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Thursday, April 27, 2017

What Difference Does it Make?

Upon this rock
A book fell into my hands last week that I never expected to read, but which I am excited to tell you about because it has given me yet another reason to be grateful that I found my way to the Catholic Church 49 years ago.  At first, I planned only to read the introduction, but I knew from the first few words, this was going to be a book I would not be able to put down.  The title is  Let There Be No Divisions Among Them, Why All Christians Should be Catholic, by Rev. John MacLaughlin, first published in 1891.  It begins this way,


       "In the following pages, I propose to answer the question, ‘Is one religion as good as another?’
In other words, I propose to discuss indifferentism, the popular theory that teaches that all Christian creeds find equal favor in the eyes of God and that it doesn’t matter which branch of Christianity a man belongs to, provided he be a good man after his own fashion."

Only say the word and my soul shall be healed
         Many of us ask ourselves the same thing today, sometimes aloud in group conversations and sometimes silently to ourselves.  In some cases it is because we have friends or relatives who have never been Catholics, but seem to be happy with the religion they embrace, or in some cases, it is over concern we have for a child we've raised to be Catholic who seems determined to walk away from the Church for some Protestant sect their spouse prefers, or in some cases, some oddball faith we barely even associate with Christianity.  Sometimes it is because we see Protestant friends and neighbors who are more enthusiastic about their religion than many fallen away Catholics we know intimately who attend mass on Easter and at Christmastime only. 

          Since Vatican II it has become unpopular to suggest anyone in particular is going to hell, even though, without question, millions have and will.  The answer du jour is "Only God knows for sure."  Well, with this kind of uncertainty, who can blame people for thinking that one person may be as right as the next when it comes to a pathway to salvation?   We'll just leave it up to God, who is all merciful and that way, each of us, can do as we please in the meantime, and no one will get uncomfortable at the dinner table when the subject comes up....if it ever does.  That attitude might work to ease your mind if you can truly convince yourself that the question is unanswerable. 
Fr. MacLaughlin's argument for the Roman Church, however, removes the doubt and clears up the fuzzy edges in a way only the most obstinate could refuse to understand or fail to relinquish their own will to follow.  

        At a time when the whole world seems to be struggling for some kind of "togetherness"--one world order, when the pope is going to Egypt to meet with Muslim leaders and promote interfaith dialogue, when social justice ministries are working together with any and all faiths to end poverty, and when our own families are a jumble of opinions about religion, there is a strong push on the part of many to say, what difference does it make as long as we all get along.  Discovering a book written more than 125 years ago, which seems to address the same kind of world conundrum over truth and how much it matters, if at all, was a real surprise.  I was overcome with its frankness and lack of shame in expressing what can only be the truth of the matter.   

            As Fr. MacLaughlin discusses the state of affairs in England at the time, you could easily imagine the same being written today if only someone had the confidence to do it.  What we need to understand is that the problem of indifferentism never changes, only our attitude toward it.  And while that attitude may change somewhat to include a new variety of freshly minted Protestant sects, the whole question of whether there is or is not more than one path to heaven never goes away, no matter how many times we try to dismiss it or put it aside for the sake of civility, or ecumenism, or world peace, or whatever is the flavor of the day.
As long as we all get along

            I met a young woman last week who said she is a convert to Catholicism.  She said that previous to her conversion, she and her husband attended McLean Bible Church, one of this area's mega congregations that is clearly bringing in the crowds while other denominations seem to be waning.  She said that for years she had attended first one and then another of the "evangelical" churches, but never felt she was in the right place.  It is sad that she didn't say, I had so many wonderful examples of Catholic faith around me it was a natural transition.  Or, that she fell in love with a serious Catholic and knew she was led to explore the teachings of the Church for the sake of her relationship.  We Catholics might have something to brag about, had that been the case, but whatever brings a soul to the truth, should cause us to realize that for this woman and for thousands of others who convert, one church is NOT as good as another, otherwise they would not have felt a need to continue searching.   

            "Ah," you may say, "but we all have our preferences and what suits one is not to the liking of so many others."  To actually believe this is "ok" is like saying that for some ten commandments is just fine, for others nine or maybe eight is enough.  Or that to some the specifics of a faith are important, but to others the details matter very little.  Go to confession if you feel like it, avoid it if you don't.  Attend mass regularly, or just a couple of times a year, if that's all you are inspired to do.  What does it matter to God, as long as you "are a good man after his own fashion?" 

            Let There Be No Divisions Among You is divided into two parts.  The first establishes the fact that only one Church can be right, since only one thing can claim to be true, leaving all others to be false or lacking the full truth handed to us by Christ.  The second half proves that the Roman Catholic Church is that one and only "right" Church established by God through Christ.  Many of us have tried to win both of these arguments with friends and or family members in the past.  I personally have failed miserably to make the case.  Sometimes it is because I just don't want to hurt someone's feelings or come off sounding pompous and arrogant.  Other times I can recall, I was simply not armed with the facts about the whole journey of the Church since its founding and wasn't able to fend off the false claims about the Church so familiar to its detractors who seem coiled to spit them at you in rapid fire when any opportunity presents itself.   

            No doubt Fr. MacLaughlin was familiar with these attacks, which are the same now as they were in 1891, but he very ably fends off their errors by offering some simple evidence about what God asked of those who followed him from the time of Moses through the Ascension of Christ.  I wondered why, when I read his argument, I had not thought of his ideas before, since they are brilliantly simple and indisputable. 

            When I finished reading Let There Be No Divisions Among You, I wanted to immediately turn to page one and start it again.  It was as if I had just heard a new and beautiful piece of music that I couldn't wait to hear again.  And again.  Not that any of us should be anxious to put down the opinions of others, but for the sake of their souls and our own, frankly, I think this is a must read for those who struggle for the reason WHY it is imperative to be not just a Christian by name, but a Roman Catholic by choice.    

            The term "cafeteria Catholics" is familiar enough to most of us that I don't need to explain it.  Whereas the meaning is merely expanded when it applies to Protestants, are those who prefer to redefine what the Church teaches any less guilty of believing they can pick and choose what to obey and what to disregard?  With so little said in this regard from most pulpits these days, it is no wonder so many have slipped into thinking they can do only what pleases them and think it matters not at all to God.  To believe this is to imagine Christ was here only to suggest how we might live and not to tell us how we must live to have eternal life. 


Roe Antinore said...

Love this commentary. The bible verse in Revelation 3:16 comes to mind while reading this article: "So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." I am so tired of hearing about Cafeteria Catholics who think it is OK to pick and choose which of Jesus' commands to which they will adhere and which they will ignore. There are ten commandments and we must obey all of them if we wish to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Karen said...

I have found that NO argument can be made with today's young people because they have absolutely no need of God. Their lives roll along just fine without practicing ANY religion. So why bother with attending any church at all? It's just not even on their radar screens. This is the attitude that I come up against all the time. My grandchildren are not even baptized. I wish someone or some book could help me with this situation. Not one of my children or any of their friends attend church st all. It's not a matter of which church is true; they just don't care.