Being Freed from That Which Divides Us

This is the focus of Week 4 of the current season of Renew 2000.

"Jesus saw, heard and responded to others with openness and love. . . . Our Christian faith calls us to love all people regardless of their beliefs. Faith differences need to be respected."

The participants in Renew 2000 have been encouraged to meet with and share their faith with people of other faiths. This is something many participants find difficult to do. In fact most Catholics seem to have difficulty sharing their faith with other Catholics! There are probably many reasons Catholics have difficulty sharing their faith. I believe one reason is that many, perhaps most, adult Catholics are afraid they will not be able to answer questions about their faith or defend their religion against challenges made by others, especially ones who are Fundamentalist or born-again Christians or Jehovah's Witnesses. I think Catholics are intimidated by those who can quote the Bible so easily to support their position. Bible familiarity is not something Catholics are known for.

My first experience with a born-again Christian occurred about nine years ago. My wife and I were at a weekend get-together with some friends of hers from college and their families. This was an annual affair that had been going on for close to twenty years. However, Ellen and I had only started attending the year before. Another woman, who had lost touch with her college classmates, was there for the first time. She had been Catholic but had left the Church years before. Her husband was also there. He was a born-again Christian and member of an Open Door Christian church in Sacramento.

We shared morning meals and evening meals with the others. On Saturday night, after dinner and while the dishes were being washed, the woman's husband came up to me and started asking questions about what Catholics believe. At the time, I was teaching eighth grade CCD at St. Anthony's. I answered his questions. As he went on his questions turned into arguments against Catholic beliefs. He started raising issues such as Petros vs. Petra and Sola Scriptura along with quotes from the Bible. I had to admit I did not have answers to all of his questions and challenges.

Over the course of the next year I read numerous books on the Catholic faith. I wanted to be prepared for my meeting with this man the next year. When the weekend for the get-together finally arrived, I packed my Bible along with several select books on the Catholic faith so I would be ready for anything he threw at me. I was prepared for all eventualities but one.

He did not come.

I have never seen him since that first time. At the time I felt cheated. I had taken all that time to prepare to wage battle with this guy and he did not show up. Then I realized how fortunate I was that God placed this man in my life when He did. I do not think I would ever have spent so much time studying my faith if he had not been there to challenge me that one Saturday night.

Now I have a challenge for you. Learn more about your Catholic faith. Take some time to acquire an adult understanding of your religion. Go beyond the simplistic understanding provided by the Baltimore Catechism and other catechisms like it. Pick up a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and review it. Read other books on the Catholic faith. I can recommend two right now.

Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft is a good source for understanding traditional Catholic beliefs. Even non-Catholics can appreciate this book. Most of the beliefs Kreeft discusses are shared by other Christian churches.

Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on Romanism by Bible Christians by Karl Keating is a good source for answers to questions and challenges offered by born-again and other Fundamentalist Christians.

Dust off the Bible sitting on the shelf and read it. If you do not own a Bible, buy one. The most common Catholic Bible today is the New American Bible. Other Catholic Bibles are the New Jerusalem Bible, the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition and the Douay-Rheims. If you are not sure whether a Bible conforms to Catholic teaching you can find out by looking in the front of the Bible, usually after the title page, for the words "Nihil Obstat" and "Imprimatur".

Imprimatur is a Latin word that literally means "let it be printed". All books of the Sacred Scripture, including translations, must be approved for publication by the Holy See or the conference of bishops.

Nihil Obstat is a Latin phrase that literally means "nothing obstructs". It is the certification that what has been printed does not conflict with Catholic doctrine.

Finally, share your faith with others. You do not have to go out searching for others. Sometimes they come to you. The next time a Jehovah's Witness comes to the door ask him or her in and share your faith. Do not be afraid to say "I don't know" when asked a question you do not have the answer to. Offer to find out the answer and share it with them the next time. At the same time pay attention to how similar our beliefs are to those of other Christians. Focus on the areas of agreement. Be willing to agree to disagree. And most importantly, "Be not afraid."

philneri, 4/6/2000

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