Friday, June 12, 2015

7QT: Seven Quick Takes on Why I Remain Catholic (Volume XV)

This week, instead of seven quick takes, I'm listing seven reasons why I'm still Catholic.  I'm linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum.

Elizabeth Scalia has started an online discussion asking Catholics - why do you remain Catholic? Her blog at Patheos has generated lots of responses throughout this week.  I thought I'd take a stab at it myself.

First, let me preface this by saying that, I've only been Catholic since 2006.  It's been almost a decade, but that's not a long time in the grand scheme of things.  Consider that my viewpoint is like talking to a 9-year-old in the faith.  On the one hand, I've done a lot of reading and thinking for a "9-year-old," on the other hand, in this short time of only 9 years, I feel like I still don't know much, and I also have experienced the temptation to leave the Catholic faith, yet I remain.

Here are 7 reasons why I stay Catholic:


The Saints. 

We have it all - from great artists to manual laborers.  We have men, women, and children of every race, nationality, and epoch.  We have a patron saint of nearly any cause (here's just one index to prove it).  If you need inspiration or someone to relate to, the Catholic Church puts forth an example in the faith for you.

One thing that frustrated me as a Protestant was that there was a huge gap in the so-called heroes of faith between the time of the Bible and the present day.  Protestants rely on sola scriptura (Bible alone) for their theology.  While I read books about the women of the Bible, there was something sorely lacking.  We don't know a lot about these women of the Bible, we don't know their daily life, and many of them were Jewish, not Christian.  One, prominent woman, The Blessed Virgin Mary, was basically ignored by Protestants.  And then there were thousands of years of silence with maybe one or two women to hold up as examples of Christian women between the Bible times and the present day.  I love the Lord Jesus, but he wasn't a woman.  He didn't live in the modern times or have a job at an office or children.  But, the Catholic faith reminds us that there is a saint who can relate to almost every aspect of your life.  And, relying on their intercession as part of our family is a wonderful thing.  We declare who is in heaven, not who is in hell.  And they are on our team!

I had a dream about Mary that was a catalyst for bringing me into the Church.  I was prompted at the death of Pope John Paul II to become Catholic.  (I was confirmed one "liturgical" year after his death - he died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, 2005, and I was confirmed on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, 2006).  I discovered St. Faustina and the Little Flower, who have both provided me guidance and inspiration.  There is no longer a gap in my life between our examples of the faith in the Bible and our modern day world.  If you're ever feeling spiritually "dry," and can't connect to the Trinity or to the Blessed Virgin Mary, then look to the saints for another inspiration.  I love the saints, and I rely on them for intercession, guidance.  I'm part of a huge, loving family that I never knew about before.


The Magisterium. 

I know outsiders, including some Protestants, think that Catholics are brainwashed sheep who don't think for themselves.  They just blindly follow the pope or their priests.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

On the one hand, I would love it if more Catholics were obedient to the Magisterium.  There wouldn't be such public scandal and embarrassingly bad examples of Catholics.  On the other hand, there is room for dissent, and I wish people would engage with Church teaching deeply - not just blindly accept or ignorantly reject it.  We are not asked to accept things hook, line, and sinker, with no thought on our own part.  And yet, when confirmed and when we receive communion, we say that we are in union with all that the Church believes, teaches, and professes to be revealed by God.  When it comes down to it, lots of things are discipline or tradition (small "t"), not dogma or doctrine.  What we are asked to believe is a somewhat short list, but it affects all of our lives.

