It was a heart-breaking time, but we put it in the hands of God. We knew that the Catholic Church was where he wanted us.
We were settled, our minds made up, our hearts at peace. Then that very week I received phone calls from two Baptist churches I had preached at. Each church each offered me a position, one as an associate pastor, the other as senior pastor. Here was the very thing that I had been praying for so long.
It is hard to walk away from a dream when you know that dreams are so hard to come by. God wanted a clear decision. He wanted me to understand the choice that I was making. I declined the offers, and, in doing so, I knew that I was turning my back on being a pastor and having “my own church.” I walked away and I have never looked back.
On August 1,1999, Linda and I came into full communion with the Catholic Church. We had come home. It came at a high cost, but anything so precious does. We lost our old Baptist friends. Our kids still aren’t crazy about the Church, but it’s better.
In the Church we have found rest and peace, a sanctuary in the midst of a crazy world. At the Mass we enter into the great gift of the cross, the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit. In the Church we have found what we had been yearning for.
Jesus promised, “In this world you will have trials and tribulations, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” This promise is fulfilled in the accidents of bread and wine, the true presence of Christ, lovingly administered by his Church. All in all, I’ve learned what King Solomon knew so long ago: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”
-please click on the image for greater detail -altar bells used at the elevation of the the Eucharistic, both species to draw the attention, practically, of large congregations who may be in a cathedral so large they may have trouble seeing the elevation or knowing the exact moment the bread and wine are changed into the Eucharist, to mark that special moment. This is a very minimalist modern design, some current and older versions are quite ornate.
-the crotalus. It can take many forms but is usually always wooden and must make a loud sound, similar to the volume of altar bells. In the Roman Rite, altar bells are not supposed to be rung after the Gloria in the liturgy on the evening of Holy Thursday, and are supposed to remain unused until the Gloria on Holy Saturday. This is supposed to make things more somber as we remember the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But, during this short period of time, is anything supposed to take its place? That’s where the crotalus comes in. The Church’s liturgical rubrics don’t prescribe a replacement for altar bells, but there is a long-standing tradition of using a wooden clapper or noise-maker in its place. This serves to both mark the same events as the altar bells, but in a less “sweet” way and thus maintain the somber tone.
The term “crotalus” is a Latin term that comes from the Greek word “krotalon” (κροταλον), which means “rattle.” (As a result, “crotalus” is also the name of a genus of rattlesnakes.) Crotaluses can come in many different designs (see the pictures and videos at the end of this article for examples).
The crotalus used to be universally used, but fell out of use in the last few decades. It seems, however, to have made a little bit of a comeback lately due to an increase of interest in traditional liturgy.
(“Smells *& bells is has been used by progressive Catholics derisively post Vatican II to mock the use of pre-conciliar liturgical practices. Too cool for school.)
“I was debating the leader of a ministry that tried to lure Catholics into “real” Christianity. In the question period a young woman raised her hand. She looked angry and, turning to me, said, “My grandmother lives in Mexico. She is a pious Catholic. She goes to Mass every week and prays the rosary every day. Under her bed she keeps a glass jar with a hairball in it, and she worships the hairball. Why does your church promote such idolatry?”
I replied that worshiping hairballs is no part of Catholic practice, that Church authorities would disapprove of the practice if they knew about it, and that she should consider asking her grandmother’s priest to intervene and set the pious but confused woman straight. The questioner seemed to accept my plea of innocence. She seemed to recognize that we shouldn’t be blamed for something we would condemn if we only knew about it.
Then questions turned to real, not imagined, Catholic practices, ones that many Fundamentalists find repellent. These are the “smells and bells” of Catholicism: actions that mark Catholics as Catholics, things we do that make us stand out.
We have sacraments
Fundamentalists dislike peculiarly Catholic customs because they think they’re non-scriptural, even anti-scriptural. This attitude can be overcome, but it takes patience. First, we must explain what we mean by a particular practice (many Fundamentalists don’t know, say, what the sign of the cross is—they don’t know the motions, and they don’t know the words).
Then we must explain why we do these things (because they bring to mind our Lord’s redemptive work, for instance). Third, we must question Fundamentalists closely to see if they harbor some unusual misunderstanding of our practices. Many of them do.
We need to impress upon them that Catholicism is a sacramental religion. (Ed. In ancient Roman religion and law, the sacramentum was an oath or vow that rendered the swearer sacer, “given to the gods,” in the negative sense if he violated it. Sacramentum also referred to a thing that was pledged as a sacred bond, and consequently forfeit if the oath were violated. Both instances imply an underlying sacratio, act of consecration.)
Sacraments are visible signs of God’s grace; they are actions that not only signify the transmittal of grace to us but also really do transmit grace. They are a natural consequence of the Incarnation. God took on flesh (matter) to save us, and he left behind actions that use matter (such as water, oil, and wine) to continue to give us his saving grace.
