In talking to a dear friend the other night, who is a new Christian, I realized that sometimes my complaints about Protestants and Protestant theology can be taken in the wrong spirit. (Sometimes I fear they’re made in the wrong spirit.)
My friend was confused and worried that in my lashing out against “Protestants,” I was speaking to her. Let me first say this: I believe that all people who call on the name of Jesus, who believe He is the Son of God, who believe He died for our sins are was raised from the dead that we might be, too — all people who affirm the core and fundamental truths of the Christian faith, as stated in the three ecumenical creeds of the Church (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed) — can rightfully call themselves Christians and can be saved. All we Christians of particular doctrines have many disagreements about finer points of theology, even about who is saved and how one is saved, but we agree on this: Christ is our Savior, and we are saved solely by God’s grace. We have all been baptized into the one Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12‒13) — in a real sense, we are all One in Him.
That said, I have come to the conviction that the Roman Catholic Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that Christ founded (Matthew 16:18) — a visible Church, that the world can see and identify. I do believe that those many Christians — in particular meaning Protestants — who are outside that visible Church are at a disadvantage, lacking some essential doctrines and especially the integrity guaranteed by apostolic succession and the means of grace in the Sacraments — but I affirm, with the Church, that Protestant churches carry elements of Christ’s Truth and His sanctification and can bear souls to Him for salvation (Second Vatican Council, 1964, Unitatis redintegratio 3.2).
I believe it’s gravely wrong that we have created such division in Christ’s Church, His Spotless Bride. I pray every day that God will reunite the Church; that He will help us find reconciliation with each other and heal our ancient wounds and gashes. I pray that through my blog I might lead others toward that reconciliation, or toward the convictions I myself have reached about the Catholic Church.
But even more important than that — infinitely more important than that — I pray and long that people may find Christ and know Him, by whatever avenue they find Him. If you find truth in my blog, I hope and pray above all that it’s the truth and the love of Christ. Finding His love and His grace is more precious than any fine point of doctrine: for as the Pharisees, I can be knowledgeable and orthodox and right about doctrine and practice, and yet entirely miss the point: it’s love. I could memorize the Catechism backward and forward; attend Mass every day of the year; fast and do penance to the point of utter mortification — and yet if I didn’t have love, I would have nothing and be nothing (1 Corinthians 13).
So if you find a place where you can meet Jesus, where His love lives and is lived, where you are loved and nurtured and find faith and grace and healing — stay there: especially if you are a baby Christian. If you find I am speaking the truth about history and doctrine and practice — if you come to believe with me that the Catholic Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic one — don’t feel, unless the Holy Spirit compels you, that you’re expected to immediately jump the ship you’re on and swim the Tiber. I’d much rather you stay in the loving and nurturing and edifying place God has brought you than make this arduous quest before you’re ready. I would much rather plant confederates all throughout the Body of Christ, who are convinced of the truth of the Church and the necessity of reconciliation and reunification, who might influence others from the inside to lay aside old prejudices, who might urge the Church, from where they are, toward reunion, than have anybody break ties with their Christian brothers and sisters and strike out alone.
I pray that we might all one day break bread together again. But until then, love God, love your neighbor, and strive to be transformed by that love.