Friday, June 16, 2017

FAQs with a Catholic

“So you’re Catholic? All Mother Mary and all?”

“No we do not worship Mother Mary. We worship God alone. Worship of God, to us, means centering our lives on Him. We do, however, venerate her. This is primarily because she is the mother of Jesus. We also venerate her, because she is held highly in God’s favour for being a stellar example of living a life that was joyfully obedient unto God. You don’t get crowned queen of heaven without being pretty darn awesome. We do pray to Mary – but that is more a prayer asking her to intercede with God on our behalf. It is much like when you want to ask your father for something but you are afraid he might say no, so you ask your mother to present your case instead. The request for intercession is only a supplement to our prayers to God.”

“What do you mean you worship only God? You have so many saints, you worship them too!”
“I can understand how this misconception came about, but it couldn’t be further from the truth! Saints are also good examples of faithful life and so we venerate them as well. It is much like how you could venerate a King without worshipping him. Much like we ask Mary to intercede for us, we also pray to saints asking for intercession because they too are held highly in God’s favour. This is slightly different from the veneration of Mary, because she plays the role of a mother whereas in the case of saints it is more like sending the teacher’s pet when the class wants something as a whole.”
“What about the cross, then? Isn’t it morbid to worship an instrument of torture, especially when the one being tortured on it is someone you love so much?”

“The Cross is a ubiquitous symbol of the Catholic Church and while it might seem morbid prima facie it couldn’t be further from the reality. For us, the cross is the ultimate expression of unconditional love. This question has a multi-faceted answer. The first facet being God’s love for the world. We believe God is our Father. Now, if you are a parent, would you be willing to give up your child to flogging, followed by death on a cross, even if it was to save another child of yours? The cross resonates with us as a symbol of love and not an instrument of torture. Also, as a side note on a technicality – we do not worship the cross either. There is a whole section in the Good Friday Service which is called the ‘Veneration of the Cross’ because that is what we do – we venerate the cross because it had the privilege of bearing the body of some we love so deeply. We worship God.”
“That’s all fine and good and we get it but then why call the day Jesus died ‘Good Friday’? That is just misleading and a little weird!”

“Well, we are terribly sorry for misleading you. I can’t imagine it was easy wishing a Catholic happy Good Friday and have them tell you it is the day Jesus died. The most common reason we are taught is that it because it the day on which God’s great love for the world was expressed. It is the day that commemorates our freedom from being slave to sin because in Him all our sins are absolved.”
“What’s the point of the 40 days of Lenten abstinence from meat and alcohol? Do you really believe God cares about your meal preferences? And even if he does, do you think not eating some non veg and drinking some booze is commensurate with the sacrifice He made for you?”

“Good question. Yes God cares about every detail about our lives – meal preferences, fashion sense, even if you’re having a bad hair day. He cares about you and so in association cares about everything you do. But I do understand what you mean about the Lenten abstinence and I’m getting to it. The season of lent is in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, praying and resisting temptation. It was a time he set aside for God alone and away from temporal pleasures. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. While we don’t fast for 40 days, many of us choose to give up something we like during the season of lent. It isn’t always meat or alcohol. It could be something you love dearly or something to which you are addicted. So if you are a 14 year old Catholic it doesn’t make any sense for you to give up alcohol because you (under normal circumstances) are anyway not allowed to drink and may not even like it. So in this case, you could give up chocolates if you are a chocolate person. Catholicism finds strong foundations mainly in the Roman Empire. During that time the laws of abstinence and fasting were strict and very specific. However, it is important to realize that the Catholic Church is evolving, slowly, but evolving nonetheless. The Church prescribes rules for fasting and abstinence in the Canon Law and asks all members of the Church between the ages of 14-60 to follow Lenten abstinence. However, many contemporary Catholics may choose not to abstain at all, since the act of abstinence is a man-made law and not a law of the Scripture. Lent is a period of penance and self-reflection. It is important to not forget that everything about lent is about God and man-made traditions are only supplements, much like the annual picnic you might take with your family is an important tradition but it is more about spending time with the family. So if you miss the trip one year or never go but still spend time with the family – the objective has been achieved.”

“Okay, got that. Now tell me. You say you only worship God and his word. Don’t you have to obey the Pope?”

“As much it might surprise you, no. The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church and acts as the Vicar of Christ. However, it is important to remember that he too is human and is not free from sin himself. So the Pope might provide Catholics with advice and guidelines but he is not the absolute authority over everything.

“That’s all very well. But I still have a problem with your religion. Catholic Priests are Child Molesters!”

“As spiritual leaders, it is tragic to find that a great number of priests have molested children but it is unfair to generalize the whole lot of them for the follies of some. The Church and its ministers do a great deal of service to many communities. As Catholics themselves, they are a part of our family and we are not happy with their actions, we don’t condemn all of them or lose hope in our church as a result. This is because while there are priests that molest children, there are so many more that lay down their lives for their faith, many more that bring the hope and love of God to broken families and guide communities. I know many priests who are such inspirational spiritual leaders and I couldn’t be prouder of them. So I beseech you to haste before you make judgement on all of them. Not all of them have fallen from grace.”

“Yeah okay, but why is the Catholic Church Anti Women?”

“I understand that this is probably coming from the fact that women cannot be priests. The Catholic Church institutionally might seem to harm the feminist morale by closing the door of priesthood to half its population. However, the Catholic Doctrine in itself isn’t anti-women at all!! Catholic Feminism does exist! The Gospels are not anti-women either. The Bible in fact has multiple instances of strong women characters. There are also a great deal of women leaders in the Church. I am a Catholic woman myself and I am a strong feminist. Just between you and me I think God is feminist too. The only thing missing is the title of priesthood – hopefully that will come soon too.”
“Why are you guys homophobes, then, if you say God is feminist?”

“While the Catholic Church does not condone homosexuality – the changing world makes it a huge grey area. I can’t speak for all Catholics, but I know for a fact not all of us are homophobes. Homophobia is more characterized by personal beliefs than our faith. People usually quote Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Well, to those Catholics who believe this and to non-Catholics who ask me why the Bible says this – I always narrate the same anecdote. In Jesus’ time prostitution was an offense punishable by stoning to death. However, when the crowds gathered to stone a prostitute to death, Jesus stopped them, and asked any among them who hasn’t sinned to cast the first stone. You can guess what happened next. None of them found themselves guilt-free. So, they threw their stones to the ground and left. Jesus then asked the woman where they’d gone and she said they’d refused to condemn her. Then Jesus, one who was without any sin said, “If they do not condemn you, neither will I. Go and sin no more.” That’s right! He forgave her, though in all authority – he could have stoned her. So, the important thing for Catholics to remember is that no matter what it is you think is a sin against God – Homosexuality, Abortions, whatever – nothing is beyond God’s mercy! And if He who is so sinless doesn’t judge you for you indiscretion, under whose authority are you to judge someone, when you yourself are not free from sin. So please, do not be homophobic. Remember Jesus said “Love one another, as I have loved you.” I know it’s hard to replicate that love – but try.”

By Tanya Jaison