Thursday, October 28, 2010

'America' Magazine's Name Calling of #Catholic Conservative Bloggers Misses Mark

America Magazine recently published an article written by Fr. James Martin regarding another article about conservative Catholic bloggers. I will start off by saying that I will strive for charity in my observations.

I agree with Fr. Martin regarding the overall tone of the Internet. When I first visited the Internet in 1997, it didn't take long to discover the virtual alley fights that occurred within the comment areas of online opinion pieces. It didn't bother me too much, though. Those who only commented to taunt and bait people, I learned, were called "trolls." They were often mocked and newcomers were told to "please don't feed the trolls." In other words, they were to be ignored.

I've ignored my share of trolls and also occasionally responded to their complete lack of intellectual honesty. But something is happening now within the Catholic blogosphere that I think is disingenuous. Which leads me to the article from America Magazine.

I was half-tempted to register with them just to leave a comment before saying, why bother? The slant of the article was offensive enough for a conservative Catholic and I'm not yet ready to accept the premise of it -- which is: Conservative Catholic bloggers are unloving and should take the log out of their own eye before judging someone else.

Unloving and Judgmental?

I've seen this argument before. It's usually hauled out when another Christian wants to defend either an erroneous belief or sin. Fr. Martin's position seems to indicate that constructive criticism is only available to those with a bunch of letters behind their names:
Second, many of these attack-bloggers betray little theological knowledge. It is one thing to be informed by a theological scholar with years of relevant experience working at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for example, that your article or book or lecture is not in keeping with the tenets of the Catholic faith. Or to have your work critiqued by someone who has carefully considered your arguments and, after weighing what you say regarding the tradition, responds in charity. It is quite another to be attacked with snide comments by someone barely out of college who spends his days cherry-picking quotes and thumbing through the Catechism in an endless game of Catholic gotcha.

This line of reasoning is at complete odds with the belief that examination of the Church is for everyone -- not just those with a theological background. If I remember correctly, Jesus didn't hang out with the "theological" gurus of His day, He hung out with those who would receive Him, the simple as well as the wise. In fact, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, although this does not mean easy. Centuries ago, it was an accepted belief by many Catholics that "only the priest" could read the Bible and tell them what it meant. I'll never forget when I attended a "Christ Renews His Parish" retreat with my mother; we were given our own Bibles and an elderly woman exclaimed in shock, "Oh, no! I can't read this! Only the priest can and then tell me its meaning!"

She was reassured by the retreat leaders that indeed, the Bible was written for her because God would use it to draw her closer to Him. So in other words, every Catholic has two very important books to help us draw closer to God and receive the graces of the Church: The Bible and the Catechism. As far as I'm concerned, I don't need to be working at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in order to know what is aligned with Catholic doctrine and what isn't. All of the doctrine is clearly defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This was the whole point of having the Catechism. The fact that criticism is coming from "someone barely out of college" who uses the Catechism for direction (in which case I say "hoorah!" for that devoted young person), doesn't matter. What matters is upholding the truth of Catholicism.

And, it goes without saying but I'll say it anyway, to speak that truth in love.

Narrow-minded? Or Committed to Fidelity to the Church?

Fr. Martin continues:
Third, the focus of their blogs is almost risibly narrow. Here are the sole topics of interest, in the order in which they cause foaming at the mouth (or on the keyboard): homosexuality, abortion, women's ordination, birth control, liturgical abuses and the exercise of church authority. Is this really the sum total of what makes us Catholic?

Again, a disingenuous argument. It assumes that speaking of hot-button social issues is "narrow" and by implication, unloving. And, unfortunately, it is hypocritical. Who in the Church is championing the cause of active homosexuality? Who has been on an unerring track to pursue women's ordination? Who has said one can be Catholic and pro-choice at the same time? And who has been the biggest instigators of liturgical abuses? Certainly not conservative Catholics. In every one of those areas, it has been liberal Catholics who have rejected Church teaching, tradition, and Biblical instruction, in order to embrace worldly (and often sinful) philosophies that bring division and confusion to the Church.

