Lingering questions of a new convert.
#1
Hello all; grace and peace,

First I would just like to thank everyone involved with Fish Eaters, as a new convert to the Catholic Church, from reformed protestant traditions, the website has helped me out a lot.

Second I just want to state from the start that I'm not "still considering" but rather my conversion is complete. Even though I still have some theology and or doctrinal issues that I still need to "iron out", I'm fully committed to joining the Catholic Church, the Church that I truly, now believe is the one true apostolic Church. So my questions aren't based on me still being undecided, rather they are an attempt to clarify and strengthen my understanding of the Catholic Faith.

I'm 40 years old and up until a few months ago, I had virtually no experience of the Catholic Church. As a Reformed Presbyterian... we just "didn't go there." In other words, the Reformed Church does not agree with the Catholic Church and therefore little is ever spoken of about the Catholic Church. So, hence, as a Reformed Protestant, you don't ever learn anything about the Catholic Church..... the only things I really knew about the Catholic Church is what I had seen on TV or what I read of in the refutations of the Catholic Church written by Protestants.... which are of course bias and erroneous.

So of course there is a lot for me to learn. There are many topics that I need to explore and learn in the future and my local chapel and my priests are certainly available to help me. But I find it also useful to go "outside" of my immediate Parish for answers, because there are others who are sometimes better at explaining certain things about the Church.

I was very happy to find this site in that, I knew there was a difference between some of the "larger" more "mainstream" Catholic churches who preformed the ordinary mass and that of the "fewer" smaller Churches who were holding the traditional Latin Mass. But again, I really don't know anything and this site helped explain a lot. When I first started to look for a Church, I had three local churches to choose from. The Biggest and "most accommodating" being about a 1/4 of a mile from my house. But inwardly I just felt drawn to the "smaller chapel that was furthest away that was the only one holding the traditional Latin Mass." My main reasoning from a purely Reformed perspective was, that the Church of Christ ought to be "Holy - set apart." It ought to be a witness or city on a hill to the world. In other words, true faith is about us conforming to the Lord and not His Church conforming to the world. So it does not bother me what so ever that there is a "learning curve." Sure I'm still pretty much clueless during Mass. Sure there's still tons for me to learn. Sure I still feel uncomfortable dipping my fingers into holy water, crossing myself and genuflecting. But that's the point. I'm soooooooo tired of the Modern Evangelical mindset of "seeker sensitivity." It's not Biblical!

Anyway, I very happy on finding my way home. It's been truly an awesome experience for me.

So here is my question.

I'm still a little confused about Faith and Works. I've read everything through this website and listened to all the audio clips. I've also listened too and read Scott Hahn ( which I like very much ).

But here is the thing. I have a scenario. 

One of the main vehicles that developed an interested in the Catholic Faith for me was an interest in Catholic Monasticism. ( not in becoming a monk, I have a family, but simply in their devotion and witness ) Ok, so I've studied Western Monasticism a lot now. I've read a lot of Thomas Merton and so on. I know Benedict's Rule pretty well and have read a lot about St. Francis.

So here, right now in my own faith is my internal question? Can Catholicism also lead people into a legalistic system of works? In other words, what separates Catholic monks and nuns from the rest of the world's monks? This is where I'm stumbling a bit. Take for example a Buddhist monk. What is this person trying to accomplish? This person is trying to rely on his or her own justification and or "works." This person is attempting to "find God" and or attempting to "lead a good enough life" to "earn" something. Eternal Life, Nirvana what ever....

Thomas Merton makes a statement about the Zen Buddhist monk that he was friends with ( I don't have his name in front of me ) He basically says that "all monks are alike". Or basically, they are all doing the same thing.

In other words, I have to look at Catholic monks and nuns and question, are they relying on their own good works or righteousness to attain salvation? You see, if someone believes that they have to be "perfect" to be saved, then their first inclination will be to "withdraw" from the world. This is a no-brainer, it is obvious to anyone that the "World" presents many temptations, so anyone who is trying to lead a perfect life, obviously would want to be in an "closed environment" away from the distractions and temptations of the world. They would also be very serious and intentional about their lifestyle because salvation is dependent upon their works, perfection or righteousness.

