Monday, January 27, 2014

3 Reasons - January 2014 edition

I would have done this post when Micaela first opened the link but we had some dear friends visiting us for a week and I didn't have the bandwidth to do a blog post late at night when everyone else was asleep. However, I got my 3 Things for this month from conversations with our friends. He is a retired Presbyterian pastor whose brother converted from the Anglican church (British family) to the Catholic Church many years ago. In addition, the pastor's wife used to be a Benedictine oblate through a monastery in Illinois, but it was too far from her home in California to continue the connection, so she had to give it up.

Anyway, while they were here we had many conversations about God, since we all started our faith journeys together in a highly committed christian community of ex-hippies in Mendocino and we share a common intense focus on our faith. One of the first things our friend Michael said is that the Catholic Church allows for much more diversity than protestant churches. This is a particularly interesting observation from a man who used to head up the U.S. Center for World Mission, and who has been involved in mentoring Chinese, Indonesian, Hispanic and other church groups (all Presbyterian) over the years. That got me thinking about how the Catholic Church welcomes diversity and expects it, where many (or most) non-Catholic groups are suspicious or afraid of diversity in faith practices or cultural expressions of worship. I'm not sure where that comes from but I can definitely attest to it from my decades in various non-Catholic faith communities. For the most part there is a fond affirmation of "diversity", but what is meant is a wide range of ages, or socio-economic conditions, and occasionally of ethnic backgrounds. But don't think you'll be accepted if you insist on a different way of "doing church" than what everyone's used to!

I suspect that one reason the Catholic Church can open her arms wide to take in all manner of expressions of faith is that - on a visible, experienced level - she relies on the commonly held Creed, the affirmation of the sacraments and the common liturgical elements to provide the necessary unity. Although some (but ever fewer) non-Catholic faith communities hold up the Creed as a central expression of their theology, almost none (other than the Orthodox) even believe that the sacraments are actually instruments of God's grace rather than simply symbols of human commitment. And especially since the spread of the mega-church model, there are few christian groups who see liturgy as anything other than "dead traditions". So they are left with the only way to share a common culture being having the same culture in common in the first place.

Another thing that my friend Michael pointed out arose as we spoke of the tragedy of denominations such as the Presbyterians and the Anglicans having given way to the culture of death because their governing bodies are composed largely of non-theologian lay people who are more concerned about being accepted by their neighbors than they are about being accepted by God. Michael noted that it must give us a great sense of security to have a strong authority in matters of faith and doctrine, and of course I agreed. However, he couldn't make the connection in his own mind that we have that precisely because we trust the popes and magisterium throughout the ages to guide us according to the Word of God, because Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit would ensure that this would happen.

And for an example of cultural diversity within the unity of shared sacraments, here's a great photo of Cardinal Sean O'Malley with a group of Korean Catholics:

Thank you, Lord, for a Church that can be confident in its diversity because it has consistency of structure and teachings due to the oversight of the authority that you gave her through the Pope and the magisterium!

Don't forget to click over to California to Korea for more great posts on favorite aspects of our beloved Church!


  1. I read - maybe in Paul Johnson's book, History of Christianity? - that the Catholics from the beginning, as they evangelized Europe (and I assume other countries?), would always incorporate the faith and traditions that the people already had into the Gospel story, not in a syncretistic way, but so as to demonstrate how God had been working in their culture from the beginning to bring them to the point where they could receive the true faith as a fulfillment. I know that sometimes this can tempt the proselytes to hold on to unchristian practices, but as I was reading your post I thought that it must be one reason for the diversity that still persists.
    And I believe that at least some Lutherans still believe that the bread and wine are "the true body and blood of Christ" and impart grace.

  2. You are correct, Gretchen. (I'm Lutheran.)

    What I love about the liturgy (saying this as a Lutheran) is that someplace in some other part of the world, there are people saying the same Creeds and praying the same prayers. That connectedness is awesome.

    My father-in-law's first parish as a pastor was up in the redwoods in Redway, California. It's a distance from Mendocino but a similar kind of community.

    (I also seriously *heart* Cardinal Sean.)

  3. Gretchen, your comment is an excellent summary of why Catholic missionaries approached evangelization differently from most other Christian groups.

    Jen, yes, the redwood forest and the culture within it are the same.

    I so wish that the three of us could have a nice long talk! We have a lot in common.


I'd love to know your thoughts!