I think I was born in the wrong tradition. I realize that tradition is a decidedly Christian word, implying that I think that the church denomination that my parents espoused when I was born was likely the wrong denomination for me. I was born into the “Baptist” tradition, which is part of the evangelical church tradition. I use tradition slightly humorously as both Baptists and evangelicals are really uncomfortable with the word tradition. Its because, way back when Luther (Martin Luther) protested the evils of the current Catholic church, he also argued that all we need is grace and faith alone. It was an argument against tradition, which is foundational to Catholic faith. Which is also interesting, because (almost) all Baptists and evangelicals also think that Catholics are going to hell.
Which brings me to my point.
A group of people from my church are staying at the Chiara Center in Springfield, IL for the weekend. Its a center for people to take retreats, either silent, spiritual, or for the purpose of just getting away for awhile. It was built on the site of an old Tuberculosis Hospital that the Franciscan Sisters who fled Germany in the 1800s built in the early 1900s. Sister Renita, of the Franciscan Sisters, was showing us around the place and telling us about its history. She kept saying that the sisters had been given the ministry of healing and restoration, which is what compelled them to do what they had done at this location for over 100 years, including with Abraham Lincoln’s wife while she was ill. They care for people, and the center is designed for soul-care. Its quite amazing.
Attached to the retreat center is a cathedral (pictured above) in which every single decoration has one single purpose of pointing to Jesus. Everything. The cathedral is built in the shape of a cross. The domes are decorated with paintings of different events from Jesus’ life. The windows bear witness to the Trinity and different Church Fathers who helped us understand these truths.
There is a nativity scene, which Sister Renita told us is in every Franciscan Cathedral, because St. Francis believed that the incarnation was the single most powerful event in all of human history. She said that St. Francis saw the arc of human history different than the modern church has, which is that of our sinfulness and our need for a savior. That we are bad, and that we needed Jesus to come and remind us of that. Instead, St. Francis believed that the incarnation of Jesus in this world was always the plan, from the beginning of creation. That God had always planned to come and live with his good creation. When sin entered, we forgot how good we were and literally stooped down, unable to see the world and only focusing on ourselves. Jesus came to lift our heads and to remind us of how good we are.
So, that’s why I think I am a Catholic, today more than ever. I think that I find Jesus more in the art, the reverence, and the intentionality of everything in the Catholic tradition than in any other tradition. Obviously there are plenty of things that I don’t understand or necessarily agree with within the Catholic church, especially when it comes to politics, but I quite frankly have the same problems with evangelicals as well. I just think that, for me, the Catholic tradition makes the story of Jesus more central than I ever thought of it in my evangelical Baptist tradition. I’m hoping to go sit in silence with Jesus in that cathedral tomorrow.