Wow. The first article for Boomeon! I want to thank Bill Murphy and David Dewhirst for this amazing opportunity to be a contributor to this new online community and offer congratulations on its launch! What a joy to share our faith in the public square.
My husband Tom and I were Evangelical Protestant missionaries in Hong Kong. But today we are serving the Lord in the Catholic Church. This transition was neither quick nor easy. It was a slow, step-by-step movement of discovering new insights, coming to understand them, and then finally embracing them as our own. It involved constant study of Scripture and Church History and then wrestling with the question: what is the truth? It triggered several some years of stress and anxiety because, for us, everything was on the line—our ministry, our means of support, our health, our marriage, our family. But the joy of the truths we discovered could not be denied—and the sacrifices were worth it.
Tom and I, along with our three children, came into the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday 1998. Although we have had many opportunities to share our experience with fellow Catholics, we have actually had few opportunities to share the great riches we have discovered with our Protestant friends and family. Sometimes I feel like I am bursting with new understanding and life-changing knowledge that I’ve learned in the Catholic Church, but have not had real opportunities to share my new treasures. Finally, I decided to just put my thoughts on paper—and the very next week, I was offered the opportunity to write on this topic for Boomeon!
In many ways, I feel like I am bi-lingual. I speak “Protestant” and more specifically, the dialect of “Evangelical”. But my new language is “Catholic”. I want so much for those of you who love the Lord and His word, and are committed to following Jesus to understand the treasures I have found.
As I write, I will use my “Catholic speak.” I will try to explain the meaning of each term or concept using words my “Evangelical speak” brothers and sisters can understand. And, it is my hope that, as a result, they will have a better understanding of how to interpret what their Catholic friends are saying. May the Lord guide my thoughts and words.
I pray that this New Year will bring each of you greater happiness, understanding and peace.
I also hope that you will look for me on Boomeon each month!
Since we just celebrated Christmas, I want to begin with the Incarnation.
The Treasure of the Incarnation
As an Evangelical Protestant, I knew about and believed in the incarnation of Christ. This is my all-time favorite Christmas card—I have saved it for many years.
The cover reads:
The inside responds:
Although I had long professed doctrine of the Incarnation, my Catholic experience has brought this foundational truth of Christianity new depth and richness. While I celebrated God coming to earth each Christmas, I gave it very little thought the rest of the year. Now this truth is constantly before me, every weekend, all year round.
A visitor coming into a Catholic Mass would see many rather strange things. There are small alcoves of water by each door, banks of lit candles, burning incense and bells ringing. Worshipers are up, down, sometimes seated, sometimes kneeling, sometimes bowing. There are statues and artwork everywhere and the front altar is often extremely ornate. There is something to drink and something to eat. There are jars of oils (which are fragrant).
Why the bells and smells? Because of the incarnation.
Why the Catholic aerobics? Because of the incarnation.
Why the bow during the Nicene Creed? Because of the incarnation.
Why the water, wine, hosts of bread and oil? Because of the incarnation.
God, who is pure spirit, came to us in material form. That is the incarnation. We are, unlike angels who are pure spirit, both spiritual and material beings. In my Protestant experience, God revealed Himself to me primarily in a spiritual way—to my heart and to my soul through His Word. But now, He comes to me more fully, not only through my spirit, but through my physical senses as well.
Why did Jesus choose to use all these physical objects to convey His grace? Because in His great love, He chose to communicate to me as I am—that is: a physical being. That is why His sacraments, those means which He established to convey His grace to us, are always connected to physical objects—water, oil, ears, tongue, bread, wine. You know how adults will kneel down to children to speak with them at eye-level? I picture Jesus humbling Himself to “kneel down” and touch me in my human-ness.
God’s only begotten Son coming in the flesh was the final revelation in God’s plan of salvation. Whether you mark time using BC and AD or BCE (before Common Era) and CE (Common Era), the pivotal event in all of history is when the God of the universe became one of us. That is when everything changed.
So when I am at Mass, and my senses absorb the sounds, smells, movements, and beauty, I remember and cherish the treasure of the Incarnation.
Melanie Frei was an evangelical Protestant missionary to Hong Kong with her husband Tom, pastor and seminary professor. But when they studied Scripture and Church history, the two of them decided to leave their ministry and enter the Roman Catholic Church. Melanie is the mother of three incredible young adults and three awesome grandchildren and is also a substitute teacher in the Tomah Area School District. Her favorite ministries are leading Bible studies, music and pro-life work. For fun, Melanie is a total fan of BBC dramas and Regency romance.