One of the things that has lead me back into communion with the Holy Church has been the way that Catholicism understands the Incarnation and, as a consequence, history. I was Protestant for several years, and one of the factors that lead me to abandon it and pursue other (non-Christian) faiths was because I got a very strong sense that Christianity is all about history; as in things that happened and are finished with. History is dead and the constant thanking and praising of Jesus for something he had done and was over with lead to a feeling of disconnection. I could appreciate the idea of the Incarnation and Atonement, but in the same way that I could appreciate the fact that John Locke made a large contribution to the ideology behind Constitutional Rights.
The extreme personalism and emotionality of [some] Protestant denominations actually lead an increased alienation from the divine in my experience. Christ had come and gone, done his work and I was left not so much with salvation, but with a story of salvation, a history. I don’t know how many of you have attempted to strike up a conversation with some one from history, like John Locke or Napoleon Bonaparte. Their physical absence presents an obvious problem to our relationship with them even though we can recognize how their actions might have affected us. I jest to an extent of course, because I know no one regards their intensely personal relationship with Christ to be anything similar to me trying to establish my intensely personal relationship with John Locke. My point, however, is that the strong emotional terms which much of Protestantism applies (ie. Jesus I am so in love with you) began to create, in my mind, a certain tension. I was relating to this person Jesus as though he was my best friend yet Christ had come and gone and there were no visible signs of His Person left for me to relate to. It was, as though He might be a symbol of history.
What attracts me about the Catholic Incarnation is that Christ did not come, do his work, and leave. His Incarnation has never stopped. In taking up human flesh and the entire material world in it, he brought the flesh into his own Divinity and bound it to Himself. In his death that flesh too died and in his Resurrection, that flesh too was restored and promised that same Ascension. Through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the actions of Christ in history achieve their transhistorical dimension. Christ did not take up our flesh and then slough it off when He ascended. Our flesh is still in Him even now. Christ did not immerse Himself in the world, redeem it and leave; Christ is still in the world through discernible signs (Sacraments) and redeeming it, even now. Through the Holy Mass history is not something that happened once and has consequences for later. Through the Mass the history of salvation becomes present to us, not only by mental reflection, but by our actual participation in it.
I can not see Protestantism asserting this same understanding of history. My question to Protestants are “what about God and the world changed through the Incarnation”. To Catholics, the world is different now after Christ specifically because of the Incarnation. God is now present in the flesh, God is now present in the Eucharist. When Christ returns to heaven, from the Protestant view, what about the world changes? * How does the Son of God continue to be present in the world in a manner that he was not present before the Incarnation?* Surely the Son was present in the world before the Incarnation, as He is God and God is everywhere. In the Catholic understanding the Incarnation makes the Son uniquely present not just for a moment in history, but from then onwards.