Thursday, October 30, 2008
YOUTHFUL EXUBERANCE AND THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
I must confess to seeing an episode or two of the Simpsons, most of which are sadly tame when compared to the horrors of Family Guy and South Park (really makes you want the Lord to come back right now, doesn't it?). I recall that the Simpson's episode concerned Homer and Bart being "tempted" to join the Catholic church. Somehow there was a charismatic Irish priest involved - no surprise.
When Marge, good Protestant that she is, got hold of the priest's wily scheme to maneuver Bart and Homer over to the "Roman" side of the house, she was horrified and outraged. Her minister's advice was to do whatever she could to get them away from the Catholics because, she must know, there were separate heavens for Protestants and Catholics and they would have to spend eternity apart if something wasn't done.
Marge commenced to imagine this. In the Catholic heaven, she even saw ethnic neighborhoods of a sort. In Italian heaven they were sitting around the banquet table, feasting and drinking good wine and being a little amorous. In the Irish heaven, they were playing raucous music, (like at the wild party going on in steerage class in the movie "Titanic"). All drunk, they were standing in a circle watching two guys more drunk than the rest duke it out. In short, they all "had a real good time". Marge was incensed!
Next in her mind's eye, she looks into Protestant heaven, and sees the redeemed all dressed in tasteful, white summer apparel, playing croquet, and calling each other little nicknames like Muffy and Scooter. Not being able to bear eternity in Protestant heaven without her family, Marge runs down to the Catholic church and yanks her loved ones away from such a scandalous fate.
I thought this was all quite amusing. It points to a perception, however inaccurate it may be, that Catholics are sort of the white trash of the Christian neighborhood. We have those "extra" books in our bible, wherein some believe we are given permission to have Bingo and raffling off of baskets of cheer. We are rather low class, and definitely a people of excess.
Excess drinking (which in some churches and religions means one drink), gluttonous feasting on way too many feast days (not to mention coffee, sweets and even wine and cheese in our meetings), and cheap forgiveness (party on Friday night, get absolved by the priest on Saturday afternoon)just provide the usual fodder for our "separated brethren" to look askance.
Our churches have notoriously been way too fancy, with all that gold, the candles and those idolatrous statues. (Interestingly, as a response to this, most post-WWII churches are built to look like airplane hangers or warehouses - dreary).
The priest even dresses up for mass in fancy duds - robes and embroidery and all. Yes, we really indulge ourselves, don't we? And speaking of indulgence, well, let's not get into that.
I'm here to tell you, however, that Catholics see themselves quite differently. They'll complain about how our religion is too rigid, too austere, with too many rules - all that abstinence and fasting and those annoying holy days of obligation. Hence, we find our lives riddled with that ubiquitous and ever-present companion, Catholic guilt. The RC's think the Prots have a much more reasonable ride. Whereas they get the once confessed, always saved deal, we are always being monitored for whether or not we have remained in a state of grace from the time we awake and make our morning offering, until we've made the sign of the cross each night before going to sleep.
Many Catholics chafe against the proscription against sex outside of marriage, divorce, abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem-cell research, homosexual practices, to name the big ones. The mass is a tightly ordered affair, non-spontaneous for sure, with only minor changes in some of the wording according to the season. Many also feel we are chained to the Middle Ages when it comes to the all-male priesthood. This has begotten the proclivity of many to pick and choose what rules make them comfortable and they give themselves a pass for leaving the rest, hence the term "cafeteria Catholics".
And for Pete's sake, who needs the successor to Pete, anyway? The popes are always old, almost-dead white guys who speak with funny accents and are hopelessly out of touch.
I was raised Catholic, left for 30 years and was a rather righteous Protestant, then found myself spiritually beat up, wandering way down the empty, world-worn streets of disillusionment to find my mother church calling me in for supper. I looked up, thought about it for about half a second, and ran into her warm, loving arms, and I must say, am now as happy as a well-fed, sleepy baby.
I've explained this to affirm, with authority, that both sides have their legalism. Both have their idiosyncrasies. And both have their liturgical order, whether they realize it or not. In the most non-denominational, Spirit-filled church, you will find if you attend there a couple of weeks that they have a definite order in which they do things. Everyone sings (a lot!) at the beginning, and the praise music that starts out loud and boisterous inevitably transitions toward the conclusion into slower, more rhythmic tunes, wherein the words and phrases repeat in a way that sort of lulls the congregation. If you are timing things, you'll notice that the music starts and stops at roughly the same time every week, and the Holy Spirit, waiting in the wings as it were, shows up at the conclusion of the singing every week! Most times there is speaking in tongues, the interpretation, and some prophecy. Then on to the reading, the sermon, the offertory (somewhere in there), more music, sometimes communion, a few parting words, the blessing and you're outta there, and onto the coffee hour.
