Open Letter to Protestants in Cowlitz County
Dear Protestants of Cowlitz County and Wahkiakum County,
As the Pastor of most of the Catholics in our counties, I wanted to write to you as the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation approaches to acknowledge the ways I have benefited from non-Catholic Christians in my life.
I am now 35 years old, so my early years occurred in the late 80’s and 90’s. Catholicism at this time was in a transition. I can say without a doubt that I knew many good people who were serious believers and disciples of Jesus but I wouldn’t say the entire culture of the average parish was that way. Mine wasn’t, although I am grateful that my participation in my parish and school gave me some basic faith and a context to deepen my faith in the future.
The first time I ever felt immersed in a place where everyone acted like God was real and at work in the world was at a summer camp in Bellingham called Camp Firwood. I attended camp Firwood for about 5 summers and grew in my knowledge that God was personal, that he knew who I was, that he loved me, and that he had a plan for my life. I am grateful for all of my camp counselors as well as all of the friends I made at Camp Firwood. I do not believe I would have strong faith today without them.
In high school, I also had a very important experience by participating in Young Life as well as their amazing camp in British Columbia known as Malibu. I loved it and had a wonderful experience as well which I look back on as another moment that solidified my faith and made it stronger.
I grew up in Bellingham and attended Western Washington University (class of ’04). My senior year of high school and freshman year of College I went to a non-Denominational Church called, “The Inn.” It was mostly for Western Students, but me and my best friend went every week. The Inn kept me aware of God during a time of transition from high school to college.
Even though I am now (obviously) a very committed Roman Catholic I look back with gratitude and fondness over these experiences I had outside of the Catholic Church. But I am also sad because I think of so many wonderful people I am not in full “communion” with. While we are united in important ways, there are also times when it feels like the Jesus I know is nothing like the Jesus evangelicals say they know. This is a sad thing.
As the anniversary of the reformation approaches, I am hoping to commemorate this event in our Catholic parishes by helping enter into the sadness. I am hoping to help my parishioners grow in awareness of how Catholics 500 years ago created an environment where the reformation occurred, and to grow in sadness over the division that plagues us. I’m encouraging my own parishioners to pray and fast for greater unity among those who profess faith in Jesus Christ today.
Of course, I hope you’ll join us in these prayers. The division present among Christians today makes it very difficult to evangelize, because the perception among many is that the Bible can’t be interpreted with any reliability. The perception among so many is that we are simply picking and choosing what we want to accept to affirm our own preconceived ideas. While that might sound silly to an “insider,” it is sadly the way many people today see us from the outside.
I also think there are a lot of things preserved and emphasized in Catholicism that are downplayed within evangelical circles that can help you love God and others better. And, just as love unites the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Trinity, it is love for God and others that will eventually reunite all those who call themselves disciples of Jesus.
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be writing on some of the issues regarding the reformation on this blog. If these things interest you, I hope you'll take some time to read them. Some might be challenging and others might be affirming, but these conversations need to happen in order for Jesus' for our unity to be realized.
May God Bless us all with humility, patience, faith, hope, and charity during this time and may His will that his disciples be one come to fruition!
Fr. Bryan Ochs