Unlike Catholicism, Fundamentalism is not a sacramental religion. It’s one thing, Fundamentalists say, for God to take flesh and to use material things during his sojourn on Earth. It’s something else for him to set up a Church that encourages the continued use of material things. God is too great, too “wholly other,” to use matter as a vehicle of grace.
For the Fundamentalist, it gets worse.
Sacramentals more troubling
Aside from the seven sacraments, Catholics have sacramentals, and in some ways sacramentals are more off-putting for “Bible Christians” than are the seven sacraments themselves. After all, even Fundamentalists have the “ordinances” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, although they don’t think these “ordinances” do what our sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist do, such as remit sins and convey grace. But Fundamentalists have nothing like sacramentals—or so they think.
The Code of Canon Law explains, “[S]acramentals are sacred signs by which spiritual effects are signified and are obtained by the intercession of the Church” (can. 1166). They aren’t the ordinary means of grace established by Christ—that is, they aren’t sacraments as such—but they are related to sacraments.
With sacramentals we consecrate our daily lives and keep thoughts of God ever in our minds. There are seven sacraments but countless sacramentals. Any action or thing put to a sacred purpose may be considered a sacramental.
Fundamentalists use sacramentals, but they don’t realize it. Consider the Protestant wedding ceremony. The bride wears white and, perhaps, a veil. She carries a bouquet. She and the groom exchange vows and rings. Each of these actions and things has a religious significance: purity in the white garments, the beauty of married life in the bouquet, fidelity in the vows, permanence in the circularity of the rings. Each is a sign of the holiness of matrimony. Each is a sacramental, if the word is used in a wide sense.
Borrowing from paganism?
If spoken to gently, most Fundamentalists can come to accept the fact that they too use sacramentals, even if they reject the word. They are especially uncomfortable, though, when told that many of these sacramentals originated in pagan religions. After all, a standard Fundamentalist charge against Catholicism is that its distinctive customs and beliefs are of pagan origin.
Fundamentalists don’t want to admit that they too have borrowed from paganism, but that is exactly what they have done. After all, their churches are offshoots of offshoots from the Catholic Church, even if they won’t admit the fact. (Fundamentalists believe their brand of Christianity goes straight back to New Testament times. It actually goes back only to the nineteenth century.)
Let’s look at a few Catholic practices that most irk Fundamentalists.
When they pass the Blessed Sacrament, Catholics go down on one knee to honor the Real Presence. This posture of subservience makes perfect sense, since Christ is really present in the tabernacle. Fundamentalists don’t believe he’s there, of course (they believe instead in a Real Absence), but they can be made to acknowledge the sensibleness of genuflecting through analogy.
Ask them to imagine themselves at Buckingham Palace, at an audience with the Queen of England. She enters the room and walks up to a woman. Under court protocol, what is the woman supposed to do? She is supposed to curtsy as a sign of respect for the Queen.
Another analogy. A soldier meets an officer on the street. What does the soldier do? He salutes. Again, a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of a superior.
Who is more superior to us than God? Which Fundamentalist, transported back to first-century Palestine, would not throw himself prostrate at the sight of Jesus? If that would be proper, then why not genuflect where Jesus is sacramentally present? Once you accept the actual presence of Christ in the tabernacle, genuflection makes perfect sense. Leaving out the genuflection would be a bit of an effrontery, like refusing to curtsy to the Queen.
At Mass we stand when the Gospel is read, out of respect for the very words of Jesus, and we sit to listen attentively to the other scriptural readings. At the consecration we kneel, kneeling being the posture of adoration. What we are doing is praying with our bodies, not just with our minds, and praying that way makes perfect sense for a creature composed of both body and soul. The postures we use during Mass show us—and those around us—what we believe and what we take seriously.
Sign of the cross
Every Fundamentalist knows Catholics cross themselves when praying in church, when hiding in foxholes, and when stepping into the batter’s box. They don’t, as a rule, know that Eastern Orthodox Christians also cross themselves (although they do it “backward”), so Fundamentalists think the sign of the cross is something that distinguishes Catholics from “real” Christians.
They don’t know that “real” Christians began making the sign of the cross at an early date. The theologian Tertullian, writing in 211, said, “We furrow our forehead with the sign [of the cross].” Making the sign was already an old custom when he wrote. It may have been common even when the apostles were alive.
True, the practice is not mentioned in the New Testament, but neither are peculiarly Fundamentalist practices such as the altar call, in which people march to the front of a church to announce publicly that, because of the preaching, they have just decided to “make a commitment to Christ.” This Fundamentalist practice—we can call it a Fundamentalist sacramental—is nowhere alluded to in Scripture, but it is not contrary to any scriptural teaching.
Catholics’ sign of the cross signifies two things at once: our redemption through the death of Jesus on the cross and the Trinity as the central truth of Christianity. When we make the sign we trace the cross on ourselves, and we recite the holy invocation: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We affirm what Christ came down to do for us (to redeem us by his voluntary death), and we affirm his chief revelation to us: that God is simultaneously one and three.
