Whenever I flipped on the news last week, I did not see coverage on another Brittney Spears tragedy (why does CNN condescend to those stories sometimes?), but rather I see the Pope. Pope Benedict XVI has graced the United States for a whole week. He has counseled victims of priestly sexual abuse, he has prayed on Ground Zero for those whose lives were affected by the World Trade Center bombings of September 11. And, surprisingly, the media loves him.
I do not understand Catholicism. In my own increasing walk with God, I have continued the Protestant faith of my youth. I’ve always been intrigued by this large, historic faith that has the most beautiful churches, that exudes tradition and ritual from people around the world, has been the root of Holy Wars and centuries’ long strife, and that is the origin of my own faith. And that seems to refuse alignment with Protestantism. This faith whose name literally means “universal,” yet I get the sense people feel closed off from it. I have visited a few Catholic churches and have tried to learn more about the faith over the past year, partly to try to understand where my boyfriend comes from. It is the church of his youth, one that hasn’t called him back.
I saw a Catholic tract last week on the 71A bus on my way to class. It said that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that the Catholic Church is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus on Earth. It referenced the Bible verse that says Jesus’ bride is the church, but posited that He has only one bride and it is a Catholic bride. It cynically noted that Jesus was not a polygamist, and was not married to such offshoots as Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist churches. And that’s when I stopped reading.
The only time I’ve been hurt by a church was when I was turned away from communion at a Catholic church. I did not know the rule that only Catholics can partake of God’s table—not all God’s people—in their eyes. I left the church feeling angry and rejected.
I also don’t understand the seeming fascination with Mary, Jesus’ mother. Of course she played an important role in God’s plan, but she was distinct from her son in that she was fully human. She was used by God, but she was not God. And so the prayers to Mary, the almost-worship of her confuses me. Brandon says it’s not exactly worship, but another avenue to God. Same with the saints, I guess? I received a rosary for Christmas (Dad is buddies with the priest in town who knew I had a mild interest in learning more about Catholicism). Prayed it a few times. But the praying to entities other than God feels disloyal to me. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me, right?
The church has a serious pull. In this country many people do not wish to sacrifice, do not wish to acknowledge evil in the world, do not want to work hard to eradicate sin in their life and focus on righteousness. It’s too much work, and does not promise immediate reward. It does not mesh well with our consumer-driven, immediate-gratification, greed-and-pornography-filled society. Many Americans lackadaisically go through life with an understanding of God that only reaches as far as the church doors. And if they enter into a church only once or twice a year, it remains an empty ritual. They do not allow it to extend into their lives, color the way they see the world, and give them purpose and a deeper understanding of what it means to love. Yet according to CNN surveys, most people believe in God and consider themselves Christians.
So it’s refreshing to see national attention on this thing of goodness, on someone who does the work of God. Essentially, God is in the news.