Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One day I was walking through the park, just minding my own business...

In visiting Amy Welborn’s blog today, I stumbled into a conversation about Georgetown University and a conflict going on there about evangelical groups (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship among them) being denied a campus presence at the behest of the Protestant chaplaincy. See here for the details. I don’t really know what’s going on; I’ll let the more knowledgeable and involved folks duke it out over there. The angle that interested me was that some conservative Catholic folks on the comment thread were saying that the evangelicals were asked to meet off-campus because their pro-life and anti-homosexual-marriage views ran counter to the beliefs of the mainline Protestant chaplaincy, though the reason given for their expulsion was their insistence on “proselytizing” in defiance of an agreement not to do so. I’ll reprint for you here the one comment I made on the subject:

“Re: the Georgetown dustup - being a convert from evangelicalism, I should underline for you all that evangelicals and Protestants are by no means a monolithic block - "there's all kinds of them just like there's all kinds of us", as Flannery O'Connor said. Whether or not it's actually the case here, from my experience of the Protestant chaplaincy on the campus of Wellesley College in the '80s (the head of which performed a lesbian "wedding" in the college chapel the year after I graduated), I can totally see the pro-life, anti-homosex folks being booted off campus for being difficult and embarrassing, and I wouldn't put it past Protestant mainliners for taking advantage of the largesse of Catholic ideas of ecumenism to accomplish their own goals. Just my $0.02.”

I also ran into Wilma, a Bible-only Christian (I hope she’s OK with that description) and fellow commenter on the thread. She challenged our commitment as Catholics to the truth of the Gospel; in the light of what I’ve heard about the current spiritual climate at Georgetown, I can see why she might be concerned. I invited her over to chat some more about Catholics and Christians, and to read my last few posts here, and she sent some comments along. Since I’m not sure whether she’ll see my responses in the comments boxes below, I thought I’d create a new post with my responses.

Regarding my post An Experience with St. Therese, Wilma had this to say:

“’The holiness and integrity that Christ had given her somehow imprinted and soaked into those bones, leaving a spiritual aroma that attracted us all, that we sensed as we gathered in faith to honor her.’ You have got to be kidding me. Dead people's body parts. How gross is that? What stops any of you from digging up grandma to feel the ‘love’? This is what Jesus taught: Mat 8:22 But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

Hi, Wilma – um, thanks for coming over. I’m not quite sure where to begin, but I guess I’ll start here: One of the most subtle but most important distinctions between Calvinist and Catholic theology is their very different views of the relationship between matter and spirit. Catholics hold that because of the Incarnation, matter and spirit can coexist, as they did in the Person of Jesus Christ; i.e., the redemption and transformation of matter/the material world into the Kingdom of God began with the Incarnation. This means also that matter, e.g. our mortal bodies, can be infused with grace – which they are in the sacraments.

This causes Catholics to honor (I say honor, not worship) those material things which we see as windows into the Beyond, into the heart of God – including the Eucharist, icons of various kinds, and relics of deceased saints. It is precisely because we want to honor our beloved Grandma’s body that we dress it in her favorite clothes, place it in a cushioned casket, lay it carefully in the ground, and bury it gently against the day of Jesus’ Return, when her body and spirit will be reunited in the Great Resurrection. This reflects our belief that Jesus didn’t die and rise again to save us from our mortal bodies; He means to save and redeem our bodies as well. (See I Cor. 15: 42-44).

Truthfully, I don’t know how the whole body parts thing got started; I think it had to do with the fact that during the first 300 years of Christianity, coming across a Christian’s dead body wasn’t all that rare an occurrence, and St. Augustine and other early Christians speak of miracles connected with being the presence of saints’ bodies or tombs. This would be a natural extension of the phenomenon described in Acts 19:11-12 (kerchiefs taken from Paul’s presence/body healed the sick). See here (especially the third paragraph) for more information.

Lastly, looking at the context of the verse you quoted, I hope you’ll agree that Jesus is talking not about literal death and burial practices, but about a relationship that his questioner couldn’t leave behind to follow Him. This obviously was a relationship standing in the way of his relationship with Jesus; the saints, whose spirits are in the heart of God, always point us toward Him, just as the rest of our Christian friends do.