There are some teachings I struggle with.  But, there is great relief knowing that I don't have to reinvent the wheel.  I get frustrated when I hear Protestants struggle with certain beliefs.  I think - someone has already done that struggling for you!  And there are thousands of years of wisdom behind the conclusion - going all the way back to the apostles!  As a Protestant (at least my brand of it), we were basically taught to read and study the scriptures for ourselves and find a church that "taught the Bible."  (Of course, the only "real" Christians were the ones who "taught the Bible" just like our church did.)  When the inevitable disagreements between your interpretation and the pastor's interpretation of the Bible occurred, you had to decide - was this essential?  (who decides what is essential or non-essential, anyway?)  if essential, should you confront the pastor, leave the church, or start a new church?  It was always a feeling of insecurity.  (This probably differs in mainline denominations, where you sort of know what you're going to get.)  We had our beliefs, but further study or a really good preacher could possibly even prove those beliefs wrong with the Bible.  You look down the street and see 5 different churches preaching 5 different versions of the gospel.  Which one is true?

The Magisterium is a relief to me.  I struggle to understand and accept the Church teachings sometimes.  But, I find there is great wisdom in them.  I have learned that a lot of the struggle is rooted in pride and in the Protestant habit of thinking I knew better than the whole church.  I figure, if The Church is right about the Eucharist and Reconciliation (some of my favorite teachings), it might be right on the other stuff too.  And, if it comes from a place of love - the ideal - what would be best for every human - then, I can understand the teachings better.  It's a high bar, but we do have the grace to live it.  It ultimately comes down to the question of authority.  Who has the right to speak for God, to interpret what Jesus really meant?   The Church.  Would Jesus leave behind such confusion as we have now?  What did the Church do in worship and believe before the Bible was codified?  Who decided which books went in the Bible and which books didn't?  Could it be that God not only left a deposit of faith, but kept it alive and continues to guide it by the Holy Spirit?  I believe, yes.  And, that isn't a static book, but a living organism, known as the Church.  Made of flawed humans, yes, but given divine authority to help us lay people sort it all out.  

Here is a good article about why doing even what the minimum of what the Church asks of us will help you lead a better life.

In this age of ethical dilemmas, sex reassignment surgery, gay marriage, nuclear weapons, environmental destruction, and so much more, it's nice that the wisdom of the Church can guide me, using the Bible, tradition, the wisdom of natural law, and the Holy Spirit.

NFP and Theology of the Body.  

Although these teachings are often criticized, misunderstood, and difficult to accept, I believe that they have saved my soul.  While outwardly practicing Catholicism early on as a new Catholic, I was still inwardly sinning big time.  I thought that NFP was for people that wanted countless kids, and I had never heard of Theology of the Body.  I didn't know that contraception was a class 1 carcinogen, nor did I consider sex outside marriage, masturbation, or homosexual sex to be sinful. These topics were never mentioned in my RCIA class, and if they were, it was either in passing, or I would have figured I could pick and choose which Church teachings I wanted to follow (and those wouldn't have been included).  I figured everything was fair game, sexually speaking.
Interestingly, though very much related, this was the period in time during which I was most tempted to leave Catholicism.  I had been Catholic about 3 years by that point when the pull was strong.  It was too conservative for me.  It was hard for me to defend church teaching on sexuality to my gay and straight friends (in fact, I didn't bother defending it; now that I do, it's still hard).  I was surrounded by secular friends, not one Catholic friend, and probably not one practicing Christian friend at the time.

After a few years of this destruction, I was shaken out of my selfishness by a podcast I heard with Rosalind Moss (now, Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God).  It was a call in show, and she basically answered a question about marriage to say that, regardless of your station in life, your call is to be as unselfish as possible.  I realized that was not how I was living, and it began the chain of events that turned me around.

I never would have been able to swallow the NFP teachings a few years after this change, if I hadn't had a crash course in Theology of the Body beforehand.  For once, even though it was difficult, I understood why the Church taught what she did, thanks to Christopher West and Theology of the Body.  It made way more sense than the near-gnosticism I found in both Protestant and extremely secular/liberal viewpoints.  The body wasn't bad, nor was it solely for pleasure, nor was it meaningless.  Sex wasn't bad or naughty, nor was it inconsequential or a commodity to be traded between consenting adults.  Theology of the Body put the why behind the what.  Combined with the grace of the sacraments and the common sense of natural law, I was finally able to see the full picture of Catholic teaching and embrace it.  I finally was willing to give God's way a try with my whole self, not just abstaining because it was the right thing to do, but understanding the reasoning behind the moral teachings and embracing all of it.  I really "got it," and I have been extremely blessed as a result.  Come to find out, NFP is actually pro-women and pro-marriage.  It makes the marriage stronger. The most education I got on the female body, I got it in the Catholic Church!  Rather than masking problems with the pill, NFP teaches you to know yourself and puts sex in the right context.

