13 Things I Like About Catholics

13 Things I Like About Catholics September 7, 2010

So as I work my way through the major faith traditions I come to Catholicism. In a way this may be one of the more difficult “13 things” because although I do know Catholics I’ve never set foot in a Catholic church and most of my knowledge of it comes from movies, books and television. Yet even though my knowledge of the tradition is so very second hand, it is such a broad, intricate and old tradition that finding only 13 things may prove difficult, and it has such a body of art associated with it I fear I may get carried away with images and video.

I also have to admit, this may be the hardest of this series to write, because of all the branches of Christianity this is the one that has historically done the most damage to Pagan religions. I’m fairly certain that as I write this I will shed a tear or two and bite back bitter words.

13. Pope Benedict XVI

I have to admit that I really love this pope for very silly and superficial reasons. I realize he’s caught up in scandals rocking the church, a person to seriously study and take moral measure of, but I love that he looks like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. I know it’s ridiculous but just looking at him warms the cockles of my geek heart. It’s as if someone loved Star Wars so much, they decided to be in costume everyday. Plus, I love waiting for a pope to get picked. It’s better than waiting for the ball to drop on New Year’s!

12. Council in Nicea

As a Pagan, it is unfathomable that I could gather all the various Pagan traditions, sit down and come up with an official Pagan calendar, theology and creed, as well as setting up the foundations for religious law regarding Paganism, all in one meeting. This is by no means something I would want, but just the idea of trying to accomplish it is overwhelming. The fact that the early Christians were able to come together and make such important decisions despite all the sectarian squabbling is impressive. Well done!

11. Bing Crosby, Rosalind Russell, Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman

From a young age I have loved the movies of old Hollywood. It was a glamorous foreign world where everyone was Catholic. I find this odd looking back, that there were so few Protestants in Hollywood classics, but I think part of it may have been due to the rating system the Catholic church had for movies. At any rate, the traditional vestments of priests and nuns will always make me think of fabulous entertainers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a86VaRTuCaw

10. Candles, Incense, Choirs, Wine and Stained Glass

As a Pagan I like worship that engages all the senses. The Catholics do that very well, as every sight, sound, movement, smell and taste within their service has been sacralized. It’s a really lovely thing.

9. Heretics

Maybe this sounds odd, but the people who branch off of Catholicism to go their own way are just as fascinating. The Cathars, the Huguenots, the Lutherans, the Anglicans, the Eastern Orthodox, the Assyrian church and even modern heretics such as Matthew Fox. As a teenager I found nothing more fascinating than the history of the Catholic church and it’s heretics. I could while away an afternoon reading about the Waldensians. From the diverse Christian faith traditions it has birthed, albeit unintentionally and unwillingly, the Roman Catholic church truly is the “Mother Church”.

8. Depth of Tradition and Sense of Identity

The Roman Catholic faith is a world of it’s own. The language, the customs, the calendar year, the dress, it goes on and on. There is a sacred element to everything in the Catholic faith. To study Catholicism is to study not just a religion, but a culture, a tribe, a people. Although there are regional differences the Roman Catholic faith is the same the world over. I imagine this must be comforting for practitioners and attractive to converts. I imagine a Catholic can walk into a Catholic church anywhere in the world and feel at home. That’s impressive.

7. The Virgin Mary

It is comforting to know other traditions have a Divine Feminine. Although I come from a Baptist background, I have love for Mary. It’s good to know she’s there.

6. The Saints

It’s a Pagan joke that the Catholics are almost as polytheistic as we are. There is a saint for every purpose and season, and their stories are fantastic. Saint George has always been a favorite of mine, also Thomas à Becket, that turbulent priest!

5. Miracles

When I was a child the Virgin Mary appeared at a farm in Conyers, GA. It was a big deal. Pilgrims poured in from all over, causing traffic jams and attracting the local news. The fact that “miracles” still happen in Catholicism is comforting to me. Science has robbed us of so much that was once ineffable and mystic.

4. Sacred Places

Westminster Abbey. The Sistine Chapel. Saint Peter’s Basilica. The grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Notre Dame. Such beauty and serenity. Such holiness. I’ll admit to being bitter regarding Pagan temples being converted to Christian use in the early days of Christianity, or temples being destroyed, their stones scavenged to build Christian churches in the same holy locations. However, I cannot deny that Christianity has created buildings of great beauty, grace and honor. It’s a bittersweet pleasure for me to see the Pantheon still standing in modern day Rome as the lone Pagan temple still in use.

