Monday, May 22, 2017

Why Are Evangelicals Beating Us?

Evangelicals at Hillsong Church in Baulkham Hills, Sydney, Australia

Photo Credit: Ben Rushton

Before I was Catholic, I was Anglican. But before I was Anglican, I was Evangelical, and I have a secret. My secret is that Catholics were the easiest targets to pull out of the Church, and convert to Evangelicalism. Sadly, a good number of the Catholics I pulled out (when I was an Evangelical) went on to have a strong anti-Catholic streak, much worse than anything I ever experienced as a cradle Protestant. I don't believe I put this anti-Catholic streak into them. I think it developed on its own, organically, from having left the Church and a natural human tendency to want to justify that.

So the question is why? Why are so many young Catholics converting to Evangelicalism? And why do Evangelicals so easily pull our young people away from the Church?

The Modernity answer is clueless. This assumes that it must be the praise music, guitars, drums, and emotional worship that does it, along with a happy, non-judgemental, "I'm okay, you're okay" pop-psychology preaching. This retro-1970s solution is not only tired and worn out, it's also inaccurate. It isn't the music, worship style, and pop-psychology message that pulls young Catholics out of the Church. Nor is it these things that make Evangelicalism so successful. For four decades now, we Catholics have been redesigning our parishes, and renovating the mass, to appeal to this mindset. It's not working. It never worked, and it never will work. Because it misses the mark entirely. It seeks the solution to the problem in aesthetics and sentimentality. Neither aesthetics nor sentimentality were ever the problem to begin with. Not only does it misdiagnose the problem, but the proscribed cure is worse than the disease.

The Traditional answer is a bit closer, but still misses the mark. Traditionals assert that the problem is poor catechises and bad liturgy. They would have us believe that if we would just go back to the pre-Vatican II Church, things would be better. There is, of course, an element of truth to this, and we certainly would be better off with more traditional liturgy and catechises, but that alone isn't enough. My Lutheran forefathers, from long before Vatican II, easily converted Catholics as well, and some of them even bragged about it, as late as the 1950s. Not all was well within the Catholic Church prior to Vatican II, and I assert the Church needed some of the reforms of Vatican II desperately. Yes, I assert that Vatican II was necessary -- but incomplete and far too vague. As a result, this lack of clarity and closure from the council opened a door to something far worse. Like Pope Benedict XVI, I assert that the public message of the council was hijacked by the media, and as far as the public mind was concerned, it was made into something it was never intended to be.

When it comes to the question of why young Catholics are leaving the Church, Traditionals overshoot the answer, and the Moderns shoot in the wrong direction entirely. Both are missing it. That's because the answer is so simple that both could easily hit it, if only they knew exactly where it was. Where is it? It's right at their feet actually. It's literally under their noses.

What is it?

It's simple really. Evangelicals are kicking our tails because they teach their people how to have a personal relationship with God the Father. That's what we're missing in the Catholic Church.

You see, there is nothing in that message that is anti-Catholic. In fact, it's probably the most Catholic message there ever was. Jesus came to atone for our sins, so that we may all have a relationship with God the Father as he does. With the Holy Spirit indwelling us, and receiving the physical body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we are brought into the Trinity, literally elevated right to the Father's throne, and given the opportunity to know him and love him -- personally.

For some strange reason, however, most of our priests and catechists stop there. They explain the mechanics of how it works, this theosis or divinisation of the Christian, but then leave the implication of that message almost completely untouched. Most Catholics today couldn't tell you the first thing about what it means to have a personal relationship with God the Father. The Holy Spirit indwells us, the Holy Eucharist feeds us, and we are brought into the Holy Trinity literally body and soul, only to be left standing at the foot of the Father's throne not knowing what to do next. We speak with him in one voice during the "Our Father" prayer, and then we are silent. Please tell me, what kind of relationship grows in silence? What kind of a marriage exists when a husband and wife never speak to each other? That's what we are lacking, and that is why Evangelicals are kicking our tails with young people. It has nothing to do with the loud music, laser beams, fog machines, or non-judgemental message. It has everything to do with the fact that Evangelicals have unwittingly stumbled onto a Biblical truth that Catholics have for too long ignored, or just taken for granted. These Evangelicals are teaching our youth how to have a personal relationship with God the Father. We Catholic parents have prepared our children for this through the sacraments, only to have them stolen away from us at the last moment, because somebody else taught them the meaning of it all before we did. Here's the irony folks, Evangelicals are so successful because their using our own message against us. They've taken the core message of Catholicism, a message that many of us forgot, claimed it as their own, and are now using it to clobber us.

We are to have a relationship with Our Father in Heaven. That's what it's all about. That's what the Church is all about, the Sacraments, the Eucharist, the Saints, the liturgy, the hierarchy, all of it! It's all about having and growing in a personal relationship with God the Father. It's about knowing him as "Our Father," as our Abba (meaning our "Daddy"), and learning to love him as Our Daddy. Jesus said if you've seen me, you've seen the Father. So we learn to know the Father by learning to know the Son. Yes, it really is that simple. And yes, it just doesn't get any more Catholic than that!

Yet for some reason, this core of our Catholic Christian faith, this essential kernel of what makes us Catholic, is so neglected in our parishes, that when young Catholics today are asked about their personal relationship with God the Father, they just look at you with a blank stare. They have no idea what you're talking about.

How could this have happened? How could we have so carefully prepared them for a relationship with the Father, in both sacrament and catechises, and then forgot to tell them what it's all in preparation for?

Personal is not Private

Now I should stop here and clarify something. Personal does not mean private. Evangelicals often fail to differentiate on that. So much so, that many Evangelicals believe having a personal relationship with God is the same as a private relationship with God. In other words, they see no need for being part of a community. This is why a growing number of Evangelicals have stopped going to church entirely, and are now "worshipping God in their own way" outside of a traditional church setting. The apostles specifically commanded the early Christians to meet together, and not forsake their weekly gatherings to break bread (celebrate the Eucharist). Some of our misguided Evangelical brethren have taken their ideology too far here, and have become popes and bishops unto themselves, having created a "religion" of their own making, far more ritualistic than anything in Catholicism. It is, in their case, a religion of one.

You see, the New Covenant in Jesus Christ is not made with individuals. Rather, it is made with a group, or a community, specifically the Church. So our relationship with God the Father comes about because of, and through, our relationship with the Church. We must be active members within the Church, in order to realise and receive the full relationship that God intends to have with us. Those who have cut themselves off from the Church have put themselves in an impaired state. They cannot fully realise, nor fully receive, the entire relationship God wants to have with them.

Still also, a number of Evangelicals equate the word "relationship" with anti-religion. Under this false and ridiculous pretence, they assert that you can't have a relationship with God if you're involved in any kind of religion. Case in point; many of these Evangelicals would claim that Catholicism is too ritualistic, and therefore too religious. Thus, they would pontificate, that it's impossible to have a relationship with God when you're a Catholic, because Catholicism has too much religion. This of course is preposterous. God is the inventor of the most complex religion in the world -- Judaism -- with 613 commandments to follow. By making the assertion that God opposes religion, they are effectively claiming that God opposes himself. Jesus never opposed religion in the gospels, nor did he oppose ritual. Rather, he commanded his apostles to follow the rules of the scribes and pharisees. He just instructed them not to follow their hypocrisy. That, you see, was Jesus' biggest problem with the religion of his day. It wasn't the religion of Judaism itself. He was, after all, a good Jew. Rather it was the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his time, who made an outward appearance of religion, but obviously didn't believe or practise it. All throughout the New Testament, we are instructed to follow the "traditions" of the apostles, and yes, that means religious traditions. You see, religion (true religion that is) and relationship, are not opposed to one another, as some misguided Evangelicals assert. Both religion and relationship are actually complementary to each other.

