[For “A Few Reasons Why I am a Catholic,” see here.]
[For “A Few Reasons I am No Longer a Oneness Pentecostal,” see here.]
[For why Brian is an E/evangelical, see here.] | [For the Introduction to this series, see here.]
Like Brian, I begin my portion of the series with Why I am a Catholic. A couple of years back, I laid out a few reasons why I am Catholic, which was a follow up to why I am no longer a Oneness Pentecostal (see links above) . This post seeks to expound on and augment that post. I do not intend in this post to respond necessarily to anything in Brian’s first post (see link above).
I should probably begin with some background. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I began my life in Christ as a charismatic Catholic; partly because of influences from friends, I became Oneness Pentecostal for a number of years and studied at a Oneness Bible college where Brian and I first became acquainted. I am thankful for my time as a Oneness Pentecostal. Through conversations and experiences with other Christians I had throughout those years, I began to question some of the tenets of Oneness theology and see their shortcomings. I began to move toward non-denominational groups and finally swung back full circle to Catholicism. I will now turn to why I moved that direction. As a disclaimer, the following is my perception of my Catholic faith—influenced by my studies, limited reading, and personal experiences—and might at times be expressed differently than usual; I think, however, that I arrive at the same place. I consider myself a charismatic Catholic with an evangelical slant, which I think is the direction Vatican II takes.
My journey back to Catholicism began as I studied early church history. As I began to read Ignatius of Antioch, a church father valued by some Oneness which got me interested in reading him, I read of concepts like the Eucharist being the medicine of immortality. In the line of the pastoral epistles, I found a continuing dialogue concerning the role of bishops and deacons in the early church fathers. In my own studies apart from class, I learned that worship in the early church consisted of hearing the Scripture, an expounding of or exhortation on it, and a celebration of the Eucharist. There was emphasis on the importance of baptism as Christian initiation. All of these sounded to me like what goes on in the Catholic church.
Next I encountered theosis: “God became human so that humanity might become as God” (St. Athanasius). Our church history class took a field trip to the local Byzantine Orthodox church. What I appreciated most about Orthodoxy was that theology was built into the liturgy. At that point, I had very little understanding of the Latin Catholic liturgy, but even now I think that the Byzantine churches meld theology and worship together in a unique way. What struck me was the theology of the icon where the icon was a window into the divine reality signified by what was portrayed. I began to attend Thursday evening vespers at the church and found Byzantine liturgy to have the quality of reverence that I had not before encountered.
I noticed that the walls of the Byzantine Orthodox church had many icons. At the local Byzantine Catholic church that I attend every so often, the walls themselves are as icons. I learned that this pointed back to the concept of the cloud of witnesses found in Hebrews 12:1. While from the standpoint of exegesis, I would agree that the cloud of witnesses refers to those mentioned in Hebrews 11, the imagery still represents a living assembly such as that found in crowds at a stadium. In other words, the Catholic and Orthodox church’s adoption of the imagery of heavenly living assemblies in Hebrews and Revelation was not bad hermeneutics.
I turned to this cloud of witnesses for understanding theosis, and in the Spirituality and the Mystics class that I took the year following the church history classes, I found those like St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Faustina Kowalska, Brother Lawrence, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and others. The underlying of the emphasis of the saints have always been holiness as progress in love: love of God and love of neighbor for God’s sake. The saints spoke of the divine union with God and of partaking of the life of the Trinity. Believers can by grace fight sin and live out the life of the Trinity. This was the treasure of the Catholic church for me.
I kept searching and reading and found that the union with God and living in and living out the life of the Trinity was not something that saints of old wrote. I found that people in this day were experiencing it. An excerpt from someone’s account of her understanding of what she understood is divine union is as so:
There were a lot of experiences that I think led up to the infused contemplation, but the time where I really mark it where I start calling it that in my mind is an experience where I felt a definite “this is the presence of God,” and what happened was I started experiencing intense bliss, and it happened in different ways, but the first time I felt this all-consuming bliss was in the spring of 1990 or 1991. I was working at the time, and the bliss grew over a period of about 4 or 5 days, and it became so intense that I really became a little bit overwhelmed by it, and I prayed to have it reduced a little bit. I really liked it, but it was overwhelming and a little frightening, I think. Not that there was anything in it that felt bad, but it was such an intense experience that it was a little frightening. But after I prayed, it went away entirely, and that made me very sad.