Wilma also had this to say about my comments below on universalism (Wilma in bold, me in regular font):

Ah Unitarian-Universalists...Did you know the Pope's had the president of the UUA to come and visit?

The Pope (specifically, John Paul II) had the president of Cuba, one Fidel Castro, over to visit once. This does not mean he or any Catholic is therefore a Communist. Next.

Did you know that that JPII and now Benedict support the WCRP, a Unitarian Universalist founded "interfaith" organization? Did you know that one of the last prayer's for Assisi sounds JUST like the Alice Bailey/ Lucis Trust inspired one world religion "Great Invocation"? The Theosophical UUs LOVE IT. RIGHT FROM THE VATICAN website... Short exhortation by the Holy Father: Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In God's name, may all religions bring upon earth justice and peace, forgiveness, life and love! How UNIVERSALIST can you get?

[Also, from one of her previous comments on the Georgetown U. thread:]
Catholicism supports the new one world universalist order which embraces all false religions and stands opposed to the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’ve puzzled for a bit over how to respond to this charge. Wilma, did you see my response below to Marc’s concern about Thomas Merton and his alleged Buddhist leanings? Not to belabor the point, but contact, interaction, and dialogue with other religions does not constitute endorsement, acceptance, or “embracing” everything in those other religions. Catholic teaching holds that other religions may have some limited grasp on spiritual truth, and we dialogue with them in hopes of reinforcing whatever truth they have.

If you subscribe to the particular end-times scenario which includes a One World Religion, I suppose I should tell you what in some circles is an open secret: Catholics do hope for the coming of a “one world religion” – actually, a return to a “one world Christianity”, which is Catholicism. We do plan to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, as He commanded us to do in Acts 1:8, and we work to establish Christian cultural reflections of His truth, justice, and love in every venue possible. We know, however, that the Kingdom of God won’t come completely until Jesus returns, but until then, the Kingdom of God is already on earth, beginning its occupation of “enemy territory”, via Christ’s presence in His Bride, the Catholic Church. I imagine this upsets you further, but I’d be remiss in my duties as a Christian if I didn’t inform you.

Regarding the Assisi gatherings to pray for peace – come now, would you prefer that humans not ask whatever Higher Power they believe in for help in achieving peace on earth? Would you prefer that we give up hope for a peaceful coexistence between different religions and cultures, and return to blowing each other up to the last man standing? Unless you can grasp the meaning of the difference between religious dialogue and syncretism, based on what I've already said, it won’t do much good for me to continue to try to explain it.

Here’s Wilma’s comment on My Summer Vacation:

“And it was there that Gary and I discovered the delightful sense in which, through the power of literary reiteration, 'King Kong died for your sins’.”

And you're surprised a Bible Christian is upset?

I guess everything [including outrageous blasphemy] is A-ok in the erudite world of Emergent Pagan Catholicism. King Kong, Tolkien, Labyrinths, Horror Movies, and Mexican Paganism....Maybe next year they can plan a Solstice Summer Celebration, The Tao of Stephen King, prayer to the Four Winds, Sage burning and Diva Ultra-Goddess Theology class for wayward yuppies who want to play at being "religious" instead of actually seeking after God’s Will and learning His Word.

Wow. Um – OK, let’s start with King Kong. I guess you didn’t follow the link to Rod Bennett’s blog Tremendous Trifles (linked above), where he explains exactly how and why the sentiment “King Kong died for your sins” isn’t a casual blasphemy, taken in the context of pop culture mythology. If you did, I guess it didn’t make much of a dent in your way of thinking.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is so full of God and Christian spiritual truth that I can’t see how a fellow Christian wouldn’t see that – except that perhaps you might object to his characterization of a wizard as a good guy. If that’s the case, and you can’t see any further into his stories - well, I’m sorry you missed it.

Labyrinths: I don’t care if you don’t like them. I don’t care much for them either. If the platter of sweet potatoes isn’t to your liking, just pass it down and keep your grimace to yourself.