Because of these abuses, within Evangelicalism, Catholics have a tendency to react in the opposite direction, rejecting the Evangelical message outright. They say it's about a relationship not religion, and then we react without thinking, saying "No! It's about religion stupid!" as we ignore the relationship part.

The Catholic message is simple. It's not an either/or thing. Catholic Christianity is about having a personal relationship with God the Father, made possible by the Son, through the Holy Spirit. Our Catholic religion is complementary to this, and in fact, it strengthens this relationship and facilitates it. In turn, our personal relationship with God strengthens our religious practise, and gives it more meaning and purpose. Relationship and religion are not an "either/or" thing. Rather, they are a "both/and" thing. Our Catholic religion complements our personal relationship with God, and likewise our personal relationship with God complements our Catholic religion.

Intentional Discipleship

Having a personal relationship with God the Father means becoming an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ. Now exactly what does that mean? - "intentional disciple?" It means making a conscious choice, daily, by your own free will, to learn everything you can about Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings, for the purpose of applying these things in your life, all for LOVE of him.

A disciple is more than just a student. A student is merely a learner, meaning somebody who goes to school, learns something, and then goes home to carry on with his life. A disciple, on the other hand, is much more than that. A disciple is somebody who lives with his teacher, talks to him daily. Shares meals with him regularly. Sleeps in the same house as him, and spends every waking hour with him. A disciple is one who is totally dedicated, 100%, to learning and living everything he can about his teacher, to the point of becoming just like his teacher, in the very spitting image! That's a disciple! Far too many Catholics are students and not disciples.

This is what we must do as Catholics. This is how we beat the Evangelical juggernaut at it's own game, because you see, it was never really their game to begin with. It was our game all along. We just forgot how to play it. The Catholic Church is the Church of monasteries and convents. It's the Church of clerical celibacy and religious vocations. It's the ultimate in having a personal relationship with God through intentional discipleship.

What does this mean for the average lay Catholic today? It's simple really. We don't need to join a monastery or convent. We don't even need to join the priesthood, and we don't need to take a vow of celibacy, unless of course these things are one's individual calling! Rather, what we need to do is simply CHOOSE to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We need to CHOOSE daily, on a daily basis, to learn everything we can about Jesus and try to become like him in every way we can, within our own limited means, and station of life of course.

Obviously, if we're married, we need to stay married and love our spouse. Obviously, if we're employed and holding down a job, we need to do that to support our families. Gallivanting off into the wilderness to pray is not what I'm talking about here. Rather, I'm talking about making a conscious choice to spend the rest of our days learning about our Master, and trying to emulate the virtues he taught us. All the while, like anyone in a relationship, we need to talk to our Master regularly and personally. This is where Catholics have a hard time. We're very comfortable reciting the "Our Father" prayer and saying the prayers of the Holy Rosary, but we seem to have a hard time just talking to God one-on-one in a very honest and personable way. Yet it is necessary.

Here's a suggestion. Open your daily prayer time with God by reciting one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be. Then just start talking to God. Tell him about your day. Tell him about your trials, worries and frustrations. Then tell him about all the good things that happened too and what you're thankful for. Granted, he knows all this stuff already, but the truth is, he likes hearing it from you. He wants to know your perspective. He likes hearing your voice! After all, he made your voice. Right?

Uniting the Catholic Factions

Today, the Catholic Church is more divided than its been in centuries, and as I've said many times, it is in real danger of schism. The Moderns would like to take the Church in one direction, while the Traditionals would like to go back to the way it was. While I personally tend to lean toward the Traditional mindset, I am forced to admit that some Modern innovations aren't necessarily bad, and might even be helpful.

However, bickering between the two main factions isn't going to solve anything. What will solve a whole lot of things is if we all get back to what Catholic Christianity is really all about. It's about having a personal relationship with God the Father, because Jesus Christ made that possible, and allowing the hierarchy and sacraments of the Church (the Church Jesus created) to lead us deeper into that relationship with the Father. That's what it's all about! I believe if we all started focusing on that, we could unite the Catholic factions, fulfil the lost intentions of Vatican II, and show the Evangelicals what it REALLY MEANS to have a relationship with God.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Rise of English Catholicism

Our Lady of Walsingham
A Popular English Catholic Devotion Commemorating an Apparition of the Virgin Mary in England

In the April 12, 2017 edition of the National Catholic Register (EWTN's official newspaper), Peter Jesserer Smith published an outstanding article outlining the inside story on the creation of the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans. He writes...
Benedict XVI gave a tremendous gift to the English-speaking world in 2009, when he finally realized a dream centuries in the making, and established a permanent canonical home for groups from the Anglican tradition seeking to enter the Catholic Church with the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus
Today, the Catholic Church has three Personal Ordinariates — informally known as the “Anglican Ordinariates” — that preserve the Anglican patrimony in their Catholic parishes, communities, and religious orders. These Personal Ordinariates have the only English form of the Roman Missal, promulgated by Pope Francis, called Divine Worship — an actual English form, not an English translation of the Latin Mass — written in traditional, poetic “Prayer Book” English. Each Personal Ordinariate covers a region of the globe (Oceania, the United Kingdom, and North America) and is headed by a bishop or ordinary who falls directly under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 
Read the full article here.
Smith makes a very important observation. What we effectively have here is a whole new form of the Roman Rite, that really isn't that new at all. In fact, it's very old, and when I say old, I mean ancient. You see, much of Divine Worship is based on the old Sarum Use, used in England prior to the Reformation. Yes, that's right, I'm talking about a Use or Form of the Roman Rite which is actually older than the Tridentine mass. Now granted, the old Sarum Use was said in Latin not English, and Divine Worship is not an exact replica. It is different, but it has many common points of reference, just as it has common points of reference with the Trindentine mass. It is its own thing. Those looking for an exact English translation of the Latin Tridentine mass will be disappointed. Those looking for another modern vernacular of the Novus Ordo mass will be disappointed. It is none of these things. It is rather something entirely different, and it's based on many elements from the old Sarum Use as preserved through the centuries in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

What's it like? Well, let me tell you. It's very traditional by contemporary Catholic standards. Mass is commonly celebrated with the priest facing the altar together with the congregation (ad orientem). Communion is typically served on the tongue while kneeling. Sometimes the method of intinction is used, where the priest dips the host into the precious blood before placing it on the communicant's tongue. The gospel reading is done in the centre aisle amongst the congregation. The prayers are a little different. The responses are a little different. Most importantly, all of it (prayers and responses) are done in Sacred English (thee, thou, thy, etc.)

