On Being a Catholic Christian

I'm not sure that I know what to title this post.  I'm not even sure that I'll be able to get what I want in it because it's not quiet right now, but I feel I've been sitting on this for a few days and now I'm motivated by something I read. 

I am a Christian.  I have been for as long as I have a memory.  My mom and dad introduced me to Christianity, or rather, maybe they introduced Christianity to me.  I was baptized as an infant.  I was confirmed in 8th grade after having gone through a school years worth of "catechism".  I received my 1st communion at the same time at the United Church of Christ in Bayard, NE.  Our confirmation consisted of lots of questions quizzing our small class to see if we had learned where to find something in the bible, what the different structural parts of the church are called, the names of particular vestments that the pastor would don, important symbols in the church, the parts of the Apostle's Creed, etc, etc, etc.  I remember going to bible school with my friend Gretchen and accepting an invitation to walk up to the front of the church to receive Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  I had of course already done this before that time, but that day it felt so official, maybe because others saw me do it.  My mom took us to Sunday School EVERY Sunday unless we were out of town, and even then, we usually went with whomever we were staying with.  Our family went to church EVERY Sunday.  I remember singing in the chior, singing by myself, singing with someone else, playing the organ; my parents were involved in a hundred different important things in the church.  Our family had much history in the church as my great grandfather helped build it.  The building itself was incredibly familiar, because we were there often.  (I didn't always like having to go to church either, because sometimes it was boring...in fact, I remember using the weekly bulletin to design the floor plan of my future dreamhouse.) I loved going to church on Christmas and Easter of course!  Those continue to be my two most favorite holidays as an adult simply because of the comforting memories of the importance of them growing up.  I wasn't allowed to sleep in church, and one time I brought an apple in my little purse and ate it during the service and got caught while sucking the last juice from the core.  Naughty!!

Church wasn't the only element of my Christian upbringing though.  My family was (is) a Christian family outside of church walls too.  My mom took the time daily to do devotionals with us, pray with us, and remind us of all that God had given us and what we had to be thankful for and how important it was to give back to Him.  I've grown and I've seen them grow in our Christian faith.  I've still got a long way to go and grow.  Everyday I'm reminded of that through my failings, but I'm always greatful for this faith that I've been given, because it provides me with security, comfort, confidence of greater things. 

All of this is great, but the purpose of visiting these thoughts goes deeper than memories.  Since Julia has been here, I've been more vocal about my Catholic faith.  It's been good.  I've always had Tim in my corner to defend the Catholic church...mostly to family who have a hard time understanding the different things that Catholics do. 

I was confirmed in the Catholic church in 1995, after Tim and I were married.  I received instructions in the catechism of the church for almost a year prior to that, but opted to be married in the church I was most familiar with in Scottsbluff.  The one that my family had been members of since I was a sophomore in highschool.  The "journey" was difficult because initially I felt like I was leaving the only faith that I knew and turning my back on the Christ that I grew up knowing.  What I learned and have continued to learn is that there is nothing different about the Christ I invited to be my savior and the one that I offer a daily invitation to today.  I know that, but that doesn't mean it is common knowlege, which constantly surprises me.  I remember what some of my perceptions of the Catholic community were before I actually learned about them, so I already knew the arguements I would be up against.  It was and hard to defend sometimes because I was still learning to understand myself.  This is why I understand the fragility of the formation of faith for my children.  No one challenged me when I was growing...noone offered me anything different, so I had the opportunity to grow in what my parents had chosen for me.  They don't question right now.  It's just blind faith.  They get the same answers from me that I got from my mom and dad when I asked "Why do I have to go to church?"  "Because it is important to be able to give to God from your time, talents and treasures.  He had given you so much, ONE hour is not too much to give back to Him."

