Today, a friend of mine, a brilliant guy, who is one of the most diversely talented people I know, even though our acquaintance thus far has been exclusively on-line, Dr. Michael Martin, brought to my attention an article posted this Easter Monday over on Desiring God, a Reformed Christian website. The piece, "The Dead End of Sexual Sin," was written by Dr Rosaria Butterfield, about whom I have posted previously (see "God's kingdom, a place of unimaginable hospitality"). Back in November 2012 I read Rosaria's autobiography The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (I also plan to read her expanded version, to which I provided the Amazon link). I read her story in less than 24 hours.
While she did not go into much detail about this in her autobiography, Rosaria divulged that she was raised Catholic. She wrote about a discussion with the Reformed pastor who was instrumental in her conversion, about having a pretty religious upbringing. She also mentioned being confirmed. Sadly, she wrote about the reason she left the Catholic Church: when she was in her mid-teens, one for her friends, also a teenager, divulged that she was having a sexual relationship with one of the priests at their parish.
In "The Dead End of Sexual Sin," Butterfield notes the instrumentality of the writings of Puritan theologian John Owen, especially his book (originally published, as she noted, as three separate books) Overcoming Sin and Temptation, in her transformation- hers is a great testimony to how we must cooperate with God's grace at work in us.
What is notable about John Owen and several other of the best Puritan writers is that they actually maintained and built upon much that was Catholic, especially much that was monastic, á la Luther via St Bernard of Clairvaux (see "'Homo curvatus in se' - attempt at skimming the surface," "Jesus came to liberate you: faith and works revisited," "[T]hese benefits shed like dew from heaven upon us," and "Discipleship costly for all who follow"). In terms of how sin works in our souls, Owen remains a good diagnostician and gives his readers many good prescriptions, like immersing oneself in Sacred Scripture. But I'll bet, like many others, especially many who have left, Rosaria never learned anything like this as a Catholic, which I find deeply distressing.
Given all the battles over sexual identity, as someone who was quite easily and comfortably a lesbian, Rosaria Butterfield's credibility, whether you agree with her or not, is unimpeachable. Hence, I really appreciate this from today's article:
Be wise about your choice sins and don’t coddle them. And remember that sin is not ever “who you are” if you are in Christ. In Christ, you are a son or daughter of the King; you are royalty. You do battle with sin because it distorts your real identity; you do not define yourself by these sins that are original with your consciousness and daily present in your lifeAnd this, which is found a bit further on- "Indeed, our identity comes from being crucified and resurrected with Christ." She is referring, of course, to the new life we receive in Baptism, which is really what Saturday's Paschal Vigil was all about. In Butterfield's article this is indicated by her citation of St Paul from his Letter to the Romans (6:4-6).
Even as a Reformed Christian, Rosaria Butterfield would agree that the central sacraments are Baptism and the Eucharist (for her and other Reformed Christians these remain the only sacraments). Yesterday I began reading Jaroslav Pelikan's theological commentary on the Book of Acts, in which he pointed out that, according to the theology of Acts, Baptism, not the Eucharist, is "the sacramental foundation of the church" (40). It seems to me that this was a major issue for the Reformers and also why there was so much emphasis placed on the importance of Baptism at the Second Vatican Council - which, in my view, was the Catholic response to the Reformation, whereas Trent, in many respects, was the Catholic Church's reaction to it, as necessary as it may have been at the time - and the universal call to holiness that arises from being baptized.
Being baptized means dying and rising. Dr Butterfield describes this beautifully throughout her article, but particularly towards the end:
In the writings of John Owen, I was shown how and why the promises of sexual fulfillment on my own terms were the antithesis of what I had once fervently believed. Instead of liberty, my sexual sin was enslavement. This seventeenth-century Puritan revealed to me how my lesbian desires and sensibilities were dead-end joy-killers.