Divine Worship Mass - Celebrated by Bishop Lopes - Oct. 23rd, 2016

This is now an official form of the Roman Rite, on par with other forms, such as the Tridentine and Novus Ordo, commonly called the Extraordinary and Ordinary forms of the Roman Rite. Thus Divine Worship is a third form, which is distinctively English. Whereas the vernacular translation of the Novus Ordo mass is just that -- a translation of a Latin text -- in contrast Divine Worship is a Vatican approved English text in and of itself. Smith continues...
The CDF’s guarantee means the faithful of the Church, from now until Christ returns in glory, understand that the Anglican patrimony (and what in the Ordinariate is a truly restored English Catholic heritage that runs through the Anglican tradition all the way back to St. Augustine at Kent) is not just a treasure for the Personal Ordinariate, but is a treasure that belongs to “the whole Church.” 
Read the full article here.
As is pointed out here, what we have embodied in the Ordinariates and Divine Worship is the authentic Anglican Patrimony as restored English Catholicism, as it has developed from the time of St. Augustine of Canterbury until now. It is, in a very real sense, the heritage of every English-speaking Catholic in the world. This may sound strange to some, but its not so foreign when we consider how much the Anglican Patrimony already plays into Catholicism in the English-speaking world, even outside the Ordinariates. For example; when we pray the Lord's Prayer during the vernacular English Novus Ordo mass, this is how it's commonly said or chanted...

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. 

Take note of the Sacred English words "art" and "thy." It's exactly the same in Divine Worship. How very interesting that Rome saw fit to translate the Lord's Prayer into Sacred English, even in the 1970s vernacular translation that uses Common English (or "modern" English). I mean, think about it. The words "art" and "thy" appear nowhere else in the English vernacular Novus Ordo mass. They only appear in this prayer, and that's because it's an appeal to our linguistic history and heritage -- our Anglican Patrimony. English-speaking Catholics have been using Sacred English for this prayer, straight out of the Anglican prayerbooks, officially in the mass, ever since the vernacular English translation was commissioned in the 1970s.

However, it's been going on a lot longer than that -- unofficially. Pick up just about any copy of the Daily Roman Missal 1962 and what you'll find is the old Tridentine mass officially in Latin on one side of the page, translated unofficially into Sacred English (not Common English) on the other side of the page. For decades prior to the Novus Ordo mass, English-speaking (Anglophone) Catholics learnt the "Our Father," "Hail Mary," and "Glory Be," and scores of other prayers in Sacred English. The same is true of the first English translations of the Catholic Bible. I'm speaking specifically of the Douay-Rheims Bible, which is entirely in Sacred English, just like the Anglican King James Version. In fact all English Bibles, produced in previous centuries, used some variation of Sacred English, commonly found in Anglican prayer books, because that was THE standard for all English religious text. Every English-speaker knows this deep down inside. Sacred English is the language of poetry, music and theatre. It always has been. It is our most treasured vernacular, because it represents the highest and most precise diction the language has to offer. We offer God only our best, and that is why it's called Sacred English, or as the Anglicans sometimes say "Prayerbook English." (Read more about Sacred English Here.) We can see, however, by the abundance of Sacred English used in unofficial liturgical translations, Scripture and prayers, prior to 1970, that the Catholic Church has already been in the business of preserving some aspects of the Anglican Patrimony for a very long time. Perhaps there has always been a recognition by Rome that there is something there. There is something about Sacred English, as exemplified by the Anglican Patrimony, that is worth preserving, and so Anglophone Catholics have been preserving some aspect of it all along.

With the creation of the Novus Ordo liturgy in 1970, it was only natural for Rome to translate it into the most common and popular vernacular. That is, after all, the primary purpose of the Novus Ordo translations, to bring the liturgy of the mass into the common tongue. Thus it was translated into Common English (or what many mistakenly refer to as "modern English"). Yet even then, a nod to the Anglican Patrimony was given with the Sacred English translation of the "Our Father." Every single English-speaking Catholic gives that same nod when the "Our Father" is recited (or chanted) during mass. And this is where Smith's article hits a home run...
But rather importantly, as the bishop pointed out, the CDF stands as the guarantee that the liturgical traditions of the Personal Ordinariates are fully Catholic in every sense of the word. No one can say otherwise, or tell lifelong Catholics that the spiritual patrimony of the Personal Ordinariates is not for them, because the CDF stands behind it. Any Catholic who wishes to adopt this spiritual patrimony knows its Catholicity comes guaranteed by Rome. 
Read the full article here.
Did you catch that? "Any Catholic who wishes to adopt this spiritual patrimony knows its Catholicity comes guaranteed by Rome." Pause and let that sink in.

Any Catholic may adopt this spiritual patrimony -- ANY Catholic. Stop. Let that sink in.

"No one can say otherwise, or tell lifelong Catholics that the spiritual patrimony of the Personal Ordinariates is not for them."

ANY Catholic may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony as guaranteed by Rome. Presumably, it would be mostly English-speaking (Anglophone) Catholics who would be most drawn to it, but by no means is it just limited to them. ANY CATHOLIC may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony -- any Catholic.

Are you Catholic? If yes, you may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony as guaranteed by Rome. That's the only prerequisite. Are you Catholic? If the answer is yes, you qualify to adopt the Anglican Patrimony as your own personal spirituality.

Now, to be clear, that does not mean any Catholic qualifies to become a member of the Ordinariates. Membership in the ordinariates is a different matter of episcopal jurisdiction, governed by specific rules set down in Anglicanorum Coetibus, decrees from the pope, and the oversight of the Vatican CDF. So membership in the Ordinariate is a different matter. One must qualify, and to learn what those qualifications are, one must take a look at the rules here.

Still, one does not need to be a member of a certain episcopal jurisdiction (the Ordinariate) in order to personally adopt the authentic Catholic spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony. ANY Catholic may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony, and do the following, regardless of Ordinariate membership...
  1. Pray using Sacred English (thee, thou, thy, etc.)
  2. Use prayer books and devotionals derived from the Anglican Patrimony.
  3. Pray the Daily Office (see here).
  4. Fellowship with Ordinariate Catholics.
  5. Join the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society.
  6. Join an Ordinariate parish (find one here, here or here)
Yes, Ordinariate parish membership is open even to non-Ordinariate members. In other words, it is possible (even fairly common in some places) for Roman Catholics, who do not qualify for Ordinariate membership, to nevertheless adopt the total spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony, even to the point of joining an Ordinariate parish. It happens all the time.

Regardless of whatever continent you're on, membership in the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS) is open to EVERYONE, and this makes a very suitable alternative for Roman Catholics who love the Anglican Patrimony, but for whatever reason, do not qualify to be part of an Ordinariate jurisdiction. It connects Catholics to the life of the Anglican Patrimony on all three continents by way of a public blog, an ongoing journal, as well as access to occasional events and special materials. The ACS has more exciting things on the way. So whether you're a member of one of the three ordinariates, or even if you don't qualify to be a member, consider membership in the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS),

You see, up until now, the type of Catholicism we have seen in North America is heavily influenced by Irish, Italian and Latino immigrants. There is a small French influence as well, but that's mostly limited to Canada. In the U.K., Catholicism has been heavily influence by the Irish. All this is well and good, and I would never dream to knock any of these fine traditions. They are lovely in themselves. In fact, I have a particular fondness toward Latino Catholicism, having been surrounded by it as a child in Southern California. However, there has been something big missing in the English-speaking (Anglophone) world for a long time. It's sort of like a great big hole in the Anglophone world. It's something that once was, but has been gone for a very long time.

