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Thu February 26, 2004
This Catholic Church
From front page scandals to the silver screen, the Catholic Church seems to be ever-present in the news of late. But a recent trip to the west coast finds Paul seeing things from a different angle.
By Paul Wilkes
Wilmington NC – [Click the LISTEN button to hear Paul's commentary.]
If I might, a short report and reflection on Catholic America. And its amazing diversity. You see, I've just returned from the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress and this reporter - who regularly writes about the Catholic church, and is a more-or-less lifetime member of the same --- was, well blown away.
Because there in the Anaheim Convention center was a nun in a medieval outfit, starched wimple and all...alongside a woman with a smile set off by rainbow of lip liners and more than a little of her God-given endowment erupting from a quite revealing blouse.
Books on defending the faith in one booth and a booth or two away, those with a far more critical appraisal of the Catholic church.
Side Note: I admire our more evangelical brethren, and the way people are flocking to their positive message, but I don't know if at their conventions you'd find too many books questioning if they have the fullness of truth. Not so with Catholics these days.
For here was the Catholic church in all its battered and beautiful diversity. For sale: an Our Lady of Guadalupe medallion with colored lights flashing about her...Bibles with leather covers, tapes with praise music and tapes with Gregorian chant.
At the closing liturgy, the Gospel was proclaimed in Vietnamese, the opening hymn was in Spanish and English filled in between. And before any ordained men approached, a woman dancer gracefully anointed the altar with her hands.
So what does this all say? What does it mean?
It's just that when we say "Catholic Church" or Baptist or Methodist church or any of our faiths, each has a coat of many colors, each has found different ways to - as we now say in the computer era - access God.
In my own Catholic tradition, it says that Catholics are finding different paths up the mountain to God. It seems to say quite clearly that none of us has the corner on goodness or absolute truth.
And I think it also says that the God we are seeking probably smiles - and smiles approvingly - at such efforts. Some so measured and intelligent. Some so frantic and quirky.
I think it's a perfect reflection of the human nature that God implanted in us in the first place. No automatons need apply, God declared a long time ago. Uh-uh; you've got to sort this out for yourself the divine is-ness declared. I'll be there, standing by, always, but you have to use your mind, your nature, your instincts to find me...And, all the while, driven by the hunger than gnaws deep within all of us. Hounded by the hound of heaven.
And so, these Catholics were trying as best they could to travel toward the God who has already touched each of us.
For me, the stony, bramble-filled trail is Catholicism. Sometimes the path washes out for each of us, but we trudge on. Me on my path, you on yours. So let us not be concerned that all is not well marked, or sure, or alike in our spiritual pursuit. God smiles. And urges us on.
Paul Wilkes teaches in the English Department at UNCW, and is the creator of New Beginnings, a parish and church renewal program.