Saturday, April 16, 2011

Part 4 Review of "Holy Ground"

In Chapter 4, Mr. Castaldo describes ex-Catholics as feeling that an "array of rules" was imposed on them when asked about how they previously related to God. This again makes my point that he was interviewing nominal Catholics who did not access the grace available to them. These folks obviously did not have a personal relationship with Christ and thus it seemed like an authoritarian structure was imposed on them. This phenomenon can be found in all major religions and described by those who are not devout adherents of that particular religion. I am not sure what this proves regarding how Catholics relate to God. Should the reader make the assumption that this is how most, some, not all, or few Catholics relate to God? He makes it sound like these folks ran screaming from the Church looking for a breath of fresh air asking Jesus to free them from the bondage the Church had laid on them. No. It is more probable that these ex-Catholics, though baptized, did not have a living faith and were in need of conversion(as we all are). When they did have a conversion experience, thanks be to God, they unfortunately looked back at their nominal Catholic faith which was miserable to them and made the conclusion that Catholicism is a bunch of rules, not a relationship.
The author then goes on to describe a bad experience a person had in the confessional with a crabby priest and how that person vowed never to go back again. He says he heard this same story over and over again and it starts to form a "composite picture."
Would Mr. Castaldo have formed a different "composite picture" if he interviewed Catholics who go to confession on a regular basis? From personal experience and the Catholics I know, there is a great desire to make use of this sacrament and we all eventually find a confessor that we are comfortable with and who understands us. This is not "rules oriented experience" but the practical working out of Christ's power given to his disciples to forgive sins. When we go to confession, we believe we are "whispering in the ear of God," not man, and thus confession becomes a very intimate and personal encounter with our savior and healer.

As an aside, I would like to point out that Catholics are not the only ones accused of having "an array of rules." As a former devout evangelical protestant teenager, I used to go to a week-long seminar called Bill Gothard's Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts in the mid 1970's. This was an extremely cult-like teaching series by a fundamentalist who created more rules (Gothard called them 'principles') than one would ever encounter in Catholicism. The end result of attending several BYC's was the creation of a small band of legalistic "automaton" Christians who were guilt-ridden, judgmental and lacking the joy and freedom promised in the gospel. The leader of our fellowship used the "principles" of Basic Youth Conflicts to control and manipulate the young people under his charge. Would it be fair to use this example and draw the conclusion that evangelical Protestantism is full of legalism, control, rules and not relationship? Of course not.

Part 3 of My Review of "Holy Ground"

In the 4th Chapter, Mr. Castaldo tells of his experience while working for a fundraising company that was utilized by a Catholic diocese in Florida. He was at a black-tie affair on a Friday during Lent when it was realized too late that the menu was steak. The presiding bishop gave a dispensation to the faithful so that that could eat meat without violating the Friday abstinence . Mr. Castaldo then says that he thinks the old guy next to him thought "if he had choked on his steak and died apart from the bishop's blessing, he would have been roasted."
Mr. Castaldo concludes with this: "From a Evangelical point of view, clerical authority of this kind stretches incredulity to the breaking point. Because salvation is understood to be by grace alone, our jaws drop and we look with wonder at our Catholic friends."
Why does he wonder at Catholic friends? We too believe in salvation by grace alone. After all, it is in the scripture, "For by grace are you saved through faith, it is the gift of God not of works.."
There has never been a dispute that we are saved by grace. The Council of Trent reinforced this over and over. The dispute lies in the fact that Catholics do not believe we are saved by faith alone. (We believe in the obedience of faith, meaning not just a mental assent, but an active faith. Please read this on Catholic justification.)
To his credit he ends the section with a correct conclusion that church authority "is the fulcrum" which separates Catholics from Evangelicals. Yes, we believe Christ started the Catholic Church and gave the apostles and successors the authority to bind and loose and forgive sins and yes, even give a dispensation to allow meat on Friday during Lent, when an un-planned-for snafu occurs. The reality is that, if they did eat the meat, it would not have been a mortal sin since there was not full knowledge. The participants didn't go to this meal thinking they were purposely going to eat steak and contradict Church teaching. I suspect they went knowing they would have dinner with their beloved bishop and promise to donate significant amounts of money to the bishop's appeal. (most of which is used to feed and house the poor, and support seminarians, unwed mothers). When the participants saw the steak dinner, perhaps they were very dismayed because they realized they didn't want to disobey the Church and ultimately Christ. Why can't we think the best of them, instead of assuming the worst?

