Jake Meador, who is an Evangelical, writes that sometimes he wishes he was a Catholic. He acknowledges that he can’t be either Catholic or Orthodox because he doesn’t agree with either of the ancient Christian churches on theology. But there are times when he envies what those churches offer their believers. Excerpt:
What I find so attractive, therefore, about Catholicism is the fact that many–though certainly not all–of the practices within the church are grounded in something beyond fad and the opinion of a single pastor or leader. Put another way, I think a huge part of me would actually like it if my pastor said, “For the next 40 days, you’re fasting.” I wouldn’t like it if he was just making a power-play, trying to bind my conscience and create a new means through which to shame me. But if he could say, “You are fasting for the next 40 days because it is a practice that Christians have done in different ways for centuries and it has proven a helpful tool for spiritual formation,” then I would love to be told to do something like that. And that seems a much easier thing for a Catholic or Orthodox believer to say than a Protestant.
I say all that because this is why I really like and appreciate Lent. If someone just tells me, “You need to die with Christ,” I’ll look at them and say, “OK. It’s in the Bible, so you’re right. But I don’t know how to do that.” But with Lent, I have something of an answer–Lent teaches Christians how to die. And so for me, I find myself at one of my jobs going through my feed reader wanting to post things here and I can’t do it because of the “fast” I’m taking during Lent. Something that seems very natural and instinctive and that allows me to kinda prop myself up as a blogger–that’s out for this season. Instead, I have to make myself read the story simply because it interests me. That other potential motive for reading–seeing the story as a means for exalting myself–is out of bounds for this season.
It’s a trivial thing, to be sure. There will be far harder lessons God must teach me on my way to dying to myself so that I can be resurrected with Christ. But it’s a little lesson that I’m able to recognize and talk about in concrete language. And for that I’m grateful.
UPDATE: I asked one Catholic convert from evangelicalism about her experience moving to Catholicism and specifically if a more systematized approach to spiritual formation was helpful to her. Her response: “Short answer: yes, Catholicism offered great solace to me because I was very weary from trying to free-form it all the time. As a weary mother, the written prayers provided a beautiful way for me to speak with God without having to come up with everything myself–I was never very good at spontaneous prayer. Catholicism provided a tangible framework and within that framework there is FRESHNESS and NEWNESS b/c it’s a matter of love making each day new. For me, Catholicism is a very easy yoke to bear b/c I find great graces poured out on me. Thank you for the question!”
Interestingly enough, I had exactly this thought earlier this evening, at our Orthodox vespers service. In the past two days, I’ve felt unusually week and sleepy, in a way that I haven’t done since I recovered last October from mononucleosis. The Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mono, never leaves your body, so it’s possible to relapse. At vespers tonight, I was feeling so worn out that I couldn’t even stand during the prayers, and when I sat down and tried to pray, I couldn’t form clear thoughts. But I didn’t have to. When I disengaged my mind, the psalms and the formal prayers the choir sung articulated my thoughts for me. And when I felt the need to retreat into my own silent prayer, I had my prayer rope, and simply prayed, the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” As I did this, I brought to mind people I love and am concerned for, and placed them, mentally, within the prayer for mercy — a prayer that likely emerged from the practices of the Desert Fathers of the fifth century.
It is such a blessing to be able to do this. To just let go, and trust that the prayers worked out by Christians in community ages and ages ago will carry you through. That you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. I do pray “free-form,” but there are times when I can’t find the words, or can’t discipline my thoughts. What a gift to realize that I don’t have to be original. There really is freedom in that. At least I have found it there. This is also true of the liturgy. To be free from the burden of spontaneity and originality.