23 April 2010

becoming catholic: part 7

Becoming Catholic icon

Disclaimer: When it comes to matters of faith (and matters of Catholicism in particular), emotions run high. It is a topic on which many have strong bents, preferences, and biases and regarding which particular views are held strongly. In many circles, there is much in the way of fear, misinformation, and outright antagonism when the topic of Catholicism is broached. I do not claim to speak in any official terms about matters Catholic, I claim only to speak for my own experience and journey. That being said, things may be introduced or stated in this series of posts which directly impacted my decision to convert. The purpose of stating these things is not to exact judgment on anyone or to incite anger or division, but only to provide reasoned explanations for why I now freely and deliberately chose to become Catholic.

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here
Read Part 4 here
Read Part 5 here
Read Part 6 here
Note: You can also click on the "Becoming Catholic" icon above to see the entire series

Sean (aka "Dillie-O") gave me the great idea of talking about some of the common questions, objections, and misconceptions that there are out there when it comes to Catholicism. So that's what this post (and the next) are going to address.

A few things if interested in learning more:
* If you ever want to know what the official Catholic teaching on pretty much anything is, you can find it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There are a lot of voices out there making a lot of different claims, so if you're not sure if what someone claims about Catholicism is correct, or if you want to check your own assumptions, it's best to check it against the Catechism. If you don't own a copy, you can reference a free online version here. Every thought or paragraph is assigned a number by which you can reference it. For example, CCC 1996.

* I've learned oodles just by listening to Catholic radio. There are a number of call-in shows where anybody, regardless of denomination (or religion/lack of religion, for that matter) can call in and get a straight Catholic answer. What's even better is that you can listen live online, on Sirius satellite radio, or wherever you happen to have a radio (you know, one of those old-fashioned kinds). A number of their programs are also archived on the website and available to listen to in an MP3 format. I listen at work all day. Yep, I'm a nerd!

* Catholic blogs and websites are in abundance! These are also good places to look up questions, or just to peruse what's going on in the Catholic world. Here are just a few of my favorites:
Called to Communion
Mark Shea
Jimmy Akin
Patrick Madrid
Catholic Answers
Catholic Encyclopedia

Okay, so let's get started. I've enumerated some common questions, misconceptions, objections regarding the Catholic faith below. It's hard to get to everything, not knowing what issues are niggling at people, but these are just a few of some of the most common ones that I've heard.

Prayer through the saints
This one is a biggie for a lot of people I know. It is not at all uncommon for non-Catholics to object that when it comes to prayer: 1) Those in heaven can't hear you or aren't aware of your prayers, 2) You should go straight to Jesus with your request, and 3) Christ is our sole mediator.

When people argue that the saints are unaware of our prayers, I have to clarify: are those souls in heaven alive, or are they dead? I think most Christians would agree that the saints in heaven are more alive than ever before. In the creed, we confess that we believe in the "communion of the saints." That is, we believe that the saints in heaven are part of the Church Glorified, and that we are one with them through faith and through baptism.

Some have objections regarding the ability of such saints to be aware of our requests and petitions on earth. The book of Revelation gives us a good indication that the saints in heaven are not only aware of the goings-on on earth, but that they are actually active in interceding on our behalf:
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5:6-8, emphasis mine

In this passage, we see that those in heaven are bringing "the prayers of the saints" before the throne of God. It needs to be asked that if the elders in heaven are not aware of the needs and petitions of those on earth, whose prayers are they bringing before the throne of God? Do those already in heaven need prayers? Not likely. Rather, it seems far more likely that those are our prayers they are offering and presenting before the throne of God. They are interceding for us, the saints on earth!

Since I experienced it myself, I recognize the discomfort and difficulty with embracing this concept if you haven't encountered it much before. At some point, those who object to asking the saints in heaven for their prayers will often cite 1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus". But no one here is saying that the intercession of the saints usurps Christ's mediatorship, or that it steals any glory from Him. Does the act of asking one of your friends to pray for you violate any of Christ's commands, or offend him because you are seeking another "mediator"? Not at all! Rather, we are commanded to pray for one another, and this work continues for those souls who have experienced earthly death and are now more alive than ever in heaven. If the saints in heaven are alive and a part of the Body of Christ, if they are indeed aware of our requests and our needs, and if it is not a sin to ask someone else to pray for us, I'm hard pressed to discover how it is a sin to ask the saints in heaven for their prayers. It is to the glory of God that they participate in this work.

In general, I think there is also some confusion on what it means to "pray to the saints." Keep in mind that one of the definitions of prayer is to petition, or to ask. We don't pray to the saints because we want to replace Jesus or bypass Him, but because they, being in a glorified state, are in a special position to intercede effectively on behalf of the faithful on earth. We are asking for their prayers. "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" says James 5:6. And just how righteous are those souls in heaven? My guess is that we cannot fathom it! Because they are in heaven, asking for their prayers might feel and look a lot like it does when we pray to Jesus or God the Father. Trust me, I get how this might be weird or feel wrong if you're not accustomed to the concept. But really, it is just asking for their intercession, much like you would ask your friends here to intercede for you.

