Monday, November 13, 2006

Why Catholicism?

Originally posted in my personal journal October 11, 2006:

Anyone who has read my musings on religion or who is familiar with my religious history understands I'm not a big fan of "doctrine." To quote myself, "I believe in God, but I don't believe in the infallibility of organized religion. I believe God is far more forgiving than most doctrine would like us to believe." In my opinion, there is a vast difference between "religious conviction" -- a person's relationship with God -- and "doctrine" -- the human interpretation of Holy text. To follow doctrine is not necessarily to follow the teachings of God but is, instead, to follow the teachings of those men who interpreted the teachings of God. I do believe doctrine has a place in religion, but instead of being the final word on what is "right" and "wrong" according to God (who, again, is far more forgiving than any human or human interpretation of His mercy), I believe it should be used merely as a guideline for teaching and be regarded as vastly secondary to a personal relationship with God and the sense of comfort and support one should feel within their chosen religious community. That being said, I was raised as a Pentecost, but I was baptized in the Baptist church. In my adulthood, I became a member of the United Methodist church, and most recently, I have regularly attended services at a local United Church of Christ (often dubbed Catholic-lite). In addition, over the years, I have attended services of many different denominations, including Catholic Mass. Not once has the change ever affected my personal relationship with Christ.

One might ask why someone who has held a relatively strong faith in the existence and power of God throughout her entire life might jump around between denominations as much as I have. The answer is simple: community and, to a lesser extent, doctrine. Again, I'm not a huge fan of doctrine, but I do see its place and can understand the importance of agreeing with at least the majority of what your chosen religious community teaches. For the most part, I didn't have an issue growing up Pentecost. I was taught the same things most kids are taught about God and about being a good person, but I do take issue with one tenet of the Pentecost doctrine (okay, probably more if I wanted to get in-depth, but let's just go with the one) and have for years. Pentecost is one of what many dub the "fire-and-brimstone" religions. That is, the Pentecost faith -- at least in my experience -- generally teaches the concept of a Wrathful God, almost to the detriment of the concept of a Merciful God. As a child, I was taught that God is, indeed, more forgiving than we can fathom but also that He is very wrathful and to be feared. The result was a foreboding fear of God if I was anything less than perfect -- a sense of "be perfect and repent constantly or go to Hell" duality. As a result, I grew up with a faith in the power and mercy of God but an extreme fear of my own judgement from God. But, it wasn't until my pastor at my Methodist church made a point of truly studying John 3:16 -- "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" -- and emphasizing to our congregation the simple promise of Mercy contained within that scripture, that I began to truly question the emphasis of doctrine in religion. For most of my life, I had lived in fear of not being perfect, and suddenly, a pastor -- a teacher of God's word -- was telling me that the very first Bible verse I'd memorized in my childhood had promised me that I didn't have to be perfect because I all I needed was to do my best, to trust in God, and to try to develop my relationship with Him. I was 24 years old, and that moment has defined my Faith and my search for a religious community ever since.

Over the last year or two, I have often read my friend, Cat's, musings and observations regarding Catholicism, often with the idea of conversion floating around somewhere in the back of my head. Like her, I have found the bulk of what I know about Catholicism to be quite logical. This isn't to say that I agree with everything I've read thus far, but I sincerely doubt there is a religion in existence that would fit my personal beliefs perfectly -- unless I'm going to write it myself. In addition, while I'm not overly familiar with all of the rituals of Catholicism, I find a certain amount of comfort in religious ritual. I find that when ritual is performed as an addition to personal worship, it can provide a sense of stability and unity within one's chosen religion and religious community. Catholicism seems to be much heavier on ritual than the Pentecost doctrine, but I like what I see, and it occurs to me that Methodist is more ritualistic than Pentecost while UCC has been more ritualistic than haven't I been moving in this direction for years? Yet, with all of these observations, I have found little motivation to actually take the first step toward conversion and to start regularly attending Mass -- until now. That being said, the roots of my own faith are firmly planted, and this is a decision I will make based upon my own personal convictions. In other words, if I find something in this process I simply cannot reconcile with my own faith, I will not convert.

Regardless, the next step is simple. On Sunday, Thomas and I will attend Mass together. At this time, I'm choosing between a large parish of about 1400 families and a small parish of about 300 families. They are both close to my home and seem to have an inviting atmosphere. For me, the question is largely one of whether I want to blend in and make my mistakes or ask my stupid questions in relative anonymity or if I want to do those things in an atmosphere in which I'll stand out more but be more likely to receive personal guidance through this process.


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