This may strike some long-time Catholics as a little odd. Especially if they've not attended a non-Catholic church and especially if they've not been a part of a non-denominational church. One of the traits I am beginning to appreciate about the Catholic church is its toughness, its unyielding ways, its insistence that you prove yourself worthy.
Jesus Christ is like that. He didn't say to His followers, "Hey, come on by and hang with Me. We'll kick back, relax, catch a few plays at the annual Dionysus Festival and see if we can relate to the drunken revelers and talk about My Father." He also didn't say, "Don't worry if you still have a hankerin' for cheap, soft porno books. You'll get the hang of the holy life eventually. It's all good."
No. He said, "Follow Me," and He meant it. He wasn't doing cartwheels in order for the sinners of the day to "relate" to Him. He was confronting them with bold claims and even bolder demands.
At my last non-Catholic, non-denominational church, the associate pastor said something very interesting. He said that for the most part, the church today makes it easy to join the church and hard to leave. However, Jesus made it hard to join Him and easy to leave. What was particularly interesting was that this ministry's approach to duplicating Jesus' pattern verged on legalism. In other words, jump through all these hoops and we might accept you. But they were the ones constructing the hoops and they weren't Biblical sound hoops, at that.
Now that I've returned to the Catholic faith, I can see a bigger picture of what Jesus did and how the Catholic church is the only one I can see doing what He commanded in fullness. There are certainly other Christian churches doing much of what the Catholic church is doing, but I agree with what Pope Benedict XVI said last year - they have the truth in part. Non-Catholic churches have painted themselves in a corner. They have focused so much on being "relevant" to the current culture that they have marginalized the hard truth of Scripture. In addition, they are dependent upon the Bible alone because there is no universal church in their eyes to help them apply God's truth to their lives.
So they are left bobbing along in a sea of many voices, caught up in the current of popular trends and often drifting into the waters of relativism. There is no anchor. There is no lighthouse to lead them home save the few orthodox Catholics who may cross their path and challenge their soft faith.
My father is quite a character. Raised on a tobacco farm by hard-working German parents who instilled in their children tenacity and stubbornness; he is not afraid to confront people, especially when his Catholic faith is being disparaged. Recently, he was telling me of one occasion when a co-worker made a snide remark about Catholicism.
My father leveled his very penetrating gaze at this man and said, "You don't have the guts to be Catholic. It takes discipline and quite frankly, we live in a very undisciplined world." Go, Dad.
My father is right. Catholicism isn't for wimps. Jesus Christ told His disciples that they were expected to sacrifice everything to follow Him. He talked about how rough it was going to be and it was. He talked about how the world would hate them and it did. He talked about how some of them would be martyred for the faith and it happened. Everything He told them came true. But everything He told them demonstrated that it was a tough calling but the glory they would receive was unspeakable in its beauty and more deeply satisfying than a lifetime living for one's own pleasure. He promised freedom from the bondage of sin and that happened, too.
And when it happened, the Apostles rejoiced, knowing that their Lord and Savior went through hell in order to bring them heaven.
We have our own crosses to bear, each one of us. To bear whatever cross God has given requires a toughness of faith. Catholicism is the place to get it.