Sometimes it isn’t enough: the heavenly liturgy, the beautiful stained-glass windows, the prayers, the gospel readings, the homilies, the candles and incense, the Eucharist... Sometimes no matter how lavish God is in the Catholic mass, it isn’t enough. Spiritual eyes and ears are dulled and the believer cannot see and hear. And so some Catholics leave and become Protestant. As a Catholic convert, my heart grieves at the stories I hear about how cradle Catholics “found Jesus” in Protestantism. It’s not that I don’t want them to have a vibrant relationship with Christ. It is that they often claim to have never heard the gospel at mass and they had to leave in order to be “born-again.”
I wonder, did they not see the crucifix? Our precious Lord at the moment of His giving His life as an atonement for our sins? Did they not read the prayers or say the Nicene Creed? Did they not hear the words of the priest as he spoke, “This is my body, given for you?”
They heard it. It is impossible to go to mass and not hear it, for the gospel is everywhere said and seen. But their eyes were dulled by the familiarity. Like the never ending rhythm of sunrises and sunsets, repetition lulls us into an apathy that can lead to meaninglessness. That is why Christ warned us to remain awake, even more so as the time nears the end of the age.
This is true in all Christianity, not just Catholicism. It is commonplace for those raised within the Christian covenant to have an extraordinary spiritual experience when in another church. However, former Catholics who joined the Evangelical denomination where they were “born-again,” converted based upon a wrong premise.
Let me begin to defend this statement by defining the doctrinal difference between Catholics and Protestants when it comes to the phrase “born-again.”
What is Being Born-Again?
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, most Evangelicals have taught a person is born-again when, as an adult, he or she has a Holy Spirit-inspired moment and invites Christ to come into his life. The Evangelical looks to that private, internal spiritual experience to prove he has been saved.
For two thousand years, the historical and Biblical teaching has been that a person is joined with Christ in His Passion, death and resurrection at baptism. At baptism a believer is adopted into the New Covenant family of God. (See Matt. 28:19, Mark 16: 16, Act 2: 38; 22: 16, Rom. 6: 3-4, Col. 2: 12, Gal. 3: 27, 1 Peter 3: 21.)
Baptism is not an internal, personal nor subjective experience. It is an objective experience being both public and communal.
And this understanding of being born-again is where Catholics converts misunderstand their spiritual experience in a Protestant church.
The Protestant Church Experience
Protestants realize they are competing with the best entertainment the technological world has to offer. So, in their sincere desire to spread the gospel, they attract audiences by designing the church atmosphere to satisfy the preferences of attendees. Most Evangelical churches have an easy, casual, comfortable environment. Contemporary denominations want people to leave church with an excitement for Christ, so they carefully orchestrate the service to arouse an emotional experience incorporating stimulating contemporary music and passion-packed sermons usually ending with a poignant altar call.
Contrary to this, mass is not about the preferences of the Catholic. For it is based on the Apostles’ instructions for worship. Its whole focus is on how God desires us to respond in thanksgiving to His freely given salvation. Neither the music, nor homily, nor how anyone sits or stands or speaks is supposed to have anything to do with human preference. Because it is so ancient, the Catholic mass is not casual, and is full of symbolism and rituals that will make no sense unless it has been explained. In a world addicted to entertainment and comfort, Catholics mass can take disciplined concentration.
Awakening in a Protestant Service
Today, Christians often visit other denomination’s Sunday services. Worshipping with believers in a different church can be compared to a vacation. Food tastes better, sunsets are more beautiful on vacation. Because it is different, we pay attention. The new experience can awaken our hearts and minds long desensitized by the familiar. A Catholic who visits an Evangelical service can be overjoyed by the overt emotion. Just as a Fundamentalist escaping the overstimulation of his church can be awed by the rites and reverence of a Catholic mass. The Holy Spirit can use these moments to jump-start our faith, no matter what church or denomination we attend.
Masses normally don’t include personal testimonies. So those baptized as babies can feel deprived when they visit Fundamentalist churches and hear dramatic conversion stories. They want an emotional spiritual experience to confirm the Holy Spirit and God’s grace in their lives. So they may fall to their knees and invite Jesus into their heart.
If a Catholic has a wonderful, illuminating spiritual moment, he may believe the Evangelical who tells him he was just born-again. Yet, Biblically we Catholics should know that these are joyous realizations of what Christ did for us at the Cross, not the moment Jesus came into our hearts, nor were we suddenly born-again. For Christ came into our hearts and we were born-again at baptism.
Are These Experiences Exclusive to Protestantism?
