I've been having a lot of trouble lately understanding where Protestantism stands in my life. Maybe that isn't the exact right wording, but I'm not sure I've figured out the right way. Maybe I should try again:
The things I know:
1. Catholicism is the truth. The Church has become to me a brilliant light, the cracking open of the door to the world of Heaven. It is beautiful and powerful and mysterious because it adores the Beautiful, the Powerful and the Mysterious.
2. I could never de-convert. Marc (Bad Catholic) is basically my favorite blogger right now. In a recent post he sums up my ideas very well: "Christianity is a transplant of the eyes and of the heart, by which we see the world differently by becoming incredibly different. I can no more take back Christianity than a man can take back his heart transplant. Christianity is an essential, permanent change to the disposition of the human person. It places an indelible mark on the soul and binds his very life to another." Word.
3. Anything that isn't Catholicism cannot be the true faith. (By this I mean, the whole of Catholicism. I could probably agree on something faith-based with another religion, like "God is benevolent," but a few general claims aren't enough.) I have to take this step if I believe Catholicism to be true and to be something I could never turn from. I could not go to being a Buddhist or an atheist or anything else after experiencing the Catholic Church, and that includes Protestantism too.
This is hard to deal with, not because I am particularly drawn to Protestantism (otherwise I wouldn't have converted), but because the majority of my family is Protestant. By this point it is an acknowledged fact by most that my beliefs have differed from theirs, but we don't often talk about those differences or why they are there. One of the most difficult parts, naturally, is the question of salvation. This hit me hardest when my great grandmother died because, while others consoled one another saying she was in Heaven free from pain and reunited with her loved ones, I couldn't console myself with the same thoughts. If I know Catholicism to be the one true church begun by Christ and know that she did not live as a Catholic, how can I be sure of her place at His side?
These thoughts only snowball in considering the rest of my family. I love them dearly, but it is almost as if I am talking to Buddhists or atheists when I am talking with them because the difference of faith is still there and in some cases it is severely different. Also because I know "You're wrong and going to go to Hell" is just as ineffective a method as in any other case of differing faiths.
It is not as if my worries are made any easier when I wonder how valid their faith experiences are. This is becoming just as big as the matter of salvation, because I don't know how to trust their faith experiences, upon which they rely to base their assurance in salvation. Do I think all the prayer and studying a Protestant does is entirely fruitless? I can't imagine how, seeing as how devout some of my family is, but I don't know with certainty. When my aunt continuously reflects upon and brings up verses which console and counsel and encourage, how can I think she doesn't believe them? When my great-grandmother seemed so close to God by the way she lived, letting no conversation pass without commenting on God's goodness and perfection and kindness, how can I think that there isn't at least some real connection there between her and God? I do not believe either person is lying, or at least is willing to keep up this charade for years just to impress me (because what importance do I play in their lives?). What validity is there still in Protestant denominations? Do I want to accept the idea that everyone who isn't Catholic is simply delusional about what they believe? That's not the most polite thing to say to someone, nor (more importantly) does it sit well with me.
There are questions I see brought up in Protestant churches--about the way to run a church, what the role of women should be, what a pastor should be expected to do, etc.--that I understand easily enough because the Catholic Church gives me answers to those questions. It is almost like being an adult watching her child struggle through adolescence and knowing, "You shouldn't go to that party the strange, but cute, boy invited you to. It sounds like a bad idea." or "If you put in the extra effort, you can really shine in this course and use this professor as a reference." or "If you ran out of the all-purpose cleaner you usually use you can make it yourself with some lemon juice and vinegar."
I do not think to myself, "I am much smarter than all of these silly people, if only they would listen to me." However, I do find myself thinking, "What do I say in this situation? How much do I say in this situation? Does it sound judgmental or as if I am trying to throw my Catholicism into their church?" Which, okay, I probably have good intentions with all of these questions, but is it more effective to bring someone to Catholicism or to put it in a box with a nice bow and send it to them? That is, is it more effective to enlighten them about the Catholic Church in a direct way or will they see something logical when I suggest an alternate, Catholic-based proposition?
I don't know if I'm thinking too much or too little about this. Ultimately, my internal struggles always come back to their salvation and how they live their lives in accord with God's will. How can I be sure that I am doing my job of evangelizing and not turning them away, while also letting them make their own decisions? Say family member x dies and goes to Hell? How do I know if it's my fault because I held my tongue or if I presented truth to them at every opportunity I could and they simply didn't bite? I know when people talk about Catholic guilt, they usually mean it about themselves and then find themselves standing in line for Confession (one hopes), but this is a whole new realm of feeling guilty for others. In a way, I want to ask God to let me take all the flack any non-Catholic around me should deserve so they might have a better chance of things, but I know I am struggling just as much as they are and I still have a self-preservation instinct.
Perhaps during times such as these, the only thing one can do is pray and continue trying. I may never see the fruit of this work while alive, but isn't a lifetime of stress and worry and prayer and speaking up when your usual instinct is to keep quiet worth the potentially great number of souls that you save?
Does anyone have any prayers or quotations about perseverance and conversion? I could really use something to meditate upon for times like these.