When something has stood the test of time, we ought to pay attention to it and we glean from it. The contributions of the Catholic Church, which is over 2,000 years old, cannot be ignored. Without the Catholic Church we would in some sense be lacking the ecumenical creeds, the church fathers and the work they did to prevent apostasy and heresy in the Church. Although I may not fully agree with every one of their teachings, we can still learn from this institution that’s lasted longer than any other. Just as the old hymns are a trusted source for worship because they’ve stood the test of time, many practices and ideas the Catholic Church has had are a trusted source because they have stood the test of time. To unite the body and draw closer to Christ, it’s worth our time to discover the wide spectrum of the Christian faith and what it has to offer in the Roman Catholic tradition.
1. Using Your Senses in Worship
A few weeks ago, I was at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington where I go every Thursday for Adoration (which I will explain later) and I walked into the sanctuary and I could smell incense. The smell of incense from the Ash Wednesday liturgy the day before had lingered. I just sat there, with the lights off, taking it all in.
It is a joy to go to Mass and be able to engage my senses in worship. The Roman Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox Church has made it a point to make beautiful houses of worship. I am engaged with my eyes, at the beauty of the church; with my smell, with the incense and just the smell of wood pews; with my ears, as we chant and sing the liturgy, as well as sing hymns and listen to the priest; with my touch as we greet each other with the sign of peace and hold our neighbor’s hand during the Our Father; and with taste, in taking the Eucharist (which I do not take because I am not Catholic) but which Catholics receive each Sunday.
2. A Concern for Social Issues
What other church or denomination has unashamedly stood by biblical social values in their teachings? The Catholic Church has yet to concede to the culture on any of their social beliefs. They have consistently stood up for life, for biblical marriage and for the poor. They have suffered the shame of the sex abuse scandals, but Protestant churches report more sexual abuse cases regarding clergy and minors per year than the Catholic Church does. This doesn’t mean this is acceptable behavior, but the Catholic Church has done it’s best to address these scandals and remove priests involved.
The church makes a significant effort to care for the “least of these” and take a stance on controversial issues in our world. For that, they should be commended and imitated.
3. Discerning Your Vocation
You may not even understand exactly what this phrase means. For me, as a protestant, I always thought it was finding your calling and your career in life. However, for Catholics, it’s about sacredness. You are taught all through your younger years to discern your vocation, which is the calling upon your entire life and the way it should be lived. You are asked to carefully pray and discern whether you should enter the priesthood, become a monk or friar, become a religious sister, or become a consecrated laity. This may be something foreign to Protestants, but it is beautiful. Men and women don’t view singleness as a plague in the Catholic Church, but understand the calling on many men and women to live a life solely devoted to the Lord. Protestants think marriage is the only path people must choose and if you don’t get married, something is wrong with you. We don’t seem to take the time to ask the Lord how we can serve Him fully before even thinking about everything else. In my journeying through the Catholic Church, I considered being a religious sister—a nun, for some time. It is such a beautiful thing to witness; a life undistracted, in full service to the Lord and the world around you. They are set apart.
4. The Early Church and the Saints
When Luther split from the Catholic Church, the reform that needed to happen surely did happen. However, almost everything that was considered “too Catholic” was cut out. From that time, anything that has vaguely resembled Catholicism has been slowly cut off from the inner life and teachings of the protestant church. The early church fathers did a lot for us and we know hardly anything about them. They were able to map out many things hidden in the Scriptures (mostly because they had been with Jesus or had been with people who had been with Jesus) and they confronted many heresies and gave us a clear understanding of orthodox Christianity. In many Protestant churches, many of these heresies that were addressed have appeared again in the 20th and 21st centuries. If only we would look back at the wisdom the Fathers gave us. Some influential men in world history were our church Fathers: St. Augustine, Ireneaus, St. Ignatius, Justin Martyr and Polycarp, just to name a few.
In the same way, we have missed out on the deep history of our faith after the early church period and after Constantine and Theodosius II made Christianity acceptable in the Roman Empire.
Reading the lives of Saints is a rewarding and uplifting spiritual discipline. We can learn much from those who went before us and went before us not so long ago. Saints like St. Francis, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Therese of Liseaux, St. Bernadette, St. Benedict, St. Patrick, St. Anthony, St. Agnes, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More and St. Padre Pio are just a few who have made significant changes in the world for Christ. Their lives are a shining beacon pointing to the savior they serve and the Church they love so deeply.
Part 2 to follow next week.