Earlier Mr. Castaldo said "many Catholics eat meat on Friday during Lent, but they don't usually do it when dining with the bishop and clergy." Hoping this is not a cheap shot by our author I will assume it is an innocent mis-characterization of Catholic practice based on his personal observations of nominal Catholics. The circle of friends my wife and I associate with in the Catholic Church don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent and usually other Fridays as well. We take our faith very seriously and wish to please Jesus by giving up a simple pleasure on one day a week as we remember the passion and death of the One who gave up everything for us. The Church encourages us to view each Friday, Saturday and Sunday as "mini" commemorations of his passion, death and resurrection every week. I remember as an evangelical I focused on the Passion story only once a year. Because the Church asks this of me and sets in place a "rule" regarding abstinence does not prove that we have a "works vs. grace" mentality. The goal of the Church is to remind the faithful of Christ's sacrifice for them once a week (by abstaining from meat). I think that's a good thing and this anecdote of a bishop's dispensation over a Lenten Friday meal doesn't support Mr. Castaldo conclusion that Catholicism doesn't hold to salvation by grace.

Part 2 of My Review of Holy Ground

At 19 years of age, Mr. Castaldo was afflicted by a serious illness (meningitis?) which required a hospitalization. During his time of convalescence he began to question life's meaning. "Why was I alive? Is there a God and if so does he to be care to be involved in my life?" This led to a spiritual quest which explored transcendental meditation, the writings of M. Scott Peck and Deepak Chopra and Buddhism. This spiritual search makes me seriously question his claim to be a devout Catholic. How does one go to Mass only twice a year since confirmation, then pursue new age philosophies questioning the existence of God, all at the same time considering oneself a devout Catholic?
My readers may think I am being too critical at this point but it is very important to challenge Mr. Castaldo here. It changes the entire way in which one approaches the reading of this book.
As I stated above, the testimony of a devout Catholic who fully understands and embraces his faith and walks away from it to become a devout evangelical Protestant carries a lot more weight than the nominal young Catholic, poorly catechized(taught) and not sure if God was even real or interested in his life. This is basically my story and, I strongly suspect, the story of many of those he interviewed.
I think the reader would be better served if Mr. Castaldo said his book is about a nominal non-practicing Catholic, unsure of who God is, who has a conversion experience and accepts Christ as his Savior, after he left the Catholic Church, not an uncommon occurrence. But a de-conversion story about a fellow such as Mike Aquilina, Patrick Madrid or Karl Keating (all devout cradle Catholics) who became evangelical Protestant.... now that's a story that would cause more than a ripple on both sides of the Tiber River.

Part 1 Review of Chris Castaldo's "Holy Ground-Walking With Jesus As a Former Catholic"

I originally heard of Mr. Castaldo when he moderated a debate between Dr. Timothy George and Dr. Francis Beckwith after Dr. Beckwith returned to the Church.
He is currently pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois and a self-described former "devout Catholic who worked with bishops and priests before eventually becoming an Evangelical pastor." I thought it would be interesting to read this book by a former Catholic, who appeared to be more conciliatory towards Catholics.

The purpose of his book is to charitably portray the differences between Catholics and Protestants and then explain how Evangelicals can relate to their families who are still Catholic.
He gathered information for this book from his own experiences as well as interviewing many former Catholics who left the Church in focus groups and internet surveys.
By reading the comments by reviewers, the majority of whom are protestant professors and pastors, initially I thought this was going to be a fair-minded treatment of Catholicism. Unfortunately, I found that this was not the case as soon as I began reading.

In Mr. Castaldo's early Catholic days, he went to Mass only on Christmas and Easter after his confirmation. What that means is he attended Mass for a total of about 150 minutes once a year since he was a young teenager until he officially left the Church as a young adult. From this information, I struggle to understand how he calls himself a devout Catholic.