3. Music

Ave Maria. Handel’s Messiah. The incredible body of early choral music that still survives. Christmas carols. Some of the heavenliest sounds on earth.

2. Deep Symbolism

If you aren’t aware of the deep levels of intricate symbolism in the Roman Catholic church, then you’ve never read Dan Brown. The artwork of the Catholic church is a vibrant visual catechism, with every decorative element and color imbued with meaning.

1. Historical and Literary Legacy

For the history buff, the Roman Catholic church is a treasure trove. The evolution of religious, scientific and political thought can be traced through it’s literary legacy. If you love stories of intrigue, mysticism and spiritual fortitude you wade through them for years in the length and breadth of Catholic history. The Vatican has preserved documents for centuries and has become a repository for the knowledge of the Western world.

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  • Architectural pedantry to follow–be ye warned!

    While Westminster Abbey was created during the pre-Reformation period, strictly speaking, it’s no longer a Catholic building, it’s one of the foremost Anglican sites.

    And, “Vatican City” (which is the political entity rather than the architectural one) encompasses both St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.

    However, to throw some architecturally pedantic spackle on the holes I may have knocked in your post, let me offer the following further possibilities: the Rock of Cashel (in Cashel, Co. Tipperary, Ireland); Chartres Cathedral; St. Mark’s in Venice; Sagrada Familia in Barcelona; St. Patrick’s in New York City. (I’ve been to the first and the last of these, and they’re both wonderful.)

  • Westminster Abbey is still a product of Roman Catholic architecture. I realize the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica lie within Vatican City, but I realize that’s confusing. Fixed.

  • Ali

    Speaking as a former Catholic who only finally decided to leave the church officially after the last Pope died…. I think I’m allowed to say that the resemblance between Pope Benny here and the evil Emperor from Star Wars goes deeper than mere physical appearance. I do not like this new Pope. He’s been vocally anti-feminist and anti-ecumenism, not to mention a direct participant in the vast cover-up of child abuse and a proponent of reckless, life-threatening “abstinence” and anti-birth control preaching in some of the areas of the world hardest hit by AIDS and overpopulation. All in the name of a scholarly commitment to purity and consistency in theological doctrine. Ugh. Like your metaphors are more important than real human beings.

    Many of the other things you list about Catholicism I very much appreciate, too, and don’t get me wrong – most of my relatives are Catholics, including my father, for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection.

    But I don’t like the current Nazi Pope. Yes, Nazi Pope. There. I said it.

  • Ali

    P.S. I would totally add “Sister Act” and “Sister Act II” to your list. Man those were great movies! ;)

  • Hail Mary! :)
    She’d be my first . . . as the early Pagans disguised the Goddess as Her so they could keep worshipping.

  • It’s clear that you are unfamiliar with the history of the ecumenical councils. The First Council at Nicea happened not because the Christians wanted to love each other, but because the pagan divine emperor Constantine was sick of the squabbling and occasional riots among Christians. The council was supposed to end all that. It didn’t work.

  • Ian,

    Where did I say they wanted to love each other? Regardless of the circumstances, the ecumenical councils were very effective.

  • Uriel

    Star Foster, in Matthew 8:5-10, a Roman centurion had such faith when he asked Jesus for help that Jesus said “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.” The centurion was not a Christian, because according to the Bible, the first non-Jewish conversion to Christianity did not occur until after Christ’s resurrection. Jesus hears the prayers of Pagans, and I’ve read about Pagans today who have prayed to Yahweh and Jesus with surprising positive results, even though they were not Christian.

    P.S. St. George is one of my favorites too.

  • Bookhousegal

    Yeah, that Council of Nicea was all strongarm tactics and things being imposed. That one declared anyone not swearing to conformity to be ‘heretics,’ and of course, the usual ‘not fun’ was had by all.

    There’s saying nice things about people and then there’s remembering that Constantine didn’t exactly …constitute… any kind of love-fest, either for most of those poor ‘early Christians’ or for the Pagans of the time.

    That ‘Council’ essentially turned it all into an Imperial-controlled state religion. Or else.

  • I feel like a broken record, but once again, I never said the ecumenical councils were lovey-dovey, I said they were effective.

    As a Pagan I obviously disagree with their aims, but I can admire their efficiency. “Being nice” isn’t the point of this series, and neither is conversion, but honestly assessing the admirable points of each religion from my tolerant Pagan point of view.

  • “Being nice” isn’t the point of this series, and neither is conversion, but honestly assessing the admirable points of each religion from my tolerant Pagan point of view.”

    A little gem, if ever I saw one ;)