47. The maintenance of a spiritual presence in a secularized world. In the midst of a world which has become very secularized, the Catholic Church has retained a spiritual foundation and spiritual resources that are unmatched among the other churches of the West. In particular, I had noticed that during the 1960’s and 1970’s many of the mainline Protestant Churches had closed their church camps and retreat centers. It is now very common for those churches in the United States to use Catholic facilities.
48. A clear affirmation of the supernatural character of the Christian faith. A clear belief in the supernatural is a very fundamental reason for becoming Catholic out of a mainline Protestant background. Much of the intellectual leadership of “old-line Protestantism” has lost its belief in supernatural reality. Revelation, the existence of God, the realities of hell and heaven, a salvation which is completed outside of our time and space, the reality of judgment, and hence the seriousness of sin have all been lost in the modernization of the Protestant main-line. Hence healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, visions and appearances of holy figures are all rejected. I, too, rejected all of these for a time. Then the evidence for their realness became overwhelming to me and I was forced to recognize the limits of my rationalistic, Germanic idealistic philosophical presuppositions in which the intellectual leaders of the Presbyterian Church were formed but of which they were ignorant or wished to keep us ignorant. Hegel’s rejection of the supernatural has profoundly affected our society and seriously limited our ability to see certain kinds of reality. The Catholic Church believes clearly in the supernatural, that such interventions are real, and that one should expect the intrusion of the supernatural into the natural realm. This also makes it possible to affirm Marian appearances, that they can be recognized, evaluated and affirmed without being rejected out of hand.
49. The Recognition of the New Testament charisms of the Holy Spirit. As a Presbyterian, I had become acquainted with the very great power of teaching and discerning these gifts from my contact with charismatic churches and the Church Growth movement. I was delighted when I learned that the Second Vatican Council strongly affirmed the use of these gifts in the Church among the lay faithful of the Church, stating that “they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation… and those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts…” (Lumen Gentium [LG], 12b). The traditional position of the Church before the Council was that these gifts were rare and exceptional. A debate took place between Cardinals Suenens and Ruffini in October 1963 in which the reality of these gifts for the laity was affirmed.[i] The confirmations of these gifts amongst all the faithful was a further verification for me of the comprehensive spiritual validity of the Catholic Church.
Furthermore, I am personally convinced that the correct balance between the freely given charismatic gifts and the overseeing responsibility of the hierarchy of the Church, necessary for the unity of the Church, is best found in the Catholic Church. In my opinion and experience, the charismatic movement is most healthy and most balanced when it exists within the Catholic Church under the sympathetic and informed spiritual direction of pastors. This then became another reason why I believed that the Catholic Church is the best and most effective place to carry out a ministry which is sensitive to these movements of the Holy Spirit.
50. A philosophical orientation friendly to spiritual reality. Undergirding the above spiritual reasons for being Catholic is a philosophical clarity that exists within certain parts of the Roman Catholic Church which can identify modern atheistic philosophical systems in their true context. It is a philosophical tradition rooted in St. Thomas and St. Augustine. It maintains an identity separate from the modern philosophy of Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, et al. Much of contemporary Roman Catholic thought has been influenced consciously or unconsciously by modern philosophy which embodies the “metaphysics of atheism”.[ii] But this deeper tradition, which maintains the ability to identify modern atheistic treasures of the Catholic Church.
Modern philosophy has rejected the transcendent God of creation, revelation and redemption. This modern thought is also in error about the nature of man, adamantly rejecting the Christian doctrine of original sin. Modern subjective thought, beginning with Descartes’ “I think therefore I am,” centers man on himself. This stands in contrast to the thought of St. Thomas which first recognizes that “I exist” and then raises the question, “Where have I come from?” Perhaps best summarized in Hegel, we find a modern thought which rejects the supernatural, creation, miracles, the salvation of the soul, the doctrines of heaven and hell, etc. Hence, much of modern philosophical thought is in opposition to and seeks to destroy the foundations of Christian spirituality in the modern world.
In most of Protestantism, philosophy is viewed with some suspicion and its study is not considered vital. This leaves Biblical scholarship and denominational traditions which are impoverished due to a lack of self-consciousness which comes from philosophy, and a lack of intellectual tools to appreciate the above-mentioned differences. The consequence is that much of Protestantism cannot be reflective about its own presuppositions. Many Protestants are therefore “philosophically blind.” This also means that there is little study of the comprehensive picture of Western thought within Protestant theological circles.
