Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I'm More Than Just A Southern Catholic in Denial

Sometimes I really miss the Baptist church where I grew up.

There's something great about spending away a whole morning in Sunday School and worship service, then Sunday School again, only to return a few hours later for Bible Drill (that's a real thing) and choir practice, with every activity on the calendar unquestionably accompanied by a well-staffed, loving nursery for babies and toddlers; Vacation Bible School that transforms every hallway and classroom for acres, adult courses covering everything from The End Times (that was a popular one) to the Israelites in Exile (not so popular) to The End Times II (popular).

4th-6th grade Bible Drilling: "Attention." "Present Bibles." "Deuteronomy." "Begin." 
And that's how it's done!
 Picture Source
And then the whole church goes back for more on Wednesday nights, after a good Southern meal (of course) served up from the full-scale cafeteria. It's interesting that First Baptist even had a full-scale cafeteria and dining hall; it's not that the church doubled as a school during the week. I think Baptists just have their priorities right in the "if-you-feed-them-they-will-come" approach to evangelization.

Good food, good meat, good Lord, let's eat! Picture Source

If I were to choose a church just based on awesome community and dynamic opportunities for growing in faith at every age, I'd be right back at the open doors of First Baptist Carrollton.

When people find out I'm a Catholic who loves Jesus and loves my Church, I get the feeling they assume one of two things :

     1) She's a Catholic in Denial. (She doesn't know how awful Catholicism really is.)

     2) She's a Catholic in the Bible Belt. (Catholics in the Bible Belt are really just Baptists with crucifixes; they're not real Catholics.)

As it turns out, I'm actually just a regular ol' Catholic, and all the stuff that comes along with it.

I see our empty pews. I see the rote and tired faces of people meeting their Sunday obligation. I see the disconnected faces of our teenagers, trailing hopeful mothers. I hear our soprano folk music and cliché preaching. And the crazy thing is, I saw all of this before joining the Catholic Church. No, I'm not in denial.

There's also no denying that a healthy dose of Southern culture is planted deeply in every aspect of my born-and-raised-and-still-living-in-Dallas-Texas life. But still, to be clear, the Catholic churches out here aren't just re-baptized non-denom meeting halls. We still have all the noteworthy Catholic stuff (i.e. Communion every day, consistent teaching authority on faith & morals, home base in Rome, intercession of anyone in heaven, the whole history of liturgy and prayers). Southern Catholics aren't just Protestants masquerading as papists. 

Sometimes I like being the token Catholic among Protestants. I especially enjoy the quizzical eye squints and confused raised eyebrows, all of it quietly processing, "But wait, you love Jesus too?"

I don't think it's that there are so few Catholics who know and love their Savior that Protestants are remiss to run into them. It's more of a language barrier, built by quasi-experts from a disorganized brick pile of today's vernacular, Old English, Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, and whatever else people can pull into the what-would-Jesus-say debacle. Since Evangelical Protestantism was my first language, I dub myself a pretty good translator.

For some reason, when it comes to talking religion, we get all 7-year-old defensive with each other.
When Catholics say, "I love the liturgy and Communion of Saints and stained glass windows and prayer and candles and kneelers and pipe organs and oh, most especially, the Eucharist." What they also mean is, "I love God and everything that leads me to Him." To be clear, don't read into the fact that stained glass windows get listed before prayer.

Nonetheless, it still makes my heart sink whenever someone says, "You're the first Catholic I've talked with who's ever really known what you believe." 
I get what they're saying. I see the disconnect in our Catholic sanctuaries. Our beautiful architecture and art and ancient liturgy proclaiming the Gospel of a God who loves, who humbles himself to become human, who is crucified as one of us, who resurrects and opens heaven for all people. And yet, so burdened by a world moving too quickly, many of us never get the chance to slip into the quiet escape of our hearts, to encounter this God who surrounds us.

In a strange way,  I have to credit the Baptist church I so love for the reason I'm Roman Catholic today. It was in the Baptist denomination I learned to love Jesus above all. I learned to love and believe the Living Word of God in the Bible through the rote memorization of Bible Drill. I learned it's worth it to invest Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings and any opportunity into learning more and more about God and his encounter with creation throughout all of history. And I began to love sifting through all of these wonderings with friends.

And then someone asked what the early Christians believed, the ones dying for their faith in the decades following St. Luke's Acts of the Apostles*. Someone asked me about authority, and if Jesus left his followers with a democracy or with a Bible. And restless questions stirred up so insistently, so obsessively and unbiddingly, that my soul could no longer find its rest in passionate preaching, soul-filled songs, or welcoming community.

In Catholicism, I hear the painful public speaking. (Do our seminaries even offer homiletics?) I see the bureaucracy and administrative nightmare of just trying to get your kid a sacrament or re-living the abyss of a painful civil marriage through an appeal for annulment.

But here's what I can't walk away from: you can receive a Sacrament, passed hand by hand through the centuries to the very touch of Jesus in Baptism or at the Last Supper; you can experience the freedom and healing of annulment.

When I needed Christ, He met me in a silent sanctuary with an open door. He didn't hold up an empty cross and tell me to get over my issues. He had me look upon the pain of crucifixion, to begin to understand that sometimes, life is suffering. And even so, in this suffering, especially in this suffering, He ceaselessly comes to us as the Resurrected Christ in Communion, every hour of every day around the world.

No matter how much the preaching sucks, or the music can't resurrect out of the folk era, or the lack of childcare for parish events drives home a despairing lack of volunteers, I know that I know that I know that Jesus has the words of everlasting life. 

And I've found, at the heart of all things Catholic, is Jesus. 

*Humbly corrected by a cradle Catholic friend asking why I gave credit to St. Paul for the book of Acts: "Don't you mean St. Luke's Acts of the Apostles?" Yep, that one. Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Charlene!

    "For some reason, when it comes to talking religion, we get all 7-year-old defensive with each other."

    This has always concerned me about myself and others. I so wish I didn't feel that way on the inside so we could have constructive conversations. Loved the post. My first to ever read. Keep it up!

    -jennifer dougherty