What the Catholic church has that Protestants don’t, and the problems Catholics have that Protestants also have.
This morning in Mass I was thinking about becoming Catholic. One of my RCIA-mates was also there. And I was thinking about the idea of me “converting.” I’m always saying, “I’m not converting.” Which is true, but sitting in Mass, watching the eucharist, I had to say to myself, “Well, in checking out RCIA and considering becoming a confirmed Catholic, I am maybe saying, ‘There is something different here,’ or ‘They have something many other churches don’t have.’”
Then I wondered, “What is it?” And, “Do I really believe that?”
I don’t think that whatever this “difference” is has anything to do with being more right than all the other churches, or more saved than all the other Christians. And, I’m pretty sure most Catholics (and possibly even Catholic dogma, c.f. VII) agree.
It’s like this awareness that exists in the liturgy that space and time have no bounds. That everyone is gathered all at once, all through time and space, the “universality” of the church. When I sit in Mass, I remember all the saints, friends and family that have passed away, Protestant and Catholic, surrounding me. I think that’s cool, and not to deny that in other churches, it just seems closer to the surface in Catholic liturgy.
I actually remember the same sort of thing being taught in the Church of Christ. That is, that pretty much anywhere you go, you can find a Church of Christ, singing the same songs, preaching the same word, baptizing and having the Lord’s Supper. While at the same time, I was growing up changing and switching within the Church of Christ because they couldn’t get along in the same city. This is not a problem in the Catholic church, they actually “get along” and are more or less “universal/united” even if they don’t all agree—they agree on one thing, they are all Catholic, and that seems to be enough.
On the same note, I also love being a Protestant, and not being afraid of, offended by, annoyed with, confused by, or condemning of, the Catholic church. There are Catholic churches literally everywhere and there is Mass everyday. I can walk into a church anywhere in the world, sit, pray, go to Mass, and feel at home and with God. I can hunt down a priest and have a down to earth chat anywhere in the world.
Okay, maybe my Catholic experience here in Boston is a little bit overly-optimistic about the unity and universality of the Catholic church. But still! Just the fact that I can enter a Catholic or even just Catholic-like church and not be uncomfortable, is awesome. If only more Protestants could do that, Christianity would be a better religion.
Someone out there might be thinking, but what about the Catholics? Why don’t they come to Protestant church? They do! They are there! You just don’t notice them because they blend in so flawlessly. They were not taught that Protestants were wrong, and that they should never go to Protestant church. So, they have no fear or offence, just maybe a different taste in how church/liturgy should be.
This “universality” is really something that draws me, and no doubt, that has a lot to do with my inclusive personality. For me, universality may actually be my main draw. I considered the Seven Sacraments as a thing that is “different” in the Catholic church. But, honestly, I don’t really think I buy all those. Don’t get me wrong, I like them. They are cool. I like holy things, but they are a little off the Bible base of my Protestant upbringing, not that that is something that I’m super wedded to either.
Why am I not all about this bible business, because I’m a lady, and the Bible is used against us. So, Sola Scriptura is really difficult for me, because well, it’s impossible. Mostly because even the mere idea of Sola Scriptura is extra-Biblical. And the depth that a Scripture scholar can argue Sola Scriptura and also advocate for women in leadership, is not an easy thing for the average person to understand. It can be understood if you believe in a non-gender specific loving God, but the systematics of it— not that simple.
It is so easy for a man to advocate for Sola Scriptura. If I were a man, I probably would. The whole Bible was written by and organized by a bunch of men, and all the imagery and pronouns for God are male— awesome for all men. But if I’m a lady preaching, oh man, I am in trouble.
There are no lady preachers in the Bible (as far as I know). No ladies wrote the Bible. And ladies are more often than not told to be quiet. Sure, we have examples of women not being quiet. The Bible breaks the Bible’s rules all the time (e.g. God is love and God is also a genocidal maniac, Jews don’t marry non-Jews and all of Jesus’ lineage are a bunch of pagan/foreigners, don’t eat shrimp and well, that’s fine now). Those are just a couple stupid examples.
Then in Sola Scriptura, we use the Bible, that breaks the Bible’s rules, to defend the Bible breaking it’s own rules. Yeah, no average person is going to get that. And no average person is going to be able to explain that without not using the Bible.
Sola Scriptura is inherently defensive, and one of the things that I have appreciated about my Catholic circles is a non-defensive attitude. Oh, the irony. This is very different from the Evangelical Protestantism I know. I say “evangelical protestantism” because I know that there are plenty of non-defensive Protestant groups out there, but the Evangelicals, seem to be uber defensive.
Recently, everyone has been up in arms about Kirk Cameron’s wife talking about her Biblically Submissive Marriage. All over my facebook wall there was this defensive praise vomit over this issue of women being “submissive” in their marriages. If the word submissive wasn’t interpreted as submissive in the Bible, like for instance, if it was interpreted “respect,” “mutual understanding,” “appreciativeness,” or “considerate,” evangelical Christians wouldn’t have to defend the word, and then we would probably only use the word submissive when referring to dogs (as it should be).
The English Biblical interpretation ruined the word submissive, and is a great example of how weirdly defensive evangelicals can be. I asked a Catholic about this issue, and he gets the evangelical defensiveness, but also affirmed that Catholics do not have the same weird defensiveness over this issue (maybe over others, but this is not one). No Catholic is taught to vehemently defend tooth and nail Biblical interpretation. I like that. It is more akin to reality—we cannot understand it all.
I like that. I like that issues that made no sense to me growing up, that people fought over, are non-issues in the Catholic church! Yes, they have different issues, but those issues have far less at stake for me personally. Which is fantastic!
Except, one of the biggest issues I have, are issues regarding my gender in the churches I grew up in and in the Catholic church. It’s funny that while I consider becoming Catholic, the main issues I have with church are the same in evangelical and Catholic circles (women and homosexuality). So… There’s that. What is wrong with me?
I guess it’s just a comfort thing? Or maybe like a “if you can’t beat’em, join’em” thing? I’m not going to make any radical changes or influence in a church if I leave it. Some may disagree, but I imagine it’s why so many Catholics continue to stay. Change that is the speed of a glacier is still change.
I know that if I move to a church that is more okay with women and the gays, there are still problems in those churches, and those are problems I’m not used to, I don’t know, and I am unsure how to approach. There is a certain comfort in dealing with problems you’re used to. And there is a certain hope in knowing there are other people who are with you and work to move the glacier.
It’s kind of strange that my issues with church stay the same going from Protestant to Catholic, and the differences aren’t even exclusive, though there are serious bonuses. I mean, universality is a long ways away from Protestants. Unless all Protestants “join” the Catholic church (c.f. “if you can’t beat’em, join’em”).
Join could mean to simply attend regularly. Catholic churches meet multiple times everyday, and with that attendance, getting confirmed, trying out the sacraments, attempting to connect to your roots, yields a less afraid and less defensive Protestant. Denying Catholicism is like denying your 2000 year old ancestors ever existed and/or were always wrong, and need to be forgotten/given up on completely. No matter what, they are still a part of your Christian lineage, they are in the Christian genetic make-up, they are a gigantic part of Christianity, and still are.
Evangelical Christian, if you believe in heaven, and you believe there were real Christians before Luther, then you believe there are Catholic saints in heaven who are a part of your Christianity. Go to a Catholic church, get to know them and forgive already.
Now, as I finish this up, I think about how scary it would be to have all the conservative evangelicals join the Catholic church. It would potentially be giving them the organized/unified power they always wanted… This is terrifying. On second thought, don’t join, there are enough.