Thanks to God's grace, I am a fully practicing Catholic, including being open to life and practicing NFP at the moment in our marriage.  I hope someday to be a parent.  I also have changed my mind on other sexual issues too.  I understand the context that sex should have in marriage and society.  I understand it is possible, though difficult, to live out a life of chastity or celibacy.  I know that great healing and wholeness comes from doing things the right way.  Now that I've had this awakening, the world seems extremely anti-child, anti-woman, and pro-death to me.  I notice this all around me, and I pray for healing in that area.

Thank God for a Catholic husband who is open to NFP too.  If it weren't for these teachings, I honestly think I'd still be single, I'd be married to a non-Catholic, I'd still be in mortal sin by either contracepting or sexual activity, or I'd possibly not be Catholic anymore at all.  I was right on the verge of leaving when I came back again to Catholicism through God's grace.  Confession came first, then Theology of the Body and natural law, and finally NFP.  Embracing these teachings has helped me stay put because, for once, the human condition is explained with reason and love.  Difficult, yes, but God gives us grace.

(Yet another connection/shout out to JPII.)


Eucharist and Reconciliation.

It's hard to reduce what these two sacraments mean to me in a few paragraphs on a blog.  But, chiefly, they are the reasons I am a Catholic.  God's grace and presence have never been so real to me as they are in these two sacraments.  Even if I struggle with other teachings, find the homily boring, can't stand the music at mass, or any other complaint - God is coming to us in these sacraments.  As our priest reminds us, all sacraments are about God's action and our reception.  They aren't about us doing or achieving something.  We have to receive the gift.

Confession (and counseling) has been one of the most helpful and healing things in my life as it relates to recovery from an abusive childhood and recovery from my own mistakes and bad choices.  God is really, actually there in the sacrament of reconciliation.  Even if I don't know the priest.  Even if I'm in a hurry.  Even if I'm "only" confessing venial sins.  God shows up, every time.  I can't even really explain it.  And, it's not always an emotional reaction, but frequently it is.  I know that God is reaching me through the actions and words of a priest, He is breaking through to my daily life and reminding me that there is wholeness, love, and healing, if I will just show up to meet the Divine Physician.  

And, the Eucharist...what can I say that hasn't been explained by many others who are more intelligent and articulate than I?  Many years before becoming Catholic, I was convinced by John 6 that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist.  I started going to churches that had weekly communion, yet, was he always there?  I believe, yes, to some extent.  But, there is something different about the Catholic Church.  And, call me crazy or illogical, but I can feel it.  I can tell when I walk into a church whether or not the Eucharist is there.  I feel something different in Catholic Churches than I do in other churches, even the most high-church/liturgical Protestant ones in existence.  God is really there, in a most precious and present way.  It may come from logic or experience, but I know that I know that I know that it is really God in that Eucharist.  And, come what may, I don't think I could ever turn my back on that.

"Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life." - John 6: 68

(Peter, speaking to Jesus, after many followers left Jesus when he explained that the Eucharist was his body and blood)



(Tradition - pardon me, just singing from Fiddler on the Roof...Tradition).

Okay, now that that song is in your head - tradition!

