As a child I thought that being a Catholic was simple. One must say grace during meals, attend Mass on Sundays and other days when required, and occasionally say the rosary. I attended a Catholic grade school (with actual nuns!), and received the sacraments of baptism, confession, communion, and confirmation. The religious instruction seemed as if it was simply a history class but with magic and mysticism involved. Needless to say, I went through the motions required of a boy in a 1980s Catholic school.
As I became older, I lost my faith in the Catholic Church and attended Mass less frequently. The child abuse crisis caused most of my disillusionment in the Church as it reached a crescendo on every news medium. In view of that, a person did not introduce oneself to others in hostile secular circles as an active Catholic. The wider culture also influenced me into thinking that participation in a religious life was not necessary for a good life. Though I never wavered in my belief in God, I discovered that being a Catholic and remaining one were more difficult than I initially thought. It requires active participation and not merely going through the motions.
After many years on the peripheral edge of the Catholic Church (attending Mass only on special occasions, praying when I lost my personal items, thank you, St. Anthony!) my wife and I fully re-engaged with Christ and the Church. While I had two children who attend Catholic schools, I was truly not an active participant in the Church. I discovered once again I was just going though the motions. Re-engaging with the Church has made our lives much fuller, richer and our relationships with others happier. Now that I have re-engaged with the Church, I realize that there are many wonderful reasons to remain Catholic.
Original Church of Christ
First and foremost, the Catholic Church is the original Church of Christ that existed in Jesus’ time. When Jesus commanded Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” it established the only Church of real authority to propagate the Truth on earth. With Peter as its first leader, the Church has a real, direct connection with Christ.
All other Christian churches are spin-offs of the Catholic Church. Though most are well intentioned, these other churches have deviated from the original commandments of Jesus, specifically the way Catholics celebrate Mass. However, the Church’s underlying mission, testament and beliefs, has not changed for almost two thousand years. Since the Church’s leadership and laypeople consist of humans, it has had its share of scandals and crisis, but its underlying foundation has not changed. The rock is steady and cannot be broken by humans. As the original Church of Christ, it is universal and accepts all, regardless of background or ethnicity. So the Church is the one, holy, apostolic Church founded by Jesus Himself; this reason alone makes it easy to remain Catholic.
The structure of the Mass, the liturgy, is a soothing meditative experience. From the penitential act at the beginning, to the readings from the Old and New Testaments, (all wonderfully tied together) the beautiful music, the congregation saying the Lord’s prayer in unison, and the prayers before communion, all this truly brings the beauty of celebrating Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Additionally, the Church provides a trained priest to convey the meaning of the readings through a homily that ties it to our current lives. (If only I had paid attention when I was younger to the homilies. What wisdom I missed!)
The celebration of the Eucharist (meaning Thanksgiving, which is the most wonderful definition because we have to be very thankful for all that has been given to us) is the central action of being a Catholic. I appreciate that the Church built the liturgical calendar to allow every person that participates in the weekly Sunday Mass to read the whole bible in the three years. I love and appreciate that on the Sabbath people gather in the local church to be reminded of an event over two thousand years ago. What a wonderful tradition! Other Christian denominations do not take the commandant of Jesus, “Do this in memory of me”, seriously. Which is most unfortunate. However, the Catholic Church does, and this celebration of the liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist is why I remain Catholic.
During my initial training as a Catholic, I did not take seriously the intellectual firepower that went into contemplating and explaining God’s mysteries. Again I thought most of it was a history lesson with magic thrown in. The modern story line suggests that the Church actively discourages intellectualism and suppresses knowledge. This is contrary to actual history, and is very easy to verify if one has the patience to learn it.
As I undertook my own training and readings on the Catholic Church, I discovered that the Church is a bastion of deep intellectual thought. It has a rich tradition of searching for and retaining knowledge. All through the Church’s history it has been the vanguard of learning, teaching and understanding God’s relationship with man. The Church established the first universities in Europe and subsidized every subject of study. Most important, it spread the gospel through out the world.
The Church has fostered many intellectuals, of which some of the most famous are: St. Augustine – author of Confessions and City of God, St. Thomas Aquinas – author of Summa Theologiae, and G.K. Chesterton – author of Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. This list barely touches upon the hundreds of other writers, scientists, and philosophers that have contributed to the betterment of the human condition. Their Catholic upbringing and the Church’s encouragement of intellectual curiosity directly influenced their studying.
Imagine how the world would be today if the Church did not undergo the pursuit of knowledge? If the Church did not build the universities or subsidized and encouraged learning and debate throughout its history? The world as a whole would be a much darker place. If non-Catholics really understood the intellectual depth of the Church, and that intellectualism and Christianity are not diametrically opposed to each other, and in actuality they go hand in hand, I believe more people would be Catholic. Additionally, the Church’s doctrine does not bend to the moral relativism of the surrounding culture. This intellectual and consistent tradition in the Church is why I remain Catholic.
Corporal Works of Mercy
The Church’s active participation in helping people that are needy is truly miraculous. Each parish provides opportunities for any parishioner to participate in helping the poor. Through its intellectual rigor the Church enumerated the Corporal Works of Mercy. This is a list of Jesus’ teachings that “are charitable actions by which we help our neighbors in their bodily needs.” The Church uses the Corporal Works of Mercy as a guide to assist the needy. Each Catholic follows in the footsteps of Christ when practicing these Corporal Works of Mercy.
The Church has a wonderful and long tradition of helping the needy. And it continues to do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Through the thousands of Saints in the Church, individual Catholics have many examples to emulate to help the needy. These Saints lived the Works of Mercy daily.
It is most fortunate for the Church and the world that two of the most well-known servers of the poor, Dorothy Day and St. Teresa of Calcutta, practiced Catholicism. Since they served in the trenches daily, these two women are prime examples of living a virtuous, Catholic life. Their sacrifices, sufferings and unwavering work helped many and continue to motivate others to help the needy. The Church’s and its members’ active participation in helping the needy is why I remain Catholic.
Being a father to an eleven-year-old son and a fourteen-year-old daughter is wonderful. These two children have blessed me and I thank God that they are in my life.
They both have attended Catholic schools since they were in kindergarten. By this fact alone I felt that I was checking all the right boxes in raising them correctly. However, I was failing them because I was not an active, participating Catholic. Children certainly notice when parents do not practice what they preach. My children were certainly noticing my non-participation in the Catholic life.
Raising children prompted me to re-evaluate my attitudes on the meaning of being a good Catholic. This involves praying at home, reading the Bible, talking to them about the scripture, going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation, volunteering, and controlling my emotions. I wanted to ensure that my children were not going through the motions of being a Catholic. My children should witness their father actively participating in the Church’s mission. This, I hope, would enable them to be better Catholics and not waste years wandering without the grace of the Church’s teachings, as I did. My children are another reason why I remain Catholic.
Remaining a Catholic requires work, strength and perseverance. It means performing acts that are against our innate nature of self-interest, against the current dogma of the culture surrounding us, and against co-workers and friends who might not understand the Church’s teachings or might be hostile to the Church. But after studying the history of the Church and the martyrs’ lives, I realize that today’s hostile culture I might encounter pales in comparison to what the Saints endured in the past. This gives me hope that I can confidently remain an active, participating Catholic until I die.