That leads me right back to:  I am a Christian.  Those conversations with Julia are provoked from her lack of knowlege of the Catholic church and her sincere desire to hear my answer to her questions.  Some of her questions have been posed more as accusations though which has lead me to believe that there are many that condemn the church and her teachings...all based on lack of knowlege.  The comment that I've heard the most is that "You believe you're going to hell if you don't..."  (Fill in the blank, because there have been several from "go to church...go to confession...pray to Mary...etc, etc)  Wow.  No, I believe that I'll go to hell if I turn my back on Christ.  Don't all Christians?  I'm comfortable with her questions, but I have to admit that I have never felt so segregated in my life.  I joke with her about sitting in the back of the bus!

Our most recent conversation gave me the opportunity to not only tell her what I believe as a Catholic, but that I believed the same thing before I was Catholic.  It stemmed from the comment that Catholics believe that they will go to hell if they miss church.  She said she doesn't think it's a big deal to miss church.  Well, neither do I if I'm sick and can't go or there are circumstances that don't allow me to get there, but I do think it's important to do my best to get there.  She disagreed.  "It's boring sometimes."  "True that" as Joshua would say.  Lots of things are, but it doesn't mean we don't benefit from them.  Church is designed to stimulate senses with sights, music and sounds, smells, provide comfort, inspiration, encouragement in your relationship with Christ.  Church isn't a building, it's a community.  Julia's arguement is that one shouldn't be told how to worship.  If she doesn't want to go to church, she should be able to sit down with a bible and read God's word.  OK.  I asked her:  "Did you?"  "When you didn't go to church, did you read the bible for an hour or so?"  No.  That was her answer and so I told her she can't use that as a defense then.  "My parents are good Christians and they don't always go to church.  If we're out running errands and we're tired, we don't go, but we go to my Grandma's later like we always do after church."  "Did you read the bible together as a family then??" I asked.  "No".  "Well, I think it's ok to go when you want and not when you don't want to, and you think you're going to hell if you don't go because the church tells you that."  ok.  We're back to that again.  I needed a different way to explain.

When two people get married, they make a commitment to their relationship in front of family, friends, and usually God.  They say 'for better or worse'.  They're in love, on fire for each other, excited about their relationship and where it's going.  And then...then real life happens and they get busy and sometimes their realtionship suffers a little.  The same energy isn't there that was on their wedding day or during the honeymoon.  There are great authorities on relationships.  They write books, give seminars, offer retreats...or these things are offered based on their teachings.  For what?  To maintain a healthy relationship.  To restore a broken relationship.  To nurture and stimulate a relationship so that it doesn't end up broken.  If that is what we want, we follow the guidlines, the recommendations.  We don't enlist the help of a personal trainer ti help us get fit and/or lose weight and then go about it our own way.  If the trainer says "To reach this goal, I recommend you eat from this menu, go to the gym 4 days a week and perform these specific exercises.  There is no guarantee, but in my experience, this will keep you on track and you will reach your goal."  Do we at that point say, "You can't tell me what to do!"  Well, if you do, then maybe you don't belong with that trainer.  My point being, the Catholic church provides us with sacraments that allow us to draw closer to Christ.  They don't do so if the relationship is not already there.  They simply enhance, nurture, stimulate that relationship.  If we don't believe that, then I can see how it would be perceived as someone telling you what to do.  That is the other thing that people don't understand.  If you don't believe what the Catholic church teaches, then leave.  NO ONE is forcing anyone to believe anything.  The recommendation is offered that attending mass once a week is an obligation.  What is wrong with that commitment?  I didn't think much of it, because it wasn't too far off from the guidelines I grew up with.  "We go to church every Sunday."  We did...we gave God a minimum of one hour of worship a week.  Not until I was married do I remember a substitution being offered...and for Christmas.  I was shocked actually.  I don't think I had ever not been to church at Christmas.  Again, my point being that I don't think my line of thought has gone very far at all from how I was brought up. 