The genre of modern horror is one of the only venues left in pop culture where novelists and filmmakers are asking the Big Questions: Is there a God? Does Satan exist? What happens when I die? What is the purpose of life? What’s my responsibility to my fellow man? Can love be eternal? I contend that it’s not sinful for Christians to enjoy talking and thinking about the ways in which human fears and longings for salvation are expressed in these films; in fact, Christians must engage in these conversations in order to provide compelling, truthful answers to these Big Questions. At the very least, we must learn the language of the natives in order to understand the point at which Christ can enter and save their universe.

Wilma, they’ve called you a troll over on Open Book. Though I also noticed the similarity between your nom de plume and early Protestant reformer William Tyndale, I’m using it because that’s the only handle you’ve given me. If you’re really interested in dialogue, I’m happy to continue; if you’re only interested in venting your spleen, however, I suggest you leave it for now and refocus on whatever good works God is preparing for you to walk in today. Peace be with you.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Proper Scaring

I was born in 1964, the summer that Flannery O’Connor died. On the day that Flannery lay in a hospital bed in southern Georgia, stared at the ceiling and then closed her eyes, her body about to succumb to the last attacks of lupus, her soul about to ascend to the heavenlies, and her writing career about to end abruptly and tragically at the age of thirty-nine, I awoke from a nap in my crib in a southern California suburban ranch-style house, stared at the ceiling through wide three-week-old eyes, and then cried for something to eat – ready to get started with the project of life on Earth. A strange connection, to be sure, but ever since I discovered and began reading Flannery O’Connor, I’ve felt a kinship with her, a sense of family – like she’s my crazy Southern aunt that got locked away and nobody talked about, until they couldn’t keep her a secret anymore.

Unlike Flannery, I wasn’t born into a Catholic family; I was raised Baptist and wandered through several Christian expressions before discovering the beauty and depth of Catholic theology and worship. I first encountered Flannery’s writing through a quote in Brennan Manning’s book The Ragamuffin Gospel. Manning closed one of his chapters with a quote from Flannery’s short story Revelation (with one of her characters having a mystical vision of souls on their way to Heaven), and it struck me so powerfully that I searched for the largest, most extensive compilation of her works that I could find and read it cover to cover during the months that I went through the Church’s initiation and confirmation process. Flannery’s spooky short stories and novels, her vivid characters and dialogue, and her insightful and dryly humorous letters and essays were quite agreeable companions on my journey into the history and thought patterns of the Catholic way. (Her short story The Enduring Chill was especially educational as to the sorts of priests that I might meet.) I do wish she’d lived longer and written more; along the lines of the adaptation of her short story The Life You Save for television in the ‘50s, perhaps a script or two for Chris Carter’s TV series The X-Files would have been in order, featuring a charismatic faith healer who isn’t quite what he seems…

Yet, her body of work has retained enough influence in literary circles that, thank heaven, she hasn’t left us completely. A lot of Flannery O’Connor remains to be found in a few pockets of popular culture to this day, especially in those places where she and her work are woven into the fabric of American Southern subculture.

* * *

In December 2005, my husband and I went on a pilgrimage of sorts to Milledgeville, Georgia, where Flannery went to high school and college, and then spent her later years. We drove into town on a sunny afternoon and set about finding Flannery things to do and see.

Milledgeville is a college town of about 19,000; it was once the capital of the state of Georgia, and the Old State House now serves as a local museum. Much of the city was built in the early 1800s, and most of the downtown area has been beautifully restored – or well-kept - by its residents. My husband Gary remarked that the sights reminded him of his own college days in Northampton, Massachusetts (though Milledgeville is about half its size) – lots of bookstores, cafes, college-age folk strolling the streets, and flower baskets hanging from lampposts. We found the Chamber of Commerce and asked about sites and exhibits related to Flannery; we were disappointed to learn that tours of her home at Andalusia Farm required advance notice, and we didn’t have another day to spare. We loaded ourselves up with flyers and brochures, and we went in search of as much Flannery as we could fit into the rest of our fleeting winter afternoon.

