Mormon and Catholic: a friendship
For nearly ten years my Catholic friend, Carol, and I have grown closer as I made retreats at the Abbey of Gethsemani. Though not geographically close, she became my mentor into the world of the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani, a laiety group to follow Cicstercian charism and spirituality while living in the world.
Becoming a Lay Cistercian does not require conversion to Catholicism but does require to abide by the core of Benedictine/ Cistercian daily practices: prayer, work, study, silence, hospitality, contemplation, and church worship. Nothing in this is beyond expectations of a faithful Latter-day Saint. Particularly poignant was how this devout spiritual life seemed tailor made for me: a childless LDS married woman, with a husband who is also the only LDS member in his family. A small and distant extended family. No personal academic career prospects due to disability, and no close friends in local LDS wards. So, basically, not busy with family, few commonalities with local ward women, unemployed and bedridden. I do love the Book of Mormon and my temple blessings; however, I struggle to discover my purpose and meaning in a family-centric church. Also with a strong desire for a quiet, prayerful life (contemplative) in a very action –oriented church.
Little did I guess that Carol and her husband did not have children either and as a result she experienced similar loneliness in the Catholic Church. We could empathize with the trial of childlessness amidst family-friendly church cultures. Many of my days are spent in bed due to incessant widespread pain and fatigue that allow few avenues for normal daily activities. Again, Carol experienced similar health issues earlier in her life and could empathize. I wished to devote much of my day to God through prayer, study and reflection, as did she. Along the way, we would compare each other’s practices and tenets. Our shared primary goal is to live eternally with our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
We regularly read and discuss a variety of faith books related to monasticism, contemplative laity, and literature for biweekly phone discussions. We came to realize that though our churches were very different in some aspects, many core ideas had a familiar ring. Jesus Christ, emblematic in the (Eucharist/sacrament) is the center of our religious services. Family is very important. Our deceased need to be remembered and honored. Prayer, scripture study, fasting, blessings on the sick, baptism as a required ordinance, compassion for the sick and poor, and the afterlife as a real place are but a few topics we could discuss. The more we shared, the more we could respect and appreciate. That led to interfaith visits to tour the new Indianapolis LDS Temple, and an upcoming excursion to visit a special year of mercy door at a cathedral. Our friendship includes regular prayer and fasting for each other within our particular faith rituals.
What Carol and I enjoy as laity mirrored the friendship and discussion in the 2015 book Catholic and Mormon: a theological conversation by Stephen Webb and Alonzo Gaskill., representing the Catholic and LDS perspectives respectively. We had just started to read for a book discussion in early March. The book is a dialog on various topics to compare and contrast respective theologies. In many ways the tone of discussion reflected a genuine friendship and mutual respect without compromising rigorous academic standards.
Stephen H. Webb as a scholar was remarkable in the world of comparative religion, in that he was fair and respectful of Mormonism. In kind, Alonzo Gaskill could give due to contributions of Catholicism. A full book review would be too disjoined in this personal discussion. I will say more in another post.
Tragically, the world lost Stephen H. Webb on March 5, 2016. A scholar, a father, a friend to an LDS co-author and the Latter-Day Saint Community in general. I would like to imagine him view Carol and I with a huge smile reflective of his enthusiasm for Catholic and Mormon dialog. The fruit is Carol and I: two simple women who have grown through interfaith friendship.