Getting Comfy with Catholicism- A Convert’s Maturation

How long did it take you to get comfy with Catholicism? Over the last few weeks, I think I’ve turned a corner and am more comfortable than at any time over the last year-and-a-half. While I’ve been passionate about the faith since my conversion, I’ve felt disillusioned at times and hesitant to jump into ministry with full force.  I think, I hope, I pray, I’m entering into a new season with a newfound maturity.  Here are a few of the key moments that has led me to my new peace:

“Let’s just do something.”- Not long after we got married Jackie and I returned to my old evangelical church for a local fundraiser. As we were leaving I gazed longingly at the brochures about upcoming mission trips, at the pictures of missionaries the church supported around the world. This church had supported me to Mexico, to Poland, and would have supported me more if I had asked. After we left I began lamenting to Jackie about how I missed the evangelical zeal of my past life, of the nights praying for salvation of those around the world and giving sacrificially to plant churches , when she finally said, in essence, “Stop complaining about how things used to be and let’s just do something. Take that energy and use it in the Catholic Church.” My pride was wounded, I pouted, and a seed was planted.

Daydreaming at Mass- A little over a month ago I had zoned out during Mass and a thought came to me: how would I act if I were a pastor in this city, as had always been my dream? What intentional actions would I take to spread the truth of Christianity? Where would I volunteer, who would I mentor? It was an invitation, perhaps prompted by the Holy Spirit, to begin firmly taking ownership of my efforts at the local parish. Yes, I will not be a leader of a flock as I imagined as an evangelical, but how can I become a dedicated layman? It’s not that I wasn’t already involved in the parish, it was that I was less interested in fully giving myself to the mission of Christ. In past weeks I’ve articulated it as, “How can I become an anchorite for this parish, this city?”

Brandon Vogt, Scott Hahn,  and the power of the individual- I’ve admired Brandon Vogt’s work since I started blogging because of how much we have in common. We are both evangelical converts previously interested in seminary, married young, working full-time jobs, and trying to further the new evangelization. I was struck, then, when I contrasted his enthusiastic efforts with my disillusionment. What if Brandon, when he converted, had simply lamented Catholic media efforts rather than throwing himself full-throttle into publishing a book about Catholicism and new media and working with Fr Robert Barron to educate the world about the beauties of Catholicism? At the Defending the Faith conference I had the same thought: what if Scott Hahn had simply pouted, rather than leading hundreds of pastors to the Catholic Church? Which path did I want to follow?

World Youth Day- Seeing the crowds of people from around the world proclaiming their  love for Christ made me feel rejuvenated, revived, enthusiastic to be part of this movement. I’ve always thought it to be so cool when evangelical pastor Louie Giglio hosts thousands of youth each year at the Passion conference, but, honestly, Passion’s got nothing on World Youth Day. I was stunned, too, to find out that the next World Youth Day will be in Krakow, Poland, a city I visited as an evangelical missionary. My how things have changed!

Pope Francis- Finally, the world’s reaction to Pope Francis has led me to carefully reexamine any preconceived notions I have about evangelization. Francis is so kind, so loving, so genuine. In a world where many of our heroes turn out to be lying Livestrong frauds, we are starved for someone who is genuine. While not idolizing Francis, I do wish to emulate many of his actions. When I write posts on this blog and talk to non-Catholics, I want to genuinely care about these people, to love them and care less about winning arguments than serving them. And I want to care about the poor. Like, really. Not in a serve on a charity board type of way, but have them be my best friends type of way. It seems like what Jesus would do, did.

Please pray for me, pray for us. I’m working full-time and considering starting an online masters program soon while Jackie and I adjust to married life and become active in our parish.

Thanks for reading,

-Anthony Elias  Baratta

Going to Steubenville, Daring to take the Jason Stellman Test

Steubenville diptic

Last weekend Jackie and I went to the Steubenville “Defending the Faith” conference with another couple from my home parish. We were both high school chaperones at a Steubenville high school conference last summer, and singing evangelical worship songs as the Eucharist processes through the gymnasium holds a special place in each of our hearts. It was a pleasure getting to hear Teresa Tomeo, Brandon Vogt, Peter Kreeft, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, and many others teach. But do you know what my favorite part of the weekend was? Sunday morning, listening to Jason Stellman tell his conversion story (listen to other versions of his story here).

Interestingly enough, Jason Stellman began publicly exploring Catholicism about the same time I left seminary  (and caused a stir in evangelical circles)for that reason I feel connected to his journey. Jason went from investigating another Presbyterian pastor for sounding suspiciously Catholic to becoming Catholic himself. He left his full-time pastor job to take this plunge and, sadly, his wife and family have thus far not followed suit.

JasonStellmanSMThe most striking part of Jason’s talk was when he related the story of his decision to try and read the New Testament through a Catholic lens, something I’ll call the Jason Stellman Test. This is difficult for any Protestant, including me–many of these verses and stories have been interpreted in one particular way since Vacation Bible School. But here was his striking conclusion: Although his theology as a Calvinist Protestant could explain away all of the troublesome verses, if the Gospel writers were truly of his same theology then they never would have said those things in the first place!

