When I was sixteen I went to my first catholic mass. I had stayed the night at my best friend Andrew's house on Saturday, and we went to mass the next day. I wasn't exactly in love with Jesus at the time; I was angry, depressed and self destructive; and wondered where He was in it all. However, we went to mass and I remember walking in and being amazed. The art on the windows, the traditions, the prayers and everyone was in it together. I felt that I had stumbled upon a sacred moment in time; where you could smell the incense that is the prayers of the saints, where liturgy was beautiful and new to me, but very old. In my shallow, angry and depressed state, I couldn't help but shed tears at the beauty of the moment. God had visited me in a religion I was told wasn't really "Christian." Now I don't think any religion owns Jesus. He is vast and beautiful and free and not confound to the constructs of organized religion.
"Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Do not allow me to be separated from you.
From the malevolent enemy, defend me.
And when I die call me, and bid me come to you;
That with your saints I may praise you forever."
The Prayer of St. Francis:
"Lord, make me an instrument of peace.
where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
Grant that I might not seek to be consoled, but to console;
To be understood, but to understand;
To be loved, but to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying the we are born into eternal life."
When I take time to just spend with God, I pray the aforementioned prayers. Then, I will read two chapters from the Old Testament and two from the New (one chapter always being a Gospel reading). Lastly, I'll read my St. Ignatius Spiritual Retreat guide, and meditate and pray over the prayers, thoughts and scriptures recorded in there. I was telling my dad this, who comes from a very Italian family; and therefore very Catholic; and he quipped: You connect with God like a Catholic!
I used to think these traditions were legalism. I used to think it was the Catholic churches way to force control over its parishioners. Oh how deep the ignorance runs in me. I thought these things until I was rescued by the catholic tradition. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.
You see, a few months ago I was hit with a stark realization: my Christianity was impoverished and shallow. The way I had been going about the faith had left me dried up and empty. I was the bible guy who had an answer for every question. I had certainties about the perfection of scripture, hell, homosexuality, the necessity of war and the fact that the world was in fact created in a literal seven days. What about having all the answers is wrong? When those answers are no longer adequate. When you are presented with irrefutable arguments against your answers, and you realize that to stick to what you've always known is to stick to ignorance.
With this confrontation to what I had always known came a crisis of faith. Not in the existence of God, but in the practice of Christianity. I didn't want to be a part of something that felt impoverished to me. That's when God's rescue mission was commissioned. I started reading Rachel Held Evans book, Searching For Sunday; with the chapters broken down according to the sacraments.
I was hooked. From there I started studying St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius. I was already captivated by Henri Nouwen; his writing so rich, fresh and with an ancient mystery in them. I have been inspired by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement; as well as Thomas Merton and his nearly sacred writings.
The church has a very colorful history with plenty of violence and injustice; and it's not hard to see why many people would be so turned off from it; but there is also real love, beauty and sacred mystery within her legacy. Am I comfortable praying to the saints, even if I understand it's not deifying the saints but asking them to intercede? Not really; but I'm even less comfortable with the evangelical propensity to fear monger and fight for cultural control.
I believe in the Holy catholic church though.
I believe God has ordained Pope Francis for such a time as this. In a position that has been plagued with scandal, excess and abuse; we see a man who encourages solidarity with the poor by modeling poverty himself, a man who washes dirty feet and hugs lepers. The man will not be able to undo all the damage done, but with him is the start of something sacred and beautiful. Something that feels new, but is in fact very old.
That is where I've arrived today. My impoverished and shallow Christianity has turned into something rich and deep. My obsession for certainty has given way to an obsession with the great mysteries of my faith. As Brian Zahnd put it for himself, my Christianity has transitioned from water to wine. I still have doubts, questions and fears; but I love Jesus more than I ever have and I have a stronger desire to follow Him than I've experienced in years; and I believe I owe a lot of that is thanks to the catholic traditions.