Tuesday, September 04, 2012

So, What's that Holy Spirit FEEL Like, Anyway?

One of the things I like best about Catholicism, as opposed to many "faiths" I've seen out there, is that Catholicism doesn't depend much on FEELINGS.
This is not to say that emotion isn't important in spirituality. Of course it is. God created us in His image, which means that He feels emotions, too. And they have a big role in how we worship--at times.
But there's a danger there, cherie.

For you nondenominationalists out there...think about how you choose a home church.
I mean, you go to where you "feel" you belong.
You go to where you "feel" you are "called" to be.
You go to where you "feel" God is "leading" you.
See a common denominator here?

By contrast, the traditional way a Catholic chooses which church to go to is--brace yourself--GEOGRAPHICAL.
Nowadays, that's not as tightly binding as it used to be. But it still holds true in the large majority of cases that the church you go to, as a Catholic, is the parish church that "covers" the boundaries of where you live.
It's simple. It's neat. It's predictable. And, for anyone relocating, it's a snap. Just look at the church nearest your house, and that's probably the one whose parish you live in. Not always--like school boundaries, sometimes parish boundaries have some quirks--but as a general rule, the church closest to your home is the one to which you belong.

It does cause some problems sometimes, mainly because of inadequate Church supervision over some folks who can't get the idea out of their heads that "Vatican II" said you're all supposed to hold hands at church and sing "KumBaYa" at Communion.
(It DIDN'T, by the way. Just so's we're clear on that.)

So what if the parish church you're technically "supposed" to go to is one of those bat shit crazy places with multicolored rainbow vestments, weird-ass dancing, or priests who think dogs should be co-celebrants in liturgy?
Are you still bound to be members of that parish and support it no matter what, simply because of where you live?

That's a tougher one. Sometimes you have to go outside your parish boundaries to find a church that's faithful to the Magisterium, knows what's what liturgy-wise, and is unapologetic about proclaiming real Church teaching.
But it's still gonna be a Catholic church. 
You're not going to be searching among the 40,000 other "also-rans" out there to see if a better home for you exists somewhere else. Not if you're a real Catholic.
Chances are, the parish is still going to be fairly close to your home, if you can swing that. Even if it's a place you've had to decide on by process of elimination.

But one thing that choice is NOT based on...is "feeling."
Which, I believe, removes a whole lot of nonsense from the Christian experience.

You see, if you go to where you "feel" the "Holy Spirit" moving...
...then what happens when you no longer "feel" the Spirit in that place anymore?

I see this happen all over nondenominational churches.
At best, it leads to church-hopping, sometimes even denomination-hopping.

At worst, it can lead to infighting, opposing camps, and divided church bodies, whose members then go on to form NEW church "families" with folks from one side forming the new body, while the other is abandoned.
Not that bad, but still bad, is its tendency to leave people "without a church home" for a given period of time. Which means they don't go to church at all.
Because they haven't found the place they "feel led to be" yet.
Or they haven't found a place they "feel" has the Spirit, or is led by the Spirit.

But not going to church at all isn't an option for a believer.
And no, I'm not just talking about Catholics.
True, we're bound under pain of mortal sin (which is a Big Deal) to go to Mass on Sunday. 
EVERY Sunday, and EVERY Holy Day of Obligation.
But not going to church at all is not an option for any believer.
It's Scriptural. Look it up.
When Paul says not to neglect the gathering of yourselves together, he's not suggesting. He's commanding.
It's not a "nice thing to do." 
It's a sin NOT to do it.
It's a command. Based on a commandment.
And it has nothing to do with "feelings."

Fact is, no one can truly tell you what the "Holy Spirit" FEELS like.
No one.
Because the presence of the Holy Spirit isn't a "feeling" at all.
The leading of God can, in fact, be to a place where you're not "feeling the love" in the slightest.
It can even be one of those bat shit crazy places, where you become the salt and light that brings 'em back to the way they're supposed to be.
Is that fun?  
Will you be "feeling" like you're in the Spirit?
Hardly. Usually you'll be "feeling" like you're being a fuddy-duddy who doesn't "understand" what "Church" is all about.
But if it's where, as far as you can discern, you are finding obedience...
then it's where you're supposed to be, and the Spirit IS present there.
Regardless of how you're feeling.

