“There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.” Ephesians 4:4-6
Lauren, my daughter, will be confirmed as a Catholic this coming Tuesday and receive the Eucharist. After nearly a year or more of prayer, discussions with a trusted friend, and RCIA classes she’s made this decision.
I’ve enjoyed our own discussions about this change. We’ve spent many a lunch hour parsing this and that. As usual, Lauren has been thorough. When she had her first confession earlier this week I asked if she’d made a spread sheet. Her texted reply “Yup.” Not sure if she was kidding or not.
Lauren has always had a Catholic soul. When she was perhaps 6 years old or so she asked me if there were Baptist nuns because she would like to become one. She’s an avid reader and enjoys finely tuned arguments and insights. Catholic theology appeals to her as does the liturgy and beautiful architecture and art of many of the churches.
More than a few people have asked me, some with concern, “how do you feel about this?” Sometimes I respond, “I feel good about it. The Catholic Church is rumored to be Christian!”
Seriously, she’s simply gone through a familiar process that I’ve witnessed in many people over the years. Frankly, it’s been fun to watch, and it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on this journey of how faith begins and grows.
For better or worse, we get our first theology from our parents. In good circumstances this means that the child who was fed, changed, loved, and praised will more likely understand that God is caring, loving, forgiving, and smiling. Take a child to church and she will begin to nurture the concept of places, times, and things that are sacred. Most importantly, live before him a warm and genuine faith and he will know intuitively that faith is important, even though he has little concept of the particulars.
The dark side of this truth, of course, is that a child raised in tension, violence, neglect, etc. will have a trust deficiency that extends into her theology. By no means is the battle lost. We have a remarkable spiritual plasticity. The Spirit will continue to work in her life, bringing people and influences to bear. His life may well turn out to be a powerful testimony of discovering the God of grace. But let’s not underestimate the impact of those early years.
Whatever spiritual software was installed in early life, all of us go through a time of making an inherited faith our own. The child, usually as a young adult, is likely to go through a time of reflection on matters of faith, which, by the way, may coincide with or result in a period neglect.
Faith can appear a bit obsolete in the face of glittering technology. Also it’s easy to parody the church, or religion, or a particular denomination and set up a straw man that’s pretty easy to blow over. Add to this the contemporary popularity of agnosticism and it’s little wonder that many of our young people go through periods of doubt.
I can’t begin to count the number of times parents or grandparents came to me in high anxiety about a questioning adult child. The counsel that seemed to work best with them is to follow the example of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. We have to speculate here, but while the father may have had many a restless night of concern, he didn’t travel to the far country to drag his son home. He let it happen.
Anything short of allowing and even encouraging the period of reflection is simply a descent into control, the antithesis of grace. Let it happen.
Now admittedly, if Lauren had come out of this time and told me she wanted to be Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim then I would have had some much more serious adjustments to make. But I can assure you I would have accepted it. Acceptance always brings me into the realm of grace.
Change happens in all areas of life. Faith is seldom static. Where you are today in matters of faith is probably somewhat different from where you were five or ten years ago. This doesn’t mean you changed denominations or religions, but I hope you’ve discovered new aspects of your faith and new horizons to explore. If not, try reading someone who’s got a different take on faith. You’ll likely find something that helps yours.
I’ve had many positive spiritual influences in my life. Various denominations have contributed to my faith. I’m very grateful for my Southern Baptist heritage and the ongoing blessings of The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the United Methodist Church, and other traditions I get to visit in my present calling.
And whenever I worship in a Catholic Church I’m returning to the tradition that started it all. I remember all the ways it has blessed and continues to bless me.
In my 35-year career as a Baptist pastor I enjoyed wonderful relationships with the priests, monsignors, and bishops in the areas I served. While in Houma, Bishop Warren Boudreaux reached out to me to welcome me to Houma. I was a young man, fairly recently out of seminary and had written him a letter introducing myself and offering to take him to lunch. He called a few days later, thanked me for my letter, and then added “But Reverend Ellis, I am the bishop in this area.” (he paused for effect, while my heart skipped a few beats, before finishing) “I will take you to lunch!” Such a warm and wonderful spirit.
Lauren was raised to respect and love the Catholic Church. She was born in Baton Rouge, lived in Houma, and Mobile for most of her early years, so she was raised in heavily Catholic areas. I taught her and my son that the Catholic Church was our mother church. Without her no one would have so carefully defined our faith, preserved the scripture, or been such a powerful force for good in the world. I would tell her, and the churches I served, “I didn’t always agree with my mother, but I always loved her. And I simply never cared to focus on areas of disagreement, for the love was so deep. So it is with my regard for the Catholic Church.”
I went with Lauren to St. Aloysius Catholic Church this morning. The church was quite full, and before the service began people were kneeling in prayer. I was in a congregation of hundreds of people for whom faith was obviously genuine, warm, and very important. The music was moving, the homily meaningful, the baptisms of babies was endearing. I felt the love of the Father, the presence of Christ, and the touch of the Spirit. If I’d gone there to look for things I didn’t like or didn’t agree with I suppose I’d found those things. I could have done the same thing in the Methodist church I attended earlier that morning. But I went with an open heart and mind, and I found what I was looking for. You always find what you look for.
After a time of looking Lauren found her way the Catholic Church. I’m proud of her, and I think I truly understand. I have a sense when I walk through those doors that I’ve come home, at least to visit. I always leave with a stirring in my soul and deep gratitude for what the Church has done for me.
Lauren will be attending Our Lady of Mercy. I’m happy for that church. She’ll make a good Catholic because she’s a good Christian.
Dr. Terry Ellis
September 10, 2017