Recently, visiting a group of evangelical Christian friends at their weekday home group, I was challenged about the Catholic practice of praying novenas.
The challenger had been raised Catholic, but is now hotly 'anti'. Frustratingly, most of her objections centre around her childhood recollections of 'what the nuns told her'.
This makes her pretty adamant that she has an excellent handle on the various 'false teachings' of the church. She has little interest in discussing what the church actually teaches because' the nuns told her' all she needs to know.
This makes a discussion with her somewhat like plaiting fog. In addition, she gets quite vexed when I respond with either a denial that the church teaches such and such, or a challenge to show me where the church teaches what she is claiming they do. She doesn't need to 'because the nuns told her'.
A favourite old chestnut is that Catholics do in fact, inspite of their denials, worship Mary.
In this, most recent exchange, we had been discussing the belief held by some that once you have made a confession of faith in Christ you have your heavenly pass. You are 'saved' and that salvation is permanently guaranteed . No subsequent deed, no matter how wicked, could jeopardise it. This is the doctrine known as 'Once saved, Always Saved' ( John Martignoni has an excellent podcast about this here)
At one point in our musings, this lady asserted that this ( a belief in OSAS) was "no different to what Catholics do with their novenas", which, according to her nuns, "guarantee you a place in heaven" .
I started to explain something of the theology of novenas, using the example of the nine days Mary and the Apostles spent in prayer from Ascension to Pentecost. I also tried to rebut her assertion about 'guaranteed heaven' but I was up against the maddening nuns of youthful memory so it was pretty hopeless and the discussion petered out when a friend pleaded to re establish the conversation on a less combative footing.
It got me thinking a little bit though. Pondering the very good 'case for novenas', I wondered why I'm not better at it. I'm actually a hopeless case when it comes to sticking with a novena for the whole nine days. It does require a little discipline, commitment and fidelity. Hmmm. I'm such a slacker in that department.
I've only just realised that the petitioning novena to Saint Anne for my pregnancy, which I intended to join in with on this blog, actually finished last week. Argh! Again all my good intentions lie in the dust.
This is not a straightforward pregnancy, and the latest hospital visit has raised some fairly anxiety provoking possibilities ( the doctors want to rule out a potentially even more serious liver condition, I also need a growth scan on Monday as I am clinically small for dates, I tend to carry small, but could do without the anxious brooding that any deviation from plumb normal provokes . In addition, I need to make some decisions about the mode of delivery, none of which are straightforward)
I need all the heavenly help I can get.
Since my return to the Catholic church, I have been really struck by the huge difference the company of heaven makes. Knowing that I have the companionship and intercession of the angels and saints and the Blessed Mother is such a consolation. I feel like an only child, who suddenly finds herself in the bosom of a big, warm, rambunctious family.
So, after berating myself for missing the Saint Anne novena and generally being such a loser in the business of sticking to a prayer plan, I was struck by a wonderful idea. My very own patron saints feast day is on the 11th August! That is, three days after my birthday.
If I start a novena for the intercession of Saint Clare on the 4th August, it will end on her feast day.*
Well if I'm going to argue the case for novena praying, I really ought to actually pray novenas too.
I'll let you know how I get on.
*(Oops. Edited to add, I've just realised that if the novena is to end on the 11th August, I need to start on the 3rd, not the 4th. That's tomorrow. Good job I double checked, didn't I say I was hopeless at this?)
Gaze upon Christ,
as you desire to imitate Christ.
Second Letter to Agnes of Prague (c.1235)