So here is my question and where I'm still a little confused. Please keep in mind that I'm going to be a Catholic and I'm not trying to support Protestant theology.

I understand that there is "initial justification." I also understand that a true believer isn't trying to "earn" their salvation but rather believing that salvation is by grace alone.

But I guess it's the "perfection" part of the Catholic faith that I'm still uncertain about.

Right now, for me personally, It still seems to me, from my Reformed Perspective, that when a Catholic obediently takes part in all of the Sacraments, obediently goes to confession and tries everyday to lead a sinless life, that this is somehow still "legalistic". That they are relying on just performing all the rituals laid out for them so that they can "earn" their justification.

Please keep in mind that, again, I'm coming from a deep Reformed perspective. There are so many other things that God had done in my life to be without question as to my conversion. I fully believe in the Catholic Church. But I really want to understand this part of it.

The Reformed Christian obviously stands on "faith alone." They would say that Jesus died for our sins "past present and future." That we are "cloaked by the righteousness of Christ" rather then our righteousness because "our righteousness is as filthy rags." Or "there is no one righteous, not even one."

So that, any "attempt" made by the believer to do anything other then say "I believe" for their justification is legalistic and or relying on their own righteousness rather then relying on the righteousness imputed to them by the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Then they would say that, a Christians life, who is completely justified and saved, because of their proclamation; "if you say with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved" Because in the Gospel of John is says that the Holy Spirit is like the wind, it moves here and their or where every  "IT" ( the Holy Spirit ) wills, that we are Born Again only by the complete Predestination and act of the Grace of God and the moving of His Spirit. They would say that after a person is Born Again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that the rest of their life is in the area of Sanctification. In other words, because, apart from any work of their own, they are the gracious recipients of the moving and working of the Holy Spirit, they now are lead by the Spirit and therefor, good works are now flowing from them in their heartfelt desire to please God, whereas before, they were incapable of doing any good work because they were still sinners.

So now we're move completely out of Justification and Salvation into Sanctification. Once saved always saved, now it's just about slowly being made into the image of Christ over a lifetime via the working of the Holy Spirit who now resides in us.

Ok...... actually this theology makes pretty good sense. I've read a lot of it, from Calvin's Institutes, to Luther, Owens, Edwards, Warfield, Spurgeon, Berkhof, Sproul, Packer, Piper.... the list goes on..... and on and on. It is so grounded in the Bible that it is very very convincing.

But at the end of the day, why did I freely choose to walk away from it?

You see, for a Reformed Protestant, the Christian life is about being saved, assurance, sanctification and "keeping in step" with the Spirit. In other words, every day, willfully following the fruit of the Spirit rather then the spirit of the flesh. But.....

The funny thing is, is that after you read Reformed Theology and hear tons of Reformed Sermons and so on there is a very VERY APPARENT UNDERLINING THEME. Which is - FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD!

So if your not able to "Mortify the flesh" and to lead a good and holy life, then guess what? You need to question your salvation?

Ok.... so wheres the assurance in that?

And that is the biggest reason for my own personal conversion.

I still struggled with sin. I'm 40 years old and I still struggled greatly with sin as a Protestant. And the Protestant Churches in my area weren't a witness of Christ to the World. They all still struggled greatly with sin. They didn't talk about sin, they didn't preach on sin, they didn't exhort and admonish sinful behavior etc.....

The Catholic Church, at least the smaller Parish that I've found does. It takes sin seriously and it takes our personal commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ seriously as well.

So here I'm kind of conflicted, because, through experience and through my long time understanding of the Bible, I know that we are called to holiness and perfection. "Be perfect as I'm perfect." "Be holy because I'm holy." I know that our works are vitally important and that we should be mortifying the flesh daily, we should be "taking every thought captive." We should be obedient, picking up our own cross and beating our bodies into submission.

But on the other hand, is the Catholic Faith just another system for us to reach God. Are we just implementing a system of rituals in an attempt to be "good enough" like the Buddhist monk?

Sorry for the long post, but I really need to understand this.

Dave
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#2
Man, that's a long question.

Quote:In other words, I have to look at Catholic monks and nuns and question, are they relying on their own good works or righteousness to attain salvation?

