Last week, Bishop Strickland and I recorded a podcast interview with Cy Kellett. I have known Cy since 2016. We first met when he interviewed me at Catholic Answers on a new show called Catholic Answers Focus, a show that engages serious thinkers in a way that is accessible to casual listeners. I was his first guest! We discussed my book Particles of Faith about science and theology.
Later, I talked with Cy quite a lot as a guest on Catholic Answers Live. And in 2018, I travelled to Australia with Cy, Tim Staples, and Karlo Broussard to speak at an Evangelisation Australia conference. It was there that I heard him speak for the first time at length about his ideas. Cy described how the Church, not the football stadium or the shopping mall or even the courthouse, should be the center of our cities and towns, painting an idyllic picture of heaven on earth with his words.
Last week, Bishop Strickland and I interviewed Cy because he has now written his own book, A Teacher of Strange Things: Who Jesus Was, What He Taught, and Why People Still Follow Him. The book reads like Cy speaks, with matter-of-fact eloquence and a touch of bittersweet. Cy begins the book by pointing out how strange it is that millions of people claim to have a personal relationship with a man who has been dead for over 2,000 years. It can be hard to evangelize at times when you stop to think about what we are saying.
In the podcast, Bishop Strickland pointed out that as Catholics we do not just have a personal relationship with Christ, we actually are in the Real Presence of Christ at every Mass, something that is even stranger to try to explain to a non-Catholic. Reflecting on the past year of pandemic, Bishop further remarked that during the shut down, people could not attend Mass in person and instead watched live streamed Masses on the internet, just as people around the world were also unable to meet in person and, likewise, instead met via Zoom. As the pandemic ends, it is wonderful to be able to meet in person again. We know real presence is better than virtual!
It struck me that Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and other Protestant denominations that make up the vast majority of Christians in East Texas could not say the same. They do not celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Their acknowledgements of the Last Supper are memorials, a remembering of the time when Christ was with his apostles. Protestants perhaps did not suffer the loss of public worship with the same intensity as Catholics because they perpetually have a Zoom-call relationship with Christ — always long distance. They do not kneel in the presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist or receive Christ in communion at Mass. For them, it is as if a personal relationship with this man who lived 2,000 years ago is forever remote.
I’m not beating up on Protestants. I grew up Baptist here in East Texas, and I have great respect for the love and fellowship among our Protestant brothers and sisters. I first formed a personal relationship with Jesus because of Baptist teaching. In many ways they understand our need for human connection better than Catholics, and we have a lot to learn from them. But I also remember what it felt like to attend worship services. The services were mere gatherings, more people-centered than Christ-centered. The occasional cracker and the grape juice only reminded us to think of Our Lord. I would not say that Christ is absent from those services entirely, as the love and friendship for each other and for Jesus is almost palpable. But it is remote. A Zoom call will suffice for communication and relationship too, almost in person but not quite the same as actually being with the other person. Our relationship with Christ should be more intimate than even our relationship with a spouse or any other family member. None of us would opt for a strictly remote Zoom relationship with someone who is truly a part of our lives.
I think there is great potential for evangelization here. Maybe we could say something like: “Hey my brother and sister in Christ, I know we both love Jesus. Let me invite you to Mass. It may seem strange, but Christ is truly present in a Catholic Mass; the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Come, taste, and see. You don’t have to have a long distance relationship with our Savior!”
I told Cy that if he ever visited East Texas, maybe we could promote his book to our Protestant friends. Jesus Christ did teach strange things! The Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist may seem strange, but it is pretty simple too. Christ told us himself that he is truly present in the Mass when he said, “This is my body.” Surely it can’t be too strange to imagine an East Texas where all the Jesus-loving Protestants come into communion with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church after the pandemic ends because they have a renewed passion for real presence.