March 31, 2008

Confession is Good for the Soul

I have a confession to make. I canít write about Catholicism without my emotions getting stirred up. I canít be objective about the subject Ė nor can I shut up about it either.

When I see Bible-believing churches adopt Roman Catholic traditions, such as the liturgical use of incense, candles, and icons, I recoil in disgust. When Roman Catholic church fathers are quoted by Protestants to prove some theological point, I roll my eyes. When Iím in a gathering of believers and we are led by the leader to recite the Lordís Prayer in unison, Matthew 6:7 comes directly into my mind.

Several things have happened this week that have brought my relationship to the Roman Catholic Church to mind and all the emotions that go with it. First of all my mom died several days ago and her funeral will be at the Catholic church where I grew up and went to school.

Then out of the blue I received an email through the Classmates website from a man I had gone to Catholic elementary school with. He was contacting people through the site just to catch up on whatever became of all of us. He mentioned that we had never spoken one word to each other but he remembered me anyway. That brought a flood of childhood memories to my mind of the times I was rebuked when caught speaking to a boy. Thatís why we had a solid yellow line down the middle of our playground and girls were to be on one side of the line and boys on the other and you better not cross that line! I am sure I had good times at that school growing up, but somehow only the horrific memories are surfacing right now.

In the past couple of days, Iíve been working on a project of going through all my photos so I can locate some good shots of my mom over the years to share with my extended family. My old class pictures from childhood caught my attention even before I got that first email from my classmate. I wondered about other classmates, knowing a couple of them had gone on to be priests and nuns. I donít know if this is nostalgia or just grief at the loss of my mother.

Pondering my childhood friends and my Catholic upbringing, questions arise in my thinking such as how theologically astute does one need to be to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Does everyone have to have all their jots and tittles lined up just right to not fall into judgment? My mom, after all, believed that Jesus suffered for her sins on the cross and perhaps she didnít see the implications of the false teaching of purgatory on the Atonement. She just didnít think that deeply.

Iím also dealing with anger toward those "priests" in the Roman Catholic Church that hold themselves up as authorities and convince "the faithful" to follow them blindly when they are not being led by the Holy Spirit. Just this past weekend a story ran in my local newspaper exposing the evil deeds of pedophile priests being transferred around to cover up their crimes over the years. [See the article "SINS, SECRETS AND DENIAL"] The Oakland Tribune reported how prevalent such crimes against children were in the Oakland diocese: "In all, accused priests and members of religious orders served in 61 of the 86 parishes, or 71 percent."

I find old feelings of resentment resurfacing from what I saw in my own Catholic school growing up. Today we would label many of the things I saw in my classroom as child abuse Ė such as my best friend being slapped in the face in front of our entire second grade class because she had her tongue poking in her cheek in the class picture. (She sobbed throughout recess as I and another 7-year-old sat on either side of her trying to comfort her in her time of pain and humiliation.) And then there was the sixth grade incident of another classmate, a 6th grade boy, being beaten mercilessly and thrown in the bushes by the monsignor, the parish pastor, while I and another 11-year-old watched from the churchís bathroom window in horror.

Are all these memories flooding my mind because my momís funeral is going to take me back to the scene of those crimes? Maybe, I donít know.

No Comfort from EWTN

In the flood of these emotions, I turned on my TV to EWTN, the Catholic channel. There was a priest retelling the story of a "saint" by the name of St. Joseph of Cupertino. I had known about this so-called saint before Ė he is called "the flying saint" Ė a monk from the Middle Ages who used to levitate so much that the other monks had to tie a rope around his ankle to pull him back down from the sky --- or so they say!

Anyway, this priest on the TV was giving more details to the story that I had not heard before. He was lauding Joseph of Cupertino for his unquestionable obedience to his superiors. He told the most extreme example of Josephís obedience in that he actually consumed human waste (poop, for the unenlightened) when ordered to by the Abbot of the monastery. And this priest made this statement without blinking an eye, and showed amazement and praise to this "saint" for taking obedience to such a high level. I couldnít believe what I was hearing. Bad enough that this "saint" ate poop back in the old days, but for a priest on EWTN today to sing the manís praises for it without any criticism for the superior who ordered the dirty act is downright abominable.

The priest summed up the life of this poop-eating saint by saying that at one time it was thought that he was really demon-possessed and an exorcist was ordered for him. But the exorcist cleared him of demonization and his weird acts were then attributed to God.

You canít make this up, folks! I was reminded of the book that came out last year about the secrets of Mother Teresa and that at the end of her life she had to have an exorcist cast demons out of her. And yet she is the worldís role model of holiness.

The next night I watched another program on EWTN with a different priest in a monkís hood answering questions from Catholics calling in over the phone. The caller was concerned that her son had stopped going to mass and was now regularly attending an evangelical church. She wanted to know if there was any hope for his soul. Surprisingly, the monk told her not to worry about him because an evangelical church was the next best thing he said because they believe in the Gospel. He told her it wouldnít send him to hell and for her to just pray for him. This was a far cry from the statements I had heard on EWTN out of the mouths of their other spokesmen such as Fr. Mitch Pacwa or Karl Keating Ė both of whom would have told her that her son was apostate and in grave danger. So I was comforted to see an improvement there.

Bible-believing Christians who have never been Catholics probably canít relate to these feelings of mine. Christian theologians who have never been part of Ďmother churchí can dissect Catholic dogma and compare it to Scripture and give great homilies on how some Catholic doctrines do not stack up to the Word of God and do so without blinking an eye. To them itís only an intellectual discussion. But Iíll bet Luther and Zwingli and Calvin saw it differently and, like me, their emotions rose up within them as they responded to its evils.

My heart is heavy as I pack to leave for the funeral tomorrow. Iím praying for the Lord to be with me during this time and to use even the difficult things in life to show me His love and grace in the things I canít reconcile here. I certainly do not want my abhorrence for Rome to taint my behavior toward people for whom Christ died. I donít know how wide His grace is but I know He is merciful and righteous in His judgments. I canít say for sure whether or not my mom is in His loving arms right now. And that does not give me the comfort or assurance I have had at other funerals.

Theyíre going to be singing "Ave Maria" at the service, but I would rather sing "Blessed Assurance." Unfortunately, no Catholic can sing that because Rome calls assurance "the sin of presumption." But the words of that Fanny Crosby song exemplifies my faith in my Savior. So if I die before the rapture, that is the song I want sung at my funeral.

♥♥♥

"Blessed Assurance"

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long
.

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