Exploring Catholicism: Part 2

This started as a reply to a comment from a friend, and then got so large I thought.. what the heck, I’ll turn it into a post!

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 being 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, simply on account that the Christ mystery is so deep that it can be explored in many different ways. Catholicism is no exception of course.

When I first started exploring the Catholic Church, I had all the same questions as most protestants would. It went something like this:
‘What about Mary worship?’… ‘do they really think they’re drinking Jesus blood?’… ‘what’s wrong with contraception?’.. ‘why can’t priests marry?’ etc etc etc

I’m not going to respond to these individually.. if you really want to know more about them, you can google them (God bless the internet eh?). But I will say a few things about these ‘dodgy doctrines’ corporately.

Firstly, most of my concerns and confusion were very quickly allayed when I realised just how much proganda and misinformation has been spread among protestant (especially evangelical circles) about the Catholic Church and it’s beliefs. Stepping into a Catholic mass, experiencing the centricity of Jesus and scripture in the liturgy, any preconceptions of this as some kind of sadly misguided cult were blown out of the water and replaced with a deep, burning curiosity for this ancient and beautifully deep tradition. Rather than the ‘dead, lifeless’ institution that had been described by my protestant buddies, I found a deep 2000-year-old well of thought, tradition and ritual completely centered on Jesus. I suddenly realised.. it is not institutions that are ‘dead’ or ‘alive’ .. it is people. You will find people who love Jesus in every church, and people who have yet to come to that place. If you walk into a Catholic church and you love Jesus, you will find him in its rituals and liturgy in a new and fresh way.

Secondly, I realised that many of the ‘issues’ I had with Catholic doctrine were due to the very fact that my understanding of these things was essentially Protestant. By its very nature, Protestant doctrine distinguished itself by being in contradistinction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church of the day.. I always assumed that I believed what Christians had believed since the very beginning of the Church. It never dawned on me that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox beliefs have been around for 2000 years, and it is MY specifically Protestant doctrines that should seem strange to them… having only existed since the Reformation. As I read more and more of the early church writings and those of the Church fathers, I find their beliefs and practices align much more closely with the Catholic church then they do with mine.. including the reverence (not worship) of Mary and the real presence in the Eucharist. Don’t take my word for it.. go read it for yourself.

Lastly, I cannot help but see the logic in the affirmation that Tradition is important when it comes to interpreting such a complex document like the Bible. Our protestant obsession with Sola Scriptura is an inherently problematic one. Richard Rohr’s writings on this have been particularly helpful. Sola Scripture has encouraged millions of christians to study their Bibles and really think about what they see there. Awesome. Its not so awesome when a minister gets up, picks one Bible verse, and preaches a 2-hour sermon, squeezing out whatever meaning they like. Ultimately I think we’ll always be plumbing new depths in scripture, but I can see the immense value of having a Tradition that adds some consistency to its interpretation. Besides, most of us Protestants never take Sola Scriptura all the way anyway.. if its not the Pope we look to for interpretation, its NT Wright, CS Lewis, our Pastor, or our Bible College lecturer. At the end of the day I am one person who often gets it wrong, and can often see several points of view at once. I still don’t agree with/understand some elements of Catholic doctrine, but I am much more willing to admit now that 2000 years of tradition might just have a perspective that I don’t. 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. And on issues where I don’t think my mind will change.. well, its important to remember that the catholic church DOES reform itself (google ‘Vatican II’.. what a great event that would have been!). 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). However, when you’ve been around as long as the Catholic church, and seen the millennia roll by with all mankind’s upheavals and too-ing and fro-ing, you earn the right to be a little conservative in the face of requests to reform.

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 different 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 others rituals, and ultimately.. one day… finding ourselves as a family, not just spiritually, but corporally also =) Where I situate myself in the meantime is a matter of discovery and openness to His leading.

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~ by humblemonkey on July 27, 2009.

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