Flannery is buried next to her parents in Memory Hill Cemetery, located at the southern edge of the downtown/college campus district. We consulted the map we’d been given and set to searching for her name amid the scrubby yellow grass and multiple concrete curbed-off sections. After some arguing over how to interpret the directions and numbers on the cemetery diagram, we encountered a section guarded by a low wrought-iron fence. Within this space were three large slabs of granite set horizontally in the ground, covering each grave. The one in the center bore the inscription:

MARCH 25, 1925
AUGUST 3, 1964

We stared a long moment – I for a longer moment than Gary. He seemed anxious to get on with the rest of our journey; we had plans to be in Macon by dusk and the sun, though still high, was inexorably sinking toward the treeline. I sensed his impatience and turned to go, but inside I felt drawn to stay – as if roots from the nearby rosebush were reaching up from below the ground to grab at my shoes, holding my feet where they were. Yet, I don’t quite know what I was expecting; I saw no thunder bolts from the heavens, heard no voices from beyond the grave. Finally I bent down, reached across the ironwork, and put my hand down on the cold stone beside the pennies and nickels that other tourists had pitched onto it and gushed, “Oh, Flannery – bless me, bless me, bless me.” My husband looked away, a little embarrassed, and said, “OK, let’s go.” As we walked away toward our car, I looked back and wondered what I’d just done; being a convert, I don’t know proper ways to venerate a saint’s relics, but I had a small hope that somehow she and God would be pleased.

Next on our list of attractions was Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which had been Flannery’s parish. After more argument (over the town map this time), we ended up parked on the street on the south side of the Old State Capitol (now the home of Georgia Military College) instead of the north side, which was near the church. It was only a couple of blocks away, so we decided to calm ourselves (and try to remember to enjoy our vacation despite our moods) by walking across the green, park-like campus to the church.

As we started across, two dogs appeared from behind the tall Douglas fir and cedar trees standing like stately pillars in the midst of the well-kept lawn. The dogs were tawny-colored, and lean but muscular; one had a woven nylon collar, the other had none. The two of them were about the same (large) size – almost three feet at the shoulder. The word “boxer” popped into my head as the name for the breed, though I don’t know dogs and I usually wouldn’t know any dog from Adam (or Lassie, in this case). They were friendly with each other, as if they were… hunting pals. They trotted along either side of the path as we walked, keeping pace with us; then they circled behind us, then one galloped ahead to snuffle at a bush, then fell back to our pace – holding our every step, our every move in their peripheral vision all the while. Their interest unnerved me. As we walked past the empty buildings, I tried to keep my eyes focused straight ahead – but whenever I turned to look at a tree or an intriguing architectural feature, at least one of the dogs was in my field of vision, looking intently at me.

I watched them watch us as we made our way across the campus, and though they never approached within five feet, I sensed that they were containing us to the path; this soon progressed to the observation that they were all-out stalking us. Large dogs frighten me a bit, having been bitten once as a child by a neighbor’s unruly collie, so I didn’t regard these beasts as pleasant company on our little walk, especially in the absence of anyone who looked like their owner. Gary complained as I picked up my pace: “Come on – what’s the hurry?” “I don’t like these dogs,” I replied, my teeth clenched. “Calm down – they’re fine”, he said. I tossed an exasperated look his direction and kept walking.

In the middle of the quad was the Old State House. As we neared it, it looked less like a medieval fortress (as it appeared in the postcards at the Chamber) and more like a rundown hotel, though it was a lovely example of Old World antebellum architecture. However, I was distracted from my observations by my growing uneasiness with the circling tawny-colored sets of sharp claws and teeth, and my most pressing thought was that we might be able to duck inside for a few minutes and see if the dogs would lose their inordinate interest in us. Gary went one way around the building and I went the other to see if the museum was open for business, but alas, it was deserted and every door was shut and locked tight. We hadn’t seen one single person beside ourselves on the entire campus yet – but the dogs followed us around the building, watching us, running ahead, play-snapping at each other as they passed each other, circling. I set my face like flint toward the gate to the village at the other side of the quad and kept walking, determined not to make eye contact with either dog.

My heart beat faster as the dogs seemed to approach closer and closer on their passes. The incident from elementary school played in my mind, and then again, and again. After a couple replays, I searched through the “tape” for clues as to when the dog nearest me might lunge, the exact moment I should leap to dodge his jaws, when to take off back toward the car in a dead run… as if I were fleeing down Brookridge Street again, away from that stupid, mean, black-and-white collie.

