I am writing this post to my family and friends who are no longer Catholic, and for anyone else who calls themselves Catholic but is unenthusiastic about our faith. I’ve been working on it for a long time, write, delete, write….here we go.
I was asked a while back why I stay in the Catholic Church. Some of my family members left for other Christian faiths when I was in high school. I went with them to a few non-Catholic services but never felt at home. I didn’t find fault with them (that’s important for me to say to my family) and for a long time I described myself as an “Ecumenical Catholic” (whatever that is!) but something was missing for me. More to the point, I never felt “called away” from my church – but called to do more in my church to build it up. I give a big thank you to the faithful young adult volunteers I met in high school that showed me what being “church” was about.
At that time I would tell you that I liked the tradition, the ceremony, and the Eucharist. 35 years later I say the same thing -except numero uno is now the Eucharist. What I understood then of my faith is nothing compared to now. I’ve said before that my childhood understanding of my faith kept me here but my love for my Catholic faith deepened when I took the time to study it.
The Eucharist, or Holy Communion: I would find it very hard to leave the Mass and the Eucharist, because in the Eucharist I receive the very Body and Blood of Christ. I’m not willing to walk away from that. If for no other reason, I stay because of it. Through it I’m united physically and spiritually to Jesus and to His church in a way that can’t be duplicated elsewhere. He offered Himself to us the night before He died. He said “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19 RCV ) We take this directive literally. My participation is an act of obedience with astounding rewards – the very intimate union with Jesus. To believe that bread and wine become the “real presence” of the Body and Blood of our Lord is a hard teaching, (see John 6:51-69 and http://wp.me/p3zUxG-n my post Precious Body and Blood ) but my obedience to the Lord demands that I stay and participate in this sacrament. Do you doubt? Then go the Lord and ask Him to show you what is true.
Tradition: I believe that this is the church founded by Jesus Christ, with all of its Sacraments and Tradition with a capital T. We base our faith on the Bible and Tradition, which is all the teachings, letters, and practices passed on to us from the very first Christians – the very eye-witness followers of Jesus and their immediate successors. Before the New Testament as we know it was compiled, and before the church spread throughout the world and communication became instantaneous, the Word of God was defended and handed down from Peter and his successors through Bishops, who were and still are the acting shepherds of our flock. Yes, I know there were times in history when the church was off track. But Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to the Church, and we believe and trust and seek Him to set us on the right path when sin and human weakness cause problems.
Ceremony: When I am at Mass there is something triggered deep in me that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Even when I’m bored ( not paying attention or appreciating the moment) I am embraced in a 2000 + year tradition that connects me to something greater. Vestments, art, candles, music… there is a reason for everything, and it all points to the Lord. We may look funny from the outside, but knowing the reasons behind the practices helps it all make sense.
So much more to say….another day.
For more on church history, may I suggest: People of God: The History of Catholic Christianity by Anthony E Gilles, St Anthony Messenger Press. It is honest, not sugar coated, and easy to read.