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Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Catholics Cannot Have a Personal Relationship with Jesus"

'''Photographer:''' [ Juni]
 from Kyoto, Japan '''Title:''' believe '''Description''' : Rosary
 '''Taken on:''' 2004-12-23 16:39:49 '''Original source:'''
 [ Flicker, via Wikimedia Commons
"It's all ritual and tradition, not a living faith," said a friend the other day.  My friend continued: "That's what drove him to atheism.  He was raised Catholic and sent to Catholic schools.  That sort of thing makes a person bitter.  They think it's all ritual and tradition, empty."

This friend doesn't know me very well. He's obviously never read my blog. You can imagine how broadly I was smiling inside at the irony of his speaking these words to me. It reminded me of the mother of one of Elyse's friends telling her that "Catholics cannot have a personal relationship with Jesus," when Elyse asked the woman's daughter to go to a Catholic youth conference with her.

Of course, this isn't an unusual way of thinking in Protestant circles. I don't think that these sorts of sentiments are born of unkindness. I think they are born of enthusiasm for one's own faith experiences, lack of exposure to other types of faith expressions, and the desire for personal validation that each of us has as a matter of human nature. There are a lot of varieties of Christian expression out there, and it is easy to be a "modern" Protestant all of one's life without really having much experience with traditional Christian observances.

I am not of a mindset that diminishes the significance of doctrinal differences or questions of authority. I do, however, believe that we can all benefit from trying to understand and respect practices and Christian cultures which differ from our own. As a "Protestant" (sort of), who is married to a Ukrainian with Orthodox heritage, and who has always had her toes dipped in the Tiber, I have seen a bit of each of the Catholic-Orthodox-Protestant aspects of the Christian menagerie. I think that if we Christians from different traditions stopped thinking of one another as "other", we might find that we can benefit from mutual respect. Our doctrines and structures are different; our deep longing after Christ is not.

Clearly I'm biased about ritual and tradition; I think that they are magnificent. Nonetheless, I believe that I can be objective in saying that Modern Evangelical Protestants might benefit from some aspects of traditional Christianity. Mother Church has been around for a while. She's made some mistakes, but she has also learned an awful lot along the way.  Regardless of the camp that one calls home, one might acknowledge that the greater Church has 2000 years of faith deposit and rich treasures of practice of what "works".
Required attribution text: by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter,
available from [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

To suggest that any particular approach to Christianity bars one from a relationship with Christ is unfounded...especially if that approach has been around, working for people and bringing them to Christ, for 2000 years.

There are some aspects of ancient Christianity that I believe would bless the lives of many "modern" Protestants:

The Lectionary
There are some really beneficial things about following a common lectionary of Bible readings. One benefit is that incorporating the readings from the lectionary into personal or corporate worship and study "forces" one to study all parts of the Bible (Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, Epistles) concurrently throughout the year. Another is that is necessitates preaching on parts of the Bible that are not chosen by the pastor.  I would suspect that it is awfully easy to stick to preaching on familiar and comfortable parts of the Bible. It is probably not so easy to be part of a worldwide church being drawn outside of one's preaching and teaching comfort zone.  Further, common lectionaries are used by a broad swath of Christians over huge geographic areas.  The lectionaries used by Protestants and Catholics are virtually identical.  In this new digital age, one can find a plethora of resources, blog posts, and study sessions on each week's readings.  It is quite easy to hop online and find adult reflections, children's art projects, and preaching resources for the scripture readings for the week. We Christians are a community, a worldwide one in fact. It makes sense to study in community.

By Ajuntament de Sant Vicenç de Montalt (Ajuntament de Sant Vicenç de Montalt) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

Liturgical Worship
All worship is liturgical, following corporate patterns of word and action. Traditonal liturgy, though, is based in Scripture and ancient Christian practice reaching back to the early church. Liturgy means "work of the people." Unfortunately though, some modern worship can resemble the entertainment of the people, instead. There is richness in ancient liturgies which are immersed in exquisite Biblical language and timeless practices that, when understood, deepen faith and keep the worship God-focussed. That does not mean that other forms of worship cannot be God-focussed, but I believe that when worship is being conformed to the preferences of the people, there is a danger there. The rhythms of the mass, with their patterns of hearing of the Word, expression of faith, giving to God, confession of sin, receiving of Christ, and being sent into the world to be Christ to the world, feed the Christian soul and equip us for service. They can also connect us to centuries of Christians who have gone before us, and the greater worldwide Christian family today.

Sensory Worship
We are human. We live in flesh. We are enriched by sensory experiences. As a Protestant {sort of :)}, I can say that much of Protestantism is an intellectual faith. We are very much "in our heads". There is a great deal of focus on belief and right thinking. The rest of the Christian world is not so "thought bound". The Orthodox, Catholic, or high church Anglican worships with all five senses. There is something opulently beautiful about a church wreathed in incense and permeated by the sound of bells as the devout express faith in physical postures. Sometimes we need to kneel in awe before the mystery of God. Sometimes there are no words for his Majesty.

