Support a Catholic Speaker Month: Steve Ray

This post is a response to the great work that Brandon Vogt has been doing to promote the New Evangelisation, in this case through “Support a Catholic Speaker Month” (September).

Since the only Catholic Speaker I have heard speak is Steve Ray, I decided to do a post highlighting his background and the substance of his talks to St. Patrick Church in East Hampton, CT.  If, technology challenged as I am, I can figure out how to embed some video of Steve speaking I’ll do that too. You can check out more about Steve Ray at http://www.catholic-convert.com/

Steve Ray

Steve Ray was raised by his parents as a devout Baptist and in a community that was strongly anti-Catholic.  Much of his current work is as he says, “arguing with my former self.”  As a young man he actively worked to ‘save’ Catholics and was quite successful in using his encyclopedic knowledge of Scriptural ‘proof texts’ to demolish the poorly catechized beliefs of the Catholics he met.

It was Steve’s wife, Janet who first started looking at Catholicism through reading Tom Howard’s book “Evangelical is not Enough”.  For a long time Steve and Janet had been dissatisfied with the evangelical churches they were attending but they had been content to be ‘generic’ Christians.  After reading Tom Howards book as well as hearing Francis Schaeffer’s account of his journey into Eastern Orthodoxy, the Ray’s read every book they could find on the Church Fathers, by the Church Fathers and slowly but surely they were convinced that the early Church was emphatically Catholic and that the Church Christ founded was founded on Peter, the Rock. The whole family joined the Catholic Church on Pentacost Sunday, May 22, 1994.

I recommend checking out the “About the Rays” page on Steve’s website to learn more about their conversion story.

Why I am Catholic

The first talk I heard Steve give was on a Friday night in December of last year.  This talk was his story, his journey from anti-Catholic Baptist to joyful and grateful Catholic convert, some of which I’ve related above.

One thing that struck me about Steve was his absolutely intense joy and passion for telling the story of his own conversion.   For someone who hasn’t been through a conversion process testimony like Steve’s (and mine for that matter) could perhaps be seen as ego.  But for me, and I suspect for Steve, every time I tell my story I am admitting that I was wrong and sharing my profound joy and thankfulness that God still loved me and drew me closer to Himself and into the Church.

As Steve tells his story you get swept up into the events he is describing, the people, places, joys, challenges, tears.  He makes a very convincing case for why he is Catholic and directly challenges many traditions that are believed to be Scriptural by fundamentalist Baptists and many in the broader Evangelical community.

A quick example has to do with the efficacy of water baptism.  Many fundamentalists believe that baptism is not necessary for salvation.  That all you need to do is ‘believe’ that Christ is Lord (by which they mean say the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ or something similar and assent in their mind that Christ is Lord) and you will be saved.  Steve makes a very strong case that not only is simple assent not enough but that baptism by water was taught by Jesus and is the only Scriptural way to become a Christian.

Starting in the beginning of the Bible, he laid out an argument that whenever God begins something He always does it in the same way: with water and Spirit.  He goes on to argue that Christ didn’t change that pattern but rather continued it with water baptism as the mechanism for transmitting grace and reception of the Holy Spirit. The early Church continued in the exact same manner.  Every convert was baptized with water and received the Holy Spirit.

For more on this topic I highly recommend Steve’s book “Crossing the Tiber” which if you know me personally I can lend to you.

Peter, the Rock, and the Keys

Steve’s talk on Saturday covered much of the material in his book “Upon This Rock” which lays out his argument for the Papacy.  I also own a copy of this book if anyone local would like to borrow it.

I’m running out of time for writing this week so I’m going to leave this post as it is and try to write some more about Steve and the great work he does as a scholar, speaker and apologist.  But don’t wait for me, go book him for your event or parish speaking schedule, go hear him speak, or go on pilgrimage with him.  He’s great!

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A Meditation on Faith and Works

I’ve been thinking recently about how different Christians understand ‘faith’.  In particular it has struck me how for most Protestant denominations ‘faith’ is something that you have, a noun and object. You hear phrases along the lines of ‘I’m struggling with my faith’, or ‘I’m losing my faith’ or ‘I try to follow my faith’ or ‘God is helping me increase my faith’.  ‘Faith’ is almost always the object of the verb.

