A reflection by Sarah
Earlier this week, Lindsey wrote a post titled “Gifts from Orthodoxy.” It covered a sampling of spiritual and theological treasures that Lindsey came to love while in the Orthodox Church, and so much of it resonated with me. Every item that Lindsey named is an aspect of my time in Orthodoxy that I will always treasure. As I have made my return to the Catholic Church, I’ve been thinking about all the gifts that Catholicism has given me over the years. In today’s post, I’d like to reflect on some of those in no particular order.
Throughout the past week, several readers have been asking me why I chose to return to the Catholic Church. The most common question has been, “Why would you return to a tradition that is unlikely to be more supportive of your calling to celibate partnership with Lindsey?” I don’t agree with the premise of that question, primarily because of what I would consider support for my calling. If there is anything I have learned from my years of experience interacting with other Catholics, it is that we share a common commitment to helping each other during difficult times. Our Church has an extensive social teaching that spans a variety of life-in-the-world issues. We care about whether people are able to meet their basic needs. Though we hold diverse opinions about the best way to resolve the problem of ever-rising healthcare costs, we agree that when human beings are not able to receive healthcare without going bankrupt that is indeed a problem. If any kind of life situation places someone’s healthcare access or other basic needs in jeopardy, it is not difficult to find a Catholic priest (or brother, nun, or layperson for that matter) who is willing to help that person find solutions for meeting those needs. The Catholic faith teaches us that we are to stand in solidarity with all who suffer, and that we are to do what is possible to relieve the suffering of others. The bottom line is, we care for one another. And I consider that the most meaningful form of support for any person’s calling.
Speaking of callings, another gift from Catholicism that I cannot speak of highly enough is openness to certain variety within Christian vocation. We recognize marriage and religious life, but also a variety of pathways that are neither. Lay Catholics can commit their lives to secular institutes and other movements within the Church. Certain Catholic women choose to become consecrated virgins living in the world. Then, there’s the general category of “vocation to single life in the world” that has not yet been discussed thoroughly by the Church, but holds so much possibility for people who are called to give of themselves in a way that is different from both marriage and religious life. The idea of vocation outside of marriage and monasticism is not foreign to Catholicism. I’m eager to see how the idea of vocation for unmarried laypeople will continue to develop. Certainly those conversations will not be swift or easy, but they are important as more and more people remain single.
The ability to engage in these kinds of difficult conversations is a third gift I have received from Catholicism. Though scholasticism arose within the context of the western Christian tradition and I am quite fond of the eastern approach that is less academic, my time away from the Catholic Church has led me to value more highly the theological and philosophical approaches of the West. One disadvantage of the western approach is that western Christianity can appear more argumentative and less unified. But it’s impossible to ignore the advantages of engaging in reasoned conversation about hundreds of different life-in-the-world issues. The core truths of the faith will never change, but how we apply those to life may look slightly different as the world changes. Being part of a Church that values both tradition and continued learning from many academic disciplines is an incredible gift. Engaging deeply in the hard discussions is one of the most spiritually and intellectually rewarding aspects of being Catholic.
As someone who feels a deep connection to the spiritualities of both East and West, I consider the Church’s worldwide presence another of the greatest gifts Catholicism has given me. Most Latin rite Catholics I know will say this and follow it up with, “No matter where you go in the world, even if you don’t know the language, we can follow the Mass because it is always the same.” Fair enough. That’s true to an extent when one is speaking within the context of a particular rite. But it’s not what I’m talking about here. I am thankful for the presence of 24 autonomous particular Catholic Churches throughout the world, 23 of which are Eastern Churches that offer Divine Liturgy rather than Latin rite Mass. Some of these were formerly Orthodox, but others — the Maronite Catholic Church, Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, and Syro-Malabar Catholic Church — have always (or almost always) been in communion with Rome. The Maronites gave me my first experience with Eastern Catholicism, and I am grateful for every opportunity I had to learn from them when I lived in a different city. As a Latin rite Catholic who has returned to Catholicism from Orthodoxy, at present I find myself struggling to integrate what I love most about the western tradition with my most beloved aspects of eastern Christian spirituality. But on the bright side: I don’t have to attend services only within the Latin rite or only within an eastern rite. If it seems fitting, I can celebrate Advent within a Latin rite parish where English is the liturgical language, visit the Ukrainian Catholic parish down the street for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, see a deaf priest for confessions in American Sign Language, and go to vespers with the Maronites even though I can’t lip read Syriac. There is plentiful room in Catholicism for the spiritual treasures of both East and West.
I’m probably stating the obvious here when I say that these are not the only parts of Catholicism that I consider to be gifts. I love the way we do confession in the Catholic Church. There’s just something the immediate outpouring of grace that gets me every time. I can’t think of any place I would rather spend a lazy Friday afternoon than in a Eucharistic adoration chapel hanging out with Jesus, then attending a daily mass. The rosary, particularly praying the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesdays…no other prayer practice I have ever attempted has succeeded so thoroughly at getting my racing mind to slow down. And I have quite an emotional soft spot for the May Crowning ceremonies and First Communion Sundays that come in springtime.
I could continue naming gifts indefinitely, but getting to the point: when I left Catholicism for Orthodoxy, I was not running away from the difficult parts of being Catholic. I was not abandoning one Christian tradition for a different one that I thought would be utopia. I had my eyes open as widely as I could have at the time, and I made the decision that I had thought was best, going where I had thought God was leading. I may never know why God leads me in a particular direction. All I can do is listen and follow as best I’m able. But I believe that when transitioning from one Christian tradition into another (or back into another after having left previously), it is important to be running toward something rather than away from something. That is what I’m doing now. Catholics are no more sinless and no less judgmental than Orthodox Christians, and though some of our readers may be confused as to why I’m returning to Catholicism instead of looking for another Christian tradition, I do not find this matter confusing at all. My return to Catholicism is not a running away from problems in the Orthodox Church. Instead, it is my running back toward all of Catholicism’s gifts — these and so many more.
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