What we have now in the restored Anglican Patrimony, guaranteed by Rome, is the rebirth of something very old -- English Catholicism. It seems new because we haven't seen it in a very long time. In fact, it hasn't existed in a unified state since the 16th century. It has, up until now, existed only in a fractured state, between High Church Anglicanism and Recusant English Roman Catholicism. So there is nobody alive today who remembers it in a singular unified state, as exists now in the restored Anglican Patrimony embodied in Divine Worship. Nevertheless, Rome has guaranteed it, and former Anglicans (now Catholics) attest to it as well. What we have here is a form of Catholic spirituality that is specifically geared toward English-speaking (Anglophone) people, which should be especially appealing to those living in North America, the U.K., and Oceania. Obviously, this form of spirituality is not for everyone, but if you're an English-speaking Catholic, at least take some time to learn your spiritual history and heritage. Rediscover English Catholicism!

*** Edits in grey, made for clarity. Hat tip to Mark C. in comment below.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Benedict Option for Catholics

Mont Saint-Michel, French Atlantic Coast

There has been a lot of talk about the best-selling book: The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Catholic Answers Focus recently did an interview with the author, Rod Dreher, which you can listen to the podcast here. It's really quite good, and it's really NOT what a lot of people think it is.

Admittedly, when I first head of the Benedict Option, I was a sceptic. I still am a sceptic of the popular interpretation of it. However, after listening to Dreher on Catholic Answers, my opinion has changed a bit.

What if I were to tell you the following...
  1. Contrary to popular opinion, we are NOT living through the Last Days of humanity. The coming of Antichrist is still likely centuries away. Everyone reading this will likely live to a ripe, old age (Lord willing), as will their children and grandchildren. So we need to start dealing with that reality again. Radical apocalypticism has only contributed to the problems of our Western civilisation, by causing Christians to mentally retreat from everything, in order to prepare for "The End."  
  2. The current spiritual/moral malaise the West is going through right now is NOT a passing storm. It's here to stay.
  3. We have entered a post-Christian world, and this is our new reality.
  4. We are NEVER going back to 1950s Catholicism, nor are we going back to 1940s Catholicism, nor 1930s, nor 1900, nor 1870, nor 1850, etc. We're not going back to any of that -- ever -- those days are over. It is done.
  5. Mainstream Protestantism is dying in the West, and will continue to die.
  6. Evangelical Protestantism is not far behind, and is in fact heading toward a total implosion that will eventually see its demise even quicker than Mainstream Protestantism.
  7. Eastern Orthodoxy is struggling, experiencing only short bursts of growth for brief periods of time, followed by periods of stagnation and biological attrition. 
  8. The mainstream Catholic Church is sinking as well, but at a slower rate. It is only now just beginning to experience the vocation and financial crisis that lay ahead. In the decades to come, dioceses all across Europe and the Americas will be downsizing! Catholic parishes and schools will gradually be sold off, as will diocesan-owned properties and assets. Parishes will be merged, downsized, and merged again. The main strategy of this current generation of bishops is now "managed decline."
  9. The mainstream religious orientation of tomorrow's generation in the West will be Secular and Islamic: more Islamic in Europe, and more Secular in the Americas. Christianity will gradually become a minority religion in these areas.
  10. This reality will manifest over the next generation. It cannot be stopped, and will not be reversed outside of a miraculous intervention from God himself.
  11. That intervention will likely come, eventually, because God is faithful, but when it does, the world is NOT going to automatically become Catholic again. That's not how it works. It's never worked that way in the past, and it won't work that way in the future. Rather, it will need to be re-evangelised, and this will take generations of solid faith and sacrificial commitment.
  12. The Western Catholic Church of today is unprepared to accept this challenge.
  13. The Western Catholic Church of today can't even stop its own haemorrhaging of youth leaving the Church, let alone reach out to the heathen youth of today or tomorrow.
Still, the decline of the Catholic Church in the West is not universal. There are places were it is growing. We have small, isolated, pockets in North America, as well as rapidly expanding dioceses in Africa and Asia. Looking at these communities may serve to help us. But first, we must understand the problem.

What is the problem?

The problem is modern Western culture -- Modernism -- and this is what is discussed in the book The Benedict Option. Our Modernist culture is just too overwhelming for parents to be able to do their jobs anymore. It is virtually impossible for parents to raise godly children, in the self-sacrificial Catholic faith, when the message of the world (even the message of consumer Christianity) is that of self-gratification. Like ancient Rome, the culture is destined for collapse. It's hard to say if or when such a collapse would be political, but it most certainly is cultural.

On a personal side note, living here in the Bible Belt of the United States, I am constantly hearing local Protestants refer to the November 2016 election of Donald Trump as some kind of "turning point" for the culture, and they fully expect things to get better now. I'm sorry to report to you that our Evangelical brethren are sorely mistaken on this, and will be in for a rude awakening sometime in the not-too-distant future. Politicians cannot solve this problem. Those who believe the election of Trump marks some kind of cultural turning point are sadly deceiving themselves.

So with a culture that is overwhelmingly Modernist, wherein Catholic parents have no choice, what is this Benedict Option in modern terms? No, it's not what you think. It's not about going out into the wilderness to live as the Amish do. I suppose that might be a viable choice for some, but certainly not for most. For the average Catholic, the Benedict Option heavily involves your local Catholic parish.

