Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Material Girl

I’ve tried not to compare Catholics and Protestants in any posts. There are plenty of reasons why: Catholicism is not just another denomination to compare to another, there are too many strains of Protestantism to set up a comparison, and I’m not an anti-Protestant and don’t want it to appear that way.

I say that because I’m about to make a general comparison between Catholics and Protestants.

Catholics like things: real, tangible, malleable, physical things. And I think most of the differences between Catholics and Protestants arise from that one fact.

To the Catholic Church, the material is sacred. God created the earth and everything in it. God even became man, took on flesh in His mother’s womb, breathed through His lungs, died. The physical and spiritual are linked to one another. Separation diminishes both.

In contrast, the level of attention Protestants pay to the material varies, but for the most part I’ve found that there is a belief that creation is good and Jesus was a man, but beyond that, Protestantism is sola spiritus (because Protestants love sola.) Focus is not given on the Incarnation or the value of physical things. When you look at other differences between Catholics and Protestants, most can come back to this one outlook. A few examples:

• Eucharist: To Catholics, Christ presents Himself physically to all people, not confined in time and space. Christ can be seen, touched, tasted. To Protestants, it just looks like a wafer that can at most be a spiritual symbol. Catholics are filled with Christ by partaking elements. Protestants are filled with Christ by calling on the Holy Spirit.

• Sex and Contraception: Sex causes babies. It’s one of the most natural and miraculous facts. If you want a new, little human, something physical has to take place and a woman’s body has to adjust to sustain that new life. Catholics value that process of making life to the point that artificially interfering in that a no-no. They also believe such a physical act has an effect on the souls of the participants, so sex should be approached with a great level seriousness and commitment. Not that Protestants don’t take sex seriously, but the focus is more on “being ready,” which I’ve always found to be a uselessly vague term or “only after marriage” without an explanation for why.

I think both parties believe and use the term “your body is a temple,” but to Protestants who don’t believe in sacred places like sanctuaries or tabernacles, how much meaning does temple have?

• Worship: Catholic worship is filled with outward signs. Crossing, genuflecting, processing, kneeling, kissing the altar. Crucifixes, incense, rosaries, candles, gold calices. To Protestants, it can seem over the top and unnecessary. To Catholics, your body has to be incorporated into worship to keep your mind and soul in the right place.

Evangelicals are always lifting up their palms and swaying during the praise band music, so they should understand this. (Otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten dirty looks for sitting still in my seat.)

My point? I don’t know that there is one, except that value of the physical was never taught to me. It’s just something I’ve begun to see this week.
Have you ever had moments where you notice reality? Where for a brief moment, you step outside yourself and notice, “This exists. This is all physically here. Some of this physical stuff, like me, is able to breathe, move, think, even able to acknowledge its own existence.” Reality appears to be extra-real and quite unbelievable. I was showering and I saw my hands and thought, “Christ had hands. The indefinable, omniscient God of the universe had something as insignificant as hands.” They were probably bigger and darker than mine, and the nail beds were probably dirtier. It made the Incarnation seem more real to me, instead of just a theological posit. When the physical and spiritual are linked so tightly, every physical action becomes a chance to encounter the spiritual.

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