Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Theological Responses

This is a response to a Christian friend inquiring about the Catholic faith. When you don't have the time to post...recycle!:

it's a shame something can get painted a certain way by people who have no idea how to hold the brush. you're right about the ignorance most Catholics have about their faith. keep in mind, though, that you are basing your beliefs and perceptions about Catholicism (with a capital 'C') on what you have seen in people who may have been 'name only' Catholics.

Catholics are unique among all the Christian denominations because, like Judaism, Catholicism is as much a culture as it is a religion. for this reason Catholics may have no problem referring to themselves as Catholics culturally (born and raised) but who not identify with the Church religiously in the same way a Jew might call himself a Jew and never go to Temple.

the guy who shouted at your dad about meat during lent was ignorant, esp. since it is only applicable to Catholics (i'm assuming your dad is not Catholic) and not people who do not live by those rituals (i don't fast during Ramadan do I. Why should I? I'm not a Muslim.)

The thing about rituals is they're not necessary...not as far as I'm concerned. But a lot of people like them because it preserves something from the past. This is usually a big point of departure between 'conservatives' and 'progressives'...conservatives want to preserve the past while progressives want to let it go and move forward with the changing times. When rituals get in the way of a relationship with God, then they should be abandoned. When they foster such a relationship, they should be preserved, if desired, for that purpose.

If you become a Catholic, ritual is a part of the package. I'm not big on it (as I was writing in my blog) but I put up with it, just as I'm sure there are things you don't understand but put up with in a marriage. I don't let it detract me from cultivating my "personal relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," as the saying goes. I just accept it for what it is--part of the richness of the Christian tradition that can (and has been) taken too far, overemphasized, etc. to the point of idolatry and/or skewed focus.
To be honest, Marian devotion is probably as unclear to me as it is to you. Theologically, it is sound: because Mary said 'yes' (when she could have said no) to God when she was found to be pregnant--a decision the fate of the entire world rested on--we pay her a special reverence. The Catholic Church loves heirarchy, and in the heirarchy of "saints, angels and archangels," Mary is at the top. Mary is not a Goddess, not to be worshiped, but is acknowledged as someone who had an especially close relationship with Jesus, because he came from her. Because Catholics believe in the intercession of saints (eg, the Church Triumphant. The Church Militant refers to us here on earth, while the Church Penitent are those souls that can be prayed for in Purgatory (i get the feeling you'll ask me about that one at some point too), we can ask Mary to pray for us to God, because her prayers carry so much weight. It's hazy theology for a non-Catholic, and not having had a strong relationship with my mother, I can't say I have a very strong devotion to Mary. Not that I don't recognize her role or importance or revere her less. I can't say much more than that...what ever brings someone closer to God, I guess.

Like I said in my other email, Confession is not what most people think it is. You do not need to confess to a priest to be forgiven and go to Heaven because the priest is not the one who forgives you--Christ does. The Church has historically been exacting in its dissection and separation of sins, thanks in large part to Thomas Aquinas, who shaped a lot of the Church's theology from the 13th century on. When I was becoming Catholic that was how I was taught to approach Confession: mortal and venial sins, how many and how often, the anxiety of trying to remember all of them and if i didn't then i would go to hell. It's an awful way to be introduced to God's forgiveness, and has taken me years to get away from that way of thinking. I have a regular Confessor who is also my spiritual advisor. Confessing my sins and failings to him on a regular basis keeps me accountable to another human being and helps me to navigate through life with guidance and encouragement. And as the "agent" for forgiveness (think catalyst, the thing that gets a chemical process started but is not involved in it in any way), he offers the forgiveness of Christ. When I feel his hand on my head with the words of forgiveness, it is not a priest mediating between me and God...it is God himself speaking to me through the priest.I hardly view that as a negative thing, but it makes it that much more upsetting when I see it being performed with a list of sins and 5 Hail Marys.

One thing I do not agree with is your view that one needs to repent only once to be saved. I believe that one is "born again" in baptism, as Jesus says ("unless a man is born of water and spirit, he has no life in him.") Repent, and believe in the Gospel. Conversion is a lifelong process. To use the marriage analogy again, I think it's like placing the ring on your spouse's finger and saying "I will never hurt you, because I love you and I have faith in this union." Like that saying, "Love means never having to say you're sorry." It's an awful saying. Any married person will tell you that marriage is a cycle of sins against the other and against that vow which require forgiveness, and the only way real forgiveness from the other can occur is when real repentance is present. Of course I have faith my spouse will forgive me because they love me...the admission of fault in repentance is the acceptance of my actions and is our way of saying to our spouse, "This is all I have to offer to you. Please take it." God does not need our repentance...we do.

I have to run. Write back.


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