Why does tradition get such a bad rap in some circles?  It is pitted against the Bible, as if our traditions undermine the truths found in scripture.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As a child, I always longed for tradition, both in our religious life and family life.  In our Protestant church, Christmas was celebrated on the Sunday closest to December 25, not on Christmas day.  There was no Advent leading up to it.  There was no Lent or Holy Week leading up to Easter.  Jesus was celebrated as being "risen" long before Easter Sunday.  (Yes, I realize he is eternally risen in heaven.)  Jesus' birth and "Joy to the World" were sung long before Christmas day.  Some years, we would do the Good Friday readings on Good Friday.  Other years, we didn't.  Sometimes, they would get out a cross once a year around Easter (there were no religious symbols in our church), but sometimes they didn't.  There was no longing, no waiting, no anticipation.  Everything blurred together.  Christ was always risen, and yet, the emphasis on the great suffering he endured before rising was not ever focused upon.  Jesus coming as a baby was never anticipated, he was already here, so to speak.  The role his mother played in the incarnation was virtually ignored.  

Even in our family life, I always longed for there to be a tradition, an order, a family "thing" I could count on.  I wanted us to always put up the Christmas tree after Thanksgiving, or to always exchange Christmas gifts at a certain time in a certain way (Christmas Eve at midnight or first thing Christmas day).  I wanted to always cook/eat certain meals like ham at Easter or boiled eggs.  I wanted a culture to go along with our doctrine.  But, aside from birthday cake most years and a Christmas tree eventually getting put up, there were no solid traditions in our family.  But for whatever reason, I did long for it.  I heard of my friends' family traditions, and I wanted something similar.  I wanted an identity to latch onto.  I remember when people would ask what church I went to, it was hard to answer.  This was the Bible belt, and Baptist, Methodist, even Wesleyan were understood responses.   But, we didn't have a youth group.  There were almost no other kids our age in the church.  When I said "non-denominational," it wasn't the mega-church, charismatic type.  I always felt like I "didn't belong."  I just wanted to be a part of a group with recognized beliefs and traditions, not the fringe fundamentalists that we were.  I would usually just say "Protestant" to try to convey a more laid-back rendering of our true beliefs.  We were even protesting other protestors!

It's hard to be a Catholic convert in this respect.  I have no idea what a Catholic culture in the home looks like, and yet, I want to establish it for myself and for any future children we might have.  This year we had an Advent wreath and then left our Christmas tree up until Epiphany.  We also made a small area our home altar and change the table runner to match the color of the liturgical seasons.  It's a start.  I want to celebrate feast days that are meaningful to us.  I want to light candles and pray for our deceased relatives on their birthdays or anniversaries of death.  I want to pray the rosary.  I want to do it all and be a real Catholic.

As human beings, we have so many rich traditions that help us celebrate all occasions - face paint at a football game, cake on a birthday, rings at a wedding, champagne at the New Year, on and on...  And yet, when it comes to our faith, many are hesitant to add "man-made tradition" onto religious practice.

However, if you know the meaning behind these rituals, it just makes the experience that much more rich.  The holy water at the entrance to church reminds us of our baptism.  The way we cross ourselves reminds us of the trinity and the hypostatic union.  The colors of the vestments remind us of where we are in the liturgical year.  The incense reminds us that our prayers rise to heaven like incense.  The plethora of saints and cultural customs provide us with other reminders, depending on any devotions you may have (we like St. Joseph in the Italian style a lot, for example).

Connecting to these traditions help give a certain rhythm to my life that was lacking before.  There is dying and rising again.  There is discipline and fasting, followed by rejoicing.  There is anticipation and then arrival or fulfillment.  Our senses are all involved, not just our brains, in the Catholic faith.  I love the sights, sounds, smells, touch, and taste of our faith.  Everything from the Eucharist itself, to the oils of anointing to the braided bread of the St. Joseph's altar table can remind us of our faith, if we let it.  We don't have to be holier-than-thou weirdos with no human element to our lives and saint wallpaper at home.  And yet, we can transform our daily traditions by infusing them with the rhythm and the great truths of our Catholic faith.  This is yet another reason why I love being Catholic.  


Liturgy, The Arts, Music.

