Today I received a letter from a writer friend who had just finished my book Behold Your Mother and found herself being drawn toward the Church. I understand completely her struggle: It is an unsettling, even embarrassing to realize that the one you once regarded as the "Whore of Babylon" is actually your spiritual mother.
Even so, the Church continues to draw her children out of their self-made rafts of subjective religious experience and selective Scripture study, and into the Barque of Peter. Christians are "crossing the Tiber" into the fullness of the faith all the time, from every possible tradition: Baptists, Pentecostals, Vineyard, Methodists, Presbyterians (I was baptized Presbyterian, but because of my music background I've been involved in all of them at one time or another).
Perhaps you find yourself standing on the edge of your raft, gazing serreptitiously (yet longingly) at those who have already taken the leap of faith, and entered into the fullness of the faith through the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church founded by Christ. Yet you are afraid of being tricked, afraid of being deceived ... just afraid.
In the words of the late, great Pope John Paul II: "Be not afraid! Open the gates to Christ!" His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, echoes, "Christ is our hope!" It is Christ, who alone atones for the sins of the world, and who offers Himself -- Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity -- in the Holy Eucharist.
Take your Bible and spend a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Open to the sixth chapter of John, and read each verse very slowly. Let it sink into your heart. Ask God to speak to you through these verses, to reveal to you what HE wants you to understand. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths."
Once you get your heart around the Eucharist, what a gift Our Lord gives to us in that Holy Sacrament, you will not be content until you receive Him. However, please remember that St. Paul urges us not to take the sacrament "unworthily." To be ready to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, you must enter the Church. There's no way around this. It will take time ... but by God's grace, your hunger will be satisfied in His perfect time.
Finally, a gentle warning. Jesus warned that unless we become like little children, we cannot see the Kingdom of God. It took God many years and quite a number of strippings and humblings before I was willing to say,
"I don't have the answers, Lord. Only questions. You are God, and I am not ... You are pure mystery, and my mind is blinded by prejudice, ignorance, and error. Help me. Guide me each step of the way, and take these blinders from my eyes and help me to truly see."
This is a dangerous prayer, but a necessary one. It's not enough to read the Bible ... one must interpret it correctly as well. We do this not in isolation, but in union with Christians going all the way back to the first apostles. We must not "proof text" isolated Scriptures to harden our hearts and minds, but invite the Holy Spirit to open us to ALL the truth God wants us to understand. Almost inevitably, He does this through the treasury of wisdom that is available to us through the teaching authority of the Church (the Magisterium) and the saints.
I suggest you start with Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle and move on to her Way of Perfection. St. Teresa was a sixteenth-century Carmelite mystic who taught that the Lord (she called him "His Majesty") dwells in the center of our hearts, but that we must strip ourselves of everything -- even good things -- in order to reach that inner chamber.
If you find yourself embarking on this journey alone, and need someone to pray for you ... I'm here. Drop me a note at hsaxton(at)christianword(dot)com. God bless you!
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Monday, April 07, 2008
Today on my way to other things I stumbled on this post by "The Anchoress," in which she explains with eloquence and fire exactly why, in the wake of the scandals, most devout Catholics did not leave the Church (though they may well have changed parishes if it turned out that theirs was once of those affected by the predatory scorge).
On Friday, Catholic Exchange will be running an article I wrote about the USCCB declaration of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. As you might anticipate, seeing as I adopted two children out of the foster care system, this is a topic I take very seriously ... and found myself defending in two separate quarters, one more expected than the other.
While I was not the least bit surprised that various disillusioned Catholics would find the bishops' pronouncement the height of hypocrisy, I was more than a bit put off by a second camp -- those Catholics who remain in the pews, and seem more put out by the "liturgical guides" that might raise the spectre of abuse within the liturgy (presumably during the prayers of the faithful) than that the scorge of abuse continues at all (though its form is somewhat different now).
I'm not sure which is more off-putting.
I was grateful that The Anchoress took it upon herself to address (as I found myself doing more than once this week) why Catholics simply don't leave the Church when it disappoints them. I liked this quote especially, in connection with the Obama-Wright fiasco:
So Obama may be asked “why did you not leave your pastor,” and a Catholic may be asked “why did you not leave your PARISH” - if the parish was one involved with the shameful priests or pastors. It is quite a different thing to ask, “why did you not leave your church.” If the writer does not understand that distinction then his whole point is unmade. Believing, as Catholics do, that the source and summit of our faith is the Holy Eucharist, which we believe to be the Real, Physical Body and Blood of Christ, “walking away” is not an option. You don’t “leave;” you fix the problem.
You don't leave when otherwise level-headed church family members get peevish when confronted with the fact that such abuses continue (most often from an altogether different quarter, including some much closer to home).
You don't leave (or turn tail and run) when otherwise reasonable cyber-buddies start their convoluted laundry lists of "Why no one in their right mind should still be calling themselves Catholic."
You don't leave even though for the first thirty years of your life, you switched churches for far less serious reasons -- sometimes simply for a change of scenery.
You don't leave when the extent of the abuse is publicized.
The reason is simple: Nowhere else in the world can you receive Jesus -- all of Him -- the way we receive Him in the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.
Thanks, Anchoress, for the reminder.