Thursday, July 23, 2009

We Need a Catholic-Protestant Dictionary

(from a 2007 Catholic by Grace article)

Even when we speak the same language, we sometimes have difficulty communicating with one another. You don’t have to travel to England to experience this. There are regional anomalies right here in the United States.

It happened to me while walking out of a grocery store in Atlanta a number of years ago. A lady entered Winn Dixie and asked me, “Are you finished with that buggy?” I stared blankly for a moment and realized she was referring to my grocery cart.

“Oh, yes. Sorry. It’s all yours,” I mumbled, as I quickly added another definition to the word buggy. From henceforth, it could refer to a piece of baby equipment, a prop for an old west movie, or (in Atlanta) a grocery cart.

Likewise, one of the more frustrating aspects of sharing the Gospel with others is that we do not always share the same dictionary. A few years back, a woman on the reality show Survivor proved the point. The host asked her about being religious. She bristled and explained that she is not religious but that she has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Catholic viewers scratch their heads and think, she sure sounds religious to us. The problem is that Evangelicals and Catholics mean different things when they use certain words or phrases.

Take the word religious. To the Catholic, it means to be counted among the faithful. One who is devout. Baptismal vows shape how they live, and they are fully engaged in this journey to God.

To Evangelicals, the word religious means almost the opposite. They believe a religious person concentrates on rituals and formulas at the expense of a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.

That is why Evangelicals will not ask a stranger if he is religious. Rather, they will ask him if he has a personal relationship with the Lord. And it’s a valid question. To answer it appropriately, though, we need to consider what the person really wants to know. Like the woman who asked if I was finished with the buggy, you may not be able to answer the question if you do not know what the question is really asking.

In short, how real is Jesus to you? To what extent has He impacted your life? Do you invite Him to go with you into your week? Do you talk to Him before you fall asleep? Is He the first one you speak to when you wake in the morning? Do you see Him in the face of the homeless? The poor? Your aging parents?

When things go really well, is He the first one you tell? When things are spinning out of control, do you reach out for His hand, like Peter walking on the water to Jesus?

Being religious does not mean (or should not mean) that we cling to external rituals that are void of meaning. On the contrary, it should mean that our faith impacts everything that we do. It redefines our calendar, it gives framework to the way we worship God, it instills reverence and a proper fear of the Lord, and it brings order, balance, depth, fullness and unwavering faithfulness to our walk with God. This kind of faith is very personal.

Moreover, every Catholic who receives the Most Blessed Sacrament receives Jesus Christ in the most intimate way possible. You can’t get more personal than having Jesus Christ on your tongue. His Real Presence meeting you at the cellular level. Overwhelming you. Changing you. Think about it, when you went forward to receive Our Eucharistic Lord at Mass last time, you experienced the most personal touch we can experience on this earth. The One who created you, the One who flung the stars into space and formed every valley and mountain, the One who holds all things in His Hands – He became so small and humble that you have been given the opportunity to rise from your knees, walk the aisle, bow, and put out your hands and take Jesus into your own body!

It is too miraculous, too mysterious to comprehend. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. And it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to contemplate such profound love. Spend the distance from your seat at Mass to the raised Eucharist contemplating with awe and wonder who it is that comes to you – so intimately, so personally.

How is it possible that He should come inside me, and I not cease to breathe, to think, to exist? Such love, it is almost too much to grasp. And yet, we do grasp it enough to say, “Amen” when we come face to face with God the Son. The next time someone asks you if you know Jesus personally, the answer must be one resounding yes.


  1. I really needed to read this right now.. I've always known about the diff in language thing. I grew up dealing with it... but I never thought about the meaning of religious until recently and was having a hard time w/ trying to explain something.