Criticizing cultural issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion is a moral cause, and one I thought as Catholics we were called to challenge. When we see Catholic high schools not only accepting practicing homosexuality by their students but actively promoting it; you bet conservative Catholics are going to speak up. And we don't need a degree from a pontifical college to know it's wrong.

When those criticized respond by saying such challenges are "unloving" and "judgmental," I can only refer them to the Bible. Jesus Christ said many hard things during His time on earth. Was it loving to cast out the money-changers from the temple? Shouldn't He instead have said, "Gentlemen, this isn't the place for such activity, for it is a holy place. Please, kindly take your tables and merchandise elsewhere. Thanks." Would that have made an impact?

Jesus was angry and there was no mistaking it. He took the road of unleashing His righteous anger because of His love for His Father and a desire to see Him glorified outweighed His concern for offending people. He was upset that an area which was to be a place for worship and meditation was instead transformed into the equivalent of a busy mall.

I see conservative Catholic bloggers in the same light. They have endured many, many years of seeing the Mother Church maligned by those who would not defend her against the world. Yes, there is anger and frustration. I've already seen attempts by faithful Catholics to appeal to their bishop, often to no avail. There have been efforts by many to first write to their priest, and then write to their bishop if they didn't receive a response. There have been times when these same conservative Catholics tried to meet with the proper authorities to share their concerns. And the responses? They've varied from being ignored to condescension to at times, outright hostility toward those who refuse to march in lockstep with the "culturally-correct" view.

There have been orthodox seminarians who have been kicked out of their training because they didn't believe in women's ordination or recited the Rosary. There have been radical, feminist, lesbian nuns who seem to find more meaning in New Age practices than Catholic devotions. There have been faithful young Catholic graduates who can't find a job teaching in a Catholic high school because they're "too conservative" and thus, "narrow-minded."

The list goes on. In most of those cases, Catholics have looked to their priests and bishops to defend the Church and Catholic doctrine only to be dismissed and at times, mocked. One only needs to read The National Catholic Reporter to see the depth of the problem. Thankfully, not all priests and bishops respond in such manner. Many of them are faithful and understand the dilemma, often counseling their flock to love, to forgive, and to continue to uphold the truth.

The truth of the matter is that the Internet has finally given a voice to conservative Catholics and they're using it. No longer content to wait for a response from either a priest or bishop, Catholics have taken to the blogosphere to vent their frustration and question certain Catholic leaders' allegiance to the Magisterium. In fact, these Catholics (and I'm one of them) are exercising their "judgment of moral conscience" which, according to the Catechism, encourages a Catholic to do good and avoid evil.

1777 Moral conscience, 48 present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. 49 It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.

1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:

Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty, of a threat and a promise. . . . [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ. 50

Finally, a Call for Action

What I believe conservative Catholic bloggers desire is for their church leaders to stand strong against a world that is increasingly hostile to the faith. If the Church looks like the world, and acts like the world, is it still the Church? We indeed are to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, and yes, this involves sacrificial living and compassionately caring for the sick and wounded in our culture. But it also includes setting the captive free.

I loved my re-entry into Catholicism. I had finally made the decision to formally return to the Catholic Church after wrestling with it for a year. I made an appointment with a parish priest (who would end up being my parish priest) to discuss the issue. From my investigative efforts online, I realized that my husband's prior marriage could end up as a sticking point regarding my return and obtaining the Church's convalidation of our marriage. After confirming that I would need an annulment, this dear priest leaned across the table to look me directly in the eye and say, "I know it's difficult. But aren't you glad the Catholic Church cares about you enough to tell you the hard truth?"

I said, "Absolutely. And you know what I feel? Loved. Because I know the Catholic Church cares about my soul."

The priest smiled compassionately. The truth had been told to me in a loving manner, but it was uncompromising.

