Saintly Communion

The sense of community found in the Catholic Church attracts and intrigues me. Within my parish family are some of the most loving, accepting, and faithful people I’ve ever had the joy of knowing, but the sense of community I’m talking about stretches far beyond the walls of my church. At mass I feel connected – not just to God and those in the pews next to me – but to every Catholic on Earth and even those who have passed on and entered the Kingdom of Heaven.

Being a former Baptist, this aspect of worshiping as a global community was something brand new to me. Since its creation, the Protestant church has split into so many different denominations and categories that it can feel overwhelming and confusing. In any small town no two churches can agree on the exact same set of beliefs, and forget about trying to get an entire planet of believers on the same page. However, the Roman Catholic Church has remained one consistent body of worship for thousands of years with all of its followers adhering to the same doctrine.  The Church has faced harsh criticism (from those outside the Church I might add) for being old-fashioned and outdated, but that’s the beauty of it. When change occurs within the Church it does so rarely and at a snail’s pace, and it is given careful thought and consideration so that we might stay true to Christ’s original mission. Sudden and sweeping changes often result in chaos, whereas changes in painstaking slo-motion promote a cohesive connection.

This connection we Catholics have with one another, and with Christ, culminates with the Mass. I’ll admit my first Mass was a little intimidating and off-putting.  There were no “Order of Worship” sheets like I was used to. There were prayers, movements, and rituals that were foreign to me. But even though I had no idea what was going on, something inside me told me that I had entered into a holy and sacred place.

As I continued to attend, I found the mass to be the most fulfilling way of worshiping and communicating with God. It implores all of our bodily senses. Holy water, incense, prayers, the sign of peace, the Eucharist, genuflecting, crossing ourselves and so forth, are all used so that we praise God with all of our body, heart, soul, and mind. Not to mention that we believe that the body and blood of our Savior are literally right in our presence. All these things bring us together in full communion with God.

But as I said before, this connection extends past this life and reaches to those who have already entered into Heaven and allows us to communicate with them. I’m talking, of course, about the Saints.

I’d always been told that Catholics prayed to and worshiped the Saints, and that this practice was wrong. But the first time I heard the priest call on the saints, I realized he wasn’t praying to them, he was asking them to pray for us.

As I thought about that I had to wonder … why should that be a cause for concern?

Whenever I find myself in a trying or difficult situation I often turn to friends and relatives and ask them to pray for me.  If we believe in the power of the resurrection then we must understand that those who have entered the Kingdom of God are more alive than us on Earth – so who better to ask for intercessory prayers?   Especially since scripture assures us that we are still connected to them through Christ.

Mark 12:27 tell us that our God is a God of the living, and not the dead. Romans 12:5 tells us that all Christians are one body in Christ. In Tobit 12:12 it is an angel who presents Tobit’s prayers to God. In Revelation 5:8 through John’s vision we see again an angel offering up the prayers of the holy ones. And in Hebrews 12:2 we are reminded that we are always surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, and that we can rid ourselves of every burden and continue to follow Christ.

We should look to these cloud of witnesses as role models and seek their advice in our day-to-day routine. These are the people who unconditionally surrendered themselves to God, and lived their lives according to his will. They are shining examples for how we should strive to live as Christians.

We are all one family in Christ on Earth, but we are also one family in Heaven. When we turn our thoughts to a Saint and ask for his or her intercession we aren’t talking to a dead body but to a soul that is fully alive, listening, and willing to guide us in our journey to God.  And it doesn’t have to be an officially canonized saint. Take my great-grandmother for example. She was a kind, loving, and deeply spiritual woman who prayed for her family every single day. Am I supposed to believe that she suddenly stopped when she entered into Heaven? Of course not!

The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.” Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world. –The Catechism of the Catholic Church

God bless, and peace be with you

 

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Tipping the Scale

I used to say that being a Christian was the easiest thing you could do. At a base level it sounds simple, right? Believe in God the Father. Believe in Jesus the Son. Live a good life, and wait for heaven.

Of course, I certainly wanted it to be that easy, and who doesn’t? Salvation without really having to do anything, the easy path to heaven, smooth sailing for eternity, it all sounds great. Sign me up!  Sure, the Bible has a list of do’s and don’ts, but it’s not about right and wrong, it’s about your character and inner feelings, isn’t that it?  You don’t even have to go to Mass if you don’t want to.  As long as you have a connection with Jesus and hold on to those core beliefs, you’re good to go.

This is — in my paraphrased nutshell —the basis behind Progressive Christianity: a modern day extension of the Social Gospel movement that puts a liberal spin on the faith.

Progressive Christianity isn’t all bad, and in fact, can be helpful for skeptics new to the Christian faith. It puts most of its emphasis on tolerance and acceptance, while focusing heavily on the life and love of Christ.

These are good things, and should be a part of every Christian’s life, but Progressive Christianity falls short when it eschews traditional doctrine.  By ignoring these very important pillars of Christianity, we risk adopting unauthorized tenets– and it becomes a sort of make-it-up-as-you-go-along kind of thing.

For example, Roger Wosely, Author of Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity, states that Progressive Christianity…“emphasizes salvation here and now instead of primarily in heaven later” …. That we are “being saved for robust, abundant/eternal life over being saved from hell”.

Where my Church— The Catholic Church —promotes discipline, Progressive Christianity presents a more “whatever” attitude to the faith…. “ it doesn’t endorse or condemn hip-hop, it doesn’t endorse or condemn polyamory, it doesn’t endorse or condemn marijuana, it doesn’t endorse or condemn premarital sex, it doesn’t endorse or condemn inter-racial or interfaith marriages, and it doesn’t endorse or condemn stevia, quinoa, mustaches, single-speed bikes, skinny jeans, or PBR.”

Obviously, not everything quoted here is wrong, or bad, or dangerous, but there’s an overall tone that would lead one to believe that when it comes to Christianity, you can have your cake and eat it too, and this isn’t true.

To follow Christ means being willing to sacrifice. Christianity is not a humanist philosophy. It is the exact opposite. Christianity requires a balance — to appreciate life while being willing to deny life. The Progressive spin can lead one to believe they can live a Christian life without sacrifices, which is appealing if sacrifices are viewed as burdensome.

One of those sacrifices is following the doctrine. Doctrine provides us with guidelines and restrictions that come with being a Christian. When Wosely says Progressive Christianity doesn’t endorse polyamory or pre-marital sex, he’s right. But when you don’t condemn these things, things that God condemns, you’re creeping into dangerous territory. Pilate didn’t endorse or condemn Christ’s crucifixion, but that didn’t make him free from sin.

Perhaps the Progressive Christian viewpoint comes as a push back from the religious right and fundamentalists who tend to use their own interpretations of the Bible to promote oppressive rhetoric.  In truth, there is no Conservative Christianity. There is no Liberal Christianity. There is just Christianity, and there is significant danger in leaning too far to either side.

Look, I’m no different than any other Christian.  Some aspects of my faith seem right to me, but I struggle to understand others.  Instead of endlessly searching the Bible for justification of my standpoint (or worse, ignoring the Bible altogether) I’ve found it better to study the Bible, the catechism, and the writings of the early Church fathers. In the process I can better understand why my God asks me to sacrifice certain indulgences in life, and better understand what it is that God has called me to do.