Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why I Am Catholic

It's easy to dismiss people of faith as having been "born into it", especially when you're an atheist.  It's a grand argument that closes out the very real possibility that they have seen something you missed, or noticed something that you overlooked.  It's easy, it's smug, and it's simply not true.  Nobody is born into faith, even if they are raised in the faith.  At some point, you have to own it for yourself.

I was baptized as an infant. My mother brought me to Church on Sundays and occassionally remembered to bring me on Holy Days of Obligation. She usually brought me to Catholic Catechism classes on Sunday, too.  I received my First Communion at age 8, and I really thought this was all there was to being a good Catholic.  Yet at home, while we discussed God we didn't discuss Church teachings except for my mother to tell me how the Church was sadly burdened by a bunch of old men who were only interested in oppressing women and didn't really "get" the modern age.  She loved the fact that the Catholic Church gave you room to ask questions and to seek answers.  She loved the fact that the Church encouraged you to use science and reason and to embrace both in the quest for the truth.  She just didn't get why the priesthood was men only or why we had to believe all of the things the Church taught.  She didn't get it, and so she couldn't explain it to me.  I ended up leaving the Church at the tender age of 16, right before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation and I did so because I honestly didn't know the truth.

Coming back home to the Church didn't happen for me in one grand event.  It happened with many starts and stops and struggles along the way. I would come back home, find some teaching I couldn't understand, and leave.  I had no trust in her teachings and thus was unwilling to be obedient.  I stumbled in the dark trying to find my way to the light.  What kept me coming back to the Church even for those brief periods was that the Church always proved RIGHT.  My acts of disobedience inevitably ended up hurting not only myself but everyone I loved.

Eventually, seeing this pattern, I began to really understand.  The Church's rules weren't there to hurt me, they were there so that I could walk freely without hurting others.  I was blind, and the Church was my guide dog in a world that had many obstacles to salvation.  If I listened to her, I learned, I could walk with confidence and without fear.  I fully returned home to the Church at age 33, finally ready to walk in obedience even when I didn't always understand the prohibitions put upon me, even when I didn't fully understand the reason confident that her reasons were sound and would be revealed to me when I was ready to receive them.

Walking in obedience, I discovered that following the Church's teachings helped me to grow in my ability to both give and receive love.  I was more forgiving, quicker to help others, with a greater ability to notice the pain of others and then take action to help them. I literally became a new person.  The transformation was incredible.  It still is, and it's still happening.

I believe that all people are born with gifts in one of three areas: faith, hope, or love.  Hope came naturally to me. I have always been someone who could cling to the belief that better things were ahead even when the darkest storms rolled my way and stretched on seemingly without end.  For me, love was my greatest weakness. I had a difficult time being generous with anything I possessed.  I was quick to hold a grudge for even the slightest failure.  I was always envious of what others had, and jealous of everyone else's success even though I had plenty of my own.  I was smart, I was articulate, and I was full of pride. I locked everyone out of my life and out of my heart because I didn't want to get hurt.

God taught me to love, to love without boundaries or reservations, to love fearlessly and give generously of everything I have to offer.  He taught me that there is no need for me to be jealous of other people's successes or gifts because I have been given plenty of my own.  He taught me that it was only by opening myself up to hurt that I could truly open myself up to love. I have suffered plenty of things because of love, but I have experienced greater love than I have ever known.  There is no doubt in my mind that God exists, because God is love and only Love in its purest form could reform someone like me.

This is why I am Catholic, and why I will remain so until I am with Christ in eternity.  I am Catholic because my heart is too weak and frail to love my neighbor as myself without Him.  I am Catholic because I love you too much to walk away and risk hurting you or anyone else I know anymore.  I am Catholic because I am a broken vessel, and Christ's shed blood is the only glue that is strong enough to hold the pieces together.  I am Catholic so that you might know how much God truly does love you because of the way that I love  you.

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