Rebecca Hamilton is a former pro-abortion activist and leader. As the Oklahoma Director of NARAL, she helped establish the first abortion clinic in Oklahoma, and she continued her activism after being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. After experiencing a profound conversion to Christ, voters returned her to office as a pro-life Democrat and she spent twelve years defending life and families in the Oklahoma Legislature. Rebecca left her political career in 2014, and along with the National Catholic Register, she writes at Patheos on her blog Public Catholic.
How can you leave the Catholic Church?
The question was rhetorical, not literal. I asked it of the air, more or less, as my husband was driving the car. At the same time that I asked it rhetorically, I meant it absolutely.
I recently talked to someone I know who told me that she'd "left" the Catholic Church. She's now attending one of those smorgasbord mega-congregations where they serve you Jesus-as-you-like-him. I felt as if I was listening to a person who'd told me that they had decided to give up eating balanced meals and ingest nothing cotton candy and donuts.
I get as aggravated with the Church as the next Catholic. I don't mind at all saying that I think this bishop or that has gotten it wrong. I've been very outspoken about the failure to stop child sex abuse by priests. Very. I've been equally outspoken about the failure in some quarters to take a strong stand on basic Church teaching, and the propensity of some bishops for throwing hapless underlings under the proverbial bus so the bishop can pander to the crowds. I just recently wrote a rather strong series of posts on the question of the Church and rape.
Our wonderful Church gives us great freedom to think and let think, and I exercise that freedom.
But ... leave the Church?
I mean, how does one do that?
I've been out there in make-it-up-as you-go-land, and frankly, I don't see the point. As in, I don't see the point in even bothering to get out of bed and go to church if all you hope to find is a reflection of your own self.
You can do that and never leave your bedroom. In fact, if you keep a mirror handy, you can do that and never lift your little head off your pillow.
The Catholic Church is not perfect. Her ministers are human beings with the usual baggage of weaknesses, silliness and just downright meanness as the rest of us.
But when you walk into a Catholic Church, Jesus is there.
I am referring to the One Who said Before Abraham was, I Am.
Jesus scandalized the people of that day when He said this. They understood what He meant in a way that we tend to forget. When God appeared to Moses and instructed him to go to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to set the Israelites free, Moses asked, "Who shall I say has sent me?"
God answered, I Am. Tell them that I Am has sent you.
This was a definite claim from God Himself of His own transcendence, of His immortal Otherness. Jesus' statement echoed that and placed Himself in the same category.
Tell them that I Am has sent you.
Before Abraham was, I Am.
Jesus is not a prophet. He is not a martyr or a good man. Jesus is God. And He says so.
He is the I Am that you encounter when you walk into a Catholic Church.
It is not about the singing, or the preaching, or the incense. It is not about whether or not you feel the Church reflects your particular thinking and ideas.
It is about Him. It is about Christ. It is about the One Who has the words that lead to eternal life.
How do you leave the Catholic Church?
I don't mean how can you get up and walk out? I don't even mean how can you turn your back on Christ in the Eucharist, Jesus Who is right there in front of you and available to you every time you enter a Catholic Church.
I mean how do you leave the One who breathes life into you and maintains your existence as well as that of all creation; the One without Whose constant sustaining everything, everywhere would blink out of existence as if it had never been.
How, once you have tasted Him, do you spit Him out?
You cannot leave the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church is not a building you can depart or an idea you can disagree with. The Catholic Church is a communion. It is the Communion between God and humanity, given a concrete shape and human reality through the buildings and ideas and trappings of itself that people mistake for the whole of what it is.
You can, and many people do, partially sever your communion with the Living Lord by walking away from His Presence, by depriving yourself of partaking of Him in His Body and Blood. But so long as you are in even a vestigial communion with Him you are in a real and practical way living on the graces and the gifts of the Catholic Church.
I did not know this when I converted to Christ. In fact, I did not dream of it. I was decades away from this understanding. But now that I have it, I realize that it is not possible to walk in Christ outside the Catholic Church.
I do not mean that it is impossible to worship in another denomination, or to, as I did, find Christ all on your own without any church at all.
What I mean is that the Catholic Church, more specifically, the Eucharist, is the doorway between our finite, mortal coil and the infinite and immortal Being Who made us. Jesus is the Way — the only way — out of the eternal death of physicality.
Before He left us, He instituted a New Covenant with us. It is a New Covenant of grace. He sanctified this Covenant by opening a doorway to grace, a communion, through the Eucharist. This communion is not just from God to us. It is also from us to God, and from one to another of us. It places us in communion with God, other Christians and that great cloud of witnesses of the generations of Christians who have gone before us.
The Catholic Church is a living Covenant. It is an ongoing and unending communion between all Christians of all times with one another and with God. It is the Way, the Living Christ, made present and accessible to all of us, at all times and everywhere.
How can you leave the Catholic Church?, I asked the air.
The answer is, you can't.