Last week we started a conversation with a my friend, Zac Johnson on the topic of Catholicism, and how Protestants, like me, might be missing the point (and maybe even aspects of the Kingdom of God).
On with the interview…here’s part 2:
Who inspires you, and why?
Man, who inspires me? Jesus Christ on that Cross. Have you ever just looked at a crucifix for a little while and really tried to understand why He did it? What He felt? How He was thinking about you and me as he hung there? Stuff’s overwhelming. I want to love like that. I want to love my wife like that. I want to love [people] like that. So Jesus is my first inspiration.
Next in line is all of the men and women throughout the centuries who have let Christ inspire them and have set the world on fire because of it: the saints.
Here’s just one example: St. Peter Claver. Peter Claver was a Spanish Jesuit priest and missionary who was born in 1581. In 1610, Peter left his home forever to cross the Atlantic for the New World, where he became a missionary to Cartagena in modern day Colombia. During this time, the slave trade had been very active in the Americas for almost 100 years, and Cartagena was a huge center for it. Tens of thousands of slaves were transported across the ocean each year in the most horrendous, disgusting conditions imaginable. A third of the slaves on board died just from the conditions of the ship. As soon as the ship of the slaves who survived the journey would dock at Cartagena’s port, Peter Claver would rush into it’s diseased hull to minister to the sick and exhausted slaves. While the slaves were chained together and put on display for others to stand and look at, Peter dove in among them with medicine and food and assured them that they have dignity that no man can take from them because of God’s unfailing love for them. In those precious few minutes, Peter was able to preach to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and he baptized an estimated 300,000 slaves throughout his life. Can you imagine walking through Heaven’s gates and seeing 300,000 people who are there because you shared Jesus with them?
I want to have the courage that St. Peter Claver had to share Christ with those who are in most need of Him. I want to have a heart like the one St. Peter Claver had for the poor, the sick, and the needy. I want to be as brave as St. Peter Claver, who stood up for truth and love in a world that glorified hatred and selfishness. St. Peter Claver is just one saint among thousands who inspires me to seek Jesus with greater fervor and to be obedient to God’s call in my life to change the world in whatever way He wants me to.
How have Protestants and Evangelicals missed it when it comes to the Catholic tradition?
Firstly, I’ve got to say, the last thing I want to do is hurt anybody’s feelings or put down anyone’s belief. So, to preface my answer to this question, I want to make one thing clear: what I’m talking about here has to do with truth, not preference. Truth is objective (there is one truth that is the same no matter who you are) but preference is subjective (it varies from person to person). I am not a Catholic out of preference, I am a Catholic because I believe Catholicism is true. So, I’m not trying to trump my religion over anybody else’s, I’m simply trying to challenge others to reexamine their beliefs and the beliefs of the Catholic Church through a neutral lens so that we can all see as objectively as possible where the truth lies.
With that being said, the answer to the question “Where have Protestants and Evangelicals missed it when it comes to the Catholic tradition?” I think it is best summarized by this phrase: We can’t separate Christ the head from the Church, His Body. We get this from Colossians 1:18, where Paul says, “Christ is the head of the church, which is his body.” If there’s one thing all Protestant denominations have in common it’s this: they believe that the Bible alone is the only infallible rule of faith and that there is not “one Church” with authority from Christ that can lead and guide Christians infallibly in His name. The Protestant tradition has taken the Scriptures, where they meet and learn to love Christ the head (very good things!), but have left His Body, the Catholic Church, founded by Jesus almost 2,000 years ago. Because of this decision, Protestants have removed themselves out from under the authority of the pope (who Catholics do not believe is God and do not worship – he is the successor to Peter the Apostle who was the first pope/leader of the Church), do not have any divine guidance when it comes to interpreting hard or confusing passages of Scripture, and have left many of the sacraments of the Church, the most heartbreaking of which is the Eucharist (communion) which is the actual Body and Blood of Christ given by God to nourish our souls.
I know that many Protestant Christians suggest that “the Church” is merely the spiritual union of all believers. The problem with this interpretation, however, is that it’s not found anywhere in Scripture. In Matthew 18:17, Jesus says that when Christians sin and have disagreements, they should, “Tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” If the Church is merely the spiritual union of all believers, how can we take a disagreement to it when it’s invisible? What if I’m a good Presbyterian over here on my side of the street and you’re a good Baptist over there on your side of the street, whose church do we take it to? The Church must be visible, united, and infallibly led by God for Jesus to command us to go to it and listen to its decisions. There are many other verses in Scripture that talk about Christ conferring authority on to the apostles (who passed that authority on to their successors, the bishops) and about an authoritative Church deciding on matters of doctrine. ([Acts 15 is a good example, which] is all about the Council of Jerusalem where the Church made her first doctrinal pronouncement.)
I also think that it is unfortunate that many in the Protestant tradition have rejected (or are not aware of) the first 1,500 years of Christian history (before the time of Luther and the “Reformers”). In the centuries following Christ’s resurrection and ascension into heaven, the first Christians, those who knew the apostles personally, wrote down much of what the apostles believed and taught. These early Christian writers are called the “Church Fathers” and they give us a great glimpse into what Jesus and the apostles taught and what the early Church believed. For example, a writer named Ignatius of Antioch who learned at the feet of John the Apostle wrote the following in a letter around 110 AD (the last book of the Bible, Revelation, was written around 90 AD): </em
“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery [where we get the word ‘priest’] as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” — Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 8.
