The seven Sacraments:
I discovered that I was spiritualizing my relationship with Jesus too much. We are not pure spirits like the angels, and neither is Jesus. We are physical beings as well and, like Jesus, will be for eternity. The Sacraments, by imparting God’s grace through physical means, include both the physical and spiritual aspect of our created being.
As a Catholic, I receive Christ into my heart spiritually. I also receive him into my body physically. A relationship with Christ can’t get more personal than that.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I ask God’s forgiveness in my heart. However, I also use my mouth and my vocal cords to ask forgiveness, and I hear his words of absolution with my physical ears. This is why Christ gave us priests to confess to. Our entire created being is involved in the process of reconciliation, not just our “hearts.”
All the sacraments are important in their own ways. Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage and Reconciliation all attend to spirit and body, as God created us.
Far from being a boring ritual, the Mass is where Heaven meets earth. The Word of God (the Bible) is read, and the Word made flesh (Jesus) is received. It is where the source and summit of the Christian life, Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, takes place. When I began to really understand what was happening in the liturgy, boredom disappeared. Meeting Jesus in the flesh can’t be boring. It’s true worship.
Church became less about inspiring music and captivating preaching, and more about being with Jesus in the flesh. There is no better food for the journey than Christ himself.
Apart from Catholicism, I had become my own authority in matters of faith and morals. If I wanted to change a belief or a moral position, I only had to find a church that aligned with my opinion. I got to choose the church or the preacher that was “right” for me.
How could I know if the preacher was right or wrong about doctrine or moral principles? By checking the Bible, of course. In other words, the authority ultimately rested upon me. If two different preachers interpreted Scripture two different ways, there was no central authority to settle the issue. It came down to me and my Bible.
What if one of my Sunday School students disagreed with what I was teaching? Who could say which one of us was being guided by the Holy Spirit and which one of us was in error? We could ask the pastor, but how could we know if he was right?
I realized that the “Bible only” approach to authority didn’t actually work in practice, which is why there are so many thousands of different Christian denominations.
The Communion of Saints:
As a Catholic, in addition to my friends at church, I also have all the saints in Heaven as prayer partners. That’s very significant because the saints in Heaven are so much closer to God. The saints are not dead, they are more alive in Christ than we are! The saints are also examples of heroic virtue for us to emulate. If they can become saints, so can we.
I had been neglecting Mary. She is the daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son, and the spouse of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Trinity honors her so much, how can I ignore her? As Jesus hung dying on the cross, he gave his mother to John. John took her into his home as his mother. Catholics do the same.
I eventually realized that every non-Catholic church I connected with had a human founder. Luther, Wesley, Knox, Calvin, etc. Only Catholicism can claim an historical line of succession from present day all the way back to Christ and his apostles. This historical reality dovetails with the idea of authority. Christ gave his authority to the Apostles who gave their authority to successors. The authority of the Church is the authority of Christ.
Even the Bible itself resulted from the authoritative compilation and approval of its contents by the Catholic Church. The Bible does not stand alone. It is part of the Sacred Tradition of the Church. The authority of the Scriptures and the authority of the Church go together. First came the Church, then the Bible was authoritatively compiled by the Church.
I could go on forever…
As G.K. Chesterton said, “The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” Nevertheless, I have highlighted here just a few of the important things I realized I was missing by being away from Catholicism.
I now consider Catholicism to be a gift that was handed to me but not fully unwrapped by me. When I took the initiative to learn the faith, I was compelled to embrace it. It was similar to disliking a person without taking the time to really get to know that person. The more I learn about the Faith, the closer I become to Christ. This, of course, is by design. It is, after all, his Church. He calls us all to communion with him.
It’s good to be home.