Why I Am a (c)atholic
...I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church...
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. It may seem odd, but I have staked a lot of my life on this line from the Nicene Creed, and on one particular lower-case letter in it.
You see, I attended my first mass in my early thirties when my now-husband and I were in the sweet beginning days of dating. As a non-Catholic Christian who grew up in fervent Evangelical circles, I remember how disoriented I felt amongst all the unknown rhythms and rituals of mass. I remember Nick walking to the front to receive the Eucharist and me sitting in the long, empty pew in the dim stone building, shocked at how isolated and excluded I felt. I also remember how the words of the Lord’s Prayer and the Nicene Creed wrapped me in comfort. Here were words I knew. Here were the foundations of our shared faith on which we could build our life.
Six and a half years later, and still with no plans to convert to Catholicism, the words of the Nicene Creed continue to have a grounding effect on me each and every time I go to mass. It’s complicated, this journey Nick and I have embarked on, more than it seems like it should be. Two people, both fervent about and committed to their faith traditions, both deeply supportive of the other, both passionate about raising our girls deeply rooted in the church. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. We know we have so much richness to offer our girls, so many beautiful and varied paths on which to experience the presence of God, and so many examples of great faith to tell them about.
And yet, we still feel the separateness each time we attend each other’s churches. We aren’t allowed to take communion together. We’re on constant alert for the phrases that can so easily slip out of church leader’s mouths, subtly disparaging the other’s faith traditions. After every service, we spend time dissecting our experience and refocusing on our shared truths. We work hard to balance our schedules to allow room for both types of services, so that each of us can take communion and worship in community in the way that feels most at home for each of us. We know that most people around us don’t really “get” what we’re trying to do and why one of us just doesn’t convert.
But when the apostles gathered together to write the Creed to fight against widespread heresy and declare the basic tenets of belief that all Christians – regardless of background – should hold, they chose the words “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” One church bonded together in its shared beliefs. One church created by God the Father, made holy by the sacrifice of Jesus and continually sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit. One (small “c”) catholic church, referencing not the Roman Catholic church in particular, but the universal church in general: made for everyone and meant to embrace all Christians in all their varied backgrounds. One apostolic church, both because the church is inherently connected to the apostles and because we too follow in the apostolic tradition as God has also sent us forth to share God’s truth and love.
This small “c” catholic church is the one I align my life with whole-heartedly. We, the church, are meant to be the representation of God in this broken world. We are called to be God’s faithful followers, bonded together because of our shared unity as children of God, even as we recognize how our myriad of faith experiences beautifully reflect the complexity of God.
Sometimes when I feel trapped by the rigidity of our faith traditions, when I feel spiritually un-homed without the sure and comforting church community that I grew up in, I still my mind and imagine what was: I imagine Jesus walking with His chosen disciples, so many of them social outcasts. I imagine the radical love Jesus offered – and taught those flawed followers of His to offer – to everyone they met. I imagine the hope He bestowed simply by being with them. I imagine how He turned their set belief systems and traditions upside down.
Then I imagine how it could be: how we can turn towards our differences as Christians, instead of away. How, when we don’t understand our theological divergences, we can react in love-filled curiosity instead of condemnation. How we can search for the divine facet of God that is revealed in each one of our human personalities.
The amazing thing is, when I imagine like this, I am better able to see glimpses of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” that already exists. I am able to be present and see the beauty in whichever faith tradition I’m currently immersed in. And I’m better able to trust that God is still here among us, still molding an imperfect, divided people into a unified, diverse holy people who continue to build the Kingdom of God here on earth.