Sunday, March 6, 2011

Get Thee To The Church: St. Leo the Great, Winston-Salem, North Carolina (and some thoughts regarding our Mormon friends, too)

We've attended Mass at St. Leo the Great a number of times; it's where we usually come when we visit family here. (Except for the time a couple of years ago when yours truly made a hotel reservation through a popular online hotel reservation service by calling them and specifically asking for a certain hotel at such-and-such address that was less than five minutes away from Aunt A's house, and they booked us at a seedy place in a not-so-nice neighborhood across town that was TWENTY minutes away from Aunt A's house. We went to a different church that Sunday. But I digress.)

If you regularly read this blog, you may already know that I traveled to North Carolina by myself back in January to attend the funeral of my cousin Greg, who died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve at age 53. (Click here to read what I posted soon after that trip.) St. Leo is the closest church to Aunt A's house and to my hotel--and by the way, this time around I called the hotel directly. I did NOT want to be stuck in some run-down place a half hour away all by myself! I had a long drive home on Sunday, so I got up early for the 7 am Mass. I arrived a few minutes early, and asked one of the ushers if I could take some photos, and he was more than happy to let me.

It was still dark outside before Mass. Afterward the sun had risen and the stained-glass windows looked beautiful with light shining through them. I wish I had snapped another photo.

Did you know that Pope Leo I was the earliest Pope to be called The Great, and the earliest Saint to be declared Doctor of the Church? It seems there were some popular heresies floating around in his day, (including one that denied the affects of original sin), and he worked hard to correct these. He's the one who officially declared the doctrine of the Incarnation. Read more about Leo the Great here and here.

After Mass I had TWO breakfasts: I met my brother and sister-in-law back at the hotel (Wasn't I smart? I booked a room at the same place they were staying, just down the hall from them) and we had one last visit together before they had to hit the road, and then I went over to Aunt A's house and breakfasted again with her and the many people who were staying with her--my parents, my Uncle D. and Aunt E, and several cousins who stayed nearby and came in to say hello.


I didn't want to end this post without sharing a few thoughts about the church where Greg's funeral was held. Greg's wife T. is Mormon, and sometime after they married he converted to Mormonism. Greg and T. raised their four boys in the Mormon church. (If you're a member of Greg's family and are reading this, please hear me out! I don't in any way want to criticize you for your Mormon faith, or belittle the church you know and love. I know how important your faith is to you.) When we arrived for the funeral, we were directed to a room where other family members were gathering, and I looked around and saw that there were paintings depicting Jesus at various times in his life: here was Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, there was the angel Gabriel addressing Mary; a couple of images were portraits of Christ. They reminded me of some of the posters our Sunday School teachers used to show us growing up in our Baptist church. In the hallways were many other paintings--the resurrected Christ addressing the eleven disciples, Jesus preaching to the crowds, and many others. Inside the church itself (I'm not sure what they call it in the Mormon Church; Worship Space? Sancuary?) there were no pictures or decorations to speak of, except for the flowers and the photos of Greg that were on display for the funeral.

The service was moving; many people spoke about Greg and how much they would miss him, my Dad sang a beautiful solo, and there were many hymns sung, some of which I'd heard and others I hadn't. There were a couple of things mentioned that made me want to stand up and say, "Wait a second, you've got that all wrong! We weren't living in Heaven with God before we were born, and sent here to Earth to be tested. He created each of us individually at the moment we were conceived!" and "No, we don't continue to grow in faith and virtue when we get to Heaven, and work our way to greater glory. When we reach Heaven we're already attained the greatest glory with God!" (I'm neither a Catholic or a Mormon scholar, so feel free to comment here and RESPECTFULLY clarify if you feel inclined.) I was reminded that many Mormon teachings are in sharp disagreement with Catholic doctrine. I was also reminded that despite our differences, Mormons and Catholics and other Christians share many beliefs: We all believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He suffered and died for our sins, and rose from the dead so that we could be with Him forever in Heaven. We all love our families and raise our children to be active participants in the Kingdom of God. We all pray, and put our faith and trust in the mercy of God. I wish everyone who seeks Christian unity would remember the things we all have in common, rather than condemning each other for beliefs and practices we don't agree with. We can talk to each other about our differences, and point out truths to those who are in error, but let's be respectful of each other and the beliefs that we hold dear.

As we were leaving the church, I noticed a painting in the hallway that looked a little bit like this one:

(image source)

I jokingly asked my Baptist brother and sister-in-law, "I wonder what book of the Bible THAT one is from?" Of course, I immediately regretted having said it, because we as Catholics display statues and images of saints and important events in Church history that we don't find in the Bible. The hardships and struggles of the early Mormon people are an integral part of their history, just as the hardships and struggles of the Church fathers and all the saints are an important part of ours.

Pass me another slice of humble pie, please.


  1. Will come back to leave a message--have been traveling and up too long without sleep.

  2. I think you did a very good job of delineating some of the stark differences between LDS theology and what is perceived as Christian orthodoxy--noting that there are fundamental, shared perspectives regarding the role of Christ as Savior and Redeemer--essentially "the gospel."

    The founder of Mormonism claimed that the "fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." Beyond those fundamental principles, we have many more doctrines--such as the belief that God is the Father of our spirits--a relationship that began long before we were conceived as mortals (Jer. 1:6, Heb. 12:9). The purpose for our creation and its trajectory contrast sharply with the rest of Christianity. Part of that is due to the fact that we believe in a continuity of prophets and apostles; and that God continues to impart to them knowledge concerning his merciful plan.

  3. Alma, I understand how Hebrews 12:9 correlates to what you described, although I do not agree with that reading.
    However, will you please explain how Jeremiah 1:6 helps to evidence that doctrine?
    -Many thanks.

  4. I apologize Kelly. Although I had a nap before writing, my left index finger should have typed a five instead of my right hand typing a six.

    The passage is: Jer 1:5 "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."

    I especially like the statements in Genesis 2 indicating that all the host of heaven and earth were created before Adam was created on the earth: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them." (verse 1)

    Verse 4 notes that "these are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens (verse 4) and every plant of the field before it was in the earth." (verse 5) The creation of all those things, plants, animals and mankind (the generations) was "finished" before God formed man of the dust in verse 7.

    Other passages indicate the concept of our personal existence prior to conception. For example, when Jesus and His apostles encountered a man who had been born blind, the apostles asked, "Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2) While it's clear that the man had not sinned before birth, the Lord did not correct the idea's possibility as He did other times his disciples erred doctrinally.

    You had a Father in Heaven before you had an earthly father. We are, literally, the offspring of God (Acts 17:29).


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