Thursday, September 23, 2010

Good Examples and Sushi

When I was first investigating Catholicism, I had an awful time getting my mind around why Catholics gave so much attention to Mary. I wasn't being contrarian or difficult, I simply could not grasp the point. For many converts a tough issue is the True Presence, but I didn't bat an eye at that. Devotion to our Lady, however, was a very long time coming.

The cause of the hardship was rooted in part in the Protestant notion of a sinner's absolute helplessness and worthlessness. Because of sin, the Protestants say, we are utterly hopeless; we cannot do the first good thing without God's grace -- we cannot merit His mercy or even His attention. In theological terms this Protestant doctrine is called "Total Depravity." Thus, asking Mary (or any saint) to intervene with God for us accomplished no good: our sins make us as unclean rags, and nothing but a completely gratuitous act of gracious mercy on God's part mattered. For Protestants, there is simply no such thing as meriting anything from God; you could only look immediately and exclusively to Jesus Christ and hope for the best.

One helpful Catholic offered, "If I asked you to pray for me, would you do it?"

"Sure," I replied.

"It's the same with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven: just as I might ask you to pray for me, I ask them to pray for me."

This made only a modest impression. I would pray for my friends out of affection and to express support and concern, but praying to an individual not present was something else again. Praying to saints also had an eerie resemblance to praying to God -- on a surface level it seemed to be attributing to them the characteristic of ubiquity that should be reserved to the Deity.

"Do you believe in angels?" was another question.

"Of course. Hebrews says they are ministering spirits sent to aid those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14).

"So asking saints to pray to God for you is no different than asking angels to help us."

Only Protestant don'
t pray to angels. Protestants routinely ask the Almighty to send His angels on various errands, but there are no colloquies with them.

Like other Protestant errors, this one was rooted in an ignorance of Christian teaching and a misunderstanding of the Scriptures. God is the Lord of Love: He did not leave His children to wander through the wild world and stumble about in darkness, He gave us numerous lights to help guide us back to Him. We not only can rely on saints and angels and the Mother of God as aids on the path to Heaven, we are supposed to.

St. Paul made this point repeatedly.

"I beseech you, be followers of me as I also am of Christ." - I Corinthians 4:16

"Be followers of me, brethren: and observe them who walk so as you have our model." - Philippians 3:17

"You became followers of us and of the Lord..." - I Thessalonians 1:6

"You ought to imitate us...that we might give ourselves a pattern unto you, to imitate..." - II Thessalonians 3:7, 9

Some habits die hard: though I could see no harm in praying to Mary, I could not grasp why one would do it. If you can go directly to the omnipotent Christ in prayer, what's the point of trying to augment the work of the all-powerful?

Later I would comprehend that what is amplified by such requests is not the virtue of the response but the efficacy of the request. In the short term, however, the answer I stumbled on was both simple and radical: I would ask for help from the Blessed Virgin Mary because it pleased My Lord.

Even after I had that epiphany, I still had to develop the habit and the attitude to follow through. This I acquired, curiously enough, by praying the Rosary.

Why would I do such a thing, given that I didn't see the point? Because I was keen to show these Catholics that I wasn't afraid of their devotions.

Did I expect anything to come of it? Of course not.

But I conducted the matter as an experiment -- not unlike I did when trying sushi: I didn't care for the idea of it; the flavor didn't appeal to me; the texture was all wrong; the experience was hardly pleasant. But after I'd eaten it enough times I could stop eating it and say with a note of triumph, "I tried your sushi, and it's not for me. No more lectures please about how I need to broaden my horizons -- I did my due diligence, and I did not develop a taste for it."

Only the Rosary experiment did change me. I found that my objections and intellectual reservations rather suddenly didn't seem significant after all; the hesitation was gone; the mental block evaporated. I didn't have any new information; no miracles took place that I was aware of; I couldn't articulate my understanding any better. The darkness had passed, however: without knowing why, everything seemed to be the way it should be. I've likened the experience to eating a tasty dish made from ingredients I could not name: "I don't know what this is called, but this is the best meal I've ever feasted on."

Mulier, ecce filius tuus.

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