Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Narrow Gate

   I became Christian, and then began the inevitable search for the "most true" denomination. This post is about why I'm Catholic rather than Protestant. Let me begin by explaining that by no means do I believe that only Catholics are saved. Our Protestant brothers and sisters have an important role to play for Christ's cause, but we certainly wish they would join us in the fullness and oneness of the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church"! That is because we love them.

   I went to several Protestant churches, both when I was growing up and also when I was exploring Christianity and trying to find my "niche". One that I can remember was a Baptist church in my tiny little town. I was younger when I went there, and too busy trying to shock the churchgoers by reading Dimmu Borgir lyrics during the service than actually paying attention. Rude, I know. Well, I do remember that there was a lot of worship music, and I believe a preacher got up and talked about stuff, which I mostly disagreed with at the time, and then we were sent off to the youth group room. In the youth group, we talked about our feelings with regard to certain bible verses and the 'morality' of cussing, among other things. I was not impressed at the time... I retained my strict black dress code.

   When I was older, and had been converted to Christianity, I decided it would be prudent of me to explore different denominations other than the only one I had previously experienced. One of my friends invited me to a very large non-denominational "church" around Christmastime and I was more than enthusiastic to have an opportunity to try something new. So I went with him and took it all in. It was fun! There was a ton of music, lots of fellowship, and a sense of having done good by going to church. That was my experience anyway. I remember when the grape juice and cracker-type thing was passed around, I asked my friend, "Is it okay if I have this?" I'm pretty sure he looked at me funny and said, "Yeah of course!" All in all, I liked the place. It seemed wholesome and good. But it lacked something, which I've only recently put my finger on. There was no sense of reverence. No sense of awe. It seemed like the whole thing was a show, with the main goal being entertainment.

   I visited the non-denominational church's website, in order to learn more about them and what they believed - since the few times I went did not give me any sense of their theology apart from "Jesus is a cool guy and everyone should be his friend". The first thing I saw on the site was a page about their theology. This is what I needed to see more than anything, still considering myself a pretty objective philosophy type. Oh boy... I felt so let down. Their statement of faith page was not even 1,000 words! I understand the need to be succinct, but come on... I need more meat than that. Then I looked at other Protestant websites to see if their faith explanations were similar, or if it was this particular church's approach only. I discovered that many churches here in my neck of the "Bible Belt" are the same. Compare that with the Catholic Church's succinct explanation of faith... It's an entire book, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
   I consider myself pretty well trained in academia. I have a high regard for peer review, and I know the importance and relevance of "authority". To me, the fact that some of these Protestant churches were started by one or only a few men was a huge red flag for me. Anyone can just buy a building, slap a church sign up, and begin preaching. From whence do they derive their authority? Where oh where can it be found?? Even in academic circles, you can't just graduate with a B.A., publish a work, and expect anyone of note to take notice of it! Particularly if it's not peer reviewed! They'd say, who does this guy think he is? In Catholicism, all priests are well educated and answer to Bishops; all Bishops are priests and are even more educated - they answer to the Bishop of Rome: the Pope. All ordained men answer to God.

   I have been to Taize in France, an ecumenical community of brothers, both Catholic and Protestant. When I attended, I was in the process of discerning whether I wanted to be Catholic or not. At Taize, there is a strict routine which all campers (usually students) follow.  Everyone who attends is assigned a duty or a job, which is carried out in between the 3 prayer times of the day, and "Scripture study". In the scripture study, one of the brothers would read a verse out loud and then everyone in the group would split off into smaller groups of five to six for discussion. Let me tell you... what an experience that was.

