With the Thanksgiving holidays here, I'd like to reflect upon the parallels between the story of the Pilgrims and my own journey to Catholicism. However, this year in particular, the current media attention the Church has received has brought me to the realization that perhaps finding a cause in life is better than finding a commonality.
In hindsight, I now realize that the entire reason I had a desire to join the Catholic Church was because of the universal sense of community shared by Catholics worldwide. Even before learning that the word "Catholic" comes from the Greek word "katholikos", which translates as "universal", I recognized the sense of community in the way teachers and fellow classmates treated me. Today, despite having Cerebral Palsy and some learning disabilities, I have completed graduate school by the grace and mercy of God; but when I was younger, some professionals thought that I would perhaps be mentally handicapped. Despite my setbacks and my Protestant background, I was allowed to attend a Catholic school. I later went on to attend a nearby Catholic junior high school . Throughout my Catholic education, my mother always emphasized that the elementary school principal had initially allowed me to attend Catholic school out of the goodness of her heart. After all, I was Baptist and needed physical therapy and mainstreaming that my fellow classmates did not need. This Catholic school system had gone beyond its call of duty, providing an education and additional services that only the public school system was legally required to do. I clearly knew I belonged to the Catholic community not because my beliefs or abilities but merely because I was God's child . I was part of the school community simply because I was part of God's community.
From Education to Miseducation
With age and education came a better understanding of the Church, particularly the hierarchy of the Church. I cannot cite a specific time in my adolescence, or in my life for that matter, when I began to question the Protestant churches' lack of a Pope. Quite frankly, I always questioned Protestant practices in general when I visited my home church on weekends. I was in Catholic school five days per week, whereas I was only in my home church once or twice per week; but it was not solely the time factor which contributed to my questioning. Rather it was a lack of truth and knowledge. While they were nice people, these Protestants seemed to be poorly trained leaders who were adhering to incorrect knowledge and a double standard. For example, they emphasized two misconceptions which have always seemed salient to me:
1) They detested the idea of having a Pope to rule the Church. No man was infallible.
2) They disliked the idea of confession, complaining that confession is unnecessary because Christians should be free to talk directly to Jesus and God.
Knowing that I was going to a Catholic school, these Protestant Sunday School teachers continued to degrade Church teachings frequently. Needless to say, degradation is not conducive to a community, especially not a Christian one. Coping with the disappointment and sadness which resulted from these misconceptions was the impetus that made me begin considering the importance and beauty of the Church's teachings.
Truth on the Rock
The aforementioned falsehoods made me yearn to find the Truth. The Truth is the Catholic Church. Ten years ago, at the age of sixteen, a next-door neighbor agreed to sponsor me to become a Catholic. Studying the aforementioned hierarchy and confession teachings, as well as other teachings, among Catholics who shared common beliefs with me was comforting and refreshing. Delving into the meanings of Bible passages brought curiosity and peace because, in my past experience in my Baptist church, I had only known and considered the preacher's interpretations of any given Bible passage.
I can honestly say that I began to find Jesus' decision to appoint Saint Peter as the first pope of the Church rather intriguing. As a firm believer that names are the most personal assets we each own, I am in awe of the fact the fact that Jesus chose Peter, whose name is derived form "petra", the Greek equivalent of "rock" or "stone", to be the leader of His church. Having grown up around a father who used to work with geologists and having an interest in geology myself, I know that rocks are amazing creations. Please consider these facts:
- A rock is a gift from nature, not a man-made creation.
- Rocks form over time, and geologists cannot create a new supply of a certain type of rock if the supply becomes depleted.
- A rock is composed of minerals, and the mineral properties are often one of the main distinguishing characteristics between one rock and another. A particular mineral is often located in one vein of rock.
- Some rocks become fossils as particles of dust build up, providing pieces of history.
- Rocks provide stability and do not vanish unless erosion or human intervention occurs, such gathering rocks on various excursions.
