My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Being Catholic, Part I: "Do not forsake Peter because of Judas"

I found a blog post on Catholic Bloggers Network on Facebook the other day: "The Catholic Defender: the Wanderer."  It was a man's story of helping a woman who'd been abandoned by her friends and ignored by a police officer, and of the man's encouragement to her to return to the Catholic Faith that she had left.

The story really touched me, especially the last two paragraphs:
If someone in your past who represented the Church was not the servant they should have been, do not lose hope, God is the lover of your soul, trust in him. You do not have to spend your life as the wanderer! 
Through his holy Catholic Church, he makes himself available to you despite some of our own weaknesses. Do not forsake Peter because of Judas.

“Do not forsake Peter because of Judas.”  I really like that.  It gives me a new angle from which to look at the Peter/Judas story.  Sheen, in Life of Christ, has a lot to say about the similarities and differences between St. Peter and the man who could have been "St." Judas; but I hadn't thought of the Peter/Judas story from the eyes of fidelity to the Church.

* * *

Most of you don't know this, but I'm a convert.  I was baptized in the Methodist church, by a minister who could probably also be called "Hurt-ey," because his last name was the same as my Dad's, even though he wasn't a relative.  I was raised in the Baptist church…I'm not sure how much we practiced, or if we were Baptist only in name.

My mother and I began RCIA and First Communion classes respectively in the Fall of 1996.  This is the book I used:

We Celebrate the Eucharist: Primary Student Book with Roman Missal Changes, softcover

This is the First Communion song we learned, complete with hand motions/sign language: “Jesus, You are Bread for us,”  Here are the lyrics, to make y’all shudder:

We were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 1997.  For the next 5 years we went to (almost-) daily Mass because Mom thought that’s what Catholics did, even though we got some surprised looks, especially going to noon Mass with a school-aged kid (namely, me).

I joined the Catholic Church because Mom was doing it, although I’m sure I meant every word I said, as far as my almost-8-year-old brain could comprehend, of renouncing Satan and all that.  Mass didn’t mean much to me; the lovely book pictured above didn’t teach me that the Mass was the Sacrifice of Calvary, but that the Mass was a gathering, a celebration.  It took 4th-grade Baltimore Catechism (the fall semester of 3rd-grade was parochial school, with equally lax catechesis) to teach me that the Mass was the Sacrifice of Calvary.

We moved to California when I was 12, and I got an entirely different view of the Church.  Instead of going to the Novus Ordo Mass, we went to the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass).  The priest whose Masses my cousin served had to say Mass at a different church each Sunday of the month (4 words: Archdiocese of Los Angeles… is that enough of an explanation?  And let me just say that even after the motu proprio, the situation did not improve).  For a while we went to Mass daily, first at a retirement home of the Divine Word Missionaries, where a retired priest said Mass in a chapel smaller than Christendom College's original chapel, now St. Thomas Aquinas Hall.  Then a relative ran into a priest who was saying the Latin Mass in his home…eventually my mother and I found out that he was in some sort of trouble with the Diocese, and we refused to go there anymore.  Pray for our priests!  Jesus, Savior of the world, sanctify Thy priests and sacred ministers!  During the last few years I was in California, my mother and I could only go to Sunday Mass because our ride was going to an SSPX parish on the weekdays.  

I love the Latin Mass, don’t get me wrong, even though as a rebellious 12-year-old I didn’t see why we had to go to Latin Mass instead of the Mass I had grown up with; but, after 4 years of going to an English Mass properly celebrated, I no longer look at the Ordinary Form of the Mass as something I must endure when I am unable to go to the Extraordinary Form.  I am able to appreciate both the “Ordinary Form” and the “Extraordinary Form” as different uses of the same rite, to paraphrase Summorum Pontificum.

* * *

Enough on that front; I do not want to make this about liturgical abuses or likes and dislikes.  Back to the Peter/Judas theme:

Do not forsake Peter because of Judas.

“Do not forsake Peter”…I have been a Catholic for 15 years, thank God!  What is it that makes me glad to be Catholic, what is it that makes me grateful to God whenever I consciously think of the fact that by His grace I have the true Faith?

