Thursday, March 27, 2008

Four Catholic Teachings that just kinda made sense to me

Jennifer has a great blog that I enjoy reading called Et Tu. I highly recommend you check it out sometime. One of her many wonderful posts was one entitled Five Catholic Teachings that just kinda made sense to me. Under the theory that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I give you my own list of four things that kinda make sense to me about Catholicism and are missing from my Protestant upbringing.

Purgatory I've never been particularly comfortable with the notion that when we die we either immediately go into eternal bliss or are damned forever. I know, for example, that there are a lot of things about me that will need purifying when my life is over. I can be self-centered, mean, selfish, and a lot of other unpleasant things I'll spare you. If heaven is a place of perfect peace and beauty, I'll need to clean up a bit before I come in. On the other hand, hell (which I unfortunately believe is real) seems like a pretty severe punishment that a gracious God would reserve for only the worst, most unrepentant sinners.

The Communion of the Saints I know Protestants believe in some form of the Communion of the Saints, but I like the Catholic understanding (at least as I understand it) much better. Why is it OK to ask the lady sitting on the pew behind me to pray for me, but not OK to ask those who are closest to God in heaven? Why would those in the presence of God stop caring about us still here on earth? And the teaching of the lives of the Saints gives us good role models to follow in our own lives. I'm constantly amazed at some of the backgrounds the Saints came from. If some of them can turn their lives around, hopefully I can too.

Confession Of course, I'm not Catholic (yet) so I've never been to Confession, but I like the idea. I do many sinful things in my life. I ask God in prayer to forgive me, and maybe that's enough. But I think I'd do better (and be less likely to repeat the same sins) if I had to tell a Priest what I had done. Hopefully he would give me advice to avoid such actions in the future. I like the idea of being accountable to the larger community. I know the Priest acts as Christ in forgiving our sins, but I'd also like to believe he represents the entire Church as well. Am I too far off in this belief?

The Eucharist The Catholic understanding of the centrality of the Eucharist to worship and Transubstantiation is what is attracting me the most about Catholicism. I talked a little bit about that previously here, here, and here. The short version is that the only place I'm going to get this regularly is in the Catholic Church. (I know the Orthodox might be possibility for some people, but I live in a small town in rural South Carolina. I'm a long way from any Orthodox Church.) I believe the Catholic Church is right when it proclaims the bread and wine are made into the Body and Blood of Christ. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to receive these.

Anyway, just a few thoughts. I realize that the test of good doctrine is not whether it agrees with me and there are some things about Catholicism that challenge me also. But that's probably good for me too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More proof I'm old

As I may have mentioned earlier, I'm fairly new to this whole blogging thing. And there has been a learning curve for me. For example, it was only a few weeks ago that finally figured out how to post videos from YouTube on here. And as you can see, the layout is a little on the plain side.

Well, this weekend, after several weeks of begging, I agreed to let my 11 year old set up a blog. (Side note to my wife or any other panic stricken relatives of mine: She has to show me what she posts in advance and she doesn't use the computer without her mother or I present. And we check her e-mail.) Anyway, within an hour of setting it up, she had figured out how to post videos, she had a poll, and it was generally much more visually interesting than mine. Of course, her blog is mostly about pokemon and other video games, so we're not exactly appealing to the same demographic. Anyway, it made me feel old to find that she surpassed me in techno savvy in just a couple of hours. This must be what my parents felt like when they discovered my brother and I could program the VCR and they couldn't.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to Everyone!!

I was right, my mood did improve a lot today. The service at church was wonderful. We had lunch at my wife's parents and the food was fantastic. The kids behaved and I even got a nap when we got home.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter. My thoughts and prayers are especially with those joining the Church this weekend. Congratulations and may God bless you.

He is Risen!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Maundy Thursday at my Church

My wife, the kids and I went to the Maundy Thursday service at our church last night. First the good. The music was beautiful and moving. I was one of several people who read some scripture during the service and I managed to get through without mispronouncing anything or stumbling too bad over what I read. We had communion via the intinction method. While still not what I'd fully like communion to be, I prefer intinction much more than the usual way we do communion. (For a slightly longer take on my problem with the way we do communion, see here.)

Now the bad. The church was maybe a third full. (And that might be a generous estimate.) And, other than my two kids, there was only one child present. I asked a friend of mine who was also reading one of the lessons where his wife and kids were. He told me that one of our elders had made it clear to him that this wasn't a service for children. As you might imagine, this didn't sit real well with him. He said he wouldn't have come either if he hadn't already committed to read scripture during the service. Sigh. What a sad commentary on our church. We say we want to grow and everybody says they want more young families but here we are telling one of our most active young couples that their kids aren't welcome on one of the holiest nights of the year.

