Catholicism & Me . . .

I grew up in Roman Catholicism. I was baptized, confirmed, made my first confession and communion, was born again, and was baptized in the Spirit as a Catholic. And, contrary to all the anti-catholic myths out there, I read the bible and bible stories from childhood, had regular Catholic school classes in bible study, along with but separate from the catechism classes, and voraciously read the works of the early Fathers and the lives of the saints. I was naturally curious, loved to read, and wanted to know everything I could about God, Jesus, and the history of Christianity.

In grade school I joined the church choir, and regularly sang and worshiped at funerals, weddings, solemn religious holidays, and feast days. This is not to brag. I had some pretty strong incentives.

Home was like a forced labor camp. At the time, I was the oldest child of parents who believed in having kids–lots of them. By the time they stopped, my mother had given birth to ten children! Both my parents worked, my father days and my mother evenings. So I was chief overseer, responsible for the cleaning, cooking, care, and feeding of all those sisters and one brother, the youngest.

My father was a severe disciplinarian–Navy-submariner disciplinarian. Everything we did was timed, categorized, structured, and moving–perpetually moving. We lived in a very small, three bedroom bungalow with one bathroom, a yard, and a porch. Life was crowded, noisy, and stressful. I learned to stay up nights just to have some time alone! My father had gone to a Polish Catholic school but was never much of a church goer.

My mother was an Irish Catholic, who practiced a form of devotional Catholicism that closely resembled Santeria’s obsession with statues and other religious objects. She had Bibles, statues, holy cards, rosaries, crosses, and medals all over the house and in most of her personal possessions. She carried a St Joseph’s Missal to church every Sunday. In the early years the Missal provided a split-page translation from Latin to English for all the gospel readings and liturgy. I was never sure she was actually reading it. I never saw her turn a page.

She obeyed church teaching and the priests blindly. If they said it, she did it. When they came to the house, she got down on her knees to them. Each time she had a baby, she would go up to the altar afterwards, to be blessed or “churched” again. Her biggest daily criticism of me was that I was being “deliberately disobedient.” Maybe she had a point. I’ve never been able to be “blindly obedient.”

Her religious practice was all about praying to Mary and the Saints, collecting the paraphenalia and being associated with the church authorities. She belonged to the Catholic Daughters and the Sodality. She abstained from meat every Friday and the vigil of major holy days and made sure we all did too. Christianity for her was all about the trappings, laws, and rules of Catholicism. For me, it was always about relationship and the Word. But her understanding, even with its flaws, gave me a legacy that allowed me to reach farther and drew me closer to the God who made us both.

I grew up loving the liturgical expression of worship, for itself, and because being involved in worship pleased my mother, got my father off my case for awhile, and provided a safe, sacred space for me to interact with my God regularly.

Catholics believe that Jesus is physically present in the bread and wine after the words of Jesus are spoken over the elements–between services, they keep them locked up in the tabernacle–a type of “Ark of the Covenant” on the altar in every Catholic church. A single red vigil light hangs in the sanctuary, in front of the altar to remind the faithful that this is sacred space. I knew He was there, listening and enjoying me. It was a win-win-win situation.

I’m not a Catholic anymore. I learned that I didn’t need to go anywhere to be with Him–He’s been with me my whole life. So I left Catholicism and was baptized a few years ago in an Assemblies of God church in Pennsylvania, Christian Life Assembly. When I was baptized, my mother disowned me. She said she didn’t want to know about my “new religion.” But that’s all straightened out now–she went home a few years ago, and I’m sure He shared some new understandings with her.

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with–even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume all Christians should be vegetarians and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table.

Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help. Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience. (Romans 14:1-5)

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