Exploring Catholicism: Part 1

I am a confirmed Anglican of 10 years who has been part of just about every mainstream (and not-so-mainstream) Christian denomination and community there is over the years. I have met heroes in every one of those places, and also met people who blatantly live the opposite of what they claim to believe. I am convinced that no Church has a monopoly on the truth, on sainthood, on community, or on theology. I am also convinced that we all have so much to learn from one another.. hence my very strong ecumenical leanings, and my tendency to be a ‘bridger’.. eg, a person who finds commonalities between different groups and enjoys creating spaces where constructive dialogue can take place.

Having said all that, recent events in my life have drawn me to explore the Catholic Church.. what it is, what it believes, and what it would mean for me to join in communion with it. So, I have just begun an informal RCIA process with a favourite Catholic Priest of mine, and I will be leaving the updates here on this blog for all to read. Whatever the outcome, I am learning a lot about myself, history, humility, wisdom, and the mysterious and myriad ways in which God outworks his plans. It should be fun!

In the meantime, check this out for starters:

http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0888.asp

And others who have been on a similar journey:

http://unasancta.wordpress.com/my-journey-to-the-catholic-church/

http://www.jhimm.net/wabi_sabi/

http://eutychusfell.blogspot.com/

http://www.ancient-future.net/mystory.html

http://durendal.wordpress.com/category/becoming-catholic/

http://becomingcatholic.blogspot.com/2005/09/purpose-of-this-blog.html

http://reformare.blogspot.com/

http://colematson.com/2009/06/18/why-im-becoming-catholic-the-beginning/

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~ by humblemonkey on July 20, 2009.

7 Responses to “Exploring Catholicism: Part 1”

  1. Its interesting that someone younger is exploring faith at all, its beautiful :).

  2. So I’m interested to hear more about your discernment journey as you continue to explore. Pray tell . . . how do you feel about the closed Eucharist table. I spent some time at a convent, and I loved it so much. The sisters were all amazing. The stillness and silence and practices were exactly what I needed (and need more often). I really struggled in worship, though, when those of us who were not Catholic were not allowed to go to the table. Interested in your thoughts . . .

  3. Hi Ciona..
    well, the answer is, I have no easy answer =) However, let us see if the following brain fart can offer anything useful..

    I’ve been exploring the Catholic Church from all angles.. historic, doctrinal, practical etc. I can share with you briefly some things I have discovered.
    First of all, everything I learn about Catholicism confirms even more what I have long believed… that the future of the world church is ecumenical. In every denomination, there are people who seem to really GET Jesus.. and people who really don’t. This leads me to believe that union with Jesus is ultimately less about doctrine and a particular institutional structure, and more about individuals’ commitment to their faith and their openness to the holy spirit. In other words, it is less about ebing right, and more about being in right relationship. =)

    Ultimately, the trend now in the church world-wide (we see this especially in the emerging church and new monasticism, but not exclusively there) is that a general consensus is being reached on what the gospels are all about.. and it is happening with no central office or authority! Smells like the holy spirit to me! But we shall see…

    The reason I mentioned this first is to put everything else I want to say in perspective.. ultimately, people have tried to find ‘ways’ of building christian community and ‘rituals’ for exploring the Christ mystery. These ways can seem strange to others, and simply on account of human nature they will never be perfected. Which leads me to the catholic eucharist.
    Currently, the way I understand the Catholic eucharist is two-fold.. one, it is the real presence of Christ, given to all believers as a sign of His grace and presence among us. Since the post-vatican II Catholic Church acknowleges that Jesus is also present in non-catholic churches, this cannot be the reason that non-catholics are excluded from eucharist at mass. People who get Jesus in the catholic church acknowledge the spiritual oneness of all christians. This is not the issue, as I’m sure you’ll know from your time with the sisters. =)
    From observation, the exclusion of non-catholics from eucharist appears to be mostly a practical measure. Eucharist in Mass has always been a sign not just of unity with Jesus, but unity with the Catholic Church (and this is before the catholic/protestant split). The catholic church has been around for 2000 years, and one of the reasons it has survived that long is by having strong practices centred around building community and connectedness. The catholic church is spread across so many culture that they have deliberately built in rituals that create and perpetuate unity. You can see this in the RCIA process, where converts to Catholicism go through a year-long process of studying catholic beliefs before they decide to be confirmed.. and then, if they are really sure, the whole church gets behind them.. a beautiful part of catholic confirmation is how the whole parish will publicly declare their commitment to fostering that persons spirituality and welcoming them into the community. It is an acknowledgement that their spirituality and liberation is tied up with everyone elses. The upside of this is a global church with an incredibly strong feeling of unity and community.. something that is a much-needed foil for the rampant individualism pervading western christianity, I think. The downside of course is that we protestants who turn up to mass can feel excluded (though, in every other way, I have felt warmly welcomed at Mass).
    However, once I had been to mass a few times, I began to look at it differently. I imagined the catholic church like a family house… every family has certain rules which help them run smoothly and give them meaning.. these rules are usually reached after a lot of thinking. I took a critical look at the pride in my own heart, and I realised.. even if I disagree with one of the house rules, I should still respect it (after all, I could always join the family if I wanted to… they have ). Though it pains me to admit it, Will Watterson is not the font of all wisdom, and he has a lot to learn from others if he is willing to humble himself and open his heart =) Ultimately, what I ‘read’ into something is 99% about me and my issues, my insecurities, and my pride. Once I realised that, I stop taking offense where non was intended, and simply began to appreciate and enjoy a 2000 year old tradition with fathoms of wisdom to offer me.

