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Monday, August 27, 2012

On Being Catholic...

Peter holding the keys to the Kingdom...
Alright, so I stole the title from a Thomas Howard book that I read several years ago but it was too appropriate to pass up.

However, unlike the book, which goes into
details about what led one of the most renowned and respected Evangelical scholars/authors of our time into the Catholic Church, I will keep this focused on what, at least to me, is the principal concept in beginning to understand what being Catholic is all about.

You can blame a friend, who last week asked me to share some thoughts with our men’s group about what it meant to be Roman Catholic.

I’ll be honest, it’s still amazing to me that I would even be asked to discuss the subject, even if just with friends, considering that for most of my life (almost 30 years), I was nothing more than a cultural Catholic. In other words, I was Catholic because my parents, grandparents and family were Catholic; not because I understood or believed in what the Church taught.

Yes, I went to parochial school in the early part of my life, but, by the time I started high school, most of what I had learned, I had forgotten, or at least pushed into the back burner.  And, as many teens, that’s when I really started drifting.

It took me until I became a father, in my forties, to start getting interested in exploring my faith. But, after a conversion experience, or as they say a "reversion," during a spiritual retreat in 2006, I began to want to learn everything I could about the Church, so I could pass it on to my children (now three).

Therefore, now, after six years of studying and learning a little about my faith (and it's a never ending process), as I think about what it means to be Roman Catholic, the first and foremost thought that comes to mind, is that it means believing in the authority of the Church.

And, in all honesty, it really doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. According to the Gospels, Jesus bestowed a unique authority upon Peter by giving him the keys to the Kingdom of God, and commissioning him to "feed and tend" His flock. Moreover, Christ gave Peter and, later, the Apostles (i.e. His Church, built upon the Rock of Peter), the power to "bind and lose" on earth what would be bound and loosed in heaven.

And, knowing the many faults of human beings, let's face it the Apostles were a motley crew of mishaps, all of which were far from being saints, He promised to send them the Holy Spirit to guide them to "all truth." (Am I getting too theological?  Sorry!)

Therefore, if I, as a Catholic, truly believe this truth, then I can either serve that authority or choose to follow the example of Adam and Eve. As the Bob Dylan lyrics say, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” (As the background singers sing, “Serve somebody.”)

That is the original sin; wanting to decide good and evil and right from wrong on our own. Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree of good and evil because they wanted to be like God, make their own decisions and not be subjected to His authority.  It is the biggest affliction of the human condition; pride. And, something I battle with greatly.

In fact, not knowing much about my faith, for the greater part of my life, I thought I knew better than a two thousand year old Church, which has endured the rise and fall of countless kingdoms, persecutions, constant attacks and attempts to destroy it (both from within and without) and scandal.  (Talk about battling pride!)

I fell into the misunderstanding that I could pick and choose what I wanted to believe and toss out the rest.

It's the Thomas Jefferson model of Christianity. In the latter part of his life, Jefferson is said to have cut out all the things he did not agree with in the Bible and kept only the parts he liked. It’s called the Jefferson Bible. But, if we really think about this, that's like denying half of the truth or, worse, it's denying half of who God is.

St. Augustine of Hippo put it eloquently, "If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself."

Going back to the Thomas Howard book, where I started this blog, On Being Catholic, in the last paragraph of the book, he writes, "To be Catholic is to see one's entire identity and calling to be nothing other than a "configuration to" Christ and union with him..."

And, as a Roman Catholic, that configuration, also applies to the Church, which the Bible calls the Body of Christ and the "pillar and bulwark of truth."

Therefore, if I, as a follower of the Universal Church, reject a teaching because I disagree with it, or think it's too hard to follow, like the disciples that stopped following Jesus because He told them that His flesh was true food and His blood was true drink, then I am denying the authority of God. And, if God has no authority over me, then is He really my God?

In his book, Be A Man!; Becoming the Man God Created You to Be, which I just finished reading, Fr. Larry Richards puts it this way, "Either Jesus Christ is the Lord of every part of your life or He’s not the Lord of anything."…

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