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What I Learned from Pope Benedict

While a protestant, I (barely) watched happenings in the Catholic Church. When the information came out in 2001 about the accusations of priestly abuse, I all but ignored it. I was worried about other things and thought merely: "that's their problem". Yet, I was deeply annoyed at how so many protestants that I knew seemed like they were enjoying the shame that the Church was put through. I knew it was not right, but did not give it much thought.

I remember in 2005, while I was a presbyterian pastor, hearing word that Pope John Paul II had passed (I believe it was a few days after it happened). I did not feel a specific sadness at the time, but a friend commented about it, "well I suppose he wasn't the antichrist after all" (his attitude was usually this obvious). I was struck by the vitriol in his words. It brought to light many of the things that I had wondered about before, but never took much time to delve into. Specifically, the hate for the Catholic faith that seemed completely justified in the minds of many protestants. They would never speak that way about atheists, muslims, or wiccans, but Catholics -- they were to be hated as the worst evil possible.

Then, sometime around 2007 or 2008 another friend heard that I had decided to convert and become Catholic. He called me on the phone to try to change my mind. His argument was basically as follows: "How can you join the Catholics? Everyone knows they drive people away from Christ!" I would not say that this was the last straw for me (that was later), but it did strike me as somewhat demonic in its resistance.

Later, I listened to another friend try to convince me that I was wrong because Catholics secretly rejected everything Jesus said, and only pretended to believe a few things from the Bible to lead people to become Catholic and then switch teachings on them later (no, I am not making this up!). That was the last straw. I had been reading more and more about the Catholic faith, and Church history, and I knew that every one of these attackers was arguing without any support for his ideas.

Finally, a year or so after I had made my final decision to become Catholic, I heard about this statement by Pope Benedict XVI: it was called "Anglicanorum Coetibus" (go read it if you have not already done so). I read it, and one thing impressed me more than anything else. It was the testimony of this Apostolic Constitution that said (my paraphrase), "We are Catholic; many Anglicans want to be Catholic; it is the duty of the Church to help people to find Jesus and in doing so to stay true to the faith Jesus taught us; thus, if they are willing to jettison all that contradicts the historic faith of our fathers, we will allow them to keep any of their traditions that are thoroughly Catholic, and we will re-catholicize the rest".

In other words, what I learned from Benedict was, we can move forward into the future and still remain true to the past. We can stand and say, "this is not my Church, it is Jesus' Church, and He allows us to be part of it". He taught me to resist those who want to change the Church to make it like the protestants (I've been there, trust me, we do not want that!). Benedict taught me to say "this is the faith handed down since the Apostles, here I stand, and I will not budge to the modernists". Thank You Lord for giving us Pope Benedict XVI.


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