One of the main reasons I wanted to become Catholic came down to a much different understanding of church and God than I had ever had in the past. I had spent most of my life to get everyone and everything to conform to what I thought or felt was right. You needed to understand me... then, maybe, we could communicate. There were no better ideas than the ones I had. They were compassionate, caring, but to be honest I had done little research on any of them. I heard the story about Abraham and figured who would want a God that asked someone to kill their own child. Many of my political and cultural beliefs were based on how it made me feel or what, on the surface, appeared to do no harm. For example, what could possibly be wrong with pornography? What someone does behind closed doors is none of my business, right? Well, not only do I see this in a much different light based on what chastity really is, but there's real evidence out there of how destructive it has become in our society. For one, it destroys marriages. Not to mention what it does to the women and men in the pictures or videos. This will have a major impact on our culture that will have terrible consequences. The family is already under attack. Lincoln said it best, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."The sexual revolution of the 60s has led to the exact opposite of what they intended. Freedom and liberty are just a bumper sticker. There must be some sense of responsibility and duty to each other. Our founders said that, only a moral people can govern themselves. I was part of the problem for longer than I care to admit. I realized through all this that my opinions on how things should be are not always spot on. Many of those 'ideas' were just flat out wrong. So I have been busy trying to learn what God's ideas are rather than mine.
Through the study of the Catholic faith I have learned there are two things that guide us: Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. Of course there is more to it, but without these two the entire house falls. Faith and reason are also both vital. I always figured those religious people believed despite evidence; I couldn't have been more wrong. Sure, I cannot prove God, but there is enough evidence to show how a reasonable person can believe there is a Creator.
So Sacred Tradition is inspired ideas. An example would be the Trinity. Nowhere in the Bible is the theological idea of the Trinity laid out, but through study and reason it has become a core teaching of the majority of Christian Churches. Sacred Scripture is the Bible, or the inspired words. When we read the Bible there are certain passages that we are absolutely convinced about their meaning. For example, Jesus stated he is the Son of God, and we believe without question that he is who he says he is. To claim anything else would be a heresy. Other sections of the Bible are open to different interpretations so long as it does not contradict Truths like: Jesus is the Son of God. Catholics look at physical science as studying the mind of God. He created it, and we would see no issue with him also creating an order to the world and the universe. It actually does more to prove that God does in fact exist. Nothing created itself. Reason (along with faith) points to a God responsible for it all.
Now, my faith and belief in God came before I learned how to reason. However, it was that faith in God that led me to search for the answers. The spiritual experience I had did not convince me Christianity was the Truth. That took some time and reading and praying and meditating. I can't point to a date, but after enough evidence I could no longer be skeptical about what God had done for all of us. Yet, I still found comfort in trying to get God to conform to my way of thinking. In time I figured He would come around and see it as I did.
One day it hit me. If that is true, if God needs to see it my way, then I was basically claiming that I knew better than He did. If the Bible was wrong, then as a Protestant my entire belief system was wrong. When I turned to the Catholic Church, there still was a small voice inside saying I could just take what I like and leave the rest. Plain and simple, I was playing God. A tough pill to swallow when you think you have finally turned the corner and started to live life the way God had intended. I listened to what I was being taught about the Church with an open mind. I saw that, although I didn't like all of it, I did need to be obedient to God's Word. Obedience has never been something I practiced. This has been the biggest change for me. The funny thing is how much more joy I experience as a result. It's also on the top of the list of why I left the Protestant Church and decided to become Catholic. I read the Bible and see how us humans have lost so much because we do not trust that God has our back.
This all leads me to what I wanted to write about today. Marriage. A bunch of Cardinals sent a letter to Pope Francis over a few issues they wanted better explained. It comes down to three Sacraments: Marriage, the Eucharist, and Reconciliation (confession). The Cardinals have asked for a sit down. One of the main problems comes down to the confusion over if a divorced Catholic, or some are stating even two people living together, can take communion. I'm not going to try and get into the Holy See's mind, and my prayer is that he will clarify so we can once again be universal in our teachings and practices. When Jesus gave Saint Peter 'the keys to the kingdom' in Matthew 16, I believe this was handing the authority, or responsibility of the church over to what we call the Papacy.
I thought this might be a perfect opportunity to discuss my own journey when it comes to marriage and the church. Many Catholics and non-Catholics have continued to comment on how ridiculous the process of annulment had been for me. I'm asked, 'Why is it taking so long?' or 'You're still going to do that?' Yes, yes I am. And here's why, it is what God is asking of me. I agree with many that it is taking a long time, but I also know those asked to defend marriage are serious about what they do. Although each Sunday I yearn for the Eucharist, I have also experienced gifts I would not have realized if not for the process it takes to get a declaration of invalidity. Which is not to say that the marriage never took place, only that there was some impediment that kept one or both of us from fully committing in the eyes of God. An example would be getting married because the woman got pregnant. Did both parties have the freedom to marry? Or did one or both feel forced to 'do the right thing?' Remember, this is just an example, it certainly doesn't mean that a couple that marries and is already expecting automatically didn't fully commit.
Jesus was clear about marriage in Matthew 19:
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
And then in 1 Corinthians 11 Saint Paul warns that I should not eat the bread or drink the cup without first examining myself. I can actually bring judgement upon myself which, he states, is why some of them were ill or in fact dying. I take Paul at his word. You see, I know better. I know that so long as Tammy's annulment and my two are still pending, that I have to wait. The Bible is either Truth, or it is not. I can't sit on the fence claiming that somehow Jesus was a good teacher, but might not have been the Son of God. There is no escape, I can't call a man a good teacher and then a liar. God does not allow us to 'play it safe' by keeping our options open.
So, I wait. And I have found a faith I never thought was possible. Although we worship in different churches, I have never been more in love with my wife. It grows stronger each day. I owe some of that to the Church for asking me to clean up the mess I made in the past. My hope is that it also works as a way of making amends to my first two wives and God. I didn't know how to be married. I pray that at a spiritual level I can heal the damage I did to both of them. That we can all 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.' And through my own healing, I can become light in other people's lives.
But that doesn't just happen. It is imperative that I, for once in my life, practice obedience. Not to an ideology, or a man or woman, but to the teachings of the church because it has been given to us by God. The case for marriage being a Sacrament was made, and I had to agree. I was presented with what I needed to do so I can enjoy all of the Sacraments with impunity. It was a choice. God gave us free will. Even though I turned my back on Him more times than I can remember, He never gave up on me. How can I possibly turn my back on Him now? He has called me home to the Catholic Church. For my own sake, for the sake of those around me, I have to answer that call.
And so when those that ask with skepticism why I still wait, why I continue down this path when it would seem that the Church does not want me, I answer them with this blog. I answer them with the idea that Jesus said it is but a narrow path. I say, the Catholic Church has made me a better father, a better husband, a better child of God, and I'm not even Catholic yet! If that isn't a ringing endorsement, I don't what is. In so many ways I have escaped death. I am blessed to live the life I do today. I hope to never forget that. I pray that God blesses your life as he has mine.
Until next time... God Bless!
Anthony D. Flores loves to spend his summers writing fiction. His strong Christian faith and love for this great country find its way into his fiction. His work is also available on Amazon by Clicking Here.