A reader of yesterday’s blog offered me the following challenge: “Do you believe in the Catholic faith, or do you believe in a religion of your own invention?” As a woman raised Catholic, who passionately loved her faith, I ask myself this question EVERY DAY! I long for the faith in which I was raised, and at the same time, I struggle with the inconsistencies between what I see in the Institution and what I have come to embrace through my own prayer and contemplation. So, I’m stuck in the tension between knowing I CANNOT reform a 2000 year old institution and the feeling that I no longer have a place I can call HOME. So….in the spirit of that search, I continue the exploration….no longer wishing and hoping for the Catholic Church to get with MY program….but envisioning what Church might look like if it reflected what I feel in my heart. I write this, not for those who are currently content with the Catholic Church as it is…..but for those, like myself, who make up the SECOND LARGEST religious denomination in the US: Questioning, Recovering and Non-practicing Catholics.
Tackling the Sacraments
Because of the love I experienced for my Catholic faith, the church of my own making would look pretty Catholic. And because of the fulfillment I found in the sacraments, the church of my own making would have sacraments – and there would be seven of them. But, the sacraments would look a little different than how they are experienced in the current form of the Roman Catholic Church. The primary reason – because the church of my own making will not be centered around the doctrine of original sin…and sin will be treated in a very different way than what we have known in Catholicism. (read more about undoing the doctrine of original sin HERE) What will remain, however, is recognition of the sacraments as profound tools of healing and rituals through which we allow ourselves to be present and accepting of God’s abundant and ever flowing grace. (PS We are NEVER without God’s grace….it doesn’t have to be earned and it cannot be taken away…..but we do feel it more acutely at times and participation in rituals of humility and openness sometimes help us to be more attentive to the grace that is already all around us!)
So….let’s start at the beginning, with baptism. Traditionally, baptism is taught as the sacrament we need in order to be freed from the stain of original sin. And some would argue that without the grace of baptism, we are condemned to an eternity in hell….or at the very least, in limbo. But if there is no original sin, then why do we need baptism? I like to look at the scriptural account of Jesus’ baptism for support with this question. In the scriptural accounts, we don’t really know why Jesus goes to John for baptism, but he does. Was he just going along with what other people were doing? Had something happened in his journey that inspired him to seek baptism? According to Catholic teaching….Jesus was without the stain of original sin, so why did he need to be baptized? We don’t know Jesus’ motivation, but the gospels agree that Jesus sought baptism. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) also agree with what happened upon Jesus’ reception of baptism:
The Spirit descended upon him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Luke 3: 22
The synoptic gospels also agree that after his baptism and after receiving these words from heaven, Jesus retreated into the desert where he was tempted by Satan. It seems as if baptism, in the way that Jesus experienced it, was a moment of initiation as well as a moment of empowerment. Through his baptism, Jesus came to understand how truly loved he was in God and the potential greatness that resided in him because of the depth of this love. And perhaps it was through his baptism that he came to understand the truth of his Oneness with God and was thereby freed from his own perception of separation. This awareness was so startling to him that it forced him to discern “What does this mean for me? How am I to respond to this new awareness?” We know through the scriptural accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, that he was then tempted by the same temptations we face for pride, power and control. Jesus transcended these temptations after which he was prepared to accept what he discerned as God’s unique call for him – to heal the sick, release prisoners, bring sight to the blind, feed the hungry, preach the good news, etc.
A New Baptism
In the church of my own making, baptism would be something more akin to the baptism Jesus experienced. Instead of being there to release us from the stain of original sin, baptism would be there to acknowledge how truly, deeply and passionately we are loved by God and to remind us that we are not separate from God (as the human condition would lead us to believe) but are indeed One with God as Jesus came to understand. In our baptism, instead of the prayers of exorcism, we would hear, “YOU ARE MY BELOVED DAUGHTER, and with you I AM WELL PLEASE!” When the waters of baptism are poured over us, we would acknowledge that in our human birth, we chose the consequences of perceived separation, but that in truth, we are never separate from God. In receiving the oils of anointing, we would acknowledge that each and every human being is uniquely gifted and called to be God’s love in the world. What would that be like? What would happen if we could actually believe that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters and that God is WELL pleased with us …. exactly as we are in any given moment? What if we truly believed how amazing and precious we are in God’s eyes? What if instead of focusing on the pain of separation, baptism became a balm for that pain…not in reminding us of sin….but in celebrating our GREATNESS? What would happen if from the moment of our birth, we acknowledge that each of us have our own unique mission for revealing God’s love in the world? What would that be like? In the church of my own making, these are the questions I would ponder as formulating my theology around the sacrament of baptism.
copyright 2013 Lauri Ann Lumby