We reached the gate at the other side of the quad, and we stepped through it onto the sidewalk across the street from Sacred Heart Church. I thought, We made it. Those dogs won’t follow us across the street. I heaved a good-sized sigh of relief, and I chuckled a little with Gary as he pressed the crosswalk button.

The traffic light changed and we walked across the street. We checked the map; Sacred Heart was actually one more block north, so we walked on towards it. I looked back toward the intersection just to make sure the dogs were gone - and I saw with horror that they had patiently waited in the midst of other pedestrians for the light to change again, and at the moment it did, they calmly trotted in front of the stopped cars and across the street toward us. I thought, Surely they won’t get vicious in front of all these people; maybe they’ll choose a more sickly-looking member of this human herd to hunt down and maul to death. My heart continued its thumping and climbing into my throat as we made our way toward the church and up the front steps.

It was silent, empty, and shut tight as well. I was almost ready to grab the doorknob and twist it, rattle it, pull on it, start pounding on the door: “Help! Let us in! Somebody’s after us! We’re being hunted… um… followed… um… hello?”

The dogs were jumping and playing with each other, stopping occasionally to sniff the bushes by the church steps. If I could have heard them speaking to the passers-by, I’ll bet it would have been something like: “Hi there – nice day, huh? Yeah, we’re just out seeing the sights, sniffing the smells, exploring the environs of our lovely little village. Them? Oh, just some friends from out of town – showing them around. Well, have a nice day! See you around.” Nothing to see here, move along.

It was apparent to Gary and I that we weren’t going to be able to go inside, so we peered in the windows. We wondered aloud whether Flannery used to sit in the front or in the back, or somewhere in the middle; then a wave of fear rose inside me and wrenched my attention back to the present. A quick glance at the dogs, and then at the sky, reminded us that the afternoon was nearly spent; we had to get back on the road to Macon soon, so we turned and headed back in the direction of our car.

We backtracked our trail up the block and across the intersection; the dogs now walked alongside us as if they were our best friends, as if they belonged to us. The passers-by nodded toward our little company as we made our way back to the path through the gate to the college quad.

As we walked briskly back to our car with the dogs keeping closer pace with us than ever, it finally dawned on me: If they were going to attack you, they probably would have done so by now, don’t you think? I considered this and took another deep breath, and let my pace slow down just a little. I let my eyes wander from their fixation on the path ahead to the dogs as they continued to dance around us. I watched them run and jump and discover things in the lawn that apparently were never there before, and I allowed myself a little smile as I wondered, Do these dogs just live here? Who do they belong to? Are they neighbors’ dogs? Strays? Where did they come from?

Suddenly, the dog behind me stopped and stood dead still. By now I was getting used to his company, so I stopped and turned to see what the matter was. Before I could turn all the way around, he was off like a shot, way down the path in front of us – in pursuit of a squirrel that had just climbed down a tree to the ground.

The boxer’s companion saw him running, so he came tearing across the quad to join him. They cornered the squirrel in a recessed sewer grate near the gated entrance to the campus. They barked, lunged, and pawed at him; I saw the squirrel’s head poke out beside the grate above the ground and thought for a moment the little guy might escape, then –

I heard a small squeak and a final growl as the collared boxer lunged once more and took the squirrel’s head in his jaws. The other dog quickly grabbed the other share of the squirrel’s body and tail in his own mouth, and together they turned their rumps to us and trotted away across the grass, carrying the doomed squirrel like triumphant Olympic relay racers taking a victory lap with the American flag. As they approached the base of a large cedar tree, one decided he didn’t want to share his prize, and he slowed for a moment; the other didn’t let go and swung himself around to face his buddy. The negotiation tug-of-war lasted only for a second as the body of the squirrel was easily pulled in half, Solomon-like. For the first time the dogs then parted company, each loping away to separate corners of the campus and his own secret bone-burying territory with a satisfied pink-and-black doggie grin.