A devout Catholic finds their faith nourished and strengthened through regular and frequent reception of the sacraments of the Eucharist where we encounter Jesus personally and through the sacrament of Reconciliation where we receive his forgiveness and grace to avoid future occasions of sin. A devout Catholic says things like: "the Eucharist is the source and summit of my faith" and manifests a rich devotional life expressed by regular daily prayer, frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist, oftentimes daily. A devout Catholic understands and believes that Jesus is present on the altar and in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church and will often find time to make visits with Jesus, even during their hectic work week. A devout Catholic believes that the marital relationship mirrors God's love which is all-giving and as a result refuses to use artificial contraception to prevent the possibility of a new life resulting from the marital embrace. A devout Catholic gives of their time and resources to aid the poor and less fortunate. A devout Catholic believes that the Catholic Church was instituted by Christ and despite bad homilies, crabby priests, less than inspiring music will not leave the Church to look for a new, more invigorating worship experience. The devout Catholic understands that the Mass is the prayer of the Church and there exists no worship greater in spirit and truth than can be found in the sacrifice of the Mass.
A devout Catholic doesn't attend mass only twice a year, for that would be mortal sin and they would know that.

I will give Mr. Castaldo the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn't understand what a devout Catholic really is. The reason this distinction is so important is because of the authority and credence it gives to his comments regarding Catholicism. The non-Catholic reader may assume the things Mr. Castaldo is stating about the Church are true because, after all, he was a "devout Catholic." However, shortly into the book, it becomes evident that his representations of Catholicism are based on his years of evangelicalism and looking back in time at his own Catholic life through "evangelical-colored" glasses.

One of the major issues I have with his research methodology is that it consisted of interviews with ex-Catholics who left the Church. In reality, a Catholic who leaves the Church for protestant denomination has not embraced the fullness of the Catholic faith. Chris Castaldo states that authority is a major reason why people leave. These are Catholics who do not wish to submit to the authority of the Church which we believe is ultimately submitting to Christ. If a Catholic leaves the Church because he doesn't accept that the Church should dictate to him norms of morality and behavior, than they are a Catholic who has not fully understood their faith.

With the authority issue in mind, Mr Castaldo gives 5 reasons why Catholics eventually departed from their faith. Each one of these is based in the issue of authority.

1) Every believer is called to full-time ministry.

What does this mean? Does this mean Catholics left the Church because they wanted to work full-time in a Christian ministry and the Church didn't allow it? Most of the evangelicals I know are involved in ministries but still have the "day job" because the ministry is just that- a ministry and not a source of income.
Comment: The Catholic Church encourages every believer to be a partaker in Christ's mission. It is the Catholic Church that teaches us that we can be like Christ to the world, his hands his feet etc. The Church calls every member to be involved in evangelization. There are ample opportunities provided through men's groups, bible studies, retreats, prayer groups in most parishes to get involved. One can become a 3rd order Carmelite, Franciscan or Dominican and share the charism of those orders even within the vocation of marriage.
If these ex-Catholics Mr. Castaldo interviewed didn't find opportunity for ministry in their parish, did they look down the street to the next parish and check in with the office of evangelization at their diocese? The Church is very large, as a matter of fact, it's universal. Did they get on the net and look for the nearest Catholic parish that was more active with outreach ministries? If a Catholic doesn't find an established ministry to become a part of, they have the freedom to establish an apostolate, which is the Catholic way of describing a personal ministry. My wife and I have an apostolate called Crossed The Tiber, whose focus is to show others the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith. It is online in blogging and facebooking as well as through music performances, talks, etc. The diocese gives me free reign to minister this way and I am not prevented from being involved by anyone.

2) Relationship with Christ takes precedence over rules-keeping.

