When I was growing up, my experience whenever my family moved to a new home was to shop for the church that most suited our needs. I do not blame my parents for this, because this was the normal experience for a lot of Evangelical Protestants we knew. My parents had a pure intention of wanting us to be taught the Bible, but with so many options to choose from in the “Bible belt” of Texas it was difficult to find the best fit for our family. We usually had about a 40-minute radius from our house from which to choose the right church. We would sometimes go years visiting different “non-denominational” churches, finding something we liked about the church and something we critiqued. Generally, the conversations following a visit to a new church revolved around what each person thought of the sermon and the music. If the pastor made us laugh a lot, that would be a good thing, and if the music was modern enough, then that would also be a plus. Sometimes we would go to the same church over and over again for years without really committing because our hesitations would still linger. This, my boy, was what church shopping was like. It was a never-ending journey to find the church that matched our needs and desires, while leaving us restless.
Looking back on these experiences, it saddens me to think that we were church shopping without even understanding what church really was and is and what it is for. Once again, this was not my parents’ fault, but this was the culture we lived in. The Church is not primarily a place we simply choose to satisfy our own wants, but rather the Church is something that was started by Jesus and given to the apostles and their successors to lead. It is primarily for the worship of God as expressed in the Eucharistic feast. Church cannot be shopped for, but only submitted to. Rather than seeing which denomination or church to join, the journey becomes more about finding who Jesus appointed over the area we reside to gather his Church around himself in the Eucharistic feast. Who is the pastor in a given area who can trace their own consecration to the episcopate back to Jesus appointing Peter and the apostles to lead his Church? It would be the Catholic Church because the successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome, is the one who holds the keys Jesus gave to St. Peter. “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:15-19)
Jesus appointed Peter for the special task of shepherding the flock by giving him the keys of the kingdom. The Catholic Church is the Church Jesus started and leads. The “diocese” is essentially the Church in a given region and the parishes within a diocese are united together under their bishop and in the Eucharistic celebration. If this would have been my family’s understanding growing up, then we would simply have submitted to the apostolic authority of the bishop (overseer) of the Catholic diocese and gone to the parish closest to us.
This means that shopping is out and submitting is in. Choosing what fits us is out, and yielding to who God has chosen is in. If there are problems at the local parish, then we don’t just find a different church that we think is better, rather we would try our best to improve the parish God has us in by serving and getting involved.
I wanted to make you aware of this so you could be at peace knowing that the Church Jesus started still exists and is being guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth. The search for the “right” church is over. This truth about Church has given me peace and simplicity and I hope it will do the same for you.