American Catholics and the Culture of Encounter

September 13, 2014

While the 2014 Convention for the Southern California Catholic Charismatic Renewal (SCRC) on Labor Day Weekend experienced continued high annual attendance with approximately 8,000 participants, one convention tradition stood out in the minds of some attendees – the annual protesters who chanted anti-catholic rhetoric, holding signs and handing out literature outside the Anaheim Convention Center.  13-year-old Liam Becker, who discovered them while on lunch break from the Teen Conference, will not soon forget the interaction.

Becker, the son of a filmmaker, was so intrigued he just had to capture it by video on his cell phone.

“I was happy but angry at the same time,” Liam said of his mixed feelings during the experience. “I felt kind of angry at them for being out there, because it seemed like they were trying to ruin it for people. For me, it also made me happy to be Catholic because it made me want to argue with them for Catholic beliefs; but then, I didn’t want to argue with them because I didn’t want them to see Catholics as bad people”, said Becker.

As the lunch crowd grew in the sunny courtyard outside the main entrance, the protesters gained their audience. A few brave individuals attempted private conversation with the two men, I was one of them. These attempts accomplished little except distracting them long enough to tone down the loud volume of their anti-Catholic rants for the sake of those who were trying to find some break-time peace. These conversations did not last long because the protesters refused to respond to much of anything of substance that was presented against their arguments, just repeating their rehearsed attacks based on the alleged immoral exploits of certain past popes.  Private conversations repeatedly proved fruitless and they returned to their regular mode of operation: shouting out repeated attacks against Catholics, Catholic beliefs, and the Catholic Church. Others attempted various forms of counter-engagement. One man, frustrated after trying to talk to them, just stood closely by shouting out “GOD IS LOVE!!”

As a person who advocates for healthy interactions between Christians of differing denominations in search for points unity and shared purpose, I felt really saddened by what I saw, and at the same time I wanted to understand where they were coming from, so I took their tri-fold hand out which was entitled: Pagan Origin of the Baby Baptizing Cult.

Soon after, a small group walking through the area to the lunch vendors spontaneously sang out the Salve Regina as they marched closely by the protesters – the crowd giggled and the protesters slapped the palms of their hands to their foreheads and shook their heads in disgust.

While eating our lunch we witnessed one nun shout out to the crowd, “Jesus told us we would be persecuted for our faith! We must pray a ‘Hail Mary’ for them!” So, dutifully, all the Catholics prayed aloud a Hail Mary, some bowing their heads. Our prayer was no doubt spiritually powerful, but nevertheless incendiary. This act incited the protesters even more, of course.

Although the video taken by Liam Becker shows only a portion of the direct interaction which occurred on the lunch break between the anti-Catholic protesters and Catholic SCRC attendees, the transcript provides a good sampling of their opinions, fears about, and protests against the Catholic Church.

Video Transcript: SCRC Convention protests outside the Anaheim Convention Center,

Saturday June 30, 2014:

Protesters:  “We’re here today out of love…. Jesus said ‘as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten out of love.’

Oh the pope, another pope, one more pope….

There is nothing more corrupt than the Catholic Church. This is not a few good people who have made mistakes along the way. This is a whole system set up on corruption… covering up pedophile priests. How corrupt does it have to be before you wake up and realize that I have to get out of this monstrosity? The Bible says there is a synagogue of Satan, the Bible says there is whore of Babylon, the Bible says there is a false church out there. Wake up! The truth is in the Bible. We are not out here asking you to follow us or our church or our pope. We are out here to tell you to read your Bible! The truth is in the Bible. Don’t let the Catholic Church tell you what to think. Don’t let your priest tell you what to think, don’t let your pope tell you what to think – read the Bible. Your Bible has got the answers.”

Catholic responder: “The Bible also says that Jesus founded his church on Peter, the rock. Look, you can’t just say one-two-and-three and not add in [verses] four-five-and six.“

Protester: “The church was not founded on Peter, the church was founded on what Peter said, his faith that Jesus Christ is the only son of God.”

Catholic responder: “Ok, Jesus said, ‘And on you Peter, this rock, I will build my church’ – Isn’t that what Jesus said?”

