Thursday, October 8, 2009

Out Of The Wilderness

A dear friend, serving as a fellow Protestant clergyman, showed me his copy of New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton almost a decade ago. He handed the book to me, opened to chapter 3, and asked me to read. I had never so much as heard of Merton and had no idea that he was a deceased Catholic, Trappist monk, and priest.

I read the first paragraph while standing in the middle of the parsonage living room. Merton’s words warmly massaged my sore bruised heart. I sat down on his living room floor, continued reading the chapter, and experienced something of a challenging infusion of peace and grace that, unbeknown to me at the time, marked the beginning of my journey out of Protestantism and into the world of Catholic faith.

I live daily with thanksgiving for that providential landmark, etched into the fabric of my soul, at a crossroad that was dry, windswept, and otherwise noted for quite an assortment of interpersonal relational hostilities.

Ten years ago I would have scoffed at the notion of converting to Catholicism. Nothing in my Christian lineage supported such a notion.

I was reared in Calvinism in a small independent Bible Church. As a young man in my twenties, after a hard romp in the world, I crawled out of the pigsty and sensed a calling to ministry. I enrolled in a denominational Bible College that was staunchly opposed to the Catholic Church and, for that matter, every other denomination. Upon graduation I was ordained as a minister in that denomination. The latter years of my Protestant ministerial career found me preaching and pastoring in the independent charismatic arena.

I had become, for all practical purposes and in all signs and appearances, a Protestant in full bloom.

It’s not my intention to scathe the realm of Protestantism. That is not my purpose in life as a Catholic follower of Christ. Nor is it an inherent aspect found in the Rule of St. Benedict[1]. Oblates of St. Benedict are directed to live with an ecumenical orientation.[2] It was, however, out of the world of Protestantism, that I providentially found my way home to the healing fullness of the Catholic Church, St. Benedict, and St. Bernard Abbey. It is a fullness that has definite distinguishing characteristics that Catholics and Catholic Oblates are encouraged not to lose.

I’ll admit that all of the aforementioned does have a way of objectively coloring the way I see and address the bigger picture of Christianity and the Church. It is a picture that helps me see that it is altogether too easy to lose a sense of mindfulness about where we are at the moment - a sense that takes into consideration the direction we are heading and where we have come from. To have this lack of sense in a natural wilderness setting means that we are lost and our very life could quite possibly be in jeopardy.

How can the Christian faith-journey parallel be considered any different? Especially considering the tremendous disunity created by all the fissures, fractures, and factions that, once begun, have continued to multiply themselves over time into such a vast wilderness of divided doctrinal opinions.

“Let them (Oblates) pray earnestly for the triumph of holy Mother Church, for the spread of religion, for the extirpation of heresies and schisms, for the conversion of infidels, for the repentance of sinners, for the perseverance of the righteous, and for the relief of the souls in purgatory.”[3]

[1] St. Benedict, the Rule, and monasticism do happen to be of the Catholic orientation.
[2] Guidelines For Oblates Of St. Benedict, Section A, para. II
[3] .27, Statutes And Declarations Of The Oblates Of St. Benedict, contained in the Rescript of the Sacred Congregation of Religious, granted March 24, 1927. Manual For Oblates, St. John’s Abbey Press, p. 18, © 1955