Which is why Catholicism, and its (ideal) separation of feeling from obedience, does a lot less harm and injustice to the believer than this notion of going where you "feel" led to go.
It makes things infinitely simpler when you're not testing the spirits based on how you "feel" about them...but on whether they're obedient to what Jesus declared His Church to be in the first place.
Feelings are, in the end, a really crappy substitute for faith.
They're an even crappier substitute for obedience.

Which may be why, in so many nondenominational Protestant churches today, there's a constant striving to be bigger, more innovative, more flashy, more "sincere," and reach out to more people as fast and in as many media-savvy ways as possible.
Because if people are going to go to churches based on where they "feel" the best...
you gotta keep those good "feelings" coming...or you'll lose 'em.
And that's considered a tragedy of eternal proportions.

But is it? Is it, really?
Or is the tragedy actually the foundational reliance on "feelings" in the first place?
The Gospel does not say,
"You shall know the truth, and it'll make you FEEL awesome."
It doesn't say,
"You'll know the presence of the Spirit because you'll FEEL it."
Nor does it  say,
"I am with you to keep you FEELING GOOD 'til the end of the age."

It does say, "You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free."
It does say, "By their fruits you shall know them."
And it does say, "And know that I am with you always." 

People sometimes get their noses out of joint when Catholics say that they belong to the true Faith. But the fact is, a Faith that relies on knowing what Jesus promised we would know has a head start on being the real thing...
...and it's a much, much more stable place to be than waiting to "feel" where we're supposed to be next.

Jesus wants us to find the real Faith and stay there.
By knowing.
By obeying.
No matter how, or what, we happen to FEEL throughout the ebb and flow of our lives.

So I would submit that looking to belong to any church based on "feelings" is not only a futile endeavor--it may, in fact, be playing with fire. 
Moods of individual church bodies with no authorities but themselves...change.
(And don't tell me, "Our authority is Scripture," or "Our authority is God Himself." If that were true, there wouldn't have to be 40,000 of you out there all disagreeing with each other.)

The fact is, human authorities in charge of churches, no matter how sincere...change.
They can change churches  from being places you're sure the Spirit is a-movin' in...to places that Jesus would call unrecognizable. (As in, "I never knew you.")
It happens.

But the teaching authority of the Holy Spirit doesn't change.
And it doesn't rely on feelings.

Which is why, IMHO, when it comes to faith--it's dangerous for US to rely on that, either.
That road, eventually, always ends up nowhere...and God doesn't want believers to be nowhere.
But the devil just loves it when we are.

So you have to wonder whose "feelings" you're actually following at that point, when your "feeling" has led you to stay away from church...for ANY reason.
And you have to wonder whose "feelings" you're honoring when you can't "find a church home" that "suits you."

News flash: Church isn't supposed to suit YOU. Your job is to belong to IT...not the other way around.
If that hurts your FEELINGS, it's not the Church that's at fault.
But it may just be your theology.



Patty said...

I'm a protestant, but the thing I love most about my church is how close it is to home. I love that I can run into other church members in Walmart, or walk to church if the weather is nice. Granted, I do have a few churches pretty close to home, and we had to choose the one we were most comfortable in as a family, but having a close by church was really important to me. It makes church more about community when it's actually a part of your immediate community.

Janny said...

Yep, our church is also walking distance from our present house--although we may be moving in the not-too-distant future. I suspect we'll stay in town, which will mean we'll probably still be able to walk there. :-)

That being said, I've seen the "feelings" nonsense wreak so much havoc on people's church lives...it's a shame. I've seen churches split apart, I've seen people feeling abandoned, the whole shot. That's why I wrote what I did.


Unknown said...

Amen! I actually drive to a church that's an hour away for the simple fact that most of the Catholic churches nearby seem too modern and too willing to embrace - if it feels good, let's do it - and who cares about Catholic tradition. Then there was the church where they keep having to get rid of priests for various reasons . . . so I drive where I've gone for the past 30 years. It's home and I know the people, have a little writing group, work at the bookstore . . . but if I did what I felt like . . . I'm sure I wouldn't drive that far! Obedience enters in . . .