Protester: “You people believe lies about the origins… the Catholic Church… the origins of the Bible. You do all kinds of weird, mystical, crazy things in the name of God – pray repetitiously. You think the pope is the vicar of Christ.”

Catholic Responder: “Yes, he is!”

Protester: “You people are crazy!… Crazy stupid people! And, it’s going to kick your rear-end one day.

Catholic Responder: “Really?”

Protester: “Yeah, it’s going to kick your rear-end.”

While typing this transcript, I anticipated what my Catholic reader might be thinking:

So, let me get this straight… They were there to tell us Catholics that we are crazy, stupid people…. out of love?! So, why share this?

It was bad enough lived the first time, but I re-played the video several times to write down their words for you. Why do it? I believe we need to take a look at this example and prepare ourselves, because I personally know many people – Protestant Christians – who think like they do and who are being repeatedly indoctrinated with anti-Catholic teachings. We must be prepared to respond to their fears and biased thinking in a Godly way. This is easy to say, hard to do. I am using this example to ask you to ask yourselves – How can we prepare for these conversations? And, why should we?

One reason why we should is because Pope Francis has asked us to participate in a “culture of encounter.” Sometimes we are not looking for the encounter, sometimes the encounter is going to be negative and we need to be ready and to know how to turn it into something positive, or at least to not waste our opportunities for increasing understanding when given the chance.

 

Another big reason Catholic Christians need to prepare for this type of conversation or interaction is the pending release in movie theaters on October 3rd of the reboot of Tim LaHaye’s Rapture book made-on-film Left Behind.

Catholic author Carl E. Olsen has done of good job of explaining to Catholics why this popular Christian theory (the Rapture) can be the tip of the iceberg of a plethora of anti-Catholic beliefs that we cannot just bury our head in the sand to avoid. In one of his articles, “5 myths about the Rapture”, he exhorts Catholics to not fall for:

MYTH #1:

“The Left Behind books represent a fringe belief system that very few people take seriously.” Olsen goes on to state, ”Exactly how many copies of the Left Behind books must be sold before the theology they propagate can be taken seriously? Fifty-seven million? That’s actually where sales stand as I write this, making the novels the biggest-selling series of Christian fiction ever.” This online article was written in 2003. Today the series includes 16 best-selling novels by writers Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, two film adaptations and a video game.

MYTH #5:

(on Olsen’s list of 5 myths) is: “The Left Behind books are harmless entertainment that encourage Christians in their faith and help them better understand the Book of Revelation.”

He expounds, “One message of LaHaye’s that comes across clearly in [his] books such as Are We Living in the End Times?, Rapture Under Attack, and Revelation Unveiled is that the Catholic Church is apostate, Catholicism is “Babylonian mysticism” and an “idolatrous religion,” and Catholics worship Mary, knowing little about the real Jesus Christ. It’s difficult to overstate the dislike — even hatred — LaHaye has for the Catholic Church or to exaggerate the ridiculous character of his attacks. He condemns the use of candles in Catholic churches, insists there’s hardly any difference between Hinduism and Catholicism, and emphatically declares that the Catholic Church killed at least 40 million people during the “dark ages” (Olsen, 2003.) Yet, in other conversations about the series the novelists have made concessions for the sake of their Catholic readers claiming that the books are not anti-Catholic and weaving into the story line the rapture of some Catholics and priests.

Ironically, the anti-Catholic protesters outside the SCRC Convention did not identify with any group other than the “Christian Anti-Defamation League”, the name stamped on the back of their hand-out; however, their literature statements are very akin to the viewpoints of the Anabaptists who vehemently oppose infant baptism and the Protestant Dispensationalists.  Wikipedia reads, “Dispensationalism is an evangelical, futurist, Biblical interpretation that understands God to have related to human beings in different ways under different Biblical covenants in a series of ‘dispensations,’ or periods in history.” Dispensationalists closely study certain prophetical books of the Bible such as Revelation, Daniel, Ezekial, Jeremiah and Isaiah. Of particular focus is the period of time mentioned in Revelation 20, “the thousand-year-reign.” Catholic Answers states, “The period of a thousand years…is the reign of Christ, and the thousand-year period is popularly called The Millennium. The Millennium is a harbinger of the end of the world, and Revelation 20 is interpreted in three ways by conservative Protestants. The three schools of thought are called postmillennialism, amillennialism, and premillennialism.” These terms refer to the “thousand-year-reign” of Christ on earth relative to a Rapture event and Jesus’ Second Coming.

