Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I love being Catholic.
Becoming Catholic was a great deal about Bishop Sheen and Father John Powell. But it was equally about "bells and smells". And Sacraments. It was Holy Water and Precious Blood. Sacred Scripture and two thousand years of capital T Tradition.
My conversion to the Roman Church was not because I was exasperated by the theological insufficiency of what Protestants taught. In fact, I was a happy Protestant. And the theology was quite sufficient to answer any questions that one might raise. We forget that every church, and every denomination has smart people to support their positions at the expense of the smart people of other churches and denominations. So what I did was to move from good to better -- not bad to good.
Initially, most of the Catholic distinctives seemed to be interesting alternatives to explain philosophical quandaries faced by any thinking person. For example: Mankind has a problem with sin. They would like to get out of the problem. Getting out of that problem merits heaven. Failure to get out of the problem yields hell. Purgatory and Limbo were simply interesting Catholic notions to provide the place to go when one failed the criteria for heaven and hell. Purgatory was a stop most made on the way to Heaven. And Limbo? Well, limbo was a more or less logical construct developed by some theologians to handle the problem of children who died before being baptized. Conveniently, it wasn't exactly church teaching, but one could believe in it if one wanted to.
Since I wasn't Catholic, such issues were intellectually intriguing but not applicable to my own worldview. Remember, I was a happy Protestant.
Many conservative Catholics suggest reading the church fathers. More specifically, certain church fathers who support the idea that the early church and the Catholic Church are essentially one and the same institution.
Most Church fathers were pretty unconvincing to me. They were unconvincing because I already agreed. I was, as they say, convinced. And besides that , most of the translations I found were difficult to read. With the exception of Augustine, I found them pretty dry. Obviously bright men, I just couldn't connect them to my happy Protestant world. And some, Origen for example, occasionally seemed strange enough that I lost interest.
About this time I had a friend who became Catholic. He said he joined because it was okay to drink alcohol as a Catholic. As a Baptist drinking had been wrong. I remember asking him if this might be a new evangelization thrust for capturing the twenty-something? He was not amused.
Others proposed the attractiveness of Catholic culture. I suppose this is all about bingo, raffles, and special attention to particular feast days. Well, Catholic culture is great sociology, but it has never been the attraction for joining Holy Mother Church.
The attraction is simply Jesus. A conscious focus on Jesus at Calvary and what he accomplished there and taking care of my sin problem. Catholicism. appeared to be what Jesus had in mind when he and St. Peter talked about church and rocks. That was and is now focusing on Jesus as he appears in the Gospel and trying to grow in my understanding of him. It's spending my time trying to do what the Bible says. For me, conversion was not something done after tallying up whether Catholics or Protestants provided the most convincing arguments in some debate going on in my head.
The philosopher, Peter Kreeft, writes some place that to sacrifice people to principle becomes legalism. And to sacrifice principle to people is relativism. Pope Benedict has written often and eloquently about relativism.
Legalism doesn't seem as much a problem, unless one becomes scrupulous. Likely because in an effort of misguided compassion we have come to tolerate almost anything as acceptable. Political correctness has found favor as the only principle by which to make decisions. Morality has largely become making choices based on how I feel rather than on absolute propositions about what is right and what is wrong. So, although legalism in its most virulent forms (the aforementioned scrupulosity, for example) is to be avoided, it's also good to have something to believe in, some moral compass other than talk radio and talk television.
In my way of thinking, Roman Catholicism achieves a balance between these two ditches. It steers clear of these extremes of relativism and legalism when it's working well.
Its emphasis on grace, mercy, and forgiveness is magnetic to me. Offering grace and mercy and forgiveness to other people could change our world We might even become a Christian culture.
Finally, I'll are country's glorification of personal feelings has come to the church. And feelings may be winning in practice if not in principle. This is a problem. To be more direct: What is the difference between the behaviors of weekly Mass attenders and those whom we label secularists?
Catholic teaching does not hold feelings as unimportant. They just are not the moral compass. They follow on the heels of choices made on the basis of principles. In particular, principles carved from Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium.
At the same time, the church, the body of Christ is made of persons. Flawed persons to be sure, but nonetheless, creations of God. Baptized creatures. Confirmed creatures. And if they were baptized and confirmed then they should be participating in the body of Christ.
I am a person. As I get to know Jesus (a person) I find my place in him. I follow him and his church into glory.
That makes more sense than any cow pile covered in snow. I've seen one of those up close. That's not me, and that's not you as Christians, Catholics, or Franciscans.