Good article. I’ll start with the second point first:
Second, Evangelicals find Catholicism unattractive because of the Catholic witness. The lack of Catholics with a personal relationship with Christ.
As an Evangelical the Catholic faith was so unattractive, so un-Christian, because the Catholics we knew lacked a personal, genuine relationship with Christ. They weren’t, as Evangelical writers would put it, “disciples.”
They didn’t strive to model their lives after Christ—His compassion, His integrity, His generosity—and that made them not Christians.
And, actually, that seems pretty fair because Jesus did condemn the Pharisees for their empty religion.
And these two go hand-in-hand: A practice of [empty] religion replaces a relationship with Christ. Strip away the religion and focus on Christ.
It’s a fair argument and, in my opinion, our response shouldn’t be strike back, it should be to agree.
I think you’ll get quite different comments depending whether you talk with Evangelical ex-Catholics or Catholic ex-Evangelicals. Or, for that matter, whether you’re on an Evangelical IDF or a Catholic IDF.
The article seemed to repeat some of the old stereotypes that have been kicking around for decades, about Catholics that are supposedly big on religiosity but short on personal relationship with Christ, living out their faith. Come on! Can’t we get past the old cliches?
The mention about poor catechesis is valid…but I don’t think that would make Catholicism unattractive, it would make some Catholics unattractive. I think Evangelicals are fully aware that human imperfections don’t disprove the message. They have seen enough human imperfections among Evangelicals. They are also aware that many entire Protestant denominations - the churches themselves, not just individuals - have abandoned historic Christian witness on faith and morals. Most mainline denominations were, in effect, pretty evangelical several decades ago. Many denominations currently labelled evangelical are getting ambiguous on things like prolife and marriage.
That’s…a little simplistic.
I grew up with and around nominal Catholics who had no interest in spiritual matters, no morality and no interest in following what the Church taught. It did indeed, as a young guy in his twenties appear very much dead and ‘going through the motions’.
On the other hand, walking into an evangelical church was like walking into a different world, and appeared to have everything I believed lacking in the Catholic Church.
Now, years after coming back to the Church I can see much of my reaction was youthful exuberance and ignorance. But that doesn’t mean the negative things I saw should be easily dismissed. Evangelicals don’t see a Catholic spiritual life lived out, celebrated, and wholeheartedly embraced.
But being evangelical all those years, make me a better Catholic today.
And Catholics solve nothing by denying what Evangelicals see.
There’s an old saying that sometimes it’s more fruitful to listen to your enemy rather than your friend. Because your friend will not identify your faults because he does not want to hurt your feelings. But your enemy will point out your faults no problem.
I think I would be Catholic today if Catholics (especially my age) would have welcomed me into the Church; excited to know that I’m coming to the “fullness of faith”.
Yes, there was much emptiness in that Cathedral when I signed up for RCIA. I recently started going to a new Evangelical Church that’s closer to where I have moved; the Theology is the same as my old one, it’s way smaller, but man those people noticed a new face. I walk in and everyone’s so excited that a new couple have come in; I’ve been invited to dinner by two different families, and coffee with the pastor.
Looking back on my days as a evangelical (born and raised): Catholicism used to come across to me as, not necessarily offensive, but as weird, bizarre, arboreal, etc. I’d see a 1000-year-old picture of Jesus on a horse, or a picture of Mary with a heart placed outside of her chest that has a dagger going through it, or a picture of some 800-year-old saint dressed up in a weird outfit that has light shooting out of his fingertips, and I’d just look at them with a mix of confusion and befuddlement and be like “Uhhhh…”, and then move on. None of it spoke to me or seemed to resonate with the passion, humility, and love of the Gospel, and how Jesus really loved me, and suffered for me, and sacrificed himself for me. Catholicism appeared fancy, but arcane and distant.
Nowadays, I love all of it, especially of the sacred heart of Jesus & the immaculate heart of Mary, which speaks to me so deeply, but I don’t think the average bystander (or even necessarily the average poorly catechized Catholic) is able to wrap their hearts & minds around these images & devotions in an empathetic way without first having some solid background knowledge & context to be able to appreciate them. I suppose you could say that one of the obstacles of the Catholic Church is that it can be too rich in theology, history, and beauty for its own good. I think with evangelization, you need to appeal to the basics before moving into some of the deeper subjects. Milk comes before solid food, as St Paul would say.
I think, for example, the brown scapular - a devotion spanning back to the medieval ages from soldiers in the Crusades that suffered PTSD - is a rich, beautiful, and Gospel-driven devotion for a solidly-founded, well-read Catholic, but would make a very poor outreach tool to use for protestants. In all likelihood it would just go in one ear and out the other.
And then there is the ever-prevalent problem of parishes not being as “warm” as evangelical churches. There is one parish in particular, just an hour north of me, that I think has made a slam dunk in solving this stereotype (while remaining very much orthodox), and even exceeds the evangelical church of my youth in its warmth & community, but a lot of them do come across as stale.
Yes, English speaking Catholics are terrible at the fellowship part. In non-English speaking nations, Catholics are WAY better.