The mainline Prots do the same thing, minus all the singing, tongues, and prophecy, but with a hefty bunch of social justice and post modernism added. Then you have the non-charismatic but conservative churches with or without the singing but minus all the above-mentioned rest, stressing home, family, guidelines on dress, roles of men and women, homeschooling, and sometimes even what food should be in everyone's fridge.
Of course there is some overlap and I am no theological scholar, but that is kind of what my observations have told me since I have nested in each place, at one time or another, since I was 19 years old. I am now 54 years old, which is a grand place to be, old enough to be considered mature and experienced, but not yet (completely) senile.
My point is that each Protestant group stresses something, eschews something else, and has their own party line, which of course must always be towed. I've seen some congregations and/or their leaders getting way out there, and lives being damaged because of that. Of course, to be fair, nothing tops the Catholic Church when it comes to destroying lives, via pedophile priests and even by a few people who lied about being abused, for whatever, perhaps monetary reason. This of course has also occurred to some degree in the Protestant church, but isn't as widely known.
Sin finds its way in everywhere, doesn't it? It might be well to admit that, since God is not fooled in any case.
But I am here to make a case for being Catholic. We are, above everything else, a bunch that says yes to life. Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly", and the Catholic world-view has really taken it to heart. My goodness, even the new catechism goes on and on to reassure people that when they do something wrong, its not always premeditated and mortal, but most of the time just sort of second-degree in nature. Mercy and tolerance of the frailty of human nature are the way we roll, and God the Father went pretty far to make the point: Jesus.
I think Catholics have a more child-like faith, accepting what more enlightened people think is naive (e.g., the Pope is the boss) and foolish (the blessed Mother thinks of all of us as her children and can really pull some strings for us when we're down for the count). I think that Catholics take the Lord at his word when He said He would not leave us comfortless. Now, we all know He was talking about the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit breathes life into us, and for Catholics that is a God-breathed joyful life that includes feast days, New Year's Eve, with weddings, and even showers, baptism and confirmation parties being held in nice restaurants with great food and sometimes dancing!
Interestingly, we even value and stress a good education for everybody. Switch the channel to EWTN (Eternal Word television Network) and listen to the level of the scholarly discussions going on there night and day.
After all, (along with the first hospitals and ambulance corps) we built the first schools back in those Middle Ages, and sent the good sisters over to this shore in droves to educate, gratis, generations of immigrants, transforming them into educated, English-speaking, productive Americans capable of contributing to and eventually taking leadership positions across American society.
Yeah, we are pro-life, a position which if not taken, by definition makes all other rights, moot. If you have to be put in a hospital or nursing home and you value your life, you better hope and pray you get into a Catholic facility - no plug pullers there!
Perhaps you do want the plug pulled on you, if so, you have plenty of other options in the culture of death which pervades modern society. Go for it. But I thank God for the Catholic universal family, watching my back. And that's what the Roman Church is, a very big family, in which, despite language differences I can attend Mass anywhere in the world and still follow what is going on.
You know, in our Family, we also include the Church Triumphant, those who went before us, that great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. That is why we have no problem ringing them up in the spiritual, to ask for their prayers, hence us praying to (a more accurate term would be "nagging") the saints, beseeching them to intercede for us with their prayers.
Not much different than calling your prayer partner on your cell phone. And don't come back with that, "Well how do I know Saint Anthony is really in heaven? It might be dangerous to pray to him." Well, how do you know your living prayer partner or even pastor is going to go to heaven? At least with us, our heavenly "prayer partners" have been vetted by holy mother Church and by the Pope himself.
Uh, oh, the Pope. I have no problem with the Holy Father since I noticed, for years in the Sola Scriptura churches, that despite their having the inerrant word of God for referral (as do we, plus the apostolic teaching authority, beginning with Peter), they seemed to disagree on everything from one church to another and even from one believer to another. That's why people are always leaving those churches and running to other ones, or starting "home churches".
Everybody is their own little pope, and for my part, I think one is enough. Besides, letting him do his job, frees me up to do mine, which is to joyfully accept God's kingdom like a little child, an attitude without which, I have on good authority, renders me incapable of entering on in.
So here's to joy unspeakable, to holy days and holidays, to fine art in our churches, delighted thanksgiving for all the gifts, temporal and spiritual, and may I offer love, mercy and peace to all this All Hallows' Eve!!!!!!!!!!