The Catholic parish must be revived, or rebuilt, to become a truly communal place, as it was originally meant to be. Catholics can no longer look at Catholicism as just one aspect of their lives. Rather, they must now look at it as their entire lives. Catholicism can no longer influence us. It must define us, and yes, the local Catholic parish is the key to making this whole thing work. Without it, any attempt at a Benedict Option will fail miserably. So with that said, what are some things Catholic families can do to bring the Benedict Option to your local Catholic parish...
  1. Abandon radical apocalypticism. That is not our calling folks. We are commanded to LIVE our lives, and LIVE THEM JOYFULLY, without fear. I have a book coming out this year which will help in this area. It's called A Catholic Guide to the Last Days. Yes, some bad things are coming our way, just as they did in previous generations, but it's NOT the end of the world.
  2. Home school your children. Remember, your goal here is to raise them to be good Christians, not little Einsteins. Just as parents who send their children to schools can get overly focused on academics, so can home schooling parents. Granted, we need to teach our kids to read and write, as well as math, history, science and other things. BUT, that should never be the focus of the homeschooling Catholic parent. FAITH is the focus, and it must be a FAITH OF JOY without fear. If you don't have this. Get it! Because you can't give your children that which you don't have.
  3. Set up a home school support group at your local parish. You don't need the parish to organise this for you. You can organise this yourself. Simply bring your priest into the loop and ask for his prayers. Naming him as your official chaplain will go a long way toward this. Some priests just don't get it yet, and a lot of them want you to send your children to Catholic schools instead. They need to be educated that Catholic schools simply don't work for all families. Home school support groups are not the same as cooperatives or academies. The latter focus more on academics. A support group is just that. It's a place where parents support one another, and children have time to fellowship and play. Occasionally some activities might be involved.
  4. Turn off the television, or at the very least, severely limit it. If you choose to have a television in your home, families should be very selective about what they watch. Spending hours on end, in front of the television, will corrupt any child's mind, and even some adult minds too. This didn't used to be the case, in the 1950s through 70s, but in recent decades, the culture has gone so overwhelmingly Modernist, that it cannot be redeemed. It can only be turned off.
  5. The same discretion must apply to movies, radio, Internet and video games.
  6. There should be no televisions or screens in bedrooms at all. This separates the family.
  7. If you have the Internet in your home, you MUST apply filters to internet accessible devices that children handle. Children must not be allowed to access the Internet in their rooms, or away from parental view. Parents must be in the habit of looking at their devices frequently and randomly, without warning. This will teach the children that they can never escape your supervision. In addition, ask the children to show you any material they think might be inappropriate. While doing this, teach them the skills they need to discern for themselves what is appropriate viewing material and what is not. Sheltering children from information will not last into adulthood. Like the Amish, sheltered children will simply go on worldly binges when they reach maturity and only some will come back to the fold. Rather, children must be taught to form good information searching habits instead, being taught the difference between right and wrong and why, which they can carry with them into adulthood. 
  8. Start working on community activities with your local parish. Bible studies and prayer groups are great, but I'm talking about something more here. For example; a community garden might be one option for men, women and children. Knitting, sewing and cooking groups might be some other options as well. Are there any hunters or fishermen in your parish? How about organising some group outings and bring back some meat for the parish as well. These can all be shared with the community, and even given to those in need. I know this sounds somewhat "Amish" in a way, but remember, I'm talking about parishes in the middle of urban cities too. Even people who live there sometimes go out on hunting and fishing trips outside the city. A donation of a deep freezer to the Church basement can supply a source of protein for parish members struggling with grocery bills, and the outings that made that protein possible can supply men (or women) with the fellowship they need to build each other up in Christ. Who knows? Maybe even your priest likes to fish or hunt!
  9. NETWORK with other parishioners, and start supporting their local businesses and trades.
  10. In addition to mass, plan a weekly Evening Prayer (Vespers) meeting, followed by a potluck or snacks. The same could be done with Sunday mass in smaller parishes. 
The point here is to make your local parish more than just a weekly stop for an hour-long mass, then back to the rest of your life. The point here is to make your parish your life entirely. That is the Benedict Option for Catholics. Alongside Dreher's book, another volume by Archbishop Charles Chaput should be consulted. It's called Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. I would recommend them side by side...


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants
Regnum Dei Press

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Is Easter a Pagan Celebration?

Easter Bunny and Coloured Eggs

There is a thread of radical Protestant Fundamentalism that likes to attack traditional Christian celebrations -- particularly Christmas and Easter. We see this primarily among the Jehovah's Witnesses (which aren't technically Protestant or Fundamentalist but rather a separate religion entirely more akin to Arianism). The Protestants include, but are not limited to: Quakers, Churches of Christ, Anabaptists, Congregationalists and some Presbyterians. Other Fundamentalist groups come in too. In addition, a growing number of Judaic Evangelicals (Messianic and Sabbath-keeping groups) do not celebrate Christmas and Easter, and often attack them as "Pagan in origin." While I'm not going to criticise these groups for their own religious practises, I will say their criticism of traditional Easter celebrations is out of line and poppycock. Most of the time, whenever they attempt to "reveal the true origins of Easter" the only thing they really reveal is their lack of education in the areas of history and religion.

The Goddess Ishtar
Babylonian Relief in British Museum
Here's the gist of their argument. It's really very simple, but there are subtle variations of it depending on the particular denomination attacking Easter. The main idea is that Easter is really a super-secret worship of the ancient Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Because you see, the Church of Rome (that is The Roman Catholic Church) has secretly and deviously concocted a plan to make us all unwittingly worship a Pagan goddess. You know, because that's what Rome does I guess. So according to these conspiracy theorists, the name "Easter" is how you actually pronounce the Babylonian name Ishtar, and the celebration of Easter is really (secretly) all about sex, and just uses the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as a cover. So look out! These rascally popes have actually got you worshipping a naked fertility goddess with wings and bird claws, instead of Jesus Christ, every Easter celebration, and your kids are participating in it! The conspiracy continues to point out that the symbols of Ishtar were eggs and rabbits. So once again, Easter is all about Pagan sex. Those chocolate Easter bunnies and coloured eggs are actually sex symbols, and you're kids are eating them!

Easter/Ishtar Meme
Often Circulated on Social Media
I know, it sounds so ridiculous, right? Well, that's because it is ridiculous. But you would be surprised to discover just how many Protestants (and modern Arians like the Jehovah's Witnesses for example) actually believe this stuff. They usually get quite militant about it too, using it as some kind of justification for their own religious practises, while condemning the culture around them as "Pagan." They publish long articles, with elaborate "archaeological findings" that supposedly prove their point. They've been doing it for decades. Then of course, with the advent of social media, came the Easter/Ishtar memes, consisting of a single picture of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar and a brief synopsis of their hysterical conspiracy-theory typed over it. Again, I'm not going to criticise their Sabbath-keeping here, nor their Passover-keeping, nor their avoidance of Christmas and Easter in their own homes, nor any of their other religious practises. If they want to do those things, that's their business, but when they attack our Catholic practises, I'm pleased to call out rubbish for what it is.

First of all, the ancient Babylonians did not pronounce Ishtar as "Easter." That's just bunk. The name Ishtar is likely Semitic in origin, and was identified in ancient times with the Canaanite goddess Ashtoreth or Astarte. All of these names were pronounced exactly as they're spelt. In fact, the English spelling of those names is based on a phonetic interpretation of the actual Semitic words. None of them were pronounced as "Easter" -- not a single one. Secondly, even if they sounded similar (which they don't) that does not mean they have the same etymological origin. For example; the English words "here" and "hear" are two completely different words that mean two completely different things. They sound the same, but their origins are completely different. The same would be true for Ishtar and Easter, if indeed they sounded the same (or similar), but in fact they don't.

The origin of the word Easter is a linguistic fluke actually. In most languages, the word for Easter is derived from the Hebrew word for Passover...

  • Bulgarian – Paskha
  • Danish – Paaske
  • Dutch – Pasen
  • Finnish – Pääsiäinen
  • French – Pâques
  • Indonesian – Paskah
  • Italian – Pasqua
  • Lower Rhine German – Paisken
  • Norwegian – Påske
  • Portuguese – Páscoa
  • Romanian – Pasti
  • Russian – Paskha
  • Scottish Gaelic – Càisg
  • Spanish – Pascua
  • Swedish – Påsk
  • Welsh – Pasg

In other languages it's referred to as follows...

  • Bulgarian - Velikden (Grand Day)
  • Polish - Wielkanoc (Grand Night)
  • Czech - Velikonoce (Grand Nights)
  • Slovak - Velká Noc (the Grand Night)
  • Serbian - Uskrs or Vaskrs (resurrection)
  • Japanese - Fukkatsu-sai (resurrection festival)

It is only in English and German that the name "Easter" is found in reference to the feast...

  • English - Easter
  • German - Ostern

There are two possibilities for this. The first, and in my opinion more likely, explanation is that the old Germanic word for the eastward direction is "eostarun" which is a reference to the rising dawn. Thus Eostarun/Ostern/Easter is likely a reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ as like the rising dawn. It also could be a reference to it as an eastern feast, since Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion. To this date, the German word for east is "osten."