From the Catholic Answers article: The Rapture, “The [Catholic] Church has rejected the premillennial position, sometimes called “Millenarianism” (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 676). In the 1940s the Holy Office judged that premillennialism ‘cannot safely be taught,’ though the Church has not dogmatically defined this issue.” (Link: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-rapture)

Premillennialism promotes the belief that Jesus will return to earth before a seven-year period of tribulation, rapture His followers and return after the seven years for a literal thousand-year-reign. Although some Catholic Church Fathers did support the idea of a literal thousand-year-reign of Christ on earth (Barnabus and some sources for Irenaeus and Tertullian) the majority of contributors to Catholic Tradition on this subject have come to not accept that doctrine as the scriptures are interpreted by the Dispensationalists.

All these widely accepted Protestant-Christian doctrines provide the background for understanding much of the anti-Catholic rhetoric we hear today, of the SCRC protestors and also heard from many Protestant-Christian pastors and prophecy teachers who host conferences, publish many books, articles, video teaching series and websites about looking for the current signs of the end times and the “unholy trinity” – the Anti-Christ, the Beast and the False-Prophet  –  identified in New Testament prophetic scripture, whose identities are perpetually pondered by Dispensationalists and other students of eschatology (the study of the end times).

Catholic Christians need to know that for many of the most anti-Catholic Protestant Christians, their anti-Catholicism is wrapped up in these eschatological doctrines – teachings on their held beliefs of the end times which are loosely tied to very specific Biblical scriptures. But, they have heard them so much, they do not see how indirectly their anti-Catholic beliefs are actually tied to the Bible. References such as the “Whore of Babylon” (Rev. 17) as correlating to the Catholic Church are “Gospel Truth” to them. This symbolic image in St. John’s revelation for many proponents of Dispensational theology refers to the Roman Catholic Church. I will explain why, but before I go on, I want to share Olsen’s important point and what I, too, have observed:

“Dispensationalists disagree on about nearly every major element of the book [Revelation], including the identity of the Whore of Babylon (i.e., a reformed Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, Iraq, the United States), the mark of the Beast (i.e., computer chips, bar codes, social security numbers, laser technology), and numerous other entities, personages, nations, and events” – Carl E. Olsen, 2003.

This is important to note, because NOT ALL Christians who believe in the Rapture also believe that the Catholic Church is the symbolic Whore of Babylon identified in Revelation 17, but very many do. Calvary Chapel of Downey Pastor Jeff Johnson preaches in recorded sermons broadcasted via radio that the Bible clearly states that we can expect in the end times there to be formed “one world religion under the power of Rome.” For these people the hope and search for Christian unity is absolutely off the table because that looks too much like “one world religion”, especially if it involves Roman Catholics and the Roman Catholic Church. This Protestant-Christian doctrinal concept is loosely correlated to three prophetic passages in the books of Daniel and Revelation: a “ten-nation confederacy” is seen in Daniel’s image of the statue in Daniel 2:41-42;  John sees the “beast”; rising out of the sea having seven heads and ten horns (Revelation 13:1); and, the worship of the Anti-Christ by the unsaved in Revelation 13:8. There are actually no literal references in the Bible to a future “one world religion”.

According to some Catholic teachers on eschatology there is even quite a bit in Dispensational thought with which the Catholic Church agrees; however the Magesterium does not promote any one theory on the particulars of end-of-time Biblical prophecy fulfillment, except the assured belief in Jesus’ physical return to earth at the Parousia – the final resurrection and judgment, the consummation of the age. For the Catholic understanding, it helps to turn to the pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that eloquently state our hope of the “new heavens and the new Earth”, paragraphs 1040 to 1050. (Link: Catechism of the Catholic Church online).

