I’ve been going to the Catholic Church lately

francisNo, I’m not converting to Catholicism, praying to Mary, or going to confession; but for the last year or so I’ve been going down the street to Mission Dolores Church during the week to pray and read the Word. It’s a peaceful refuge from the din of my crowded urban neighborhood in San Francisco and a great place to meet with the Lord. I absolutely love being in the cavernous stone and stained glass sanctuary for relative solitude and quiet. I seldom have the place all to myself, but when I do it’s like being in the Holy of Holies – well, sort of.

I’ve often been accused of being quite verbal (though other words have been used to describe it), so quiet or silent prayer has never really been my forte. When I pray, my lips are usually moving and sound, sometimes a lot of it, is projected out into the air, and I hope also into heaven. Nevertheless, I’ve found that words are less important in some places at some times. Maybe that’s why the Spirit has drawn me to this place, so he can get a word in edgewise, which I might take into consideration in the things I reflect back to him in prayer. (I really only say this as a preemptive strike against a barrage of “Amens” from any of you who think I talk too much.)

Anyway, I was at Mission Dolores the other day wondering, besides the serenity and solitude of it, what it is that keeps drawing me back to the Catholic Church. Three things came to mind: A sense of history, a concern for poverty, and a theology of suffering.

A sense of history

Mission Dolores is the northernmost Catholic mission established as part of the California chain of missions and the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco, dedicated in 1791. There’s both the old mission building with the more modern Basilica next to it. I’m not into the saints, popes, statues, and religious relics. And I don’t subscribe to a lot of Catholic teachings, but going inside this space is like stepping into history.

For some reason I’ve taken a renewed interest in the history of the Church lately. I’ve been reading books  and listening to podcasts about the good, the bad, and the ugly of our history. More than anything, it’s given me a sense that what we believe and how we act on what we believe is rooted in something much bigger and much longer lasting than just our modern way of believing and doing church. We tend to suffer from spiritual amnesia when we fail to look at the 2000 years of the Church’s existence and, in our spiritual arrogance, assume that our way is somehow the best way. We presume that the way we do things is either exactly the way Paul did it or that our way is an even better way, a more enlightened way, than Paul’s. Being reminded of the failures as well as successes in our history has been helpful for me in trudging forward in our 21st Century context. After all, for better or worse, it is our history. Spending time in this historic church building has been part of that reminder. 

A concern for poverty

Another reason I’m drawn to the Catholic Church is the concern that many Catholics have for marginalized and impoverished people around the world. It seems to me that the Catholics have us Evangelicals beat in this regard, especially us Charismatics. In the rear of the mission’s basilica is a spectacular stained glass window of Francis of Assisi. And in the front of the old chapel is a statue of Francis’ friend and colleague, Clare of Assisi. These last few years I’ve been quite taken by compassionate souls such as these, along with others in history like Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day.

I’m well aware of the Catholic Church’s abuses of power and money, to say nothing of the epidemic of horrific child abuse cases involving priests. I’m not saying the Catholic Church hasn’t committed more than its share of atrocities and mistakes. I’m just saying that if you’re looking for some inspiring role models in the area of compassion for the poor you might begin with some of these so-called Catholic “saints.” And in my opinion you don’t have to go any further than the current head of their Church, Pope Francis. I’ve never said this before but I’m quite taken by this Pope, who is, in my observation, the real deal, at least in the way he treats the poor. There, I’ve said it. I like the Pope!

A theology of suffering

A number of years ago divorce and cancer tore out of my hands most of what I possessed in the material world. I read everything I could get my hands on about suffering and was shocked to discover that Catholic authors had generated some of the most profound thoughts on the subject. I realized that, unlike most of us Evangelicals – again, Charismatics in particular – the Catholic Church possesses what I’d call a “theology of suffering.” Some Christians believe they can prevent suffering by godly living, others think they can reverse it through the right kind of prayers and right amount of faith, but the Catholics hold a high value in suffering itself.

saint clareThough one might criticize the typical Catholic inattention to God’s supernatural intervention to heal and deliver, we have to admit that not all pain and sickness in the world is dissolved through believing prayer. When it is, we thank him, but when it’s not, rather than looking for some value in the pain, many of us keep searching for some new miracle working formula that might be more effective than the one we’ve been using. Don’t get me wrong, I pray for everything I can get my hands on that’s sick or disordered. Sometimes God heals and reorders and sometimes he doesn’t. When he does, I’m amazed and when he doesn’t, well, I guess the fact that I’m not so amazed shows how little faith I have in that area.

