Did you ever have one of those ah ha moments where seemingly random thoughts coalesce and become some great new awareness that really isn’t new at all? It’s as if you remember something you forgot a long time ago? I had one of those moments just now which compelled me to grab the laptop and write (clarity on an early Sunday morning – true worship!) Forgive me for setting up this ah ha with a little background – it will help make sense of it all.
For the past several years, church leadership has been grappling with the question of evangelization, dwindling attendance and an aging membership. With our growing relationships in the interfaith community, I am learning that this conversation is taking place across denominational lines – we are all having the same conversations.
At the same time, I’ve been writing a weekly series on the Sermon on the Mount for the adults in our community. Deep diving into these Scriptures has brought awareness to our individual struggles with authentic spirituality, cultural influences and true identity. The current piece I’m working on is about heavenly treasures, eye of the heart and God versus mammon (Matthew 6:19 – 24), which invites us to look at what is really the important things in our lives.
Tandem to all that is my own internal grappling with where I fit in the Catholic Church, the tension between my personal spirituality and Church orthodoxy, and my deep desire for ecumenism and true community. All this has laid the foundation for this morning’s revelation. So here it is.
I wonder if we cling more tightly to our religion’s identity than our true identity. I know – this needs explaining. Let me relate it to my own experience and allow you to overlay it into your own. In my family, in the various Church communities I’ve participated in, throughout the process of introducing A Place To Be, in committee and staff meetings I attend, and in a host of other situations, I’ve experience, both in myself and others, an underlying belief that being Catholic is a higher priority than being Christian. I mean, we’ve all heard the joke about church parking lots, right? Think about it. Most of the time people have no awareness of it as this belief is held so deeply within. But how often has being Catholic trumped being a child of Christ, often to the point that we aren’t even supposed to interact with those of another denomination! I wonder what Christ would say about that, him who regularly ate with people on the other team.
I mean, aren’t we tired of the factions in our world today? I don’t know about you, but I don’t even want to turn on the news because of the vitriol language, accusations and tribalism taking place in EVERY aspect of society these days – politics (of course), medicine, sports, music and, yes, religion. Don’t you long for some unity? How I wish that we would stop constantly seeing ourselves as different from everyone else and focus on what we have in common instead, especially in church. Perhaps if we stopped bickering about what divides us and lived out of a place of unity and true Christian community instead, more people would be attracted to our places of worship, regardless of the denomination.
Now, before the hackles come up, I am not denouncing the Catholic faith or a connection to any particular denomination. I AM, however, saying that being Catholic is NOT my first identity. My first priority, my primary allegiance is and will always be to Christ first. When the Church is in alignment with Christ’s teachings – I’m all in. But when they are not, I will always fall on the side of Christ.
This all may seem obvious but I wonder some days. I hope each of us, in all our different communities, reflect honestly about the spiritual identities we hold so tightly. Are we truly aligned with Christ or is our denominational identity our primary one? Something to think about.
Postscript: After writing this, I went to morning Mass. I listened – really listened – to the readings and the prayers. Funny how God works – the 2nd reading was from 1 Corinthians with Paul imploring “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose….I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided?” Fr. Pat then did a wonderful homily on unity and that we are all part of the body of Christ. Thank you, Fr. Pat, for a message so on-target and needed in our Church today. I hope and pray that we begin to listen.