Ever since the recent Church scandals broke out, I’ve been challenged by this question that seems to be hovering over the din: “Why are you still Catholic?”
The question has come from various directions; firstly, from confused Protestants who likely can’t fathom how anyone would remain in this Catholic Church, outdated and dying as it seems. Why be part of a communion so broken and barely-limping-along? Why not just end the pain now?
It’s come just as much from inside the fold, by those who have been disenchanted for a while and seemed to use this one last disruption to push them away forever.
But it also has come from within my own heart, not so much as a challenge, but a moment of reinforcement. It seems that for the Catholic faithful, this moment in history will either be a time to abandon ship, or rededicate ourselves, more fervently than ever, to what is true, good and beautiful, despite the warts that seem to be worsening.
Needing to answer my own question, “Why are you still Catholic?” to give a reason for the continued hope that lies within me (1 Peter 3:15), I started a series back in November, beginning with this post on “Confession.” Other posts — additional answers to that question — cover relics, Mary, The Eucharist, Christmas, the saints, and my father’s death.
But there’s more, and last night at Adoration, I pondered this more, searching my heart. What has kept me here, despite everything?
My home life, in my family of origin, wasn’t perfect. For most of my formative years, my father was fallen away from the Church. My sister and I would attend Mass with our mother, but without dad. It was a source of sadness for me, to be sure. But even so, Dad would ask us to pray for him, and from my earliest years, I sensed he had a very deep, even if buried for now, faith. Despite his non-practicing state as he battled the disease of alcoholism, I still saw the strong soul within; at war, perhaps, but intact somehow, and very attached to his Catholic faith. He’d once been in the seminary to become a priest, after all. This wasn’t a man to whom his Catholic faith was a fleeting thought. I never heard him speak ill of it. His departure, I knew even then, had more to do with his own feelings of shame, which had made God feel inaccessible to him.
Not long after my Confirmation at 16, someone very dear to me announced her plans to leave the church. Even as a teenager, I sensed this loss would be bigger than either of us could realize. Even in this imperfect setting, I felt that leaving Catholicism would mean leaving not just a religion, but our very family.
From somewhere deep inside, a glimmer of something flickered. No, I thought. Don’t leave. This is part of who we are. This is our past and our future. It is our roots and our reality. It is the family we were born into, and are held by.
To this day, it is a mystery to me how I knew then, so innately, what I know more clearly now: that when we are baptized into the Catholic faith, we are sealed into this family of God, and we can never fully leave. This should not be felt as a sentence by anyone, but a solace.
I can only believe that it was the Holy Spirit which had illuminated me then, beyond what I could possibly know or understand, and it delights me to realize all these years later how God was so pointedly moving in my life to save me, to keep me in this beautiful family, in this fold that has become so precious to me over time.
Because while this is about my own family, and my own baptism in Christ, it is also about the wider family, the Catholic faith universal. It is not an organization, a hierarchy, a religion with rituals, though all of those things are part of it. It is first and foremost a family; the very family of God.
Within this family, we have saints and sinners, Jesus and Judas. But Judas, too, is a cousin, a brother, and marred as he is, he is still part of us. And, as I’ve heard often lately, “We don’t leave Jesus because of Judas.”
We have free will. We can exile ourselves from this family, turn our backs, flee, degrade, misunderstand and discontinue any advance toward trying to understand. But the family remains, and while the children within sin and struggle, there is forgiveness from the perfect Father who has each one of his children in his grasp.
And that is why, despite everything, I am still Catholic, and grateful every day.
Q4U: What challenges you most about being Catholic in these times? What makes you most grateful?