Catholic Amnesia – The Greatest Identity Crisis in History
Have you ever forgotten who you were? Chances are that you haven’t, however, I found out it is more common than I realized. According to HealthResearchFunding.org, Dissociative Amnesia, which is the loss of specific memory which can include the loss of a sense of identity, occurs in up to 7% of the general population, with a minimum of 2% of people in the US population experiencing it at any given time. To put that into perspective, that is approximately 6,380,000 people all experiencing amnesia. Yet, I think there is a sort of spiritual amnesia also plaguing the people within the Church, and it is progressing.
K. Albert Little, a blogger over at Patheos, recently wrote a blog that is getting a lot of buzz called “Why the Catholic Church Must Become More Protestant.” In it, this recently converted catholic laments over the failures that our churches have made. He brings up valid points, please do not get me wrong, but he prescribes the wrong medicine. In his article he cites (without providing sources), Peter Kreeft, the famous catholic philosopher/theologian/Thomistic genius. He states that, “Peter Kreeft argues that the Catholic Church needs to do what St. Pope John Paul II’s New Evangelization has been urging the Church to do for several decades now: essentially, become more Protestant.”
I’m sorry, in what universe did the great Pope St. John Paul II ever, ever, urge the Church to become more “protestant”? I digress. Little concludes by stating, “the ultimate ecumenism—our ultimate embrace of Jesus’s prayer for us to be one—must result in a Church which is both Catholic, retaining the sacraments given to us by God, and equally Evangelical, with an orientation towards community, discipleship, and evangelism. This is, of course, the best of both worlds. This is what we should strive to attain. This is what Christ prayed for, and this is why the Catholic Church must become more Protestant.” Yet, is that the answer to the woes of the Church?
When I had my major conversion experience at the age of 12 and fell in love with Christ and the Catholic Church, one of the saving graces that I had was that I had been well-exposed to protestantism. I had been to the Sunday schools, the youth groups, the Vacation Bible Camps, etc. Why? My mother saw that there was literally nothing engaging me in my faith within the parishes in my town. As a young kid (before I rejected the faith for a short time), I used to rock out to the Christian band Petra, watch Psalty the Songbook and Gerbert (the days before VeggieTales), and the list goes on. Yet, when I experienced our Lord’s presence in my life in a real way for the first time, after a period of time of being away from God spiritually, it turned me not towards those protestant churches, but drove me deeper into the Catholic Church.
I still listen to Christian music today. I still go to Christian concerts, nights of praise and worship, and I do from time to time, listen to a sermon or two from Joyce Meyer or Rick Warren. I’m smart enough to pick out the heresies or false teachings that protestantism has embedded within it, however, there are things within protestantism that are authentically good. Yet, what I realized as a child, and what I still hold to today, is that while, as Little says, “Evangelical Protestantism, says Kreeft, has a serious market cornered on relationship-building, discipleship, and evangelization,” these things are not inherently protestant. How do I know?
I have read the Book of Acts and I know Catholic history.
The Early Church is our patrimony. You want to see a real grassroots community of disciples committed to the cause of evangelization? Look at the Early Church! The Holy Spirit used the men and women of the Early Church to spread the Gospel like wildfire across the world. Throughout history, Catholics were the ones writing the beautiful hymns of praise. Not only were we building religious communities, we were building civilization. We built art and culture that has stood the test of time and still inspires people today. Flashy lights, hip music, and cool videos, though nice, will not stand the test of time. Yet, here we are in the Western World, watching the decline of Christianity in the West (which has been overrun by protestantism), and we’re saying “We have to be more like those guys with their Starbucks and their rock music churches.”
NO WE DON’T!
PROTESTANTISM IS NOT THE ANSWER!
Blessed John Henry Newman said, “to study history is to cease to be protestant.” So many Catholics, both lay and clergy, seem to be dealing with the same issue our protestant friends have been dealing with – they have turned a blind eye to history. I love our Holy Father, but if you look at the sources used for our Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortations and encyclicals, you will find that beyond a few major Saints who he refers to in small ways, the majority of the sources he uses do not go beyond Pope St. John XXIII (1958). If you look at a lot of the major protestant writings, there is a significant gap of time between the New Testament and the Protestant Reformation that they do not mention either. In both these cases, I fear there is a type of amnesia.
The answer to the struggles the Church is facing is not to become like someone else. The answer is to become authentically who we are! The Catholic Church is inherently a family of disciples, called to live in unity with one another, and to preach the Gospel to all nations. We literally wrote the book on it, we should know. We have been this in the past and our communities can be this in the future. The key, however, lies in our willingness to let go of the politics that surrounds living the faith, and just do it.
Here is one simple way of being authentically Catholic which will benefit the Church and the world:
Get together with a group of serious Catholics on a regular basis. Pray together. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you as a group. Then ask this question: “How are we going to evangelize our families, friends, co-workers, local church, and city as individuals and as a group?” Set out a game plan. Then, go out for a beer and half-priced appetizers and hang out. For the love of God, just hang out with each other and build community. Stop compartmentalizing the faith and integrate the faith into everything you do, always looking for an opportunity to share the Gospel.
At the end of the day, community life, evangelization, and discipleship are authentically catholic things, just as much as the devotional life. Protestants may have borrowed these ideas and made them their own, but they are found originally with the Catholic Church; the Church Jesus Himself founded on a community of 12 men. Do not let anyone tell you different. We, however, need to start acting like the Catholics we are meant to be, not the Catholics that have filled the pews for decades and did nothing. We also cannot wait upon our priests and bishops, parishes and dioceses, to formalize this type of community. It is in our hands to do it ourselves, and we must. The days of greater persecution are coming when we are going to need each other more than ever before. We really need to get to know each other before then and starting working together. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the Early Church.