   My particular group had 2 Latvians, 1 or 2 people from Russia, and some various other nationalities... Talk about a language barrier! Regardless, we managed to discuss the scripture verses to some extent, and we became good friends with one of the Latvians. It was a great experience, but there was something nagging at me the whole entire time. Anyone can interpret the Bible. Anyone. How accurate that interpretation is depends very much on that person's understanding of the context, both cultural - particularly from a historical perspective - and also the context of the words themselves. Anyone can justify any manner of abhorrent actions by yanking out a line from the Bible. This seriously bothers me. This is one reason why I decided to become Catholic.
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   Our priests go through years of education, both secular and religious. They learn how to think properly, and many are highly educated in philosophy/logic. To me, your average parish priest has more authority than some guy who got a B.A. in Ministry. Not only are priests educated in a well-rounded fashion, but they also have Catholic doctrine to adhere to. Yes, it's true - priests can preach whatever they want to in a homily. But ultimately they have to answer to the Bishop (and God!) if they spread false doctrine. Catholicism has a strict theology which is self-consistent and does not contradict Sacred Scripture. That is why it hasn't caved in on itself. No one is going to follow a contradictory religion. That's not to say there aren't issues which seem inconsistent, but in my experience a little research and digging will often reveal that it's simply a false contradiction or misunderstanding. That's also not to say that priests are perfect... However, there is a difference between getting a theological idea slightly wrong and deliberately leading your congregation down a false path. One of them is a sin. I will talk about sin a different time :)

   Honestly, I could go on forever explaining why Apostolic authority is conferred to the Pope (down to Bishops and priests) only. One of the main reasons I did not join our Protestant brothers and sisters is because all descended churches are rooted in a rift, a "Reformation" in which Luther decided he, personally, did not agree with certain orthodox teachings that had been defined and handed down since the time of Christ. And of course, old Henry VIII deciding he would establish his own church in order to separate what God had joined together...  Unfortunately this blog was never meant for this kind of catechesis and history. I trust my readers to do their own research. Ahem. Yes. My readers. (That's you).
  Our Anglican cousins have recently decided that it's okay to ordain women Bishops. Wait what? How can you just change a rule like that? Are not rules based in theological reasons, immune to cultural norms? Apparently not to these liturgical Protestants. I don't like that... What I love about Catholicism is that all of our "rules" are not just culturally based - they are based in unchanging theological and natural law. Women cannot be Bishops - ever - not because the Church is archaic and oppressive, but because nature of woman cannot fulfill the priesthood. The priest acts in persona Christi, in "the person of Christ". Christ was a man, not a woman. There's more to this argument, but I'm not inclined to make this post much longer. I am opening an invitation to discuss this with me if you're confused or interested (or even if you're angry).

   In Catholicism, abortion will always be immoral because life will always be sacred from the moment of conception. In Catholicsm, men will never be able to marry other men nor women marry women because our definition of marriage will always be a "covenant between a man and a woman". That's the definition, therefore anything that strays from that formula is not defined as "marriage" within the Church. If you want homosexual "marriage", you will have to go elsewhere. These things will not change, and if they do, then the Catholic Church will no longer be the Church that Christ established.  They are based in Tradition, deduced and inferred from Christ's teachings down through the ages. This stability and consistency makes me feel safe, and I know I can trust the Magisterium to uphold and protect the Bride of Christ. Why? Well, for one thing, what vested interest would anyone who has dedicated himself to celibacy, goodwill, and service to our Lord have to change or destroy our beautiful Faith tradition? Yeah. No idea.

   It's taken me awhile to get this post together, mainly because I kept coming up with things to add to it! I'm sure, then, that more ideas will occur to me over time as I continue growing in my faith, but I will try to resist the temptation to preach to my audience. From here on out, I am aiming to post personal reflections and inspirations related to being a Christian. I am convinced that one of the biggest struggles of being a Christian in this day and age is synthesizing our "faith life" and "real life". It's very difficult for us to see the two as a whole, particularly if we only go to Mass (or church) once a week! I'll wear my heart on my sleeve, as an attempt to help my brothers and sisters in their own journey to walk with Christ. God bless you all.

Please pray for me, I am praying for you.