Good Friday Reflections

I started writing on this blog just 4 long/short months ago. That’s how long the “official” process has taken. But, looking back, my road to Catholicism has been a much longer process. Some would say I’ve actually always been Catholic by virtue of my baptism, and that I’m only now just returning fully home. But in my adulthood, it was years of wondering things like what the purpose of Church was, the relevance of Jesus in our society and world, and a longing to understand how the Early Church practiced their faith. Years of questioning things like our tie to emotionalism in the American Church, and unknowingly longing for depth and consistency and unity that none of my Protestant denominations could ever fully have, more than this, but even simply by virtue of the fact that they haven’t had the same amount of time to develop it. Years of frustration over why so many were so focused on how church could serve them, while at the same time being so stuck in comfort and apathy in their day to day living, instead of being focused on how Church could move them and challenge them and equip them to live more like Jesus.

images.jpg
This. Tomorrow.

Today is Good Friday. And this Lent, thanks to the tools that the Catholic Church gives to us I’ve spent this season more reflective than ever on our faith, and the sacrifice Jesus made, and how God can take this sin and brokenness in me and slowly and beautifully transform my own life into one that looks a lot more like my Savior. All the challenges and tears and even anger at times that I’ve had over the process of this transition all fade now as I am standing just one day away from fully uniting with the Church Jesus himself founded, and has preserved for over 2 millennium.

This feels like a huge deal. Probably because it is. Here, in the Catholic Church, I find a place for not only deep answers to the questions that I have, and for so much Truth you almost don’t know what to do with it sometimes. Not only for finding the beautiful Sacraments He has given us. But, also, and most importantly, here in the Catholic Church is where I find the tangible and physical Jesus. I think anyone, if they came to a point that they believed that to be true, that the physical presence of Jesus was to be found on Earth today in the Mass, they would become Catholic in a heartbeat. What Christian doesn’t long for a physical, tangible moment with their Savior? How smart of God to give us himself in the Eucharist, to find a way to fold time onto itself and give us a piece of that total satisfaction of our deepest longings while we are still here on this earth. Of course he would do it that way. Of course.

I could write for hours.

Mostly, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about a quote from this Peter Kreeft book, called Jesus Shock. I finished it his week and the timing was perfect.

He writes: “When an Evangelical Protestant becomes a Catholic, he rightly says, “I have fulfilled my Evangelicalism. I have become more Evangelical, not less. I have found the depth and center of Evangelium, the Good News. I feared the Church as an idol, a distraction from Christ, but I have found that it is more fully Christic and Christocentric than anything else in the world.”

And that about sums it up nicely.

 

 

 

First Confession

Well, this girl has had her First Confession.

12_03_10_confession.jpg

Backtracking a bit. This week had been very stressful and draining, in light of the conversations JP and I have had with friends. We were spent. But I knew I needed to continue on, and I have very much desired to prepare myself for First Confession for a couple of weeks now.

So on Tuesday, I went through an Examination of Conscience I had found, and spent a couple of days wondering if I was, indeed, ready to go. Never having done this before, I wondered about how specific to get, and ended up feeling settled on the sincerity of my heart, and desire to place all I could at the feet of Jesus, in however I was able to form the words at the time.

Then, Thursday, at RCIA, our usual teacher wasn’t there, as he was meeting with high school students who were preparing for confession. So the priest was in. I felt a bit of a pang, because the week had almost gone by and I hadn’t called to schedule a time. And sure enough, our teacher popped back in about a half hour later, just as our group began a discussion of confession as a sacrament, to let us know the priest was available if any of us wanted to have our First Confession.

Seeing as I had done an examination of conscience earlier that week (God knew what was coming 🙂 ), as quickly as it was appropriate, I jumped up and got ready to head over. I had forgotten my notes from home, but they had an Examination of Conscience there I could use to help me remember. The door was open, and in I went.

Let me tell you, briefly, what my First Confession was not. It was not a guilt-ridden situation where I had to go and remember all the bad things I had done, and tell them to some old man in vestments, who then tells me to do 10 Hail Mary’s and be on my way, only to see me the next time I’ve racked up a list of sins long enough to need another confession.

My First Confession was not that. No way. Not even close. This is what I may have thought Confession would be like in my life before all of this, and it may be similar to what some of my friends think Confession is like, which is saddening to think about.