Do I think anyone in my family is going to hell because they didn't go to church one Sunday?  No.  Do I think I am better than anyone in my family because I am Catholic?  I do not.  Do I think they're wrong and I'm right?  Not at all.  Do I believe that if you desire to have a close relationship with Jesus that you need to do more than pray before meals and before bed and go to church when you feel like it?  Yes, I do.  But I'm not judging anyone else.  I don't think I could do it alone.  I don't think that simply reading the bible or knowing that God loves me would do it.  His love is mysterious, unconditional, everlasting, but can we really think it's fair that He should always be there for us because we declare He is our Savior no matter what and because we've said so we can say, do, or act however we want, even if it may not be desireable to Him.

"But He is with us everywhere, not just in church."  Yes, He is.  But how would you feel if you have a friend who was always accessible...in the same room with you and instead of talking to you, acknowleging you, she just texted and typed away on the computer, and talked on the phone, but never once asked how you're doing.  I think the desire and the relationship go hand in hand.  I think that if you want to grow the relationship, you'll want to go to church...you won't want to miss it.  You'll desire to spend time with our Lord.  And now for my big bold opinion on the matter:  I think the statement that "I am spiritual.  I worship in my own way.  I don't need church or other people." is a copout.  I do.  I just don't think that anyone can do something that big ALL by themselves.  No, I think everyone needs community...and I think everyone is entitled to worship how they see fit, but I don't think that anyone is entitled to judge or condemn.  And I think if someone doesn't believe in what the community that they're a part of believes, then they should step up or step out. 

"You're different from most Catholics I know"  "most of them don't believe what the church teaches, but still call themselves devout Catholics.  They take what they want and discard the rest.  They actually don't have much of an understanding of WHY they do the things they do, and that makes it really seem like they do it because they're afraid that if they don't they'll go to hell." 

Well, that's not us.  If we've been challenged by something, we investigate why the church teaches what it does...it typically comes right from God's word!  Maybe those who doubt should study the Chatechism of the Catholic church.  Maybe they're afraid that if they do, they'll like what they find and all the protest will have been for not. 

There are SOOOO many things to defend it seems, and most of them are ridiculous.  "You say the same things all the time."  "Don't you?  Or do  you say a different version of the Lord's prayer, Doxology or Apostle's Creed each week?"  "You think you have to kneel so much."  "Have you every seen the picture of the kids kneeling down beside their bed when they pray?"  "You're cannibals".  Well, the element doesn't change, so we're not chewing an arm or leg."  "Your bible is different"  "Are you sure it's not your bible that is different considering ours was around first?"  Yep, I think it comes down to lack of knowlege.  Maybe with a better understanding, the Catholic church still wouldn't be for all, but maybe the condemnation would be reduced. 

Now, for the thing I just read.  Miley Cyrus was doing an interview and made a comment about wishing people would leave her alone and not judge her.  Just because she wears ultra short shorts, a revealing top and does a suductive pole dance during a performance as her alter ego Hannah Montana, teen pop sensation, that is watched by thousands of young girls doesn't mean she's not a good Christian.  Maybe.  But she's not sending a very good message.  "I worship my own way."  I think there is a certain behavior that Christians should maintain.  I could write pages more about it.  I don't think that jeans vs. slacks define a Christian.  I don't think short hair vs long hair define a Christian.  I do think that modest tends to be more in line with how a Christian would dress than provocative.  I do think that sex should be saved for marriage, but that someone who hasn't can't change their mind.  I do think that we're human, but that isn't an excuse to do the wrong thing when we know it's wrong.  I do think that God's word helps us define who we should be, how we should act. I think that we need to guard not only our hearts but our souls.  Isn't our goal to sit with our Father in Heaven for all eternity?   I don't think I've got it all right.  I think I have a long way to go as I said earlier, but I don't think I can get there without help, and I'm happy where I'm at as far as where my learning is coming from. 

My final question to Julia was "Do you think we're bad people?"  Do you think we're good Christians?"  No, and Yes respectively.