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Judi wrote:

Hi guys,

I am 42 years old and an inquirer into the Catholic faith. I'm attending RCIA classes at St. Helen's in Georgetown, Texas. I need more time to mull over things, more than my classes provide.
I'd like to read on my own regarding some of the areas in which I'm having difficulty.

I have been a believer in Christ all my life. I learned about the Holy Spirit when I was 5 and
I believe He was already living in my heart because when I learned who He was, I recognized
Him as if I already knew Him.

I've mostly been involved with Baptist churches, small rural churches, and big liberal metropolitan ones. I also have spent some time with the Presbyterians and Pentecostals. I began to be interested in Catholicism when I realized that, yes, you can be Catholic and also have a personal relationship with Christ, which satisfies my Baptist background. My personal strategy, as a Protestant, was to always try to rise above the fray of division.

I also began to notice a certain lack of mystery in the Baptist church. The particular church I went to hardly ever had communion and I missed it. One day, about two years ago, I realized that if I were Catholic, I could potentially receive Communion every Sunday. This was comforting to me. I believe God was wooing me into RCIA . I found my local Catholic parish and signed up but then backed out at the last minute due to questions about the Real Presence. It was just recently that I realized my beliefs about the Real Presence had changed; I believe God caused this. I had prayed for His help in changing my beliefs because I knew I was a long way off from Catholic teaching. When I realized my beliefs about the Real Presence had changed, I spontaneously remembered about RCIA and contacted the leader, who told me they were starting a class that very week.

I am single, so if I convert I wouldn't have to worry about family issues. However, I do have some extended family that will be furious with me. Yes, I am a coward. I have a first cousin who is a Baptist minister and a huge fan of Martin Luther and my cousin will grill me about the reasons for converting when he finds out. It really won't matter what I say, except to me. I want to be able to give arguments that are cogent, believable, and which I have confidence in, even if none of my Protestant brethren agree. I also have an aunt who is dear to me that will be heartbroken and fearful, like many friends at the Protestant church, if I tell her I am converting. I also sing in a gospel choir with a staunch Baptist and staunch [Lutheran/Methodist]. I have no idea how all this will work out. I'm counting on God help me. It will be a test of my faith.

I've hung my hat for a very long time on Justification by Faith alone. This brings up issues regarding baptismal regeneration. I have always been taught not to mix faith and works.

I have always been taught that Baptism and Communion are just symbols.

Also, I do obey the Lord, or at least I want to, and I try to follow His leadings and promptings, which have led me to where I am today. So personally, I see no reason why I couldn't become a Catholic. I'm not in fear that my mortal soul will perish in Hell. I welcome the idea, albeit with nervousness, of confessing my sins to a priest. It would seem so concrete and so nice to actually hear someone tell me I'm forgiven instead of having to guess and just assume. I don't like lying to myself.

  • What can I read that will give me something to satisfy my concerns?

I just want to develop a coherent theology that doesn't contradict itself. I used to think that Catholics talked out of both sides of their mouths. Saying God was loving then turning right around and saying works were a requirement.

Please don't give me the same faith without works is dead routine. That's no help. That's just Bible tennis.

  • If you mix Faith and Works, well then, how much works do you have to do?
  • How much works do you need to be saved?

I believe there is a way to reconcile the justification issue. I feel so close to it sometimes. I know God is leading me to the Catholic Church but I keep telling Him I need more (earthly) support for this particular issue.

He just tells me (nudges me) to keep asking questions, so I do.

Thanks,

Judi

  { As a new convert, what can I read to satisfy my concerns on the Catholic view of justification? }

John replied:

Hi Judi,

Thanks for the question.

I had similar questions along my journey.

I recommend Scott Hahn's audio CD on the book of Romans. You can get it from St. Joseph's Communications. There are other books on the subject but coming from an Evangelical background, I think Hahn's expository on Romans will be more effective in explaining dynamic and infused justification as opposed the traditional Protestant understanding of static and imputed justification.

Quickly, if you look at Roman 3:28 and read it carefully you'll see Paul never says we are justified by faith alone; we are justified by faith apart from works of the law.

James tells us we are not justified by faith alone.

A careful reading of Romans 4,5, and 6 in context will show Paul uses the Old Testament to address a specific set of questions Jewish believers, living in Rome, had about the Mosaic Law, specifically, temple sacrifices and circumcision.

Also in Romans 4 Paul references Genesis when he writes Abraham believed God and was justified. I believe that's Genesis 15. But Abraham answered God's call in Genesis in Chapter 12, then again he believed God in Chapter 17 and I think 22. Hence, justification increases as we act in faith; it is not a one shot, deal. It is dynamic!

Conversely, one who consistently fails to act in faith runs the risk of losing their justification as they backslide, to use Protestant terminology.

Again, Hahn, does a great job of putting this in terms Evangelicals can digest. Others tend to get caught up in explanations only Catholics can easily absorb.

If you still need more, google for some answers from our database.

John DiMascio

Mary Ann replied:

Judi —

You are such a good example!

As for the faith and works — St. Paul was talking about the works of the Law, not the moral and spiritual works of keeping the Law. The works of the Law were:

  • the Temple rituals
  • the complicated Pharisaic regulations
  • the dietary laws, and
  • circumcision.

All fleshly works, not the keeping of the Law. When the Church speaks of works, she means keeping the moral law. Of course, even keeping the moral law doesn't save us in itself.

It is Christ's sacrifice that made it possible for us even to keep the moral law, and it is His mercy that honors our keeping the path of the Lord with grace. It is possible to lose salvation if one dies impenitent of serious sin. No one is saved until they die and go to Heaven. We are redeemed by Christ — we work out our salvation by cooperating in our spiritual lives with the grace of Christ to walk in His path. Work out your salvation in fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

I think your cousin may not have read the actual words of Luther. For a good statement of the issues, you can read the Joint Statement by Lutherans and Catholics, [EWTN] wherein they come to agreement on this issue.

As for rising above the division, that is admirable and true, and you can do it by joining the Catholic faith. The Catholic faith includes all that is true in the denominations and even in other religions. In some cases, that is a lot, in some cases, it is a little, but a very important little.

Continue on your journey of faith, putting your faith first of all in the Lord and not in a formula statement (the salvation prayer) as some do.

Thanks for your good example.

— Mary Ann

Mary Ann followed-up:

Judi,

I just wanted to add to what John has said.

All of your sins after Baptism are covered by His blood, if you bring them to Him with a converted repentant heart — the same heart that is brought to Baptism. 

Christ's redemption is for every person and every sin, but we have to come to Him, however imperfectly.

Mark Ann Parks

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