It was the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My wife and I, though Evangelicals, walked into the church twenty years ago to observe a daily Mass. Holy men, wooden statues, greeted us within the narthex, nearly showing us cowards. Further in, we found only a few people in a building that swallowed them. It was quiet, somber, and dark. Lifeless.
What does it mean to be follower of Christ? What does it look like? Does the countenance of a woman matter in worship? Do we know what lies in a man's heart?
We make so many judgments.
Every morning we see ourselves from a place of mercy. The challenge for us, our mandate, is to show the same mercy, even more, toward our brothers and sisters and toward all people. To see them, as St Paul says, as better than ourselves. To see ourselves as sinners so that we might cry out for Christ's presence every moment of our lives.
I used to look at the Catholic Church (not a particular church, but the entire structure) from without it and, at my best, be saddened by all they thought they had to do to please God - what salvation meant to them. There was baptism and all the other sacraments, Mass and so many other things that, left undone, they thought would incur God's wrath. Perspective is so important. We are constantly in danger of misreading the other. It's all too natural. Now as a Catholic I sometimes wince even still, five years later, at the obligations laid upon me. And when I do so it is because I have lost perspective and forgotten that the Church is my Mother. Her goal is to nurture and nourish our sanctity, to draw us to Christ and drag us when necessary. She says that this or that obligation or precept is important for us if we want to pursue holiness, if we want to become like God, if we want to be clean. Here, she says, are graces - food that costs no money, wine that is free - come and be satisfied. Open wide your mouth, she says, and I will place God in it.
Nowadays I look back at Evangelicalism, and I see there the other I once saw in the face of Catholicism. I see the morality, the obligations, that each little community imposes on itself, the unwritten but real codes: Be like this. Listen to this music. Eat this. Don't drink that. Fellowship here. KJV only. Anything but KJV. Read your Bibles. Do not do all these terrible things. Pretend as if you do not want to do all these terrible things. Smile. Clap your hands. Believe this and that. Here is the list of what it means to be Christian - to be part of this community. And I remember that they too need mercy and grace, that they are supplicants before God's throne just as I am. They are my brothers and sisters. It is true that they are sinners, every one of them. But they are better than me.
I, well, I am broken. I court death. I am in need of constant care, placed in the inn by my Brother - that one good, true Neighbor - to be cared for by the innkeepers, to be healed by the sweet oil and wine that is kept there. This is why I am Catholic.