Sunday, January 21, 2018

In these enlightened times, how can you remain Catholic?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
In these progressive and enlightened times, how is that you can remain a Catholic? If you insist on being a Christian, there are lot of other more contemporary forms of Christianity. Catholicism with its mystifying rituals and its current chaos just doesn’t seem worth the effort anymore.
Moses “Mo” Derniste

Dear “Mo”,
It is true that there are least twenty thousand various flavors of Christianity from which to choose. I actually was confronted in my youth in the Pentecostal Movement by those who demanded that I leave the Catholic Church lest I lose my salvation. I had to consider Catholicism seriously when most young men were trying to figure out which frat party to attend, though I did manage to combine both tasks. I prayed over it for months and that small voice inside, my conscience, I suppose, told me to stick with the Catholic Church. It has been, and continues to be, quite a wild ride. 
My experience of the Catholic Church over the past fifty years has been a little like a long plane ride that has hit some turbulence. One waits and waits for the captain to turn off the fasten seat belt sign, but the turbulence just gets worse. One knows that turbulence is not really a serious issue. Planes are designed to withstand turbulence, but at the same time, one swears that he will drive to his next destination. I must be crazy. I keep getting back on the plane and belting myself in. Why? It seems to be the best way to get to my destination, despite the turbulence. I suppose that I agree with an Anglican priest who entered the Catholic Church and was then ordained a Catholic priest. He was asked by a lifelong Catholic how he liked the Catholic Church. He said, to the shock of his questioner, “I don’t particularly like the Catholic Church. Had I wanted to be in a church I liked, I would have remained Anglican. I didn’t join the Catholic Church because I like it. I joined it because it’s true.”  I suppose I think it’s true and I even like it, that is when it’s not being re-invented by people who don’t like it. 
I remember my seminary days when my teachers regularly updated us on the latest in theology, pointing how unenlightened everyone had been until they arrived. They then would leave the priesthood. I remember in particular a radical priest professor who, with a friend of his, a nun, regaled us with a dramatic reading of the Song of Songs, something about goats and pomegranates. At the end of the semester, he and sister became missus and mister. They both continued working in the business of religion. I suppose it is small of me to resent the fact, but they seemed to so dislike the Church of two thousand years and were so anxious to reinvent it, that one thinks they would not have continued to earn their living from it. It seems parasitic.  I think I can sum up with the chorus of a song, “Sing a New Church”:
Let us bring the gifts that differ
and, in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new Church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.
Why bother to sing a new church into being. There are lots of really nice new churches. Since around 1525, people have been inventing really swell new churches. The mega-churches are currently popular, though I hear that they are getting a little bit old, and their popularity seems to be waning. So why do we need a new church that obliterates the old one? I suppose that we have to sing a new church into being, “one in faith and love and praise” because the old one apparently had no love or faith or praise. At least that is what the new church inventors must think. I guess I am not really in step with the spirit of the times. I am quietly humming to myself “Faith of our Fathers, livings still, I will be true to thee ‘til death.”  (Sorry for the word “Father”. Perhaps I should have said “parents”. Actually, someone with whom I served on a university faculty redeemed that song by adding a politically corrective verse, “Faith of our mothers oppressed and miserable”, or some such words.)
So here I am clinging to some outmoded medieval, gothic, dusty, irrelevant, homophobic, anti-woman faith, even whose leadership seems to think needs to be redecorated in Danish modern. Why?
Reason one: the “Our” in the Our Father. When I came home from college for my first summer break, I had been recently baptized in the spirit and was full of evangelical fervor. I announced to my parents that they, too, could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. They congratulated me on finally understanding what they had taught me all my life. The Christ with whom I had been brought up was intensely personal. I had really known Him all my life in one way or another. My family prayed together, read the bible together, went to Mass together. To see my parents pray was to see a man and woman communing with God. I was taught my whole life that God was somebody, not something, a person, not just an idea. It took me a very long time to realize that my new evangelical Pentecostal friends didn’t really mean a relationship with a person when they said, “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” they mean a private relationship with Jesus Christ as in the old song,
I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses
and the voice I hear falling on my ear
The son of God discloses.
And he walks with me and he talks with me
and he tells me I am his own
and the joy we share as we tarry there
none other has ever known.
Simply put, He is “Our Father” not my father. Americans and their modern wannabees throughout the world love to think that they are individually infallible. Me and Jesus. Jesus never said, “me and you”. He said us. I have to go to Mass. I have to put up with my irritating co-religionists. They have to put up with irritating me. Other people are not optional. We are a family. He is Our Father. Jesus is our Savior. The Holy Spirit falls afresh on Us.” The family of God stretches back two thousand years and more. It cannot be re-invented. It does not belong exclusively to the revisionists of the twenty first century. It belongs to the ages and to the Lord. That is one reason I am a Catholic.
More next week.
Rev. Know-it-all
PS. The song “Faith of Our Fathers” was written by persecuted Catholics in England and there is a verse that no one sings anymore.
Faith of our Fathers! Mary's prayers
shall win our country back to thee:
and through the truth that comes from God
England shall then indeed be free.
I hope those words also apply to the English colonies.

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