There were about five million topics of which Jason and I just scratched the surface when we were on the Journey Home so I wanted to give a little detail on at least one of them. Maybe in the future we’ll address more.
In my last few years as a protestant, I often had a sense that there really wasn’t anywhere else to go, spiritually speaking. Especially if you’ve been in church pretty much since birth, the expectation is that you’ll go to Sunday school, Bible studies, and church services, and that is the way you will “grow.” At least, that is the old model under which I grew up. I realize there are different ways to “do church” now, but I don’t see how they substantially change the notion that doing lots of Bible studies and community-building activities are what will cause spiritual growth.
I’m not saying that studying the Bible and hanging out with other Christians or doing good things (hey, I’ve raked lots leaves and scraped a ton of paint for Jesus) should be abandoned, but ultimately, they fell short for me. Towards the end, I felt that I had hit a wall: that although I’d been a Christian pretty much forever, this was it. It was a terrible feeling to realize that tenure was really the only indication that I had arrived.
As I mentioned in a long ago post, I had this creeping sense of soul-ickiness. Pardon the lack of sophistication, but I really don’t know how else to say it. It was like, even though I wasn’t out clubbing baby seals or burning orphanages down, there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t fix by reading a book or listening to a sermon or journalling or walking a prayer labyrinth. Even with all the reading I was doing in seminary, I couldn’t quite grasp just how these theological writers were attaining holiness.
What I was really looking for was holiness. It’s sad, in hindsight, to see that I didn’t even know what I was looking for. I don’t mean this as an insult to any protestant readers here but holiness, in my experience, was not something I heard tons about. I’m not going to get into different theories of salvation, but I do think the belief that you get zapped with salvation when you say a prayer all too easily lends to the notion that you’re all set. Anything beyond that point is just a bonus. Because, in that mode of thinking, one is fully justified, I think sin kind of gets forgotten. Certainly, I think there’s the notion that you shouldn’t commit “big” sins (whatever that even means anymore); beyond that, holiness is an optional, side- pursuit, as if it it’s like, “Meh, that’s for the special people.”
The answer to this confusion, of course, is found in the Catholic Church, specifically in the Sacraments. How do you get holy? You participate in the Sacraments. Why? Because they are one of God’s ways of communicating grace to us, or as I recall someone once saying, the Sacraments are the way in which God shares his divine life with us. It’s kind of like God’s lifeline to us so that we can live holy lives; this is the grace that gives us the ability to defeat sin and makes it possible to become a saint and to help other people become saints.
This is where the Bible really started to come to life for me. What of all the passages where Paul talks about running the race or beating his body, or the admonition to “Be holy as I am holy“? When I used to read these verses I thought they were nice but wrote them off as impossible. With the Sacraments in view, they make complete sense. Peter and Paul weren’t just talking to themselves, but to all of us.
On a side note, some of the practices that had previously left me feeling sort of empty and cynical (due to the fact that I knew they would have little effect) have fallen into their proper place now. And coming back to the lack of direction I felt before, having a faith that is sustained by the Sacraments has given me a game plan for my life. Because I experience real and palpable grace on a regular basis, I am strengthened to keep running the race.