Catholic in the Bible Belt

Today on the Paragraph Farmer, my friend and fellow Catholic Patrick O’Hannigan shares a story about an earnest Protestant woman who stopped him in a parking lot to pray over him because she saw that he walked with a limp.

“Do you know the Lord?” the woman asked him before then asking if she could pray with him. Patrick replied that he did, but observed (in his blog post, not to the praying woman) that “Many Calvinist Christians in my experience tend to be flummoxed at the thought of Catholics knowing the Lord in a personal way, perhaps because some of them suppose that Catholic dogma or clericalism makes that impossible.” I have found that to be the case as well in my conversations with Evangelicals.

Within the past couple of years, Patrick and I have both moved from California, where Catholics (lapsed and otherwise), Jews, liberal Protestants, atheists, agnostics and New Age types are all more in evidence than fervent Evangelicals. He moved to North Carolina and I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, which even though it isn’t technically part of the Bible Belt, is populated by so many expatriate Texans that it sometimes feels like the outer fringe of that belt. Santa Fe is home to a lot of New Age types, and in many ways is a very secular city, but there is a significant minority of passionate Evangelical Christians here, many of whom I’ve come to know well. Sadly, many of these are former Catholics who did not find in the Church the spiritual solace they needed and subsequently found in other denominations.

Just last night I had a discussion about Church dogma with two Evangelical friends, one of whom told me that there have been quite a few discussions about Catholicism in her house because her son is worried about my daughters getting into heaven. The fact that my friend had to reassure her son repeatedly that my Catholic children weren’t damned suggests how prevalent that view is. My friend herself, who was raised in a nominally Catholic family that made a mockery of Christian principles, was worried about my immortal soul when she first met me, and only felt at ease after she had gotten to know me better and been convinced that I did indeed “know the Lord” despite my Catholicism.

I am not offended by these assumptions. There are indeed many Catholics who give a pretty good impression of not knowing the Lord. And then there are those like Patrick, father of my godson and godfather of my daughter, who will stop and let an earnest Evangelical lady lay hands on him and pray in a parking lot.

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