If you are a Catholic Christian and you find yourself in a discussion on the end times with a Rapture believer, it is okay to simply affirm your common hope for the “imminent return of Christ” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 673] I often say something like this, “I know Jesus will return and his followers will be caught up in the air to meet Him, as scripture says. I do not see much scriptural evidence for two or more returns, but hey… I hope the Rapture theory is true, because that would be way cool! Come, Lord Jesus!”

The reason why anti-Catholic students of eschatology believe they are able to Biblically support the Roman Catholic Church = Whore of Babylon notion is that they neglect to put their interpretation of what sums up to be only THREE words of New Testament prophetic scripture into the proper time period.

These three words are:

are seven mountains.”

In Revelation 17:9, the writer states, “This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; (10) they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.” The “woman” is the Whore of Babylon. The 17th chapter of Revelation concludes with the interpretation of the symbolic woman, “(18) And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” Rome has often throughout history been known as the “City of Seven Hills”; and, it is likely that the writer of Revelation was referring to Rome, but more likely in reference to the particular or near fulfillment of the prophecy – the fall of the Roman Empire, and not necessarily in any other future (for us) fulfillment of the prophecy. For hundreds of years it has been debated among Bible scholars whether or not the “Mystery Babylon” reference in the Revelation of the Apocalypse was about the evils of the 1st Century Roman Empire or if it is about a later, future end-of-days fulfillment, or both. Most Protestant Christian students of eschatology will admit the possibility of more than one fulfillment, which leaves the current or future-day identity of Mystery Babylon quite open to interpretation, if there even is one.

Ironically the reference to “the Whore of Babylon” is a symbolic representation in a mystical revelation, again yelled out by the SCRC protesters who also loudly yelled that we Catholics “do all kinds of weird, mystical, crazy things in the name of God”. Do you remember that saying that reminds, when you point your finger at others you have three fingers pointing back at yourself?

I have one Protestant-Christian friend who recently told me that she has been hearing these anti-Catholic teachings her whole life. I replied: “Just because you have been hearing them your whole life, does not mean that they are true.” Why don’t we agree to agree on the PAN theory? …The one that says “we’ll see how it all pans out.” In the meantime, I think we should focus on what Jesus stated very clearly regarding Christian unity:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” – Jesus Christ (John 17: 20 – 23)

Any teaching that directly opposes the will of God is clearly not from God. Jesus is God, and Jesus wished for unity in the carrying of His Gospel to the world. In fact, he so knew it would be necessary, he stated why in his prayer for unity to the Father – so that the world will believe! Our disunity scandalizes the message of Jesus’ Gospel.

While the protesters’ rants aggravated 2014 SCRC Convention participants on lunch break, St. Joseph Communications Founder Terry Barber was busy inside the convention center at his exhibitor booth pushing his book How to Share Your Faith with Anyone (Ignatias Press). I have spoken on more than one occasion with Terry about his book in a continued discussion we have been having about how to use apologetics in a way to inform other (non-Catholic) Christians about what we believe and why, while at the same time trying not to divide ourselves from fellowship with them or a fruitful search for Christian unity and shared purpose.

Terry Barber said, “When you (Catholics) are talking with Protestants, it is important to let them see how much you love Jesus. This is an extension of what I say in the book, that people don’t care about how much you know, until they know you care.”

Terry Barber

Barber outlines “Eight Laws of Effectively Sharing the Faith with Anyone”. They are:

1- Keep it simple

2- Keep him [or her] saying yes.

3- Be enthusiastic.

4- Call him [or her] by name.

5- Show and then tell.

6- Always agree.

7- Ask Questions.

8- Practice Virtue.

I talked to Terry Barber after my personal interaction with the anti-Catholic SCRC protesters. In reflection, this is how I grade myself on a 1-10 scale: big fat zeros on laws 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6; a seven on law 1; and a two on laws 7 & 8. Oh no! It looks like I need a lot of practice, but at least I tried. If my husband had been there, he would have done much better.

