Too often, we try to define ourselves by what we are not. I grew up in New England. For 5 years, I served as the minister for a congregation in western New York. A lot of what I did or did not do in church centered on the fact that I wasn’t Catholic.
That bothers me a lot more than it used to.
Because I was not Catholic, I would not recite the Lord’s Prayer. After all, that’s what the Catholics do. I could quote the 23rd Psalm. I could recite I Corinthians 13. Some people I knew could quote entire books of the Bible. But I could not recite Matthew 6:9-13 because that is what the Catholics do.
Because I was not Catholic, I ignored the role Mary plays in my Christian existence. She is the mother of Jesus; that’s pretty awesome. In fact, Luke 1 states that all generations will call Mary blessed. Think about it: a teenage girl is approached by an angel of God, told she will give birth to a son even though she is a virgin, and this son will alter the course of human history. And she replies with, “May it be to me as you have said.” That is a pretty incredible example. But because the Catholics venerate Mary, I simply ignored her.
I think many Christians have missed out on a lot because they wanted to show they were not Catholic. Lent begins tomorrow. And even though the practice of Lent has been around since before the Catholic Church was the Catholic Church, we ignored it growing up because that’s what the Catholics do.
How much depth and richness have we missed out on simply because we are afraid we are going to look too much like people from another Christian group?
I look forward to participating in Lent again this year. I will give something up as I have done each of the last three years. I am grateful to attend a church that has an Ash Wednesday service. I will receive the ashes tomorrow as a reminder that I came from dust and to dust I will return. I will acknowledge that much of my existence is broken and sinful. For forty days, I will remember that the sacrifice I am making now pales in comparison to the sacrifice of Jesus.
And on Easter Sunday I will shout with joy.
Because I’m not a Catholic. I am a Christian. Just like those I grew up in church with; just like those in the church where I preached; just like those I assemble with now; and just like those people I tried so hard not to be like.