Recently, Mark Judge, a Catholic artist, made headlines because he said he was leaving the Catholic Church due to the lack of patronage of the arts.  I fully understand that sentiment, and I know exactly where he's coming from.  I wish he hadn't left the Church over that reason, but I understand why he did.

Yet, looking over the course of history, the Catholic Church is a patron to some of the greatest art, music, and architecture ever made.  We are experiencing a new evangelization when it comes to apologetics and understanding our faith.  I'm waiting for the day when that zeal and creativity comes to the arts.  My husband and I are both musicians, and it can be frustrating to attend church sometimes.  I long for Catholic Churches to be the most beautiful ones with the best music, vestments, liturgy, etc. of all.  However, even if they are not, Jesus shows up.

As a classically trained musician, you must study music history.  To study the music of the past (especially in the Renaissance), is to study the music of the Catholic Church.  We learned the mass parts, we we learned their place in the liturgy, and we learned some of the most well-written church music that has stood the test of time when studying music history.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if the church were a haven for or a patron of the best artistry of our time?  I know in our city, we are trying to bring high quality music and arts to churches, via performances/concerts/events.

For me, to study music history and learn about the Catholic Church was just another way for it to come alive for me, before the theology was there.  I realized that the "history" I had been taught in my church growing up was flat out wrong.  We were taught that there was an underground "Protestant" church that had the "real truth" in opposition to the Catholic Church.  In fact, we know about non-Catholic sects from that time because the Catholic Church would respond to some of the popular heresies.  If there were an underground church, what was Martin Luther protesting, then?  Why couldn't he go to an already-existent church?  All that to say that many fundamentalists (and specifically Baptists) are taught a flat out wrong view of history that does not acknowledge the Catholic Church has been around all along, and that the Catholic Church in fact pre-dates other forms of Christianity.  In studying music history, this was apparent, along with the rich history and tradition we have of the arts in our church.

On a somewhat related note to the rich tradition of the arts and liturgy in our church, the words of John Henry Cardinal Newman come to mind, "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant."

So be it.  (Amen.)


And finally, why do I remain Catholic?

It's not any one thing.  I can tell you what makes me want to leave - child-molesting priests, bishops who cover up child-molesting priests, the perception that we are anti-women, anti-gay, and anti-science, bad music at mass, stuck up people who think they are holier than thou.  I could air a long list of grievances, as I'm sure all Catholics could.  However, we are a family.  A broken, messed up family, with a divine source and guide.  When you consider the scandals over the centuries in the Catholic Church, I would think that any other institution would have failed by now, if it were merely human.  I don't like to be perceived as ignorant or backwards. (I don't think Catholics are, I think our teachings are just misunderstood.)  I don't like an abusing priest any more than I like Hitler.  One victim is one too many.  Some Sundays, the only thing I "get" out of mass is the Eucharist - the rest is like enduring a penance.  Not to mention that my family has rejected me for becoming Catholic and has told me I'm deceived and going to hell.

For many, many reasons, it would be much easier for me to just stop being Catholic - to take a pill or use condoms, to be able to accept things that are politically correct, to live however the heck I want, to please my family members.  Being Catholic has made my life exponentially harder, there is no doubt.  But it is true, and it is worth it.

I am fortunate to know many, many faith-filled Catholics, to have encountered several awesome priests, some of them life-changing.  I have also experienced the flaws and faults of our church, but by God's grace, I hope not to go anywhere else because Jesus is there in the Church and in the Eucharist.  (No, that's not the only place Jesus is, but He is there.)

I stay because it's true.  I stay because God shows up on the altar, week after week, no matter how bad the music or the homily is.  I stay because I have a family of saints, centuries strong, that stand behind me.  I stay because it makes sense and explains the human condition.  I stay because it is the only thing that has helped me rebuild my messy life.

"Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life." - John 6: 68

Happy Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus!


  1. Such a great post, and very encouraging for me, a cradle Catholic, who can easily take all this for granted. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for reading. I agree, it's easy to take it all for granted sometimes, even as a "9 year old" in the faith. Part of the constant call to conversion.


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