I think a better understanding of faith is that it is not just something you have but something that you do.  I expect that there isn’t much disagreement on this point but I think it does highlight  a key difference between Protestants and Catholics which, coming from the Protestant side of the spectrum I didn’t understand.

You often hear the criticism of Catholic faith that it is based on a ‘works righteousness’.  That in some sense the Catholic supposedly believes that their works can save them.  And there is plenty of language in Catholic theology that at first glance would give some credence to this criticism.  I certainly had this in the back of my mind when I first started looking at Catholicism.  I saw lots of Mass-going Catholics who didn’t seem to be having the kind of ‘faith’ experiences that I was used to.  I didn’t hear a lot of “Jesus” talk; I didn’t see a lot of public displays of ‘faith’; I only saw pre-written prayers used; I didn’t see the elements of ‘having faith’ that I was used to seeing.  So I made assumptions about many of the people around me (really they were judgments) that they were just going through the motions and didn’t really ‘have faith’.

As it turns out, I was wrong because I had too shallow an understanding of faith and I had too much pride in my own faith history and experiences.  It’s tough to admit that you have a lot to learn about being faithful when you’ve spoken words of prophecy, seen people healed through the power of the Holy Spirit, been to the mountaintop of faith, lead thousands in worship, lead retreats and youth groups, been chaplain for my class, etc.  (If any of that sounds familiar and foolish you might be thinking of 2 Corinthians 11:16-29.)

As I began to learn however, I realized that my understanding of faith, of my faith, saw faith as an object, something you either have or don’t have.  Catholics don’t see it that way at all.  Faith, for the Catholic, is something that you do.  Instead of having faith, the focus is on being faithful.  So we go to Mass every week and on Holy days of obligation; we do works of mercy; we consecrate ourselves (to the Sacred Heart, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, etc.); we pray the rosary; we focus on the active doing of our discipleship – even before we are fully convinced in our minds about the content of our belief we try to act on those beliefs.

None of this should be seen as an anti-intellectualism or a screed against the work of theology and philosophy – those are very good things and are important.  The faithful life of the Catholic though is not primarily based on thinking about the content of our beliefs but on the acting on those beliefs – living out the Living Tradition of the Church in our daily lives.

I should also point out that most Protestants also act on their faith.  My point here is that the Catholic and the Protestant are coming from two different perspectives.  The Catholic and the Protestant would both agree that we are saved by Grace which comes through faith in Christ.  My point is that ‘faith in Christ’ is understood by Protestants as something you have whereas the Catholic would say that ‘faith in Christ’ is something that you do.

Paul writes in Romans 4:1-5 “What then can we say that Abraham found, our ancestor according to the flesh? Indeed, if Abraham was justified on the basis of his works, he has reason to boast; but this was not so in the sight of God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” A worker’s wage is credited not as a gift, but as something due. But when one does not work, yet believes in the one who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.

I think it is interesting that James uses the exact same passage to apparently make the exact opposite point.  From James 2:20-24 “Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called “the friend of God.” See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

How then do we resolve these two passages?  The first part is to understand what exactly Paul is talking about when he says ‘works’ and what James is talking about when he says ‘works’.  Paul is clearly refering to ‘works of the law’ and in particular circumcision as you can see if you read deeper into Romans 4 where Paul makes explicit that his argument is that faith which God credits as righteousness is not dependent circumcision since Abraham was uncircumcised and only after being made righteous received the seal of circumcision as a sign of the covenant.  Paul goes on to say that Abraham “was to be the father of all the uncircumcised who believe, so that to them [also] righteousness might be credited, as well as the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised, but also follow the path of faith that our father Abraham walked while still uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:11b-12, emphasis mine).

What was the ‘path of faith’ that Abraham ‘walked’ (notice that faith is no longer something that Abraham has but something that he does (walks))?  Abraham received God’s promise that God would make him into a great nation  but it was another 25 years before Isaac was born.  Through all of those long years as Abraham is getting older and older, as his wife is getting older and older he still trusts God and walks blamelessly. I’m not sure that I would be able to be faithful for 25 years of what appears to be a broken or empty promise.  That is why Abraham is considered the ‘father of faith’ because he walked the path of faith for 25 years before he saw God’s promise fulfilled and then even after still trusted God enough to prepare his son for sacrifice.