Like Peter, the Catholic Church today - even if only a remnant believe - still serves as a rock for its members. In the spirit of service , please consider some reasons that we must try to fulfill our responsibility as Catholics support one true, uncompromising, universal Church worldwide:
- The Church is a gift which Jesus himself left behind for us. Jesus did not leave Peter in charge of any other denomination of Protestant Christianity or any other world religion.
- The Church is over two thousand years old, and if we Catholics allow misconceptions to prevail by way of false Protestant teachings or otherwise, the authenticity and authority of the faith cannot be replaced.
- Each one of us is a gem which is carefully and wonderfully made. We can all serve in different ways but those who have received the Sacrament of Baptism are all part of the same rock, all members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
- We must allow our faith to "fossilize" so that our posterity does not inherit a watered-down version of the Truth.
- If we as Catholics act, with the guidance of the Holy Ghost, upon our responsibility to uphold the Truth, then sin and wrongdoing will not erode the integrity of the Church and of the society as a whole. We must be thankful for the truth the Church offers, but we must do our part to ensure that modernism, ecumenism, secularism and non-traditionalism, which have been fostered over the past forty years, do not erode the Truth.
Confessing the Rocky Truth
Mindful of the current state of the Church, I feel compelled to indulge in a more spiritual, confession-like mindset. Confession is unique to the Catholic Church. My family often teases me about confessing at Advent or Christmastime that I do not believe in Santa Claus (though I do believe in Saint Nicholas). Unfortunately, though, confession has become a more serious concern for me than ever before.
Lately, I have been contemplating on my current views of confession, I can't help but think how so few appreciate this precious, healing gift. While the Sacrament of Penance is intended for the individual and not a communal thing, we can offer up our sacrifices and penances that more will realize they cannot go it alone in this world, even in the modern Church of today for they are weakening the members of the Mystical Body of Christ and when one member is hurting or lost, it effects the entire Mystical Body of Christ. He is the head, we are His members. He needs us to to listen, to speak, to touch others, to walk for Him, to smell the heresies and errors that can pollute entire congregations. Our senses need to be fine-tuned for Him and through confession Holy Mother the Church provides a way to enhance our spiritual paramedic skills.
I also believe that acknowledging the wrongfulness of the modern, non-traditional Church as a whole can sometimes be as important as acknowledging personal wrongdoing. If we do not acknowledge and right the wrongs, then like a cancer it will spread to other members, disintegrating the foundations of the Rock. If only Catholics realized the gift they have and use it more often. If only priests and bishops realized how much their flocks need the healing graces of confession, they would open the confessionals daily and stay many hours just as the humble Cure d'Ars St. John Vianney did for souls were his major vocation.
Because we don't have many men like him today there is a great sadness for the current state of my area churches. This need to be concerned for them has arisen because I have seen small faith church community books that ask members to describe themselves as either salsa or ketchup. Obviously, this descriptive comparison does not contain a direct discussion of faith, a void quite prevalent in so many parishes today. I have heard people essentially say that they do not recognize the gift the Church is; they wish to believe that Protestants are more "into their faith" and are happier people. These people with whom I have come in contact have stated that we Catholics get our sense of community from the Protestants. How sad and how untrue. Yet, I saw an article in which a young priest comments that he fears there are not many priests left in my diocese who are as dedicated to service as a specific elderly priest whom he admires. Why? Because of the elderly priest makes daily visits to the sick and to the local elementary schoolchildren.
The above statements reflect my own experiences as someone living in an area which Protestantism dominates. I am the only Catholic in my family, and the nearest Latin Mass is four hours away. By sharing, I do not intend to indicate that my experiences are true for all Catholics who may be reading this column. I simply mean to encourage everyone to reflect and be thankful for Faith, Tradition, and stability. Furthermore, I wish to say that we Catholics are called to be rocks of stability for those who do not share the gift and universality of our Faith. This thanksgiving, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we must remember that others will not receive the message of unadulterated Truth if we compromise the teachings Jesus Christ left us through Saint Peter. Likewise, as St. Peter was Jesus' rock, we we must be rocks of stability to those whose faith is nonexistent or unstable.
