Wednesday, May 21, 2008

“Listen and Attend With the Ears of Your Heart”

---St. Benedict of Nursia

During the summer of 2006, our priest welcomed Rich to teach a study of the Lord’s Prayer. It seemed natural for me to be present at the study since it was held right after the 10:00 Mass we attended.

For a year I had found my vertical relationship with Jesus growing, while my interpersonal relationships with members of our congregation remained superficial or nonexistent. I’d given up trying to get to know people and had settled into the mold of an unseen persona. I wondered out loud to Rich if a Protestant at his study might be disruptive. Rich assured me he was able to keep everyone focused on the lesson. From our experiences with Bible studies in Protestant churches, I knew he could do that.

Had the pastor’s invitation to Rich occurred a year earlier, I might have spent that hour in the car or at a nearby coffee shop. I would have found references to Mary, the Sacraments, the Magisterium or any number of other Catholic beliefs that were bantered about during the discussion, very uncomfortable. But because Rich and I had agreed to remain together at the same church, I had become accustomed to hearing about those beliefs. Although I did not share them, I believed they were valid for Catholics because they represented facets of a Roman Catholic’s spiritual relationship with God.

I am sure those few weeks would have been only another interesting inter-church experience for me had it not been for two things. First, Rich engaged me in the discussions as he did the others around the table. I was forced to participate and, in so doing, the men and women at the study learned I was a Protestant. (I was nervous about that discovery because of what I had experienced previously.) These people were surprised to learn I was not a Catholic, but as the weeks continued, they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Second, what these people did not know was God had given me a love for them.

That love had flooded into my heart weeks earlier on Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Easter. Our parish had an Adoration planned for that afternoon. Adoration is a time set aside to worship the living Christ who manifests Himself within the consecrated host . . . the Bread of Life physically present with us. Catholics meditate on this spiritual idea, seeing beyond the natural, and believing Christ’s word in its literal meaning . . . this is my Body. This is similar to the Protestant view of a literal seven day creation, the Flood, or the parting of the Red Sea.

Rich decided to attend, and I thought I’d go along, too. Rich’s description of his initial experience with Jesus at an earlier Adoration had intrigued me. I hoped to spend some quiet time with Jesus, much like I did each Sunday when we entered the church before Mass.

We sat near the back of the church and could barely see the white circular host in the golden case called a Monstrance – from the Latin, meaning, “to show,” and defined as, “A receptacle in which the host is held.”

I remember kneeling in my pew and praying in tongues (a charism of the Holy Spirit) for a few minutes. Soon, my knees hurt and my back was getting tired. Several women were praying the Rosary, which seemed to go on and on. I longed for them to stop, simply because their vocal prayers intruded into my mind and made it difficult for me to form my thoughts into prayers. I wondered, perhaps coming to the Adoration was not such a good idea.

Ending my prayer, I remained on the kneeler. My mind wandered, but I tried to keep it focused on that little white disk in the Monstrance. I believed Jesus was there. (Months earlier, the Holy Spirit had taught me that Jesus is present within the consecrated host). I had long ago learned to be quiet before The King of Kings in my personal devotions and to wait upon Him. This was such a time.

And then, somehow, inexplicably, as I knelt, Christ’s love flowed into me until I thought I could hold no more. It left me breathless.

The Holy Scriptures describe an account of two disciples on the road to Emmaus who meet the resurrected Jesus. When He made Himself known to them at supper, and then vanished, they turned to each other, realizing who had walked with them that afternoon. "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?" they exclaimed. (St. Luke 24:32, NASB)

In a similar way, I found Jesus before me that Divine Mercy Sunday, and in revealing His presence, my heart indeed burned with His love.

I sat back in my seat. Rich was praying. I was dumbfounded and strangely energized. I looked anew toward the Altar. As the recitation of the Rosary continued I wondered, “What is happening?” No one else seemed at all affected. I prayed silently and fervently, “I love you, Jesus. What is this?”

I was so full of energy I could not sit still. I knelt again. I sat. I knelt once more and silently praised the Lord, though I wanted to shout. A second time, the Holy Spirit pressed Agape love into my heart. In it flowed with compassion, joy, and peace. The Holy Spirit gave my heart “ears to hear.” By the time we left the sanctuary I’d “fallen in love” with Jesus again, and with His Church – all of His Church. Any lingering doubt that I should continue to attend Mass with Rich had vanished.

I cannot explain the how or the why of this heart change, but it altered my life. I have never been the same since. Shortly afterward, I wrote a friend,” Just as when we close our eyes and turn our face toward the sun, then turning away and opening our eyes we see the world around us as a pale image of unreality, so my view of my former walk in Christ is a paler image of what it is now.”

The reality of this heart change manifested itself as I sat in Rich’s study of the Lord’s Prayer, listening to him and the other Catholics comment about the Scriptures, the Catholic Church and her teachings – and even make a few unflattering comments about Protestants – yet I was not offended by it all. I had found myself filled anew with Agape love as soon as I entered the room.

