I was raised a Catholic. Sort of. My family wasn’t particularly religious, although I did go to Catholic schools until the fourth grade. After that, I moved to the US, went to public school, and attended Baptist churches for a while where I was told that the Catholic church worshiped Mary over Jesus, and that it was the seat of Satan on Earth. (A very large number of the Protestants I know don’t consider Catholics Christians, as they claim it “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof”, and many consider the Church either the Great Whore of Babylon spoken about in the book of Revelations, or what will give rise to the Antichrist.)
After leaving Puerto Rico, for a very long time I avoided anything Catholic. First, because mass was always boring. Sit down, stand up, sit down, kneel, sit down, stand up, kneel, stand up, sit down, Amen. There was no heart, no spirit to it! Just rites and rituals, all completely devoid of their spiritual significance after hundreds of years of repetition, rituals which have made God an unapproachable, silent being. Later, that morphed into it seeming to me an archaic institution whose only hope for survival was to continue a grip on people attained during the power vacuum left by the fall of Rome. I guess I bought into all the angst, first the Protestant, then the Atheist.
Lately I’ve started to once again discover the Church, but not as most may imagine. I came to the realization that the spiritual significance of the Mass is defined not by the rituals themselves, but what the persons participating in the sacraments–whether audience or active participant–put into it. I don’t see the Church now as a source of salvation, a matter of dogma, or even as a my personal faith. Rather, I’ve discovered the aesthetic qualities of its mysticism, the beauty and peace found in rituals and ceremonies, its colorful history, and the structure put in place over the span of almost 2,000 years. Suddenly, Mass transforms from something boring to something lively, full, and mystical, a source of art which serves as not only a source of comfort, but also a place–both physical and spiritual–of wonder, where I feel comfortable allowing to myself not have to know, where I can find spiritual shelter.
I find a fair amount of this aesthetic at the local church, but thanks to the Web I can also find it online via videos and podcasts. For video, really, there’s nothing better than EWTN, which you may recognize as the Catholic cable chanel. Here people can get a taste of the Catholic world view. But since I’m usually not in front of a screen (at least not one I can watch videos), I look for podcasts. There are two podcasts I recommend very highly for anyone interested in finding out more about the Church. The first is Catholic Under the Hood, which goes over Catholic history and theology from a Franciscan perspective and is done by Friar Seraphim Beshoner. The second is The Saintcast, done by Dr. Paul Camarata (a neurosurgeon), which covers the lives of the saints, both famous and obscure. This one I’ve been listening to for quite a while, and has become a mainstay in my podcast listening schedule. I’m looking around for more.
I’m not a Catholic, per se, at least not if it means accepting all of the Church’s beliefs. (For example, while I hate the idea of abortion, I am for its legalization; I also think birth control’s a good idea in practice, if not in theory; I’m not against embryonic stem cell research; and I believe in rebirth.) If anything I’m much closer to a Unitarian. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m awed by the pure beauty found in Catholicism, its art, its history, and its meaning. During times where I’m forced to stare into an eternal darkness it gives me hope, and as far as I’m concerned, hope–true or false–is still better than no hope.
As a side note, if you’re interested in a multi-faceted view of theology, check out John Hummel’s Blog The Religions blog and podcast. I had the pleasure of meeting John (Twitter folks, check out @blogthereligions and/or @johnhummel) at a recent Tampa Tweetup. Although I wrote this before listening to his Podcast #4 (on Catholicism), I recommend you go ahead and take a listen. Interesting stuff for the theologians among us, and definitely on topic.