Saturday, April 16, 2011

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.

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