. . . .
Then it was early in October that the bliss came back. I felt it day and night, and was going on while I was going to work and relating to people, and going to lunch, doing the normal things that I did, but it kept getting stronger and stronger. I was a little disconcerted again, but remembering what had happened the last time, I made a conscious choice that I wasn’t going to allow myself to close the door to it because of how much I had regretted when it went away the time before. I let it happen, and there came a point where in the course of my job I became aware that the Lord was inside me, looking out of my eyes. It wasn’t like I became the Lord. It wasn’t like that at all. It was like the Lord was at the center of this blissful experience, and was at that moment inside me looking out to the world through my eyes, and the way that I became aware of that was that I was reading a letter (I answered correspondence from consumers in those days), and the name of the person who had written was “Finchpaw” or something like that. Of course, this bliss had been building for days, and I read that name, and for some reason was delighted by that name, but at the same moment became just emphatically aware of how the Lord was utterly delighted with that name. But it was more than just a name. It was like the Lord was delighted in our ability to name, and that we had made up this wonderful name that was so delightful.
. . . .
It was very shortly after that that it was my lunch time. I went out into the city and still had this sense of union with God looking out at the world through my eyes, and everything that I saw was different than I had ever seen it. The physical reality looked exactly the same, but things that to me had been ugly before, or incongruent together, were absolutely gorgeous, and the reason that they were gorgeous was because the Lord was absolutely in love with us for being able to make things, and to have ideas, and to put things in places, so whereas before I might have looked at “oh, here’s a Spanish-style building, why did they put that modern atrocity next to it? ” but the way the Lord looked at everything was: This is what they have made, and I love them, and I love this because they made it. It was such a sense of the Lord being just absolutely, utterly, emphatically in love with us, and in love with what we make and do. It completely changed the way that I looked at things.
(entire account here)
I learned that the people with these types of experiences are Catholics and so I concluded that if saints throughout the ages had been experiencing and moderns today were still experiencing this today then the Catholic church was a safe place to enter into this journey.
From all this, the Mass and sacraments became important to me. For one, the Mass and sacraments are what unites the diverse expressions of the Catholic church; one can find the Roman rite, the Dominican rite, the Byzantine rite, the Maronite rite, the Melkite rite, etc.—in fact, at one point the Catholic church had as many as twenty-two distinct expressions. I also highly value the Catholic church’s teaching that God communicates His grace through the material realm. So grace is conferred in baptism through the water, in confirmation through the chrismation, in confession through the priesthood, in marriage through the joining of two separate lives into one, in the hierarchical priesthood through the priests, and in the Eucharist the very presence of Jesus through the bread and wine. The Mass involves all the senses: sight, sound, touch and bodily movements like kneeling and standing, scent (incense), and taste. I tend toward the traditional (i.e., Latin) forms of the Mass and sacraments because I value the tradition throughout the centuries of that particular Mass. Of course, as a charismatic, I also believe that God confers grace through the supranatural; the Catholic church’s acceptance of the charismatic is another bonus for me.
If I could summarize why I am a Catholic, I would say that I find the Catholic church to be a place that fosters progress and growth in love of God and love of neighbor. Such love has always been the tradition of the church and it is therefore my tradition as well. Some might point to all the atrocities committed by the Catholic church and I say yes there have been and it is unfortunate that the Catholic church has at times strayed from its ultimate tradition. However, I have found that in delving deeper into the Catholic church, the very center is the God who is the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, who loves humanity and creation with a love so deep that He gave His life so that whoever believes in Him can avail of His very own life, be loved by Him, and empowered by His love and grace, live His life out as a witness to the world of this God.