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.


  1. Why give up one for the other? I have met with so called Charismatic and Pentecostal Catholics, and found both gratifying. What I suspect is that you are wanting to disassociate yourself from the rigidness of organized religion. I have been at odds with the stiff necked religious crowd, their dogmatic flotsam and loveless demeanor for years. tlcorbin

  2. Hi Larry,
    If became a Charismatic Catholic, I still wouldn't have the fellowship and support of the Pentecostal Church. But it's a question I've been asking myself too, whether I need to give up one completely for the other.

  3. As far as conundrums go, this one doesn't come with overly dire consequences, so . . . perhaps experiencing a bit of both for a while will resolve matters for you. Both groups offer their share of beneficial and rewarding experiences.

  4. Hi Liz
    I only saw this by chance today - i was getting notification of your posts on an old email address that I rarely think to check.
    I can't really compare the Catholic church to other churches - because it is the only one I have ever belonged to - but I do think that your experience will be different, depending on which Catholic church you attend. Because it is made up of people.It has been many (many)years since I attended church regularly but probably what made the most difference to me was the priest.
    I hope you find a satisfactory resolution.

  5. Hi Teresa,

    I agree that Catholic Churches will be different, depending on the priest and the people there. The priest has just changed at the Church I was going to as well. So I don't even know what it's really like now.

    But I think it also changes depending on how you get on with the people there. People connect to other people differently. Where one person is going to connect to heaps of people, another person might find it hard to connect to anyone at all. I find it very easy to make friends in the Pentecostal Church and not so easy in the Catholic Church, but for another person they might find it completely the opposite.


  6. So, you go to Church to make friends? Why not just join a knitting circle? How does God feel about your church-hopping? And more's to the point, what if you choose the wrong church? Hell is forever, Liz.

    p.s. Does the matter of whether or not the Pope is God's representative on Earth hinge on whether or not you can make friends in his church?

  7. Yes I could go to a knitting circle. And I might even be able to meet friends there.

    But they won't provide the type of fellowship and support that you can find in a church. They won't talk to me about God. They won't pray for me. They won't encourage me in my faith when it is weak.

    And my faith has been weak lately. I was going to church maybe once a month. I prayed rarely and read my bible even less. Since returning to my old church, I feel my faith growing stronger again.

    As for what God feels? I don't know. I'm not God. I believe he would probably prefer me to be a strong Christian in a Pentecostal Church than a weak Christian in a Catholic Church.

    I believe in Hell. But some Protestants think Catholics are going to Hell (not that I know anyone personally who thinks that. Some Protestants believe that salvation is dependent upon making a commitment or being 'born again'. Personally, I think God is bigger than any of our denominational arguments about who gets saved.

    I do still believe the Pope is God's representative. But I don't believe he is always right. And I don't believe that means I have to go to a Catholic Church to enter Heaven.


  8. PS. I have a program on my website that lets me label internet addresses, so I can not only see how many people are visiting our site, but who is returning and when.

    I rarely look at it, but I was interested in whether that last comment was from someone I know. It was, but not exactly who I expected!

    Anyway, not sure if you still hold any bad feelings. But I do hope you're doing well.

  9. You have a strong story Liz. I'm sad at the fractures and divides in the Church, and sad when they affect us like this. When Pope Benedict created an official constitution for Anglicans, I hoped it might bring in a new journey of ecumenism that could help to heal our Christian Body. It still might - the Catholic Church is one of, if not THE slowest moving institution in the world.

    I've attended both an "Emerging" church and my Catholic parish since I came to the RCC in 2008-2009. I love the same things as you love about the RCC. I'm frustrated by some of the same things, and I'm frustrated by other things as well. I don't have many close ties at my parish, but roughly half of my immediate family is Catholic (all converts); I meet with a spiritual advisor - a Benedictine nun - at my parish; our pastor serves as a real personality of Jesus and is a great example of Catholicism that rises above religiosity. Without that support and that leadership, I think I would have, as Alan Creech says, "been pushed out the other side of the Catholic harbor."

    I hope you stay close to the Catholic Church, and especially to the rich Tradition it seeks to preserve and pass on to all Christians.

  10. Hi Luke,

    The fractures in the Church upset me too. Yesterday, Yesterday I was sick, so I spent the whole day reading a novel set in the Reformation. And even though it was fictional (and happened over 500 years ago), it still upsets me, seeing the attitudes people had towards each other. And so at least we don't have it that bad now!

    I also got particularly annoyed with the Protestant attitudes, with their desire to abolish all traditions and symbolism. That makes me feel like crying.