In contrast, the Catholic system requires a comprehensive overview for every Catholic seminarian. Central to this study is the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas Aquinas which is really a summary of all that has gone before and provides the consistent philosophical foundation for the Roman Catholic Church. This overview provides metaphysical clarity to Catholic dogma. In the 19th Century, Pope Leo XIII’s program to renew Christina philosophy brought renewal an clarity to the Christian confrontation with the atheistic thought of the German schools of philosophy, theology, and Scriptural study. With Inscrutabili (April, 1978) “On the Evils affecting Modern Society” and Aeterni Patris (Aug. 1879), “The Program to Renew Christian Philosophy”, we have a foundation of clear Christian philosophy which can do battle with the atheistic thought that currently dominates the West.[iii]
51. Affirmation of heaven and hell. Worthy of separate mention is the clear Catholic affirmation of the existence of both heaven and hell as realities which we should hope for and fear, respectively. A large number of Protestants have rejected belief in hell as too negative or they have been caught up in a liberal or neo-orthodox universalism that believes such a doctrine is irrelevant, if indeed it is true at all. How one can explain away the many Biblical references to a place of condemnation and eternal torment is amazing, but a number of both Protestants and Catholics are attempting to do just that. The Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, in its documents of 26 June, 1975, incorporating materials from Pope Paul VI’s preaching in 1972, reaffirmed forcefully the teaching of the Church on the reality of Satan and Hell in “Christian Faith and Demonology.”[iv] We should not fail, out of a false compassion, to keep these two serious options before people. They do not come and go, depending on our belief in them. “It is possible to have such sympathy with our fellowman as to be guilty of red-handed rebellion against God” (Oswald Chambers). This is all so very consistent with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which in and of themselves were a motivating factor in my change of church identity.
52. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. These are a compelling reason for at least using Roman Catholic spiritual resources if not for becoming outright Catholic. Addressing the essential issues and decisions of the spiritual life, they give a clarity to discerning one’s way as a Christian. And since John Wesley derived much of his spirituality from Ignatius, this spirituality underlies much of Protestantism also. Why not get the real thing? My spiritual director, Fr. Donald McGuire, is a retreat master for Mother Therese’s order, the Missionaries of Charity. After attending five of these short retreats according to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, under Fr. McGuire’s direction, I decided it was foolish not to both obtain and become the real thing.
53. The presence of monasteries and those committed to the contemplative life. During my time in Belgium the powerful role of monasteries and convents in maintaining historic spiritualties came even clearer. A monastery with its stable resident population of committed religious formed according to a spiritual tradition, well educated, well-disciplined, represents a formidable resource for the Church. The liturgy and the traditions of the Cistercians, Trappists, Benedictines, Carmelites, Franciscans, the Sisters of St. Ignatius, and others are as oases of faith and spiritual knowledge in the midst of an increasingly barren secular desert. They represent the radicalness of total commitment, the joy of a life lived out entirely in the service of the Lord. Many of them share, as part of their vocation, the function of providing retreat and meditation space at very low cost. Nothing comparable exists in Protestantism. This was more clear in Belgium than in the United States. The priests and seminarians of our community in Belgium were easily able to find a quiet, isolated monastic community for a weekend trip “into the desert,” complete with monks able to give spiritual conferences and spiritual direction. I believe that the very spiritual climate of a city is changed by having such a monastery present nearby.
54. Religious orders. These associations are a very important gift of the Church. They provide for a distinctive, disciplined way of life which allow their members to serve Christ and his Church without the anxieties of worldly affairs brought on by marriage. The richness of the orders of Catholicism, with their different charisms, yet always under the discipline of the one, universal Church, is a great strength. So often similar movements of the Spirit in Protestantism yield distinct autonomous organizations, independent of any stable ecclesiastical authority.
55. The “Evangelical Counsels” of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In our day, the reaffirmation of these “counsels” seem to me to be particularly important, for in modern Western culture the traditional religious commitments to these Gospel values have been replaced the “trinitarian idol” consumerism, hedonism and nationalism. A materialistic challenge faces the faithful. The Evangelical Counsels are invaluable guidelines for Christian life and are a great gift to all the faithful. Their application within religious orders has provided a radical sign of deeper Christian commitment. Their use by all the faithful helps to draw all closer to the example of Christ in their daily living. I will treat the gift of chastity in the section on Sex, Marriage and the Family. But here I want to recognize the spiritual power of these spiritual disciplines which seek to direct and control “money, sex, and power.”[v]
The evangelical counsel of poverty takes on a particular significance in our Western materialistic, consumer-oriented society. This virtue of poverty is a light on the road of following Jesus. It holds before all Christians the willingness of the early Christians to give up all to follow Christ. Best described in #17 of Presbyterian Ordinis [PO] as it is applied to the life of priests, this Gospel principle leads to a Godly detachment from the goods of this world, while affirming them as good and of God. Priest should be a sign to a ll the faithful of the joy and the fruitfulness that comes while following “Lady Poverty.” While “poverty” should never be used to cause one to be an inappropriate burden on others (See 2 Thess 3:6), it can make one free to follow the values of God instead of the values of this world. How much less corruption would there be in the countries of the world if their political leaders were sufficiently close to Christ through a spirit of detachment to reject the temptation to misuse their office for fain, using it, rather, for the common good?
