Monday, August 16, 2010

Why I am Catholic and remaining so

Cradle Catholic - the term used for those born into Catholic families, baptised Catholic and remaining so. That would describe me and I thought I should perhaps give some kind of written account of that.

Born to an Irish Catholic immigrant, who married an English woman (granddaughter of a Baptist minister) who converted to Catholicism when she married, I never questioned being a Catholic. I had no problem with it. Of course, I was a child in the 50's and rebellion was not the norm then. So, by the time the late 60's rolled around, I was in my late teens and still not rebelling.

I had always been comfortable in the church and comfortable professing my Catholic faith. And I can say that I was very fortunate (blessed would be a better word) at having a personal experience of Jesus Christ at the age of eighteen. In Protestant terminology, I "got saved" or "accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour" - the latter being a much more accurate description of what happened.

I don't hold though with "being saved" once for all; even St. Paul says

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-18)

I do believe that, at some point, we have a choice to make, whether or not we accept God's revelation of Himself in His son Jesus, but making that choice certainly does not ensure eternal bliss in heaven. Faith and works go hand in hand; faith that does not manifest itself in a transformed life is dead. I am sure there is tons written on this subject, and I am not going to venture to add anything to that vast library of insight.

But remaining Catholic? I will readily admit there are many problems with the Catholic Church and sometimes, many Protestant churches look a whole lot more appealing. So why do I stay in the Catholic church? Well, it's that incredibly important fact that, as a Catholic, I really do believe that that piece of bread on the altar becomes the Body of Christ and that wine really does become His blood. So how could I forsake that for any other church, because they don't have that?

No matter what else goes on in the Church, that reality is central for me and probably for most Catholics who remain Catholic (at least if they have thought about it).

Sometimes, it is difficult to defend being Catholic, and these days one does feel on the defensive. I love the way Protestants know the Scriptures; they put us to shame. I wish Catholics realised how incredibly important reading the Bible was. But it is not stressed in our churches. Perhaps because every daily Mass has quite a lot of Scripture in it, with the epistle, the gospel, a psalm and sometimes a second reading from the Old Testament as well. Offering Bible studies is something that Catholics would do well to learn from our Protestant brethren.

Last night, someone said to me that he read "you know you are in the right church, when you can look around and see the whole gamut of society there". That resounded with me. I go to daily Mass at St. Mary's Basilica in Halifax and the 5:15 pm Mass is a hodge-podge of people. From Keith with his loud out-of-tune singing and vigorous responses, to the man from the Nova Scotia hospital who genuflects to the north, south, east and west while crossing himself multiple times, to the aboriginal woman who has only one dress and no teeth but kneels reverently through Mass without ever once receiving Communion, to the ex-military man who gets visibly upset when anyone does anything out of line. The entire cross-section of our crazy world is there, from the poorest of the poor to the university professor to the retired doctor to the middle-aged housewife to the Chinese university student, there is no escaping all those people you would never choose to share any experience with. But there we are at Mass and that is what makes my Church truly Catholic - we all become one, everyone is accepted, there is no homogeneity in this congregation. We have an African family at some masses with their three noisy children, a Korean woman who is so incredibly genteel, a blind woman who feels her way back to her pew by counting the wooden posts, a Chinese woman with her four lovely children, on Saturdays we have two of the shortest women in Halifax - one black, one white. All belong here, all can enter here and take the front row. This Church is home to them all.

And that is what makes it home for me as well.

Thanks to Bruce for his insightful remark.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Something that most people do not know (and I did not know until recently) is that most orthodox Anglicans (NOT modern Anglicans nor mainline Episcopalians) believe in the true presence as well. Not that I'm trying to convert you or anything. :) But this came as a pleasant surprise to me.