In my last post, a co-worker of mine commented on my saying "they may as well be Protestants." It didn't occur to me at the time how this might be interpreted by, of course, Protestants. The point, in that context, was directed at those who think themselves to be "true Catholics" (those traditionalists who, above all, would not want to be identified as Protestants) but who end up being, by their protestations of the last ecumenical council, the Second Vatican Council, end up becoming Protestants themselves.
You see (I've thought about this a fair bit, being a convert from Protestantism), I think the thing that truly separates a Protestant from a Catholic is a basic mindset, the mindset that sets itself up as the final arbiter and authority on truth. In other words, it is a manifestation of the original sin of pride based on the original temptation for us to "be like God who knows what is good and what is bad," (Gen 3:5) that is, what is true and false. Such a mindset, even if well-intentioned, is at the heart of all Protestation of God's authority, from Lucifer to Eve to Adam to us. Of course, it is for God alone to judge our hearts, to impute, and to forgive our guilt, and he is a just and merciful judge.1
This post is a kind of expansion on how this mindset relates to being a part of the Church. I have no delusions that these musings will "convert" anyone. Just take them as my own personal reflections for what they're worth. They revolve around my meditations on one of the mysteries of the rosary. It's written to Christians, so I am writing from those presuppositions.
Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And
kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' -- Matthew 27:29
The third sorrowful mystery is the crowning with thorns. Lately while meditating on this mystery, I keep having the idea of the Church (the invisible, spiritual body of all Christians) in my mind. The Church is a wonderful thing; it is sometimes called the body, sometimes the bride, of Christ. It is a thing that honors and proclaims the majesty and dominion of Christ, the King of the universe. In that way, it is a crown, which is a symbol, a proclamation of regal authority and power.
But I think it is a fractured crown, broken into many pieces, divided asunder by the arrogance and pride of many. There is the Great Schism that has divided the eastern church from the west, and of course there is Protestantism and its many divisions. But even before that, since the beginning (as attested to by the letters of St. Paul), there have been those who sow discord and cause division--even those who think they are doing the right thing and truly think they are following God's will.
So I see this fractured crown that we call the Church, a thing that despite itself is indeed a herald of Jesus' Kingship. I see Jesus the King, bloodied, beaten, and scourged, being crowned, but instead of the crown being the thing of beauty and awe that it should be, it is this broken thing, disjointed, full of jagged edges and being driven down onto the head of the King of the universe, the splinters biting deep into His skin, tearing it, and scratching against His skull.
Rather than being an occasion for joy, the crowning is an occasion for sorrow because what should be whole, smooth, unified, and undivided, is instead shattered, jagged, split, and divided. This is the image of the Church today--the crown of thorns. It is still a messenger of Jesus' kingship, but it is not the thing of beauty and awe it should be.
Jesus prayed four times to the Father (in St. John's Gospel, chapter 17) that we (the Church, Christians) would be one. But through our arrogance and pride, we have utterly failed in this, from the earliest of times. It seems clear, based on just this prayer alone, that unity in the Church is of supreme importance to God, and it is a perfect unity--the same unity that exists between the Father and the Son--that God desires for us.
Jesus said "that they may be one as we are one" and prayed that we "may be brought to perfection as one," so we see that it is not a superficial unity or a unity only in "essentials" (a common term by ecumenists who try to glaze over real and important differences). There is NO division in God, and this is what God wants for the Church.
Similarly, when Jesus founded the Church upon St. Peter, he promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Here, a few interesting things stick out to me. First, Jesus specifically grounds the Church he is founding as something on earth. He gives the keys of heaven to Peter, saying that what he binds and looses on earth will be bound and loosed in heaven. It seems to me this is a foundation of a visible (earthly) Church that Peter would lead with real binding power both here on earth and in heaven.
The Church is indeed the mystical body of Christ, but it is also an earthly body. Like us, you could say, it has a body and a soul, but the two are fundamentally one thing. When Jesus founded the Church, he established an earthly (bodily) existence with Peter at its governor, giving him the power to bind and loose, as well as a heavenly (spiritual) existence, also governed by Peter.
Jesus, at this institution of our mutually earthy and heavenly Church, promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. In other words, the powers of hell, the domain of Satan and the fallen angels, are going to try to prevail, but they won't. The Church will be under assault, but it will remain forever, and being a unity of body and soul (earthly and heavenly, visible and invisible), this means that the Church will stand firm on both earth and heaven under the delegated governance of Peter and that the visible Church (as well as the invisible) is inextricably and directly linked with the headship of Peter.
Since St. Peter was not to live here on earth for eternity, yet we see from the Word of God that the Church remains forever on earth and in heaven under Peter, it follows that God intended for this headship, on earth, to pass to St. Peter's successors, whom we know as bishops of Rome, popes. Thus the visible, earthly body of the Church is that Church which is under the headship of Peter and his successors, what we know today as the Roman Catholic Church.
Now we return to the prayer of Jesus. If it is God's will (as it is clearly revealed in St. John's Gospel) that we believers be perfectly unified (absolutely no division in body or soul), and it is God's will (as seen in St. Matthew's Gospel) that there be a perpetual Church under Peter on both heaven and earth, it follows that this perfect unity is to come about in that Church and no other. It follows that we are to place ourselves under that headship, subordinating our personal druthers, opinions, and reasoning to the leadership that Christ established and endeavor to eliminate anything in us that damages that perfect unity that Christ so strongly desires.
Doing this is not only an act of obedience to the King of the universe, it is an act of love. Seeing how strongly Jesus desires that we be truly one, we should desire, if we truly love God, to fulfill his desire. Just as a lover infatuated with his love has no other desire but to please his beloved, so we should desire to please God. We should be that perfect, shining, unified crown upon the head of Christ the King.
We should also, therefore, be ashamed, truly sorry, and saddened, however, that we are instead a crown of thorns. As long as we selfishly and proudly put our own opinions, desires, and reasonings ahead of our love for Christ, our fulfillment of his desire that we be one, we will remain this crown of thorns. It is for this reason, in part, that I have joined myself to the Church of Christ under Peter's headship. It is not blind faith; it is wide-eyed, ferocious love for Christ that compels me to do so. Protesting against this Church, creating division upon division against it, is not only injurious to those souls who are driven from Christ by our divisions, it is an injury to God himself. How long will we remain this crown of thorns?
Given on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Year of Our Lord 2007
1. Update: In other words, I'm sure there are plenty, probably most, who do not even recognize or intend this, but it seems to me that it is at the heart of the protestant approach to the faith, even if wholly unconscious. I tend to think that God will have mercy on those who are not aware of it (inculpably ignorant), and in any case, I don't make such judgments on individuals myself! (cf. St. Matthew's Gospel 7:1ff.)