As anyone who reads site with any modicum of frequency will surely attest, I have been thinking a lot about my life and am constructing an "apologia pro vita sua", to steal the phrase of another. But one thing that I need to say before I delve deeper into my progression of faith is probably the most ultimate matter of all, and that is how I view my relationship to Him who is ultimate. Saying that I am desirous of full communion with the Church may sound shocking, especially in light of Her portrayal by others.
What I mean is this: as a new Christian in Calvary Chapel I was told that the real gospel is not about religion but relationship. I came to see that that statement was a gross oversimplification, as other Christians such as those in the Reformed world would never deny relationship for religion's sake. Instead, it is clear that true religion, as described by the epistle of St. James, is part of the gospel. And so I came to realize that discussing all of 2000 years of theological debate as being over whether one called their religion a relationship or not was more than a waste of time-it was a way of trying to stake the unique claim that only those who threw off the "shackles" of "religion" are freely in love with Our Lord.
At the same time, in embracing this understanding that religion is not a bad word, I walked in ignorance of Catholicism. I assumed that while they too were not afraid to call themselves a religion, that was merely because they did have serious differences with God's Holy Word.
After all, serious thinkers like Martin Luther had shown that Roman Catholicism was all about denying the idea that God has come to save us, and instead they advocate religion as us ascending to God on our own works. They taught that we can gain some sort of merit that is independent of Christ. Maybe Christ is a good example to us, but in their religion it seemed as though that was all.
As I hope to tell in detail, hearing of strong evangelical Christians becoming Catholic such as Francis Beckwith and other less famous people who were no less luminary in their devotion to God, unsettled me. Others who will remain nameless simply stated that these men and women were turning to Rome out of a desperate attempt to find solid unity, and ultimately this action was a mere demonstration of their ignorance of the true Gospel. The true Gospel would never lead the child of God to boast of merit, as though Christ's death on the Cross were not sufficient. The true Gospel would always say that it was all about God saving us, not us saving ourselves.
These words were enough to make me stay away from Catholic theology and fear it.
And yet, I have come to see how all of this posturing has been just that--posturing. I had stood and stared and gawked at the Catholic church, but had not listened to her own saints as they told of what God has done in their lives. In studying their formal statements on issues such as merits, I repeatedly found myself at an impasse. Instead of hearing the caricatures of Rome that I had repeated to myself, I found a completely different confession of faith. In the section specifically on merits, part of a prayer of St. Therese of Lisieux closes the section. As I read these words and reflected on them, I realized that I could not raise a cry of objection to anyone who said such things about their faith. Just as my former frustration with all those espousing Calvinism ebbed by talking to Calvinists about their true human feeling that we all must choose this day whom we must serve (despite the seeming contradiction between this and their philosophical background), I saw the walls of resistance to Catholicism fall down by simple statements by great men and women of God who "happened" to be Catholic as well.
Below is that quotation of St. Therese of Lisieux.
A link to the full prayer is here. By the way, she is one of only three women who have received the title of Doctor of the Church.
I think this quote is enough to silence any opposition to Rome's view of merit. More importantly, it is enough to inspire the hardest heart to love Our Lord.
"After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone.... In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself".