jonmsweeney

Archive for the ‘Catholic and Protestant’ Category

William Dowsing’s mistake

In Catholic and Protestant, Catholic imagination, Spiritual practice on August 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm

During one week in Advent, 1643, William Dowsing wrote in his diary about three venerable places in Cambridge, England, where he would soon destroy religious images for the glory of God: Peterhouse, King’s College, and St. Mary the Great. Dowsing was a Puritan iconoclast, and he considered the title to be a badge of honor, given to him by the Earl of Manchester.

In Suffolk, a month later, Dowsing proudly recorded in that same diary, “We brake down about a hundred superstitious pictures; and seven fryers hugging a nun; and the picture of God, and Christ; and divers others very superstitious….and we beat down a great stoneing cross on the top of the church.”

It was during the Oliver Cromwell era in England that a Puritan parliament ruled and attempted to remove anything left that was “papal,” “Roman,” or Catholic. They believed that religious images were forbidden by the injunction in the Old Testament book of Leviticus against making idols. By destroying the faces of angels and saints with their chisels, they thought they were refocusing the faithful on God alone.

But a lack of imagination plagues the majority of human beings. Unable to see beyond the physical, and listening to voices that have declared belief to be about things unseen, many decide to forego the visual reminders and passages of faith that were treasured by our ancestors. We need the sacred image, the liturgical icon, the representations of invisible Reality.

Agnostic Catholic

In Almost Catholic book, Catholic and Protestant, Catholic imagination, Graham Greene on January 16, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I am drawn to Catholic spirituality and practice even when I doubt, misbelieve, or refuse to believe. In fact, who we call the “lapsed” Catholic is often the most concerned of all people when it comes to matters of faith. Why else would we call ourselves “lapsed,” if we were not conscious of the ideal? One of the surest signs of spirituality is the frustration, anger, and enthusiasm of the lapsed, the doubter, or the one who has intentionally put him or herself on the outside looking in.

Graham Greene took to calling himself an agnostic Catholic toward the end of his life. I get this, too. He was tired of belief as a measure of relationship with God. Belief comes and goes. It is fleeting. It is a state of mind. Belief is far too ephemeral upon which to rest something so important.

Q & A about Cloister Talks

In Catholic and Protestant, Monastic spirituality, Trappists on January 2, 2011 at 4:51 pm

1. At what age did you begin to be interested in the monastic life? How was Thomas Merton influential?

It was late in high school for me. I had gone through a few years of trying to be as popular as I could be, dating and having fun—fairly normal stuff—but then I sort of got sick of myself, of my desires. I was raised a Christian since childhood, but until I was about 17 I hadn’t understood that seeking God and preening yourself are impossible to do at the same time. Merton’s writings played a big part in my discovering these things, as he was so honest about his own path through those delusions.

2. What first led you into a monastery? How were your perceptions changed during your first visit?

I started making retreats to Merton’s monastery in Kentucky during spring break weeks and other times, in college. I think many of my friends, even at a place like Wheaton College, thought I was sort of nuts. Walking through those doors, sitting in choir and singing psalms, talking with the monks, walking around and imagining myself in that sort of vocation—were exhilarating for me.

3. How has the wisdom of contemporary monasticism been your greatest source of guidance for your non-monastic life?

There was a time—a period of about a year and a half—when I was pretty sure that I was supposed to become a Trappist. I felt that that was what God wanted for me, and it seemed to be confirmed by others. This also meant that I would have to convert to Catholicism, and in the end, that leap was too much for me—a kid who had grown up in evangelicalism—to take at the age of 20. Nevertheless, from those earliest days of sitting with the monks in choir, or talking with one of them in a private meeting, I came to see that there were important ways to live monastic spirituality no matter where I am. And that’s what Cloister Talks is all about.

Thanks to Michelle Van Loon…

In Catholic and Protestant, evolving Protestants, Making saints, Strange religious customs on November 3, 2010 at 1:50 pm

For this mini-review of my book, The Lure of Saints: A Protestant Experience of Catholic Tradition on the Christianity Today blog for women. Seems like I have a kindred spirit in Michelle!

