Years ago as we made our way towards Cape Cod for me to meet my future mother-in-law, my fiance’ said “Don’t tell my mom that your family is Catholic”. Well, that came out of nowhere! When I asked why – though I hadn’t really planned on announcing it (nor was I expecting to be in a position of denying any part of my identity either), he said it was hard to explain, mumbling as I recall something about a Catholic friend of hers that had made their differing faiths an issue. Such a strange request, I thought, but I was starry-eyed and in love, and since he assured me he would tell his mother at a future time, I let it go. I still remember this sweet, godly woman coming to me in an embrace months later after I was “outed” for my faith, so embarrassed and apologetic that her son would have thought that she would not have accepted me, much less having asked me to conceal it.
I feel like I should apologize for the title of this blog post – I am not trying to be provocative, but this “thing” has been troubling me for so long that the other titles I considered just tap danced around the real question on my heart. I don’t get why some people exclude Catholics when they talk about Christians, especially disturbing in my mind during this season of Lent. Aren’t we all preparing to stand at the foot of the cross, understanding Christ died for our sins – all of ours, readying ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday? I was raised Catholic, went to parochial school, and don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that Christ was the son of God, that he died for our sins. I’ve never doubted that, never felt that I was less than anyone else in God’s eyes, never questioned if living my life each day as Jesus modeled would mean falling short of eternal life with my Creator.
I’m well aware that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is seen as a distinguishing characteristic of a Christ-follower of a mainline Protestant or Evangelical church, set apart from the Roman Catholic Church where followers are presumed to be under the law, believing good works pave the road to heaven. But isn’t it arrogant of us to assume that Catholics, simply by virtue of their church affiliation, don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Some of the godliest women I know are in the Catholic church, and they have an incredibly intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
I am not looking for a theological debate or explanation for how we define the word “Christian” and why it excludes the Roman Catholic Church. I have talked some with my Pastor about this, have Googled and read up on the topic. But I’m trying to understand why a friend of mine, knowing our mutual friend recently returned to the Catholic church, would say “she needs to get into a church”, completely dismissing the fact that she has a church. Why would another Catholic friend of mine ask if she would be welcome to attend a conference for Christian speakers and writers? Where did this great divide come from, and who gets to draw the dividing line?
There is no exclusivity in the writings about the early church – Paul tells us that “God knows people’s hearts” in Acts 15:8, so why do we need to get involved in God’s business, judging whether someone’s heart meets the qualifications for inclusion among the saved? Fil Anderson in “Breaking the Rules” says –
The apostle John wrote this powerful declaration toward the end of his life: “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us” (1 John 4:16) Possibly the most consequential question we’ll ever have to answer is this: Can we declare this truth with absolute conviction? These words turn an abstract proposition into a personal relationship; they are the heart and soul of the Christian faith, and the fundamental decision of your life.
Being a Christian isn’t the result of a moral choice or belief in lofty ideals, but an ongoing encounter with a person – Jesus – who gives life a new horizon and decisive direction. Will you believe God and believe in the love He has for you?
If you believe in the love He has for you, will you hear Him beckoning you to come, all of you, to the foot of the cross this Lent?
Will you consider that if you desperately want your family, your friends to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that you might begin by simply being in relationship with them, by loving them as Christ loves them right where they are?
Here are the words – “Please Come” by Nichole Nordeman
Oh the days when I drew lines around
my faith to keep you out, to keep me in, to keep it safe.
Oh the sense of my own self-entitlement
to say who’s wrong, who won’t be long, or cannot stay.
Cause somebody somewhere decided we’d be better off divided.
And somehow, despite the damage done He says come:
There is room enough for all of us
Please come, and the arms are open wide enough
Please come, and our parts are never greater than the sum
This is the heart of the one who
stands before the open door and bids us come.
Oh the times when I have failed to
recognize how many chairs are
gathered there around the feast.
To break the bread and break these
boundries that have kept us
from our only common ground the
invitation to sit down if we will come:
Come from the best of humanity
Come from the depths of depravity
Come now and see how we need every
different beat on this same street.