“Here comes everybody” is a saying of unknown origin to me but it is said, with a humorous overtone, to describe the Catholic Church.
I could (and probably will) write at least a few posts about what I have been learning about Catholicism. But my initial focus will be on the topic that I find the most life-giving which is the superstructure that the Catholic church provides for the individual.
When does a structure give life & freedom? When does a structure constrict & drain life? Here’s my assessment:
A structure gives life when it provides a system of belonging & meaning to an individual without taking away from the uniqueness, significance & free will of the individual.
A structure drains life when it overemphasises group boundaries, demonises outsiders & reinforces group-think.
Why are religious structures important? They’re important when we talk about religious deconstruction. It’s something that a lot of people have gone through, are going through, or will go through at some point in their life.
I began my journey of deconstruction as an Evangelical Protestant. It was the universe that I was born into & it was sacred & personal and, for the most part, beautiful; it hid its dark side very well. I grew up with a Christian faith that was almost completely devoid of any concept of social justice & existed on an almost purely spiritual plane. The game was the salvation of souls above all else. The playing field was the Mission field & in the grand scheme of things, it seems I was a pawn.
I found the belonging system of Evangelical Protestantism overly concerned with who is saved & who is not. Without realising it, my God was very small & by the criteria of salvation given to Him, He seemed to only win in a few people’s lives. Of course, it was the mission of my religious group to increase this number & I suppose there was no harm in that, but it didn’t seem to be going very well.
My religious denomination seemed to demonise 90% of human culture. It seemed to me that God did not so love the world after all. It was all too corrupt to save more than a homogeneous remnant of humanity. The rest would burn.
Through deconstruction I lost a few possessions that I had had for my whole life; Biblical inerrancy, Six-day creation & Noah’s Ark to name a few. That was no simple loss. It was a completely disorienting experience to wake up & no longer believe what I had stood firmly on for my whole life up to that point. But through deconstruction, God found a way to bring me towards reconstruction. This, for me, is the role that Catholicism is playing in my life at the moment. It’s a new home to build a new faith that is broad and free and actually quite Orthodox.
So why Catholicism? You might say that the things I found problematic within my original denomination are also present in Catholicism & you would be right. The difference is that within Catholicism I discovered a healthy sense of heterodoxy. Heterodoxy is the allowing of differing opinions on major Church doctrines and considering them to BOTH be orthodox! How liberating!
This flings the doors of the church wide open and creates room for intellectual debate & discussion without calling one’s membership into question when doing so. This creates in part, the freedom that the individual psyche needs to flourish.
Having said this, it does not mean that anything goes, otherwise the superstructure would fall apart completely. It is here that the Creed comes into play. Once the Creed is considered as a foundation, it allows for the members of the body to be grounded in their common belief & also allows for individual members to fulfil their functions within the larger body accordingly.
Within Catholicism, rather than separating from the Catholic church, individuals like St Dominic, St Francis & St Benedict who wanted to take a more devoted path for Christ created and subsequently joined religious orders within the Catholic Church. This demonstrates an inclusive spirit of reform which is also something I deeply appreciate. When reform happens it brings along the old with the new & this preserves tradition and holds on to the essentials. It also creates a posture of emphasising what one is for rather than emphasising what one is against (Protesting). I believe this is the true spirit of positive reform. This is what I believe Jesus was doing with Judaism. Moving the boundaries out toward greater inclusivity whilst still acknowledging the boundaries
In this spirit of reform, it would be a culpable ignorance of mine to completely throw out my Evangelical Protestant upbringing. There was a lot of good in it such as the sense of duty it gave me & the posture of being in the world with a purpose and that God was deeply personal in nature. All of these valuable beliefs were instilled in me by the Evangelical Protestant universe and I am grateful for them.
The superstructure of the Catholic Church reminds me that though I am little, I am part of a larger whole. In this way the Church as the body of Christ acts as a metaphor for the larger body of Christ which is the universe itself. I am a part of the larger whole. I always have been. I am not insignificant in my smallness but actually integrated into the superstructure without losing my individuality. This posture towards reality allows for great freedom of expression whilst also retaining a meaningful universe for the individual. Finally, it is a safe universe & everything is okay.
In the Catholic Church I personally find true unity that is achieved without uniformity. I feel this unity in diversity most at the Mass. When the people gather to be fed I am moved by a true sense that left & right, rich & poor, divorced & married, gay & straight can all gather at the table of Eucharist. It is the great equaliser. All become invited before the table of God. The meal that feeds the souls of the world with the very flesh & blood of the Divine. What a pure & total gift. What a radical boundary breaking form of eating that let’s the whole world in. The Catholic Church is the Church in communion with the least of these. It must be. That is why everyone is allowed in. “Here comes everybody.” That is the truth that it continually speaks to me.