Christians in a Hostile World

"Let me just tell you about my friend Cassie (Bernall). She was in the -- in a classroom, I believe, and she ended up standing up for the greatest thing ever.... She completely, completely stood up for God when the killers asked her if there was anyone who had faith in Christ. She spoke up and they shot her for it. And that is the most brave thing anyone could ever do, and I -- I want that memory to live on and her example for that." -- Mickie Cain, Columbine High School student.

I teach a lot about the Catholic Faith. Often it is necessary, in the course of such teaching, to distinguish Catholic teaching from other Christian traditions and this is, I believe, good and worthwhile work. In a culture that is Protestant in its origins many people can frequently misunderstand what Catholics mean when they say this and that. Therefore, one must frequently explain that, though Catholics affirm the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, for instance, they do not necessarily read it the way a Protestant would.

This need to make distinctions tends to predominate conversation between Protestants and Catholics, not because they have so little in common, but because they have so much. There is an enormous amount Catholics and Protestants don't have to argue about. They don't have to convince each other of monotheism, the deity of Christ, the reality of God's act of Creation, the inspiration of Scripture, the crucifixion and resurrection and ascension of Christ, and so forth.

And yet this enormous amount of commonality means we often argue over relatively small things (since a conversation in which all parties agree is dull). That's alright, for relatively small things are still worth discussing. But some people enjoy mere fighting rather than arguing in order to discover truth. Thus, a small minority of Catholics, discontent with the Church's teaching that Protestants are real Christians, set up websites declaring (in flat contradiction to Holy Church) that only Catholics are true Christians. A small minority of Protestants do the same thing and dredge up every grudge from the past four centuries to declare with vehemence that it is we Catholics who are not really Christian.

Now I certainly believe it is necessary for Catholics and Protestants to honestly air our differences. But we must also come together in a different way as well: not face to face, but side by side, facing an increasingly hostile world.

Cassie Bernall was not a Catholic. She was a young "born again" Christian who, a couple of years ago, was sinking deeper into the typical trouble teenagers get into in contemporary culture. She met the Lord Jesus Christ-the one worshiped at mass and in evangelical Bible studies all over the world-and he turned her life around. Though not a Catholic, she was not, in any real sense, a "Protestant" either for a very simple reason: she wasn't protesting anything. She was a beautiful young soul who found the love of her life in Christ and who, on April 20, 1999 was given three seconds in which to choose whom she would serve. She chose, with a heartbreaking purity indistinguishable from great Catholic martyrs like Perpetua and Felicity. And she paid for it with her life.

Cassie was not alone. The kids who died at Columbine High School were roughly divisible into two groups: one group Evangelicals serious about their faith in Jesus and the other group Catholics serious about their faith in Jesus. When the emissaries of the Culture of Death opened fire, they all bled the same blood, they all professed the same Lord and they all had vastly more in common with each other than they did with the culture that made their killers.

And that's the bottom line: the dividing line is no longer between Catholic and Protestants any more than it is between Christians and Jews. It is between those who take seriously their relationship with the God of Life and those who worship the Culture of Death. When the jackboots kick in the front door, the thugs will not quiz us on our precise views of scriptural inerrancy. They will want to know if we seek the God of life or not.

Let us then continue to do the work of conversation about our differences. But let us also never forget that the differences between Catholic and Protestant are tiny compared to the vast gulf that separates the gospel of Christ from the culture of death.

Cassie Bernall, pray for us.

Copyright 2001 - Mark P. Shea