In all reality, my First Confession was beautiful. I walked in, sat down, and the Priest guided me through. It was basically like this… having the chance to talk to God and say “here are all the ways I’ve failed you through my sin,” and have God say, in audible words that he loves me and forgives me. And to even get some wise advice on how to better deal with some of my areas where I struggle. And my penance, was both simply and profoundly a way for me to redirect my mind and thinking to allow God into those situations where I struggle.

That was it. I felt God’s peace. I felt God’s presence. I still, the next day, feel like I’m part of a very spiritual situation. I feel grace. I once had a very specific and unforgettable encounter with the Holy Spirit as a child, and how I feel now reminds me much of that, only in kind of an adult version. I even woke up in the middle of the night last night, feeling like I had been a part of something that transcended the physical reality I live in. Something big goes on in that Confessional, more than I even realize, I’m sure.

In short, Confession moved me closer to Jesus. In my desire to please Him, in my acknowledgement of how amazing his grace is for me, and in my humility as I attempt to live a life worthy of the call.

I understand now, first hand, even through this one time, how the act of Confession is good for the soul. I wish my Protestant friends knew more about it… that rather than a spiritual ball and chain ritual, Confession it is incredibly freeing. Protestants can look forward to the day of judgment when God finally puts all to right as an opportunity to hear God say “I know all you’ve done, and you are forgiven.” Catholics can hear that as often as they go to Confession.

What’s Next. And now, since somehow I was actually baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church, and since I have just received my First Confession, our parish Priest allowed it up to JP and I if we wanted to start receiving the Eucharist at Mass, or to wait until Easter Vigil. I’m really excited for Confirmation and the Easter Vigil service and the celebration it will be, but if I’m being honest, I don’t really want to wait 2 months to receive Jesus in the Eucharist if I don’t have to. I want Jesus, and I want to experience the fullness of the mass. So, I think we know what will be happening this Sunday. Stay tuned :).

Lonely

At RCIA on Thursday, we had a “discernment” night, where we had a chance to ask any questions we had that hadn’t been answered yet, and to share overall how the process has been going for us.

Most people were effusively positive about how RCIA and the path to Catholic conversion has been for them. JP was so excited about having an understanding of his faith he had never had before, and expressed it well.

When it got to my turn, though, I teared up. So many parts of this journey have been great- I’ve been able to look at faith on a deeply spiritual and intellectual level, and have found fulfilling answers to things that have been nagging at me for years. I know how to find the tangible Jesus in this fallen world. But this process has also been very lonely for me as well.

the_waiting_place.jpg
The waiting place is a lonely place too.

I’ve had support from my own and JP’s family.  We have met and are keeping in touch with one friend who converted from Protestantism, but that is really the only person I’ve spent time with who knows what this is like. Only a couple of my friends know, still. One friend I’ve told is predisposed against Catholicism, and I’ve had a few take it too lightly, not really understanding how significant this has been and how much has gone into it. When and how to have these conversations with the rest … I don’t know. We are attached to our small group at the Protestant church still because we haven’t officially revoked our membership, but that is coming, and won’t be an easy conversation to have. Nearly all of my friends are at the Protestant church, and the idea of leaving my community behind is still difficult, no matter how convicted I am to change. I’m wondering how I’ll balance maintaining those relationships and create a new community in our Catholic parish when they don’t have set small groups or other “programming,” for lack of a better word, that helps you get to know other people in the congregation. The idea of starting from scratch in getting connected to a new church community makes this introvert nervous.

As exciting, and fulfilling, and interesting this whole thing has been for me, it has also been a lonely road. I know that Christian history is full of people who have made much larger sacrifices than I for their faith, and that is comforting to some extent. But I’m still here, living my experience, and feeling a bit in no-mans-land at the moment. I need to wait until Easter Vigil to be a full member of the Catholic community, and I have one foot out the door at my Protestant community. I will be thankful when all is done an settled. When the conversations have been had.  When the transition has been made. But being content in “The Waiting Place” is never easy, and I struggle with it as much as any.

Church Membership

Here’s the thing about Church Membership. We went through membership class at our last 2 Protestant churches. The only reason we left the first church was due to a move, but… just for a bit of context, one membership class was a lovely dinner over at the pastor’s house (who we still care about very much and admire as an example of living out one’s faith in all areas), and the other membership class was a few weeks for an hour (also led by very sincere people) to help us understand a statement of faith that was relatively short- could be read through in a couple of minutes.

Ok. That’s the context.

The Catholics have THIS:

do742-paperback.jpg
My church’s statement of faith would probably fit on a couple of pieces of paper.

