Many years ago while in the US Navy and during the period when I wasn't a practicing Catholic and not in communion with the Holy See, I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit the cities of Nazareth and Jerusalem. I will struggle the rest of my life to find the words to describe the feelings I had while there, but suffice it to say that while visiting many holy shrines and sacred sites, my soul was so very deeply moved that I often found myself trembling and in tears. My heart and soul were touched by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Some years ago after my divorce, I found myself in a "self-destructive phase" and was dating a woman who was an Evangelical Christian. During our thankfully short lived destructive relationship, she told me that her uncle was a pastor of an Evangelical church and her family would have had a huge problem with me because I wasn't a Christian and had not accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. Huh? Not a Christian? I was shocked that she had no idea that Catholics were not only Christians but the first Christians and tried to explain it to her. At the time, I had not yet encountered anyone else with those beliefs and I had not yet reverted back to my faith and I would have had an easier time explaining it to my car.
I agreed on two separate occasions to go to her church with her. The first was huge, I dare say a mega-church on a sprawling campus complete with parking attendants, a small army of greeters, a day-care/children's ministry and so much more. I wouldn't be surprised to find a Starbucks and a Ben & Jerry's there today. It was a huge well choreographed presentation during which there was video presentations, web casting, passages from Sacred Scripture were tossed around and twisted into the message du jour and two or three bands played probably 45 minutes total while the congregation sang Praise songs and Worship songs and who knows what else. There could have been Praiseful Worship songs or Worshipful Praise songs and I wouldn't have known the difference. And if you didn't know the words, no problem, they were displayed on a huge screen for all to see. I was half expecting to see the bouncing ball make it's way across the words like the old "Sing Along with Mitch Miller" TV shows. I was not impressed or moved at all and was very uncomfortable throughout, but remained respectful. In fact I thought it was extremely disrespectful and irreverent and I felt insulted by it all.
Have you ever gone to a bar and remained sober? Not as a designated driver there with friends, I mean by yourself just to watch, sort of a social experiment. It's a lot different than when you're drinking or there in a social setting. You'll see things you never noticed before and things that will make you think twice about drinking THAT much in a bar ever again! But it's amazing how opened your eyes become to the reality of a bar when you're not drinking, just watching. I guess you could say I had that same kind of feeling in these "churches" because I think I was the only one there not drinking the kool-aid.
During a later visit with her to a different church, I actually had to leave because I became physically uncomfortable. Something deep inside my soul told me it was wrong and I could not just ignore that feeling. It was as intense as the feelings I had in Israel, only on the opposite end of the spectrum and that really scared me. When she asked later what was wrong, I told her that the whole thing felt "dark" to me. She was very upset with me and tried to explain that it was just me and that I was the one who was dark and it was the "light" of that place that bothered me. What I didn't tell her was that I actually sensed evil there. I couldn't have disagreed with her more.
Now this is not said to bash other Christians in any way, that is not my intent. My intent is, however to help the reader come to understand what I went through that helped me realize that my true Catholic faith and our church is what is right for me and why. If perhaps a reader recognizes themselves in these words then perhaps a deep and meaningful examination of conscience and faith is in order.
Jesus taught us that wherever two or more are gathered in His name, He is there, of that there is no doubt. But what I have come to understand, based on what I felt in my heart and soul in Israel in those "churches" and in the Catholic Church since, was that just calling it a Christian Church does not make it one. And even more importantly, calling ones self a Christian does not make one so. To quote Abraham (Lincoln that is): How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? FOUR. Calling the tail a leg does not make it so.
As Jesus told us in John 14:24 "He that loveth me not, keepeth not my words. And the word which you have heard, is not mine; but the Father's who sent me." If a soldier comes in the name of the King, he is recognized by his obedience to the King. So it is with Christ the King. His followers shall be known by our deeds, our words and our obedience to Him. So to be gathered in His name should therefore mean by those who keep His commands. God's commands. He didn't say pick and choose some of the more convenient ones or twist them into what suits you for your own ends, but ALL of them, recalling that we exist by God's design not the other way around. If then people who do not keep ALL the commands of Jesus come together in one place and do NOT worship him or respect him in HIS fashion (or at least recognize all His commands and make an effort), can it rightfully be called "church"? Perhaps by a convoluted modern definition, but by Jesus' definition, I dare say not. Wouldn't that be a bit like calling a tail a leg?
So here we have so many denominations basing their doctrines not on the whole of the truth as revealed by our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, but by their own need to survive, increasing their numbers and increasing their coffers by becoming more "acceptable" to society, more "politically correct" and becoming more "liberal", welcoming in everyone. Not all are fit to sit at the table, some will only receive the scraps that fall and so not all are fit to follow.While we are all God's children, he most certainly will separate the goats from the sheep and judge one sheep from the other.
It is interesting that Jesus did NOT let just anyone follow Him. He set simple yet strict rules and those that could not abide were not fit to follow as disciples as seen in Mark 10:21-22 "And Jesus looking on him, loved him, and said to him: One thing is wanting unto thee: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Who being struck sad at that saying, went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions."
From that scripture one can conclude that the rich man that did not sell everything to follow Jesus did not have treasure in Heaven and also unfit to be a disciple. While we would all HOPE that we are actually being worthy disciples of Christ, that is not for us to say, but Him. As Catholics in keeping the WHOLE word of God and not just the parts we like or agree with as HE commanded us, or at least making the most noble effort to, we have put ourselves on the path to the Lord that HE has set before us. It will not be easy and it's not meant to be. In taking the easy path now, we will cause much suffering for ourselves later while taking the painful path now will cause much joy later in Heaven!
It also means that as Catholics and as the Catholic Church we will be unpopular, looked down upon, ridiculed, persecuted and even hated by everyone that doesn't agree with us. Even by some who call themselves Christians. Take heart and fortify your faith in the knowledge that if someone hates you today because you are a Catholic, know that if even the whole world hates you, it hated Jesus long before it hated you.
As for that woman I dated? Well the relationship ended horribly but I really owe her a debt of gratitude. It was little while after the breakup when I had a huge re-examination of conscience and what I call a spiritual breakdown or what a Priest friend of mine calls a spiritual "breakthrough". The following week I returned to the Catholic Church with a fire and passion in my soul like I have never known and just one week later I met the most beautiful and faithful woman that I would eventually call my wife. On our first date she asked me what was perhaps the most important question I've ever had to answer in my life.
She asked "Are you Catholic?"
I looked her straight in the eye and with a big smile on my face and a burst of joy in my heart I was proud to say that "Yes, as a matter of fact, I am!"
May God Bless Each of You and in closing I leave you with these beautiful words by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen:
"If I were not a Catholic and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, he must still be hated as he was when he was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world.
"Look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior as they sneered at our Lord because he came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil as our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God. Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible as Pilate rejected Christ because he called himself the Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as our Lord was rejected by men.
"Look for the Church which amid the confusion of conflicting opinions its members love as they love Christ and respect its voice as the very voice of its founder, and the suspicion will grow that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ himself. But only that which is divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is divine."