I know it's politically-correct to focus on commonalities rather than differences. But part of my mission with this blog is to highlight the areas where Catholicism really gets it right. (And sometimes pointing out how other churches got it wrong.) From my many years spent in non-denominational churches, my varying concerns could now be summed up in this sentence: They weren't Catholic, but I was. No matter how far I tried to run from the Catholic Church, pesky issues such as a lack of a consistent Communion service or self-indulgent shenanigans would bother me. Now that I'm "back home," I can see much more clearly that my concerns were because I had been given a fuller truth and to have it either watered down or given to me in part was unsatisfactory.
"Passion" is the watchword of the day. Turn on the television and you'll easily find someone talking about "finding your passion." I'm all about finding what you love to do and doing it, however, the passion I'm talking about here has more to do with emotions. St. Paul spoke often about resisting the temptation to allow our passions to rule us. The word often used was the Greek word, epithymia - which means desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden, lust.
Where I saw the train go off its tracks within the non-denominational church was the propensity toward high emotionalism and the assumption that it represented a mature faith. If someone "loved the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength," then it meant they were forceful, and even "reckless for the Lord." (I heard that motto often.) There was an encouragement to "run toward the Lord" with "full abandon." Many times, this included abandoning reason, which led to unfortunate situations such as people moving to a ministry in another state with absolutely no money or plan because "God told them to do it."
Catholics have astounded me because they truly have the best of both world. We have St. Theresa of Avila who pursued God with such power that she wrote one of the most intimate books, The Interior Castle. Then we have great Catholic intellectuals such as G.K. Chesterton who prove one can love God completely with his mind. The point is, there seems to be a balance within Catholicism, a grounded love that I have not seen elsewhere.
In our culture, it is almost expected to lose one's head if you fall in love. To be in love, to love fully and yes, passionately, often seems to mean a loss of restraint. But is that really love? Jesus Christ loved His disciples, His family, and the world with a deep and mysterious love. It was a love willing to sacrifice everything. But I don't sense that Jesus allowed His emotions to rule Him. During the rare moments we see Jesus allowing His emotions to be revealed (such as going after the money-changers in the Temple), we also see purpose.
Love is a beautiful, wonderful, and sometimes crazy thing. We all desire it but yet some of us want to avoid losing control. Catholicism requires Catholics to not rush headlong into anything but to think first. I really don't know too many Catholics who have been "carried away" by their emotions. But this doesn't make Catholics cold or unfeeling. Quite the opposite. There is a consideration of the world around them. And then there is response. I have seen grounded love in action from pro-life protests, Baptisms, and care and concern for other parishioners. I see the grounded love expressed when we say a Hail Mary for someone who just passed away, when someone is in need and the church responds - not with great fanfare, but with a quiet humility that understands that expressions of the heart do not need to be recognized in order mean something.
There is so much more swimming in my mind regarding this topic. I remember when I returned, I looked at the Catholic women and thought, there is just something about a Catholic woman. There is a peaceful dignity about them. There is confidence in their faith. They stand apart from other women who fall apart at the slightest trial in their life, claiming "the enemy is attacking me again."
Grounded love keeps us going in the right direction. Boy, do I need it.