My boss shared something with me the other day that made me both proud (in a humble way) and ashamed (in a collective way) to be Catholic.
As a learned Christian man, he does some part-time teaching at a local Protestant Bible college. He told me that one of the classroom discussions led itself into a discussion of the Catholic Church, and one young lady commented how Catholics are all lost and have no personal love for Jesus. He challenged her on that statement, asking the class if any of them knew Catholics who didn't fit that description. A lot of blank stares were passed around the room, until another young lady, by chance my boss' niece and also a coworker of mine, said, "I know one."
"Who are you thinking of?" he asked her.
"James," she replied.
"I was thinking of him too," he said. He told them a bit about my conversion story and how my living faith is evident in my life. He then warned the group that it's not fair to characterize one group of people by the actions of any of them, and a whole different discussion morphed out of that.
I was taken aback by this when he shared it with me. Little old me arising as a sign of contradiction, in contrast to the way Protestants perceive Catholics! I know these misconceptions well; I held them dearly once myself.
Indeed, I can identify with the words of G.K. Chesterton, another convert, who wrote, "When a man really sees the Church, even if he dislikes what he sees, he does not see what he had expected to dislike. Even if he wants to slay it he is no longer able to slander it.... There drops from him the holy armor of his invincible ignorance; he can never be so stupid again." Once I learned what I learned, I couldn't unlearn it, and for better or for worse I had to keep going.
Anyway, as my boss shared this tale with me, I struggled with a surge of pride, as would only be natural to any man in such a situation. But as I pondered it more and more, my pride slowly migrated toward shame. I'm not an amazing Catholic, really. Just a normal one. I still sin, I'm not always filled with sublime joy when approaching the Mass, and I get angry at my kids. So instead of me standing out because I'm awesome, instead I stood out because the rest of the Catholics these young Christians know are so... unchristian. They don't seem any different than the pot smoking neighbours, or the cursing motorist, or the irate customer. In many cases, these people are Catholic, and the backdrop to many a middle finger is a rosary dangling from a rear-view mirror. That's what other Christians know as Catholicism.
Now, I know many Catholics who live a spirit-filled, vibrant faith. Their love for Jesus can't be denied. Most of them accept the hidden glories - the poopy diapers, the late night shifts in the adoration chapel, the echos of prayers whispered in quiet prayer corners. These indeed are praiseworthy, and more Catholics would do well to follow these examples of selfless love.
But my heart cries out for my estranged Protestant brethren, and I long to see them witness the same Truth which was revealed to me. I suggest that every authentic Catholic should make at least one Protestant friend, and be willing to engage him or her in a frank discussion on the issues that separate them.
Maybe then my coworker won't be the only person in that classroom of young Protestants who can say, "I know one!"