I am a pew-sitting, mass-going, catechism-following, Roman Catholic.
Based on my deeds, I’m not worthy to be called a Christian, much less a Catholic, and yet the Church took me in and accepted me as a completely new person in Christ. I’ve never encountered that kind of love and forgiveness anywhere else. Ever.
The Church, which is made up of fallen people living in a fallen world, is not perfect. But it is a direct conduit of the grace and forgiveness of Christ. Every mass takes you to the foot of the cross where you can lay down your worries, stresses and failures and be made new again in Christ.
If Jesus was going to be at the Cox Convention Center here in Oklahoma City, I imagine there would be lines of people, trying to get in. What we overlook is that Jesus is at our parish church at every mass, and that we can reach out and touch Him and be healed any day of the week.
Sixteen years of campaigning for office, filing bills, making speeches, battling over issues; of the chaos and ruthlessness that is politics, has taught me a few lessons. The most important is that, left to my own devices, I can and will do terrible things.
I learned that the hard way; by doing terrible things and then having to live with the remorse afterwards. When I follow my own “personal morality,” I can convince myself of most anything. When I follow my own lights and do what I think is right without any reference to the God who made me, I can be a monster.
It is a crushing thing to come face to face with your own sins, to see without the varnish of self-justification the harm that you have done. But it is also a gift, because from that knowledge of what you really are and how useless your “personal morality” really is, comes an understanding of who God is, what the Church does, and why you need them.
I work with people who campaigned for public office and were elected based on their Christian witness. They waved the Bible and held up their personal morality as the primary reason why people should vote for them. They attacked their opponents for not being as Christian as they were. And it worked. They were elected.
The problem with this is they were deformed by this process, deluded into believing that they really were holier than their opponents and most of the rest of the world. They came to believe that everything they did was of God just because they did it. In short, they believed their own publicity and they became their own Gods.
They are sophisticated idolators whose God is their political party, their ambitions, and ultimately, themselves. They are the Pharisees of our times, and, believe me, they can cut your heart out without an anesthetic while quoting a Bible verse that they have taken out of context which they claim makes them righteous for doing it.
That’s why I would never be a person who “loves Jesus, but hates religion.” I find the greatest moral and spiritual freedom I’ve ever known in simply doing my best to follow the two-thousand-year-old teachings of the Catholic Church.
The Church is not perfect, but it is the repository of faith. For fifteen hundred years, the Eastern and Roman Catholic Church was the voice, the only voice, of Christianity in the world. Despite its human failings, the Holy Spirit has protected it so that it has handed down the full faith of Christ, the whole Gospels, intact and unblemished from one generation to the next for 2,000 years.
If you believe in the Trinity, you owe it to the Catholic Church. If you believe in the Bible, you owe those scriptures to the Catholic Church. If you believe in the virgin birth, the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting, you inherited those beliefs from the Catholic Church.
I believe what the Church teaches. I believe in my own sinfulness. I know for a fact that I cannot be holy, Christian, or even a good person on my own.
Being Christian is not a matter of saying “Holy, Holy” and waving your Bible around. It is not wearing a t-shirt that says “My boss is a Jewish Carpenter.” It most certainly is not using “proof texts” taken from the Bible out of context to justify doing whatever you want.
Being Christian is first of all, going to the cross and knowing that you, like the good thief, are a sinner, not that you have sinned, but that you are, and always will be a hopeless, helpless sinner. It is knowing that you deserve to hang on that cross instead of Him.
Being Christian is, first and foremost, humility before God in the face of your own sins. Secondly, it is doing what Jesus told you to do. I don’t just mean doing the parts of what He commanded that fit in with the group of people you run around with, or that will get you a better job or make your life easier. I don’t mean picking out a few sins that don’t tempt you in the least and then condemning other people for doing those things.
You are not made holy by pointing out other people’s sins and condemning them. You are made holy by seeing your own sins and turning to God in humility to ask for forgiveness that, if you are honest, you know you do not deserve.
From my own life as a sinner, I will tell you that while you can come to Jesus anywhere you are, just exactly as you are, you cannot maintain a lifelong walk with Him alone. You need direction from centuries of Christian teaching, community and fellowship.
You can’t love Jesus and hate religion. If you try, you will inevitably end up loving a Jesus who is not Christ the Lord but a mirror image of you. Without the Church, and its stubborn insistence on following the whole Gospel of Christ, including the parts of it that various power brokers find inconvenient, you will revert to type and become your own God, following your own rules and justifying your sins, not with conversion of heart and trying to change, but with lies, obfuscations and the arrogance of self.
We can convince ourselves of anything. I know, because I’ve done it. Because I see other people do it every day of my working life.
We need to be with other sinners who, just like us, are trying and failing, then trying again, to follow Christ as they walk through their days in this life. We need the Church.