  4. oops, forgot the last bit..
    Lastly, I was going to say that, families DO change their rules if they think it is going to be beneficial. The catholic church DOES reform itself. The difference between the catholic church and other churches is the difference between a pebble rolling downhill, and a boulder. The boulder, being larger and with more momentum, will take longer to stop and change direction (if it even needs to).
    Ultimately though, as I hinted at it my first paragraph, I am looking at all this through different lenses now. I am no longer obsessed with being right.. if I was, I’d take all the bits I liked from differnt churches and go off and start another denomination. I think history shows us that we really don’t need yet another denomination! If we look at the different churches as jewels in God’s crown, each with unique wisdom to offer and each able to learn from the other, then we will all move forward together, going deeper into the christ mystery, enjoying the Jesus we find in each other rituals, and ultimately.. one day… find ourselves as a family, not just spiritually, but practically also =)

  5. Thanks for sharing, Will. We are such storypeople, and I appreciate this more than anything about how God created us. And I think this is what draws me to what I’ve read of your blog so far; you seem willing to reveal your story–whether it’s your read of Catholic eucharist or fatherhood or a quote that shows how someone else’s story is influencing your own.

    Yes, the future of the Church is ecumenical. The way we’ve set up institutions of church is so strange, and yet I’m deeply grounded in my institution. I love it most times, in fact. I’ve even struggled when I’ve dated outside of my denomination, which I don’t do too often. Crazy, eh? Actually, it’s quite ridiculous, but when I am outside of the comfort of my church, then I realize what a “family house” we’ve created, and I long to go back home. Sometimes it’s nice to speak the same language and embrace the same rituals. What denomination did you grow up in?

    Anyway, I’m a part of The United Methodist Church, which is also global, ritualistic and highly connectional (we call our denomination “The Connection” sometimes). For the most part, our churches are highly liturgical, faithful to the lectionary and pretty committed to rituals. I loved visiting the UM Church in Malawi and knowing that my pastor back home was speaking on the same text as the pastor I was hearing in Malawi on the same Sunday. I like the familiarity of creeds in most of our churches (I keep saying “most” because, like any denomination, there are always churches who have chosen to do things differently for a number of reasons).

    So part of me respects the family house rules of other denominations; I’m certainly a product of a denomination with its set of rules and ways of living, which probably seem strange to some others. I suppose it’s because of our ritual that I feel the Catholic eucharist seems inhospitable. Whenever we take Communion, a pastor always says something like this, “Christ welcomes all who believe in him to the table, etc.” Our ritual is so ingrained in me, that I struggle to imagine Christ not welcoming all to the table. I understand that even my understanding is born out of a denomination-created ritual, hopefully born out of Scripture (as I’m sure the Catholic Church hopes theirs was, as well).

    Alas, I find myself back to your earlier statement: “no Church has a monopoly on the truth, on sainthood, on community, or on theology.” Thank God! It’s all so fascinating–our desperate need to figure things out, be right, feel a certain way about what others are doing. I can’t change that I feel a certain way when Catholics are invited to the table, and I am not. I’m sure it’s partially ego and ritual that get to me in Catholic settings, as you’ve mentioned. I am also sure it’s my joy to feast at the table in any community of believers that makes me long to participate, as well. When I spent such beautiful moments with the sisters, I wanted to share in their community because I felt God’s presence there. I also appreciate the pang of not being at the table; it reminds me what the table means to me.

    I ramble . . . looking forward to hearing more as you continue to discern.

    peace.

  6. Thanks for your reply Ciona, your honesty and observations are refreshing =)

    I’m Anglican by background (Episcopal over your side of the world I think) and have experienced the same feelings as you when excluded from the table. I’m trying to remain open to what God may be teaching me in all this, rather than just reacting.. like I have always used to.

    Also, check out these articles, which I have read since writing my reply to you.. they’ve shed a little more light on the matter, especially on the difference between Protestant communion which we see as symbolic, and the Catholic and Orthodox Christian view of the Eucharist as a sacrament and the true presence of Christ (which necessitates a ‘right way’ of doing it’:

    http://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/why_can%27t_non_catholics_take_communion.htm

    http://catholicconvert.wordpress.com/2007/06/13/why-protestants-cant-receive-communion-in-the-catholic-church/

  7. hmm.. and this one is particularly interesting, on what the church fathers had to say about the Eucharist:
    http://crossed-the-tiber.blogspot.com/2006/06/more-on-eucharist.html

    thanks for your questions, they are helping me formulate my next proper blog post =)

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