Former Catholics often believe that since they had such a pivotal, emotional spiritual experience outside of mass, that the Catholic mass is spiritually inadequate. They may equate their life-changing experience as God’s stamp of approval of the new denomination and that God desires them to convert to the church where their understanding of the love of Christ and the gospel deepened.
Yet, the Holy Spirit has always been active and never exclusive to any group. We have examples of these spiritual awakenings in scripture. A band of musician-prophets playing the harp, tambourine, flute and lyre led King Saul into a frenzy as the Lord possessed him and “turned [Saul] into a different person,” (I Sam.10: 5-7, 9-13). Another Saul is also recorded to have had a dramatic religious experience on the way to Damascus.
[S]uddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do. See Acts 9: 1-8.
Notice that in both of these situations, these men were already chosen by God and part of the old covenant circumcision. The experiences were revelations of a God they already knew. They were not born-again, but were brought illumination. We can also see in the Prodigal son that his “aha!” moment of realizing he needed to return home was as a son, and not to become one. The mystics of the church such as Catherine of Sienna were already born-again when they experienced ecstasies.
If you are baptized you are born-again and the Lord is seeking a deeper and more profound intimacy with you and will bring you to that moment in any way He can. But it is not always where the experience happens that has the most meaning, but when. For God often comes to us when we are the lowest. I have heard many people relate that God reached out to them and they “got saved” when they were high on cocaine or meth. God uses the worst and best moments, any moment we are open to listening to Him to reach out to us. We must be careful not to assume too much about what the experience was or where it was.
When we do have these incredible, life-changing illuminations of God’s love and truth, it is a mistake to consider the experience itself as a sign from God to leave the Catholic Church. A believer entered the eternal covenant, was indelibly sealed and born-again at baptism. The rest is icing on the covenantal cake.
I encourage former Catholics to ponder that the gospel was always in the mass. Perhaps you just did not have eyes to see it. God allowed you to experience a deeper understanding of truth where you were paying attention. And we are incredibly thankful for that. But it is not necessary to give up the Catholic Church because you gave your heart to Christ and had a transforming experience in a Protestant environment.
Come back and experience afresh the fullness of the gospel in the bells and incense, the stained-glass windows, the ancient rites....and Christ in the Eucharist. For He has always had you in the palm of His Hand, since your were just a wee babe. That is the born-again gospel and that is unmerited grace.
I am so blessed to have been a convert during the time of Dr. Hahn. I thought as a Protestant that I knew the Bible, but this man, as well as many other great Catholics, is why I am wonderfully humbled. I know nothing.
But the joy of being Catholic is that I can sit at the feet of the fruit of 2000 years of Catholic wisdom and learn. Dr. Scott Hahn is that fruit.
Watch. It is deep. But deep calleth to deep and if you stick with it till the end… you will be mightily blessed! Thank you Dr. Hahn.
In part one of this series of posts, the Bible told us how wonderful, courageous and strong love is and part two was about how vicious sin is. Therefore, how do we as Christians reconcile living with a heart full of love and a body still struggling with sin? Can we sinners be okay with sinning and still be okay with God?
Let’s not care what I think. Because frankly if it were me no one would ever go to hell. I would open up the pearly gates and invite everyone in for High Tea then a masquerade ball with a full orchestra playing waltzes....forever. However, last I heard, Heaven isn’t about what I want. In fact, I don’t even get a vote (and those of you who hate musicals will be glad of that). And also I am wee little brain that knows nothing, so I will trust God about who gets in and who doesn’t as well as what we do there.
Therefore, let us go to the Word of God in order to find out what God wants us to do about sin and love and if they are compatible in the Christian.
St. John, who is my favorite gospel writer, who is also the most compassionate and by far speaks the most on love, actually is quite strong on this subject.
....the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil...By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. 1 John 3:8, 10.
That’s pretty strong. To soften what he said, I tend to look at the technical verbiage of “practice.” Practice: like you would the piano to get good at it. Therefore, of course no true Christian is going to practice sin. At the same time St. John says we are to practice righteousness. Again, to be consistent with my view I would have to think that practicing righteousness is like practicing the piano, to get good at it.
As St. John aged, he didn’t soften. Let’s look at what he wrote in the book of Revelation. He is quoting Jesus here: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” Rev. 3: 19
I can tell you that text has scared me ever since I was a kid. If God loves us, we should be prepared for reproof and discipline. And that is love. Christ wants us to repent of our sins. And hang tough even in the face of martyrdom:
And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. Revelation 12: 11
Help! The Beloved St. John isn’t helping us out who don’t want to think about our sins. St. Peter! Can you give us some words of comfort? I am a nice, sincere person! I don’t do bad stuff hardly ever. Must it be so tough on me? I really try!
