I have struggled with the question of whether an open letter was petty, or the unkinder option was to email you at the address you provided me in what was, to you, a kind gesture of offering help. I have prayed about it, and resolved that the greater good would come from an open letter, as it could reach people who can relate to you, and if God wanted to use this letter as a lesson to you, the letter would reach you.
Our paths would have never crossed if we hadn’t lost a friend in common, not because I never engage people and churches of different denominations, but because the geography isn’t in favour of meeting you specifically. It saddens me that we met in such circumstances, and it prompts me to give you the benefit of the doubt for a behaviour that I would, otherwise, consider patronising. I wasn’t in a good state for sticking up for myself and my faith either, something for which I have beaten myself up since leaving your church.
I came to you to tell you your words touched me because “while I have spent months offering Mass for her (I’m a Catholic), I have never managed to find the time to actually be with her in her last” and that made me feel guilty until you spoke of how you were confident she held no rancour and was with Jesus interceding for us all. Of all of that you didn’t pick up on the fact I was, in my own Catholic way, dutiful in my prayers for her but not as much in other friendly duties. You picked on the Catholic bit, and ran with your prejudice ever since.
You asked: “You have a Catholic faith, did you say?”; I started replying, “Yes, I’m trying to…” you didn’t let me finish. I’m trying to spread it far and wide. But not for you. For you I’m someone who doesn’t know the basics of the faith. You tell me to stop trying because it’s not about what I do, or you do, but what Jesus has done for us. He’s done it all. As someone baptised 29 years ago, that’s not news for me, but you just assumed that I was ignorant, that having a Catholic faith just means going through the motions and doing things to save ourselves. All because I said that I was praying for our friend, which I’m sure you must have done too…
You asked if you could pray for me. I accepted. I’m not one for ever refusing the prayers of someone after the heart of Jesus. I thought you’d pray over the guilt that I felt, but what you prayed was over the relationship with Jesus you assumed I don’t have. And this is when I wish I met you on a day when I wasn’t so vulnerable I couldn’t be the apologist I always am. Although, since you talked over me all the time, I wonder if you would have listened. You didn’t listen when my friend said I’m always at her not-so-stereotypically-Anglican Church of England where her husband is a vicar, or when I mentioned I would go to the Christian festival she was organising. All you could see was your prejudice that rituals and incense are just empty gestures, rather than symbolic ones.
You told me to get a good Bible, and seemed a bit taken aback when I said I have two, one on the phone and one as a book. In fact I also have an account on the Bible.org website with their reading plans, and I’m reading the Bible in a year, although I have become a little behind with the current circumstances of my life. Circumstances that call from crying in the arms of God rather than systematic studies of the book of Numbers, which is frankly hard to digest. It’s a time for reading the Psalms cover to cover, crying out to God out of pain with David holding your hand through them.
You told me to download some worship music. I told you I already have plenty, in fact I’m involved with the local Burn 24/7. You seemed perplexed by what that was, even though it is an international, non-denominational worship initiative. I’m also involved with a charismatic Catholic group called Youth 2000, but the name would not have meant much to you. I have been for over almost 4 years. I can tell the difference between mere emotions coming from the music and a movement of the Holy Spirit. Been there, done that.
I believe what you told me was what, in your Christian education and good heart, seemed the most helpful to someone without a strong faith, who doesn’t know Jesus, who is stuck in a church that isn’t Spirit-led. And if I was such a person I’d be grateful to have received your direction. Without meaning to be arrogant, I don’t believe I am quite that far behind on the race. I prayed that prayer myself 4 years ago, looking at the expression of peace and love with complete abandon of a group of young Catholics at Adoration. I want a meaningful relationship with Jesus, and I think I’m getting there rather than starting from the back of the queue as you implied. I had very strict protestants acknowledge that before.
I’m sure you prayed what you felt was the prompt of the Holy Spirit and you know what, maybe it was. Maybe I was meant to write this open letter and reach pastors all over the world with a testimony of what being a Catholic truly is about. Maybe I wasn’t meant to stand up for myself and my faith there and then because I’m more eloquent when writing, and writing online reaches beyond just one person. Maybe the Holy Spirit has plans for this, or maybe not. Maybe I’m just getting things off my chest. Either way I’m satisfied with it, because God can use me as He wishes. The letter is there for as long as the Internet. If you read it, I hope that you will be inspired to take a step back when you meet a Catholic, instead of putting them into a box.
One of my favourite parts of the Mass is a line that pleads to God to look kindly upon the people gathered there, “whose faith and devotion are known to you”. Only God knows and can judge the state of our hearts. I don’t know if you have a living faith or you fake it on the pulpit, and you don’t know whether I only go through the motions and don’t know Jesus intimately. Please extend the kindness of not judging others from what you think a label means, listen to them instead of talking over them. In the Bible that you so eagerly recommend, in Mark 2 and Matthew 9, we see the Pharisees complaining that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors: He didn’t stop at the label, but he listened to them because he knew their heart. The Pharisees only look at the outside. What you did that day was what the Pharisees do, even with the best intentions (which I’m sure was the case for many of them too). I can tell which side you want to be on, and it isn’t theirs, so be open to the idea that God may be at work in places and people that don’t fit the mould of what you think is where and in whom God is at work.
Yours in Christ;