Steve, 31, from St. Louis, Missouri
In his own words, unabridged:
“I was 15 when I first began questioning the dogmas that had always been present in my life. I was raised by my father, who was a cradle catholic, and my mother, who converted to Catholicism when I was seven, after having been entirely unaffiliated for the first 27 years of her life. From my youth, I was always a very observant person and an introvert. This combination meant that most of the time, I was sitting, silently, in the corner watching everyone else acting like jack asses and judging them for it. I also noticed that many of the same people, teachers and students, would become perfect angels during all-school masses. They would genuflect and recite the Nicene creed and respond, on cue, to the priest during the Eucharist, ostensibly expressing their willingness and desire to partake in a meal that included the transubstantiated body and blood of their lord, Jesus Christ. Then, before the line was even through, those who had already eaten would sit back down and commence to snickering and fidgeting. The faculty would reprimand and the kids would defend themselves, asserting that none of them had actually started it. All the while, the priest was completing this most sacred of sacraments by placing the unfinished elements into the tabernacle and returning to his seat to pray and reflect. I was so affected by this dichotomy of behavior that I chose to disavow any connection that I once had to those rituals.
My decision to detach was because of the lack of meaning that any of those rituals had for me. I was praying with words I did not understand to a god whom I had not met for reasons that I did not know. I understood that the bible was the source of this knowledge, but I had never read it unless I had to for an assignment. It was never emphasized during my entire education in catholic schools. I came to the realization that, if the truth was in the bible, then the life I had known as a catholic was not the truth because the bible had nothing to do with it. I didn’t choose to read the bible at this point, but rather to explore the world of non-religion for a while. For several years, I remained in this state of free agency, having no real spiritual representation.
My upbringing was not lacking in terms of care and affection and Church attendance was a major part. But the connection was never made, in or out of church/school, between the words and actions and the meaning behind them.
In the last decade of my life, I’ve developed a much better understanding of what it means to be a Christian. I’ve read much of the bible and have been attending a church that preaches the gospel. My church experience now is vastly different from that of my catholic youth. There is very little rote recitation, and that which we do, we discuss. We celebrate the lords supper, but do so in a symbolic way, understanding that the idea of transubstantiation is antithetical to the gospel, which states that the only physical requirement for salvation was Jesus’ death on the cross. We hear the preaching of the word every Sunday, followed by a sermon that helps us understand the reading in a real, applicable way. We understand that, as believers, and beneficiaries of the kingdom inheritance, we are all equal. As such, we don’t place men or women between ourselves and God. We look to the pastor to deliver the word because he has dedicated much of his life to studying it. We don’t consider him to be any more blessed or appointed than any one of us. The pastors at my church will be the first to admit their own brokenness. In my understanding, this is opposite of the Catholic Church, who place men in positions of authority and ascribe truly Christ like qualities to them. If this is not true of the church’s hierarchical system, then it is another way that that failed to express themselves to me and my peers. As an extension of this belief that our pastors aren’t personal ambassadors of God, we don’t have formal confessions to them. The scripture tells us to confess our sin to God and to men. We are encouraged to do just that. We have small groups, wherein we pray, study, and discuss our joys and our shortcomings.
As a child, mass was always present. There isn’t a memory of a time before mass. I never liked or disliked it until I was old enough to want to use my time differently on Sundays. It was always just something that we did. It never meant anything to me.
As a spiritual stalwart, Pope Francis may have great positive impacts on the church. Any time the leaders of a church point out that the focus is Jesus, the church benefits. This is the pope’s roll. To point to Jesus. If the Pope is acting as an intermediary to god, then he is misunderstanding the gospel and his roll. I believe that the pope is a man just like me. This is not to say that he is not a great man, an educated man, a wise man. Just that, when the dust settles and he shuffles off his mortal coil, he will face the judgment as will I. His faith will be tested the same as mine. The question of “do you believe that Jesus, unencumbered by the shackles of sin, went to the cross to pay the propitiation for your sin, so that you can stand before God, on the day of judgment, as spotless as a lamb?” will be asked of me and the pope. I believe that the admiration of the pope by Catholics distracts them from that question. The church is monolithic and the pope is at the top. The bureaucracy and politics are detrimental to the salvation of the people. The pope, as positive an influence as he may have on policy and dogma, is still the head bureaucrat whose very existence absolves people of the responsibility they have in knowing God and seeking their salvation through full supplication to God’s word and Jesus’ sacrifice.
There is a diametric opposition between what I believe constitutes salvation and what the Catholic Church does. I believe that answering the question posed earlier is the saving act. Again, if I’m wrong about the following, it is because the failure of the church to express itself accurately. It is my understanding that salvation, according to the Catholic Church, comes with participation in the sacraments. As a non-catholic, I see the sacraments as behaviors that flow from the heart of one who already knows Jesus. This is an important distinction. We were always taught to “do this” and “do that” if you want to get to heaven. It leads right into the common thought of “I’m basically a good person” or “I attend church on Christmas and Easter”, so “I’ll get into heaven”. Well, I now understand that salvation doesn’t require me to do anything. God doesn’t need me to do anything. God wouldn’t have sent his son to die on the cross if that was only for partial payment of my debts. Jesus death was for full payment. I have sinned. That alone makes me unworthy to be in gods presence. But, Jesus, knowing that I would sin, went to the cross in my place. When he died, my wrongs were erased from the records like those of a criminal who dies. When a criminal dies, his crimes die with him. There is no one else who can pay for his crimes. You cannot ask his kids to pay his debts. His debts are wiped away. When Jesus died, my debts were wiped away. This makes me sinless when I stand before god and answer that question. The Catholic Church dogma that sacraments are required for salvation is like making the child of a bank robber pay his fathers debts. As long as that remains true and the structure of the church remains monolithic, I don’t see myself coming back.”