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different pathways, same destination

last sunday night i went with the confirmation class to a mass at st. francis catholic church in frisco. if you do not know what confirmation means, it is time for young people-- usually sixth graders-- to learn the basics of Christianity and declare their faith publicly. many confirmands were baptized as children, so their parents made commitments on their behalf. at confirmation, students affirm those commitments for themselves.

part of their journey has been to visit other traditions. a few weeks ago we attended worship at temple beth torah in richardson, a synagogue. we were excited to go for a bar mitzvah. little did we know the service would last more than three hours-- and that it was actually four services-- no wonder folk kept walking in and out during the service!

anyway, two days ago we visited st. francis. i have attended masses before, and i have great interest in the similarities and differences in catholic and methodist traditions. a significant difference is our theology of holy communion. in the united methodist church, the bread and juice are symbols of Christ's body and blood. communion is a means of grace and in it Christ's love for us is realized. we practice an open table, meaning all are welcome to share in the eucharist-- methodist or not, members of the church or not.

catholics believe that in communion a miracle happens-- at the consecration it is literally changed into the actual body and blood of Christ-- the doctrine of transubstantiation. because of this doctrinal difference, catholics believe communion cannot be shared with other Christians. asking a couple of friendly teachers about this practice the other night, they all said the same thing: it is an issue of understanding the nature of the sacrament. which brings to mind those who do not believe children should receive communion, another united methodist practice, because kids do not understand it. our communion liturgy refers to the sacrament as a "holy mystery," so i must ask: is understanding really necessary? is it really possible to understand what happens in the sacrament?

sometimes people use the words denomination and religion interchangeably, as in, "well, baptists do such and such differently than we do, but different religions all lead to the same place." they really mean denomination-- baptists, methodists, presbyterians, and catholics are all part of the same religion: Christianity. just like money comes in different denominations: $1, $5, $10, $20, etc., but it's all cash. Judaism, on the other hand, is the sort of root system of Christianity, but it is a distinct religion.

Jews, catholics, and methodists have significant ideas about God: some the same, others very different. what our young people have learned, hopefully, is that hospitality is a means of grace that all persons of faith ought to extend to others. we have been made to feel welcome by both congregations we visited recently, and we have learned a great deal from the experiences. there is no doubt that the folk we visited with at st. francis and beth torah are very able to share with others what they believe, and that is a great strength of their traditions.

on the other side of the coin, folk often say methodists do not know what we believe. methodism 101 classes are usually well attended. maybe the answer is not to take another class or read another book but to spend time with others and share common stories and understandings? or find time to discuss significant differences? is it not true that in the conversation about our similarities and differences we learn even more about what we believe? and can't that help us to share what we believe with others?


Anonymous said…
I am amazed at how many Protestants think that Catholics are a different religion. I have heard many people who don't realize we are all Christians speak harshly of Catholics. That is sad. It is wonderful that part of the Methodist confirmation process is to expose the confirmants to other churches and denominations. I am constantly humbled by the vigor and work and time and heart people of other denominations and even religions pour into their faith and their desire to seek and know the Lord.

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