I saw something I never thought I would see this past year, and six months later, it’s still moving my heart towards compassion and love. It was such a move of God that I’ve struggled to put it into words for fear of lessening the beauty of the moment, but I’ll try to explain.
Although doctrinally I now fall squarely in the protestant camp, I grew up as a devout Roman Catholic. I know that some have horrible memories of a church that taught a foreign, almost Satanic God, but that was not my experience. I was raised in a thriving parish that taught me that God loved me, that I was a sinner, and that He saved me, and that I needed to accept His payment for my debts. I was also was taught that I should read and study my bible, serve my neighbor, and confess my sins, not only to a priest, but to other believers who would walk with me. That’s why I never understood why, when I would go to Christian conferences, or listen to Christian radio, other believers would hate me. (Because that’s really what I received as a child: that other Christians had disdain for me.) I loved and served the same God as them, and hoped to be reunited with Him, both in life and death, the same way they did. Why did they think of me as less-than?
I loved both of these camps so much though, that from a very early age, I began praying that they would love one another. I wanted them to see that they were brothers and sisters, not enemies. I realized that it would probably take my very life and body to help bridge this gap. (I also balanced my mom’s checkbook at five, so this level of depth and concern wasn’t out of the ordinary for me.)
I didn’t realize how hard this task would be though, or how many other saints had been called to it. The most discouraging experience I had was in 2003. A very prominent pastor in a very prominent church (and yes, you would know both of their names), held a workshop on the difference between Catholicism and Evangelicalism. I watched as this assumed man of God took an entire audience who was eager to love Catholics and share their knowledge of Christ with them and transformed them into people who thought that Catholics were the scum of the Earth. I’m not exaggerating. I watched as love was replaced with hate, and curiosity was transformed into fear and loathing. I walked out angry, hurting, and lamenting. Ironically, that was also my husband and I’s first date: him a non-denominational Christian who had been taught that Catholics were dangerous and to be avoided. And I, a Catholic and Evangelical lover. We almost didn’t come together because of this gap, for don’t you know, that would be becoming unequally yoked?
Although in my own life I was able to persuade my husband to love Catholics, and I eventually became a protestant myself, I never thought these camps would come together. Not in an act of poor euchamenism — not in some weak “let’s believe nothing so we can hug it out way” — but in a show of understanding that we sit at the same table and eat the same food. We are brothers and sisters who are very different, but siblings nonetheless. Siblings that need each other. I didn’t have faith for this family reunion until this past June.
I was at a conference that was talking about why, it seemed, that God was using ideas like Sacrament and Liturgy to do a new thing in the Evangelical church. The presenters argued that those things seem like they should produce death, but instead, evangelical churches were finding that they had some resurrection power for their churches. The group of attendees had Mennonites and Southern Baptists; Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Catholics; Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Each of these groups had people who were supposed to fight with one another. Instead, we learned together, confessed our sins to one another, and prayed together. It. Was. Glorious. But the best part came when we went to break bread with one another.
An Anglican priest prepared communion for all of the protestants. But, the leader of the conference acknowledged that some Catholics in the audience may not feel comfortable receiving that communion.So, he shared that a priest would also be available to give a blessing.
“Some of you protestants could use a blessing from a Catholic priest,” he joked.
We lined up, each feeling the sacredness of sharing a meal that we probably won’t be able to share again until heaven. As I sat in my row, and then stood in line, I watched as something spectacular happened. Almost all of the participants were willing to go to the priest and let their brother bless them. I may have been shocked, but the priest was downright moved. I saw, as he blessed each of them, that his armor was melting away. He, like me, believed that these people would hate him, ignore him, belittle him, and instead they humbled themselves and chose to believe that they belonged to him — and he to them.
I couldn’t do anything but cry. If you’ve never seen a family reunited, you won’t understand. But if you have, you know that there is weeping and rejoicing that is unparallelled in this world.
I feel the need to note that the protestants didn’t become Catholic in that moment. Nor will they. We each went home to our own tribes and our own camps that day. But, many left finding out that they had a brother that they never knew they had.
What I saw was downright miraculous. I’ve worked for it, but I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime.
The church is so much bigger than we allow it to be. We all have wrong doctrines, and wrong beliefs, and I look forward to the day when we don’t argue anymore. I’m expectant, and joyful, and hopeful for a day when we all know who was right and who was wrong, and we can drop our misconceptions, and love and serve Christ together. I wait for a day, when instead of arguing, we love with all of our heart, soul and mind. It sounds romantic, maybe even sentimental, but after living a lifetime of doing it, I can say that it’s gritty, and strong, and hard, and completely looks like Jesus. For, as a catholic priest once told me, FAMILY means
Forget. About. Me. I. Love. You.