St. Peter answers that we are to keep fervent in our love, “since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” I Peter 4: 1.
Suffer to cease from sinning? This is nothing like what you hear from the televangelists of our day. This doesn’t sound too positive. St. Peter wouldn’t be too popular among Christians today. He’d be called Negative Nellie or judgmental, huh?
(Deep breath.) I need some words of encouragement from the writers of scripture, for I know we have all fallen short and we have all sinned. Isn’t that okay? Isn’t it about faith and nothing else?
St. Jude... I will look to him to see what he has to say about sin and love:
To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you. Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.
Thats a good start: mercy and love....he called us saints! That’s positive and motivational.
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed... ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness...just as Sodom and Gomorrah...indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties....Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage....In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts. These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.
Okay, the love has turned into warnings of sin, like everything we have already read. But don’t stop reading for it turns back into love and mercy:
Beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy.... Jude 1excerpts.
Rescue others from sin, even those who are doubting. And then St. Jude tells us that God is able to keep us from stumbling. That is certainly good news. But it is not good news for those who wish to tell us that God is okay with everyone just as they are, that He loves them and has no plans to rescue them from sin. Jude sounds like Peter who sounds like Jesus. ....Next?
What about the apostle of faith-without-works, St. Paul? Surely, if no other apostle nor even Jesus himself will excuse our sin or at least tell us not to worry about it, surely St. Paul will. He is the great expositor of faith and the great condemner of works-righteousness! He will stay with us and hold our hands and tell us that love conquers all and love is all that matters and sin isn’t such a big deal, right?
Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 2 Tim. 2: 22
[I, Paul] implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace....
we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
...and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification...Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Eph. 4
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death....the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God...the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness… for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Rom. 8: 2, 7 +
Even St. Paul tells us that Christians are to abound in truth, love and good works. (2 Cor. 8:7) In love, we are to holy and blameless, (Eph. 1: 4) encouraging each other in both love and good deeds (Heb. 10: 24).
It seems to be unanimous. God and His followers are to have love for one another, real authentic love as well as turning from sin and beginning the real, authentic process of sanctification. Both happen because of an act of our will, it doesn’t just happen naturally.
I will be very honest here.... I feel like I’m being called to be the morality police and that is something I really do not have the energy nor time nor desire to do. I really wish I could just find every other text that would allow me to take a pass on this and post it. But what about these texts? Can other texts nullify these? No, of course not.
Love is not compatible with sin. They are values at war with one another. Eventually one will win our hearts and actions.
So how do we balance this idea that we must have courageous love and we must also be righteous as well as stand for the truth without being judgmental? All of this is quite the tightrope walk.
This is my strategy. My first focus is personal holiness. I can only do that on my knees. I gotta get out that log in my own eye before I can clearly see to help someone else get the sliver out of their eye. Jesus isn’t saying this to let us know we are being hypocrites and judgmental if we do attempt to get the sliver out of someone else’s eye. He is just saying, clean up your own house first before you attempt to clean up another’s.
So, I need a daily shower of God’s grace to give me the love and wisdom and courage and strength to turn from sin and become righteous. Part of becoming righteous is learning how to lovingly, wisely and courageously help others to turn from their sins. (As St. Jude told us to do.)
Practice rescuing others from the snares of the devil.
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. 2 Tim. 3: 1-6
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God ? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:9
...and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 1 Timothy 1: 10
Realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted. 1 Tim. 1: 9-11
But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
Rev. 21: 8
Outside [heaven] are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. Rev. 22: 14-15
What is Sin?
I ask my Christian brothers and sisters, “What is sin? And do you think sin is really sinful?”
Yeah, yeah.... sin is lawlessness.” I can hear people sigh with annoyed impatience, “It’s breaking the Ten Commandments... yadda, yadda, yadda....”
Sin is not a popular subject. We’d rather talk about fun and tolerance and loving everyone and not judging them. After all, Christians are saved by their faith, so why go there? Why talk about sin? “Very disturbing and annoying and pessimistic. Let’s talk about the joy of the Lord and whatsoever things are good and lovely...”
You think I want to write or think about sin? No way.... The devil daily shoves in my face the collapse of the lives of people I love. I am sick to death, sick and tired, so sick and tired I don’t know what to do watching people I love fall prey to and suffer enormous agony because of sin. I despise sin because it hurts good people. And what is hardest part is most of my family and friends are falling prey to someone else’s sinful choices....not their own. That is the diabolical madness of sin. The destruction of one “little” sin can ripple out like a shockwave flatting the hopes and dreams of the most innocent people.
