But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Recently, when playing golf, I spontaneously made the sign of the cross. My playing partner saw me make this simple gesture and said, “I thought you were a Methodist; are you Catholic?” He had assumed because I made the sign of the cross that I had changed denominations.
No, I hadn’t, but I sometimes feel compelled when I feel the presence of God to outwardly thank God for existing and being in my life. Long ago, a friend of mine, Joe Bongiorno, explained to me what the sign of the cross meant to him. And I thought to myself, What a magnificent way to show my love for God. For me, it became a simple and personal way to recognize God and the importance of God in my life. A simple gesture to recognize the driving force of creation and all that is born of love.
Admittedly, while a stronger believer in the Methodist way, I admire the Catholic Church. Yes, I just said that. It doesn’t mean I am disloyal to my tribe, the Methodists; it means that I am a Christian first and admire any and all that is good from other denominations.
Some will criticize the Catholic Church.
There are things that the denomination has done to engender this criticism. Certainly, the child abuse debacle is one of those things. It is a horrific stain on the denomination.
There are also the indulgences that were sold in the Middle Ages and the Spanish Inquisition. The burnings at the stake for those who were considered heretics. And let us not forget about the scandals of the popes during the Holy Roman Empire. Yes, there are many horrific things that we can choose to judge the Catholic Church by.
But all denominations have had their problems.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist religion wasn’t always the righteous man of legend. He reneged on a marriage proposal and was thrown out of the United States in the eighteenth century. Martin Luther’s writings late in life contained anti-Semitic views that were later used to justify the massacre of six million Jewish people.
The Thirty Years War saw both the Catholics and Protestants fighting one another, leaving one quarter of Germany dead.
These acts, whether done by both Catholics and Protestant humans and are not acts of God. They are flawed and misguided acts of evil enacted by humans. Similar to humankind, all religious denominations have skeletons in their closets.
We always have the choice to focus on the good or bad in people and their beliefs. I choose to focus on the good. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the bad, but we should also not forget the many great contributions.
It was the Catholics who died bravely in the Coliseum.
It was Peter, the first Catholic, who nursed a backwater belief structure into becoming a powerful voice for Christ. And let us not forget Paul, who roamed the known world preaching the good news of Christ, despite many beatings and personal suffering.
Sure, we Protestants could take a position of judging the Catholic Church. But without the brave Catholics, there is much we would miss.
The Nicene Creed—a powerful statement of all Christian beliefs—was created by 150 Catholic bishops in a remote corner of Greece. Mother Teresa tended to the “untouchables.” Catholic charities here in the United States feed the poor, act as advocates for social justice, and are always one of the first to lend a hand during natural disasters.
It is more about how we look at and judge life. We always have the opportunity to either light a candle or curse the darkness. To only focus on the bad would mean missing the noble acts of millions of pious Catholics. It would mean missing the fact that Catholicism is growing worldwide. Since 1965, Catholicism has grown 70 percent and is expected to continue its growth. Not here in the United States, but in other parts of the world. Its message and ways are still bringing people to Christ, just like it did 2,000 years ago.
I can make the sign of the cross and still be a Methodist. But I am a Christian first and remain an admirer of the Catholic Church. I don’t ignore the harm done by some of the humans in the church, but I do want to remember the legacy of the many Catholics who have made the world better.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
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