Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Poetic Catholicism

One criticism of the Catholic Church by Protestants is that it is too ritualistic, and therefore seems "pagan". But this is exactly what is so cool about Catholicism! First of all, let's acknowledge that all forms of Christianity use rituals. Perhaps what is unique about Catholicism is the more expansive incorporation of all the senses. For instance, on Holy Thursday last week, special oils were brought forth and blessed, and there was a procession around the sanctuary using incense. On Good Friday we kissed the feet of Jesus on the cross. We bless ourselves with holy water to remind us of our baptism, and we make the sign of the cross many times during the liturgy. We kneel before taking a seat, and we stand, sit, and kneel throughout a typical service. Bells are rung during the Eucharist celebration, and at every mass we partake of the bread and wine, the transubstantiated body and blood of Jesus. That in itself ignites the imagination.

When praying the Rosary, we use our voices, our hands, and our memories to picture the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary. We have statues and stations of the cross, candles, paintings, and chanting. Belief in the holiness of things, such as the containers used in the Eucharist, is a given.  We learn the lives of the saints and mystics, make pilgrimages to holy places, hold relics such as bones in awe, and hear of visitations to people by the Virgin Mary. We have a profound sense of the ancient. In short, Catholics are poetic. They think in metaphor. Jesus himself was like this, which we know because he taught using parables, where people and things in a story are analogies for deeper spiritual truths. When He said to build your house on a rock, he was talking about faith. Using symbols, we grasp meaning that would otherwise elude us.

When people accuse the Catholic Church of being pagan, they admit that Catholics are better at seeing and understanding God in the workings and beauty of nature. Yes, they may also be saying that Catholics worship saints and so are polytheistic and other such misunderstandings. But intuitively I think they know that Catholics have better mastered the art of connecting body, mind, and spirit in worship and life. Critics of Catholicism know on some level that they are missing something, a state of wholeness, and so they defensively dismiss Catholicism as too "Eastern", like Buddhism, perhaps (and this is yet another way of saying "pagan").

For myself, I love the poetic soul of the Church, her sights, sounds, fragrances, symbols, and imagination. My religious experience is enhanced and deepened by her rituals. Even her weirdness, like that cross kissing experience. I can't wait for the May crowning parade!

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