I took communion for the first time in two decades. As fate would have it the second time was the last time I would do so with Dad before his death on November 21, 2018. This post is a reflection on Catholicism. It explains why I pushed back in college and what attracts me today and the problems that still exist inside. The biggest concern is the child sex abuse crisis inside the Roman Catholic church.
“I think the beauty of Catholicism is its consistency through both successes and difficulties. I’ve counted on my faith to give me strength through both training and competition – but also in school, with my family and everyday life.”
“In Pope Francis, I see a leader who lives every day in the image of Jesus. Under his guidance, the church is focused once again on providing comfort, compassion and salvation for sinners, the poor, and those who seek peace in an increasingly complex world. That’s my Catholicism.”
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior[a] for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
Luke 1:68-70 NRSVCE
My Dad about to receive communion for the last time.
This post is going to look at Roman Catholicism and explore my thoughts about it. I have a lot to say and share, and some of it ties in with my Dad’s death.
My History with Catholicism
I grew up in a Catholic family. Dad was Irish from Butte, Montana while Mom was Polish and from the South Side of Chicago. My family had strong roots in Catholicism. After I was born I was baptized in the Catholic church as an infant. I went to Catholic school and then Catholic High School growing up. In my time as a Catholic I participated in First Communion, Penance, Reconciliation, and more. For the first twenty years of my life I engaged in Catholicism.
It was at a Catholic college in Montana that I pushed away from it. What bothered me? I heard so much about Oscar Romero and liberation theology that I felt like I was guilty for his death due to how it was taught. What also troubled me was how Mary was treated and it came across by some like she was deified. Also at the time I respected the Mormon church and thought Mormons and some evangelicals took the faith more seriously than Catholics. This would later be a mistake. After my experience in Mormonism in college I got involved in charismatic Catholicism. It was almost Pentecostal, and influenced by the movement out of Steubenville. Ohio. But in time I pushed back and got involved in evangelicalism with Campus Crusade at Fresno State and shortly Fresno Evangelical Free. And for the next 18 years I would be mostly outside Catholicism.
Problems in Evangelicalism
Evangelical Christianity has been a major disappointment for me. There has been a lot of scandal, problems and issues. What troubles me is the following issues that I have encountered.
- Development of personality cults like the John Piper movement. While evangelicals criticize the Catholic Pope they have created their own mini Popes in their own way.
- Authoritarianism and legalism is a major issue that has gotten worse. There is stuff you can witness in evangelicalism in 2018 that did not exist in 2000. Legalism has also been redefined as evangelicalism deals with fads.
- Anti-intellectualism and hostility to science is a majoe problem. Why does evangelicalism have to be so hostile to science? Why do some people have to be make or break about creationism or evolution? This is something that I have never understood.
- Another issue in evangelicalism is the prosperity gospel. It is deeply present in a lot of places. In many ways you can’t escape it which troubles me. Since I realized how much of evangelicalism is prosperity theology I have worked hard to avoid it. But its a challenge and exhausting.
- Neo-Calvinism is fundamentalism 2.0. I rejected this movement for how it made the problem of evil worse. For many Neo-Calvinists you have this faith which reminds me of Sunni Islam. Just this blind submission where you don’t ask questions at all.
- Evangelicalism is being destroyed by politics. So many churches that I have been involved in have married the two and made them one. Its deeply disappointing to witness.
- This next point I could almost tie into what I just wrote. Why are many evangelicals so focused on the culture wars? Why can’t faith be absent of conflict and hate for many evangelicals? Why do some evangelicals have to hate Catholics, gays, mainstream Protestants, intellectuals, scientists, and more?
That is but a sampling of the issues that I can describe that trouble me.
What I Respect About Catholicism
I have spent more time sitting in some Catholic churches these last few years. I went with Mom and Dad and my family when they asked. I wanted to respect them and give them comfort and peace. My thoughts on Catholicism gradually changed over the course of time. They have deeply improved. These are the issues that I have respected about the Catholic church.