You can read more about Praying to the Saints at Catholic Answers.

Confession: I believed in purgatory as a Protestant (since my early college days, in fact). It's not something I talked about a lot since among Protestants, it's not a popular or welcome view. At the very least, the concept of purgatory made a great deal of sense to me. In short, my reasoning went like this: Nothing impure can enter heaven (Rev 21:27); without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Obedience and suffering are used in our lives on earth toward our sanctification (Romans 5:3-5, Heb. 12:7-11). The idea of there being a temporary and intermediate state to which a soul will go after earthly death and before entering heaven is not unheard of in Scripture (Luke 16:19-31). If we are not so sanctified and pure when we die that we are ready at that moment to enter the kingdom of heaven, it makes sense that what remains of sin in our souls should be purified, or burned away before entering heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15).

There is considerable evidence suggesting that early Christians, though they may not have termed it "purgatory", believed in the concept of a temporary place of purgation between earth and heaven. Saint Monica (St. Augustine's mother) wrote to him asking that her soul be remembered "at the altar of the Lord". In many of the catacombs, prayers for the dead are scribbled on the walls. Such requests would not be necessary if all departed Christian souls went directly to heaven. Protestant Christians don't accept the book of 2 Maccabees, but there is direct reference that based on the belief in the afterlife and in the resurrection of the body, Judas Maccabeus offered prayers for the dead:

Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.

2 Maccabees 12:42-46

This passage from 2 Maccabees makes a direct correlation between sin in one's earthly life and the purgation occurring in the afterlife on account of that sin. Judas Maccabeus's prayers for the dead were offered so that those who had fallen would be "freed from [this] sin" in the afterlife. The apostle Paul also writes of every man's work being tested when he dies, and for those whose work does not stand the test, being saved through fire:

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15, emphasis mine

This passage states that "the Day" (i.e., the day of judgment) will reveal the quality of what we have done in our earthly lives. Paul says that fire will test the quality of "each man's work". If the work does not survive the test, the man himself will be saved, but "only as one escaping through the flames." Again, we encounter the notion of this refinement, this purging or purgation before entering heaven for those whose work is not of a heavenly quality.

Believing in purgatory does not mean that a Catholic does not believe in the sufficiency of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Rather, this purification or purgation is entirely consistent with Christ's desire that we not only be declared holy in a forensic sense, but actually be made holy (1 Peter 1:13-16). Consider that if the notion of temporary suffering in "the world to come" for the end of producing the sanctification of our souls is contradictory to Scriptural teaching, then on some level, the notion that patiently enduring suffering in this life produces sanctification would be in question as well. There are repeated references in Scripture where God speaks of refining his people, purging them of their sins, through the fires of suffering and affliction (Ps 66:10; Isa. 48:10; Jer. 9:7; Dan. 11:35, 12:10; Zech. 13:9). This suffering, or purgation, is all part of God's plan for our sanctification.

Scripture also offers evidence there is a place of limbo (referred to as Abraham's bosom, cf. Luke 16:22) which is referenced in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Lazarus has experienced earthly death, is not in heaven, but nor is he in Hades. Whether or not this place is the same as what Catholics refer to as purgatory, it does at the very least show that it is possible that there is a temporary, intermediate state, something other than heaven and hell that a soul may experience after earthly death. Such a state is not contrary to Scripture. What is more, Peter references Christ going to such an intermediary state to preach to the "souls in prison" there after His own death on the cross:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

1 Peter 3:18-20

The good thing to remember about purgatory is this, my friends: it's not a punishment, but a grace. Purgatory only opens up. In other words, those souls who end up in purgatory have "made it."

There's a lot more than could be said, really. This scratches the surface, and maybe you're curious about reading a little more. Read the Catholic Answers article on Purgatory to dig a little deeper.

* * * * *

Well, looks like I'll need to break this one out a little bit, too. In the next (and maybe final) installment, I'll talk a bit about Mary, the sacrament of Confession, and what is meant by the infallibility of the pope. You know ... light and fluffy stuff! ;o)

For those who have expressed interest in what I researched and wrote about the seat of Peter and the papacy, I'm trying to find a convenient way to make the document easily available (probably Google Docs, or something).


  1. Awww... Thanks for the mention, but you already had it brewing in your mind. I just made you think it out loud 8^D

    I'll comment later on the really good stuff, but the geek in me wants to throw a quick mention to DropBox.com as a place to put your research.

