God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them... It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones. When "the poor have the good news preached to them," it is the sign of Christ's presence.
That rarely quoted gem is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church's official compendium of its teachings and doctrine.
Jesus Christ. Community. Mass. Coffee and donuts after Mass. Hymns. School. Nuns. Fish fries. Pope Benedict XVI. Pope John Paul II. These are just some of the things that come to people's minds when they think of Catholicism. Sadly, so do pedophilia, abortion, and homosexuality.
Today is Pentecost, which many regard as the Church's birthday. So today I share with you a glimpse of the principles of my faith, and the many people who share this faith. I also hope to address some of the criticism and controversy surrounding the Church and give a brief look at the story of my own faith. What I hope this post will do is to offer a new perspective of the Catholic Church, one far different from what it is often perceived it to be.
God So Loves The World
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
The Catholic Church believes in a God who loves all of us. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. God does not hate anyone - not women, not gays, not anybody. Regardless of how some act or what some want you to believe, God loves each and every one of us far more than we can imagine.
Love One Another
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”
Just as God has loved all of us, we are called to show love to one another, not just in word but in deed. For example, as I showed above the fold, the Catholic Church considers it imperative to help the less fortunate, while neglecting them is a sin. (See Matthew 25:30-46.)
There are many ways Catholics show their love for other people. For several years my parents and I have been heavily involved in our Knights of Columbus council's fundraiser for mentally impaired children. On a more national level, the group Catholics in Alliance has joined with other groups in pushing for healthcare reform.
If I honestly believed that the entire Catholic Church as an institution - or, for that matter, many Catholic leaders - hated people who are different, then I would be out in a heartbeat. (Actually, given how important faith is to me, I'm not sure I'd be a Democrat!) But hate is not what my Catholic friends and family stand for.
An 'Acceptable' Prejudice
Two things about the Catholic Church concern me today. One is the broad-brush anti-Catholic sentiment that I occasionally see (particularly on blogs like Daily Kos and Democratic Underground). The other issue is the misrepresentation of Church teaching buy a few people within the Church, to which I refer throughout this post.
Like blacks, gays, women, and Muslims, Catholics have been subject to a great deal of prejudice and persecution throughout the ages. This discrimination is based on long-held stereotypes about the doctrines and traditions of Catholicism that people believe differentiate Catholics from non-Catholics in ways deemed unacceptable. This prejudice against Catholics has been labeled by one author as "The Last Acceptable Prejudice." (This Wikipedia article on Anti-Catholicism is a lot more detailed than I care to go right now.)
This anti-Catholicism is far less pronounced nowadays, and is certainly dwarfed by the Islamophobia and homophobia that plagues our and other societies. Even so, such anti-Catholicism is manifesting itself in new ways, and is coming from across the ideological and religious spectrum. Save for the stereotypes and fear people use to characterize Islam, rarely do I hear much criticism of any religious tradition besides Catholicism.
As I said earlier, the Church is too often casually associated with pedophilia - as though all Catholic leaders are guilty - when only a tiny share of priests committed these heinous crimes, and only a handful of bishops allowed it to continue by their inaction.
Others highlight the Church's stances on certain issues, such as abortion, marriage, stem cells, etc., while giving little mention of the Church's long-standing support for workers, the downtrodden, and immigrants. (Dorothy Day, anyone?) Moreover, Catholic politicians seem to come under greater scrutiny for their views than do those of other denominations.
The Flock of the Lord
Those Catholic leaders who make news are often the ones that wade into these issues like abortion and marriage. But to me, the Catholic Church is not just about those who make the news. You cannot confine the Catholic Church to the way the media, politicians, or a few of its leaders define it. We are one billion people strong in the world, including one in four Americans.
And the Church is as diverse as it is large. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, alone, many parishes are packed with Latino, Vietnamese, Italian, German, Polish, and Irish immigrants and their descendants. My parish in Grand Rapids, the oldest in the area, was founded by German, Polish, and Irish immigrants 152 years ago and now has about 700 families, 300 of whom speak Spanish as their primary language. Mass is sometimes offered in Spanish (and occasionally bilingually). My parish up in Mount Pleasant, where I go to school, is a wonderful community of both young and young-at-heart who take their faith seriously - yet still find time to enjoy themselves. The parish we used to attend here in Kentwood is a very diverse and dynamic community of Caucasians, blacks, Asian-Americans, and so many other ethnicities who, if I recall correctly, speak approximately 40 languages!
"We Are God's People, the flock of the Lord," the Psalm says. Ours is the faith of Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Kathleen Sebelius, Dennis Kucinich, John Kerry, the Kennedys, Jennifer Granholm, John Dingell, and Bill Richardson. Not to say that the Church doesn't include its share of the Brownbacks, Santorums, and Scalias of the world, but can the same not be said of other faiths - and, for that matter, our entire country?
My Personal Journey
If I told you that I have been 100% certain every moment of my life that the Catholic Church is where I belong, I would be lying. I have dreamt of being kicked out of the Church for believing in equality. I spent a few years not going to church. My 7-year-old self did not want to church for Christmas. I was given a children's Bible and a picture that depicted an angel, Mary, and the baby Jesus that Christmas. I cried. "That's not for me!" I thought. Heck, a couple of years ago the Mormons almost convinced me of their belief!
But in the fall of 2001, a few weeks after September 11, I stared going back to church. I got more involved in the Knights of Columbus, where my dad had been a Grand Knight (in layman's terms, a chapter president) before. And I came to realize that God loves all of us and that I am called to return the favor through the way I live.
The Church's emphasis on care for all humankind - especially the downtrodden - may be why I strongly believe that my Catholic faith has made me such a strong Democrat. When people wonder how I could be a Catholic and a Democrat at the same time, to me it's obvious. I'm a Democrat because I'm a Catholic.
I reject the widely-held belief/notion/stereotype which says that, because I am a Catholic, I must agree with every single word the Pope says. If that makes this lector, Eucharistic minister, usher, Knight of Columbus, and parish festival volunteer a bad Catholic, then prove it to me. I am also disturbed when people use their Catholic (or other Christian) faith to justify hatred and intolerance of those who are not like them.
I do not know of a single religious tradition that is perfect. There are doctrines, traditions, and beliefs about Catholicism that I struggle to understand, including prohibition of female priests and Pope Benedict's stance that condom use increases AIDS. As bruised toes wrote a few weeks ago:
I certainly don't agree with everything in the Church, but what is there in life that we always agree with?
Yet, what stands out in my mind are the many wonderful aspects of the Catholic Church, from its core beliefs to its people.
These are what make the Catholic Church home to me.