Friday, 9 March 2007

Ecumenical services

In my time, I've been to a number of ecumenical services. They're usually a very good way of reaffirming my belief that a lot of Christians really aren't all that Christ-like. They also usually convince me that I'm very happy to be a Catholic, thanks very much.

Take, for instance, the Pentecostal "ecumenical" service I went to a few years ago. Christians of all denominations were invited. The MC (yes, there was an MC) kept taking cheap potshots at Catholics - for instance, when he said, "You see, most of us believe that Roman Catholics can't receive the Holy Spirit, but maybe they can".

This prejudice against Catholics is widespread in the Protestant churches. Some other comments of which I have been on the receiving end over the years are:

"I daren't tell my father that I'm friends with a Catholic - he'd be absolutely furious."

"Well, we all know Catholics don't read the Bible."

Person accosting me in the street: "Do you know Jesus?"
Me: "Yes thanks."
Person accosting me: "Oh, so when were you born again? Or are you just a [voice dripping with scorn] nominal Christian?"

OK, the last one is anti-anyone-who-hasn't-been-born-again rather than specifically anti-Catholic, but you get the picture.

So why do I still bother going to these things? This year, I heard that all the local churches had got together to organise a series of Lenten talks - the speakers are Methodist, Church of England, Baptist, Weirdo Born Again and Greek Orthodox (not a Catholic in sight, of course). The names of the speakers were publicised, but not the titles of the talks, and I was kind of intrigued, so I went along this week.

Well, it turned out to be a sort of service with a visiting preacher, and I did feel slightly as though I'd been dragged in on false pretences. We started with a couple of hymns, a reading and a few prayers, and ended with a blessing and another hymn. In between was the talk.

Two things struck me during the "prayer service" bit. The first was during the prayers. I was amazed to see people eating their supper - with knives and forks and all - while praying. How can you give your attention to God when you're tucking into a pizza?

The other thing was that everyone (except the few Catholics there, who looked embarrassed and shuffled our feet because we didn't know the hymns) sang with great gusto - and when it got to the refrain in each verse, all the men and all the women sang different parts, so it was a sort of round. Can you imagine that happening spontaneously in a Catholic church? And how did they know - especially when they were presumably from all the other churches in town and not just from the church where the service was being held?

They're a funny lot - and they think we're a funny lot. But we all believe in the same God, and the same Jesus Christ, and it would be nice if we could get along a bit better, and all show a bit more respect for each other. So that's why I'll probably try to go to the other 'talks' in this series as well.

Update: I've just read Simon-Peter's post on the consecration of an Episcopalian bishop in a Catholic Cathedral. When I say we should get along better and respect each other, I mean we should rejoice in the beliefs that we share and be friendly towards each other - have cups of tea together, pray together and pray for each other.

I also think we should respect the integrity of people of other faiths and other denominations in their sincerely-held beliefs. And I think the respect should be two-way, and they should also show more respect for us.

I don't mean that we should ignore the very real differences between our beliefs, or downplay the importance of those differences.


Simon-Peter said...

Here's the problem: scratch beneath the surface and you often discover they do not believe in the same God, many do not even believe Jesus is true God. Kind of God but a little less than the Father and the Holy Spirit is a complete mystery, not even Person.

Talking to non-Catholics has more than proven to me, that just because we use the same words, sometimes sing the same hymns, is absolutely no guarantee we believe the same things. It is for this reason that many go all misty-eyed when they hear a Protestant talk about Jesus. In many respects, the longer protestants - all individually under the influence of the Holy Spirit, naturally - remain divorced from Rome the more bizarre their beliefs and practices become and the more they approximate the Greeks on Mars Hill who Paul commended,true, but also gently rebuked, for worshipping the unknown God.

The fact is, that becuase we WANT to see the best, because we WANT to excuse intentions, we fall into to trap of rejecting the truth about protestants: that is, for very many, it is not honest ignorance, but simple pride that blinds them: it is not honest misunderstanding, but deliberate indifference, wilfull ignorance. Unless we accept that, ironically, we aren't going to be able to "reach" them because from the get-go we wouldn't even admit of a particular conclusion. This isn't even a matter of private judgment, my judgment. Neither is this: almost no protestant you meet will be in a state of sanctifying grace, it is *possible*, but so improbable that to act as if it is true is actually to put that person in graver danger than they probably are. This is not my opinion, this is in line with the teaching of the Church on such matters as invincible ignorance, free-will, mortal sin, reason, contrition etc.

Now, respecting a person and respecting his lies and wilfull stubborness is a different matter. You never give up on anyone, ever, but, as we are taught, there comes a time when you have to shake the dust off your feet and retire to a safe distance. There comes a point when you have to realize you are just casting your pearls (and a peral of great price) before swine. The only thing ecuminism as practised over the last 40 years has done is to make Catholics (notoriously ignorant in their beliefs) more like protestants. It used to be either absolutely prohibited, or, only to be undertaken by the mature in the faith after due counsel to do what is actually encouraged today.

