Why I Remain Catholic

Kelli - ceiling

Kelli - ceilingIn June of 2014, I stood before Bishop Paul Loverde as he raised his thumb, covered in oil, to my forehead. “Flora,” he said, dabbing a glistening cross onto my skin. “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

When I slid back into the pew, I leaned forward on the kneeler, heart filled with a strange new feeling. I watched the other confirmandi make their trip to the Bishop to receive the seal, tears building in my eyes. Suddenly, the world looked different.  I knew I was different.

Searching for Answers

What leads one back to the Church? I could give you a nice, long story of my own heartbreak, with all its particulars and timelines, but let’s face it – even when the details of one’s story differ from those of another, the same issues are at the center. I knew something was missing in my life. I understood I didn’t have all the answers. I had become disillusioned with the shallow answers the world gave me. And, to quote the great Bishop Fulton Sheen, “Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.”

Though technically a cradle Catholic, my family stopped attending Mass soon after my First Holy Communion, and even before that, we were solely Sunday churchgoers. I had no real understanding of the Mass, the sacraments, or even who and what Jesus is. So yes, if I filled out a census form, I would have put “Catholic,” but it was really only in name.

Then over the course of the summer and spring of 2013, I went from being someone who never went to Mass, to sitting tentatively at the back of St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, DC for daily Mass, drawn there by what I now know to be the Holy Spirit, as I sought answers. Soon after, I decided it was time to learn to pray the rosary, so I downloaded an app and prayed on the train to and from class and work. That led to praying the Memorare, St. Francis’s morning prayer, and other things that opened my heart. I didn’t plan it; it just happened. There I’d sit, praying, “Oh most gracious Virgin Mary, never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection…” while the world carried on and I kept digging deeper.

Then I graduated from grad school, moved, and found myself within walking distance of a church. On the day I visited the apartment before signing the lease, I looked out the window and saw the cross at the top of a spire gleaming out from the trees. “Well,” I thought, “I’d better start going to church on Sundays, too,”. So I did, but still sitting quietly at the back of the church, often staying in the pew after most everyone had left, with my head in my hands, crying and hoping that just by showing up I was getting closer to something real. By this point, I had also ended a significant romantic relationship . The thought that broke its way through my grief was, “All right, God, I was wrong but I’m here now, so you have to show me the way.” It was begging, but it was true faith.

Confirmed As a Catholic

I didn’t take the decision to go through Confirmation lightly, as it is a sacrament after all and one with real weight and obligation in the Church. I was initially motivated to attend RCIA by a fear of being a half-Catholic or even an impostor. I sat through several weeks of class and it was at this time I began to feel the real change inside me that culminated with the actual sacrament. All that time spent in prayer, examining my habits and thoughts, receding just slightly from the world, had its effect.

I found myself there that June afternoon in front of the Bishop, filled with light and tears – happy this time – thanking God for giving me the chance to start new and find out who I really am. What descended on me in that sacrament was a peace and real love I had never experienced before, as well as clarity and, more importantly, an understanding that my life had never truly been mine, anyway. It has always been God’s, and He had always been waiting for me. It was the feeling of my soul coming home.

Coming Home

The question is, “Why do you remain Catholic?” The answer is, “Because I can see no other way.” I understand now what the “fullness of the Church” means, the history, tradition, and sacraments that no other form of Christianity offers. It’s a technical understanding, but also a spiritual understanding that without these critical pieces of our faith, something major is lacking. Once you see the truth, how do you go back? Why would you even want to go back?

But more than that: the Church is my home. Saints are not just faces in stained glass windows; they are my friends and confidantes, guides on my own path to holiness, as called to holiness, we all are. The Blessed Mother is not just a nice figure, but truly my mother, who walked this earth and felt grief and joy, who continues to intercede on behalf of all her children. Calling on the Holy Spirit is not a hollow gesture, it is an actual moment of connection between God and ourselves, where the divine touches the temporal. My guardian angel is a real being, standing by with sword drawn in protection. As for Jesus, well, He is the one who sees, understands, and loves my heart. He is eternal love, the kind that even I still try, with my human mind, to understand, though I am not sure I will. I am so grateful that He will be there as I try, “until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

What Is Real and Lasting

Catholicism has been my path to finding my real self. When we are, as Matthew Kelly says, “the best version of ourselves,” that means that we are living as closely as we can to who God intends us to be. The Church exists to facilitate this, to bring us closer to the holiness that God plans for us. It is so much easier to be base, self-indulgent, never seeking truth, accepting what the world offers, but I have come to believe that all people, deep down, really are seeking Truth. We find fulfillment in a variety of things – sex, relationships, possessions, alcohol, work, power – but they are all substitutes for the real thing, which is a relationship with God. Everyone wants what is real and lasting. This is what makes us human. In the Church, I have found for myself what is real and lasting, beyond the noise of the everyday world, and it is beautiful beyond belief. That is why I stay.

