Week Five: My issue(s) with the Church
"Going to the Mattresses: One Girl's Take on Faith and Feelings" by Julie Robison
"Half-Measures" by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
"The Church's Self-Fulfilling Prophecy" by Trista at Not a Minx
This is the fifth post of a Lenten blog post series called "Bright Maidens." We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We're here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!
In the Gospel reading at Mass today (John 5:1-16), Jesus went to Jerusalem, where he met a man who had been ill for 38 years. Jesus saw him lying on the ground and asked him if he wanted to be well. The man replied, that he was trying to get to the healing pool. Jesus then commanded him to get up, pick up his mat, and walk. Later, Jesus met the same man in the temple area and said, "Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you."
Last Friday, I heard Peter Kreeft say the great line of, "The Church is not the Magesterium."
To clarify our terms- the Catholic Church ostentatiously has a very extensive and elaborate hierarchical system. In more recent years, the priesthood has come under attack- not only because many priests violated their sacred promises and the laws of God, but because an out-pouring of acceptable anti-Catholicism is seeping into the culture.
It is easy to look at the priests and say, they're not doing their job. But that would only be looking at the Church by its skeleton, not its body. What of the lay people? Those whom, because they are not bound by Holy Orders, think they know better than the Church. Many think, for example, because a priest does not have sex, he must not know anything about it, forgetting that he lives his life in self-controlled celibacy. Or if he's a priest, he's repressing homosexual desires or molesting small children. All of these, even as thoughts, do grave injustice to the honor and dignity of the priesthood.
It is easy to say- priests are just men. But what is different is that they have set themselves apart. They have vowed to live the high road. When one priest does wrong to another person, it affects the entire foundation of the priesthood. When they do wrong, the consequences are clear.
But what about when lay people do wrong? What are the consequences there, when they do not attend Mass every week? What happens when Catholics don't know their catechism? What happens when Catholic schools don't teach the faith? What happens when parents and families do not reinforce religion in the home?
Well, fortunately for you dear reader, I can tell you.
I won't be speaking from statistics, although they're out there- like Pew finding a decent amount of Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence and support legalized abortion. I'll be speaking from experience as a cradle Catholic: Mass every Sunday with the family, Catholic schooling Kindergarten through senior in high school, and all the high holy days in between.
I've encountered a lot of feelings and poor reasoning, which is one reason I am fascinated by Aquinas and canon law. I love reason and logic, and talking about one's childhood in a high school religion class teaches one nothing of either. It is not surprising then, that I left high school with my Catholic faith not firmly planted, although still a strong aspect of my identity.
I went to a non-Catholic college, where the student population was roughly 40 percent Catholic, 60 percent Protestant. In the first few days of college, I had a great experience of sitting on the floor of my dorm room with my roommate, also Roman Catholic, talking to the girls across the hall: a Lutheran, an Evangelical Baptist, a Presbyterian (USA) and a non-denominational Christian. The conversation was fun, respectful and informative. I am still friends with all those girls, and very close with most of them. The importance of spiritual friendships in Christ is an essential part of living the Christian life.
The ability to verbalize ones beliefs is not only important for people who share the Christian faith, but those who do not. Richard Weaver said in 'Ideas Have Consequences' that, "Nothing can be done until we have decided whether we are primarily interested in truth."
The Catholic Church is in dialogue with the Jews, Muslims, and, most recently, Atheists. I recently stumbled across a wonderful non-profit resource called "Why I'm Catholic", which features really great conversion stories. Today's story is from a former neopagan witch. Yep, you read that right. She used to be a witch, and now she's a Roman Catholic. Isn't God's grace so bountiful?!
Before I launch into my Masters, I help out with RCIA, to get more personal experience. Talking with those people is so humbling and glorious; I love listening to how they found wholeness and truth in the Catholic Church. Many times, it was not an easy decision, and their friends and family do not support them. I became initially interested in helping out at RCIA because of the decent amount of friends I have who have converted/ are converting to Catholicism as well. It is not just reason and intellect which brought them into communion, but cor ad cor loquitur - heart speaking to heart, as it says on Cardinal Newman's coat of arms.