- The Catholic mass can be a place of rest from the issues in evangelicalism. Catholicism is a global movement and it is not bound by national borders or politics. Evangelicalism however is influenced by politics and more. Catholicism is above that.
- The Catholic church can be slightly more respectful to women. They have more roles for them I would propose.
- A strong aspect of Catholicism is that they are renowned for working with the poor and helping the broken. Years ago I was deeply critical of social justice where as today I have come to appreciate it. From the poor, the homeless to the immigrant or refugee the Catholic church does a good job in this area.
- The Catholic church mostly avoids fundamentalism dogma. In the near future I plan to do a post about Catholic fundamentalism.
- There is a hierarchy that can deal with problems. To be honest though as I will get into below there are still issues. The Catholic sex abuse scandal is proof of that.
- What also influenced me a lot was how a local Catholic church responded to my Mom’s illness and death. I wrote about that in, “The Bridge Fresno vs. Holy Spirit Catholic Church: Who was More Pastoral?“
- Catholics seem to understand grace better than evangelicals. You can rest and are not about programs, programs and programs.
- The Catholic church treats the aged and elderly better than many evangelicals who can be so fixated on youth.
For me this is a strong list and features many attributes of Catholicism that I respect and admire. However, the Catholic church is not without its problems.
What Bothers Me Now About Catholicism
The biggest issue for me that troubles me deeply is the child sex abuse scandal which seems to get new life in different parts of the globe or the United States. A few months back in writing a post I spent 30 to 45 minutes reading a good chunk of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report that detailed the cover up of child sex abuse, pedophilia and more inside the state of Pennsylvania. You can read that post in, “As the Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal Unfolds in Pennsylvania Let’s Remember the Sex Abuse Scandal in Sovereign Grace Ministries. The Complicity of The Gospel Coalition, and D.A Carson Defending Mahaney by Attacking Someone Who was Raped at 13.”After spending time reading a couple of chapters I was sick to my stomach. I was deeply disappointed in the Catholic church engaging in such a cover up that lasted several decades. This is a major problem that still needs to be dealt with. The situation seems to grow, from Chile, to Honduras, and Ireland and more. This is a cancer that threatens the Catholic church in my opinion. The church needs to come clean and deal with the problem. No child should be abused, raped or covered up inside Catholicism.
Taking Communion With My Dad for the Last Time and the First Time in 20 Years
Up above you have my history, how I left and what draws me back and what I still struggle with today. So let me tie this into my Dad. When my Mom died my sister was cleaning and she came across a note that Dad wrote to Mom years ago. In the note Dad expressed his disappointment in me leaving Catholicism. He was frustrated that I was outside Catholicism. When I heard that I was not angry at Dad instead I tried to spend more time with him going to Mass or more when I was able to see him. When my Dad’s illness progressed due to his brain tumor he became bed bound in the front room of the house. When he couldn’t take communion because he could not go to mass the church sent someone to the house.
When I was with my Dad and someone arrived to give him communion I was asked if I wanted to receive communion. Thinking of how Dad felt and what he believed I wanted to honor him. I wanted to make him happy and give him some comfort in the illness he was dealing with. So I took communion two times on two consecutive days. The last time was on November 19, 2018. That is the date of the picture above. I took communion to honor Dad. I didn’t know it at the time but it would be the last and final time I would do so with Dad. He would enter the hospital on November 20, 2018 for the last time and died on November 21, 2018.
In taking communion I wanted to honor Dad and knowing how he felt about me. I hope that gave him peace and comfort. I hope he felt like I respected and loved him in practicing Catholicism before him. Life is too short to be torn apart by religious disagreements. But in the wake of everything that happened I have peace about doing this for Dad. There are no regrets. Had I declined knowing how active Dad was in Catholicism then I would have had regrets. However that is not an issue today. For me it reminds me of how complicated religion can be.