first of all, any discussion about catholicism always reminds me of dane cook’s sketch on growing up catholic. it’s one of his cleaner sketches, and it just cracks me up every time I listen to it, because it reminds me of growing up as a missionary/pastor’s kid and just the Christian church in general.
I have a friend who grew up catholic and was actually an altar boy as a kid. We’ve had some good talks about it: things that he struggled with, things that brought him to the protestant side of life, things that he misses and things he thinks the protestants have missed or forgotten. It’s funny to hear him talk about it because it seems so other-worldly in many ways. But it wrings my heart for the tradition that my life has lacked. Maybe it’s that I have moved around and have no roots but only wings and I long for a place to dig in deep and settle for many years. No matter what it is, there is a place in my heart that yearns for tradition and weighty substance in our gatherings as a church community.
There is a certain beauty that I can hear when Jason talks about growing up catholic. I can almost smell the incense and hear the bells. He might be laughing when he talks about having to read in front of his parish and how uncomfortable he was, I might laugh too. But at the same time, there is a deep part of my soul that longs for the sound of the priest calling to worship, feeling the smallness of my soul in the vast cathedrals and hearing hte shuffle of many feet on aged stones as we humbly take the body of the Lord and his blood and feed on it.*
There is a part of me that completely revolts against authority, against men between me and God, against institution. But there is a part of me that earnestly desires that direction, that confidence, that assurity placed in someone other than my own weak mind that cannot wrap itself around anything where God is concerned. There is a part of me that wants to take communion casually, like friends enjoying a meal, not caring who has blessed it or where it goes when we are through. But there is another side of me that wants to dip my head and remember that in some strange way, Jesus is present at this table, in the bread from the grocer’s oven, in the cheap wine and sugary juice. I want to cross myself and whisper the words, “Christ’s body, broken for you; Christ’s blood, shed for you.”
I envy Jason’s upbringing in the Catholic Tradition, even if it separated him from God for a time. I envy the glory that he has known, the weightiness that he has felt in the ceremony–and that he has experienced himself as an altar boy who worked alongside the priest to honour God and serve the people (even if he was forced into it by parents and not by choice or calling). I think there is a good deal of beauty in the Catholic church and in Eastern Orthodoxy that Protestantism did away with in reaction to the excess of the Middle Ages. And while that is understandable, and perhaps was even necessary–it is still a great disappointment to the rootless wanderer who wants something tangible to touch and see and remember God by.
* in the service that John Wesley wrote out for taking communion, there is a point at which the leader says “come take the bread and the wine and feed upon Christ in your soul” or something along those lines. It has always intrigued me–this idea of feeding on Jesus as our spiritual food and drink. Not doctrine, not the Bible, but the very sacrificial Lamb Himself.