The last perfect person to walk the earth was Jesus Christ. All of us, before and since, have been and are fallible beings. Often we try and fail to meet our obligations as Catholics and, just when we think we have mastered one virtue, we realize that, just over the next rise, is a mountain even bigger than the last one we climbed. Conversion is a continual, never ending process.
I don't know about you, but when I get to the top of that mountain, and I see the other, bigger mountain ahead of me, I get very frustrated with myself. Here, I was thinking that I was doing so WELL, when in reality I had just begun! It is an arduous process, as any mountain climber can tell you, so why do it? At the top of that very last mountain is a virtue we are aiming to conquer. The closer we get to the top of that last mountain, the further away we are from its corresponding sin.
Why accumulate virtues? We need God and His love. We crave it on a deep level because we were made for God and by God, and to God we long to return. But how could we dare to approach Him who is all goodness, covered in the muck of sin and imperfection?
How do we know which mountain to climb? There are lots of "mountains" in life. How do we choose the route by which we will succeed? Holy Mother Church has given us the roadmap...in detail. She's left voluminous instructions over the 2,000 years or so that she has been in existence. The saints who have traveled the roads and climbed the mountains before us have also left signs of their trip. Some, lost in history, have left only markers, while others have left volumes. Saint Teresa of Avilla, Saint John of the Cross, Saint John Chrysostom, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal, Therese of Lisieux, Saint Augustine, Thomas Aquinas; all of them have contributed to the deposit of faith.
One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is that, no matter where you are in the world, the mass is basically the same everywhere, except for perhaps the language. Of course, there are MANY different rites within the Catholic Church which provide some variety, but the Roman Catholic rite is the largest with the most members and is the most well known. There is something comforting in the regularity of the rituals and the rules, especially because there is 2,000 years of history and tradition and apostolic succession behind them. We have a continuity of doctrine and practice.
I did not respect authority or tradition when I was a teenager and young adult. I used to think that, because I was articulate and intelligent, my opinion on just about any topic was right. Eventually, after making enough of my own mistakes, I realized that I was not the ultimate authority in the world. I matured and began to recognize the need for humility. I began to respect the experts, not just in the religious sphere, but in the world in general. I started to do more research before expressing opinions or acting on impulses.
Becoming a genealogy researcher helped me with this, oddly enough. I learned to discriminate between reliable, credible sources (authorities), and the fallible information gleaned from personal anecdotal information. Death certificates, for instance, were not reliable in all respects because the person reporting the information such as names of parents and places of birth of the decedent was very often only a guess, based on vaguely remembered conversations from years gone by. The doctor, who is a more credible source, would provide more reliable information, such as the time, date and cause of death.
Now I have come to the point where, even if my intellectual inclination is to do otherwise, I adhere to the church's perspective, out of respect for its infinitely more authoritative status than mine. After all, what are my bona fides, other than a sharp mind and good intentions? Although I have read hundreds of books on Catholicism (as well as other religions), I can never study enough or experience enough to rival the knowledge and experience of 2,000 years of the Church.
I do not think the church is perfect. She isn't necessarily right about everything, but there is a better chance that she is right than I am. If the church changes some traditions or habits in the future, I will be OK with that also because I have made a commitment to the Catholic Church, the original church that Christ founded. There is a direct line from Jesus Christ through the Catholic Church to the present day. Because I am a follower of Christ, I respect that history. I respect the tradition. I respect the practices.
It is important to separate official church teaching from the variables that are sometimes propounded by fallible individuals within the church. Some individuals have famously tarnished the church with their reprehensible behavior, but the church survives these interior assaults because of those rules and traditions about which some people complain. Currently, there are a few priests and bishops who express opinions that are not in concert with church teaching. I ignore them. Some people, however, will push these renegades forward and will claim that their irregular interpretations are official church teaching, which they are not. It can be confusing for the population at large, however, when the New York Times prints an article claiming that the Catholic Church is going to change its doctrines, such as the ordination of women priests (which will never happen) based upon the comments of a person or persons within the church whose personal opinions conflict with the Church.
Detractors of the faith are just wandering around the mountain ranges, picking the ones they feel like climbing and ignoring the road maps given to us by the saints and sages throughout the ages. If you question their irregular practices and philosophies, they will very often challenge you not to "judge" them, but there is a big difference between failing in an attempt to climb the mountain and refusing to try. These rebels encourage others to follow them in their wild goose chase by making a hue and cry, banging their own drum loudly. Others become convinced to follow them, but it is like the blind leading the blind. The rebels have not been to the other side of the mountain range and they could not lead anyone out of a paper bag, much less lead lost souls out of the dark valley.
I used to belong to a Hindu-based religion that (supposedly) believes that "all paths lead to God." One of their saints, Swami Vivekananda, once claimed that every person should have their own religion, based upon their own experiences of God. He came to America at the turn of the last century and lectured all over. There was an explosion of religious experimentation in the U.S. at that time, and a fascination with all things oriental. Swamis from other lands were given a similar credibility as visionaries, palm readers and fakirs. The newspapers from that time were full of ads for palm and card readers, and psychics. Crystal balls began to be sold in some of the finest stores in New York. It was a form of entertainment for many. Certainly the swami was an object of curiosity, but some people became believers. Hindu-based, "New Age" ideas percolated through our culture and began to form the basis of many popular opinions among Americans even up until this day.
I know many people who practice a type of cafeteria religion of one brand or another. Some people belong to multiple traditions at one time: Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, you name it. Whatever turns them on in the moment is what they do. They don't have a commitment to any one religion, picking and choosing different practices to suit them. The sacrificial aspects of these religions are usually rejected. These are not bad people. In fact, I know many personally and I can attest that their intentions are good. They are sincere, even though misguided and basically spinning their spiritual wheels, but I love and respect everyone who has an urge toward the Divine. I know God loves them.
There are other people, who call themselves Catholics, who believe that their religion should change to suit them, which is odd because one may choose any religion one likes. If one does not believe in the Catholic doctrines or practices, why not find another religion? There are thousands of Protestant religions to join, and if THOSE don't suit, then one can just hang up a shingle and start one's own religion. Why try to change an ancient religion, the doctrines of which are essentially written in stone? Maybe it is because it is far more convenient to make use of the resources and facilities of a big religious institution than it is to start one's own religion.
I have some acquaintances who say they are Catholic, but they are pro-abortion. The Christian religion teaches against fornication and against abortion, but these "Catholics" speak against the church's teaching on these issues. Another friend has decided that fasting or abstinence is "superficial" and that, instead of practicing this (obligatory) penance, she's just going to be nice to people during Lent. These people mystify me. They seem to believe that the 10 Commandments are the 10 Suggestions and that the Catholic church is a democracy.
In a cafeteria, one picks and chooses what one wants for a meal, but you don't see a patron coming in every day and loudly announcing what they don't like to eat. "Hey, everybody! Stay away from the asparagus and the pot roast! It's awful!" It would have a disastrous effect on the restaurant.
It is damaging to the church when detractors speak against it from within the protection of its institution. This type of Cafeteria Catholicism is not only immature and narcissistic, but it assists in Satan's efforts to tear down the church. It would be far better for the church if these dissenters would take their self-serving religious ideas somewhere else and leave our Catholic faith 'as is.'
Copyright (c) 2014, Silver Rose Parnell
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