And that, ultimately, is what we as Catholics should all desire. That in a world full of darkness, the Church would shine the light and be steadfast in her mission -- to bring the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the needy, the lonely, and yes -- those entrapped in sin. Part of that mission includes confrontation. I pray that we continue to have meaningful dialogue, but make no mistake. That dialogue needs to be recognized and respected by all, no matter which side of the pew you occupy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Regarding #Catholic Bloggers Putting Pressure on Diocesan Officials

I think Michael Voris frames it well.

When a deacon, priest, bishop, archbishop or cardinal blatantly rejects Catholicism's position on moral, political, and religious issues; it's time to have a little heart-to-heart. And hopefully that talk will come from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Is it really surprising that conservative Catholics want to see the traditions of our faith supported by our bishops? And speaking of "charity," where is the charity for those who desire the tradition of the Church as seen in the Gregorian Rite? (Traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine Mass.) Where is the charity for Catholics who support the Catechism on issues such as abortion or homosexuality? I myself have seen little but I'm still new at this. Charity is one thing but to coddle sin is another. And that's what I've seen far too many do -- coddle sin at the cost of one's soul. As Fr. Corapi has said, "I'm not going to hell for anyone!"

We need to speak the truth, no matter how unpopular it is in our culture. Speak it lovingly, but speak it. What parent looks at their child who has a serious injury and simply says, "I love and accept you." That is not going to help their child.

Instead, a loving parent will say, "You are hurt and your injury needs attention. The doctor will clean your wound to remove anything that could cause infection, and then stitch you up so you'll heal quickly. It will be uncomfortable for awhile but in the long run, you're going to be healthy."

That's the kind of parents we need. Thank God I had those kind of parents. But our beloved Mother Church needs exactly those kind of parents, too.

Pray for our church leaders, that they will not confuse compassion with complicity; and that they may be given eyes to see who God has called them to be. Stand strong.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A #Catholic Challenging the Culture: Blindly Following?

A recent article from NBC Chicago, featured a poll showing younger people as more devout to Catholicism than older people, referencing a story in The Chicago Tribune. The poll was conducted by Fr. Andrew Greeley, based on 500 respondents in Chicago's Cook and Lake counties in 2007. The newspaper story led with the youth angle, but in the NBC piece, there was a paragraph that said more than the words chosen (emphasis mine):
"The study also discusses “Cafeteria Catholics,” those who still revere the sacraments, but don’t blindly follow the church's teachings on moral, religious and political issues."

Why the phrase "blindly follow?" And how presumptuous is such a statement? I have seen this phrase used frequently, usually by those who have no understanding of the Catholic Church or her doctrine.

I am Catholic. As a Catholic, I am to trust the wisdom and authority of the Church. Does this mean I have checked my brain at the door? Of course not. Catholics are not known for "blindly following" anything. Catholicism has given us some of the brightest and most intellectual minds throughout history and have questioned everything from faulty science to prickly social justice issues. But to assume that since I follow the church's teachings on moral, religious, and political issues means I'm "blind," and by inference, incapable of thinking, is to assume several things. First, that the Church is wrong, and second, that trust and obedience are for suckers. It is highly offensive and insulting to those of us who know full well what we follow and why.

I am weary of these attacks on the Magisterium. There is something that goes deeper with trusting in the Church's teachings and it is a topic I've covered before. Trust requires surrender. It requires putting aside my doubts and asking God for the grace to believe. "I believe, help my unbelief!"

This isn't just a cry from a man thousands of years ago who pled with Jesus Christ for the ability to trust Him, but it is for all of us. Who wrestles with the Church's teachings except those who have not yet reached that level of trust? It certainly isn't easy to trust when we live in a culture that promotes sexuality without responsibility, religion on our own terms, and politics that aggressively pushes an anti-family, anti-God humanism no matter what the cost. These beliefs and philosophies have infiltrated the Church with an agenda that is not God's. It is actually an agenda that promotes, as Pope John Paul II said, a "culture of death."

