Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost 2019 - Eight Years Catholic


I was received into the Catholic Church at Pentecost 2011 and, in 2016 wrote a blog post titled Pentecost 2016 – Five Years Catholic. Three years later, I wrote this one without first reading the earlier one. There are a couple of common themes and some new current thoughts, but I just enjoyed going back and reading the earlier one and think it was better. I believe there is a lot of truth in the (approximate) words of Flannery O’Conner: “I don’t know what I think until I read what I wrote.” But, here goes with the current thinking.

Becoming Catholic

It is common among Catholic Christians, and Christian Catholics, to share how and when and why we became Catholic. Some are so-called “cradle Catholics,” born to Catholic parents, baptized and confirmed in a Catholic church, perhaps educated in Catholic schools and married in a Catholic ceremony and sometimes with little knowledge about or interest in other Christian faiths. 

Some are convicted, converted, and reborn former atheists or agnostics drawn into the Church by the Holy Spirit. 

And many are "converts," former Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, or whatever Christians who became convinced that the Catholic Church, with all its warts and wounds and problematic history, really is the Church that Jesus established and left people in charge of when he returned to the Father and is the Church with which they want to be in full communion. They too  usually credit the Holy Spirit with motivating their move.

The Question of Authority

Many in that latter group had come to believe that the Catholic Church has divinely assigned authority, under Holy Spirit guidance, over theological issues and argue that the Church is not a democracy subject to the whims of its “members,” many of whom may be still more conformed to the world than transformed by the Holy Spirit. (And, yes, some Catholic leaders with that authority have been imperfectly transformed also, but they still bear the responsibility and are accountable for their actions.) 

I have generally put myself in that “looking for authority” group, having been baptized Baptist and having served and worshiped in Baptist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, experiencing some discomfort with so-called Baptist Distinctives, Presbyterian Predestination, and Lutheran open discussion and votes on current theological issues such as  requirements for ordination and holy matrimony. 

In my case, that search for authority was not based on belief that the Catholic Church majesterium is and always has been right all the time or to relieve me of responsibility for having a well-informed and well-formed conscience, but to acknowledge the authority and to say to those Catholic leader/servants, “It is your responsibility to open yourselves to The Holy Spirit and to understand, explain, and defend true theology. Get to work!”

Building Christian Unity

There is a second key issue I sometimes forget that increased my interest in the Catholic Church, and that is the fragmentation of and competitive squabbling among Christians and the resulting damage to the witness of the Church. I was reminded of it by the Daily Mass readings for June 6, 2019. 

First was from Acts 23:6-11. The “Jews,” the Chief Priests and the whole Sanhedrin, Pharisees and Sadducees, had been assembled to confront Paul, recent Christian convert and troublemaker, and hopefully hasten his martyrdom. But Paul was a very smart guy, a Jewish Roman citizen, well-educated and familiar with the Hebrew scriptures and all the political and theological current issues.

Paul went right to the dividing issue, resurrection, which the Pharisees believed in and the Sadducees rejected: "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead." With that comment, the unity of the anti-Pauls was destroyed: "When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the group became divided. “Martyrdom delayed! 

And then, in the Gospel reading, there was this from Jesus’s “High Priestly Prayer,” part of his John 17 farewell to his disciples: Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: "I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me."

Note the last phrase, the evangelistic purpose of Christian unity: “…that the world may believe that you sent me.

I first got interested in the idea of Christian unity while living in Japan (1992-1995), enjoying worship and service at St. Paul’s International Lutheran Church, and seeing the confusion, in a nation that was 2% Christian, caused by the multiplicity and diversity of mostly western groups claiming the name of Christ. I specifically remember a co-worker telling me that, yes, his relative is a Christian, a Mormon, and another co-worker, asking me what is going on when he sees a Christian church in the USA on TV and someone is putting his hand on another’s forehead and the latter then falls to the floor unconscious. Well, how does one explain away those difficulties people face in believing that the Father sent the Son?

So, a second important reason for my interest in Catholicism, beyond the structure and authority, was that I wanted to cast a vote in favor of Christian unity by submitting to and being received by the Church that Jesus established and left someone in charge of, promising the Holy Spirit as guide.

Moving in the Right Direction

I have no expectation that all Christians are going to join together in the Catholic Church anytime soon, but I do have a reasonable expectation that all Christians, Catholics included, may eventually obey the two Greatest Commandments and replace criticism and competition with love for each other. After all, the key theologies expressed in the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, both recited at every Catholic Mass, must be of primary importance and must provide some common ground that can keep most of us from arguing more complicated issues which may not be resolved for hundreds of years. 

Resolving Complicated Issues

The primary complicated issue is differences in understanding of The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist, that, as explained in John Chapter 6:52-71, has been a dividing issue since the very beginning. It may keep us from full communion but need not prevent cooperation in love and service. A key point for meaningful dialogue in the direction of Christian unity in Truth is that concerned Christians in all faith traditions should be able to respectfully explain not only why they believe as they do but also why those in other faith traditions believe as they do. None of the beliefs are without some, sometimes misunderstood or out-of-context, Biblical foundation.

The "Full Gospel" Church

I have some hope that more and more Christians will recognize that my occasional somewhat tongue-in-cheek description of the Catholic Church as the “full-gospel church” has some merit and will investigate. After all, we have The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the promises of salvation and resurrection, the Greatest Commandments and Great Commission, The Great Cloud of Witnesses, the saints, daily and frequent Sunday Masses, Church Fathers, Martyrs, seven Sacraments, The Real Presence, Mary the Mother of God whom “all nations will call blessed,” Women’s Sodality, Men’s Knights of Columbus. St. Vincent de Paul Society, abbeys and convents, monks and nuns, pilgrimages, and enough optional personal practices of piety to suit any taste. 

Since Vatican II, we even celebrate Mass in the language of the people as recommended 500 years ago by Father Martin Luther. And, we offer bingo to seniors for fellowship and entertainment, though I’m not sure where that came from. Finally, we have the 700+ page Catechism of the Catholic Church which explains the faith in four sections (Creeds, Sacraments, Christian Living, and Christian Prayer), topics that should sound quite reasonable to any Christian and to any agnostic or atheist interested in Christianity. At least the last two should sound reasonable, and those are good starting points. 

Common Ground

Oh, and back to that first, perhaps confusing sentence containing the terms “Christian Catholics” and “Catholic Christians.” I intend the first to imply those cradle Catholics who are experiencing continuing conversion, spiritual growth, and perseverance and the second to imply Christians for whom reception into the Catholic Church has been one major event in their continuing conversion, spiritual growth, and perseverance. We all have something in common, wherever we are right now, the importance of sharing that continuing conversion, spiritual growth, and perseverance.