I was once a Calvinist. Well, I was once a Catholic, then I was an atheist, then I was a Calvinist. Now I am a Catholic again. But I am still a Calvinist. Or more accurately: I am an Augustinian or a Thomist, if you must put a label on me. I am what I think Calvin would have been if he hadn’t been so irritated, bitter, and reactionary.
I believe that the Eucharist is the Real Presence — and I thank God for this weekly (even daily) grace. I also sometimes pray (that is, to converse without use of audible sound limited by these three dimensions) with those innumerable witnesses described in Hebrews 12– one of whom being (God forbid!…?) Mary– asking them to pray to God through Christ for me and with me, as I am sure they would have done for me before they kicked the bucket. But that is why the Church recognizes them as saints: The Church understands that they would have prayed for me in person before they kicked the bucket. That’s a little simplistic, but whatever. By the way, “canonization” does not mean– as the popular media, even lay Catholics imply– that the Church has “made” someone a saint. It means rather, that the Church has discovered certainly that the person is in fact a saint. I know some might quibble on the authority of the Church to be able to figure this out (much less declare it), but all I’m saying is, that is all she is (we are) doing.
I hold God’s Grace in high esteem. I hold God as sovereign over my will– though not to say my will is not free. In a nut shell: I can do– and I accomplish– whatever I want most at any given instant. If God willed otherwise, it couldn’t happen. But it does happen. Therefore, I am free. Since God is sovereign, if he didn’t actively will me to pick my nose (at least in the permissive sense), there is no way that I would ever want to pick my nose. More on this later, I have the sensation.
For now, one of the reasons I am Catholic again is that there are different schools of thought within the Catholic Church. Generally speaking, from a Protestant perspective, there are the equivalent of Wesleyan/Methodists (a.k.a. Molinists– currently Jesuits seem to embrace the essentials of this view), and there are the equivalent of Reformed/Calvinists (a.k.a., Augustinian/Thomists– currently Dominicans seem to embrace the essentials of this view). The Catholic Church is a big box which you can bang around in as much as you want… the difference between the Catholic Church and the “Protestant Church” (so to speak) is– beyond talking to Mary and eating Jesus and the priesthood– is… we consider anyone banging around in the big box to be our brother or sister in Christ. Shoot, we even consider those who don’t eat Jesus and talk to Mary our brothers and sisters (though sadly and hopefully temporarily wayward). Where the various schools of protestantism bicker among themselves sometimes to the point of anti-love (don’t want to actually say hate), the Catholics debate in unity and love. It’s all the same stuff– only that it is done with understanding and love. And Unity. Unity in the essentials, all else is schools of thought…. paraphrase of Augustine.
Anyway, I was once a Catholic. I grew up Catholic, did the thing, went to CCD (I was in public school after all). I was an altar boy, and once I fell asleep at the 5:30 am Mass next to Monsignor. The congregation laughed. So did Monsignor. All in all it was good times except when the Catholic school kids threw holy water on me because I was a public school kid. And also that time that my friend from the “Church of Christ” asked, “What religion are you?” I answered, “Catholic.” He said, “Oh.” I asked, “What religion are you, then?” He said, “Christian.” That puzzled me. In my mind, “religion” was synonymous with “denomination”, but we were all Christian. But not to him. He had decided that there were “Christians” and then there were “Catholics”. For a while, I thought he was an idiot. Then later, I believed the same as he did. And now, I realize both why he said that and also that he –and I– were wrong. Catholic is not only Christian, it is the culmination of Christianhood (even as it continues to culminate). I don’t know where he is with his faith today. But I understand, and while I think he was misguided, I no longer think he is (was?) an idiot.
More history…. One day, not unexpectedly yet somehow so, Grandma died finally, and my dad took this as his opportunity to move on. I moved on with dad and mom and family to the Presbyterian Church (USA). There I learned, through the miracle of a church-sponsored spring break retreat, that La Jolla, California, is an awesome place. I had my first sushi there– learned the miracle of what pickled ginger can do for the burn of wasabi– and I had a great time in the hotel hot tub. I blew off the required bible studies. But I also learned that you can throw your bible on the ground and God will not kill you.. That lesson stuck with me. Point being, God does not live in those pages. God is not “being” in those pages. It’s his word, it is not his person. Not that we should desecrate the bible, but it was freeing to learn that God is bigger than that collection of papers. I had a great time in La Jolla, and that is all I remember from my early PC-USA days. That, and the pastor brought a live sheep onto the stage one time.
Then I went to college. I became a practical atheist. I never was an atheist per se— I always figured that God was out there somewhere. But I didn’t think he cared, and I didn’t care about him. I wasn’t rebelling actively, I just didn’t give a rip. But still, when I gazed at the blue sky or the expanse of the stars at night, I couldn’t help but think that God was there…. somehow.
One day in college, I had a rather large life experience that made me realize I am mortal. Some Christians of various persuasions tried to reach out to me during that time. I appreciated their efforts but they didn’t quite strike the nail on the head, as it were. Then I graduated and got on with my life. But I was not happy.
My mom and dad had joined a congregation of the Reformed Church in America. The denomination was a Dutch Reformed church. Essentially Calvinist. I don’t know why (well, I do… God was pulling me back… but I didn’t have any conscious idea about that at the time). I started attending. I got more involved. I was in the worship band, I was in the youth ministry. But I think I was still Catholic. Or, I didn’t think I was Catholic, but I still sort of actually was according to what I thought I knew. There, in a fortuitous (providential..) conversation with the pastor one day, I said, “I’m not so arrogant to think that I have a chance at heaven.” (Turns out I wasn’t Catholic either, but more on that another day). He took notice and had a pointed conversation with me. My take home message was that “you can’t get away from predestination in the bible.” More later… maybe.
To shorten this story, let’s just leave it at this: I read RC Sproul’s “Chosen by God” and it transformed me. No longer was I afraid of God (though I still feared Him). No longer did I worry whether I “measured up” (thanks to God through Jesus Christ– Jesus did the work to measure me up to the measure). Through some very deep and at times disturbing introspection, I realized that I actually do care about God and want to be with him. And through scripture I realized that there is no way he is going to walk away from me (even if I might do something utterly stupid). God has invested too much. His son willingly went to the extreme. For me. For everyone who would ever believe, ever. It is finished. I am humbled and thankful. The fact that there is nothing I can do to impress God, makes me ever more humble and thankful. Now I can focus on making the world a better place without worrying about my status with God.
Why did I return to Catholicism? This will likely be a topic for later posts (plural). But the short answer is (have I said that before?) is that I quit listening to what Protestants and anti-Catholics had to say about the Catholic Church and I looked into what she had to say for herself. That’s it. Turns out she ain’t so bad. Turns out she is better than not bad. Good even. Even the best thing out there. And she is not all that others crack her up to be.
What is my observation? Oh yeah… I am supposed to have an observation. That’s what the post title says, right? Who is in charge of this thing? Ahem….. Anyway. I have many observations. I guess that is why I am restarting my blog career… or so I think. Today, my observation is this: Just because you think you know what you know and that is all there is to know, doesn’t mean that you know the truth. Even when we are certain upon all certainties, we need to keep our mind open to the possibility that we aren’t.