I'd like to suggest a different phrase: "trustingly follow." I trust that those who in authority over me know what they're doing. If not, they're the ones who have to answer to God. Our hierarchy of Church government has a solemn job to do. They seek God for direction and make choices. I am called to trust their wisdom and to continually pray for them. They do their job. I do mine.

"Blind" is not even remotely a part of the equation.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

From Real #Catholic TV: Archbishop Raymond Cardinal Burke: Sex and Obedience

I am so excited that Archbishop Burke has been named a Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI! Michael Voris has another powerful video regarding something Archbishop Burke said -- that those who fall into sexual sin are reaping the fruit of disobedience.

This is a profound statement. Voris claims that the Catholic Church will not experience a return of those who left until the clerics start becoming more obedient. I couldn't agree more.

Years ago, when I was attending the University of Dayton, which is a Marianist college, I visited with a priest to discuss with him intimacy, sex, and marriage. I was expecting traditional Catholic counsel. What I received instead was this regarding pre-marital sex: "As long as you really love someone, it can be offered as an act of worship to God." Not "Prayerfully consider whether you are called to the vocation of marriage, for such a vocation protects the sacredness of the sexual union between a man and a woman." Nothing of the sort. Instead, the priest was "thrilled" to speak to a student about such things and communicated a perspective on sexuality that, now looking back, was in direct conflict with the Bible and the Magisterium.

Is it any wonder that many Catholics left the Church? If the Church preached nothing different than the world, then what was the point of waking up early every Sunday to attend Mass? Especially if one was nursing a hangover?

Many have mocked "Catholic guilt" as though Catholics seen sex as "sinful" and if they enjoy it outside of marriage, then they are "burdened" with guilt. How warped a view! God created sex for procreation and as a sacramental bond between a husband and wife. Our "hooking up" culture, where sex is seen as a recreational sport, has only resulted in brokenness, contributing to a low self-esteem, and encouraged those who engage in such activity to only look to their own satisfaction as they use others for their pleasure.

I wasn't a popular young woman. Mainly because I refused to sleep around. Even after I left the Catholic Church, the foundation of Catholic doctrine stayed with me. I understood that sex was to be celebrated within the bonds of marriage, and allowing a young man who had no intention of committing himself to a relationship with me, would only eventually hurt me and cheapen my view of myself. I wasn't entirely successful with my intentions. But the times I lapsed made me realize how important it was to find a husband who would cherish me. It took many years of singlehood before that happened, but once it did, I was brought into a fullness of understanding regarding true love and intimacy.

The world mocks such things because there is (again) sacrifice involved. It is a sacrifice to say "no" when everyone else seems to be saying yes -- and having such a great time doing it. It is a sacrifice to wait until marriage. It is a sacrifice to be called to the vocation of Holy Orders and deny yourself. Jesus said "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34 RSV) Those aren't easy words. They are words that are as sharp as the nails that were driven through the hands and feet of our Blessed Lord. A commandment that clearly says submission and obedience. The rewards of following Christ cannot be overestimated. Those who submit their will to His receive many graces, some that can be seen in this world and others, I believe, will be unfolded after we pass into everlasting life.

I pray that the Church will begin to hold the standard high once again for sexual purity. The enemy of our souls knows how important this area is, which is why he is fighting so hard to deceive people and to keep them trapped in his lies. Lord, have mercy.

North Texas #Catholics Get an F.S.S.P. Parish for the Latin Mass

Mater Dei Catholic Church, local home of the traditional Latin Mass, will be in its own sanctuary for the first time.

Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Diocese of Dallas will come to Irving this morning to bless a former Korean Methodist church building that had a $600,000 makeover to become Mater Dei's worship space.

The location would seem unlikely for the only Diocese of Dallas church where Latin liturgy is the norm. Tractor-trailer trucks grind their gears on nearby East Highway 356. Neighbors include a Waffle House and a body shop.

But Mater Dei has doubled attendance to 600 at two Sunday Masses since buying the property last December and beginning to meet in the fellowship hall.