This was a sea-change for me, and evidence that Christ’s love had entered my heart.

I soon discovered I liked listening to their conversations. I also felt a bond of fellowship in my heart for each person. And as we studied the Lord’s Prayer, I found myself listening in on the heartbeat of the Roman Catholic Church. It was a deep, steady beat of constant love and devotion to the Trinity – the loving Father, Christ, the suffering Savior, and the wonderful Holy Spirit.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Life with Two Traditions I

It is often the little things we do or say that make an impact on the lives of those around us. By May 2006, I had experienced Jesus’ love at Mass and also through people at the Catholic Church. The pastor and his staff had encouraged my walk among this new culture of believers with their willingness to answer my questions and to find information for me about Catholic faith and practice. From these acts of thoughtfulness I gained confidence to explore the traditions of the Mass. That summer I felt more comfortable to make the sign of the cross, genuflect, and kneel in prayer. As I participated at Mass I began to understand to some degree what Catholics believe. Many of those beliefs revolve around Sacred Tradition.

For Catholics, tradition is identity. It reflects an unbroken line of historical veracity that begins with Pentecost.

The dictionary defines tradition as the handing down of beliefs, customs, and information from generation to generation by word of mouth or by practice. With regard to Christian theology, tradition incorporates a “body of teachings . . . held to have been delivered by Christ and His apostles, but not originally committed to writing.” Roman Catholic Sacred Tradition combines oral traditions, (e.g. Sunday is “the Lord’s Day”) with sacramental acts (e.g. making the sign of the cross), as well as remembered events (e.g. the Assumption of the Virgin). Since the Apostolic era, the Mass is central to Catholic Tradition. For Catholics, much like Jews at the Passover celebration, the Mass provides a portal of involvement that is as timeless and personal as it is supernatural. Just as the Passover meal allows its participants to reenact the events of the Exodus as eye witnesses, the Mass allows its participants to be eye witnesses of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Together, the Mass, the special days of celebration, sacramental practices, the teachings of the Lord Jesus and of His apostles have nourished the Catholic Church since the first century. In combination with the written Scriptures, these all embody the whole of inspired tradition. Thus, Sacred Tradition is as important to Catholics with regard to faith and morals as the Holy Scriptures are to Protestants.

Protestants recognize the Church was born at Pentecost, but for many (especially those who are unaware of their Roman Catholic roots), historical tradition begins with the Reformation.

Although Protestants retain some of the early church’s core beliefs, such as those embodied in the Apostles Creed,* most of Protestant tradition is based on sola scriptura -- Scripture alone. Committed Protestants use the Holy Scriptures to form their doctrine and practice. And, much like the devout Jews of Berea (Acts 17), they study the Word of God daily. Like the noble Bereans, dedicated Protestants – laymen and scholars – expect the Holy Spirit to lead them closer to Christ through their study of the Holy Scriptures. As they search the Scriptures and discuss them with one another, Protestants expect to be educated, gain a greater understanding of God’s love, and be prepared to witness for the Gospel. This tradition of study and dialogue mirrors the ancient Talmudic method of pil-pul, defined by the Jewish Encyclopedia as a “penetrating investigation, disputation, and drawing of conclusions, and is used especially to designate a method of studying the Law.”

For me, resolving the differences between the two “traditions” was of great importance. I came to realize, lurking in the shadows of this controversy, was a passion, fervor, and zeal of each group’s commitment to particular Christian world views. A year earlier, these respective views had made of our home a “no-mans land” of theological disparity. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit showed us a better way.

The Lord has taught me the great value of both Catholic and Protestant traditions.

My faith tradition is expressed primarily through meditating on the Holy Scriptures and in prayer. How would I know in Whom I believe without His words and actions written down to guide me? Holy Scripture has been the practical means Christ has used to mature my relationship with Him.

My husband has shared with me his love of Sacred Tradition, which he sees as vital to His life of faith. He explained to me his understanding that Scripture undergirds Sacred Tradition because Sacred Tradition is intricately intertwined with Messiah Jesus, as revealed in Holy Scripture.

As I see it, without a vibrant and maturing relationship with Jesus, Rich and I would both be weakened in our spiritual journeys. How Jesus uses His gifts of Sacred Tradition in combination with the Holy Scriptures to mature us, I can not tell. However, I know my life in Christ would be subject to disorder without the continued washing it receives from Scripture. As I meet Jesus in the Mass and explore Sacred Traditions, I discover a spiritual vibrancy that allows me to see in them the breath of God, and to experience in my heart a great renewal.

Latin Text (ca. A.D. 700)
Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem; Creatorem coeli et terrae.
Et in Jesum Christum, Filium ejus unicum, Dominum nostrum; qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria virgine; passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus; descendit ad inferna; tertia die resurrexit a mortuis; ascendit ad coelos; sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis; inde venturus (est) judicare vivos et mortuos.
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum; sanctam ecclesiam catholicam; sanctorum communionem; remissionem peccatorum; carnis resurrectionem; vitam oeternam. Amen.

Modern English Version
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.