Friday, August 01, 2008

Culture shock - Catholics and Protestants

Being around non-catholics again brings me to realize something. It's not so much what we believe that is different, (although there is that too) but how we believe that is different. It's a culture shock!

You know, culture shock is worse and more badly understood when it happens between two similar cultures. When you go to China, you expect them to be different. You expect them to do different things, react in a different way.

When you go to the next province or state, or hey sometimes even just go from the south of the same province to the north, you don't expect so much of a change. Had I been visibly native, my friends in Québec may have realized that some things I did were just a part of native culture. I'm not native, but I grew up with them, and I grew up in a Northen culture. Not understanding this, noone thought to set me right on cultural dos and don'ts in Québec, because I "should have known better."

Protestants (especially the Pentecostal/Baptist type) like to learn verses from the Bible by heart. A good Protestant knows his Bible well and knows the exact references for every one of the verses he learns by heart. He can't go wrong.

Catholics, on the other hand, like to learn prayers off by heart. There's the Our Father that all Christians know, but we also have the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Apostle's Creed, and if you're an extra good Catholic, the Nicene creed as well. Then there's the "Oh my Jesus" one that comes at the end of each decade of the rosary, the St Michael archangel one, the "Hail Queen of Heaven" one, and I bet my mother could rattle off a dozen more she knows by heart. If I were a good Catholic and followed in her ways, I'd know them too. She tried. I just never saw the point in learning a whole bunch of prayers and never coming up with anything orignal to say myself. Too influenced by those protestants I guess.

Protestants like to get spontaneous in their prayers. Personally, I like spontaneity. I find it easier to concentrate on what I'm saying, if I haven't just repeated it 10 times already. It's refreshing. On the other hand, if I'm at a loss for words, then it's nice to be able to pray something I don't have to make up along the way. It's like repeating a poem to God, or singing a song of praise. On that, both Catholics and Protestants can agree, hymns, learned by heart, are a great way to pray.

As a not too shabby catholic who's had a few exegetic courses on the Bible, I know my way around the Bible not too badly. However I know practically none of it by heart, although I can repeat a lot of it in my own words. If you hand me a Bible, I will probably, eventually find what I am looking for. But never as quickly as a Protestant. Please don't ever ask me for references. Just trust me on it. It's in there. Somewhere. I read it. Before.

Protestants go around asking each other to pray for them. Good Catholics do that too. Really organized Catholics like my mom (I love my mom by the way) have whole lists of people and details to pray for. Catholics, as well as Protestants, believe that the soul does not die. We take that a step forward and ask the saints in Heaven to pray for us. This does not mean that by praying to them, we believe they are God. To pray also means to beg, or to beseech. All we are doing is begging them to pray for us here on earth.

You know, Protestants should even feel at ease praying something like the Hail Mary, instead of being shocked by it. The first part of the prayer is a verse from the Bible. A verse from the Bible! I know a verse from the Bible by heart and I repeat it all the time! It is what Elizabeth says to Mary when Mary comes to visit her after the angel Gabriel's visit.
Hail Mary! Full of Grace the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
Absolutely nothing scandalous there. Except that we don't tend to tack the reference on at the end. Instead we finish by simply asking Mary to pray for us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Jesus is God. Mary is Jesus's mother. Therefore it is logical to call Mary the mother of God. Mother, not creator. In the same way, I may be my children's mother, I may even have participated in creating them, in God's plan for creation, but the ultimate creator of my children, is God, not me. Who better to ask to pray for us than the one person Jesus was closest to here on earth?

No, we don't need to go through Mary to get to Jesus. Using the same logic, we don't need to ask anyone else here on earth to pray for us either. We can pray to Jesus for our own selves, for our own needs. Sounds a bit selfish though, a bit individualist. We're a Church. We're community. We pray for each other. Catholics (and I'm sure Protestants too) consider souls already in Heaven as part of the Church, part of our community. So we talk to them, and we ask them to pray for us. We all believe that praying as a community makes our prayers that much stronger. Jesus himself said, "For wherever 2 or more of you are together, I am with you." Or something like that. In a Gospel. Somewhere. I could find it if I wanted to, but I'm Catholic and I'm making a point. And if you are reading this and you are Protestant, you already know the exact reference and don't need to be told anyway.

In some English communities, it might be considered an insult to be offered money for a service rendered. As if we thought it didn't come from the heart, or that somehow our relationship was cold and calculating. A small personalized gift would be more acceptable than an amount of money.

Come to Québec and if you do not offer money for a service rendered, then people think that you did not really appreciate the gesture. Your friends will most likely refuse the money, (unless the service cost them something, or they really need the money) and you probably expect them to refuse, but you offer anyway, to show how much you appreciate them and they refuse anyway, to let you know that it was from the heart.

It took a really long time for me to get this. Where I come from, noone offers money for anything. You help me one day, another day I'll be helping someone else, who'll in turn help another and another who'll maybe help you, and it's just a community pulling together, with noone counting points.

My friends got frustrated with me, and I didn't get why, and noone thought "culture shock". That was too easy. We'd all been to Paraguay, and experienced real culture shock. Yes sir.

I think Protestants and Catholics could get along really well if we just got over a lot of the culture shock we don't even recognize as culture shock. We might just find out that we have a lot more in common than we think. And that we have a lot to learn from each other.