    But I do believe God can bring good out of bad things. I know that feeling 'disconnected' and even 'rejected' by Church also happens in Protestant denominations. And at least if there's more than one denomination, they can choose another church, rather than leaving Church altogether or even losing their faith.

    And I'm still going to have questions about this. When I was trying to decide whether to come back to the Pentecostal church, someone told me that I should find the church that gives me peace. But I honestly don't believe I'll have that peace anywhere. Wherever I go, I'll always know what I'm missing.

    As I was reading this novel yesterday, I was thinking about the tradition and beauty of the Catholic Church and missing that. But at the same time, I had to ring up my friend and tell him I didn't need a lift to church (Pentecostal) because I was too sick. He went and got me some groceries from the shops after church. That wouldn't have happened in the Catholic Church - well not for me, anyway.

    But like I've said before, people do find lots of support (both practical and spiritual) and encouragement in the Catholic Church too. And people do feel like that support is lacking in Protestant churches.

    Anyway, I'm glad you have a spiritual advisor. I'm sure that must be a huge support and encouragement for you. And I hope I maintain some ties with the Catholic Church as well.


  11. Hi Liz,

    It's an interesting post.

    I also read your Naomi Wolf one.

    There's a recurring theme: Today's fractured society makes us lonely.

    We're social creatures. We need people. But we're also spiritual creatures. We need God.

    How do we get both in our life in a balanced way?

    For those who choose the married state, I guess you get married and have children, go to church and mix with other society members. You get a social life and a spiritual life which is as balanced as it gets.

    Sounds perfectly balanced until separation and divorce comes along.

    Then all the questions start. The ones that should have been addressed before marriage and children.

    The most overlooked question is always the first question from the Catechism: Why was I created?

    The answer remains the same: To know love and serve God in this life and be happy with Him in the next for all eternity.

    Anyone who has ever made living this (or putting this belief into practice) puts God first, and sees everything as coming from God.

    Even people are lent to us by God. He sometimes takes them away.

    Holy Job's one of the few people who ever lived this. His attitude was: God gives. God takes away. Blessed be God.

    Hanging around people who don't believe what you believe for the sake of human comfort is natural. Clinging to God is supernatural. For every person it's the hardest thing to do and the biggest test of one's faith. But it tells you where your faith is. It tells you whether it's rooted in the emotions or in the intellect (where faith should reside).

    Mine is shot to pieces. I only say these things because it continues to astound me how many people talk about Catholicism and yet still remain ignorant of the Catetchism (which is a more important book to read for Catholics than the Bible itself).

    That statement will be as misunderstood as St Louis de Montfort saying Mary is more important than Christ.

    But, no Mary, no Christ.

    That's no less understandable than Christ saying two apparently contradictory things: 1. The Father is greater than I. 2. I and the Father are one.

    Christ had two natures (human and divine). In His Divine nature he was equal to the Father. In his human nature, the Father was greater.

    Only the Holy Ghost himself can convince us of these things. People will be of little use.

    Yes we need people in our lives. The right ones.

    David ...

    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.

  12. Hi David,

    Thank you for your comment. I thought it was a very good comment.

    I wish I could give this reply the attention it deserves, but I'm wanting a smoke (and trying not to have one) and I'm also about to get dinner ready, and I just can't seem to think of anything good to write.

    But it was a good comment. It didn't tell me that what I had chosen was okay when you don't believe it is. And yet it wasn't very judgmental either. I think it's very rare to find people that can comment on your actions without sliding into one of those positions. And I'm always so appreciate when people can speak truthfully, without judgmentally.

    I think you're right and somewhere society has got it very wrong. And people look to have their social needs met in all the wrong places too. We all have great big holes in our life and we're just trying to fill them the best we can, I suppose. And some people do so in good ways and others do it in not so good ways.

    And we also have a spiritual hole that can only be filled by God. And sometimes I think we're so busy trying to fill that hole with all the wrong stuff that there's no room left for God.

    And maybe, to be honest, I'm a little bit there at the moment. I'm trying not to be though.


  13. Liz, I fell in love with the Bible and I was horrified to discover that falling in love with the Bible brings to some form of head on clash in doctrine with the church. I am sad but I have to move on because I realise what I believe in now after doing Theology courses is not reconcilable. I am sad but have to move on. I have been home church ing for a while praying to God to give me a spiritual home. I am waiting but very much aware that taking away the love I had for the church is a big deal. But for the love of the God of the Bible...I have to make that move.

    Also the reasons you mentioned for me are also very important. God luck and may God help you



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