To play devil's advocate, I'll cite a source that almost seems to back the Pagan origin of the word "Easter." St. Bede wrote in the 8th century that he believed there was a connection between the English word "Easter" and the German word "Ostara," which was the name of a Teutonic goddess of the rising sun (no direct connection to fertility here). He surmised that because the Paschal Feast of the Resurrection happened in the same month named for this goddess, the month we call April today, Christians simply stole the name and applied it to the Feast of the Resurrection. I love St. Bede, but I think he's oversimplifying things here. As I established above, the German word for east is "osten," and the German word for Easter is "Ostern." It only stands to reason that a Teutonic goddess, named after the rising sun (which always comes from the east) would be named "Ostara." However, after playing devil's advocate, I still believe the etymological connection to the German word for east (osten) is stronger. We have to remember that English was originally called Anglish, and it was the language of the German tribes (Angles, Saxons and Jutes) that invaded Britain in the 5th century from northern Germany. These Germans spoke Old German, a language now extinct, which evolved into Old English (Anglish), Middle English, and finally Modern English. It's extremely likely that the Old German word "eostarun" simply became the English word "eastern," which eventually led to the English word "Easter" for the Feast of the Paschal Resurrection, which came from the east, just like "Ostern" is now the German word for the same religious feast. We must remember that in ancient times, any land east of Greece was considered "the east" or "the orient." Palestine, from which Christianity originally came, was considered an eastern religion to the ancient people of western Europe.

English and German are unique, in that they both have their own common word for the Paschal Feast of the Resurrection, but that word is more likely tied to a direction than to Paganism, and it most certainly has no connection to the Semitic goddess of fertility, war, and fate -- Ishtar.

In the Easter/Ishtar meme, that frequently circulates social media, there is a reference to Constantine. Many Fundamentalist conspiracy theories centre around this particular Caesar, who legalised Christianity in AD 312 with the Edict of Milan. The conspiracy goes on to theorise that Constantine actually changed Christianity after this to make it more Pagan. Again, this shows a total lack of historical scholarship. Constantine originally sided with the Arians, not the Christians, but was eventually forced to assent to Christian Trinitarian theology after the Council of Nicea in AD 325. He himself remained religiously aloof in his personal life, until he was baptised on his deathbed. He had virtually no influence on Christian theology, but eventually found himself influence by it. Many of the so-called "doctrinal inventions" of Constantine (such as the papacy, prayer to the Saints, Purgatory, Marian devotion, etc.) can be well documented in the writings of the early Church, decades to centuries before his arrival. So no, Constantine did not introduce "Easter" to the Roman Empire. In fact, he likely never heard the word in his entire life. Constantine did not reinvent Christianity. Rather, Christianity reinvented him.

Like all good conspiracy theories, they're usually crafted with the skin of the truth, stuffed with a lie. It is true that Ishtar was a Babylonian goddess of sex and fertility. However, she was also the goddess of war, power, protection, fate, childbirth, marriage and storms. Her western counterpart was the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess Venus. However, her symbols were not eggs and bunnies. They were rather; lions, owls, gates, and the eight-pointed star. The connection between Ishtar, eggs and bunnies, is in fact a fabrication. It's a complete myth with no basis in the archaeological record.

Now Christians have always used symbols in nature to make obvious parallels to theological truths. Eggs have always been a symbol of new life. That is of course what they literally are. Likewise rabbits, particularly little bunnies, are symbolic of spring. I live in the Ozarks of the southern Midwest United States, and every spring this place is just hopping with bunnies of all types. I mean they're everywhere, especially the little baby bunnies. Springtime has always been associated with new life in many cultures and religions. Anywhere there is lush vegetation, you're going to have a lot of rabbits in the springtime. Likewise, Christians celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ are celebrating new life as well. So it only stands to reason that the symbols of eggs and bunnies would play into that. Eggs represent new life. Rabbits (bunnies) represent springtime, which also represents new life. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is all about new life. So there you go. These are symbolic parallels in nature that point to the supernatural resurrection. So long as Christians view these things only as symbols, there is certainly no harm in them, and there is most certainly no connection at all with Pagan fertility goddesses.

So as you can see, this whole "Easter is Pagan" conspiracy is just rubbish, put together with amateur scholarship, by people who have an anti-Catholic prejudice to begin with. So enjoy those Easter bunnies and coloured eggs, but just make sure your kids know they are merely symbols of the new life that comes from the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants
Regnum Dei Press

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Help for Mothers of Young Children During Mass

A patient mother tends to her baby and mantilla during liturgy.

So last week I had to go to confession. Yes, in case you were wondering, I am a big fat sinner. I usually go a minimum of once per month anyway, but I was intentionally trying to avoid the weeks leading up to Easter, because I knew the lines to the confessional would be especially crowded. Then, it happened. I sinned, and it was a sin big enough to need confession. So like a good and faithful Catholic, that's what I did.

I remember walking into the church after work, thinking to myself: "it's the Saturday before Holy Week, I'm going to be waiting a while." I walked into the chapel and there it was. A confessional line stretching around half the chapel. This wasn't the prayer chapel mind you. This was the main chapel. Dear Lord! It was the longest line I had ever sin. "Why? Oh why did I have to sin just before Holy Week?" I took my place at the back of the line, figuring this is my penance. The priest must have thought the same, because my official penance was especially simple. I was in line for literally one full hour!

I remember trying to remind myself how lucky I was. I need only spend an hour in a confessional line. The early Christians would spend months to years doing penance outside of chapels before they were even admitted back in. My sin wasn't that serious, but still, the Lord knows my weakness. I hate waiting.

However, divine providence must have been at work there, because I met a friend I hadn't seen for a long time. She was a nurse I used to work with in the hospital a while back. She was right in front of me in the confession line and we got to talking. I ended up sharing some parental wisdom that I'm going to share with you now.

If you are the Catholic mother of young children, then this essay is for you. I'll try to keep it short, sweet and to the point, because I know you're busy, and you don't have much time to read this.

The nurse I was talking with was a young mother. She had a couple of toddlers, and she was having the worst time dealing with them at mass. Every young mother knows exactly what I'm talking about. Anyway, the long story short is that she was nearly in tears talking about it with me. She needed help, and she was struggling going to mass when she can never follow along with the homily or the liturgy, because she's too busy with these toddlers. So this is what I told her...

