Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Ecumenism: Is it God’s will that all be Catholic?

Does God want all Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Orthodox, Non-Denominationalists, … to convert and become Catholic? Would it be His will for a happy, say, Congregationalist to become an unhappy Catholic?

Nothing is as well-intentioned yet less understood as ecumenism. I don’t plan on covering this whole topic in this post, but I want to look into a small aspect of it. It seems after Vatican II a big push was made toward ecumenism. The goal of ecumenism of course is a greater unity among Christians. A good cause, and without a doubt the Catholic Church has gone farther than any other group of Christians to try and increase this unity, but at what cost?

It’s official, the term “Protestant” has been replaced in the Catholic vernacular with the term “Our Protestant Brothers and Sisters”. But it seems that it has brought with it an indifference regarding the importance of the Church by well-meaning Catholics. This idea that the Catholic Church is just one option of the many Christian sects has begun to erode the whole concept of what the Catholic Church is.

I’ve made the claim on occasion that God’s will is for all people to become faithful members of the Catholic Church. And on a few occasions I’ve been surprised at the look of horror on the face of the fellow Catholic with whom I was speaking. This response may be due to them translating my statement into something along the lines of, “If you’re not Catholic you’re going to Hell!” This of course is not at all what I’m saying. But I do think there is a sizable group of Catholics that would disagree with this statement knowing exactly what I’m saying. What consequence does this position bring with it?

If it is true that God’s will is not that all are Catholic (or that He’s indifferent about it), why is my wife, my children, and myself Catholic? As a Protestant, my family and I had it very nice. Our Church was housed in an extravagant building (chandeliers, antique furniture, café, bookstore, …), we had a very entertaining worship service (great speakers/preachers, very talented musicians, catchy music, …), a strong social connection (every kind of small/support group you could think of, friend after friend, always someone to help you out with just about everything), and much more. No big deal if we missed church for whatever reason, stuff happens. Never had to dwell on any of our shortcomings, after all we were saved and our sins covered by the Blood of the Lamb. The kids were part of an elaborate and well organized youth religious education program. We even had a great relationship with my mother and father-in-law who had been members of this mega church since its humble beginning meeting as a bible study in a local community college.

Then, we converted to the Catholic Church.

And what did we get for coming to the Catholic Church? We received a concept of sin, and the sorrow that came with it. We got Churches without air-conditioning and traded our padded stadium seating for hard, uncomfortable pews. We now are required, unless we have a very good reason not to, to make it to Mass every weekend with all the kids no matter how inconvenient it is. We have worship services that, though they sometimes sadly try, are nowhere as exciting as we were used to. We are now just a face in the crowd, no one rushed to talk to us after Mass like they used to. We have also been told that the commitment to Christ we made once a long time ago, must me made again. Not one more time, but again and again every single moment for the rest of our lives. They informed us that not the Church, but we were the primary educators of our children. And depending on the day and the topic, the relationship with the in-laws is lukewarm to cold at best. And on some days I’m not sure I’m any better person in my actions today as I was then.

Now I ask again, if it is true that God’s will is not that all are Catholic, why in God’s name is my family and I Catholic?! Who in their right-mind would exchange the first situation above for the second? If all God really cares about, is that I love Him and worship Him in any way I like, why are people so sad when people leave the Catholic Church? What’s the point? Can’t people love God in a Presbyterian or Word-of-Faith church if that’s where they enjoy attending?

Absolutely! But the question is what does God want, not what the individual enjoys. We should attend a church because we want to follow God’s will. To seek out a church based on our own desires and tastes and not on what we believe God wants is a little like me buying a birthday present for my wife based not on what she wanted, but on what I liked. God exists, He is the author of an objective truth, this truth can be known, Jesus established the Catholic Church, and this truth is most completely made known in the Catholic Church. This is our faith.

When the pursuit of worldly joys is replaced with the pursuit for heavenly joys, your understanding of what the Church is changes and begins to come into focus. The Church is an earthly Mother guiding her children along the path of life toward eternity; offering wisdom, correction, forgiveness, and hope. It’s an instrument through which God channels His grace, mercy, love, and a peace deeper than any joy or sorrow known to man. She is a holy sanctuary where God sends the Holy Spirit to make Christ truly present for the salvation of the whole world in the most holy Eucharist.

It is God’s will that all be Catholic. It is His will that we all be one. Ecumenism must never give way to an attitude of indifferentism when it comes to God’s desire for all to be Catholic. We do nothing but cheat others of the treasures God has placed in the Church by not sharing the truth of the Church’s identity; of course, always in truth and charity.

You can have the chandeliers, fancy furniture, well-choreographed worship services, never-ending social network, and free-grace attitude. Give me some of that old-time religion, complete with sorrow and forgiveness for my sins, daily struggles, personal accountability before God, a desire for holiness, the understanding that it’s not all about me (it really isn’t), and most of all … the Eucharist.

How could it not be God’s will for all to be a part of this? And if we really believe with true conviction, the truths She teaches, how could we not desire all Christian unity under Her mantle.


Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Oooooooooo! Good one! Very excellent analysis of "ecumenism" as Catholics SHOULD understand it! It's too bad your in-laws couldn't read this with an open heart and seek the truth for themselves. I heard from an apoligist once (I forget whom) something like, "Not all 'Catholics' go to Heaven, but everyone in Heaven is Catholic!" I thought it was kind of a funny thing to say but when he explained it, I better understood the whole "Christian brotherhood" thingy. That to be TRULY Catholic, you must agree with all that the Catholic Church teaches and believes and even if you don't KNOW that you agree with all the things that the RCC teaches...if you DO, then you will get to Heaven! (I'm not saying it as well as he, hope it's clear enough to post!)

swissmiss said...

My in-laws aren't really anything as far as religion goes. They seem to believe that everyone, except for people like Hitler, go to Heaven. However, my mother-in-law has made comments lately that God could never forgive her for what she has done. What a conundrum to not have any real means to salvation other than a nebulous idea that everyone goes to Heaven; and, what a horrible position to be in to believe you can confess your sins directly to God, but then not know if He hears you, believes you, or forgives you. The more I learn about my faith, the more I find it comforting. I wish our ecumenism would espouse the Church's beliefs that are comforting and merciful, instead of always coming across as a "Church of Rules." We need a healthy dose of both.