The path of salvation for a monk is no different than for someone who lives in the world. But withdrawn from the world, it makes things easier; for some, anyway; to see things more clearly, and to pray more. If the language of "working toward salvation" is a stumbling block, then just get rid of it and move on.
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#3
Actually I think I'm starting to answer my own question.

I went to New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia and looked up Justification and Sanctifying Grace.

I guess in my mind I was trying to figure out how the Catholic was different then the Pharisee?

But now I'm getting a good handle on it, I think. Again, coming from a "strict" Faith Alone theology, this has been hard to wrap my head around. But now I'm starting to understand. According to the Catholic Church, God has instituted a system ( His Church ) that administers His grace. So there isn't anything wrong with a "system" of works, just as long as it's "THE" system, ordained by God.... the New System or New Covenant. I was thinking that "any" system of works was "mans attempt to reach God." I was also thinking that "grace" was God reaching down to man apart from anything at all that the man can do.

But now I am beginning to understand that our "initial justification" is by the grace of God alone, but "sanctifying grace" is a "co-operation".

Now I see that both a Catholic and a Protestant can be Pharisaic. They can both "go through the motions." act righteous externally, obey the governing rules etc.... but inwardly not have a heart for God.

I find it interesting, that it seems to me, like it would now be much harder for someone to be "Pharisaic" as a Catholic, because of Confession. It would seem to me that it would be much easier for someone to be righteous on the outside as a Protestant because there is no one to keep a Protestant accountable. Whereas if your Priest knows you and knows that you haven't been to confession and or your confessions aren't sincere then you're works really aren't from the heart.

Anyway, I think that it's just more of a matter for me to understand that a "system" in itself isn't bad as long as it's the "New Testament Apostolic Church System."

Or I just might be crazy  :pazzo:

Does this make any sense? I don't suppose there are any ex-reformed protestants in the house?  ???

Dave
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#4
Quote:So here, right now in my own faith is my internal question? Can Catholicism also lead people into a legalistic system of works? In other words, what separates Catholic monks and nuns from the rest of the world's monks? This is where I'm stumbling a bit. Take for example a Buddhist monk. What is this person trying to accomplish? This person is trying to rely on his or her own justification and or "works." This person is attempting to "find God" and or attempting to "lead a good enough life" to "earn" something. Eternal Life, Nirvana what ever....

Everything, even inside the Catholic Church can lead to legalistic system .

The Buddhist believes in the Wheel (entities are coming out from Brahman going down in several step , going back again, and the whole circle start again and again, There is no remedy for the community in their faith, only an individual can jump out and find the eternal peace with Brahman. Unlike them Christian believe in the redemption, Jesus Christ saved the word. This saving is incomplete yet. We Catholics believe that Jesus wants our cooperation not only to save ourselves, but by connecting Him with the world, we bring the full Redemption closer.

There are contemplative monks who pray for the whole world  to assure God's presence in this world through the prayer

There are active monks who by their activity (teaching, running hospitals, helping the poor) fulfill the commandment of Jesus to love one's neighbor

The main motive, at least should be,  the glory of God, and the personal gain is secondary only.

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#5
I grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist, though I don't know how much of the theology corresponds with "Reformed Protestant". I didn't think too hard about the technicalities of salvation. I'd rather leave it to the angel/pinhead-counting theologians and go on with my business.
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#6
Of course we can, first of all, consider the letter of St. James from Holy Scripture that declares faith without works is dead.

Secondly, I cannot recommend at all to be looking to Thomas Merton for answers.  Yes, I know many have been edified by hhis early writings but he really took a fall at the end.

Those whose vocation is being called by God to live separate from 'the world' are still involved in 'works' for theirs is the great work of mercy in their offering their lives in prayer and penance for the sake of the world. In the communion os saints, we know that are merits and graces associated with what we do.  These build up the Church; these can be applied to souls even in purgatory.  We leave the details to God. One reason we have canonized saints is that their holiness is proven and we have their example before us.

I recommend another book for you: Story of a Soul which is the story of St. Therese. This dear saint entered Carmel at 15 and never left. Yet her prayers, sacrifices, and sufferings were such that she is a patroness of the missions and to this day intercedes for souls in discernable ways.

