My Dance with Catholicism

I entered the Catholic Church involuntarily as a baby. Not that I resisted … so far as I know … but it was a Christian church which I entered by birth rather than by choice. I grew up a devout Catholic boy and considered the Catholic clergy more than once. At fifteen, however, I was disappointed to discover a Franciscan monastery where the brothers lived a more lavish and worldly life than I did, even as a teenager. Nonetheless I stuck with Catholicism.

When I moved to college I met the crucified and risen Jesus for what seemed like the first time through an Evangelical roommate. He opened the Bible to me in a way it had never been opened before. Faith and grace, forgiveness and salvation, became much more than theological concepts, they were living realities; things I experienced at a visceral level. I grew spiritually under the nourishment of Evangelicalism like I never had as a Catholic

Still, I participated in a Catholic church from time to time. I took a Catholic Faith for Adults class, went to the Thursday night student mass, and more profoundly, I fell in love with and got engaged to a beautiful Catholic follower of Jesus. As we approached marriage and graduation, I looked into becoming a youth minister within the Catholic Church.

Six months before our wedding we met some believers who prophesied that our faith would stagnate in the Catholic expression of church, and warned us to leave. Janine and I prayed hard over this and looked into the Scriptures. We decided to obey what seemed to be a clear word from God. Our departure from the Catholic Church was devastating to Janine’s parents, and we endured a painfully broken relationship for a number of years.

Somehow, twenty years later, the chrism of my Catholic baptism has remained wet on my forehead. I come monthly to a Benedictine monastery for retreats. Today I prayed twenty-four “Our Fathers,” some of them prostrate - face down with my arms in the shape of a cross - each time drilling deeper into this prayer Christ gave to his followers. I am working with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) to pioneer two joint FOCUS-InterVarsity mission trips to Malaysia and Egypt.

There is something rich about the unbroken though checkered history of the Catholic Church that adds depth to my faith each time I experiences her. Yet there are three things I do not think I can overcome, which prevent me from the full embrace of the Catholic expression.

1. Closed communion: This tradition, along with the historic conviction that there is no salvation outside Catholicism (though Vatican II has adjusted this stance), bespeak a posture of exclusion from other followers of Jesus. A posture which I believe grieves the heart of God.

2. Papal Infallibility: I simply do not believe that God has granted to a single human being the level of authority which he gave to his Son. It is not fair to the Pope, nor to believers to expect infallibility in matters of the faith. Placing the word of the Pope on par with Scripture is something I just cannot bring myself to do.

3. Tolerance for Nominalism: The medieval practices of the faith which have remained relatively unchanged through time and culture do not allow for the sort of fresh expression needed to keep a global faith vibrant for millions of people. Rigid forms of our faith have been freeze-dried from one very specific time period and culture and have obscured the heart or meaning of the faith. This creates a fertile atmosphere for nominalism and folk Catholicism.

Still … there is something there. And so I dance on with the Catholic Church while remaining deeply committed to my non-denominational, extremely informal and brilliantly real Evangelical church.

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