Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why I love the Catholic Church - but why I decided to leave

Some people’s faith journey is like a very straight road. Mine seems to have a lot of bends, twists, roundabouts and u-turns. Some might see that as a failing. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. When you drive straight to a place, you might get there quicker. But when you take the scenic route, you have a better understanding of where you are when you get there.

I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while. The main reason for that is I have decided to leave the Catholic Church. I know that many of my readers are Catholics and I didn’t want to disappoint them. Also, this has come to feel like a very Catholic blog and I guess I just didn’t feel like writing it.

I’ve also started a new blog, devoted solely to the connections between nature and spirituality. It’s a topic I’ve been interested in for quite some time. But my interest in it has grown since studying theology. So I suppose I was more inclined to write in that blog rather than this one.

But lately I’ve been thinking that I don’t want to confine myself to ecotheology. I have lots I want to say on many topics - and even if no-one reads my posts, it helps me to write them. I thought about starting a new blog. But that seemed silly when I already had this one here. Plus, I couldn’t think of a name I liked better than Fringe Faith - and that one was already taken - by me.

I’m sure that if I looked hard enough, I could probably find some things here that either I don’t agree with anymore, have changed my perspective on slightly or just wouldn’t have written if I had been going to a Pentecostal church at the time. But that’s okay. It’s all part of my faith journey. And whenever I do change directions and read what I have read in the past, what surprises me is not how much I disagree with what I have written, but how much I still agree with. It’s a bit like looking at photos of a road-trip and discovering that no matter where someone travelled, they always took pictures of the same thing.

But to start with, I thought I might return to this blog by writing about why I love the Catholic Church - but why I decided to leave.

I thought long and hard before making the decision to go the Catholic Church. So when I eventually came to that decision, I thought I would be there for life. And from the very moment I stepped into the Catholic Church, I was positive that it was the right decision to make. I guess in a way I fell in love with the Church. So many times as I sat in the pew, I was really thankful to be there. After a while, I stopped going every week. But when I did go, I was always pleased that I did.

I can understand why people from other Christian denominations might not like the Catholic Church. It can seem boring, old-fashioned and ritualistic. Let’s face it, the Catholic Church is not always a fun place to be. But that was okay by me. I’ve never - and still don’t - want a church that will entertain me. And I’ve always thought - and still do think - that we need to focus more on the suffering of Christ and the cross, rather than just the blessings God brings.

As for the rituals and tradition, it’s hard to explain how I feel about this to someone who hasn’t experienced it themselves. I don’t believe we need the rituals and tradition, but I do believe they benefit us spiritually. There’s probably 50 reasons for this, but let me list just two. Firstly, they have the ability to draw our focus away from ourselves and onto God. (Not always. I’m sure there are many people who go through those rituals without giving God a second thought. But they can.) Secondly and perhaps most importantly, they remind us of God’s Holiness. Even just a little thing like doing the sign of a cross can be an important reminder that we are not just chatting to ourselves, but to God, who deserves our reverence and awe.

There are many other reasons why I do still love the Catholic Church. But here are perhaps the three most important. Firstly, I find that the Catholic Church (with all its rituals, traditions and lack of entertainment value) gives me a sense of peace that I find missing from other churches. There is plenty of time for contemplation and mediation in the Catholic Church. And even just following the ritual of the liturgy can be peaceful. In our daily lives, we are constantly entertained and bombarded with audio clips, images and advertisements. It is nice to have a place where all of that ‘entertainment’ disappears.

The other reason why I still love the Catholic Church is its beauty. I know churches nowadays seem to be designed to be places where people feel comfortable. And that’s all well and good. But I do really appreciate the beauty not just of Catholic Churches, but of the Mass itself. And that goes for the music too. I’ve heard a few people (including my children) say that the hymns in the Catholic Church are boring. But to me, Catholic hymns are far more beautiful than Hillsong praise and worship. Not as entertaining perhaps. But then, as mentioned above, we’re constantly entertained. If we want to be entertained, there’s a lot of places we can go. But a lot of that entertainment is stripped of beauty. It’s fun, but not too deep. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. I would call Bon Jovi entertaining, but not beautiful. I still like Bon Jovi. But beautiful music can nourish your soul in a way entertaining music can't. It’s also nice to see beauty and experience beauty. And in my mind at least, the Catholic Church is very beautiful, in many different ways.

Another reason why I like the Catholic Church is it’s not so individualistic. The Pentecostal Church, at least in my mind, seems to focus on the individual a lot. The songs we sing often contain the words ‘I’ and ‘me’. I’m ashamed to say I once counted all the Is and Mes in worship and stopped when I reached 20. The sermons tend to focus on ‘how you can be a Christian’ or ‘how God wants to bless you’. Whereas Catholic sermons seems more focused on theology generally (without as much reference to the individual), the worldwide Church or the global community and global problems as a whole.

That’s not to say that the Catholic Church only focuses on the global or the Pentecostal church only focuses on the individual. It’s just they seem to prefer one over the other. And it’s also not to say that the Catholic Church’s approach is better than the Pentecostal approach. We need to focus on individuals sometimes. People need to be healed and transformed as individuals before they can make a difference in the world. But I will say that one of the things I liked about the Catholic Church is that it didn’t make me think about ‘me’ so much.

But then, I do still need healing. Maybe we all continuously need healing. We all need people to pray for us sometimes. (And I don’t think I ever had one person pray for me in the Catholic Church.) When I did have a problem, even when I was going to the Catholic Church, I would ring up my Pentecostal friends and ask them to pray for me. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to return to the Pentecostal Church. They are very good at praying for people.

Another reason is fellowship. And it was this that had the most bearing on my decision to leave the Catholic Church. For a start, all of my friends were in another church. That felt really lonely at times, unbearably lonely. Secondly (and this is partly to do with me and no doubt other people would find it very different) but I found it very difficult to make any friends at all in the Catholic Church. I would go to morning teas and hardly anybody would speak to me. I felt like a stranger. When we greeted each other in church I was usually greeting a whole heap of people I didn’t know.

Some people might say that the fellowship aspect to church is not important. But it’s important to me. I think it’s particularly important because I am a single mum, who works and studies from home. I would go the whole week without talking to another adult, then on Sunday be surrounded by people who didn’t talk to me. I may be very introverted, but I still need to talk to people. I also need see people who care about me. I particularly need to have conversations with people who share my faith. I love having theological discussions - even when I’m disagreeing with people. I didn’t have a single discussion about God with anyone from the Catholic Church. I could have those discussions with my Pentecostal friends. But I wasn’t seeing those Pentecostal friends nearly as much as I used to.

It’s also important for me to have support. As a single mum, I occasionally need people to help me do things. So when I needed help, who did I turn to? My Pentecostal friends, of course. This is generalising, but I find Pentecostals are usually very good at helping people when they need it. And I think that’s partly because they do really try hard to ‘live their faith’. I didn’t even know anyone in the Catholic Church that I could ask. Again, this could be just me. I am sure that many people find a lot of support within the Catholic Church. But I just didn’t know where to look. Even if I had a problem, I had no-one to discuss it with within the Catholic Church. I suppose I could have rung up the priest. But I always felt uncomfortable doing that. When I was trying to decide whether to leave the Catholic Church or not, I discussed it with perhaps three Pentecostal friends. I didn’t discuss it with anyone within the Catholic Church because I had no-one to discuss it with.

So that’s basically it. The reason why I love the Catholic Church is because I love beauty, peace, tradition and ritual. But the reason why I had to leave is because I need people. And for me at least the only place where I could find those people was in my old Pentecostal church.


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