I contrast this with my experience last year on Maundy Thursday. The kids were on Spring Break from school and my wife took the kids to the mountains with her mother. I was being a bachelor and found myself in Charlotte that evening. Sort of on a whim, I went by St. Patrick Cathedral to see if I was near in time to their service. I was, so I went in. The service was beautiful. The main difference I noticed was that the church was almost full and there were tons of kids there. This made for some noise and some distraction, but I'd sure take that any day over the tomb like atmosphere at our mostly empty church last night.

I understand that kids are going to make some noise. And the more kids you have at church the less likely you are to have a lot of silence for contemplation. And, I know I heard more of the beautiful music last night than I did last year in Charlotte. But it seems to me we have to decide what is important to us. My desire for quiet contemplation isn't as important as having children active and participating in the life of our church.

I don't know what the future holds for me, and I'm not sure that the Catholic Church is the answer, but I've got to make a change at some point. I felt like I was in a dying church last night. It was 100% white, probably 75% over 50 and at most 30% full.

Sorry this post was so depressing, but hopefully, I'll be better by Easter morning. In the meantime, prayers for me and my family and our church are appreciated.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Spring is almost here

My seven year old signed up for baseball last week. The season hasn't started yet, but we've been practicing. There isn't anything much better as a Dad than playing catch with your little boy. I know that in a few years other things will interest him and when he gets to be a teenager he probably won't want to take advice from his Dad very often. But right now, teaching him to play baseball is one of my favorite things in the world.

I honor of the approaching spring and baseball season, I give you one of my favorite baseball songs by the late, great Steve Goodman.

Go Cubs!

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Value of Community

I had one of those days the other day. We all have them from time to time. One of the kids brought a note from the teacher home from school (not the good kind of note), the car needed some work and I wasn't getting paid for another week, the dog was sick, etc., etc. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. My plan for the evening was basically to sit around and lament my fate. You know, lots of self pity about how terrible my life was. Then my wife reminded me that we had committed to go to a supper at church. I really didn't feel like going, but my wife and kids really wanted to go, so I went.

When I got there I found out two pieces of news about members of our congregation. First a woman who had been an elder in our church and has a daughter about my daughter's age had been indicted in federal court for stealing money from the bank where she worked. Apparently there had been an article in the newspaper. Unfortunately, I've not seen them at any church function since this all became public. People in the congregation who have spoken to them indicate they are too embarrassed to come. How sad is that? I understand their feelings, but it seems like the church is the place they most need to be right now.

Secondly and even more tragically, we found out that another church member has had her cancer return and that it's basically untreatable and beyond hope at this point. This woman has three school aged children. Her husband is a basket case about this and, as you might imagine, the children are taking it pretty hard. Different groups in the church have begun taking meals to them and we're trying to figure out how best to help this young family as the situation worsens over the next several weeks or months.

Obviously, I felt pretty shallow whining about my little problems when I heard about what these two women and their families are dealing with. But my larger point is not just that I can be pretty self-centered and self-absorbed, but that I wouldn't have realized the depths of my self-absorption if it were not for the community of the church. We all need to be in community. Like a lot of young people, I went through one of those "I can worship God anywhere" periods when I was younger and stop going to church as a young adult. Boy was I wrong. First of all, I wasn't really worshiping God at all. I slept late a lot or engaged in activities that had nothing to do with the Lord. But even if I had been worshiping God, I would would have missed out on the challenges and benefits of being in community. It's easy to read about loving your enemies, but when someone you really dislike is sitting one pew over, it becomes a real challenge. You can think about loving your neighbor, but it doesn't really come home to you until you ponder how to help elementary school kids deal with the fact their Mom is dying.

I live in the south and there is a lot of focus in churches around here on having a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." And that is certainly vital. But I wonder sometimes if that focus on the individual and his or her relationship to Christ doesn't take away somewhat from the value of being active and involved in a Christian Community. I keep thinking of the whole idea of there being no salvation outside the Church. Obviously, God can do whatever he wants and save whoever he wants, but if you look at salvation as meaning more than just what happens to us when we die, I think no salvation outside the church may be correct. Maybe I was saved by being drawn away from selfishness and self-absorption the other night. Perhaps I was being saved when I was forced to think of ways to help these fellow Christians who were suffering. Hopefully, I was saved when I hugged my children and my wife that night and gave thanks to God for their lives and health.

Anyway, please pray for these two families and thank God for all your blessings.