Do we earn heaven? In a way. Grace is from God.  It is a free gift. It can be lost but only through our own decision for sin.  Our Lord did indeed redeem us without our doing anything but He will not save us without our cooperation.  Does that make sense? We must follow the Gospel. We know,because Our Lord taught us, that our works of love and charity done, first of all for the love of God that spills over, to our neighbor is meritorious. In fact this is something we will indeed be judged on.  St. Peter tells us that love covers a multitude of sins.  We will never be sinless in this life but as we repent and strive to cooperate with grace and live out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we certainly can know we are pleasing to God.]
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#7
(06-03-2010, 07:18 PM)Magdalene Wrote: I recommend another book for you: Story of a Soul which is the story of St. Therese. This dear saint entered Carmel at 15 and never left. Yet her prayers, sacrifices, and sufferings were such that she is a patroness of the missions and to this day intercedes for souls in discernable ways.

Ditto tho this, also try Introduction to the Devout Life by St Francis DeSales
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#8
David, please read Christ, the Life of the Soul by Columba Marmion to develop an excellent sense of what it means to live as a Catholic.  I think many of your questions will be answered there -- and most will be rendered moot.

You'll see.

:owl:
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#9
I have a cousin who is Calvinist minister. He and I were in (different) seminaries on the same time, we talked a lot about the similarities and differences of our views. In that time (fifties) in the Communist Hungary both of our churches were persecuted, so we sincerely felt that we should keep together and search for the good in the other side, what could connect us, and not what is separating.

The moral issues in the Reformed and Catholic churches are answered on the same manner: there is an eternal unchangeable moral, which is quite well defined in the Ten Commandment, and this is and appropriate principle to form our conscience and control our life.

The dogmatic, as it is described in the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds is the same in both religion, We believe in God, we believe in the Holy Trinity, we believe in the Incarnation, we belive in the personal and Last judgment and in the eternal life.

The essential difference between the protestants and Catholics is the belief in the Primacy of the pope (this is what makes someone truly Catholic, there is  no Catholic Church without the pope) and the system of Sacraments. Protestant believe that the Baptism is the only necessary source of the grace, and the baptism creates a permanent connection between God and men, what we cannot destroy. Catholics believe that we have the power to destroy this connection through deliberate sin, and we need the sacraments provided by the jurisdictional hierarchical Church to restore, confirm fortify it.

This does not put us into advantage. It is sure, that we have more resources, but in turn God expect us to provide more results too.
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#10
(06-03-2010, 12:32 PM)David.S Wrote: So here, right now in my own faith is my internal question? Can Catholicism also lead people into a legalistic system of works? In other words, what separates Catholic monks and nuns from the rest of the world's monks? This is where I'm stumbling a bit. Take for example a Buddhist monk. What is this person trying to accomplish? This person is trying to rely on his or her own justification and or "works." This person is attempting to "find God" and or attempting to "lead a good enough life" to "earn" something. Eternal Life, Nirvana what ever....

Thomas Merton makes a statement about the Zen Buddhist monk that he was friends with ( I don't have his name in front of me ) He basically says that "all monks are alike". Or basically, they are all doing the same thing.

In other words, I have to look at Catholic monks and nuns and question, are they relying on their own good works or righteousness to attain salvation? You see, if someone believes that they have to be "perfect" to be saved, then their first inclination will be to "withdraw" from the world. This is a no-brainer, it is obvious to anyone that the "World" presents many temptations, so anyone who is trying to lead a perfect life, obviously would want to be in an "closed environment" away from the distractions and temptations of the world. They would also be very serious and intentional about their lifestyle because salvation is dependent upon their works, perfection or righteousness.

So here is my question and where I'm still a little confused. Please keep in mind that I'm going to be a Catholic and I'm not trying to support Protestant theology.

I understand that there is "initial justification." I also understand that a true believer isn't trying to "earn" their salvation but rather believing that salvation is by grace alone.

But I guess it's the "perfection" part of the Catholic faith that I'm still uncertain about.

Right now, for me personally, It still seems to me, from my Reformed Perspective, that when a Catholic obediently takes part in all of the Sacraments, obediently goes to confession and tries everyday to lead a sinless life, that this is somehow still "legalistic". That they are relying on just performing all the rituals laid out for them so that they can "earn" their justification.