But the Catholic writers, the mystics in particular, they knew some things we may have forgotten, that is, “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.” You might argue that suffering in itself is not redemptive, as in, it doesn’t have power to save us from hell. Agreed. But it can, in some mysterious way pull us into the heart of God to feel what he feels in a way that nothing else can. I refer to it as “The Sufferer’s Club.”

All that said, I’m happy to be going to the Catholic Church lately. And don’t try to talk me out of it.

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2 thoughts on “I’ve been going to the Catholic Church lately

  1. Agent X

    Thanx for sharing this. Believe it or not, I find it a bit inspirational.

    I too am Catholic.

    I am a very bad Catholic.

    I have not been to confession in years. I have not been to Mass in months.

    I went through RCIA back in 2010. I have been a life-long Protestant, and continue to live as one mostly. But I was drawn to the church over the years starting when I went to Bible school. One of my prof’s talked about how he went to an SBL conference and got into a discussion with ministers from other backgrounds. They had an ice-breaker exercise where the question was: If you were not part of the heritage you come from, what other church background would you choose? My prof was from the Church(es) of Christ, a sect from among the Stone-Campbell Movement, but he said he would be Catholic if not from that sect. It made every jaw drop, and when asked why, he said, “Because in both the Catholic Church and in Church of Christ, church membership is everything. If you are outside, then you are nothing.”

    Actually, that is not an exact quote, but I recall it being about that spicy.

    Anyway, his statement cracked open a door for me, I did not even realize for many years. But Churches of Christ also celebrate communion weekly, and hold that liturgical moment as most sacred. As I began devoting my life and ministry to the poor, I found myself empowered to bring the Gospel to poor neighborhoods amid Eucharist. The Luke 24 Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread! And after a few years of exploring that, I found myself visiting Mass one Ash Wednesday with some friends, and I was deeply moved by the fact that I was not allowed to partake of the Eucharist.

    Like you, there is a lot of Catholic dogma that I do not imbibe. But I find most of it quite easy to overlook or not even care about. I do not pray TO Mary or any saints. I see no biblical basis for a “POPE” as such. And there are other lesser things that I don’t care much for either. But, I learned in RCIA that these are not tests I must pass in order to join the Eucharist. I merely must submit to seeing Jesus in the bread! That I could do.

    I suppose my biggest bone to pick with the Catholic Church, then, is really that it is a closed communion. I would wish it were open. But I don’t get to make that choice. However, as I see it, the Catholic Church is perhaps the only (or one of maybe only 2 or 3) expressions of the Body of Christ that almost has a right to close the communion. And I base this on the fact that my heritage broke off from t hat Eucharist. They did not kick us out; we left! And we are welcome to come back, as long as we honor the Eucharist as being the very Body of Christ!

    As I said, I am a bad Catholic. I actually do double duty. I am both Catholic and Protestant. It has a way of making me even more Universal than Catholics, I think. And so, I am usually at worship with my Protestant bros and sisters. But having come into the Church, I find the same treasures here you point out. Theology in a richness not found elsewhere, service to the poor expanded beyond the limited imagination(s) of Evangelicals, and a sense of history – rootedness and connection that I had been denying to myself.

    AND I am particularly pleased with this Pope! I have no reason to believe that his office is necessary, but since we have it, I am more than thrilled by the man God has appointed to be there! In this day n age, he is a model of humility, service, bravery, and love that outstrips almost any man alive today. I mean, when I watch the multitudes thronging to him, I think of how Bon Jovi was WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE, but this man points us right to Jesus instead of to some pop-song icon of sex-symbolism. (And Bon Jovi, as I understand it, is a fairly down-to-earth guy for a rock star!) But the pope commands the attention and the love and admiration of almost 1/3 of the world’s human beings! And still, he takes the bus to work! Still he loves the unlovable, the lowly, and those humiliated by the world.

    I watched him address the US Congress, and the way the light glinted off his robes made him almost glow in the camera lens, like his garments were whitened as no one on earth can! And then he snubbed those power brokers by having lunch with the homeless right after that! Now THAT is EUCHARIST! I saw Jesus in the breaking of that bread! Just imagine being a homeless man in Washington DC and going to lunch with a man who just addressed Congress! Most lobbyists and politicians only dream of that kind of access! Even princes and kings don’t get that access! But the poor among the streets of our nations capital did! And that looks like Jesus to me!

    So… Yes. I find your love for the church to be admirable and even inspirational. I think it is well placed. And I thank you for posting it!

    Agent X
    Fat Beggars School of Prophets
    Lubbock, Texas (USA)

    Reply
  2. Rod Hall

    I occassionaly attend non Protestant church services. There is a sense of reverence there I can’t find in typical contemporary mainstream services. I can’t in good conscious take of the eucharist. I don’t think anyone would notice if I did. But that is not a problem for me. Good post.

    Reply

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