Another year has nearly passed, and I still find myself extra ecclesiam, at least according to the understanding of the Church of Rome. What once may have passed for invincible ignorance likely has quite the Achilles' heel. I have hoped that my interest in Eastern Orthodoxy would give me a pass, seeing as how they have genuine sacraments and all that. If nothing else, if I should die in this current state of confusion, perhaps the standard sentence of damnation could be commuted to a million years in Purgatory. What is a million years, in light of eternity, after all?
Since God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him, I trust that God has not given up on me, just as I trust He has not given up on all of you fine people. However, I do not want my life philosophy to be “Lord, grant me salvation, but not yet.” I would like to at least be on the right road when the end comes. I hope that this end does not come for some time, of course, as I am very much looking forward to being a venerable old man with a flowing white beard.
Those of you who have been following my random notes and blog posts over the past few years may have noticed a common thread through much of what I write. The general theme is, “Hey, what if the Catholic Church is right about itself? Now, wouldn't that be something? Maybe we should look into this.” The “what if?” angle has prevented my writing from becoming outright Catholic apologetics. Until I step through the door myself, it does not quite feel right to argue with full force and conviction that the rest of you should step through first. If you want to read proper apologetics, I have quite a list I can give you.
How does a (mostly) nice Free Methodist boy find himself drawn to traditional Christianity? I was not born a traditionalist. I had no great passion for beautiful churches or old hymns or traditional liturgy when I was a young lad. It was only when those around me stopped caring about these things at all that I realized I missed them. The hymns were replaced with modern choruses one by one, until they almost completely slipped away. The hymn books were quietly carted off to wherever retired hymn books go. The projector screen took pride of place, and eyes that once looked upon the cross were captivated by Power Point presentations. People forgot how to sing, or at least forgot how to sing well. Nobody bothered to learn to play the organ, and the pianist had to share the stage with a rock band.
The churches began to drop the “Free Methodist” from their name, as I suppose that which separated them from other churches was no longer important. It is great to see churches work together, and I do not like to see fights over trivial matters. However, unity through not caring deeply about the distinctive doctrines of one's church is weak and shallow.
I come from a long heritage of Christian faith. I grew up learning about the Wesleys and the Methodist circuit riders. I went to church camp, where we worshiped in a barn with wood chips on the floor. I heard the tales of missionaries. There was something very serious and authentic about the whole business. For those of you who also grew up in this church, do you remember? The faith of my early years was that of my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and more. I learned the same hymns my ancestors sang over a century before, if not far longer. The current generation may never learn those hymns at all. Our theology and our music (which are closely related) have become fads, which will be out of fashion long before our children reach adulthood.
I am sure there are any number of churches out there where they still sing hymns and use the King James Bible and wear suits and dresses on Sunday. However, I am speaking of my experience, an experience I believe is not entirely unique.
This feeling of discontent led me to the gates of Rome. I would peer inside now and then, in between visits to the gates of Constantinople (or is it Moscow now?). Catholicism done (if I may be so bold) right, along with Orthodoxy, had preserved the beauty I missed from my Free Methodist upbringing, while also presenting so many wonders to me that my own church had abandoned long before I was born.
Beauty alone is superficial, however, if it is not accompanied by depth and truth. In Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I found solid and unchanging doctrine. For example, many (most?) individual Catholics may look, act, and believe no different from a mainline Protestant or a secularist, but there is no doubt what the authentic teaching of the Church is, even if they ignore it. The heresy of the past has not become the doctrine of today. Can any Protestant denomination say that?
This past Christmas Eve, I attended late evening mass (does it ever start at midnight anymore?) at the local Catholic church. The church was quite beautiful on the outside, and not bad on the inside, though the Spirit of Vatican II had done some redecorating. We sang old Christmas hymns, including a verse of “O Come All Ye Faithful” in Latin. It was a thoroughly wonderful and worshipful experience, exactly the place to be on Christmas Eve. The prayers and the hymns set out Christian truth so clearly and boldly.
On a related note, I cannot understand how Catholics who grow up in the Church can have so little knowledge of the faith. That level of ignorance must require deliberate intent so strong it is almost admirable that someone can be that committed. Almost. Then again, perhaps my experience with the Catholic Church has been more positive than that of most people. There is also something to be said about coming to the Church as someone who actually wants to learn, rather than having one's parents drag one through the door every Christmas and Easter.
It is nearly time to close out 2011. Who knows what 2012 and the years to come may bring? May we all reach a ripe old age, die in the state of grace, and reach the blessed land of Heaven. Pray for me, my friends, as I pray for you.
P.S. - They say “and with your spirit” now, in case you have been away for a while.