Saturday, October 4, 2008

What I Love About Catholicism: The Focus on Jesus & Discomfort

I find it slightly ironic that after all the years I spent in non-denominational churches, I have found the Catholic Mass more focused on Jesus Christ than I originally thought. I have sat through many, many church services that were proceeded by worship songs such as, "I Love You, Lord" and "Jesus, Jesus," but yet after worship, the service would shift to another topic.

Most non-denominational churches have so much going on that it's difficult to slow the hectic pace in order to really meditate upon Jesus Christ. There is the children's ministry (that is in perpetual need of adult volunteers), the evangelism ministry, "mercy" ministries, prayer ministry, women's ministry, men's ministry, singles ministry, young married couples ministry, separated and divorced ministry, grief ministry, recovery ministry, hospitality ministry - I'm sure there are a few I've left out. Often, the church service would become a lengthy commercial for one of those ministries.

As I've said before, I have no problem with ministry. I only have a problem when it becomes the root instead of the fruit. Our love and devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ is what grounds us and enables us to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. Focusing on the fruit will not bring fruit. However, giving the roots of the trees the nourishment they need to bear fruit will give us the desired result.

Throughout all those years, I clearly remember feeling that something was missing during those services. Sure, there was the very enjoyable worship teams, the upbeat music, the fun socializing that happened after the service, but it felt incomplete. After I'd leave, I'd occasionally wondered what had transpired during the service. Did I have an encounter with God or a just a nice time sipping coffee while watching well-produced multi-media presentations?

I suspect this next thought was a part of my Catholic upbringing, but I would also wonder about the "comfort zone" of a Sunday service. Everything was so nice and cozy, and of course I enjoyed it. But was "nice and cozy" what we as Christians were to experience during a church service? I had a comfy chair, the ability to sip a gourmet coffee in my seat, savoring a well-crafted presentation both with worship and the sermon. I heard many sermons that were "uplifting" or "encouraging" but rarely challenging. My flesh was swathed in teachings that spoke of how God loved me and wanted to hug me like a child.

Certainly God loves us and does hold us close to Him. " ...he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler." (Ps. 91:4) But are we to forever seek shelter and expect to be hidden by God or are we called to something much bolder? Are we called to light up this darkened world like a great fire, consuming mediocrity and apathy by the power of the Holy Spirit? I think you know my answer. Yes and yes!

How is such a passion born? How are we to be changed from the self-absorbed mob of flesh into One Body that beats with His Heart and reaches out with His Mind? I think I'm safe in saying it won't come from focusing on a "What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately" type of sermon and it won't come from constant chattering activity within a multi-purpose building.

It comes from a quiet focus upon Jesus Christ and what He did for us by His sacrificial death and resurrection. It isn't a one-time deal, either. My goodness, if all of us could have absorbed the profound reality of the Truth of Him in one fell swoop, there would be no need to attend church. But yet God created it so that our sanctification takes time. In fact, it takes our whole lives and still there would be more opportunities if we lived thousands of years. Our flesh is both our curse but yet triumphant blessing, because when we overcome the flesh, by the grace of God, we are living testimonials to His redemptive power.

This power exists within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Each time a Mass is said, it is a revolutionary act against a world that has rejected the Light and the Truth. With each word said during the Mass, a declaration is made against Hell that death has no hold upon us, that we have been set free by Jesus Christ in order to be joined with our Heavenly Father for all of eternity. No matter how fierce the demons may cry, no matter how many arrows they send our way, no matter how many temptations and traps they set for us - it's already done. Finished. Jesus Christ made it so and it is during the Mass that we are reminded of this, each week and for many who attend daily Mass, each day.

Non-denominational churches are well-known for their "outreach" programs. But their focus continues to be on the culture, the world first - and not upon Jesus Christ. Jesus said many hard things when He was on this earth. He did not come with a "nice and cozy" message. He spoke of suffering, sacrifice, dying to self, forgiveness, and loving our enemies. These are the hard truths of our faith, the truths that are often pushed to the side for a more palatable teaching. But Catholicism isn't known for pushing aside hard truths. In fact, Catholicism pushes the hard truths by reminding the Body of Christ what we were built to do. And it isn't to become "cozy chair potatoes."

We are to get up and exercise, walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, take risks of faith, and bring the Good News into a lost and dying world. Whenever I pray the Rosary, I think of how Jesus entered this world - through a young single woman, who was feeling very anxious about her predicament. Mary trusted the angel, Gabriel's message. She trusted that God knew what He was doing when He chose her. Even in the midst of great physical, emotional, and spiritual discomfort - she trusted and obeyed. We are so blessed by her response. She is the perfect example of setting our sights on Jesus and enduring pain. May we be given the same grace each day in order to bring Him the greater glory.


joannaB73 said...

When I was at a non-Catholic Church the focus each week seemed to be more and more on us and us improving ourselves; when of course what we were missing was the Mass and focusing on Jesus. Communion is the heart of the Mass and the Church and without that you are just left with the skin and bones and no substance.

X said...

Enough with the sacrifice topics LOL! I am starting to feel guilty for sleeping on a mattress and eating hot food once a day!

But seriously, these sacrifice posts are great!

owenswain said...

Our parish sports a Risen Christ. I would much prefer to look upon the crucified One. I know he is risen what I need daily reminder of is for me to die to self.