The last time I attended a Catholic church was a couple of weeks ago. I basically sat in the back of the Church and cried the entire time. The pastors decided that they were going to address the abuse crisis head-on, and they did a relatively good job of it. They prayed for the victims. They said that there was going to be a special Mass with adoration to pray for the healing of the victims. They acknowledged the concerns of parishioners as valid and invited people to come and talk to them.
But they also said “We have to persevere. We can’t abandon our Mother, the Church, in this hour of need.”
You can’t leave.
It’s been a constant, background refrain for as long as I’ve been a Catholic. No other church has the sacraments. No other church was founded by Christ. There is no salvation outside of the <fine print: Roman Catholic> church. Those who are ignorant may be forgiven, but once you know the truth you must remain Catholic or forfeit your salvation.
The Church has a monopoly on truth, a monopoly on God’s love. We alone have the keys to the Kingdom and the means to bind and loose. We alone have the formulae that are necessary to secure God’s sure forgiveness. And we alone have the infallible means to scry the mind of God.
You can’t leave.
Leaving is a sin. It’s apostasy. To leave is to reject Christ. To reject the Cross. If you leave, it means that you are personally weak. You didn’t have the strength to persevere when things got tough.
It’s also a sign of hubris. You want to be your own pope. You’re disobedient and you just want to be able to get away with all of these sad, shameful little sexual sins. Those are the real reasons people leave. Pride and lust.
You cannot leave.
You can’t make it on your own. Without the hierarchy to guide you, you’re just going to be pulled in every possible direction by your passions, your pride, by the world and by the devil. You’ll just go find a church that makes you feel good. One that never challenged you to really be a good person, to genuinely grow. You’ll whither away spiritually.
Relying on yourself, your own relationship with God, with the Holy Spirit, will just lead you to confusion and self-deceit. Look around out there at all those denominations with their private views of Scripture. The Holy Spirit isn’t leading them. It’s just chaos and disorder. The Spirit won’t lead you either. You need us or you’ll be lost.
Yes, sometimes the Church does bad things. But that’s just evil men inside the Church. The Church itself never needs to apologize because it’s never actually the Church that has done wrong. Cling to that idealized Church. The True Church.
You can never leave.
Or else eternal punishment, the absolute and permanent rejection of your soul by God. Plus fire and ice and worms and darkness and devils with pincers thrown in for good measure. I mean, probably not literally those last things. Ha ha ha. That just medieval silliness, of course. Actually what we mean is, something much much worse.
Please, don’t leave.
We’ll change. We promise. We’re changing already. Yes, I mean there’s been the odd slip up here and there but if you just give us another chance we’re going to make it better.
Yes, I know we’ve said that before, but this time is different.
Oh. You want accountability? You want an equal say in how things are done? You want to be treated like an adult? Now you’re just being unreasonable. You see, we’ve been doing it this way for 2000 years and that means we can never change it, ever. It’s irreformable teaching. There’s nothing we can do.
But we promise, we’re serious, we’re going to change…
Today, I attended my local Anglican parish. I was welcomed. My children were welcome. Their funny little noises and interjections were greeted with laughs and knowing smiles. We prayed and we worshiped God and we sang. We sang about how wonderful it is to give praise to God – and everybody joined in. Not a handful of people struggling to make up a choir. Everyone.
Afterwards, people stayed and talked, like as if the point was actually to be a community of believers. There was nobody, apart from my two year old, rushing to get out to the parking lot. It was as if people were there because they wanted to be there, because they were choosing to be there.
And you know what, I felt safe. And I realized that for years now I haven’t felt safe in church. That for years, I’ve been grateful if I get to the end of the service without being triggered. That when I have gone to worship God I’ve gone with my defenses up, and only lowered them for a moment during the Eucharist. And that even then it’s been a struggle to let myself be vulnerable because even though I knew that I wanted communion with God, and that God wanted communion with me, there was this vast hierarchy standing between us, mediating, like a pane of plexiglass in the visitor’s centre at a prison.
Here, that was gone. I could let down my defenses and run towards God, my refuge, my fortress, and know that I was safe.
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