01 March 2010

Does denomination matter?

I'm Catholic. I'll just start with that. I wasn't raised in the faith but I converted in my teen years.

I live in this wonderful little bubble of a small mid-western town, where I'm friends with the parents of my kids' friends, and for the most part we all go to the same church and school. Yeah, school and church are the same building....not necessarily the same thing, but the same building. We all play sports, celebrate baptisms and birthdays, do room mom duties, take Communion and watch our kids take their First Communion in the same place, with roughly the same group of people. It's a wonderful, safe, happy, little bubble we live in. I like my bubble. What's not to love? A tight-knit community of believers who you know will look out for your children when you aren't there? Who will run your kid to soccer practice or who will come and tell you when your kid is the instigator of bad language that is being used on the playground at recess? I don't particularly care for Hillary Clinton, but this is my "village."

Which is why it's so strange to me, to run across people who don't like my bubble. Or, more specifically, who don't like my faith. And say so.

It's Lent. Which means fasting and giving things up, or adding in extra prayer time or service to the needy in some way, all in an effort to prepare our hearts for the resurrection of Christ. His sacrifice was so much greater than any that we could ever give, but this is our human way of walking with Him, during this time. It's the 40 days He spent in the desert, being tempted by Satan and fasting. So it seems appropriate that we should spend 40 days being tempted by worldly desires and fasting, in our effort to walk with Him, yes?

I am part of an online community of believers, of which Catholic believers make up a teenytiny percentage, judging from the tone and the content of other users' comments. So the question was posed today, "What are your thoughts on taking the month of March for fasting from something or giving something up to prepare our hearts for Christ's resurrection?" Most people mentioned things they wanted to give up or things they wanted to change in their lives. But one woman wrote "I don't know why people only think about this at Easter. We should always be preparing our hearts and letting Christ shine through us. It almost sounds like human traditions from the catholic church (she didn't capitalize, but I would have). I'm not saying we shouldn't do these things, but it shouldn't just be reserved just for Easter time."

"Human" traditions? Really, when you get down to it, isn't all church tradition "human" tradition? Yes, it's divinely inspired, but we're all human, aren't we? Even the Pope is a human. My parish priest, who is my spiritual authority and who I take my questions to, is a human. The Bible is divinely inspired but it's written by humans. In fact, I think I heard something in the news a few months ago that there was some movement to try to re-write the Bible to bring it more in line with current times!

Is it just me or is there a kind of negative tone to the woman's post? It really bothered me! I responded to her post with my best diplomacy, and drew the connection to Jesus' days in the desert (which I'm sure she knows about) and how the time of Lent is special and deserving of extra attention, but yes, of course we should always be striving to be more like Jesus. I ended with "There are many, many more things that bind us together than separate us, as Christians."

I've been learning a lot about Lent and about my faith this year, and I am more and more convinced that I'm home. Not being raised in the Catholic faith, and learning Church teachings as a teen and an adult, I've had a lot of trouble getting my head around the whole "one true faith" thing. That sounds as if Heaven is only going to be populated with Catholics, and I just don't know about that. But Catholicism is the one true faith, in the sense that all the other Christian denominations have grown out of it. Have they all gone astray? Are all the Methodists (or Lutherans, or Baptists, or Assemblies of God or Russian Orthodox or...) going to Hell? That I can't say. I do know that no denomination can throw stones at another for sins committed; we've all got poster children for bad behavior. That's not about denomination, that's about human-ness, and making mistakes.

Why must we draw those lines? Are we all worshipping different Gods? Doesn't He love us all?

She didn't come out and say, "Ooooh you're Catholic! A pox on you!" But it sure sounded like she was passing judgment on the Church, and that really didn't sit right with me. I don't want to go on a "nondenominational" Christian website and start arguing doctrine and dogma but I don't want to see my church criticized for its traditions either, especially when her church is a descendant of my church.

Thoughts? Opinions? Anyone care to help me work through this, or see it from another perspective?


Marianne Thomas said...

I like our bubble, too. ;-)

I'm a cradle Catholic (born & raised) and I was lucky enough to grow up in a very Catholic area. Even though I went to public school, all my friends were Catholic and I never encountered any anti-Catholic sentiment until after we were married and living all over w/the Navy.

It still exists, sadly. But I think during this time of year, many other Christians are just curious about Lent. Unfortunately, they don't always pose their questions in the best way.

I had someone ask me about Lent this weekend - the best way I can explain it to my Protestant friends is to put in in terms of journeying to the Cross, giving more as you walk with Him.

It's not that we don't give all year round (I mean, HELLO, our little bubble of a church and school is built on the backs of our volunteers!), just that we try to give deeper and more meaningfully during Lent. Give more up to give more away and get filled in return.

Good post!

Lynn said...

Hmm...that's a tough question. I actually read your post yesterday and did not have time to comment, and I kept thinking about it!

First off, I want to say that it is probably best if all of us of any faith concentrate on the things that we DO have in common and realize that others find deep meaning in their faith, whatever it happens to be. Many faiths express the same great truths in different ways, using different language, so I think if we learn to look at our fellow human beings with love (as Christ asks us to!) and compassion and forgiveness and realize that we are all just doing our best to find meaning on this great big ball spinning through space...we'll all be a lot better off. Much less arguing.

That said, our shared history cannot help but show it's face in comments like the one you came across. All Protestant religions have split from the Catholic faith because they did not agree on one or many points of doctrine. What's rearing its head here ( I think, based on the comment) is what Martin Luther called Sola Fide, or the doctrine of "justification by faith alone." This is a Protestant doctrine in direct opposition to Catholicism which basically says you are saved by faith alone, which is passive, and it excludes all human works (read more about sola fide on wikipedia or other sites or look up Luther). Since human works (such as the sacrifices we do for Lent) are central to our beliefs, many Protestants take opposition to this. I'm guessing this is the motive for the commentor you read. So while we as Catholics and others like the commentor both agree that Jesus died and rose for our sins, we disagree aobut how to express that belief. In a perfect world, I guess, people would not condemn us for what we believe (I mean, if Catholics didn't believe in performing good works, the world would find itself lacking in a whole lot of charities and community services).

So, yes, denomination does matter, to some degree when discussing certain aspects of faith with people, but I think it can be overcome as well through intentionally focusing on what unites us.

sarah said...

Just and FYI Catholics aren't alone during lent. I was raised Episcopal, and Methodist and we observed lent as well. I even attended a nondenominational church that also observed lent. The only difference in them and Catholic (in regards to lent) was the no eatting meat on Fridays. I notice down here (TX, LA area) lots of people celebrate Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday (shrove tuesday) with out knowing that it is even related to lent.
Well any way. This non Catholic observes lent and is proud of it :).