Americanizing the Church

I never realized there was this much

division within the Church when I became Catholic a little over five years ago. We belonged to a relatively small parish, a parish that was tight-knit, humble, and devout. We had an amazing shepherd who didn’t take any crap; none of that flip-flops and shorts in Mass, or loosey-goosey posturing when receiving the Eucharist. He tended his flock with purpose, and he did so diligently and with great love. From where I stood, we had a parish that, even with its many different ministries and callings, had a very simple purpose: to act as the sheepfold. And this is what we did. Each called to our own purpose through Christ, we came together as Catholics to celebrate our Lord and to spread the Gospel in our daily lives.

            Sure, there were differences. Some women wore veils during Mass, others did not. Some people held hands during the Our Father, some did not. While most would receive the Eucharist on their tongues, others would receive in their hands. No biggie, right? These can be differences in how we were raised, or how we were Catechized; sometimes it’s simply a matter of personal estimation.

            For me, the Church has always remained as a constant—the last stronghold of pure tradition and Truth in a time when we’ve all but lost these things here in the west. The Church presented the road map, as Dr. Peter Kreeft would put it, in a world that would rather find its own way and then complain about being lost and in the dark. No matter where we’ve moved, or what parish we’ve attended, this has always been the truth for me.

            There has been division within the Church since the beginning, I get that. While some of the apostles wanted to force circumcision on the older converts, others did not. They had to make decisions on topics that Christ hadn’t exactly been black or white about. They had to set aside their personal qualms and let the Holy Spirit do his work, to build the foundation of the Church that we know and love today.

Even knowing this, I can’t help but feel this sense of dread as I watch the darkness creeping deeper into the Church. Even seeing the millions and millions who went to WYD to see Papa Francis, and to celebrate together as Catholics, I feel this dread. I have enough division in my country, I don’t want it in my Church. I don’t want it amongst the clergy. I don’t want it amongst the lay persons. I certainly don’t want it in my family. And when division is there—which I am not so naïve as to believe there will ever be a time without it—I want us to handle it like Catholics, like Christians. None of this Americanized way of dealing with our issues: just make a few Memes, slap a “haha jk” on it, throw some vague Bible verses in there, and call it a day. Because that’s how we deal with things in this country, with poor humor, insults, and quotes from the Constitution or the founding fathers.

The Church is a church for all peoples. In my few, five short years as a Catholic, I have personally witnessed why it is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. I’ve met people with so many different callings from Christ, with so many different backgrounds and crosses to bear, but who bear them gladly, and who all proudly call themselves Catholics.

I remember seeing a man waiting for the confessional who was completely sleeved (tattooed) on both arms. I’ve met women who go against the “dainty-feminine-flower-Jesus’-princess” archetypes well-known in the Protestant community, but who are no less in love with Christ and their faith, who are mothers and wives, and ROCK at it. I’ve met Catholic men who are gay, and who–GASP—haven’t been chased out of the church by pitchfork-wielding mobs who think their very presence will turn their children gay, too.

And then I’ve seen the more “conservative” side of the Church; the people who don’t agree with having tattoos, or dressing a certain way for Mass. I’ve met people who think it’s quite a scandal to hold hands during the Our Father, or to even watch television outside of EWTN.

These differences are part of what make our faith beautiful. Catholicism is not some exclusive entity: “only people who are already holy and ready for canonization can join”. The Church is not AMERICA; it’s not a democracy, it’s a Theocracy. We don’t force you to come, and we aren’t going to force you to stay. You can’t write your local bishop and demand changes in teachings. But we’ll take you as you are, if only you’re willing to let Christ take you where you need to be. It’s all up to you.

Stop, stop, stop, Americanizing the Church. Much like we try to dissect and make the constitution work for certain agendas within our country, I’ve noticed the same thing in the Church with Canon Law and the Bible.

Is this to say that we shouldn’t have opinions? That we shouldn’t raise issues when its needed? No. This is to say that the way we handle these things has gotten all wrong. Again, we’ve Americanized the way we deal with conflicts within the Church. We’ve stopped listening, we’ve stopped using words to create positive changes and instead use them to hurt others when we don’t get our way, or when we don’t feel “heard enough”, like children. We fight over language; whether certain sects of the pro-life movement are too caustic, while others are far too “nice”, and shouldn’t even call themselves pro-life. We fight over who is more Catholic because of A, B, and C. If you believe in Christ, and you believe that He gave absolute authority to the Church as He gave to Peter and the apostles, and you choose to go against what the Church teaches, then you are telling Christ He is wrong and that you know better than Him. If you DON’T believe that He gave the Church absolute authority, then you can’t really call yourself Catholic. It’s as simple as that. Take it or leave it. Stop cherry-picking your faith. It’s not a buffet. Stop bickering with each other over holding hands during the Our Father or wearing a veil to Mass. Stop crying because Susan down the street acts too pious with her homeschooling and not having a TV. Stop crying because Martha down the street acts so flamboyant with letting her kids watch Spongebob and go to public school.

Stop turning the Church into this circus ring of parties that we have in America, republican vs. democrat, liberal vs. conservative. This isn’t black vs. white, male vs. female, old school vs. new age. This is the Church. This is home away from home, and I don’t want confrontational division in my home.

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