I couldn’t move for about a minute. My eyes were so wide, I thought I might be blinded by the low-hanging red winter sun. The only words I could formulate in response to my husband’s bemused look were, “Oh my God.” And then, “Did you see that?”

I was a little shaky getting back in the car, but when I shut the door, the release of my held breath seemed to scour out the last of my fear; with my next breath, it was replaced by a numb daze. I had taken the wheel; Gary took the map, and I obeyed all his directions to get on the highway with no argument – not a word. I noticed my glassy-looking eyes reflected in the rearview mirror.

As the adrenalin subsided, I was filled with a sense of wonderment. It wasn’t until we got to Macon and told the story to our friends that I realized: Flannery had indeed blessed me with a deeply personal (and quite proper) scaring.

[Hat tip for the image above: John Murphy.]

Friday, August 04, 2006

More on My Summer Vacation

My post below about the Cornerstone Imaginarium has sparked some conversation in the comments box. I'm very happy to have you all over! Thanks for coming to visit.

One visitor took issue with some aspects of my post; here below is my response to his concerns.


[Marc in bold, me in regular font]

Hi Kathleen, I agree with your assessment about the t-shirt and the tattoos but that's where it ended for me. You described Universalists as Christians which either means you are not informed on their theology or lack there of, or you are completely lacking in the discernment area. Calling Universalists Christians is like using the term flaming snowflakes. They just don't go together. Universalists do not believe Jesus is the only way to salvation which is what the bible clearly teaches. I guess I would have to ask if you believe Jesus is the only way.

Your careful reading of my post is evident in noting that I was a little sloppy in my use of the term Universalist. All I was trying to say was that there were Christians of all stripes, i.e. from A to Z, at Cornerstone. Truth to tell, I was simply looking for a denomination name from the end of the alphabet to put in the sentence in question: “With every conceivable Christian expression from Anabaptists and Anglicans to Ukrainian Catholics and Universalists represented…” (I couldn’t think of any that started with Z, Y, X, W, or V.)

However, I will say this: I believe you might be mistaking me for saying that Unitarians are legitimately counted as Christians, which I do not think they are. Unitarians, as the name implies, don’t believe in the Trinity, and thus they deny that Jesus is God – and I completely agree, this disqualifies them from being considered a “Christian expression”. In the early 1960s, the Unitarians in this country merged with another group calling itself Universalist, and they go by the name Unitarian Universalist – so it’s easy to conflate the two terms.

Universalists actually hold a slightly different belief than strict Unitarians; they do allow that Jesus is the Son of God and the means by which salvation came to the whole world, but they believe that His sacrifice on the Cross bought salvation for everybody automatically, regardless of whether they ever appropriate it by faith. In other words, Universalists are the ones who ask, “How could a loving God ever send anyone to Hell?” and often deny Hell’s existence outright. In case you wondered, I am not a Universalist; I believe in Hell because the Scriptures and the Creeds teach that it exists. I do everything I can to avoid Hell and to steer others clear of it. Catholic teaching is not universalist; though some Catholic theologians have speculated that God’s mercy might be so powerful that Hell stands empty, as far as we know, there are many good arguments against that idea. For the definitive word on H-E-double-toothpicks, see here. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe that, however repentant I may be, some of my own sins won’t cause me to burn in Hell – it’s only Jesus’ precious Blood that I trust in to save me from such a fate, and Scriptures like John 10:27-28 encourage me. But I realize that the “Hell might be empty” idea comes out of a deep reverence for the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and the oceanic depths of His mercy, and I strive to believe in His power and mercy deeper in my soul each day. I also try to encourage others to do the same, because I don’t believe any of us will make it to the finish line unless we grasp through faith the grace we need to live our lives for Jesus. I don’t believe anyone’s going to just coast into Heaven.

You also stated that Thomas Merton in your words, "needs no defense from me". I take that to mean you support his teaching which was by the end of his life more influenced by Buddhism than the Jesus found in the bible.

