I spent this past weekend serving on a women’s retreat. This retreat is patterned after Cursillo which is a Catholic retreat started in Spain more than fifty years ago. I went through this retreat 10 years ago and I’ve served on at least 15 weekends since then. Although patterned after a Catholic retreat and technically “ecumenical,” it’s primarily a Protestant movement and the team members putting on the retreat as well as the participants going through the weekend are primarily made up of Protestants. There aren’t a lot of Catholics who serve; usually I’m the token Catholic in my community. This weekend I served in another community and there were three Catholics on the weekend. It turns out we are all converts to the faith. One of these ladies was just joined the church last Easter.
We spent some time talking and she shared she’s still finding her place in her parish and feeling like she don’t really fit in the Catholic world or the Protestant world. How well I remember that feeling. Then she said, ” At church I feel like I talk with a Protestant accent and I have to stop and ask myself, ok – how do I say this in Catholic speak.” As she spoke I realized this really describes the reason many Catholics and Protestants have trouble communicating. Of course there are some real differences in our theology and those can’t and shouldn’t be easily dismissed. But even with those differences Protestants and Catholics share many of the same foundational truths and beliefs. The difference is often found in the way in which we talk about those beliefs. Often we’re saying the same thing but using different words or as my new friend put it we’ve got an accent that makes it hard for the other group to understand.
It’s been seven years since I became Catholic and I think I’ve found my Catholic accent but I admit sometimes I still have to stop myself and translate my thoughts when I’m talking with people at my parish (this will be especially true after having spent the weekend with my Protestant friends). Phrases like “praise and worship” and “the Lord has been showing me in my quiet time…” and “when I became a Christian…” just aren’t heard in most Catholic circles. It’s not that we Catholics don’t praise and worship God or spend ‘quiet time’ with God in His Word, or that we don’t mark significant times of conversion in our lives. We do all of these. We just don’t talk about them in the same way.
Interestingly, while on this retreat there is a talk given on the Sacraments. One of the Spiritual Directors for the retreat gives the talk and honestly it’s a tough one to give. Imagine trying to talk about the sacraments celebrated by Christians when you have almost every main-line denomination represented and nurmerous inter-denominational groups there as well. So many differences. After this talk I found myself being asked questions about Catholic beliefs and having to translate between the two languages. Using my best Protestant accent I managed to explain what Catholics believe and how it relates to some of their beliefs. There seemed to be some mutual understanding or true ecumenism as a result.
Each time I serve on these retreats I realize how grateful I am for my Protestant upbringing. I’m grateful for how my youth pastor and my mom taught me to love the written word of God and how I learned to worship God through the use of music and extemporaneous prayer. These are gifts that make my faith journey as a Catholic richer. I think most converts like me would say the same thing. At the end of the conversation with this new convert and friend I realized speaking with both accents is not a bad thing. Instead I see it as a gift. It’s a gift that allows me to help others overcome some of the misunderstandings and divisions that exist between Catholics and Protestants. And in my little hybrid Christian world that is a very good thing.