Mater Dei leaders believe the sanctuary will only boost the pace of growth.

In 1991, the Mater Dei (Latin for "mother of God") community formed in Dallas in connection with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in North America, which is committed to the traditional Latin Mass. That group met in borrowed space, including for more than 17 years in the chapel of a local convent.

Full Article

This is very exciting news! God bless those in North Texas who love the Traditional Latin Mass and now have a home. And 600? That is wonderful!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Revisiting Suffering: A Catholic Perspective

Suffering isn't a pleasant topic. I'll be the first to admit it. But suffering, according to God, has value. Great value, in fact. And suffering -- without considering what God thinks of it, provides the justification to avoid it at all costs and more horrifically, depending upon society's "understanding" of it, justifying euthanasia.

Recently, Virginia Ironside, a U.K. advice columnist, stunned a TV host by admitting that if she had a suffering child (then she emphasized, "A deeply suffering child..") she would be "the first to want to put a pillow over its head," presumably to put the child out of his misery. Another guest, Rev. Joanna Jepson, looked on in horror as Ironside shared her view in a chillingly calm manner.

I was intrigued by Jepson, whose background was not explained during this short video.

Rev. Joanna Jepson was born with a congenital jaw defect. Her upper jaw protruded by eight millimeters and her lower jaw hung down into her neck. She described her appearance as "looking like a chipmunk" and had to wait until her teens before having reconstructive surgery. It was a long, painful process to reset her jaw, but she went through it, explaining that it allowed her to understand more fully human nature. In school, she was bullied because of her appearance and then later, after surgery, became part of the "pretty and popular" crowd.

What is profound is that she has gone through the valley and found her own mountaintop. It would have been very easy to have given up and given in to depression, but she didn't. She became a vicar for the Church of England, and later, championing the rights of the unborn when a baby was aborted in its 28th week because it had been discovered to have a cleft lip and palate; reason enough for the doctors to declare the baby as having a "serious handicap" and thus, should be aborted.

Jepson brought a legal challenge against the doctors and raised the question: just what is "handicapped" anyway? And more importantly, why see only the negative of handicaps?

Another case of a handicapped person, which is much more severe, is that of Nick Vujicic. Nick is nothing short of amazing in my book. He was born without limbs. He is now an inspirational speaker who travels around the world, speaking to schools and churches about not giving up. His trademark storytelling device is to deliberately fall to the ground and then roll back up, showing his audience how important it is to try again and not quit. (If you watch the video below, you will hear Nick talk about the importance of faith, and how his parents taught him to believe in God and God's purpose for his life. Very, very powerful.)

Think of how much Nick and Rev. Joanna Jepson have suffered. There are countless stories like theirs -- families who have had children with birth defects, these same children who grew to become adults in a society that worships youth and beauty; and the trials they have endured. The world, like Virginia Ironside, would say there is no point in such suffering, such hardship. Why not "put a child out of its misery?" But I challenge them all to consider Nick, for his voice is resonating with many young people.

They look at Nick and think that if a guy who was born without limbs could find purpose in his life, maybe they can, too. The fact that Nick is a Christian is a powerful testimony that he has found that suffering is not without its own frame of redemption. It is evident to me that he has pondered long and hard about the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ; and concluded that suffering has a deeper meaning. There is evil in the world. There is injustice. But the answer is not to avoid it or try to eradicate whatever we perceive as being unfair, cloaking it as a merciful act.

Within the Catholic Church, there is a saying: Everyone has their cross to bear. Each of us has been given a cross that we have not chosen, in order to further connect with Christ and His suffering. Jesus Christ willingly took the cross upon His shoulders, knowing that a greater purpose was at stake. So, too, we are asked by God to shoulder whatever cross He has given us in order to be transformed into the likeness of His Son. It is part of the journey.