Their story of how they found their way back to the Church is not one, however, that only non-Catholics can experience. I too came back more fully into my Catholic faith in college, literally diving into its rich intellectualism, long history, Church Fathers, consistency, and promise to uphold and defend justice, mercy, love, forgiveness and the Gospels, as well as the countless witnesses and conversations with Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Furthermore, I love natural law, and I love the reasoning behind Church teachings, many of which can be supported using non-religious defense.
But I also hold very strongly to the belief that belief is a choice, and that, every day, I have to choose God, as he first chose me. To follow Christ, you also have to want to be cured, like the beggar. (Spiritually cured, of course, although physical cures are miraculously possible as well.)
Last night at RCIA, Fr. George asked me to talk about reconciliation, since one of my Lenten spiritual practices is going to Mass more than once a week and going to confession at least once a week. One of the most important reasons to frequently take communion and to go to confession is because it will heal you. Through God's grace, the sacraments endow the recipient with the grace and moral courage needed to face an unloving world and desires not in your best spiritual interest, even if it is what you think you physically want.
Libby Edwards, the lady mentioned above, who converted from neopaganism to Catholicism said it best: "Witchcraft offers incredible freedom, but oh, it's a clever lie." This is why the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel asks him to "protect us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil."
The priest said during the homily today that it is not just physical ailments which keep us down- it is spiritual ones. Things we don't want to change about ourselves. Maybe we don't want to stop swearing, or drinking a lot, or dressing a certain way, or using contraception, or doing whatever we want, whenever we want. It's our life, right? But, oh! How even some of the Catholics closest to me have forgotten that we are not our own; that we were bought at a price.
Venerable John Paul II said, be not afraid. This is why he started the New Evangelization movement at the start of the third millennium. Modernity and people want to be different and counter-cultural, but they miss the point of life when they dress alternatively, or act scandalous, or listen to hip music. To truly be counter-cultural, one takes up the cross to follow Christ. The Catholic Church was established by Christ, who gave us the sacraments, to sustain us with grace and faith; the hierarchy, to ensure apostolic succession; and the laws, to survive faulty human judgment.
The Catholic Church survives and flourishes today, even after 2,000 years human fallibleness. The Catholic Church is more than bad priests. The Catholic Church is more that wayward lay people. The Catholic Church is just one part of the communion of saints, which is filled not only with the faithful believers, but the saints and the angels, those in heaven and those in purgatory, and a living, viable Trinitarian God. My issue with the Church isn't the Church itself - it is the people within and outside the Church, wasting their earthly opportunity to find true happiness and joy.
I remember reading a book in my Intro to Western Religion class, where so many of the theologians' final question was this: they wanted to know what happened to Paul on his way to Damascus and what he saw. I don't think it matters specifically to them- I think we're all walking to Damascus. If God hasn't done it already, he just might knock you on your back if he has to get your attention. Or maybe, if you're struggling with something, then hold on to God and wrestle him like Jacob, until you extract your blessing.
We all have a role to play in this life; may we find the moral courage to answer the call! The Catholic Church is here to support us through this life, to help us reach the next life, if we only let her.
And as a final hurray for the Catholic Church, here is a Eucharistic processional through the streets of NYC. I get chills every time I watch this:
"Speak up for what you believe. Love the Church. Defend her teaching. Trust in God. Believe in the Gospel. And don’t be afraid. Fear is beneath your dignity as sons and daughters of the God of life. Changing the course of American culture seems like a huge task. But St. Paul felt exactly the same way. Redeeming and converting a civilization has been done once. It can be done again. But we need to understand that God is calling us to do it. He chose us. He calls us. He’s waiting, and now we need to answer him."
-Archbishop Charles J. Chaput