Not used as often in our liturgies as it once was, incense symbolizes the pleasant odor of Christian virtue and our prayers rising to God. It is the first part of the “smells and bells,” and most Fundamentalists think only Catholics use incense. But incense is not peculiar to Catholics. The ancients, both Jews and Gentiles, used it. Incense accompanied prayers at the Temple (Luke 1:10), and one of the gifts given to the Christ Child by the Magi was frankincense (Matt. 2:11).
But all that was before Christianity began, say Fundamentalists. Okay, but the book of Revelation deals with what happens afterward, and there we find that “the smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hands of an angel” (Rev. 8:4). If there’s incense in heaven, why not in churches here below?
Our church towers commonly have bells, often consisting of large sets, known as carillons, that can be rung from a keyboard. Small handbells are rung during Mass. Bells have been used for centuries to call people to Mass and to sanctify certain times of the day—for instance, it once was the custom, in Catholic countries, to ring church bells at noon so workers in the fields could pause and recite the Angelus. During Mass bells are rung at the consecration, partly to focus our attention, partly to echo the hosannahs of the heavenly choirs.
Fundamentalists disapprove of bells being used in Christian worship. Why they disapprove isn’t often clear. Some say bells are of pagan origin and thus should be forbidden; but pagans also sang hymns, and no Fundamentalist thinks Christian hymns should be forbidden.
Other Fundamentalists are more straightforward: they don’t like bells simply because, in their minds, bells are identified with the Catholic Church. Of course, Protestant churches often have bell towers, even if those towers contain no bells, but that’s overlooked by these Fundamentalists. For them, opposition to bells hardly rises above mere prejudice.
The usual complaint about the rosary is that it violates Matthew 6:7, which reads this way in the King James Version: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do.”
“See,” say Fundamentalists, “you Catholics repeat prayers, and Jesus told us not to do that!” Did he really? Then how does one account for what happened in the garden of Gethsemane? There Jesus prayed the same prayer three times—that is, he repeated the prayer.
Did he violate his own injunction? Was he a hypocrite? No, that’s impossible—which means Fundamentalists are wrong when they claim Jesus condemned repeated prayers. They should read Matthew 6:7 again. The operative word isn’t repetitions. It’s vain. Jesus condemned vain prayers, such as those to pagan gods.
Those gods sported multiple titles. Worshipers thought the gods would decline to hear their petitions unless they were addressed by the titles they wished to be addressed by at a particular moment. Having no way to know the titles of the day, worshipers started their prayers with a litany of titles, to make sure they hit upon the correct ones. Such a habit was vain not because it was repetitious but because it was futile: those gods didn’t even exist.
The rosary is an intensely biblical prayer. It contains not just the Our Father, which Jesus himself taught us, but also the Hail Mary, which is built of verses lifted from the Bible: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28) and “blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42).
The meditations associated with each decade (Catholics call them “mysteries”) are also straight out of the Bible, but most Fundamentalists don’t realize this. They think Catholics just rattle off Hail Marys without giving a thought to what they’re doing. In fact, when we pray the rosary we meditate on incidents in salvation history, such as the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection—each a prominent scriptural event.
What are uniforms for? To single out people for a particular function. The soldier’s uniform tells us his vocation, the police officer’s uniform helps him be identified by someone looking for help, and the Roman collar marks the priest. Vestments—a sacred “uniform”—are used at Mass.
In this the Church follows the example of the Old Testament liturgy, in which the priests were dressed in special clothes (Ex. 40:13-14, Lev. 8:7-9), and of the New Testament, which tells us that John the Baptist “wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (Matt. 3:4).
Water covers most of the Earth, and it is absolutely necessary for life. No wonder this marvelous liquid is used in sacraments and sacramentals. Sacred uses of water are found throughout the Old Testament: the saving of the Israelites by the parting of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:15-22), the miraculous flow from the rock touched by Moses’ staff (Ex. 17:6-7), the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land (Jos. 3:14-17), Ezekiel’s vision of life-giving water flowing from the Temple (Ezek. 47:1-12).
In the New Testament we find the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17), the healing water of the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9), and the water brought forth from Jesus’ side by the spear thrust (John 19:34). We’re told by our Lord that to enter the kingdom of God we must be born of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).
With all these holy uses of water, is it any wonder we find it at baptisms, in exorcisms, and in the stoups at the door of Catholic churches? With it we bless ourselves (there’s the sign of the cross again!), not because the water itself has any special powers—it’s ordinary tap water with a pinch of salt added—but because its pious use brings to mind the truths of our faith.
If we take the time, we can help Fundamentalists see that “smells and bells” flow naturally from the Incarnation, but it takes work. Fundamentalists tend to be hereditary anti-Catholics; their anti-Catholic feelings were learned in the home or at the foot of the pulpit. If something is Catholic, they reflexively don’t like it. They operate from prejudice, not from dispassionate thinking. Yet even the most prejudiced can come to appreciate the sensibleness of sacramentals if they have sacramentals explained to them by a patient Catholic.”
Love & joy,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco