Friday, March 1, 2013

What can Protestants learn from Catholics?

Growing up in a Protestant church, I never had - and still don't have - a real clear understanding of the Catholic faith. I never considered Catholics to be of the same faith as me, but at least now I understand that they believe in the same God and the same Messiah.

As time goes by I find myself having more and more encounters with Catholic people. I've taken two trips to the Dominican Republic, which is considered a Catholic country. I even have family members who are Catholic, and yet I still don't have a good picture of their religion.

A book I'm currently reading has opened my eyes to the beauty of some of the Catholic traditions. Growing up I thought Catholics just did a bunch of rituals and then lived however they wanted to live. Now I know that is a stereotype that isn't true of all Catholics. In fact, I now believe there are just as many Protestants who go through the motions of religion without a real life change as there are Catholics.

The use of Liturgy, what I'll define as a prescribed set of practices, to enhance a person's relationship with their Savior is not specific to the Catholic Church. In the Protestant Church we don't call our practices Liturgy, but we do prescribe disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer, fasting, communion, etc. We believe those disciplines, when practiced faithfully, will draw us closer to Jesus.

Any action can become an empty ritual if our hearts aren't in the right place when we do them. If we read the Bible just so we can tell other people we've read the Bible, then what good is it doing? It only serves to puff us up with pride and we are deceiving ourselves.

Let’s look at some disciplines from the Catholic Church we can tweak and use to add to our own repertoire of Time Alone With God (TAWG) activities. In their book Red Letter Revolution, Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo share several examples of ancient Catholic practices which have proven effective for all believers to fellowship with Jesus.

The Jesus Prayer
This is a short, memorized prayer that can be helpful throughout your day.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

It’s only 12 words long, but they can be powerful if memorized and recited in the midst of daily ups and downs. Just think about a typical day, with all its stresses, joys and disappointments. That simple prayer means something different in each context, yet it always brings us back to the core of our relationship with Jesus.

The Rosary
The Rosary is a string of beads with a cross at one end and a loop that can be placed in the shape of a heart at the other end. Each bead on the string represents a different type of prayer, or a different subject of prayer.

We can use something similar to give our own prayer lives a boost. Claiborne offers some insight into his own use of beads to remind himself of important prayer points.

Creating a chain of beads can help you have a physical tool as you pray throughout the day. Prayer beads aren’t magic, but they can cure some minor cases of ADD. For instance, I have a chain of some different-sized beads (or different colored or textured beads) for various prayers. You might have a large bead for the Lord’s Prayer. You might have seven rough beads for praying against the seven deadly sins - pride, envy, lust, anger, gluttony, greed and sloth - and you might have nine little ones for the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, so that you can rest on each one and pray that it would take root and grow like a seed inside of you - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

One of the most popular Vacation Bible School crafts is the salvation bracelet - a cord with multiple colors of beads, each representing a different part of God’s story of salvation. The beads serve as a reminder of an important part of our relationship with Jesus. A string of prayer beads can do the same as they remind us of important things we should regularly pray for.

Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina is Latin for “divine reading” and it is a way of prayerfully reading Scripture. This practice can happen with a group or alone.

First, pick a passage of scripture - it doesn’t have to be very long - and read it once slowly, listening with your Spirit for the voice of God. Read it a second time and share with others, or write down, a word or phrase that jumps out at you. On the third reading each person shares why that word or phrase struck them. If you’re by yourself, take time to journal about why the word of phrase stood out for you. Finally, read the passage one last time, slowly and meditatively.

We can all benefit from slowing down, focusing and soaking in the Scripture we read. So often we try to digest whole books or chapters at once and miss the beauty and power one verse or small passage can contain.

The Prayer of Examen
This ancient practice is something we can do daily. The end of the day may be the best time for the Prayer of Examen. The first part of this prayer experience involves quieting yourself and recounting all the good things you did that day (ways you blessed others, ways you served, times you resisted temptation, etc.). The second part of the prayer is a time of confession and repentance for the sins you’ve committed that day. Name each of them one by one and ask God to forgive you and cleanse you from them.

Source: Shane Claiborne & Tony Campolo, Red Letter Revolution (Thomas Nelson, 2012), 36-40.

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