And somehow I turn into Negative Nellie when I notice this. People think I am criticizing them when I talk about sin. Are you kidding? I hate sin. I am furious with sin for it is our enemy. People are not our enemy. You don’t hate a child for running in front of a truck and getting killed. You don’t hate a teenage prostitute. People need to be rescued from sin, not hated for it.
“Sin? Lah Lah Lah...(Fingers in Ears) What Did You Say? I Can’t Hear You?”
Yet Christians, honestly, would rather ignore the subject and endure the pain of sin than confronting and dealing with it. Let’s face it, some sin can seem fun for a while and we may not feel guilty about doing it. Some people deceive themselves into thinking they are not doing anything wrong. And then, when the consequences finally catch up to them, they anesthetize the pain by more sin, by entertainment, by picking themselves up by the bootstraps and carrying on. Often the public doesn’t see the full results of someone’s wrong choices. We choose to ignore he possibility that sin will actually hurt us. We shrug it off... “Naw, I’m a good guy. God won’t allow me to go into too much trouble.”
We play Russian Roulette with sin. Just like that guy on the motorcycle without a helmet. He doesn’t want to think about the young quadriplegics that are spending their life imprisoned in the mental hell of a motionless body because they had a motorcycle accident.They would rather think optimistically of the fun and not the downer of what might happen.
The only difference between the motorcyclist and the sinner is that motorcyclist has a chance of not having an accident. The sinner has no chance of getting out of the earthly consequences of sin. Even if he repents and is forgiven. Sin always exacts a price. Always. You think I am wrong? I want to see you try and not die.
Though Christ died for our eternal soul, death is the earthly physical consequences of everyone’s sins (Rom. 6: 23). But satan isn’t satisfied with getting to see everyone die. Sin is so destructive it persecutes us and torments us up until death. Sin wants total pain and total destruction of your life.
Think I am exaggerating? Listen to the word of God through St. Paul. He writes that Satan (he who tempts us to sin) is a deceitful, vicious lion seeking to devour anyone and everyone. And he is out to ensnare you and take away your freedom and control your will, your soul and your body. (2 Tim. 2: 26, Acts 13:10).
St. John tells us that Our Blessed Lord calls the tempter, the serpent of old, a murderer from the beginning and the Father of lies who is out to deceive the whole world (Rev. 12: 9, John 8:44) St. Luke records that satan is the great oppressor who had dominion over the earth and that Christ wants to heal us from his wounds! (Acts. 10:38, 26:18) St. Peter tells us to be sober and alert and watch out for satan (1 Peter 5: 8).
Satan, You Bad Boy, You….
Often we think of the devil as having human emotions. But he isn’t human and has no qualities of human compassion. He isn’t interested in giving you pleasure or a good time; nor is he cool or wanting to help you be cool. He is a cold and steely, emotionless killing machine. Relentlessly he will lie and steal to crush every innocent soul and animal, destroy every green blade of grass and pollute every drop of clean water and air. This unstoppable dark force indiscriminately devours and tortures the innocent as well as the guilty.
He killed Job’s animals and his children, then turned and relentlessly tortured Job. He caused Judas to commit suicide. The devil stood in the honored presence of his loving and merciful Creator and made war on Him. Then, Satan tortured and murdered God. You really think he will show you mercy?
God entered the physical realm of earth, absorbed a lifetime of hate and the full force destruction of sin, just to end His life in torture, humiliation and death--not to make us okay in our sin, but to save us from it! He came to destroy the devil and render the power of sin helpless! (Heb. 2:14; Rom. 6: 10; 1 John 3:8)--to rescue us from the servitude of sin (Rom. 6:17)--to deliver us from evil (John 1:29; Rom. 6: 2, 11, 13, 15; 1 Cor. 15:34; 2 Cor. 5: 21).
Now we are not to passively, fatalistically fall to temptation. We are to submit to God so that the devil will flee from us! (James 4: 7; Eph. 4: 27) We are to awaken to righteousness and produce the fruits of holiness (1 Cor. 15:34, Rom. 6: 22), put on the full armor of God so that we can stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6: 11, see also 1 John 3: 9).
In the Christian world there seems to be a great deal of confusion about this. It is as if we have forgotten who our enemy is. And because we have forgotten the sinfulness of sin, the love in most people has grown cold (Matt. 24: 12).
If you don’t take sin seriously, you are not taking the Cross seriously. To ignore sin is to misunderstand your Christian mission.
And yet, as terrifying as sin is, we do not have to despair. For we have a powerful Savior who saves us from death and heal our sins. Because of the cross we have the power over sin.