Soon after Confirmation my sister, who was my sponsor, said, “Never underestimate how happy God wants you to be.” What a beautiful thought. God, who knows my heart and soul so intimately, and who created me in joy, in His own image, is essentially waiting for me to get out of my own way so that He can show me what wonderful things He has planned for me. For many years I resisted the faith of my childhood, only to find myself embracing it in adulthood with a love and abandon I could have never planned. In the Catholic faith, there are answers, new beginnings, and – most importantly – an endless source of mercy for all us humans seeking the Truth. When I knelt at the Cathedral that Pentecost Sunday, the strange new feeling I had was of utter peace and love washing over me. It was the Holy Spirit descending and saying, “You were lost – and now you are found!”

It is good to be home.

 

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19 thoughts on “Why I Remain Catholic”

  1. Laura, I am not sure why this article touched me so much. For some reason I stared at the word holiness and began crying.I guess I feel very lacking in that area.

  2. Dear Ms DeMaria. Thank muchas you gracias for this inspiration. A key insight of yours is that, especially for today’s people, one of the most difficult things to say is what you told God: “I was wrong.” Long story short, some decades ago when I was questioning Catholic truth, back when I was NEVER wrong, I still hung around, still went to Mass, even though it made no sense to me. Perhaps that “indelible mark” on my soul, the spiritual tattoo that said “You are mine” from baptism, was burning, even though I could not feel the flame. Please write more. Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas

    1. Thank you, Guy! I will be contributing at least monthly. Grateful for the opportunity and to be a part of this community.

  3. Very nicely done. This is why some people remain Catholic even those on the very fringe – the change is
    total, real and authentic.

  4. I would think that humanity has a tendency to slide into evil behaviour – free will to decide between good v bad.

    Historical this had happened!
    People chose evil.

    Don’t blame God on man’s behaviour.

  5. “Never underestimate how happy God wants you to be.”
    What would the six million Jews killed by the Nazis make of that? Or all those who are, even now, leading wretched lives?

    1. “And, to quote the great Bishop Fulton Sheen, ‘Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.'”

      With our merciful God, I’m sure those who have been/are persecuted in this world go straight to Heaven. There is no greater reward or happiness than eternity with Him. So how can you question: “Never underestimate how happy God wants you to be.”

      Beautiful, beautiful article Laura!

    2. “With our merciful God, I’m sure those who have been/are persecuted in this world go straight to Heaven.”
      That is not Catholic dogma, Claire. And a great many Catholics think very differently. They think that non-Catholics (particularly Jews, and certainly Muslims) can’t go to heaven. But it would be nice to think you are right. I’d like to think God is much nicer than many Catholics make Him out to be. But I have no idea. Nor does anyone.

    3. Wow Toad, here’s another Great Bishop Sheen quote that may help you: There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.

    4. True enough, Claire. And I agree with The Bish. Of course, you could say exactly the same thing about Mormonism, or Islam. (If you could be bothered.) Or, of course, about God herself.

    5. Dear TD, May I suggest you read THE HOUND OF HEAVEN poem by GM Hopkins. This God about whom you write wants you back with Him forever; you are the only TD like you He has ever made. The words with which Ms DeMaria have graced us are her personal version of the poem. Keep on keepin on, TD, and you will, in GMH’s words, someday shine out like shake out like shining from shook foil. Good to hear from you again. God bless you and keep you. guy

    6. Can you explain how God can “want,” Guy? Isn’t He capable of doing exactly what He wants? You humanize Him. Cut Him down to fit our pitiful scale. How do you know what He “wants,” anyway? Or what His “plans” are?

    7. I believe Toad is more a Milton fan:

      “So saying, on he led his radiant Files,
      Daz’ling the Moon; these to the Bower direct
      In search of whom they sought: him there they found
      Squat like a Toad, close at the eare of Eve;
      Assaying by his Devilish art to reach
      The Organs of her Fancie, and with them forge
      Illusions as he list, Phantasms and Dreams.”

    8. “Squat like a Toad, close at the eare of Eve;”
      That’s Toad all right. Luckily for him, Eve had very low ears.

    9. did you ever get a chance to read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankel? I think helps understand a bit about love. And our search.

    10. Also Toad – Beauty! Truth! Goodness!
      here is Jesuit Father Gerald Manley Hopkins sonnet:

      The Grandeur of God
      The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
      It will flame out like shining from shook foil;
      It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
      Generations have trod, have trod, have trod
      And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
      And wears man’s smudge and bears man’s smell; the soil
      Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
      And for all this, nature is never spent;
      There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
      And though the last lights off the black west went
      Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
      Because the Holy Ghost, over the bent
      World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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