Following my recent post on the need for a true encounter with Christ, one commentator asked quite rightly, but where is that true encounter to be found?
Great question. It’s one of the questions that brought me into the Catholic Church. After experiencing different expressions of Protestantism–from the fully fledged variety of do-it-yourself fundamentalism all the way to Anglo-Catholicism–I felt that every group was following a slightly different Jesus, and that the Jesus they were following was a bit too close to themselves for my liking.
Fundamentalist Americans portrayed Jesus as a rootin tootin, no compromise, take no prisoners kind of preacher. Liberal mainstream Protestants preached a Jesus who was loving, caring, concerned with the outcasts and marginalized members of society. Educated Evangelicals communicated a Jesus who was thoughtful, quiet, deep thinking, concerned and prayerful. Anglo Catholics worshipped a wistful, beautiful poet, a martyr for truth.
As I became more involved in Catholicism I was dismayed to find that the same thing was true of Catholics who were more interested in their own version of Catholicism than the historic faith. So Charismatic Catholics worshipped a hands up holy roller happy Jesus, liberal Catholics worshiped a social revolutionary and radical preacher, ulta trad Catholics worshipped a distant stern savior shrouded in mystery.
The boy Oliver sings, “Wheeeeeere, is Love?” We might as well sing, “Wheeeeere is Christ?”
Suddenly it began to be clear why one needs so called ‘valid’ sacraments. We need to be able to cut through all the sentimentality, all the misguided sincerity, all the good ideas, theories and wishful thinking to say, “There he is.”
The only way one can have valid sacraments, of course, is to have a Church that validates those sacraments. This church needs to have the spiritual, historical, universal, Scriptural and supernatural credentials to say with the authority of Christ himself, “This is a the Body of Christ. This is the blood of Christ.”
Where is that Church? Reading the letters of Clement of Rome and St Ignatius of Antioch, the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus brought it all home. In their day they also had groups who had gone into schism, broken from the apostles and set up on their own. The apostolic fatehrs taught that a valid sacrament was only the one authorized by the bishops in direct apostolic succession, and in communion with Rome.
At this point, as an Anglican priest, I simply no longer believed that what I was doing at the altar was a valid Catholic sacrament. It seemed like something made up…a plausible counterfeit, and the Catholic Church was the only option which even considered that these were proper questions to ask.
People have said, “Oh, weren’t you brave to leave all to become a Catholic!”
Not really. How could I continue as an Anglican priest for another thirty years not believing in what I was doing at the altar? It became very simple to believe, and very simple to obey. I simply needed an objective, valid presence of Christ, and no longer wanted something of my own making.