To be honest, I have read very little Merton outside of pithy quotes that friends have sent me. I know there are some that say that Merton was more Buddhist than Catholic by the end of his life; I would respond with the following: 1) It’s quite possible that those making this conclusion were themselves much more interested in Buddhism than the orthodox Catholic faith, and thus interpreted his writings in a certain way to get him “on their side”, and 2) it’s possible that if he was influenced by Buddhism, it may have been for the good. (I realize this second statement may scandalize you further; I hope my explanation doesn’t make it even worse, but here goes.)

Catholic teaching holds that there is one Church which was founded by Jesus Christ (“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” Eph. 4:4-5). This Church finds its fullest expression in the Roman Catholic Church. Her organizational structure was ordained by Christ (“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Mt. 16:18-19), and God promises to show up in the Sacraments celebrated by her priests (“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’” Mt. 28:18-20). I do realize that Catholics interpret these Scriptures differently than Protestants; I’ve read many articles and essays deconstructing the Greek word petra/petros in Mt. 16, for example. Suffice to say that I believe the Catholic Church’s interpretation of these Scriptures on the authority of the magisterium, the Church’s teaching authority, which comes directly from the Apostles to whom Jesus spoke the above words.

Since her birth, the Catholic Church has understood herself to have been created by Jesus Christ – brought into being through His wounded side, like Eve from Adam – and thus regards herself as the one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal, worldwide) Church. We constantly point to Christ as the Author of our salvation; we believe Acts 4:12 which says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." We also believe I Tim. 3:15, which describes “the household of God” as “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” This, by the way, is foundational to the idea that the Church and her traditions are sources of truth as well as Scripture; the Bible says that the truth is found in the Church.

However, Catholics recognize that other Christian groups, other religions, and many human cultural expressions have a hold on portions or fragments of that truth that is fully expressed and accessible through the Catholic Church. For example, Buddhism is a pagan religion that has grasped the concept of needing to examine and distance oneself from one’s fleshly desires. This knowledge is not salvific in itself, but it can point someone in the right direction towards Christ, i.e. help a person who’s having trouble managing desires that are contrary to God’s will. It’s possible that Merton encountered this idea in a Buddhist context, but Christ used it to bring him closer to Him. Again, I don’t know for sure, but this might be a plausible explanation. I’d encourage you to do your own research to see whether I’m right or wrong about Merton.

You also seem to believe in the appearances of Mary which in the end puts peoples eyes on Mary instead of where they belong, on Jesus. This is what I believe the bible is talking about when it talks about lying signs and wonders. With all this and more which I don't have time to comment on now, I am really surprised JPUSA has had you as a speaker.

Actually, I don’t have a huge devotion to Mary; I do pray the rosary now and then (which, by the way, is a method of prayer by which one focuses on events in the life of Jesus and seeks to “imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise”). As far as those incidents that have been approved by the Church, e.g. the appearance of the Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego at the bottom of Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City in 1531 that resulted in her picture (now known as the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe) on his cloak – I have learned a great deal about Jesus and His love from the Mexican folks at my parish who love Mary. The reason for this is that Mary always points to her Son – this, in fact, is one of the criteria taken into account when the Vatican evaluates reports of Marian apparitions. Remember the wedding at Cana – after her conversation with Jesus about the wine, she tells the servants (as she continually tells each one of us): “Do whatever He tells you.” I don’t find Mary and the saints distracting any more than I find my presently earth-dwelling Christian friends to be distracting – I trust that they’re trying to show me Christ, and I appreciate their encouragement on my walk.

I am sorry but I didn't want to leave it at that. I hope that you would prayerfully consider the things you are beleiving and teaching and test them in light of God's unchanging authoritative word. I guess there's one last thing I would want to comment on. In the beginning of your post you described Dwayna as a fundamentalist and put her in the company of Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, A.W. Tozer, Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin. Those are people that most evangelicals including myself would hold in very high esteem. I thought your description of a fundamentalist was fairly accurate in going back to it's origin in the early 20th century but there is an obvious stigma attached to the term these days which I'm sure you are aware of so I am a bit curious as to your motives in using that term. When most people use the term, they associate it with ignorant, backwoods hicks who like to test God with snakes and believe the King James version of the bible is the only legit. translation. I should note that Jonathan Edwards was attending Harvard at the age of 13 and Charles Spurgeon is widely known as the prince of preachers. I could go on about these men but I think the most important link is that they all had an esteem for Christ and an unfailing trust in His word. If that's the company you put Dwayna in, you can include me as well.