The meaning of the cross (not clear, but still vital)

In Almost Catholic book, Catholic and Protestant, Catholic imagination on April 2, 2010 at 1:10 pm

On this Good Friday, I am reflecting on the meaning of the cross. One of the reasons that I became a Catholic was because I am drawn to the cross, and yet, I don’t at all claim to understand precisely why.

Protestants have the cross without the corpus, or body, of Jesus. These spare crosses lack the mess and misery of the real cross of Christ. Simone Weil once wrote in a letter to a priest—while she was arguing with him as to why she wouldn’t want to be baptized into the Church—“[God] is impersonal in the sense that his infinitely mysterious manner of being a Person is indefinitely different from the human manner.” She didn’t understand just how Catholic her perspective actually was.

The Catholic approach to understanding Christ accepts that his life on earth will always remain a mystery to us. The gospels make it clear that, to those who knew him, Jesus was loved like a brother but also rarely understood. But it is a mystery to be experienced and felt.

For all of these reasons and more, I am drawn to the corpus—even the bloodiness—of the old-fashioned Roman Catholic crucifix.

St. Flannery O’Connor

In Almost Catholic book, Catholic and Protestant, Catholic imagination on March 24, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Okay, so I’ve up and sainted her. Perhaps I shouldn’t. Her birthday is tomorrow, March 25.

Flannery O’Connor was a storyteller whose characters represent the strangest sort of people on earth. She shows us ugly characters and reveals the ugly parts in us all. “We’re all grotesque,” O’Connor confidently said in answer to a question about why her characters were odd, often even physically disfigured.

She wrote about what needs forgiving in human life and often depicted violence to do so. O’Connor once expressed admiration for a local Georgia pastor who pinned a real lamb to a wooden cross and then slaughtered it before the eyes of his congregation as a teaching lesson. She also believed that Protestants understood the Mass in ways that were lost on many of her fellow Catholics.

You may enjoy this article that I wrote about her for America magazine last year. You also may enjoy the chapter about her in my book, Almost Catholic.

Catholic View of Salvation

In Catholic and Protestant, Catholic imagination on September 7, 2009 at 2:11 pm

When I was a Protestant, I viewed salvation in very different ways than I do now. We used to discuss salvation in terms of: how durable was it? could it ever be lost? was it ever earned, or was it always a gift of grace? how does the human will accept salvation, or cooperate with it?

Today, I see salvation in different terms. I will now continually hope for salvation. That’s the work of one who follows Christ: continually living for, and hoping for, salvation.

Salvation is summed up in love: God’s, for us, and ours, in response. My job, as a Christian, is to try to learn to accept God’s love, to feel comfortable in that overwhelming love. And that takes a lifetime and more.

“Lord, I dare not say I love Thee, but I will love Thee.”

–Peter Julian Eymard

Flannery O’Connor & Shouting in Order to Be Heard

In Catholic and Protestant, Catholic imagination, The Catholic Church--meaning of on June 14, 2009 at 11:21 pm

With the opening of the Flannery O’Connor archives at Emory University in 2007, and now the publication of the first major biography by Brad Gooch (simply titled Flannery), many people are rediscovering this enigmatic, Southern, Catholic writer.

            What we’ve known for a while doesn’t exactly sparkle, but it still intrigues: She was devoutly Roman Catholic in a rigidly Bible-belt South. An only child, she was adored by her father, who died when she was in high school. Flannery inherited his lupus and died herself before the age of 40. For a brief time, she had a romance with a traveling Bible salesman, which later inspired her story, “Good Country People.” She lived most of her years on the family farm in Georgia in an eccentric style, surrounded by her mother, visiting friends, and the peacocks, ducks, geese, and chickens that she often trained.

She was a storyteller whose characters represent the strangest sort of people on earth. She shows us ugly characters, and reveals the ugly parts in all of us. “We’re all grotesque,” O’Connor confidently said, in answer to a question about why her characters were odd, often even physically disfigured.

O’Connor wrote about what needs forgiving in human life, and often used violence to do so. She once expressed admiration for a local, Georgian pastor who pinned a real lamb to a wooden cross and then slaughtered it before the eyes of his congregation as a teaching lesson. She believed that the Protestant understood the Mass in ways that were lost on many of her fellow Catholics.

