I hope my catholic friends will forgive me for the title of this blogpost, but it truly reflects my heart and experience over the past year. I have been shocked and shaken in a positive way by my catholic brothers and sisters. (Für diesen Blog in Deutsch clicke hier)
You must know that I grew up like almost every American evangelical as anti-Catholic. Much like Nathanael I said in my heart „Can anything good come from Catholics“. I cringe at my pride and prejudice as I write this, but this is what I believed in my heart for so many years. Fueled by doctrinal disputes and my upbringing I always was ultra-skeptical of anything coming out of the catholic church. I do not wish to elaborate on the doctrinal issues that differ in this blog, but instead let you take part in the change in my heart that has taken place this past year.
My first culture shock actually came years back when I was introduced to Thomas a Kempis‘ „Imitation of Christ“ through my research on Vincent Van Gogh, who was greatly impacted by this reading. Thomas a Kempis, a catholic monk, wrote this devotional book in 1418, which for centuries was the most widely read devotional book. I was greatly impacted by the practical theology and the daily truths won out of this reading.
But that reading is nothing compared to what I experienced this year at the prayer house in Augsburg. I knew when I started at the prayer house that it was an inter-denominational place founded by a catholic theologian, Dr. Johannes Hartl. I didn’t expect though to be so touched by such deep faith. I have been struck many times by the bible-centered heart that is displayed in the powerful teachings of Johannes Hartl. What clarity, what passion for Christ! (here link to youtube messages )
Another shock came when I found out that my prayerhouse leader for the morning shift is a catholic theologian from Vienna, Austria – the same city I grew up in with my so anti-Catholic thinking. Was this God’s sense of humor? I am touched by this man’s sincerity and deep faith. He has already at his young age written great worship songs that are being sung all throughout Germany.
Further ripples of this shockwave touched my heart when I realized that so many of our financial supporters are devout Catholics. Our family even benefitted twice by the kindness and hospitality of dear catholic friends who let us stay in their homes for vacation. You get to know people even better when you are in their home and realize what books they read. John Piper, C.S.Lewis and Pete Greig next to books by Cantalamessa and Pope Benedikt.
Almost everyone in my morning shift has a catholic background. I am still today often dumbfounded when I hear their testimonies and greatly overjoyed. I love the Christ-centric interdenominational spirit of the prayer house. It is only at the prayer house that an American evangelical, like myself, can be asked by a catholic priest to sit down with him for a cup of coffee and have a tremendous heart to heart conversation about faith. I wish everyone could experience this. If you are interested you can come and visit us at any time or come to our big Conference MEHR in January where over 8000 people from all kinds of Christian backgrounds come together.
I am utterly humbled by the faith of my catholic brothers and sisters. All my preconceptions and prejudice have crumbled and left me ashamed for how I used to think. A couple of weeks ago I asked my shift leader, the theologian from Vienna, if I could ask him as representative of all Catholics from Vienna for forgiveness for my pride and prejudice towards them. It was a very moving moment in my heart when he spoke out to me forgiveness on behalf of the Viennese Catholics.
I still do not understand many things out of the catholic tradition. Words like Medjugorje, Eucharistic adoration, veneration of the saints still bring utter puzzlement to my face. Perhaps that will never quite change, but what I know has changed in my heart is my love and acceptance for my catholic brothers and sisters.
This culture shock, like most, has been good and healthy for my soul.
(For further thoughts on this, I encourage my German evangelical readers to read „Katholisch als Fremdsprache“ by Johannes Hartl.)