One of my many newsletters comes from BustedHalo, which is a community for 20- and 30-something Catholics. It’s a nice change from all the articles about how to survive high school as a Catholic. In working my way through the old ones, I came across an interview with two Catholic authors. It made me interested in reading their books, for sure, but the last section was most interesting for me.
BustedHalo: Is it possible to be in the same religious community with people you can’t stand?
Ron Howard: I’ve always been struck by the fact that Catholicism looks worse from the outside than it does from the inside. People who have trouble even going to mass, I say, “Go to more masses.” Because once you get familiar with it, it’s really a life-giving thing. And from the outside it looks oppressive and women are put down. But that’s not actually the experience of the people in the pews.
BH: What keeps you in the church, Ron?
RH: I think it’s probably the Eucharist. I really believe that Jesus is really present in the communion wafer and it seems unlikely but I know that I’m changed for the better because of the Church. I know that I would be a lost soul without it. And I would certainly be more grim.
Jim Shepard: But you like the community of it as well. I mean if they gave you the Eucharist in your room every Sunday, you’d still go to mass.
RH: Well that’s part of the Catholic experience: it’s not enough to have your own religion. It’s something you have to share with others. And we were talking earlier about being spiritual but not religious, and it really makes no sense. Because the whole idea of having this infusion of grace is to share it with someone else. I think of my experience of retreats. You’re in the retreat for several days not speaking. And at the end of it you talk to people about what happened to you in that prayer and often it’s inspiring to see what God is doing in everybody’s lives. And it’s always somewhat different. He addresses each of us in a different way. And it’s great to have that shared. Even if you’re not speaking to someone when you go to a mass. You see them and there’s this communication of the eyes and it’s like, something is happening that brought me here and I want to share that experience with you, even if it’s only to say, “Peace of Christ be with you.” And when I’m a Eucharistic minister, when I’m sharing the body of Jesus with others, to see that kind of solemnity with which they come to you. And you see all of these different faces, all of these different histories, but they’re all coming for the same thing. So that sense of oneness despite our disparity is really what keeps me in the church.
Howard’s comment about critics of the Church who remain outside the Church makes me think. The best way to know why Catholics think as they do is to try it out. I didn’t know there was such a thing as daily Mass, but once I did, I wanted to try it. I don’t think I’ll ever become the sort that goes to Mass every day, but doing it as often as I do has clued me in. (I haven’t been at all this week. I love you, Jesus, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get up so early to come worship You on a weekday.) I didn’t understand how I could possibly do more than just pray an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and blessings for my family until I tried it. It is only by the grace of God that started practicing again last year, and I’ve found more peace and happiness within it than I ever had outside it.
I have a friend who’s a secular Jew; most of you who read this probably know him. He said he had a friend who was investigating different religions, so he asked me what I said (thought?) when I prayed. This was immediately after I said grace before dinner one night. I explained it to him, but since it’s a rote prayer, it wasn’t terribly interesting. Then we moved on to our usual random dinner conversations. Soon, I found out he’d gone to some Protestant groups, I think IV (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship). Excited that his interest was turning into action, I invited him to join me and Maura at Wednesday night dinner. An intro to Catholicism and free food: what could be more enticing? I forget what his exact words were, but he basically told me he was going to stick with Protestantism. Now, his choice is his choice. I’m not going to push Catholicism on him, because it’s rude and because it probably wouldn’t work. But I was (and still am) disappointed that he never gave it a try. He has class on Wednesday afternoons, so he’s not free for Wednesday dinner, but I’m still determined to get him to try Mass one of these days. Even if he totally hates it, at least he’d have tried it. It’s like my Green Vegetables for Lent mission, only in a much more spiritual sense.
In the last section, Howard tackles the spirituality vs. religion debate. I was talking about that with Greg one night ages ago, and he posted part of our conversation to his LiveJournal, only asking me afterward if it was okay. It would not have been okay. Anyway, I was caught off guard and it was late, so the argument drained me completely. I think Howard takes a good stab at it there. Even non-denominational Christians recognize that need for community. Religion is a very personal thing, but without someone with whom to share your beliefs, it’s too much of a personal thing. Jesus sent his disciples off in pairs to spread the faith. He didn’t walk into the temple and tell the moneychangers, “Well, I think this place should be reserved for worship, but if you don’t, that’s just your way of worshiping.” He kicked their butts out with a whip. Like I saw in… I think Ali’s away message, when someone asks “What would Jesus do?,” remember that at least one valid response is, “Freak out and knock over tables.” Religion informs spirituality, I think. My way of being spiritual is to worship according to Catholic forms.
Remember the Golden Rule of Commenting: Keep it short and polite. I’m more than willing to discuss these things, but I will not argue. You don’t have to agree with me, but you do have to be nice.