What does it mean to me to be a Catholic?  Well, first of all, it means that I believe God exists.  I believe that there is a Supreme Being, omniscient, eternal, omnipotent, all-loving, all-merciful, all-forgiving, Who made this world out of nothing and continues to hold it in existence.  I believe that He thought of me from all eternity, before time, before He created the world: He thought of me, with my Fulton Sheen obsession, my love for libraries, my lousy GPA, and my puppy-dog-like loyalty to friends.  He continues to think of me and to hold me in existence; if He ceased thinking of me for one instant, I would cease to exist.  O my God, I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I believe in the Trinity.  (But I wasn't paying enough attention in De Deo Trino Spring 2011 to explain my belief in the Trinity without fear of being a material heretic.)

Secondly, I believe that the Catholic Church is the one true Church established by Christ.  I believe--on the basis of God revealing, because He can neither deceive nor be deceived--that the Catholic Church contains the fullness of truth taught by Christ and necessary for salvation.  This belief gives me certainty.  Because I believe that the Catholic Church is the true Church, I know I can count on the Church to bring me closer to God.  If I did not have the Faith, I would be searching, striving, for that union with God, never quite certain if this-or-that Protestant church had the fullness of revelation, never quite certain that I would be saved.  (Then again, if I were a Protestant who held "once-saved, always-saved," I would be certain of my salvation; but that is another topic for another day.)  Because I believe that the Catholic Church is the true Church, I know that I can: receive forgiveness of my sins in the Sacrament of Penance, provided that I am truly sorry; be sacramentally united with the Son of God made Man in Holy Communion; and pray for my friends and family, request their prayers, pray for the souls of the faithful departed, and ask the Holy Souls in Purgatory to pray for my intentions.  

Thirdly, I believe that Thy Divine Son became Man, and died for our sins, and that He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  I believe in the Incarnation.  I believe that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity “came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became Man” (Order of Mass).  Et verbum caro factum est: et habitavit in nobis (Jn. 1:14).  I believe that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is present in the Blessed Sacrament, hidden under the appearances of bread and wine.

The Faith gives me certainty that I have Someone to trust when life is going in three million painful, distracting, and confusing directions.  It gives me that terra firma, that firm ground to stand on that I found to a lesser degree at Christendom College but that really comes from my Catholic Faith.

The Faith gives me peace, despite all the times I allow life’s stresses to get to me.  I can take my worries, stresses, troubles, and problems, place them on the paten at Mass, unite them with His Sacrifice, and hope that somehow He’ll use them to my good and give me the grace and the strength to deal with them (Sheen analogy, but I’m not sure from where).

"Do not forsake Peter"…"Peter," the successor of St. Peter, the Holy Father.  I suppose I should have more love for the Holy Father as the successor of St. Peter, because from the time I was 5, reading my mom’s children’s story Bible, I loved St. Peter…he was my favorite Apostle.  I admired his impetuous character, his insistence that he would follow Our Lord even to prison (Lk, 22:33), and I really felt sorry for him when “going out, [he] wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:62) after denying Our Blessed Lord ( /49022 .htm).  I’m one of the “John Paul II generation,” and I loved Pope John Paul II; but Pope Benedict’s Papacy has coincided with my growing older and maturing in the Faith, especially since I was confirmed the same year he was elected.

“Do not forsake Peter because of Judas”… I've been blessed to have encounters with good priests during the 15 years I’ve been Catholic.  Yes, there have been priests who yelled at me for being scrupulous; but, thank God, those experiences did not turn me away from the Sacrament of Penance.  I was only 13 when the sexual-abuse scandal rocked the Catholic Church, but that experience plus the spiritual direction of my former confessor convinced me very strongly of the need to pray for our priests.

“Because of Judas”…I know there are scandals in the Catholic Church; I know there are priests who do not live up to their high calling; I know there are hundreds of people who have fallen away from the practice of their Faith—whether because they cannot hold themselves to Her high standards, or because they do not understand Her teaching on contraception or abortion or why the Holy Priesthood should be reserved to men alone—but, please God, I will live in that Faith and I will die in that Faith.

“I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:23)

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