My husband is Lutheran, and because he took a course in comparative world religions, considers himself an expert on all religions, including Catholicism. He’s a bit of a know-it-all, but hey, we all have our faults.
Sometimes the misconceptions got really snotty, and early in our marriage I used to feel the need to clarify those misconceptions. And I’m afraid I wasn’t very pleasant about it. That made for some interesting arguments, including our most famous “theologic discussion,” which occurred early on the morning of December 25 the third year we were married.
It had been a stressful Advent; both of us had ailing family members and both of us were working extra time. We did what we normally do on Christmas Eve–attend the candlelight service at his church, and then Midnight Mass at my church. And then head over to Denny’s (the only thing open on that date and at that hour, unless you count a Thruway rest stop) for a late night breakfast.
So we were in Denny’s, overtired, stressed out, and hungry, and in a decidedly unChrstmaslike spirit. So you had two adults who were starting to behave like overtired, cranky three year olds. Somehow we managed to get into an argument about the Eucharist and the doctrine of consubstantiation (Lutheran) versus the doctrine of Transubstantiation (Catholic.) We got louder and louder, and then started throwing packets of sugar at each other.
Finally, the manager kicked us out!
A few days later I went to confession and confessed the ridiculous argument. The priest was actually laughing at me, and it took him a couple of moments to recover his dignity to assign me a penance and pronounce absolution. Only time I’ve ever been laughed at in confession. Mea stupida, mea maxima stupida.
The bottom line is this: Particularly the first line Protestants (Episcopalians and Lutherans,) believe so close to what we believe, that it’s almost insane that somehow we haven’t managed to hash it out and come to improve our own catechesis to the point where they would agree.
I had a dream about Purgatory once, and there was a special room for Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans. It resembled a dirty and seedy bus terminal, stuffy, overheated, and complete with all the odors that one would associate with that. There were some surly-looking angels at the ticket counter. They made it plain that they were not amused by our presence. We suffering souls all sat around on hard and splintery benches and griped about our small but significant doctrinal differences and petty arguments broke out. And once a week, St. Michael himself, looking like a stern junior high school principal, came in, lectured all of us, did some catechesis with our separated brethren who had to write points of doctrine five hundred times. The Catholics had to write essays about why they weren’t more effective at catechizing, or why they didn’t even bother to try during their lifetime. We all had to turn our papers in to St. Michael, and then get in line at the ticket counter. Only a few people at a time got the heaven ticket punched. Everyone else had to go back and sit down and think about it all for another week. And so forth.
Okay, maybe just a crazy dream. But I think that those small but significant differences are wounds inflicted in the Body of Christ that are just as grievous as those He suffered on the Cross. And may He forgive me for my part in the nasty paper cuts and brush burns that I’ve inflicted in not reaching out to those who are so close but so far away!
By the way, my husband is now aware that the sale of indulgences was an abusive practice that was never encouraged by Rome, that Catholics don’t worship Mary or statues, and in fact he has pretty much gotten over the “Mary thing” that so many Protestants find disturbing. However, he continues to insist that the same Nicene Creed that the Lutherans recite states “holy Roman Catholic Church!”
Hmmm—I never asked him what grade he earned in that comparative religion course he tells me he took in college! I think I’ll pass on that, though: No more flying sugar packets! I think, too, that for the time being, unless the Holy Spirit puts it in my heart and mind to be able to deliver it in a good and effective way, I will not inform my husband that he actually IS a part of the Catholic Church, but not in full communion.
I don’t know why we can’t all manage to at least get along and respect each other’s viewpoints: And I’m sure God wonders why He bothered to give us brains, since even the best of us don’t bother to use them all that much! But if you stop and think about it, we believe the same critical points of doctrine, we have pretty much the same value system, and we all call Christ our King. There’s a big base on which to build.
All I can say is: Go figure. And when it gets too silly, I smile, keep my mouth shut, and say a prayer that he will come to know the fullness of truth.