Within those times of suffering, honest questions are asked (and sometimes shouted) to God. And when we surrender our preferences, our desires, our anger and frustration, we experience something miraculous that could not have happened otherwise: true joy and peace in Him. When we know that we have fully surrendered to God everything, He is then able to fill us with something the world will never be able to give -- contentment. We are then able to glimpse the truth of St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews:

But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. (Hebrews 2:9,10 RSV)

We are also made perfect through suffering, for what Christ has experienced, so is the call for His followers. This is what the world does not understand. To the world, suffering is to be avoided at all cost. For the believer in Christ, suffering is the cost for purchasing an incorruptible treasure, more precious than the sum of all the gold on earth.

Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5 RSV)

When a misguided society takes it upon itself to remove those who they decide are "suffering too much," they are removing the opportunity for that person to turn toward God and be radically changed. They are placing themselves in the position of God -- bestowing life upon those who in their eyes are "worthy" while dispensing with those who they feel are lacking. It is clear that they are morally and ethically wrong. But too often, the solution of expedience seems to trump morality.

There are wonderful people who are physically-challenged who rejected their circumstances as limiting their dreams and potential. I think of Joni Eareckson Tada, paralyzed from the neck down but whose delicate water-color paintings and Christian witness have touched thousands. (She also was diagnosed with breast cancer this past June and could use your prayers.) There is Christy Brown, the famous Irish author, painter, and poet who had cerebral palsy, and who had a film made of his life in My Left Foot. There is Charles Krauthammer, the brilliant doctor of psychiatry, political commentator and columnist, who was paralyzed from a diving accident while attending medical school. He continued his studies and graduated first class from the Harvard Medical School.

There are many others, those who have disabilities but yet have risen above their challenges to fulfill their dreams. (The families of those who are handicapped have also been given the opportunity to love in a seemingly hopeless situation.) The world would have been robbed of their gifts if someone said, "Well, I think it's an act of mercy to put this person out of their misery." Who defines misery? Certainly the world's definition is not God's.

Catholicism is the only place I have found that does not shrink from addressing the issue of suffering. In fact, many have celebrated it, even crying out to God, "I am not worthy!" For them, to identify so closely to Christ's sufferings is an honor, one that is held in awe. Many saints have rejoiced in their sufferings. I'm sure they would reject Virginia Ironside's perspective and counter it with a call to follow Christ.

In partnership with Catholicism's "culture of life" and all the efforts to preserve life, we must continue to voice our opposition to those who want to silence suffering, and the slippery slope it presents. Not too long ago, we had Dr. Kevorkian, who was justified by many for assisting in the suicide of someone suffering from physical pain. Is it any wonder that we now see our society contemplating killing someone because their suffering causes us pain? And does society's comfort level outweigh a person's right to life?

Catholics have a different answer and it brings life, not death.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why I Was Originally Attracted to the Non-Denominational Church and Left the #Catholic Church

Just to be be clear, I am back with the Catholic Church, now.

I am pondering this topic because yesterday, after Mass, the Youth ministry director asked, "Why are there so many ex-Catholics in the non-denominational churches?"

I tried to explain my perspective, but felt that I didn't fully articulate the reasons. I remember meeting many ex-Catholics at my local Vineyard Christian Fellowship. In fact, I was quite amazed by how many there were. When I'd ask why they were there, the answers were usually the same: there was more "freedom" to worship God, they enjoyed the casual environment, they found the large offerings of Bible study groups to be stimulating. These comments were generally given by Catholics who were brought up in the 1960's and 70's.

Personally, I think many Catholics were starved for relationship. Out of everything I've experienced within the non-denominational church, I would say that the one place they got it right was with home Bible study groups. Within these groups, friendships form that challenge and support one another to live out their Christian beliefs in a tough world. Sharing one's stories with one another is to me, the secret. When you hear someone else's story, it provides several things: 1) You don't feel alone or isolated in your struggles because someone else is going through something similar and 2) You're able to encourage one another and be encouraged. This is one of the purposes of being a part of the Church. A body needs nourishment to be strong, and the Body of Christ is no different.