Thus I say that Paul and James are making the exact same point not different points.  Both are after the idea that faith is a way of being, not something that you just have.  For Paul, works of the law is something you have – all male Jews were circumcised but that is not enough, the Jew still has to ‘believe God’ (i.e. live faithfully).  Paul is writing to make the point that what you have is not enough, you still have to live in faithfulness.  James is making essentially the same point against those who seemed to think that saying ‘I believe’ was enough.  ‘I believe’ is a lie unless it is demonstrated in your life.

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On the obnoxiousness of the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”

So I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the frequently used Christianese phrase “Love the Sinner, hate the sin.” (LTS HTS)  Is it just me or is that a really obnoxious thing to say?  I figure that there are only really two types of people in relation to some ‘sin’ – those who ‘know’ it to be sin and those who don’t.  Say for example, if I were, in a moment of weakness to walk out of Guitar Center with a Les Paul Custom.  I know that is stealing and it’s wrong so if you were to say LTS HTS about me I’d say, yeah, i know I was wrong apologize and move on.

However, if I came from a society or a belief system that didn’t believe in personal property and I didn’t know that stealing was wrong I might be offended if you said LTS HTS about me.  And I might be even more sensitive if there were lots of people constantly telling me I needed to repent of this supposed sin or I would go to hell; or perhaps treating me like I was less than fully human just because I steal stuff.

Now imagine for a moment that something that is at the core of your self-identity is the ‘theft’ in my analogy.  How pissed off, offended and not inclined to reasonable discussion would you be if people kept telling you that you’re a sinner but we love you anyway.  You’d be be inclined to tell them to take their ‘love’ and shove it back up from whence it came.

So the next time you feel like interjecting ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ into a conversation (particularly a public one) – consider for a moment how that ‘sinner’ is going to take your label and perhaps focus on just loving people where they are and trusting in God to convict their hearts.

*note* I am not advocating for moral relativism.  My interest is pastoral and evangelical.  No one was ever convicted of their own sinfulness (myself included) by being told that they were a sinner.  Everyone was convicted first by meeting the risen Christ and letting His light shine into their lives and second by becoming open to the consistent teaching of the Church.  Lord knows (and I mean that literally – I am continually amazed at His grace and patience with me) that things I thought to be licit even five or six years ago I have since been convicted through my open-hearted (and minded but it’s the heart that matters I think) study of the teachings of the Church.

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Docility to the Bishop’s Authority and American Politics

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about politics.  The Republican Party is currently in the middle of one of the more difficult primary seasons in recent decades.  The current administration is promoting an insurance regulation that directly impinges on the religious freedom of Catholics causing them to either violate their consciences or pay exorbitant fines.  No political party truly respects the dignity of the human person from conception through natural death.

Many Catholics (for the sake of easy stereotyping and contrasting we’ll call them ‘Social Justice Catholics’ or SJC’s for short) engage in the American political arena as Democrats, focusing on using the power and use of government to care for the poor, provide healthcare and restrain the tendency of the rich to use their wealth to accumulate more wealth at the expense of the poor.  Many other Catholics (these we’ll call Faithful Conservative Catholics™ or FCC’s for  short), concerned about the government’s seeming inability to do anything efficiently or well, focused on the key issue of abortion, engage with any candidate that promises to fight abortion and limit government, usually Republicans.

Both SJC’s and FCC’s claim that their respective positions are the true living out of the Church’s teachings in the reality of American politics.  Furthermore, many in both camps claim that the other camp is not following the Church’s teaching on particular issues (often this attack has an element of truth to it) and therefore are not ‘Real Catholics’.  The problem is that by making those two claims, both camps conflate Church teaching on issues and doctrines with the implementation of solutions.  The problem is compounded by each camps tendency to identify individual bishops and the USCCB in general with either their own camp (good bishops) or the other camp (bad bishops), forgetting that the duty of a Catholic is docility towards the bishops as the successors to the apostles.  Mark Shea has an excellent piece on the matter here.

Docility to the bishops has to do with faith and morals and more broadly speaking as examples of how to live a Christian life.  For example, out of docility to the bishops, I’m happy to look at the issue of climate change and the environment (even though I am extremely skeptical of the ‘science’, mainly because climate ‘scientists’ aren’t nearly skeptical enough of their own discipline).