Here’s another major difference between Catholics and Protestants… if it isn’t explicitly laid out in the Bible (though Protestants disagree on a lot of what is supposedly explicitly laid out in the Bible), we don’t typically touch it. Some call it “Christian Liberty.” On issues nonessential to salvation, there are some truths that God has allowed us to interpret for ourselves while we are here. That has made so much sense to me for so many years. But now, I’m thinking… there is actually a truth about all these issue we allow Christian liberty for… like either Jesus is actually present in the Eucharist or he isn’t, it’s not like the truth behind any of these things are actually ambivalent. So is the Protestant church’s stance that God has chosen to keep those things secret? Then the Catholic church’s stance would be that God has revealed the details of the Christian theology that aren’t explicitly laid out in the Bible through the Holy Spirit to the Church. And that the Holy Spirit has helped the Church have correct interpretation of those things that are in the Bible as well.

I just keep getting drawn back to the unity of theology in the Catholic church. I just don’t think I agree anymore that God intended Christianity to have so many divisions. That isn’t unity, that isn’t a united Body. In some ways it’s amazing that with all the theology they have sorted through, that the Catholic faith has stayed united at such a large scale. It seems even unlikely- were it not for the Holy Spirit… perhaps.

And, finally, I think that the unity the Catholic church experiences here might be more similar to the complete union we will have with our Savior in heaven one day. It’s better to be together than to be on our own.

I like that the membership process takes a long time. I felt like the process at our current church was too quick and simple, and casual even. We dove about a centimeter deep into theology. Church isn’t about being a cool place to hang out. The theology is important. I’m thankful to have the time and an abundance of resources to help me along the way.

 

 

 

RCIA/ Once Saved Always Saved

JP and I attended our first (of this time through) RCIA class on Thursday.

As I walked in, Eucharistic Adoration was occurring to the side of the sanctuary, and I just had this draw that I wanted to go there. I wanted to be in the presence of Jesus and worship. With the silence and the candles and the altar and His True Presence in front of us… if that is what really occurs, then I understand why Catholics wonder why any Christian wouldn’t want to experience that so frequently. If you actually have the ability to be in the presence of Jesus himself, physically, in today’s world… any Christian who believed that would come running and kneeling before Him.

maxresdefault.jpg
I think Protestants need to pay more attention to and learn about the theology behind the Eucharist. If this is true, then we are missing out. And it’s no wonder the Catholics are passionate about it.

In the class, there were 4 people involved in leading it, and the subject was on the process of bringing the body and soul into worship through the different symbols and gestures. Mostly, these are areas that I am easily comfortable with, other than understanding how different sacraments give different graces. Because in the “Once Saved Always Saved” Protestant background I am coming from, you kind of get all the grace at once. So it’s just a big mental shift and something not super easy to conceptualize.

One of the men leading RCIA put it in a way that was helpful to understand. I do think I can agree that I think the idea that a person has the ability to choose to follow God, or to not follow God, every moment of every day of their life. I don’t think it makes logical sense that God would give someone the gift of salvation and then refuse to let them discard that gift if they chose their own will over God’s. Then it is no longer a free choice. The idea of needing to choose every moment of our lives who we will serve just makes more intuitive sense in relation to this tension I feel, living every day. Working out my salvation through my whole life just seems to be what I have been and will continue doing until the day I meet my Lord. And I think there is this idea in the Protestant circles I am in that God is going to do all the work of sanctifying you… like as though it is something that happens to us, but it’s God that does all of it. I don’t understand the theology behind it thoroughly, and, yes, God does help us learn to be more like him, but I can’t agree that the Christian faith walk isn’t this “hands-off” thing. Our bodies, minds, and souls, should be actively engaged in this sanctification process. And in saying that, I think I probably sound more like a Catholic than a Protestant.

To quote Scott Hahn, “Grace is not something that is done to us; rather, grace is the supernatural life of the  Trinity planted deep within our souls so that God can make his home within us.”

All this to say, the people in that class were not afraid to take on the questions asked by myself and others. And there were really good, thorough responses to the questions that were brought up. It was a stark contrast to the membership class at our current church, where we asked about once Saved Always Saved, and the teacher that day gave us a one-line verse to support his conclusion, a verse that we didn’t even get the context for at all to even evaluate if the verse meant to say what he was claiming it said. Clearly those who understand the Catholic church well and can articulate the beliefs are both calm and confident of the wisdom and logic of the theology behind the beliefs and practices.