My son is thinking of leaving the Catholic Church. He told me that other religions are so simple and understandable and that the Catholic Church seems so big and so complicated and bound up in ancient traditions. I think I understand what he means but some of what he objects to is what keeps me in the Church. Am I missing something?
It is not easy to know what is in the mind of someone else especially when it is about something as personal as religion. When one compares the Catholic Church to a small independent church community, the difference is quite apparent.
The Catholic Church is an ancient worldwide faith community. It has a very long history of experience as Church and a current membership of over one billion people. So much of what the Catholic Church believes and teaches has to be applied to all of those members. While the Catholic Church is conscious of local needs, it is nonetheless a worldwide community.
A local independent Christian church of a few hundred people reflects the views of the pastor and the local community. It is able to change customs and even a vision of doctrine easily and in response to the wishes of the members. Many such church communities answer to no one other than themselves.
While these communities do much good and offer a church home to many, there are some who find them challenging. One of the challenges is that the independence of such groups places a great emphasis on the vision of the local leader. He or she is able to lead the community in any direction that appeals to the majority of the members. Some feel that there is a danger that the community can diverge from its own history or beliefs too easily.
The Catholic Church has adopted an approach that respects the legitimate local needs within the framework of a history and fundamental tradition that remains stable and reliable. To some this appears complicated and constricting but to many others it is the “rock” on which they can build their faith and religious practice.
I personally believe that my life would be impoverished if it were not for the lived experience of so many others who have come before me. I embrace the Catholic Church because it takes me beyond myself and makes me feel a part of something much bigger. I understand that this involves a personal integration of my own thoughts and presumed needs, but the benefit is so much greater.
I believe it was Chesterton who wrote that the Catholic Church has not been tried and found wanting but that the Church has not been sufficiently tried. I believe that approach is profound. Many people walk away from the Catholic Church based on a surface knowledge or a passing experience. But they are missing so much that is beautiful and profound as they do so.
The Jerusalem community of the Acts of the Apostles likely did not dream of a church as large as we experience. But they found in their faith community a foundation that they believed the Holy Spirit would lead and guide into the future. I believe that the Holy Spirit still guides the Church and that it has so very much to offer.