|An outpouring of faith...|
As most of us know, one of the "unwritten rules" of our times is to never discuss religion or politics in public because it often sparks inner passions that may degenerate into conflict (I know this from personal experience!).
In fact, we have been so deeply programmed in our "politically correct" culture, where many people walk on egg-shells to avoid crossing the line into what other people believe, that often, especially in mixed company, we may be more willing to discuss trivial things such as a ball game, the weather, the latest trend, a TV show or favorite wine then things that really matter in life like God, faith, philosophy and public policy.
In the process, we've unfortunately become a culture of superficiality and ignorance towards religion (if not outright rejection of it, even among some Christians!), where truth is distorted and relegated to individual preferences. In other words, we mold God into what we believe instead of molding ourselves into what God wants us to believe.
With that in mind, as I drove with a co-worker to and from the parish, where the papal relic was going to be taken, for a meeting with the pastor, I struck up a conversation about marriage and the culture, knowing well that he was a fellow Christian.
After about an hour into our discussion about marriage, family, faith and the perils of today's society on maintaining all of them, he told me that his mother attended a Catholic church in another part of town but that he and his four siblings had left the Church for a small Bible church many years ago.
Having heard and read dozens of conversion stories over the years (My favorite TV Show is EWTN's Journey Home), I know that one of the hardest things for parents to deal with is watching their children leave the church of their upbringing. As you can imagine, even the most nominal believers feel a sense of loss, if not straight-out betrayal.
I attempted to navigate gingerly and asked him what his leaving the Church did to his parents. He admitted, as I thought, that it was very difficult on them, even for his dad, who was not particularly a church-going man for most of his life. It actually took his kids leaving the Catholic Church for him to start going to Mass, as it often happens with these types of challenges and adversities within families. Yet, over the years, he said, his parents had learned to accept and understand that he had not joined a "cult" and that his church had made him a better man, husband and son.
As we approached the station, on our return trip, I said a little internal prayer to the Holy Spirit, took a gulp and mustered the courage to ask him point blank, "So, why did you leave the Catholic Church?"
If our conversation had been sleepily moving along until then, it was as if the Florida A & M University marching band (before the hazing ban) woke him out of a slumber. That's when he really opened up! Maybe, it was his cue to "share the Gospel" and, although respectful, proceeded to try to make me realize the waywardness of my faith.
He started by saying that the more he read the Bible, and the more he studied the faith, he came to the realization that God doesn't want us to worship idols and statues (or relics for that matter!). It's a common misunderstanding among Protestants, since Catholics don't worship idols or statues, but honor the men and women who the images represent, since they serve as our role models for living righteous and holy lives and are now more alive then ever, since they are in God's Glory in heaven.
In any case, he talked about the Holy Spirit guiding him and instructing him in his faith journey over the past thirteen years and that he found many unbiblical inconsistencies with the Church, such as purgatory, the Catechism, the role of works in salvation, etc. (And, he was just getting started!)
As I stated, having heard and read many conversion stories in the past, I knew where he was coming from and had heard every argument he was making against the Church.
So, I asked him how he knew the Holy Spirit was guiding him to the truth, since there are so many other Christians (about 30 thousand different denominations, for that matter), who swear by the same Bible and understand things very differently, which was how I led into explaining how Christ left the Church, which He founded upon Peter and promised to guide to "all truth," as the official keeper and interpreter of the deposit of faith, including the Bible, considering it was the Church, through the authority given to Her by Christ, that decide which books to include in the Bible in the late 4th Century.
He admitted the Church had kept and maintained the writings of the Apostles but that we added seven books that were not part of the original scripture to back up some of the teachings of the Church (a point of contention in the debate since the books were part of the Canonized Bible for almost 1100 years before Martin Luther decided to remove them!).
In any event, we started getting very involved in our discussion and carried it into his office, where we spent about another hour (if not more) debating various issues of the faith.
There are two ways this could have ended, either in an all-out argument of tit-for-tat Bible verses, which we did a little of, or we could take the high road as Christian men that we both are and kept it respectful without loosing our patience.
I can proudly say that we both took the latter, and while we had an animated exchange, among other things, about Apostolic Tradition, sola scriptura, sola fide, salvation outside the Church, the role of works and faith, the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John, and the the veneration of saints (despite the priest having possibly misspoken when he talked to us that morning, since my friend swears, he said the faithful would come up and "adore" Pope John Paul's Relic!); you know, many of the things that theologians, philosophers and greater minds then ours have grappled over since the Protestant Reformation over 500 years ago, we approached our contentions from the outset of love and respect.
Let's be honest, if there is one thing I have learned through the years is that I'm never going to be able to convince anyone about the truth of the Catholic Church, without God's intervention, anymore than he was going to convince me.
However, I don't see it as an exercise in futility since St. Peter tells us that we should, "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence." (1 Pet 3:15)
Knowing our faith well and being able to explain it is what all Christians are called to do. As long as we do it for God's Glory and not to win an argument, which I admit can be tricky at first, we shouldn't shy away from discussing religion, even if we come from different perspectives, because we may offend someone. In fact, if we truly believe what we believe, as most people of faith do, then we are obliged to share it.
At the end of the day, I know my co-worker is a good man, who lives his faith according to his understanding and his small Bible church has no-doubt made him, as he said, a better man, husband and son. But, as I could tell by our discussion, his understanding of the Church was limited when he left and probably has been negatively influenced since. I think it's only natural, since he has to justify, at least his own mind, why he "protested " in the first place.
We are all brothers and sisters in Christ but, we are called to be One as Jesus repeatedly prayed to the Father for His Disciples to be, and since He founded just One Church upon the Apostles and gave them the authority to bind and loose on earth what would be bound and loosed in heaven, it is incumbent for all Christians to be humble, dig a little deeper and, at least, explore (or re-explore) the flock that Jesus instructed Peter to tend and feed.
The Church is the Body and Bride of Christ, according to Sacred Scripture, and while there is truth in all Christian denominations, the "fullness of Truth" can only be found in His Church; the "pillar and foundation of truth," as St. Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy.
As far for our news coverage, it turned out excellent. We had an anchor and a reporter live from in front of the Immaculate Conception Church in Hialeah, as over thirteen hundred parishioners from all walks of life filled the one thousand-seat sanctuary and spilled outside. They partook in the Holy Mass, prayed and venerated (not adored!) the relic...