“Ask a Priest: Torn Over So Many Denominations, What Should I Do?”

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Q: I was raised Catholic but have been attending a nondenominational church for many years, on and off. However, I also attend Catholic church services once in a while, pray using the rosary, and do/say things that are Catholic (sign of the cross, holy water, pray to the Virgin Mary). Basically, I am in the middle of both. I love the worship at the nondenominational church, and the pastors are excellent with making the Word of God come alive and make sense to me. But I love confession and all of the things above about Catholicism. I am torn. I am not a member of either church. I just attend. I just want to be close to God and feel the Holy Spirit at both churches. I am very confused about all of these different churches/faiths — Baptists, Lutherans — it’s too much. Also, I am sad about all of the scandals in the Catholic Church. Please shed some light my way! -O.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The Holy Spirit seems to be working in your heart and leading you closer to Jesus. From what you say, it is possible that your straddling the fence keeps you from going deeper in your relationship with Jesus. You need to go beyond just the holy water and the sign of the cross to find out what Catholicism has to offer.

The Catholic faith is ultimately about our relationship with Jesus. We try to follow what he said, imitate what he did, and pass on his teachings. We also find Jesus in the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist. (The Baptists and Lutherans reject confession and the Eucharist, by the way; the Lutherans might have “communion,” but their belief differs from Catholicism.)

You mention that you love the sacrament of confession; to receive it validly requires a firm purpose of amendment to avoid sin. It is not the kind of thing to approach if someone plans to attend a non-Catholic service the following Sunday.

Why are there so many denominations? It goes back to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century in Europe. Partly the Reformation was a reaction against the scandals that were common in the Catholic Church, a situation not unlike today.

It is good to remember there is a big difference between Church teaching and its prayers and sacraments, and the faults of some of its members. Some clergy have done terrible things; these are crimes that the Church condemns. But the guilty committed their crimes not because of Church teaching but in spite of it. Those crimes, fiendish as they are, are separate from the Church’s treasure of teachings and sacraments.

An analogy might be found in the U.S. Most of us believe in democracy, and we wouldn’t think of getting rid of it because of a few corrupt politicians who obtained office through democratic means. We might send corrupt politicians to jail, but we don’t think about getting rid of the Constitution and resorting to communism.

It might be good, then, to focus on Jesus — not on the people who have betrayed him. Where is Jesus leading you? Where does he want you?

Get to know him better by reading the Gospels and, dare I recommend, spending time visiting him in the tabernacle in a Catholic church. Avail yourself of the depth and breadth of Church teaching.

To this end, the Compendium of the Catechism or the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults might be a good place to start. And try doing our online retreats.

Let the Holy Spirit guide you. And count on my prayers for you at Mass. God bless.

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