I find quite troubling an account of a recent funeral. Although many details are not known to me, enough of what transpired is known to be distressing.
The funeral was of an aged life-long Catholic. As the man was ill for some time with cancer, there may be many mitigating circumstances, including dependency of age, that contributed to how he ended up in this situation: for the past several years, though still identifying as a Catholic and a Knight of Columbus, he was accompanying his adult son to the son’s Protestant fellowship. What his regularity with the sacraments was, I do not know, but I do know that this man was having regular contact with some members of his Catholic parish. I don’t know what conversations they had with him as he went into his final decline, but I do know some of the content of the conversations the Protestants were having with him, because those conversations were made known at the funeral.
Notice I said funeral, not funeral Mass. It was a Protestant funeral. Let me just pause at this point to let that sink in: Catholic for about 80 years and no funeral Mass. Some of you reading this might be faithful Catholics who have suffered seeing your children leave the faith. If so, you have not merely a personal and family tragedy on your hands, but you have a personal spiritual emergency. Have you considered what steps you need to take to make sure you will have access to the sacraments in your final days and hours and to a Catholic funeral when you pass on?
But back to the story of the Protestant funeral for our old coreligionist. From the time he started attending the Protestant services, one Protestant man in particular befriended him and this man spoke at the funeral of his great concern for his Catholic friend’s salvation. “I finally asked him one day, ‘If you died and stood before the Lord and He asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?’”
Okay, yes, is it a ludicrous question. It is silly to think that Jesus is going to ask us anything when we die. But if you think the question is bad, you should know how our Catholic answered it: “I just ask the Virgin Mary to pray for me.”
Now of course, the Protestant found this answer alarming. Fellow Catholics, we should find this answer alarming! The Protestant took it upon himself to begin to regularly share the Gospel, as he understood it, with the Catholic man. “I explained to him, ‘Jesus died for your sins. You have to trust in Him. The Virgin Mary did not die for your sins. The pope did not die for your sins. No priest can save you. Only Jesus can save you. Finally a week before he died, he accepted Jesus as his Savior.’”
This was very comforting to all the gathered Protestants. This was very annoying, not to mention embarrassing, to the several Catholics in attendance. It was a scandal, certainly. But it is a little hard to figure out exactly what the scandal is.
Some will want to blame this on poor catechesis and sorry preaching and homiletics. I ponder really whether the man’s mind had failed him or whether it was possible to be Catholic for a lifetime and not figure out that Jesus saves. I think about all the Masses he assisted at where he heard, not to mention spoke: “For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven…” and “Dying you destroyed our death. Rising your restored our life” and well, we could multiply this for pages, couldn’t we? I don’t want to be unkind here, but don’t you have to be about as dumb as a box of rocks to sit in Mass for any time and not figure out that your salvation has something to do with Jesus? Or maybe the man knew he was near the end and that his son would be comforted if he “accepted Jesus” so he went along for that reason. Then again, if the man had actually managed to be Catholic for all those years and just not get it about Jesus, maybe we really have to thank the Protestant for finally delivering the message.
Whatever the case, how can Protestants be faulted for their ignorance that Catholics are Christians when Catholics have trouble bringing the name of Christ to their lips when asked to give a reason for their hope?
I just don’t get why it is that when a Protestant asks a Catholic if he is saved, it is so hard to spit out the simple words: “My hope is in Christ who shed His blood for me.” If your hope is not in Christ, you are a not a Catholic Christian. If you want to honor the Blessed Virgin, then open your mouth to praise your Savior as she did: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Taking nothing away from her central role in Salvation history and from her Motherhood of the Church and of each one of us, Mary does not want you to magnify her to unbelievers or to non-Catholics; she wants you to magnify her Divine Son. Why do I suspect that if many congregations of Catholics were polled as to whether Mary needed a Savior, a lot would answer “No, because she was perfect”? A loud buzzer and huge banner that unfurls the words: “WRONG ANSWER!” would come in handy.
Mary needed a Savior and so do you. Mary shared her Savior with the world—and still does! — and so should you. Our separated brethren have a lot wrong, but they are not wrong to desire to know if their friends have a relationship with Jesus. Yes, there is more to it than their simplistic “sinner’s prayer” model of evangelization, but that really is the foundation. The gospel message at it simplest is really that Jesus died for our sins and we can have life in His name. If you can’t bring yourself to say His name and give Him credit for your salvation – a salvation which has been, is being, and yet will be accomplished – then is it any wonder that Protestants fear you are not a Christian?
The Protestant Henry H. Halley wrote in the introduction to his Bible handbook:
Christ, the center and heart of the Bible, the center and heart of history, is also the center and heart of our lives. Our eternal destiny is in His hand. Our acceptance or rejection of Him as our Lord and Savior determines for each of us eternal glory or eternal ruin — heaven or hell, one or the other.
The most important decision anyone is ever called on to make is to settle in one’s heart, once and for all, the matter of one’s attitude toward Christ. On that depends everything.
It is a glorious thing to be a Christian, the most exalted privilege of mankind. The Creator of all things wants to have a personal relationship with each and every one of us! To accept Christ as Savior, Lord, and Master, and to strive sincerely and devotedly to follow in the way of life He taught, is certainly by far the most reasonable and most satisfactory way to live. It means peace, peace of mind, contentment of heart, forgiveness, happiness, hope, life abundant, life that shall never end.
St. Paul put it like this: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.
Friends, read this again; read it aloud and this time emphasize the personal pronoun: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.
Please, to the Protestant who asks, say something about Jesus! Nothing could go further in helping to dispel misunderstandings about the Catholic Church. And to the lost and hurting who have not heard the Gospel, please say something about Jesus!
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