O’Connor also felt that it was necessary to write to shock.  “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do,” she said, “you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

My New Book, Cloister Talks, Now Out

In Catholic and Protestant, Monastic spirituality, Trappists on April 29, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Here’s a short excerpt from the first chapter…

Young men make big mistakes sometimes. They fall in love for the wrong reasons. They drive too fast, usually not because they are late for an important appointment, but because they are playing with the feelings of power inside themselves. They go to war because the sign-up bonus will pay off their credit card debt. They choose careers that will make them look good to their friends, or their parents’ friends. We make big mistakes—that’s unavoidable. Sometimes I wonder if our lives are marked not by how many right decisions we’ve made, but by how well, quickly, or thoroughly we learn that we have mis-stepped.

 

I will always wonder if I made a mistake by not becoming a monk when I was twenty years old. I took three trips back and forth to Kentucky that year, in and out of Thomas Merton’s old monastery. I talked with the brothers and I sat in church. I prayed and I listened for God’s voice. I wasn’t Catholic and so never took part in the Eucharistic portions of the services, but the life felt like it could be authentically mine.

 

“It’s just part of my figuring out who I am and what I’m supposed to do,” I explained one evening to a friend of mine, downplaying how important it felt to me. The Mexican restaurant where David and I worked was located in a shopping mall and was packed on a December evening. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “Could I get some more chips and salsa?” I’d be rich today.

 

We should have been paying more attention to our tables, but it was hard to care too deeply about chimichangas and flautas, with or without guacamole, weighed against making such a serious decision.

 

“But don’t you feel out of place when you’re there? You aren’t even Catholic,” he said. “And what about your parents, your fiancé, your friends? No one you know is even Catholic, right? It’s as if this little dream of yours is not a part of your real life,” David said.

 

He’s right, I thought to myself later. I should be responsible and get married and begin the sort of life that I know best. That’s what God wants for me. All of this other stuff is probably me trying to avoid what I’m really supposed to do.

Cloister Talks: Learning from My Friends the Monks

Give me the crucifix over the cross

In Catholic and Protestant, crucifix instead of cross, G. K. Chesterton on April 2, 2009 at 3:28 pm

At this time of year, as Holy Week approaches, I’m reminded of the embarrassment of the crucifix. The Protestant churches of my youth and today usually have crosses, not crucifixes. It’s not the same. In fact, I think it’s a problem.

As G. K. Chesterton once explained, the Protestant who dismisses the dying Christ may, in the end, become satisfied with a dead cross. “To salute the Cross in that sense is literally to bow down to wood and stone.” Such an idea is surprising to Protestants, because we thought it was Catholics who worshiped idols. But the salvation by faith alone preached by Luther sometimes looks like a faith in faith, a way of living in the head that replaces the Catholic understanding of the church as the vehicle of salvation.

St. Paul said that the cross of Christ would be a stumbling block to some, and salvation to others. “Is the flesh which was crucified become as poison to the crowds in the street, or is it as a strong gladness and hope to them, as the first flower blossoming out of the earth’s humus?” wrote D. H. Lawrence in The Rainbow.

Protestant crosses replaced Catholic crucifixes long ago in an effort to emphasize the Resurrection. I remember in my own very protestant churches as a child, we never heard sermons or lessons on the cross during Holy Week that did not, in some way, reveal the resurrection. Whereas a Catholic would literally darken the sanctuary from Maundy Thursday evening until the Easter vigil service, we would preach Good Friday as if it was Easter Sunday. The lessons of the sacrifice, the bloody lynching that was the crucifixion, the pain and sorrow and despair of the human Christ, were lost to us. In some profound ways, the cross by itself was for us an embarrassment, foolishness, a stumbling block.

The cross is without the corpus, or body, of Jesus. Spare crosses lack the mess and misery. I’m drawn to the corpus—even the bloodiness—of the old-fashioned crucifix. Not even those sanitized Jesuses hanging blithely with peace-loving eyes will do. The ancient church tried to distance themselves from the suffering of Christ; it wasn’t until about the sixth century that Christians felt able to take ownership of the Crucifixion. Only at that time, do we see religious art and image portraying the suffering Christ.

I prefer a crucifix to a cross. Whether it is made of plaster, plastic, wood or iron, a crucifix is not merely a metaphor. I want to learn to be comfortable in its embarrassment. May I someday more fully know the Christ who knew what it was like to be unwanted and despised.

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