Please keep in mind that, again, I'm coming from a deep Reformed perspective. There are so many other things that God had done in my life to be without question as to my conversion. I fully believe in the Catholic Church. But I really want to understand this part of it.

The Reformed Christian obviously stands on "faith alone." They would say that Jesus died for our sins "past present and future." That we are "cloaked by the righteousness of Christ" rather then our righteousness because "our righteousness is as filthy rags." Or "there is no one righteous, not even one."

So that, any "attempt" made by the believer to do anything other then say "I believe" for their justification is legalistic and or relying on their own righteousness rather then relying on the righteousness imputed to them by the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Then they would say that, a Christians life, who is completely justified and saved, because of their proclamation; "if you say with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved" Because in the Gospel of John is says that the Holy Spirit is like the wind, it moves here and their or where every  "IT" ( the Holy Spirit ) wills, that we are Born Again only by the complete Predestination and act of the Grace of God and the moving of His Spirit. They would say that after a person is Born Again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that the rest of their life is in the area of Sanctification. In other words, because, apart from any work of their own, they are the gracious recipients of the moving and working of the Holy Spirit, they now are lead by the Spirit and therefor, good works are now flowing from them in their heartfelt desire to please God, whereas before, they were incapable of doing any good work because they were still sinners.

So now we're move completely out of Justification and Salvation into Sanctification. Once saved always saved, now it's just about slowly being made into the image of Christ over a lifetime via the working of the Holy Spirit who now resides in us.

Ok...... actually this theology makes pretty good sense. I've read a lot of it, from Calvin's Institutes, to Luther, Owens, Edwards, Warfield, Spurgeon, Berkhof, Sproul, Packer, Piper.... the list goes on..... and on and on. It is so grounded in the Bible that it is very very convincing.

But at the end of the day, why did I freely choose to walk away from it?

You see, for a Reformed Protestant, the Christian life is about being saved, assurance, sanctification and "keeping in step" with the Spirit. In other words, every day, willfully following the fruit of the Spirit rather then the spirit of the flesh. But.....

The funny thing is, is that after you read Reformed Theology and hear tons of Reformed Sermons and so on there is a very VERY APPARENT UNDERLINING THEME. Which is - FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD!

So if your not able to "Mortify the flesh" and to lead a good and holy life, then guess what? You need to question your salvation?

Ok.... so wheres the assurance in that?

And that is the biggest reason for my own personal conversion.

I still struggled with sin. I'm 40 years old and I still struggled greatly with sin as a Protestant. And the Protestant Churches in my area weren't a witness of Christ to the World. They all still struggled greatly with sin. They didn't talk about sin, they didn't preach on sin, they didn't exhort and admonish sinful behavior etc.....

The Catholic Church, at least the smaller Parish that I've found does. It takes sin seriously and it takes our personal commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ seriously as well.

So here I'm kind of conflicted, because, through experience and through my long time understanding of the Bible, I know that we are called to holiness and perfection. "Be perfect as I'm perfect." "Be holy because I'm holy." I know that our works are vitally important and that we should be mortifying the flesh daily, we should be "taking every thought captive." We should be obedient, picking up our own cross and beating our bodies into submission.

But on the other hand, is the Catholic Faith just another system for us to reach God. Are we just implementing a system of rituals in an attempt to be "good enough" like the Buddhist monk?

Sorry for the long post, but I really need to understand this.

Dave
Hi Dave, welcome to FE. I'm glad you're here. :)
I really believe that the more we can do for the love of Christ in this world today, the more grace He can send us. Lately I've been thinking about that, and about the parable of the sower.

Mark 4:21 And he said to them: Doth a candle come in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? 22 For there is nothing hid, which shall not be made manifest: neither was it made secret, but that it may come abroad. 23 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. 24 And he said to them: Take heed what you hear. In what measure you shall mete, it shall be measured to you again, and more shall be given to you. 25 For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, that also which he hath shall be taken away from him.

It's such a blessing to be alive and to be Catholic, to receive the graces God has for us while we're here and to hopefully help others to receive the grace of God in their lives as well.
Oh my Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything.--Fr Dolindo Ruotolo

Persevere..Eucharist, Holy Rosary, Brown Scapular, Confession. You will win.
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