I stopped attending the Catholic Church fifteen years ago for various theological differences. The details aren’t relevant to this blog post. I eventually became a pastor in another denomination, but I never for one moment stopped believing that Jesus was present in the Roman Catholic Church.
Because I was a former Catholic, on quite a few occasions it seemed that non-Catholics believers felt comfortable sharing with me that many in the Catholic Church were merely nominal followers of Jesus. There may be some truth to those comments, but only as far as it’s true of all Christian denominations, or faith-based groups period.
It’s hard to be a committed follower of Jesus.
Jesus himself even said it would be hard to follow him.
So, it’s not surprising that varied Christian denominations might find it easy to criticize each other’s response to following Jesus. It’s a tough thing to do. No one group is necessarily very good at it.
Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening, or that Jesus isn’t alive out there. He is. I saw him this Mother’s Day when I returned to my childhood parish to attend mass with my mother and sisters. My mother and one of my sister’s still attend there.
Being French Canadian and living in a devout Roman Catholic family we attended the French speaking Notre-Dame du Perpétuel-Secours in Hamilton, Ontario. When I was a boy and a teenager I used to love going to church every week. I loved the ritual, the liturgy, and the ongoing Jesus-centric focus of the Roman Catholic mass.
I’ve missed it.
In my years away from the Catholic Church, though the focus is also on Jesus, the longer sermons and less liturgical type of services have been quite different. It was nice to be in a French speaking Roman Catholic service on this day.
It was like coming home.
Even though it’s been years since I had the chance to recite the liturgical responses they all came to me instantly. They’re etched in my head—in my heart. I’m sure that part of it was the fact that the service was in French. I didn’t learn to speak English until I was five years old. French is my mother tongue. So, it was comfortable to be with my mother and sisters to celebrate mass in French. In a few of my sermons I had joked about the fact that Jesus was French Canadian, not Jewish.
I loved it, being in mass on this Mother’s Day. It was great. It made me feel close to God. Close to Jesus.
It was great to hear the priest’s homily. For you non-Catholics, a homily is what Catholics call a sermon. They’re much shorter than most protestant sermons. A typical Catholic homily is only about ten or fifteen minutes. The shorter length being driven by the longer liturgical part of the service, which is pretty well the same parts repeated every single week. There’s some minor adjustments for specific prayers and whatever part of the liturgical year we happen to be in, Easter, Christmas, Lent, and so on.
There’s a genius design to the liturgical setup of a Catholic mass, to the sensory connection with the incense that are burnt to represent our prayers rising to heaven, to the repetition, to the use of the Holy Chalice and Ciborium. It helps people make a tangible connection with God. These should never become the focus of a person’s worship to God, but they can help if the focus is kept on the person of Jesus, instead of the importance of the ritual itself.
The priest leading the mass on my visit was Père (Father) Ambroise Tshiaba. A French-speaking priest from Congo. His homily was beautiful. It was so Jesus-centric that we could feel Jesus with us. I know from being a pastor and doing sermons for years, that you can’t fake that stuff. The Holy Spirit moves you, or he doesn’t. Père Ambroise kept Jesus at the centre of his homily. There was no doubting the importance of Jesus to what he had to say to us. He made Jesus alive to us.
I wanted to write this blog because too often we Christians spend too much time worrying about who has the right theology. We need to celebrate the common belief that we share, that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour.
I saw Jesus at the core of the mass at Notre-Dame.
Dear members of L’Église Notre-Dame, know that you have a Curé with you who understands the importance of keeping Jesus at the centre of one’s faith. That’s much more important than any other theology.
To all the non-Catholics out there, believers and non-believers, don’t be afraid to step into a Catholic church. You can find Jesus there as just as much as you can find him in any other church.
May God’s peace be with you.