Comment: This is the favorite straw-man argument against the Church. I have been Catholic now for over 6 years and have not been overcome by "the rules." As a matter of fact, I have been so touched by grace through the sacraments, I don't think about rules too much. Before confession, I do use an examination of conscience to help the Holy Spirit reveal any areas of sin that I need to confess, but I do it with the sense of wanting to get closer to Christ, not being hit over the head with rules. When I read of the lives of Catholics such as St. Therese of Lisieux and Mother Theresa(not a saint yet), I don't read much about rules at all, but a burning desire to love and follow God and obey Him regardless of the cost or emotional payback, or lack thereof. Thomas a Kempis, though not a saint, wrote about his love for Christ in such a way that even protestants have made his writings a must read.(I think they skip the chapter when he details his love for Jesus in his devotion to the Eucharist)
Nominal Catholics complain about the rules because they don't avail themselves of the graces that are poured out through the Church to give them the power to live holy lives. Yes there are definite, non-negotiable rules in the Church. Rules like: You must go to church on Sunday(one of the big Ten), You must not get divorced, you are not allowed to have sex with people of the same sex, you must not abort children etc. These are often the rules people have issues with who leave the Church. They don't leave the Church because the Church asks them out of devotion to Christ and his death on the cross, to abstain from meat on Fridays or participate in a sacrificial activity that day.

3) We enjoy direct access to God in Christ

Comment: So do Catholics! There is no closer access to God than through reception of the Eucharist! Not only do we believe that we can have a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior through prayer, fellowship, worship etc, WE PHYSICALLY CONSUME GOD when we receive Him in the Eucharist! You can't get closer access than that. We receive his soul, body, blood and divinity with each reception of Holy Communion !
A devout Catholic who receives Christ in the Eucharist and spends time adoring Him in adoration can also pray the rosary daily and have a deep devotion to the Mother of Jesus. They go hand in hand. This does not mean he is missing out on a direct line to God. Praying to the saints doesn't block access to God in Christ. It actually enhances it because the saints only draw us closer to Christ, not divert us from him. Mary still says to all of us: "Do whatever He tells you." Again, don't take my word for it but read the lives of the saints.
We believe in the Communion of saints, a creedal statement from 325 AD. The Church has always taught and believed that we can have those in heaven pray for us just as we have those on earth do the same. Am I not accessing God by asking you to pray for me instead of going straight to God?

4) There is only one proper object of devotion-Jesus the Savior

Comment: Catholics believe that only God alone(including Jesus and the Holy Spirit) should be worshiped for only He is divine. Mary and the saints are not divine, but simply humans who have lived heroic lives of faith. We do not worship them but honor them as role models. A Catholic who worships Mary or a saint is in mortal sin and danger of hellfire. I have been asking Catholics for 6 years if any of them worship Mary. Not one has said yes. It is a false characterization to say that Catholics worship anyone but God alone. I can guarantee that in all of Mr. Castaldo's experiences with priests and bishops, none ever said that Mary or other saint worship was acceptable Catholic devotional practice.

5) God's children should be motivated by grace and not guilt.

Comment: This is what I have been saying all along. True Catholic faith is walking in the spirit and experiencing His grace as poured out freely in the sacramental life of the Catholic believer. There is a godly sorrow for sin that we as Catholics recognize when we have purposely sinned against him, but guilt isn't a part of that. We should feel bad for offending God and if you call that guilt, I'll take it!
In 6 years of being Catholic, I have been blessed beyond measure and don't see the guilt part playing into my faith at all. I have received more grace to overcome sin than I have experienced as an evangelical for over 30 years and this has not been motivated by guilt. (See this post here)
I think every organized religion that sets a high moral standard of behavior will be accused of inducing guilt because non-devout adherents will struggle when they wish to deviate from the faith. To follow any religion out of guilt or habit and not for love of God will always lead to death. This can be said for any protestant denomination as well. As a matter of fact, some protestants struggled so much with guilt that a popular Christian apocalyptic writer, Hal Lindsey wrote a  book, The Guilt Trip! It was written for evangelicals not Catholics! I remember how, as a young evangelical Christian, we were lectured about the sins of impurity (masturbation in particular) and forced to stand up an come forward for prayer to be cleansed and freed. Then we were told if we didn't come forward, God knew who in the room was holding back. So Catholics don't own "the guilt trip" and I find this accusation made by ex-Catholics unfair.