Fixed Hour Prayer
There is a centuries old tradition of framing one's life with the structure of fixed hour prayer. Most of us are no longer blessed with the ringing of parish bells throughout the day to call us to prayer at the appointed hours, but many find that marking the transitions through the course of one's day is faith enhancing and deeply rewarding. This too, connects us to the greater Christian community through both concurrent prayer and the use of breviaries or prayer books. This, like all of the foregoing traditions and practices, also connects us to our Jewish elder faith-siblings and to Jesus himself, who lived as a devout Jew.
Saint Nicolas, mosaic, Grgeteg monastery,  August 2006,by Tone, via Wikimedia Commons
Recognition of Heroes and Historic Figures of the Church
There were Christians before the 1500s.  Seriously, there were. (Okay, I'm teasing my fellow Protestants here.) Some types of Protestants may not consider it theologically valid to ask our Christian forerunners in Heaven to pray for them, but they could at least learn about them and what they contributed to the store of Christian faith and experience. There are reasons that these fellow Christians have been revered and honored all these years.

...At least the Apostles Creed.  Seriously, if the Apostles formed a creed, don't you want to know what's in it? I mean, these are people who walked and talked with Jesus. The filoque and the phrase "maker of Heaven and Earth' aside, the creeds are very ancient statements of belief. They are also a very good starting place for worship, prayer, and dialogue across Christian groups.


Here's the other side of the coin:

There are, in my opinion, some things that Catholics, Orthodox, and high church Anglicans might learn from modern Evangelical Protestants.  Here are a couple:

The Bible
If God wrote you a letter, and mailed it to your home, wouldn't you read it eagerly? The Bible is God's word to us; we might want to pick it up outside of the mass readings. Obviously, this is a gross over-generalization, but it has been my experience that followers of the ancient paths may not all engage in as much personal Bible study as other types of believers. (Raising my own hand here.)

By Trounce (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It's okay to be energized by worship. Reverence is beautiful, but sometimes we may grow very staid in the midst of liturgical worship. I don't mean to minimize the holiness of the mass, but it is possible to stop listening as intently to the words of the liturgy once they become familiar. We are meant to be filled with the Spirit and continually challenged and engaged by these timeless words and actions. Sometimes I think that if we traditional Christians truly grasped that we are quite literally meeting God in the mass and taking him into our very being we would crawl to the altar on hands and knees in awe of his presence.  So, it might be a little okay to be visibly emotionally engaged by the whole thing -- especially you are an uptight, proper Anglican. You (I) know whom you (we) are.  We may not be ready for a drum set anywhere near the altar, (please never let us be ready for anything resembling a drum set anywhere near the altar), but we could double our efforts to make sure that we are fully and continually engaged in the mass and perhaps even a bit less impacted by awareness of other worshipers.  It is an abundant treasure.  Let's immerse ourselves in it.

I'm sure that our Protestant readers could contribute to this list, because, let's face it....I'm not a real Protestant.  I fully admit that I sort of don't "count."  <smiles>  Comments are welcome.

Each time I write a post like this, people on both sides of the aisle get mad at me. Virtually everything that I have said here is a generalization. Generalizations, by nature, are never universally true. As an Anglo-Catholic, though, I have a bit of a glimpse of both the Protestant and Catholic worlds. As I look fondly upon both, I see multitudes of people in love with Jesus Christ. I see families seeking to teach their children about him and to invite them into their hearts and homes. I see people seeking to live life according to his example. I see people hungry to worship him and carry his love into the world. I see Christians... Christians with drum sets and bouncing balls on a projector screen... Christians swathed in incense and kneeling at altar rails receiving the Lord upon their tongues.... Christians in jeans, with Bible in hand, preaching Christ crucified.... Christians in chasubles consecrating the Blessed Sacrament.... Christians. Christians capable of so much love.

Pax Christi Dear Ones,
May we continually transmit the love of Christ to the world, ...and to one another,

An excellent related article suggested by a Protestant reader is here.  
Highly recommended. Thanks Noah!


  1. I guess I don't understand how even a Catholic could say that, since we believe we receive Him in the Eucharist every week. I agree we Catholics need more reflection on Sacred Scripture.

    1. Could say which thing? Do you mean the comments on being energized by worship? I suppose that is probably more of an Anglo-Catholic thing. Anglicans, coming from an English heritage, tend to be very subdued in keep emotion inside in deference to propriety. This is not to say that we do not have deep, rich spiritual lives, but we are not particularly flamboyant about it.

      I do think that, among the less devout among all groups of more traditional churchgoers, some can also begin to "go through the motions" without really being engaged, too.

      I am not suggesting that the beliefs of Orthodox/Cahtolic/Anglo-Catholics regarding the Eucharist are not true...I am only saying that sometimes some are inclined forget how extraordinarily powerful the truth is.

  2. I completely agree with your comments. I should have clarified, meaning the comment about having a personal relationship with Him. Yes, many Catholics can go through the motions but sometimes doing them brings the heart along.

    1. Oh yes, now I understand what you meant. I agree with you completely on the actions bringing the heart along....Lex orandi, lex credendi: As we worship, So we will live.

  3. Michelle, great post. :) I see this so often, and it's so discouraging. I can't help but think that part of the reason is that there are a lot of people that identify as Catholics who don't actively practice (and even insult!) their faith, and consequently their non-Catholic friends think that such lack-lusterness (is that even a word?)characterizes all Catholics. It's very sad for all parties.

  4. Michelle, I think you are being called to the traditional Catholic Tridentine Latin Mass. It is exquisite. And by the number of times that I get goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes, I can assure you that the experience is not stoic. I don't know where you are geographically, but I highly recommend the St Francis de Sales parish in St Louis Missouri as a great mass to attend.


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