While I wish Catholic parishes were better with fellowship, there are some reasons why it’s not the case in English speaking North America (esp the United States) – just look how close-nit the Spanish ministries are in our Catholic Parishes (or the personal parishes which are based on ethnic/national heritage), if you don’t believe me.
parishes are built in neighborhoods and boundaries are assigned. People typically attend the parish they live in. Historically, that means that the parishioners knew each other outside of Church and did things together at home. Extended families attended Mass together, then had brunch or dinner after mass together. Sunday, was a day for God and family. Close friends/neighbors were also sometimes included. Additionally, parishioners would attend parish activities during the week. Daily Mass, devotions at night, Knights of Columbus, Knight of Columbus Auxiliary, Legion of Mary, bingo, etc. So the social part of the parish took place Monday through Saturday. Sunday was strictly for Mass and Family, as the fellowship took place during the week.
evangelical communities have a different course of development, especially the larger ones and the “non-denominational” ones. A focus on fellowship became extremely important when protestants started attending different denominations, instead of staying in the one they were born in. The evangelical communities were very good at this, and frankly because they had to be. With the creation of the non-denominational communities, members were joining where their extended family did not attend. So when you had more people picking their place of worship based on the preacher, and not where their family attends or where they live, a focus on fellowship becomes very important to help make them part of the community.
Where I believe Catholic parishes miss the boat is due the following demographic changes in American society:
– today, especially in the suburbs and gentrified urban areas, people don’t know their neighbors. Other than their immediate neighbors, they may often never speak to people in their neighborhood, especially if they don’t have kids.
– on average, people don’t live in their homes as long as they did in the past, and people move more (on average), so they don’t get as close to their neighbors as you would if you lived next door to someone for 25 years.
– more people live today in parishes where they do not have family, and many live far from their families (like me).
– less practicing Catholic attend parish activities during the week and some parishes don’t have a full plate of activities during the week, other than daily mass.
Catholics also participate in Catholic groups outside of our parish. We often attend events at other parishes, or Catholic clubs which are located and meet elsewhere (whether Knights of Columbus or something else). We also attend events sponsored by the Diocese or Catholic apostolates, like the Catholic Answers Cruise.
Finally, many Catholic parish activities are still run by the lay members who have lived there for years. They often do not understand the fellowship needs of transplants and converts because they are receiving their fellowship needs during the week from their Catholic neighbors, friends, activities, etc.
As a transplant, I totally understand that Catholic parishes are not the best at fellowship – especially when it comes to converts and transplants. But it is important to understand that in (at least) English speaking Catholic parishes, our fellowship takes place with our families and during the week.
Most Catholics will tell you that we would like more coffee socials, etc. however, many of the women who run them frankly want to get home to their grandkids, etc. They have brunch or dinner planned for the extended families, etc.
In order to expand this, we need the converts and transplants (like me) to volunteer and fill that need. Otherwise, the nice ladies (God Bless them) who have attended the parish for 40 years will continue to do run those socials just once in a while because that is what they can commit to.
BTW - in most (not all) Cathedrals, you are not going to find a lot of fellowship. The local parishes are typically much better for that. Reason, many Cathedrals are not actually parishes, and the ones that are parishes are often run like they are not (pastor being identified as Rector, etc). Most Cathedrals focus on being place of pilgrimage, vs being a local parish. However, there are exceptions and some Cathedrals that are working on developing an active parish schedule of events, for example, some Cathedrals have started Young Catholic Adult groups, ambassadors, tour guides, etc.
Also, in regards to having dinner with Catholic Pastors, since they have hundreds or thousands of parishioners (and no wife), it’s often not realistic for them to invite people to dinner. However, they often attend when parishioners invite them to dinner (if their schedules are not crazy - as many are).
I grew up with fundamentalists, although I belonged to a liturgical church. I went to church with my friends many many times. My experience is just as valid as any ones.
The two different denominations were different as one was Pentecostal and the other a fundamentalist church.
Even as a member of a liturgical church, I wore a crucifix and was raked over the coals for it by members of the one church. Although none of these members knew anything about what I believed, nor really what their own denominations believed.
All the older teens made fun of the hymns (pretty sick in my opinion) my friend told me what the elders were doing in sin, as small churches seem to be like small towns, everyone knows your business. Yes the adults were friendly, however, they showed themselves one way when in secret many were not following Christ.
In fact, the pastor’s son-in-law was having an affair with a 16 year old girl. This is all true.
I don’t think that protestants are any different than Catholics, maybe better at hiding what they do in secret.
This is what my experience was and I remember it very well. I also took my friends to my church and was very proud of the reverence shown during the service compared to what I experienced in their churches.
So it seems pretty ridiculous for people to be judging Catholics, maybe they should be looking at their own churches. I think Catholics are just more out front. Yes it would be great if we had more of the community spirit, however, unless you’re in a small parish it is impossible to have the same relationships with others. My friend attends a mega church, which is more like most Catholic parishes in size and she has to join a small group to have a relationship with others. Too many people and it is very difficult to get to know very many others.