    The account is free, after installing you have a folder sitting right on your desktop that you treat like any other folder, but it will also synchronize the documents to the site. You can put the document in your Public folder and then it is accessible to anybody on the web.

    Works on Windows, Mac, Linux, & iPhone, so you should be set.

    [:: Sean ::]]

  2. I continue to be impressed by your scholarship and how succinctly and seemingly easily you state these arguments. Lots of thoughts, none of which I feel like I can articulate right now, but lots of thoughts. Be well, friend!

  3. Thanks for the clarification regarding the saints, Kirsten. Born and raised an evangelical Christian, this was always a big "no no". I am continually edified by your writing and hope that your next installment is NOT your FINAL!!! I believe that you are a vessel of God and while folks may disagree with your justifications, there cannot be a negative consequence to readers pondering our creator just a little more. :)

  4. ooh, yes, i agree with the general consensus.

    and, too, i find the series especially helpful in that i'm from a religiously divided family. recently, in fact, i pointed my {evangelical} mother your way in order to better explain some of the reasons i feel so compelled to cleave to my Catholic faith... reasons, i seem to share with you!
    my mom had met with my Catholic mother-in-law who mentioned something about praying to "the Blessed Mother" daily for my fiancé and i... well, to my mother's ears this was idolatry! and she wasn't shy about sharing that with me. i gently suggested she might consider reading parts of your blog, knowing that you put so many Catholic "quirks" into easy-to-understand terms.
    so for that i thank you, friend.
    blessings to you, husband, and baby, too!

  5. Hi,

    My name is Rev Robert Wright, Editor for Christian.com, a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the entire Christian community an outlet to join together and better spread the good word of Christianity. Christian.com has many great features like Christian TV, prayer requests, finding a church, receiving church updates and advice. We have emailed you to collaborate with you and your blog to help spread the good word of Christianity. I look forward to your response regarding this matter. Thanks!

    Rev. Robert Wright

  6. Kirsten,

    First of all Welcome Home!! I am a 7 year Catholic Convert straight out of a wonderful Prostestant upbringing complete with being raised as a church staff's kid, 4 years at a top notch Christian college and active involvement in my churches. God knew me well enough to know I needed to fall in love with a Catholic to even consider converting! Boy am I glad He made that happen. Converting has been the most wonderful experience for my Faith journey and I can't imagine worshiping and serving Him any other way.

    Thank you for sharing your story in such an eloquent way. I plan on directing a few folks over to read your story.

    I have no doubt your journey will bring you great joy and comfort. Some of the initial strain your decision to come to the fullness of your faith has caused on your relationships will get better. Some of it will raise its little head at the most unexpected times but the sadness you will have is only because the other person doesn't know and doesn't understand. Be prepared for your journey to be a witness in which the most unlikely of folks may follow you on your path to Rome. One of my best friends is about to join RCIA - what an unanticipated and great joy that is to me!

    Blessings on you and your husband for following God where He led you - even if others thought you were falling of a cliff!

    Happy Easter!!

  7. I can't tell you what an encouragement it has been to me over the past couple years to begin praying to the saints. And really, I have you to thank for that, my friend.

    You wrote a very thoughtful post about this on your Cloud blog a couple years ago when you were first considering conversion to the Catholic faith. What you wrote on so many subjects on that blog about Catholicism gave me so much to think about ... but particularly what you wrote about praying to the saints.

    At the time, it was like something clicked into place. It made so much sense all of a sudden! Why would we consider it any different than asking a good and holy friend on earth to pray for us? Why would we not esteem the saints' prayers even higher, given their proximity to the throne of God and the fact that they have been made fully righteous?

    Though she hasn't been canonized as an official saint in the Catholic church, I do pray most often to Mother Teresa. There is something about that woman I hold dear to my heart. Her prayers would be a blessing to me, and so I ask her for them.

  8. I know that you are probably way past looking at comments on this post, but I really appreciate that you are sharing your hard work, research, and experience with us. There are a lot of things that Evangelical doctrine does not explain well that the Catholic doctrine does.

    On Purgatory: Have you read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis? I had never thought much about purgatory until I read that book -- it's a great picture of what I imagine purgatory would be like and also a great way to think about interacting with the Saints.

  9. So, when's your books coming out? ;-) I was raised ina nominal Catholic home, never learned the "why" behind anything I was taught, was friends with many Protestants in high school and found myself going to a Protestant church once I was able to drive. I have been a Protestant for longer than I have been a Catholic, so I know the anti-Catholic thinking. By the grace of God, I have recently made my way back home to the Catholic church. I am so thankful for the way you were able to logically state what you were thinking and feeling during your journey. I will most definitely use this as a reference tool for my Protestant loved ones who ask me "Why the Catholic church?"

    Seriously, about writing that book. I have read books about Catholic conversions, but none of them have as much feeling as what you have written here. Bless you!