  1. Your children need to be at mass because while there they are forming early memories. You need to make sure the earliest memories they have are at mass. That way when they get older, whether they are faithful or fall away, their childhood comfort memories will be of the mass, in a Catholic chapel. You want them to remember the sights, sounds and smells of the mass.
  2. When I was the father of young children, I would always make sure we were seated at the end of a pew. It didn't matter where in the chapel, just so long as it was at the end. This allowed me to get up quickly if needed. 
  3. Allowing young children to move around in the pew is natural and normal, just so long as their not rowdy or bothering people. So give them some room to move around within reason.
  4. When you know they're about to get fussy, pick them up and carry them to the back of the chapel. Gently walk around and move about the back of the chapel with the child on your shoulder or hip. Movement helps to calm them. The embrace of their mother (or father) always does the same. 
  5. The "cry room" in such churches that have them, is reserved for crying, or sometimes nursing too. To a toddler, this is a constricting and boring space. Most toddlers would rather be in the chapel, where the activity is, away from the cry room. So moving to the cry room should be reserved for crying or rowdiness. This lets the child know that if they can't behave themselves, they end up in this constricting and boring little room. Moving back and forth between the cry room and the chapel, sends a clear message to the child. When she is loud and rowdy, she goes to this little constricting and boring cry room. When she is quiet and cooperative, she gets to be in the big chapel where all the interesting activity is.
  6. Never underestimate the power of statues, icons and candles to interest a child. While safely in your arms, walk over to those areas in the back of the chapel, or the sides, where they can look at these things.
  7. When it's time for communion, carry the child up with you. Open your mouth and allow the priest to place the host on your tongue directly. This nearly eliminates all problems receiving the host. Don't even attempt partaking of the chalice. (Are you kidding me?) Just reverently bow your head as you walk by it and move on. Trust me, Jesus understands. Besides, official Church teaching states that so long as you have partaken in just one of the Eucharistic species (host or chalice), you have effectively partaken in both. There is no difference.
  8. Finally, remember why you are there. You are there to worship God. This means either you are going to receive communion, or else you're going to make an act of spiritual communion. It's going to be one or the other, but that is why you are there. That is the PRIMARY reason why you are there.
  9. Participation in the liturgy is important, as is listening to the homily, but that is NOT the primary reason why you are there. These reasons are secondary. So if you're missing out on some of this, or it's hit and miss, that's okay. You are forgiven and excused. You have a very important job to do, and both Jesus and his Church understand that. If you feel like you're missing too much of the homily, ask your pastor to record it. Then you can listen to it later, when you're able. If you're pastor won't do that, then get online and go to YouTube or EWTN, and watch a Sunday homily there. You have to understand, you're PRIMARY reason for being there is to worship God, which culminates in receiving communion, or making an act of spiritual communion. Listening to the homily, and fully participating in liturgy, comes SECONDARY when you're a mother (or a father) of toddlers and young children. You just do the best you can and then don't worry about it.
  10. If we were Protestants, then yes, missing the homily would be like missing the meat and potatoes of the whole service. But we're not Protestants. We're Catholics, and better yet, we're Catholics in the 21st century. That means our focus of worship is a little different, and we have luxuries not available to Catholics in previous centuries. Worst case scenario; we can get our weekly homily from EWTN if we have to. If you've missed the homily at mass, that is unfortunate but understandable, considering the circumstances, but you're going to be okay. What's more important is that you're there, and that you worship God through the adoration of the Eucharist, and its reception, either physical or spiritual. You see, the handling of a toddler (or toddlers) at mass, is in itself a form of sacrifice. You're giving yourself to God in the service of his children. Don't you know that Jesus watches your struggles from the altar? Don't you know that he completely understands? Don't you know that he sees your efforts as a sacrifice for him? Because he does! Every Catholic mother of young children needs to know this.
  11. Fathers need to be involved too. If you have just one toddler, there needs to be a trade off as you alternate Sunday duties, giving the other a break. If there are two toddlers, then you'll both have your hands full at the same time. That's how it should be.
  12. This last point is mainly for pastors, but it may take enough mothers to deliver it to him. Pastors, one of the best things you can do is assure mothers of young children that you are sympathetic to them, and please do defend them when they're doing their best. Granted, nobody likes a screaming child in the chapel, and granted, screaming children do need to be taken to the cry room, but if they're not making a whole lot of noise, they really should be with their parents in the chapel. That message needs to be relayed to your congregation on a regular basis. Lastly, if you really want to help young mothers, put a video camera inside the ambo, facing you in such a way that it cannot be seen by the congregation. You can click it on when you deliver your homily, and click it off at the conclusion. Then you, or a staff member, can upload the video to YouTube for the benefit of these mothers of young children, and others who have similar needs, including the sick and elderly who could not make it to mass.
This particular mother I spoke with in the confession line was very happy to hear this insight from my own experience with my own toddlers. I'll never forget just how exasperated my poor wife was with them, and how she dreaded going to mass because of it. Together, we learnt how to do it using the methods above. It worked through a process of trial and error. So I imagine it is the same for all parents. My advice is don't give up. Yes, they will outgrow this stage, though it may seem to take forever. Whether you realise it or not, their presence there is forming memories that will bless them for a lifetime, both consciously and subconsciously. What you're going through is normal, and every Catholic parent has dealt with it at least once. Their presence there is a blessing to them, even though they don't know it yet, and a personal sacrifice on your part that will not go unnoticed by our Lord. As for you, you're primarily there to worship our Lord, and that is all. If you miss the homily, and can't fully participate in the liturgy, that is okay. Adoration and communion are the real reasons why you're there. You can get the Sunday homily from other sources if you have to. 

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants
Regnum Dei Press

Monday, April 10, 2017

So You're No Longer Christian?

Anti-Catholic Protesters

"You're no longer a Christian!" These were the words I heard multiple times in the fall of 1999 through the Spring and Summer of 2000. This was the time just before, during and after my conversion to the Catholic Church. I heard words like this from most of my friends, and yes, even some of my family.

You see, I was an Evangelical Christian, and for many years I had been a member of an Evangelical-Fundamental Protestant affiliation called Calvary Chapel. Now I had left that affiliation in 1997 and began attending a local Episcopal Church. I remember the disapproval I received from friends and family just switching from Evangelical to Episcopalian (Anglican). I remember how confused they seemed, and how they looked down at our local Episcopal Church. Still, it was technically Protestant, and I suppose tolerable. I have one sister who joined us for Christmas Eve mass, and she seemed to enjoy it. For the most part, however, most of the people I knew were displeased.

Then it happened. In the summer of 1999 my wife, Penny, and I decided to enrol in a Catholic RCIA class, with the intent of joining the Catholic Church. We waited a little while to inform our friends and family. It was probably a good thing we did, because we discovered it was best to break the news slowly, to a few people at a time. Oh my! You would have thought we just decided to join the Church of Satan!

First came the disapproval from our parents. Penny's mother told her she would go to hell for sure. My father told me I was making an enormous mistake and I would regret it. My mother told me this decision would lead me away from Christ. My sisters were careful and didn't say a whole lot. Then the letters and emails started to roll in. Some of these came from old friends from our former Evangelical church. Some from Baptist and Pentecostal friends we knew from various circles. We were told to reconsider, that the Catholic Church is the "Whore of Babylon" where members engage in idolatry. We were told that we would surely lose our salvation, and that we would no longer be Christian. Even some of my coworkers laid into me on a regular basis, as well as Penny's coworkers. It was really quite intense, and somewhat unexpected. We did expect a little bit of push back, but nothing close to the level we got.

You see, Penny and I were native Californians. We grew up in neighbourhoods that were mostly Catholic. Most of our childhood friends were Catholic. My aunt was Catholic, and so was my grandmother. So while we expected a little push back when we announced that we would soon become Catholic, we never expected it to rise to the level that it did. You see, several years prior, we moved to the Springfield area in Southwest Missouri. This area is highly Evangelical (mostly Baptist and Pentecostal). Consequently, most of the friends we made in this area were Evangelicals. Almost every contact we made in this whole region was either Baptist or Pentecostal, and many of them at the time had a strong anti-Catholic streak. I have to say, it was pretty shocking. For the course of a whole year our entire circle of friends had been reduced to just one couple -- two fellow coworkers. They just happened to be Catholic, and one of them was converting the same year we were, and we happened to be attending the same RCIA class. (Clearly this was a case of divine providence.) Had it not been for them, we would have been friendless between the years of 1999 to 2001.

