Since returning to the Catholic Church, I often think about the differences between the Catholic Church and other churches. One of the differences (at least in my mind) is the mature faith the Catholic Church builds into her children.
The road toward adulthood from childhood is marked by milestones: the transition between believing in fairy tales and realizing they're not reality, becoming a teenager, our sixteenth birthday and learning how to drive, our first job, and so on.
Everyone remembers these milestones. Some are common in our culture such as celebrating a "sweet sixteen" birthday party or graduation. Other milestones may be rather ordinary to most people but important to that individual. I remember the first time I was in a sit-down restaurant with a friend (and not with my family), I felt like I had entered into another room of "adulthood."
Catholicism has many of these milestones. (I realize other denominations, such as the Lutheran church, have their milestones, too and only proves my point.) Milestones mark a journey and often define a pathway toward a destination.
Looking back on my time within the non-denominational church, I can see there were no such milestones and as a result, few ways to measure progress. Let's say you joined a non-denominational church. Apart from the annual appeal to give toward a new fund or the annual church picnic, what else is there? For the children, what "markers" help them understand that they are to spiritually develop from a child to an adult?
There aren't many.
I've mentioned before how the liturgical season imprints upon us the timeless truths of our Christian faith. I'd also say the Sacraments of the Church do the same thing, accompanied by the catechism, sacramentals, the study of our Church's history, and all the various extra Catholic groups associate with the Church.
What I'm trying to say is that with each of those expressions of our faith, there is a pathway toward maturity. Maturity happens when one is entrusted with responsibility and can fulfill its expectations. It is a process. Maturity is an interior journey.
Although non-denominational churches give responsibility to emerging leaders, the interior development is often missed. Many times, I saw responsibility given to someone simply because they just happened to be in the "right place" at the "right time." I've also seen responsibility given to those who were too immature in their faith to handle it well. As a result, they were the equivalent of an insecure teenager being put in charge of roomful of college students. The Goodyear Blimp had nothing on the size of their heads.
I am so thankful I was raised Catholic. There is a humility instilled in Catholicism that can often be overlooked by those unfamiliar with its doctrine and traditions. I now realize that it was the beautiful rhythm and milestones that helped shape me into a responsible, thinking adult.
Being Catholic is a combination of many things: solid teaching, spiritual formation, understanding one's responsibilities, practicing love, compassion, and forgiveness; to name a few. It is through Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Confession, and discovering your vocation, that maturity in the faith occurs. My fellow Catholic brothers and sisters are among the most grounded and mature people I've ever met.
Adulthood seems to get pushed back with every generation. When I watch movies that were made in the 1930's, I'm amazed how "old" a twenty-one year old acts. Compare this to the typical twenty-one year old who is still living at home today and playing video games. I've read that "adulthood" doesn't really happen now until one is in their thirties.
Thankfully, the Catholic Church continues to produce mature believers. I am grateful for such wise instruction and committed support. We really do have the best spiritual parents, around.