When I left the Catholic Church at age twenty, I was in search of "something more." In other words, the liturgy did not resonate with me. Attending Mass once a week wasn't "enough" because I was craving relationship with others who were serious about their relationship with God. I didn't know how to find them. Too often, people would bolt out the doors after Mass, many leaving right after receiving Communion. My parish didn't have a "coffee and doughnuts" time afterward. (Thankfully, my current parish does and this is how I have gotten to know so many of my fellow parishioners.)

The other attraction was, of course, the "coolness" factor of the non-denominational church. They had cool worship music. Cool musicians who were fun and, well... looked cool. We did cool things like wash cars for free to show people that God loved them and to open up conversations about their own relationship (or non-relationship) with God. There was a freshness about it to me. Sort of like a "Hmm, what happens when I push this button?" flavor to it. Because I am enormously curious (which only added to my wandering away from Catholicism to pursue other experiences), I was extremely attracted to these new approaches toward evangelism and fellowship.

All of these factors were extremely appealing to a young "twentysomething." I would say that the experimental aspect of non-denominational churches is foundational for young people in search of themselves and their beliefs. Because many younger people are open to "testing the waters," they seem to gravitate toward places that allow them to do this. If you visit a non-denominational church, you will notice that the majority of the congregation is below the age of 50. You will see very few "seventysomething" folks in a non-denominational church. And that's part of what I missed.

I have a deep love and respect for older people. When I was younger, I realized that we needed the wisdom and experience of older people but was disappointed that I couldn't find many in my non-denominational church. Somehow I knew that older people would help guide me, especially older women. However, I had to search for such people outside of my church membership.

I remember enjoying the freedom of being a part of a church that had no rigid rules or -- expectations. There was a fluidity to a Sunday service, and the attitude seemed to be: Be here if you can. Or don't. But you'll miss all the fun if you don't attend. The "fun" was roundly promoted. "I'll stop coming to church when it's fun," was a common phrase from the senior pastor. It propagated a perspective that church was primarily for my enjoyment. Many non-denominational churches look to other leisure pursuits such as golf or visiting malls as their "competition." Because of it, their evangelism efforts resemble marketing efforts to "re-brand" Christianity and church-going as a better way to spend your time.

Now that I've returned to the Catholic Church, I see things much more differently than I did at age twenty. (Thank God for the "with age, comes wisdom" adage.) I realized that during all those years, what I missed most about the Catholic Church was the Eucharist. And now I know why.

The Mass is known as "The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass." It is because each Mass is a journey that we remember over, and over again. We begin by acknowledging our sin. We ask for God's forgiveness and for the forgiveness of our brothers and sisters. We give glory to God. We listen and meditate upon God's Word. We ask Him to help us. We give thanks to Him for His gifts, most notably the Gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. We remember Jesus' life and death as the priest re-presents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and then kneel in awe as the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We take and eat, knowing that we are eating "The Living Bread." (John 6:51) We thank God again for such an astounding gift. We meditate upon it, and then we sing a song of rejoicing. Then, we leave, being reminded to "go in peace" and to bring God's Good News to the world.

There is order, which to many young people equals boring. But the liturgy truly is anything but boring. There is meaning to every portion of it. Instead of the cotton-candy excitement of a talented worship band, Catholics have substance. Instead of the "anything-goes" mentality of many non-denominational services, Catholics have a purposeful trek. The altar is the focal point, not a stage.

For what it's worth, I learned much within the non-denominational church. And maybe I had to go through it in order to truly appreciate the treasure of the liturgy. At any rate, I remember feeling like I was holding onto the tail of a comet most of the time. Things would change so quickly within a non-denominational church and I often felt as though I was constantly trying to readjust.

I admit I love the Catholic Church with a surprised devotion. I never expected to find so much meaning, and to re-connect with a yearning I thought was satisfied with the non-denominational experiences. But here I am. Finding joy in the liturgy and intelligent challenges to help mature my faith. There is real "spiritual meat" in the Catholic Church, and you really don't have to look that hard to find it. Thank you, Lord, for showing me.