It might surprise some, but in the Order of Charity every Catholics first duty is toward Jesus, then yourself, then other Catholics (and family) and then to everyone else on the planet to the degree they approximate to God as mere humans in His likeness.

The Holy Father has clearly stated the problem:

"...[there] is a temptation today to set up beside the pastoral approach of faith, or even against it, a pastoral approach based on one's own cleverness, an approach that no longer actually trusts in faith's ability to call man together today. Because this approach no longer believes that faith can actually affect anything it has, so to say, to outwit God and men with it's cleverness and to build something on its own account. How could that stand the test? It may perhaps seem simpler to begin with, but it remains our own work and still has the weaknesses of what is ours...[in the] grayness of self-made life, there awakes a longing for something completely different to happen. Vladimir Maximov, the Russian émigré, said, on the basis of a similar experience, 'For too long we have talked about man; let us finally talk about God again.'" Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God is Near Us, Ignatius 2003, pp93-94. [my emphasis]


"Obedience to the truth must 'purify' our souls and thus guide us to upright speech and upright action. In other words, speaking in the hope of being applauded, governed by what people want to hear out of obedience to the dictatorship of current opinion, is considered to be a sort of prostitution, of words and of the soul." Pope Benedict XVI, 6th of October 2006.

and Cardinal Biffi to the Pope a couple of weeks ago:

[if Christians...he means Catholics here] "limited themselves to speaking of shared values they would be more accepted on television programs and in social groups. But in this way, they will have renounced Jesus, the overwhelming reality of the resurrection." Cardinal Biffi to the Pope & Curia, 28th of February 2007.


"the danger that Christians {Catholics] face in our days … the Son of God cannot be reduced to a series of good projects sanctioned by the prevailing worldly mentality."


"However, "this does not mean a condemnation of values, but their careful discernment. There are absolute values, such as goodness, truth, beauty," Cardinal Biffi said. "Those who perceive and love them, also love Christ, even if they don't know it, because he is Truth, Beauty and Justice." The preacher of the Spiritual Exercises added that "there are relative values, such as solidarity, love of peace and respect for nature. If these become absolute, uprooting or even opposing the proclamation of the event of salvation, then these values become an instigation to idolatry and obstacles on the way of salvation." Cardinal Biffi affirmed that "if Christianity -- on opening itself to the world and dialoguing with all -- dilutes the salvific event, it closes itself to a personal relationship with Jesus and places itself on the side of the Antichrist."

I know I am asking a lot, but if you read the following posts you'll see what I mean:

just post these links in your browser, one of them is called "Ratzinger's Clown", I think you'll like it.

I really enocurage you to read the one called "On Hope". This is an extract from a book by a close acquaintance of the Holy Father. If you read it, you'll be able to spot in a way the protestant problem (and not just theirs, its called presumption!) and in case you don't figure out the problem I have some embedded links toward the end to help. I think I just posted the tinyurl link for "On Hope" above, but I'll do it again here:

Then there is the Chesterton you might like from his Magnum Opus "The Everlasting Man":

newhousenewjob said...

Thanks S-P - you've certainly given me plenty to think about.

Just one thing, though - Cardinal Biffi refers to "limiting ourselves to speaking of shared values". I agree that there are very major differences and that these should be acknowledged. But there is some common ground, and acknowledging that common ground gives us a starting point not for reaching a compromise, because there can't be one, but maybe for reaching a mutual understanding and tolerance of each other as people who are trying to live decent lives, if nothing else.

As Jesus said, it's very easy to love your friends, but we should love our 'enemies' as well. Cardinal Biffi refers to absolute values - if someone is led to goodness and beauty (and at least part of the truth) through the practice of their faith, then however imperfect that faith is, surely it's better than total godlessness and amorality.

I've known Protestants (and even atheists) who live in a more loving, moral and Christ-like way than a lot of people I've known who claimed to be Catholic.

Simon-Peter said...

I can't disagree with you. Just beware the temptation to deny something you must hold to be faithful to Christ when you are around these folks. That is the problem. Thing is, many of them will no you are denying, they won't convert (some witness) and neither will they respect you. I think a lot of protestants are actually laughing at us because we hide and pretend things that THEY know we are supposed to believe! As I posted on the Lehmann TV incident...a professional atheist calling a Cardinal a heretic!

newhousenewjob said...

I think it's just a matter of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You're absolutely right that we should not pretend or hide a difficult or unpopular truth, and too often people who ought to know better and who have a lot of influence in the Church or in society take the easy route of moral relativism (Ruth Kelly, amongst many others, on the issue of Catholic adoption agencies, for instance).

I've had some fairly spirited discussions with non-Catholic friends about our points of difference - but I don't think they would ever have engaged in those discussions and got to hear the Catholic viewpoint if we hadn't first acknowledged what we have in common (even if we can't even agree on the existence of a supreme being and the only thing we have in common in some cases is that we are trying to live according to a set of rules/principles/morals that we believe help us to be better people).