In an ultimate display of cultural bravery, we took the kids to a Catholic Mass while in Ireland. My mother, a life-long Catholic, wanted to attend Mass on Sunday. I thought it would be a great experience for the kids, and quite frankly, I love a lot of things about the Catholic Church.
I love the quiet reverence of their services, the way they sing worship songs, and the way a homily can last ten minutes. (American Protestant preachers, take note.)
The priest at the church in Adare was perfect. If I had searched for a year to cast the role of Irish Priest in a movie, I couldn’t have come up with a better candidate. He was elderly and wore his robes with dignity. His accent was so thick I only picked up half his words, but I could follow along with the written prayers in the bulletin pretty well.
I get a lot of guff about the Catholic church when I’m home in the US. There’s a lot of sentiment here that thousands of years of liturgy have turned Catholics into a cultural force with no actual spiritual understanding. Their bottoms may be in the pew on Christmas Eve, but their hearts are far from God. That’s the general attitude.
I get prickly when people blather on about this because I have been deeply loved by some Catholics. And yes, they loved me with a vodka tonic in one hand and a smoldering cigarette in the other. They swore a lot in loud voices and told bawdy stories in Polish so we kids couldn’t understand.
(Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about my mom. I refer to all her relatives.)
But they also took us swimming, made S’mores with us over campfires, bought us pajamas at Christmas, and then offered generous donations to our college funds. I felt the love. I saw how their faith, active and true, worked itself out in real life.
I do know there are a lot of Catholics who are Christian by name, not by actual relationship with Christ. They make appearances at church to appease their family or community, while the rest of their week is spent with no regard for God.
But is it any different in our Protestant churches? Aren’t we also guilty of getting our butts in the pew while our hearts keep a careful distance? I find myself rationalizing my sins while the preacher speaks, excusing my transgressions, and mentally planning the week’s schedule.
It takes concentrated effort to go to church to truly worship, confess, and fellowship with other believers. And then, it takes even more effort to sustain that relationship with Christ through the weeks with prayer, Bible reading, and focused love for others.
I don’t see a huge difference between Catholics and Protestants in this regard. We all just need to get our acts together, frankly. And those acts need to be titled: Following Jesus; the Continual Journey.
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28, NLT)