Consider the following fictional advertising blurb for some fictional Catholic apostolate:
“Support John Paul II Ministries! Marching out in the power of the Spirit to claim victory over the powers of Hell! Anointed! Dynamic! Making an impact on this generation in the all-powerful, all-conquering Name of King Jesus!”
Odd, no? The ad, despite the Catholic content, feels Evangelical.
Now imagine a little ad like this coming from the lips of an enthusiastic Evangelical program like the “700 Club”:
“Read The Inner Way of Silence and allow God to invite you to enter more deeply into the path of contemplation. Experience sanctity as a fruit of dialogue with the Holy Spirit. Practice the presence of God and open yourself to the gentle promptings of the Spirit by saying, with the Bible, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy will.’ Allow the Spirit to breathe into your quiet reflection on the work of God in Scripture and creation. Let God bring forth in you, as in Mary’s womb, the Christ who comes to us in prayer and mystery.”
Just not what you identify with the “700 Club” is it? The ad, despite the non-denominational content, feels Catholic.
Now the curious thing is, there is nothing particularly questionable theologically with either ad. Nothing in Catholic teaching forbids us to proclaim that King Jesus is all-conquering. He shall, after all, “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Nothing forbids Catholics from proclaiming the gospel with gusto. Pope Paul VI tells us the Church exists to evangelize. Nothing in the Catechism of the Catholic Church says we are not anointed or that we shouldn’t speak of Christ conquering the devil. Peter, after all, was promised that “the gates of hell” shall not prevail against the Church.
Similarly, nothing in the Bible forbids the Evangelical from practicing contemplative prayer or from imitating Mary’s prayer or looking to her as a model. There is nothing about meditation or the image of Christ “being formed” in us like a fetus that was not known to Paul (Galatians 4:19)
Yet many Catholics would still feel offput by the first ad and many Evangelicals would still feel offput by the second. Why?
The difference is culture, not theology. Evangelical culture is overwhelmingly masculine. Catholic culture is overwhelmingly feminine.
Note the vocabulary in the first ad: “anointed, dynamic, impact, marching, victory, all-conquering, King”. Other favorite words in the Evangelical milieu are ” mighty” “battle” “winning” and so forth. Zillions of book blurbs, radio ads and TV shows in Evangelicaldom emphasize these categories–categories we commonly gender-code “masculine”.
Meanwhile, Catholic culture tends to be overwhelmingly feminine. The big stress is on contemplation, inner life, receptivity, and openness. Fave rave buzzwords include “invite, nurture, faith journey, dialogue, faith community, share” and so forth.
Now let us be clear. It is important to note that there are theological differences between the two traditions. The view of Tradition, the Papacy, sacraments, etc. are very real differences and we do not serve the truth by ignoring them. But the differences I speak of here are primarily cultural and we do not serve the truth by mistaking them for theological differences. Thus, Catholics need not dismiss all Evangelicalism as all hand-waving emotionalism simply because Evangelicals are more extroverted about their faith. Nor should Evangelicals declare that Catholics “haven’t been born again” simply because they do not manifest their deep relationship with Christ in a verbal and outgoing way. The fact is, there is room in Evangelical theology for feminine culture just as there is room in Catholic theology for masculine culture. Seeing this allows Catholics and Evangelicals to move past superficial differences and address real theological issues.
And this seems to be happening. For Evangelicals are increasingly fascinated with the feminine Catholic emphasis on contemplation and sacramental incarnation of the Faith. Thus, an increasing number of Evangelicals are discovering with appreciation the spiritual masters like St. Teresa of Avila or Brother Lawrence. Meanwhile, Catholics are attracted to the curiously masculine Evangelical emphasis on talking excitedly and articulately about the Faith evinced by people like Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Thomas Howard, and Peter Kreeft, as well as by books like Surprised by Truth, Crossing the Tiber, and Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic and shows like EWTN’s The Journey Home. None of these folks are saying anything new theologically (as they themselves would be the first to emphasize), but they are saying it in Evangelicalese. Such an interesting cross-pollenization is what John Michael Talbot, himself an Evangelical Catholic, calls evidence of the Great Regathering. And it is a step toward our Lord’s command that we be one as he and the Father are One.