Several different comments/questions from several different friends converged for me this week.
My faith is in Jesus Christ--not in the church.
Why don't you ever go to church somewhere else, for variety if nothing else?
We are called to be church for those who have never known Christ.
Setting aside, for the moment, my continual struggles with how well I know Christ myself, these all came to focus, as I found myself taking a look at where I am and how I got there--and what it means in the grand scheme of things. It is an exercise perhaps particular to converts, we who wonder when we will ever really "feel" Catholic, like those born to the faith. I'm beginning to realize how very, very Catholic I am--and "feel."
Yes, indeed, my faith is in Christ, and I aim to know Him better each day. I set my belief in Him and Him alone. As a result, I found myself, five years ago, standing up in a little mountain parish and declaring that I believed all that Holy Mother Church teaches, because I came to see that He established a way for me to hear clearly what He wished me to know and do what He wishes me to do. I remember thinking at the time--the time before my real conversion, which happened months later, that, poor excuse for a Christian that I may be on any given day, there is one thing I can do for Christ. I can be in the Church He founded, to be where He wants me to be. If nothing else, I can listen to Him when He says, "upon this rock, I will build My Church."
I hear so many of my Catholic friends, Catholics from the cradle, disparage their patrimony, their parish, their priest, their bishop, and parrot the common wisdom that, "...really, it doesn't matter where we worship as long as we believe...". For there it's a quick jump to biting criticism of anything and everything Catholic--and the worst invectives I hear come not from hard-shelled Protestants, but from Catholics who find nothing to value in their own heritage.
I was reminded in conversation with a friend that this is what adolescents do. When we are teens, there's nothing our parents do that we find worthy of praise, let alone emulation, and our mouths are full of criticism. As we age, though, and assume the tedious and thankless burdens of being adults in a difficult world, and take on the task of parenting our own children, our souls soften. We find ourselves understanding all those things we rebelled against as adolescents. We may even take the occasional bit of conflict with Mom and Dad much more charitably. We might even find ourselves calling our parents up now and again, out of the blue (or sending a prayer heavenward) to say, "Thanks Mom, Dad. I didn't realize how hard it was for you, and now I do. Thanks."
We have real issues in our church and real problems. Whether or nor Pastor decides to support one's own favorite project, or declines to marry in the parish church two long absent Catholics or prefers a more (or less) traditional version of the mass than we like just doesn't rise to importance in a world where the Church is assaulted from within and from without by the forces of darkness. I wonder--is the chronic dissatisfaction with our clergy a reflection of the fact that so many of the faithful have never gotten beyond adolescence in their spiritual life, never bothered to pray and study and work at becoming adults in faith after PRE ended for them at 16, at the peak of adolescent rebelliousness?
Yes, my faith is in Christ, but He left me the Church. Not Church. Not a church. THE Church. I'm a lawyer, and I know what fodder devious minds looking for a way out of circumstance can make of one word. I've spent hours (successfully) crafting phrases that would act as a Trojan horse for me to sneak past my legal adversary a principle or an opening I knew he opposed. My syntactic sensitivities make me suspicious both of changing the definite article and of omitting it. I worship in the Church and I am called to be the face of the Church in the world. Frankly, I don't even know what it means to "be" Church. I am beginning to get a handle on what it means to be in the Church and part of the Church and to bring the Church to others. And it has precious little to do with my own preferences.
My faith is in Christ, but my worship is and must be in the Church He left me. I worship in the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, warts, annoyances and all.
Do I have preferences? You bet. I fall squarely on the traddy not trendy side of the bell curve. I'd rather kneel to receive, and I prefer music that doesn't sound like something composed for a ball-park organ or a skating rink. I'm definitely a "say the black and do the red" sort of parishioner. But I remain tethered in the Church because it is there, and only there, that I can encounter the Eucharistic Lord. Period. Full stop. End of discussion.
So no, I feel no particular compulsion to vary my worship, no desire to find out what's being done at the Presbyterian ecclesial body down the street. I'll go when circumstances make a compelling case, for a wedding, or a funeral, or an ecumenical service. But I get my fuel and my fire and my life from worshipping Christ in the manner He left for me, the manner passed down through the successors of Peter, imperfect though they may be. Those without whom there is no one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, definite article or not.
My faith is in Christ alone, but that faith neither excuses me from being in the Church nor permits me to put Her in a lower place than She deserves--for my faith is inescapably tied to my worship. The Church is the Bride of my Redeemer and the Mother of my faith. While I might kick at the goad of Her discipline, and be vexed or even horrified by some of those responsible for presenting Her to me, I also know that she is, in the end, my Mother, with a Mother's love, which nothing--nothing--can replace.
So, yes, my faith is in Christ, and in Christ alone. But I cannot now maintain that faith outside the Church He established to nurture me. And since you're asking, no. I have one Mother and one alone. I'll stay at home, where I belong.
And I'll do my best to get along with my brothers and sisters....and....thanks, Mom.