The special emphasis by the Franciscans on poverty has a particular value in our consumer-oriented, immediate-gratification, credit card-contaminated world. The Second Vatican Council called on religious orders to return to appreciate their original charisms. These are of tremendous value for the faithful today.
The evangelical counsel of obedience stands as a sign of the relation of the disciple to his Master, indeed of the absolute power and glory of God, in our society in which many individuals are preoccupied with gaining “freedom.” The motivation of St. Paul to bring about the “obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations” (Rom 1:5 and 16:26) is often ignored or misunderstood in today’s narcissistic culture of self-actualization. Obedience is offered in a spirit of unity and with the knowledge of legitimate structures of authority, yet is creative and leads to “the more mature freedom of God’s Sons.”[vi] I believe that the Catholic Church is a very good environment in which to grow in the obedience of God’s sons. Even so, I do find it easier to write about obedience, to read about obedience, even to teach about obedience than to obey.
56.Liturgical and monastic prayer. The rich traditions of liturgical prayers, both for the living and for the dead, are a valuable resource in Catholicism. I remember collecting a number of prayers of confession for the Presbyterian Sunday morning liturgy and realizing that the only confessional prayers in which worshippers asked other worshippers for forgiveness and mutual support were from the Catholic tradition. “And I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.” I suspect that Protestants reacted so intensely to perceived misuses of the confessional that they lost almost completely the invocation of James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” The Catholic tradition treasures classic prayers that have stood the test of time. Often, Protestant individualism and subjectivity requires a spontaneous, non-written prayer, dependent upon no one other than the pray-er. Hence, Catholic prayers tend to be more tested and more refined than the average Protestant prayers.
57. The redemptive nature of suffering. This is a value rigorously maintained in Catholic teaching. It is particularly important since the world in which we live is has a “consumer” mentality. The crucifix stands as a persistent symbolic reminder that the way of the cross is finally the way of life that brings joy and happiness. Self-denial and sacrificial giving of the self in the name of Jesus is what is needed in every facet of life, from the most personal care of the young and the elderly to the leading and administering of the greatest public or private institutions. This gift will be extensively developed in Chapter Seven on the Eucharist.
58. The social teachings of the Catholic Church. These teachings are another outstanding spiritual resource. Especially within Catholicism, starting with Rerum Novarum, there exists a careful, systematic critique of the social systems of the world in which we live. In this thought, personal, spiritual, and moral imperatives of the Gospel are integrated with society’s need for justice and structural renewal. With the collapse of Communism this resource becomes even more valuable.
59. Spiritual direction. And finally, I found a very healthy assumption among almost all Catholics concerning the need for spiritual direction. The assumption is that for spiritual wisdom and accurate insight into oneself, one should obtain spiritual direction from someone wiser and more mature than oneself. I had generally found Protestants more committed to a John Wayne spirituality, often isolating their personal, vertical relationship to God from any spiritual support systems, having to make it on their own. How much of the ministries of Jimmy Swaggert and Jimmy Baker could have been protected had they been open to competent spiritual direction? The contemporary American scene finds a number of Protestant clergy turning to Catholic and Episcopalian religious to obtain such direction. Moreover, in the Catholic tradition, because Spiritual Direction is highly valued, resources are committed to training such persons. I am not aware that the skills of spiritual direction have been substantially developed anywhere else in the religious traditions of the West.
Under this category of spiritual reasons for becoming Catholic fall a number of traditional disciplines and sacramentals that I consider very important such as the Rosary, the Crucifix, and the Stations of the Cross. Iam going to deal with them in section VI to highlight their importance in sustaining marriage and family life.
[i] For a good summary on the Council debates on charisms as well as the subsequent developments brought up by Hans K?ng, see Vatican II: Assessment and Perspectives: Twenty-five Years After, vol 1, René Latourelle, ed. (Paulist Press, NewYork, 1988)
[ii] For example, in the recent document, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Catholic Church, the approbation of the methods of historical-critical analysis is always qualified by the need to separate them from their philosophical foundations. I am not at all convinced that this is being done adequately. A dood description of the positions of this “modern philosophy” is found in Love of Wisdom: An Introduction to Christian Philosophy, Part Three, “Modern Philosophy: A Challenging Problem.”
[iii] For more detail on this see Love of Wisdom, p. 324 ff, “The Program to Renew Christian Philosophy: Aeterni Patris.”
[v] For a fresh approach to these three vows and their corresponding disciplines, see three books by the Quaker author Richard J. Foster: Celebration of Discipline; Money, Sex, and Power; and Freedom of Simplicity. He draws on a wide range of Catholic sources for a dynamic approach to these values, an approach which is radically applicable to all the People of God.
[vi] To distinguish a New Testament sense of the freedom of men from the very different contemporary notions of freedom see Romans 6:15-23. Both William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible: Romans and Joseph A. Fitzmeyer’s Anchor Bible: Romans are helpful on this passage.