Commonality or Consistency?
Recently, during quiet, meditative moments, I have observed some changes which I consider rather unwelcome and unsettling. While the book of Daniel (Dn. 2: 21) tells us that life is supposed to change, I wonder what Jesus would say or do if He were to walk the earth again and witness the current state of the Church He left behind.
In my opinion, I think the main change which would concern him (and therefore it concerns me and all of His followers) is the current misunderstanding of the terms "commonality" and "consistency" Due to the frailty of human nature, well-meaning people often forget that we are like earthen vessels whose power and greatness comes from God (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are all human, and we gain true strength from Jesus Christ, not from earthly ways (Philippians 4:13). People of all faiths, whether consciously or unconsciously, often sacrifice consistency for commonality. To fulfill the basic human need for belonging, people often engage in behaviors which are not consistent with morals they instinctively know are right.
While we as Catholics cannot avoid living in a media-driven and product-driven society, we can and must allow God to change our perception of the media and materialism. We can make decision to go against the common consensus in groups formed at church, at the workplace, or at community meetings. If we go against the grain according to popular beliefs, then we behave in favor of spiritual growth. Each time we act according to what we believe Jesus would do and what the Church He founded has always taught, we prove that consistency prevails over any human need we may have, no matter how profound that human need may be. Humanism is not Catholic!
Every time we make decisions consistent with the Church's infallible teachings, we place another particle of dust on the Rock which is our True Church. We demonstrate that we have undying faith that our rocks of consistency which we build today will someday become fossils of truth for the generations to follow.
Conversely, every time we are led by the actions which popularity dictates, we support society and the political correct demigods of the day. This is not only wrong but contradicts all that we are doing to support spirituality and true Catholicity. If we do not support our Catholicity, we do not support our origins. We must realize the Pilgrimage to the Rock is not easy. It is uphill in the same manner Christ trekked toward Calvary. But we can handle our cross if we remember that like the rocks, we are not man-made; we are spiritually made by God in His image and likeness with the specific purpose to know, love and serve Him, and be happy with Him in this world and the next.
Everyone, especially children and adolescents, is frequently faced with the decision to either be popular or predictable. This Thanksgiving, why not strive to be thankful that we have the mental faculties to choose to adhere to the predictability of the Church. Otherwise, choosing popularity would lead to unpredictability, as ephemeral things come and go like the wind.
As Catholics who consistently choose to follow the true teachings of the saints who went before us, not the people of this world, we can be thankful that we have been entrusted with the responsibility to uphold the beliefs of the Catholic Church. Just as Jesus left behind the Truth, we must spread and share the Truth with everyone we encounter. Although the Vatican II Church is moving through uncertain times currently, we can be thankful that we are incessantly blessed with the grace and mercy of God through which we will find enough courage to persevere in preserving the truths of our Faith no matter how far away some Catholics may stray from the safe corral of God's truths, no matter how poorly many of the shepherds have done in tending to their flocks. If we do that then we can assure ourselves that we are pursuing the noble cause that Jesus Christ championed for all generations. Through grace and mercy, the Church will someday become the sole source of consistency and stability for the entire world when the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ will truly have meaning for all nations.
God, grant us the serenity to know the difference between commonality and consistency; the wisdom to realize that only You can help us make the distinction; the courage to be strong in our quest to help those who do not know the difference; the resolve to support those who do know the difference; and the peace and patience to achieve a Church of consistency whose beliefs will hopefully be shared by people of all nations, races, and creeds someday by uncompromisingly bringing them into full union with the truths, traditions and teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
(The above prayer is based on "The Serenity Prayer" by Reinhold Niebuhr.)
Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving and, as a true pilgrim of the truth, please share your Faith with others. Someday, in God's time, they will be most thankful to you for pointing them to the right path.