Yes, that's how bad it was. Everyone we knew thought we were nuts. We were told that we were joining a "cult." We were told that we'll be engaging in "idolatry." We were told we were joining the "Whore of Babylon" (a negative reference from the Book of Revelation). We were told that Satan had deceived us, that we were losing our salvation, and that our children would never know Christ. Some of our friends cut off all communication with us. Some sent us nasty letters. Some called us "Mary worshippers." Some came to our door, and tried to reason with us. A couple of friends would spend hours with us, trying to talk us out of it. All of this was to no avail. Penny and I had made up our minds.

Then the weird letters and emails started to come. These were from people we didn't know, but who had obviously been contacted about us. Most of these were from older men, who apparently dealt with this sort of thing from time to time. Some of them were 5 pages in length, citing Scripture, along with erroneous historical quotes, and paragraph after paragraph of made-up history. It was like reading a personal letter from Jack T. Chick, or some other anti-Catholic apologist. I surmise that some of our friends contacted these people when they realised they couldn't get through to us, and asked for their help.

The culmination came in 2000, when my father gave me a cassette tape from an anti-Catholic apologist that had come to their Church. It was nearly and hour long. I made my own tape in response, re-recording what the apologist said, and then recording my own response to each point he made. I gave the tape back to my father, along with my response tape, and never heard of it again.

The irony of all this is that with each negative conversation, phone call, letter and email, the exact opposite effect was produced than what was intended. These people had intended to pull us away from the Catholic Church, but each time they interacted with us, they only drove us further into it. This was because we saw the anti-Catholic hysteria for what it really was -- hysteria! It would be one thing if they cited legitimate cases in Scripture or history, but instead they only cited Scriptures that were out of context, and historical events that were either fabricated, or else horribly twisted in ways that defy all academic standards. Thankfully, I had done my homework. I knew how to refute this stuff. My wife, on the other hand, just got angry. "We are 30 year-old adults!" She would say: "And yet they're treating us like children!" Every effort they made backfired. Here in the Bible Belt I see this sort of thing happen all the time. The same pattern is repeated over and over again with converts. Each time they only end up sealing the deal, and driving potential converts straight into the Catholic Church. The hysteria actually ends up helping the conversion process.

I think the only time the hysteria is effective is in keeping Christians from investigating the Church in the first place. So long as you can convince them that it's evil, they're less likely to look into it. But for those few who venture to look into it anyway, the results are almost always the same. They become Catholic, sooner or later. It may take six months, or it may take six years, but the result is almost always the same. They become Catholic.

What Evangelical-Fundamentalists don't realise is that the party's over. A growing number of Evangelicals (including Baptists and Pentecostals) are looking for something deeper. They're wanting to connect to the historical Church, and they're looking for deeper meaning in the sacraments, liturgy and deep spirituality that comes with 2,000 years of Christian experience. They just can't find any of that in Evangelical churches. Evangelical-Fundamentalists are making themselves increasingly irrelevant with all this "You're not Christian" rhetoric they direct toward Catholics, Orthodox and some Anglicans. It's old, it's tiresome and it's not in the least bit true. I think a lot of younger people are more sophisticated now than they were in previous generations. They're simply not buying into it anymore. So as Evangelical-Fundamentalists continue to go down the anti-Catholic road, I believe they will continue to find themselves more irrelevant in the decades ahead.

The best advice I can give to converts, experiencing some degree of this sort of hysteria from friends and family, is to stay the course and wait them out. You see, becoming Catholic will teach you who your friends really are. Some will come to their senses eventually, and realise what they said about your faith was wrong. The same is true with family. Other friends won't come back. These were not really your friends. They were just your religious associates. Once you changed churches, you no longer had anything in common. They moved on, and so will you.

The good news in our own case is this. Penny's mother eventually came to accept our Catholic faith, and enjoys coming to mass with us now and then. My own parents don't care for mass so much, but they have come to accept our Catholic faith as Christian and a legitimate expression of Christianity. They have faithfully attended ALL of the sacraments of initiation for our children (baptisms, first communions, and confirmations). The same goes for my sisters. The good news I have for you is that there's hope. It may take several months or several years, but eventually, most parents and family members come to accept our Catholic Christian faith, and just ignore what their Evangelical-Fundamentalist churches say about it. When faced with the harsh reality of having to choose between the radical teachings of their Fundamentalist church, or continuing a relationship with their children, siblings or close friends, most people eventually choose the relationship over the religious hysteria. Like I said, sometimes it takes a while -- even years! -- but eventually it happens. The sacraments of initiation for children often play a big role in breaking the ice. Time is another factor that heals wounds.

What's important to remember is this. The Catholic Church teaches us to love our family and friends. We are not to abandon them, disown them, or estrange ourselves from them. When there is a religious conflict over our conversion, we are called to draw close to them, as best we can. If they push us away, that's their problem. We just keep trying, knowing that eventually the ice will break. Most of the time, friends and family who attack our decision to join the Church, do so only because they are misinformed. In most cases, that's not even their fault! We need to remember that. We also need to remember, often times, their negative actions toward us are motivated entirely by love. Their acting this way only because they've been given bad information, and they can't help the way they're acting, because they've been misinformed. So in a sense, their actions are often loving, just misguided. On the one hand, we should be flattered by the lengths they will go to try to change our minds. It is but a testimony of their love for us. On the other hand, we need to gently remind them that we are informed adults, and we can make our own decisions. Sometimes this may involve some study in Catholic apologetics to help explain things to them. Catholicism for Protestants may help in this area. Don't be surprised if this doesn't work right away. There is often an emotional barrier that needs to be overcome too. No amount of apologetics can do that. Only time and love will.

We also need to remember that the Catholic Church specifically teaches that anyone who has been baptised in the name of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is a Christian, and deserves to be called that, even if they will not extend the same courtesy to us. Most Protestants don't even know this, and I have found that sometimes it's helpful to inform them of this. As far as we Catholics are concerned; most Baptists, Pentecostals and Evangelicals are our Christian brethren, even if they don't believe the same about us. I think it's beneficial to let your Evangelical family and friends know that even as a Catholic, you will still regard them as Christian brethren, and that the Catholic Church teaches you to do so. If you were already baptised in a Trinitarian Christian tradition, you probably ought to let them know that you will not be "re-baptised" as the Catholic Church recognises only one baptism for us all. These little bits of information usually don't have the effect of calming the waters right away. As I said, there are usually a lot of emotional barriers involved here, but over time, they do help.

Remember, most of all, to be patient. With my own family, my parents refused to attend our reception into the Catholic Church in 2000. I didn't expect them to, so it wasn't hurtful to me. They didn't really darken the door of our Catholic Church until almost 2004, when our son was baptised. It was hard for them, I could tell, but they did it. Then in 2006 our daughter was baptised, and they attended that as well. By the time we reached first communions, both of our parents were on board. Of course, they never converted to Catholicism, but that was not the point. They were now fully accepting of our Catholic Christian faith. So what I'm saying is it took time. For our families, it happened slowly, over the course of a decade. For other families it may take longer, and for others, not so long at all. Your family will be different of course, but if you apply what I've told you above, the odds are very high that you'll eventually prevail.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants
Regnum Dei Press