Think about it. What is Matthew 25 doing in the Bible if Jesus believed in “faith alone?” Why must you “do the will of my Father” to go to heaven? (Matthew 7:21). Why all the troublesome verses about baptism in Romans 6, 1 Peter 3? Why does no author ever say “faith alone” except to say that we’re not saved by faith alone? Again, I’m not arguing that Protestants have no answers to these problems because I know many of them. The question, though, is why were the troublesome verses written in the first place?

Let me know your thoughts and if you find the Jason Stellman Test credible.

Is there an anecdote to “Young Evangelicals Getting High?”

Ten or fifteen years ago, it was American evangelical congregations that seemed cutting edge. They had the bands, the coolest youth pastor, professional babysitting for every women’s Bible study, and a church library full of Christian novels. But now, to kids who grew up in that context, it seems a bit dated or disconnected—the same kind of feeling that a 90′s movie gives them. Not that it’s not a church; it’s just feels to them the way that 50′s worship felt to their parents. So they leave. If they don’t walk away from Christianity completely, they head to Rome or something similar.

If you haven’t yet seen it, The Christian Pundit recently featured a post titled, “Young Evangelicals are Getting High.” The author, presumably an evangelical Protestant, notes the increasingly frequent move of low-church evangelicals to high-church liturgical churches like Catholicism and Anglicanism. The author believes that if evangelical churches “teach historical Protestant theology,” the stream of conversions will stop. Maybe. But there are things that cannot be found in other churches, such as apostolic succession and the Eucharist. If people are converting because they like big fancy churches, that’s one thing. If people are converting because they believe they’ve found the fullness of the Christian faith, that’s quite another.

One more note. In the excerpt above the author highlights the evangelical Protestant culture beginning to feel dated. I noticed this too; it’s like what happened to Facebook after everybody’s grandma got a profile. There’s a line between trying to reach people through contextualization and beginning to pander. My guess is that evangelicals may contextualize too much and Catholics not enough. Whatever the case, it’s encouraging to think that nuns may be “cool” again.

Pope Francis and Searching for the Fragrance of Christ

For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing – 2 Cor 2:15, NASB

Pope Francis ain’t perfect, and we shouldn’t idealize him. But a few months into his pontificate, I find myself thinking about him frequently, reading the headlines from Vatican News, considering my own life of consumerism and indifference to human suffering, and wondering how I can change. And, I think, from Elton John to the Italian fashion industry, many other people are thinking the same things. What about this old man who still uses a typewriter and looks entirely forgettable has the world thinking? What attracts us to Pope Francis, to the Mother Teresas of the world?

Here’s what I think. So much of my religious experience as an evangelical Protestant, and even now as a Catholic, has seemed so, well, typical. Worldly. Something you would expect from a self-centered culture. Preachers getting thousands of people to hang on their every word on iTunes doesn’t seem much different from what every aspiring writer, speaker, actor, musician wants. A Christian leader can give glory to God, but no one can deny it feels good to have thousands sing your praise. 

But what if someone takes that praise and admiration, and turns it to those who never receive anything but disgust? The sick, the hungry, the deadbeats, the drunks, the imprisoned, the sinners? What if they really don’t seem to care what people think about them, that it’s not just a clever marketing scheme? What if they remind you of Jesus?

That person catches the eye, emits a pleasing fragrance in a world full of foul oders. And we are left questioning, pondering, uncomfortable. We are left discovering the power of love, of the gospel of the kingdom anew. I want to change, I want to be like that. Lord, hear our prayer.

 

A Belated Endorsement of #FreetheWord, Tribute to Aaron Swartz

The morning before Jackie and I left for a long trip to Massachusetts, I was excited to discover Pope Francis had released his new encyclical, Lumen Fidei. I was even more excited to discover that Brandon Vogt had converted the doc into Kindle format. Ten minutes later, after I had excitedly plugged in my Kindle to upload the doc for the long trip, I saw Brandon had removed the files per Vatican request.

Brandon has since launched a campaign called #FreetheWord, arguing that the Vatican should use Creative Commons for their copyright of church teachings. I won’t go into an elaborate defense, as Brandon already has a long post full of FAQs that are articulate and informed, but I think it’s a good idea. When I was first becoming Catholic I struggled so much with cognitive dissonance–reading beautiful Church teachings while realizing how very few Catholics are aware such documents exist. These documents need to be made available to the masses in more forms than the poor Vatican website. We have talent and creativity in the Catholic Church–let’s use it for the greater glory of God and explain these teachings to the masses.

Also, I’d like to pay tribute to Aaron Swartz, a brilliant young man who committed suicide earlier this year. Aaron was a child prodigy whose list of accomplishments are long and could have been so much longer. As detailed here, Aaron helped found Creative Commons, and without his genius there would not be a #FreetheWord campaign.

Thoughts? Lemme know.

