Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Work of God/ Opus Dei

     This week I was invited to attend a talk given by Dr. Scott Hahn. If you don't know who he is, that's ok, I didn't either (if you want to know you can look here). I went, and I have to say it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Now, let me be clear, I've grown up Protestant, and more specifically low Protestant. My childhood haunts included the halls of many a Baptist and Evangelical church. Recently I've made the jump from my Baptisty past to the REC (Reformed Episcopal Church), which, for all intents and purposes, doctrinally was not that big of a leap (although in terms of format I'm still reeling). This speech, however, was given by a Roman Catholic for a Roman Catholic audience.

     For the first time in my life I know what it feels like to be a homeschooler in a room full of public schoolers. Or, on the flip-side, one of my Catholic friends at my Baptist university. Now, let me be clear, I enjoyed the speech, and I have no problem with our Catholic brothers and sisters, it was just strange to be one of four Protestants in a room filled with Catholics. I knew things would be different when the opening prayer included a mass recitation of the Lord's prayer ('Oh good,' I thought to myself, 'I know this one'), but was completely lost at the end when there was a recitation of a Hail Mary ('Oh' I don't know this/ don't feel inclined to say it') . It was also a bit uncomfortable at times during the speech. A good speaker makes jokes, and Dr. Hahn did, they were just jokes targeted at a demographic that I'm not part of. Usually if I hear a joke about Protestants and Catholics, the Protestants come out on top. Not so in this auditorium! Some of the theology was different as well and often I noticed that even when we believed in the same answers the path we took to arrive at those answers was very different. And often, with beliefs shared by both parties, the emphasis on what was important was different for each party (for example, on the subject of homosexuality, the Protestants emphasize the unnaturalness of the action, and a greater focus is on how the sin is wrong. Catholics, on the other hand, focus more on the person. God loves the person as they are, but he doesn't want them to stay as they are, he wants them to become better. The sin is still wrong, the main focus of the response is just shifted).

     The most interesting (and strange) thing, however, were not the differences I felt between my Protestant beliefs and their Catholic ones, but similarities of goals and purposes. The point of the meeting was to talk about the 'New Evangelization' - the Catholic focus on re-evangelizing lapsed Catholic people and nations. The focus was, not just to share the gospel, but to make sure that those who believed were mentored and discipled in a way that strengthened their faith, and allowed them to continue their Christian growth. This is very similar to a recent Protestant emphasis on discipleship. It's no good to just covert people if you don't help them grow. It was also interesting to hear a Catholic speaker talk about the importance of living a wholistic Christian life, expounding on the idea that you don't have to be a missionary or a minister to evangelize - that you are meant to be a witness both by your life and your words. A theme important to Protestants as well. Dr. Hahn is also apparently a Catholic apologist, defending the faith from a Catholic point of view, a movement heavily parallel to the booming Protestant Apologetics sphere.

     The vocabulary was different, the format was different, the emphasis and the jokes were different, but the core of beliefs and the mission was the same as what I'd been hearing my whole life. Being constantly surrounded by Protestants I hear a lot of misconceptions concerning the Catholic church and practice, and at this speech I heard misconceptions about Protestant beliefs and practice (For the record, Protestants do believe in sacraments (ordinances), we just have two instead of seven, and we're all aware that the 'New Testament' refers to the new covenant instituted by Chris,t and is not really mean to refer to a collection of 27 books. We know that the title is really 'The books OF the New Testament'). I won't say that I don't hold any misconceptions myself, but what I was most struck by was the fact that Catholics and Protestants really are fellow members of the catholic (as in universal, not the institution) body of Christ. We believe in the same God, we have faith in the same Son, and we are all led in the same mission by the same Holy Spirit. Dr. Hahn gave out a book that dealt with what he called the opus dei, the work of God, and this is what all Christians are called to do. Whether Catholic or Protestant we are all called to do the work of God here on earth, to reach out to our fellow humans and share the gospel with them. It made me think that the Church would be better served if there was less of a focus on the differences between the two Christian powerhouses and more cooperation. We are all Christians, and I see no reason why we can't do the work of God together.  

On a purely unrelated note, I finally posted something! Yay! I have more things, I don't know when I'll get to them, but I'll post them whenever I feel like I have enough time to finish them :)

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