I can’t believe it’s October already. This year has gone by at warp speed. I realized the other day that a year ago- last October- I was still very much a Protestant, and totally unaware that I was about to go on the journey of a lifetime: back home to the Catholic Church.
So, in the spirit of reflection as I approach a year of Catholicity, I present to you:
Five Things I Think Are Cool About the Church That You Should Think Are Cool, Too.
1. Sacramental Life. Don’t you dare say, “Duh”. My particular flavor of Protestantism had absolutely no concept of sacraments, and now it’s hard for me to remember having a theology without them. God using physical things to accomplish spiritual ends is something that I’m all, “Well, yeah… obviously.” about now. Look at the Incarnation for an obvious example (especially useful when engaging Protestants on the topic): God assuming a physical body to accomplish something spiritual- our salvation. Look at Jesus using mud to heal the blind man. Look at the world itself. Clearly, God isn’t against using the physical for His purposes (He kinda has a track record of it), and I realized that my aversion to using physical objects in worship was frightfully Gnostic.
2. The Communion of Saints. I might be spamming you with my Heavenly Spam, but I can’t shut up about this. It’s one of the doctrines that made me feel the most “at home.” I have a real sense of being part of something bigger than myself, surrounded by people (both living and dead) who want to see me succeed. If you grew up Catholic, you may not fully appreciate my amazement, but it’s the difference between hiking through the woods by yourself and playing a football game in huge stadium packed with people cheering you on. Or, if you prefer, I was standing in a dark room presumably by myself, and then someone came in and flipped on the lights and said, “Well, the gang’s all here!”
3. Liturgy. This one was a shocker to me, I won’t lie to you. Even after I was convinced of the truth of the Church, I still threw a giant temper tantrum about liturgy. I could not imagine going week after week to Mass, saying the same things over and over again… how boring. How non-spontaneous. How dead.
I’ve joked before that liturgy is an acquired taste- and when you’re coming from lively services with concert-esque singing, it’s like going from tasting a tropical Bahama Mama to a Cabernet. The first thing that helped me get over it was this verse:
Revelations 4:8 And the four living creatures had each of them six wings; and round about and within they are full of eyes. And they rested not day and night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.”
I figured, if God hated repetition, then the throne room of Heaven must be His least favorite place. Again, as with point #1 and the physical in worship, repetition = dead was not God’s equation, it was mine.
After that got through my head, what helped me was studying the liturgy. Why do we say what we say, and why do we do what we do? What does it mean? What is the history of liturgy in the Church? Understanding the Mass made all the difference in the world. It didn’t seem random and dull anymore. In fact, it seems to me like one big song: the people and faces have changed as centuries roll by, but the song goes on. And, of course, the Mass is not there to wow and entertain me, because the Mass is not about me at all. It’s about Christ, truly present in the Eucharist. What else matters?
4. History. I could read Church history all day, every day, and my lifetime would not be enough. We’ve had good times and bad times, truly holy men and women and scoundrels… you get the idea. There’s been some fascinating people in this Church, and although I found the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” part pretty compelling, Church history is what ultimately sealed the deal for me. How is this thing still here? After persecution, countless martyrs, schisms, two millenia, scandals, etc., I can only think of one reason, and I’m guessing you know what that is. There’s a reason Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” After studying the history of the Church- especially the early Church- I realized I had nothing to protest anymore.
5. The True catholicity and unity of the Catholic Church. It really is catholic (small “c” intentional). There’s something here for everybody, and not everybody is going to be drawn to the same thing. That’s kinda the beauty of it, if you ask me. I come from a place of much diversity, and no unity. That Catholics have both is miraculous. There’s different devotions, different liturgies, different fasts and different feasts, different people with different gifts- and yet, one Church.
Have you heard the saying, “When in Rome…”? Do you know where that came from? Well, if you do or don’t, I’m telling you anyway.
It is attributed to St. Ambrose. St. Augustine was in Milan, and remarked to St. Ambrose (the then-bishop of Milan) that the Church in Milan did not fast on Saturday as the Church in Rome did. St. Ambrose replied, “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are.” Over time, this became, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Notice that St. Augustine did not say, “WHAT?! What is the meaning of this?! You here in Milan don’t fast on Saturday?! And you call yourselves Catholic?!” To which St. Ambrose did not reply, “Pffffffffffft.”
People have different preferences and customs, they’re drawn to different things. As long as those preferences, customs and things are Church-approved, it’s all gravy. The Church in Her wisdom allows this diversity, because we need it. And Jesus- true to His promise- will always protect His Church, because we need that, too. So chin up, Buttercup!
So, there you have it. No less than five things that make me stoked to be Catholic. What’s one of yours?