I suppose you’re right about the term fundamentalist. I am aware of the negative connotations of the word and used it despite that; I’m sorry for not taking the higher road and using another label. I thought that my description of the movement might help cradle Catholics and other folks unfamiliar with it to understand where the word comes from, so it wouldn’t be just an epithet thrown at Dwayna and her friends, but I guess that in my decision to use the word, I didn’t quite overcome my own personal negative feelings at my own friends (Lint Hatcher, John Morehead) being vilified on those comment threads over on Slice of Laodicea. Your point is well taken; I myself don’t much appreciate being called a “Romist”, “papist”, or “among the ranks of lost souls deceived by the Whore of Babylon”, so I’m happy to use whatever name you’d like me to use in order to ensure a civil and respectful tone to our conversation. Actually, I haven’t heard from Dwayna, so I don’t know if she was in fact offended by being described as a fundamentalist, if that makes any difference.

Re: Spurgeon et al.: I don’t doubt in the least that these men were smart - all smarter than me, in fact. However, it’s my understanding that they all held to very strict Calvinist theological structures and interpretations of Scripture which contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church, which is why I disagree with them and with the vision of humanity and culture as seen through their lens. I don’t doubt that they all loved Jesus and believed in the Bible, but in my view, they came to erroneous conclusions about the nature of man and of God’s grace. For example, I believe that man is born with the stain of original sin, but not in total depravity. This difference has huge implications for how we as Christians engage the cultures of the world, including our own. I can go into this further at a later date, if you like.

Though I'm sure I don't agree with Dwayna on everything, I'm pretty sure we agree on the essentials of the faith and I am very concerned that you don't hold those essentials in as high esteem. I like what Walter Martin once said in describing the essentials (fundamentals of the faith). The essentials are the line of demarcation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the cults. I guess each of us have to ask which kingdom we're walking in. Pretty big question if you ask me. Thanks and God bless, Marc

You seem to be wondering whether I’m in the Kingdom of God, or if I really care. Let me assure you, I do care quite a bit. The question we should look at first, though, is: How is a person saved? How do you get into the boat that sails to the other side, to the Kingdom of Light? Catholics answer this question with the following Scripture: "Baptism, which corresponds to [the Flood in Noah’s time], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (I Pet. 3:21). This does not mean that all people who receive a Christian baptism (in water and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) have a free ticket to heaven; by no means. Baptism is the beginning of the process of being saved. In the New Testament, various Greek verb tenses are used to describe salvation (“you have been saved” [Eph. 2:8], “us who are being saved” [I Cor. 1:18], “we shall be saved” [Acts 15:11]) – that’s past, present, and future. What Protestants regard as a two-step process (first justification, then sanctification), Catholics regard as one single path (e.g., “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” [Phil. 2:12]). Baptism is the start of the journey, but you’ve got to persevere in faith in order to get there – sort of a combination of the Baptist “once saved, always saved” idea and the necessity for the “perseverance of the saints”.

Thus, since Catholics don’t see a line in the sand between “saved” and “not saved”, but regard folks as being at various stages in the process, we’re reluctant to judge whether a person is going to end up in heaven or hell. We consider it our responsibility to point people in the right direction and encourage people toward whatever light of truth they have or can grasp, and we trust the Holy Spirit will bring other people and ideas along to keep them going forward. It’s the Holy Spirit that converts and changes people’s hearts, after all.

Below is a concise statement of what I believe to be the essentials of the faith, and I honestly believe it with my whole heart:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And is seated at the right hand of the Father.
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.

This statement, by the way, is called the Apostle’s Creed, the oldest creed that church historians know of (it was written sometime before A.D. 100), and it serves as the foundation of all orthodox Catholic and Christian theology. I offer it here in hopes that it will challenge you, and anyone else reading, to ask: Do I have any “lines of demarcation” of my own with regard to the truth about Christ and His Church? How can I progress to deeper faith in Him?

God’s blessing be yours, Marc. Thanks for the chance to chat.