I love our Catholic faith. There’s beauty in it, there’s wisdom in it, there’s love in it, there’s joy in it, there’s an acceptance and reason for pain and suffering, there’s forgiveness in it, there’s purpose in the rites and rituals in it and there’s so, so much more.
There are also some very “odd” things in it. Within the context and through the lens of our Catholic faith, these things don’t seem extremely odd. But when you step back and look at it from the perspective of many in society, not only are these things odd, but counter-cultural (ie, they go against how the prevailing culture and people in society would do something).
Example: In what scenario other than the Catholic faith is fasting from meals on a regular basis not odd? Fasting is eating only one full meal a day (which may include meat) and two smaller meals that don’t equal the large one meal with no eating between meals (though water, milk tea, coffee, and juices are okay). Sure, people will do these things for health and diet reasons (“cleanses” are a frequent way non-Catholics do this), but how many people do it for spiritual benefit? For obedience to Christ’s call for fasting? To do penance? Not many.
What else is “odd” about our faith? Some would say that abstinence from meat is odd. This complete removal of something from your life is not considered odd if it’s something like meat (for vegetarians) or wheat (if you’re gluten intolerant) but if you have no dietary (or ethical/moral) restrictions to food, why would you eliminate something delicious from your diet? In the Catholic Church we abstain from eating meat (from mammals or fowl though fish is acceptable to eat), for spiritual benefit by giving up something good and as a way to do penance in honor of the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross on Good Friday.
As Catholics, we’re considered “odd” for wearing a crucifix. Yes, we keep Jesus’ crucified body on the cross on purpose in the Catholic faith (not that there’s anything wrong with wearing just a cross as a Catholic, though there is a reason the crucifix is used in our faith). Other faiths say, “Christ isn’t on the cross anymore, he’s in his kingdom in heaven. So why emphasize his death?” True, Jesus isn’t on the cross. However, as Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “Keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever.” And so, it is with the crucifix we recognize that the cross only has meaning because Christ died on it for our salvation.
Catholics are “odd” for thinking means of achieving pregnancy should only take place through the natural act of intercourse. And that believing that artificial reproductive technologies like IVF (In-vitro fertilization), artificial insemination, zygote intra-fallopian transfer (ZIFT) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), ovum donation and using a “surrogate” uterus are wrong and “…infringe [on] the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. [And that reproductive technologies]… betray the spouses’ “right to become a father and a mother only through each other.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2376)
It is “odd” for the Catholic faith, for us, to consider bits and pieces of saints (and their clothing and belongs) as holy. Yup, we even reverence these “pieces” and bless ourselves (or others) with them. Yet most people in society wouldn’t question it if someone has a jersey from a famous baseball player or a ticket stub signed by their favorite band. Don’t forget, saints are Catholic Rockstars.
One last example (from me) of the “odd” things of our faith: indulgences.
Indulgences received a bad rep from when they were being sold back in the day, by some the less-than-stellar people in the Catholic Church who were not following the teachings of the Catholic faith. The Catholic Church has always held the same position on what indulgences are: “the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned.”
Please note, forgiveness of a sin is DIFFERENT from punishment for the sin. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) we receive forgiveness, but we aren’t let off the hook for punishment for our actions. And so to help us, there are two kinds of indulgences: partial and plenary. A partial indulgences removes part of the temporal punishment due for sins. A plenary indulgence removes all of it. This punishment may come in this life in the form of sufferings or struggles, or in the next life, in purgatory. And so what temporal punishment we don’t complete here on earth, we complete in purgatory before entering Heaven perfectly and without sin. Make no mistake, indulgences aren’t easy to do and obtain, and they aren’t meant to be. They’re removing some of the punishment of our sins from our souls, so of course they’d be challenging!
One of the cool things about our Catholic faith is that these “odd” things of our faith are all for our benefit. They are meant to help us grow spiritually and be better, holier Catholics. So for 2013, why not try some out?
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have given us some great ways to grow spiritually and pray for our country in 2013, in a call to encourage prayer and sacrifice. This call started at the beginning of January (and can be started at any time) and incorporate some of the “odd” things of our faith, including abstinence from meat and fasting. You can read more details on their five ways to participate in the “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Freedom” here.
And for the Year of Faith in the Catholic Church (from November 2012 to October 2013), there are many ways to grow in our faith that include the “odd” things of our faith too, such as indulgences, as Laura Gonzalez mentioned a post in October “10 Ways Catholics Can Live the Year of Faith.”
Lastly, what are some of the “odd” things of the Catholic faith you have noticed living counter-culturally, as a Catholic? I can think of quite a few more, can you?