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Description of Pope Francis (joining the God Squad)

Damian Thompson at The Spectator has a new column about Pope Francis entitled : “Here comes the God squad: what the new pope and the new archbishop have in common.” The subtext reads “Evangelicals have taken charge in the Vatican and Lambeth Palace.” Its my favorite article on Pope Francis that I’ve read yet.

What I appreciate most about Damian Thompson’s description is the sense that Francis just may be engaged in the “Best Practices” of both evangelical Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Though we all desire for Christians to be unified as one in the Catholic Church, evangelical Protestants have developed missionary skills that, in my opinion, often surpass lay Catholics in the present day. Yet evangelical Protestants are often rootless, disunified, and incomplete/inaccurate  in different strains of their theology. What if Francis could embody the evangelical missionary zeal as part of the New Evangelization with a robust, orthodox Catholicism? Thompson seems to indicate this may already be happening:

This supercharged evangelicalism thrives in Argentina, where its opposition to secularism and its embrace of Pentecostal ‘gifts of the Spirit’ captured the imagination of the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio. The future Pope Francis was never a typical Latin American Jesuit. He distrusted Catholic liberation theologians, preferring the company of evangelicals who entered the slums to preach about God and Satan rather than models of economic justice.

Preaching about God and Satan are, of course, not simply an evangelical Protestant thing, but it’s ok to admit when we’re inspired by evangelical Protestants who dedicate their lives to proclaiming Christ crucified. Yet, less any Protestants get too excited, Francis is not about to change the dogma of the Catholic Church (as if he could). Thompson continues:

Perhaps you have to be a Latin American to understand the seeming contradictions in the new Pope’s spirituality. His intense devotion to the Virgin Mary is deep-rooted: he has dedicated his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima, to the dismay of liberal Catholics who regard the 1917 apparitions, with their warnings of divine retribution, as melodramatic and superstitious. But Francis also favours a literal interpretation of the New Testament — which means that, like Protestant Pentecostalists, he believes that Christians are stalked by the Devil. Almost every day since becoming pope, Francis has warned Catholics that Satan lurks in activities as apparently trivial as gossip — a ‘dark joy’, as he called it. More starkly, he told the cardinals who elected him that ‘whoever does not pray to God, prays to the Devil’.

Such language, coupled with the Pope’s simple lifestyle, has delighted evangelical Christians. Timothy George, the Southern Baptist dean of Beeson Divinity School in Alabama, describes him as ‘our Francis, too’ — a man up to the challenge of ‘energising Catholic leaders for the New Evangelisation — to study the Scriptures, renew the disciplines of the faith, and boldly proclaim the love of Christ’.

I don’t know anyone who would be disappointed if we, as Catholics, became known for studying the Scriptures, renewing the disciplines of faith, and boldly proclaiming the love of Christ. Let’s follow Francis’s example and carry on the work of the New Evangelization.

What do evangelical Protestants think of John Paul II? My experience

In my my experience, not much. I’d hardly ever heard of him. Catholicism, for me and for many of my friends, was always something strange and distant, something we’d heard of but weren’t thinking about.This changed, a bit, when I spent a summer during college with an evangelical mission organization in Poland, John Paul II’s, home country.

Many evangelical mission organizations send missionaries to Catholic countries, and I adapted quickly. My ignorance of this country and of Catholicism at this time was astounding, and I would look at tributes to JPII and wonder how God could have let this man lead so many astray. One time, I’m ashamed to admit, I remember making fun of a large picture of John Paul II with his crook, likening it to something out of Star Wars. It is, of course, ironic that after telling Catholics in Poland  about the Protestant gospel of “faith alone” for a summer that I am now Catholic. I’d love to return to Poland again and revisit many of the sites we saw and learn more about John Paul.

As to what other evangelical Protestants think of John Paul II or his upcoming canonization, that’s a difficult question. When one friend described what was necessary for canonization in the Catholic Church I looked at him like he had just eaten a porcupine. The most perplexing thing for evangelicals is that all of this seems so superfluous when compared with the idea of “faith alone” and going straight to heaven after death. If you don’t believe in purgatory, canonization just seems silly.

Albert Mohler’s reflection on John Paul II’s death may be a good resource to further answer the question. Albert Mohler is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a frequent featured speaker at large evangelical conferences like Together 4 the Gospel. and is well-respected in the evangelical community, though he is more conservative than some.

In the end, evangelicals should be thankful for the personal virtues Pope John Paul II demonstrated, and for his advocacy on behalf of life, liberty, and human dignity. Yet we cannot ignore the institution of the papacy itself, nor the complex of doctrines, truth claims, and false doctrines that John Paul II taught, defended, and promulgated. As Roman Catholics mourn the passing of the pope, we should take care to respond with both compassion and conviction, fulfilling our own responsibility to take the measure of this man and his legacy.

Mohler admires the man’s courage, even though he disagrees with his theology. May we all lead lives that lead to an admiration of our character, even when someone doesn’t practice our religion.