Sunday, July 10, 2011
Shhh! That’s a 4-letter bad word…
Just over 15 years ago, I converted to Catholicism. I hope in the future to go into more detail about my conversion but for now, I think it's best to simply say on Easter Eve 1996, I became a Christian. Even though I had gone through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults class, I still knew as little about Catholicism as I did prior. It's a shame really and part of the problem the Catholic Church faces today---poor catechesis. But whatever little I knew, I was still a Catholic, whatever that meant. The 6 or 8 months of classes and questions did very little except clarify that Mary was a virgin for her entire life and that Jesus is God.
After those classes and my Confirmation, there was very little instruction, preaching, or teaching. I went to Mass, heard some Scripture reading, listened to a sermon filled with little anecdotes, and sang a few songs familiar to my Protestant upbringing. Whatever beliefs or philosophies I brought with me to my new faith, I was assured, were quite compatible with Catholicism. It wasn't until much later that I learned Catholics have about as many beliefs and philosophies as American politicians. And it also wasn't until much later that I realized that the majority of Catholics in America don't really have the tiniest understanding of their own faith.
Probably because I came to Catholicism via Southern varieties of Protestantism, once I became a Catholic I wanted to know and understand it better. Before the internet was widely available, I spent some time reading books at the library. I learned a lot of information that way, but it was extremely limited, nonetheless. But in the recent years, I've discovered the internet contains a wealth of information and there is no shortage of opinions or facts regarding the subject. So it is there that, in the last decade, I have discovered truths and falsehoods about Catholicism.
I can safely say that, when I first became a Catholic, I was very much of the liberal variety. I'll say I was a "Cuomo Catholic" because I often said I was "personally" this or that but didn't have those expectations for anyone else. Abortion was something I considered I would not necessarily do myself, but I concluded I couldn't make that decision for anyone else. Homosexuality? Not my place to condemn. Birth control? My business. And so on.
Over the years, though, I have abandoned all those liberal views and adopted much more conservative ones. Initially, I think this change in viewpoint was purely directed by my own experiences or observations rather than by Catholic doctrine or dogma. After studying some biology classes in college, for example, I clearly understood that a human embryo is a real person and intentional abortion, for whatever purpose, was egregious. Because I had been exposed to so many Protestant beliefs, I understood that they were all different somehow and they couldn't all be the "only" true religion. I am sad to say that neither of these observations was brought to my knowledge in a Catholic Church. In fact, I don't recollect ever hearing much about either until just a few years ago.
Without revealing the particulars, I can say the first eye-opening revelations about Catholicism didn't come until about 5 years later, when a very "traditional" minded priest counseled me. Rather than humor my ideas, he chastised my behavior. He sent me to the confessional and let me know, gently, that Catholicism didn't necessarily make us "feel good" but required us to "do good." It was a shock to my system, but one that my soul desperately needed.
During this period, I spoke to my priest often and followed his direction. I prayed in the manner that he suggested and I prayed some more. I read books and I listened. The process was slow, but my attitude changed and the veil began to slowly lift. I counted myself as an "authentic" Catholic---one who wholeheartedly "agreed" with everything the Catholic Church teaches.
A priest I know often tells us that all Catholics must grow spiritually. If we aren't growing, then we are drifting backwards, just like a canoe sitting on a stream in a current. That is certainly how it appeared a few years ago after we moved from our "authentic" Catholic parish in the South to our "progressive" Catholic parish in the North. I will suffice it to say that it was spiritually painful. It would take another post to list all the abuses and scandals I witnessed and experienced in the last several years. And precisely because it was so painful, I began to pray and study yet again.
It was during this time that I began to realize there is great division in the Catholic Church. You see, the Catholic Church has a very unique and long history. It is the Church established by Christ in 33 A.D. There are ancient documents by honored theologians. There are collections of books and accounts of all the Church councils and dogmatic decisions. There is a history and it all traces back to the apostles. It is a Church that has remained unchanged through time. Until recently. And that is where the great division lies.
To those who are not Catholic, this information will be new and confusing. To those who were born after 1962, this information will also be new and confusing. To those born in the decade prior, this information will only be a vague recollection. And those born in the 30s or 40s, either are long gone or are the very ones who embrace and perpetuate the divisions. In the years between 1962 and 1965, the Pope called for a new council—a meeting to discuss what was happening in the Church and in the world and how the Church might be a bigger influence in a rapidly changing society.
To those on one side of the division, this council was a great success. Many changes were made and continue to be made that have brought life and freedom to so many Catholics. They don't particularly label themselves in any manner. They just consider themselves to be good and faithful Catholics. This encompasses a lot of individuals. There are the so-called "liberals" who profess many of the same values I held upon my conversion. They proudly announce their dissent from long held doctrine and dogma and advocate for safe access to abortion, promote "safe sex" programs, and support homosexual "love." But also on this side are the so-called "conservatives." They are quite "traditional" in their way of thinking—anti-abortion, anti-homosexual—but they still agree the council was a great success and gave new life to the Church.
But on the other side of this division are the TRADS—the Traditionalists who think the changes in the Church since the 60s have altered the Church in such a way that She is no longer distinct and recognizable. Just as the Modern Church encompasses a variety of views, so do the TRADS. That, too, is for another post. But what TRADS all share in common is the understanding that being a Catholic is more than language or ritual. Catholicism is a world view, an attitude, a philosophy, a life style that, throughout history, has had an amazing impact on the world.
I am one of those TRADS. And I hope to highlight all the things that the Modern Catholic Church is silent about. My spiritual growth is still merely a sprout. I continue to pray, only differently. I continue to go to Mass, only in a different manner. I continue to read about Catholicism, only with a new perspective. And I am finally learning what it really means to be Catholic.