Even though I came into the Catholic Church 11 years ago from Protestant Christianity and I understand and have compassion for their indoctrination and pre-disposed biases, it frustrates me so because it is based on ignorance of real Catholic Christianity.  For the record, I try to never call myself “a convert”. To me “convert” implies trading one religion for another. I did not stop being a Christian to become a Catholic Christian.  I prefer to say that I was “reunified” to the Catholic Church. It is important to remember when speaking to Protestant Christians, that we are conversing with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are joined by our Trinitarian Baptism and whether or not they recognize our Christianity, we must recognize theirs. If we do not, we are in error of Catholic Church teaching on our spiritual connectedness to our separated brethren in the greater Body of Christ.

But going back to the other claims of the anti-Catholic protesters: one of their statements accused Catholics of believing “lies about the origins of the Bible.” This comes from a counter-historical theory gaining ground in anti-Catholic movements which asserts that there was no Catholic Church until the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and lent his political power to its spread, bringing the seat of Catholic Christianity to Rome. Based on this misinformation, they claim that it was not the Catholic Church that discerned which books belonged in the New Testament Canon, even though this is accepted by all scholarship. These theories ignore the historical record which shows that 29 consecutive Catholic Popes (13 of them from Rome) led Christendom before Constantine’s rule and Christian conversion (306-337 A.D.) spanning the years of 33-304 A.D. The official church-wide discussions which decided the New Testament Canon – the Ecumenical Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) – occurred after Constantine had died. (For further reading on the formation of the Bible, I recommend The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon by Protestant-Christian scholar Lee M. McDonald.)

“In attempting to prove the validity of their beliefs by appealing to early Church Fathers, Dispensationalists always ignore the Church Fathers’ unanimous teachings about the nature of the Eucharist, the authority and nature of the Church, and a host of other distinctively Catholic beliefs.” (Olsen, 2003).

I think it is interesting how outside the protesters were yelling at Catholics to “read your Bible” and to “not listen” to our priests and pope; while inside, the learning track that I attended was entirely taught by the lay-Catholic authors of Unbound (Baker Publishing) – Neal, Janet and Matthew Lozano – who repeatedly taught with Holy Scripture while presenting the “five keys to spiritual deliverance.” At the Saturday evening Mass, we sang many songs familiar to Protestant Christians such as “How Great Thou Art”; and read our Bible readings, Old and New Testament, Gospel and Psalms as usual, with extra excitement and fervor for God’s Word. I wonder if they really knew what was going on inside, and what our pope and priests actually say, would they return year after year with the same protests (?)

This is what Pope Francis actually said on that very weekend:

“If the Lord finds in our hearts a faith – I won’t say perfect, but sincere, genuine, then He will see in us, too, the living rocks on which He builds His community. For this community, the foundation stone is Christ, the unique cornerstone” – Pope Francis, Divine Office 9/1/14.

And, this is what my priest actually said that weekend:

“It is only in and through relationship that we get to experience and know the demands of love, mercy and compassion – the depths of love, joy and happiness, as well as the darkest moments of loss, pain, and suffering. These are two sides of the same coin. This is what Jeremiah is talking about (Jeremiah 20:9): ‘I say to myself, I will not mention Him, I will speak in His name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in by bones.’ These are the words of someone deeply involved with God, deeply committed to a relationship that is taking him where perhaps he does not want to go. But he cannot say no!” – Fr. Tony Díaz, CMF

The truth is this “culture of encounter” can sometimes be quite complex, it can take us where we would rather not go, it can be unnerving, and easier-said than-done, with twists and turns that we cannot always predict. Even so, it is not something that we should steer away from or use as an opportunity to counter-sling insensitive demonstrations.

Increasing understanding and mutual respect should be our goals. Do resort to prayer, and why not together? … and love, as Terry Barber said, “let our love for Jesus show,” remembering that displaying the fruits of Truth in God’s Spirit involve the practice of love, peace, joy, patience, kindness and gentleness. And, if you get stuck, it does not hurt to proclaim loudly, “GOD IS LOVE!

© Copyright 2014 by Jennifer Wing Atencio, all rights reserved.

 

This article was featured in:

the National Catholic Register: Best in Catholic Blogging and Big Pulpit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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