Growing up Catholic, it was always hard for me to understand the religion of my Lutheran cousins. I always knew that I loved them, but it was very difficult for my young, impressionable mind to wrap my brain around the hows and the whys of my Catholicism versus their Lutheranism. And as I sat there at the Ordination of my aunt and godmother as a Lutheran pastor just a few short months ago, I had tears in my eyes. Because of some minute differences in wording, because of what the Catholics say versus what the Lutherans say, I could not fully participate in their service. And as I sat there, these words came to me: What does it matter as long as God knows what is in my heart?
God knows what is in my heart.
Even on the most joyous of days, my family was divided. My aunt’s family is Lutheran; the rest of us are Catholic, and although outwardly my whole family is accepting of this difference, there are cracks through which intolerance slips. I regret to consider my father to be the Reverend Shaw of Footloose, before he comes to the light, that is. He is bound to the rhetoric of the exact words penned in Scripture, and I have found as I have grown up that he, and many other Catholics, allow this to blind them to the true spirit of love, acceptance, and service that Jesus Christ calls us to.
So as I sat there, tears in my eyes, one of my favorite church hymns, “Here I Am, Lord,” was being sung by the Celebration Choir. And the thought occurred to me: maybe I was meant to go against my father’s wishes (which were to not receive Communion because it “wouldn’t be appropriate”) in order to go to Jesus. That I had to put Jesus first above my earthly father. For Jesus calls us to leave our families, our worldly possessions to follow him. He says,”Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).
I did not have enough time to reflect on the whole matter, certainly not enough time to pray about it all, prior to the service and Communion and so, I respected my father and his wishes and did not receive that day. In the car on the way to a graduation party after the reception following the Ordination was over, however, I was able to ponder the whole thing a little more. And I felt I was at a bit of a loss. We are told in Scripture that we are to put Jesus first above all things, and yet the fourth commandment “Honor thy father and mother” was sticking out in my mind. Again I thought, was I supposed to deny my earthly father for my Heavenly One?
I thought over how I had taken part in their service, all but receiving Communion, and reflected on how the only difference, at least the only one visible to me, was some wording (oh, and the Sign of Peace was at a slightly different place in the service- but that’s not earth-shattering). Wording that stated the same things that I say in my weekly Catholic Mass. Practically the same words that I said in Catholic Mass before, in very recent years, they changed some of the wording to “be more of an exact translation.” It seemed to me that “we believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty…” to take the Lutheran version of it, states just what “I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty…” to take the Catholic version does- and just as well. I guess I don’t understand how saying “we” diminishes the integrity of the “me” part of the “we.”
“For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” -Mother Teresa
I was asked if I could be a Communion minister, to share the Cup, and again, my father said no. He felt it would be inconsistent with not receiving Communion, which again, I respected. But again, I couldn’t understand the minute difference in wording. What does it matter if I say, “The Blood of Christ, shed for you,” or “The Blood of Christ”? Both are true to Catholics, are they not? And God sees what is in my heart. He knows what I believe, and if He knows what I believe, shouldn’t that be good enough for everybody else? It seems that these tiny differences in wording are driving us apart instead of bringing us together. I don’t profess to understand exactly how it all works but it seems that Lutherans don’t believe in a full transfiguration- that they believe the bread becomes Jesus but is still bread at the same time. Maybe I never understood Catholicism correctly, but I guess I still physically see bread in the priest’s hands even though I believe I’m taking Jesus’s body?
Several times that day, starting with during the service itself, these words from “One Bread, One Body” came to mind: “Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man, no more!” To Jesus it doesn’t matter what our label is. It doesn’t matter if I’m a Catholic or a Lutheran. It matters if I’m a good person who allows his commandments to guide my life on a path of love, acceptance, and service of and to others.
And so, as I sat in that car, driving away from a joyous celebration feeling rather tired and somewhat cranky, “Here I Am, Lord” played in my head. I toyed with some tough questions: Did I not love Jesus enough to disobey my father? Did I follow the fourth commandment appropriately by obeying my father’s wishes? I certainly don’t have all the answers. Heck! I don’t have any! But Here I Am, Lord. Here I Am, and I trust that you will guide me to the Light.