For the first 1,500 years of Christianity, all Christians believed in the Eucharist and went to Mass (the Catholic worship service). All Christians were a part of the Catholic Church and believed it was established by Christ and given His authority with the pope as its head. All christians participated in the Sacraments and lived life in full communion with the Church. It’s only been within the past 500 years that Protestantism arose and developed to the point that there are now over 30,000 different Protestant denominations.
So, to be blunt, I believe that wherever the Protestant tradition differs from the Catholic tradition Protestants are missing out. That’s not to say that there aren’t very good things in the Protestant tradition that Catholics can learn from! Protestants have a very deep and beautiful love for Christ in the Scriptures (something we Catholics can take a page from – pun intended), and they are dang good musicians! The point is: there’s an invitation to more – more of Jesus, more of His love, more of His Church.
What’s your favorite practice of the Catholic tradition, and how does it feed your soul?
My favorite tradition has got to be Eucharistic adoration.
Eucharistic adoration is where the Eucharist, which we believe is truly and literally the Body of Jesus under the appearance of bread (He said “This is my Body” at the Last Supper), is placed into a golden container like the one pictured below for us to praise and worship. You can sit or kneel in front of Jesus, gazing at Him as He gazes back at you, talking to Him and loving Him. This is one of the most beautiful, life-changing traditions I’ve found in the Catholic Faith, and it has worked miracles for my relationship with Jesus.
You just recently had two incredible, once in a lifetime, moments, a visit to Notre Dame and you saw Pope Francis live in DC. What we’re those experiences like? How did they impact you personally?
Oh man, those were both incredible experiences. Notre Dame was amazing for the simple fact that it’s Catholic as heck. You can’t go anywhere without seeing statues of baller saints, and they have one of the most beautiful cathedral churches I’ve ever been inside. We also got a personal tour of the campus from the Bishop of Notre Dame who’s friends with my good friend’s dad.
And seeing Pope Francis live in Washington D.C. was an absolute dream come true. It was honestly the coolest experience of my life, and one that I will NEVER forget. We get to see him speak to Congress about all of the important issues facing the world today: marriage, the poor, life, war, and many others. We stood on the lawn of the Capital Building and watched him on a big jumbo screen. After the speech, he came out and waved to us and gave a blessing to all of the children and families there. We were on a spiritual high, and I don’t think I’ll ever come down.
Where do you see yourself this time next year, this time 10 years from now?
10 years from now, I hope to have graduated from law school and hope to be steeped in the fight for the rights of persecuted peoples. I have a big heart for the rights of Christians and for unborn children – both of whom are constantly targeted and attacked unjustly. I hope to be able to influence government policy that will defend life and promote healthy marriages, as well as do whatever I can for people in need of legal assistance. If I don’t actually end up going to law school (I’m in undergrad right now) then I’ll be working for the Church somewhere, perhaps doing mission work somewhere.
Give us a mic drop or a tweet or something to put in a fortune cookie.
“God has not called me to be successful, He has called me to be faithful.” – Mother Teresa.
Ahh… I am so grateful to Zac for taking the time to share his heart for Christ and his love for the Catholic Church. I have always found our conversations insightful and enriching. I hope you did too.
Zac and I don’t see eye to eye on everything, but I do appreciate his ability to articulate and practice what he believes. Reflecting on our conversation and the authentic perspective, I’ve come away with a few take aways:
1. I have a lot to learn. I have spent a number of years allowing arrogant superiority to taint my view of most denominations, particularly Catholicism. Just because I prefer one over the other doesn’t make it supreme. I wonder sometimes how my narrow view of Catholicism has limited my view of the expansive spectrum of God. The branch of Christianity I’m associated with gives a decent angle of the divine, but it doesn’t give the whole picture. No one church does. Once I’ve claimed to figured God out, that’s the exact moment I lose touch with God’s incomprehensible mystery.
Even though the Reformers of the 16th century acted like they had all the answers, Protestants don’t have it all figured out. We could learn a thing or two from the reverence, the tradition, the art, and the perspective of our Catholic sisters and brothers.
2. Catholics are pros at compassionate action. Protestants are pros at excessive talking. I want to talk less and act more. Sure, Catholics have a lot to talk about, but I am inspired by the merciful lives of the Catholic saints. Whether it’s St. Peter Claver, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, Father Greg Boyle, or the Nuns on the Bus, and the countless others, Catholics have a knack for serving the poor and caring for the marginalized of society. Of course they’re not perfect but they are compassionate. Some will say it’s works based, but as Zac shared, you can’t stare at Christ for too long without being moved to a mindset of humility that is willing and eager to offer the grace and peace of God to the world.
Between Protestants and Catholics, God matters most. Yes, we have our differences, but they’re not worth dividing over. Our union is in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In John 17:21 Jesus prayed, I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. It’s rattling to think that the world may be rejecting God because of our unwillingness to unify. Let us not sacrifice influence for the sake of preference.
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. Colossians 1:18
Branches and denominations aren’t supreme.