However, I think faithful Catholics can (and probably should) disagree with each other over the best solutions. I come down firmly in the ‘government meddling will inevitably make any bad situation/issue worse’ camp. And in the ‘any regulation will likely have awful unintended consequences’ camp. SO, I am extremely skeptical of government schemes to regulate CO2. However, I do believe that we ought to conserve energy, recycle and otherwise care for our environment and I do support straightforward regulation to compel major corporations to do those things with the caveat that there needs to be careful consideration of any unintended consequences as well as a clear view for the economic harm likely to be caused by any regulation (whether or not that regulation is a ‘good’ regulation).

Likewise on healthcare and immigration. The focus needs to stay on caring for ‘the least of these’ but I think that we should be extremely skeptical of government aggregating power to itself to control decisions that ought to be made at a level much closer to those affected. Obamacare, in my view, is a law that increases the government’s power over the lives of individual citizens (see HHS Mandate) in ways that are improper for the Federal government. I think the whole law needs to be scrapped and something started from scratch that will address the same needs. Support for local solutions, catastrophic care insurance (as opposed to ‘everything and the kitchen sink insurance), the ability to purchase insurance across state lines (instantly makes insurance affordable and available to a majority of the currently uninsured), availability to purchase any health insurance plan with pre-tax dollars as well as make any health care spending with pre-tax dollars. Elimination of employer-provided health insurance (making the policy portable). All of these things I think would drastically reduce the 47 million that are uninsured currently. Then I think some reasonable effort, through the tax code to fund an ‘emergency’ fund as well as a ‘pre-existing condition’ fund at the local level to help those who still wouldn’t be able afford insurance and/or funding for free (to the uninsured) community health centers to provide that care.

However, there are there are those who think that a federal solution to those issues is best.  While we disagree on implementation we do agree about the fundamentals of the issues (human dignity, right to healthcare, right to a just wage, etc.).

In arguing about these issues we need to pay careful attention to those things that our bishops and Church require of us, what things they strongly teach as being (nearly) universally normative, and what things the Bishops speak about but deliberately leave the particulars up to lay Catholics to figure out.  For things that fall into the first two categories (required or dogmatic and taught as normative even though not dogmatic) it’s important to be docile to the teaching of the Church and the Bishops.  A good example of something taught dogmatically is opposition to abortion and contraception.  A good example of something taught as normative even though not dogmatic is opposition to the death penalty.

In all things, respect for the wisdom and authority of the Bishops is important for they are the heirs of the apostles and ought to be treated that way (even the ones who don’t act like it).

Posted in Catholic, Diocese of Norwich, USCCB | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

Listening to God: Distinguishing God’s voice from Society’s voice.

* Mark Shea mentioned that he might give my blog a plug today for which I am exceedingly grateful.  If this is the first time you have come to my blog, this post is the 5th of a series of posts relating the notes from a Bible study my wife and I led for a group of teens last summer.  All of the posts in this series can be found here.  You may also be interested in a post a wrote a couple of weeks ago on Lent. All feedback, criticism and input is gratefully received.

Before I get to the substance of this post I think a few key Scripture verses will create the correct frame of reference for the topic at hand: how do you distinguish the voice of God from ‘other’ voices (in this case society’s/our culture’s/etc.)? Continue reading

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Listening to God – Listen

 Part 4 of the Listening to God series.  Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart.”Mother Teresa

“The trouble with nearly everybody who prays is that he says ‘Amen’ and runs away before God has a chance to reply. Listening to God is far more important than giving Him our ideas.” Frank Laubach

Why listen?

Any real relationship is a two-way street where both people speak and listen to each other.  Listening honors the person that is speaking.  Listening means that you care and want to know and understand what is being said.

The same is true for our relationship with God.  Just as we bring our prayers and petitions to God, He speaks to us.  By listening to God we honor Him, love Him and seek to know Him better. Continue reading

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Listening to God – Prayer Part 2 – Our Father

This is Part 2 of Listening to God on Prayer.  The first two posts in the series can be found here: Why Listen? and here: Prayer, Part 1.

The following meditation is heavily dependent on the very excellent meditation found in the Catechism, part 4, section 2 which I highly recommend you read in its entirety.

Meditation on the Our Father

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

There are two different recordings of the Lord’s Prayer in scripture.  The first is in the gospel according  to Matthew, chapter 6, verses 9-13 (but be sure to read 14 and 15 too) and is part of the Sermon the Mount.  Luke relates the Lord’s Prayer in answer to the disciples question about how to pray and it’s a little bit different.   Continue reading

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