If you know me, you more than likely know that I am Catholic. It is the most defining aspect of who I am, so it easily comes up in conversation. However, I am well aware that there is a lot of confusion and distrust of the Catholic Church and that this topic could be considered controversial or at least it causes me some anxiety because I know that there are huge misunderstandings about my faith and of course, not all agree with my beliefs. I always hope that no one judges me because of my religion.
I often get questions about Catholicism and in an effort to explain why I love my faith and why I continue to be Catholic, I’m writing what I find to be some of the most beautiful parts of my faith. This is a very simple and basic list, and it is my opinion on what I love most about Catholicism. While I have twelve years of Catholic schooling and my lifetime of 30 years practicing my faith, I am not an expert nor do I ever expect to be one. These are merely my thoughts and musings. I have struggled with my faith just like any Catholic and especially “cradle” Catholics, so I have done research on my faith and other religions, but this is not that kind of post. This is, for lack of a better analogy, me explaining, as if to a good friend over a cup of coffee, why it is that I love my religion.
Love. I want to start here. Above all, Catholicism is a love story of redemption, it’s a long story of God reaching out to his creation and desperately trying to pull them close to him while they wander and waiver in their faith. I love that my religion teaches that we must model Jesus’ love for everyone, without exception. One of my favorite hymns says it perfectly, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” The famous scripture passage about love says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1.
The Eucharist. This is hands down the defining reason I am Catholic. Every Sunday when I attend mass I receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. Let me say that again, as Catholics, we believe in the true presence of Jesus. I believe that God transforms (what we call transubstantiation) the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus just as Jesus taught his apostles to do at the last supper. Yes, I realize how crazy this sounds. If you’ve not heard this before you are probably thinking, “What??!!” right now.
Without getting into the nitty gritty (that is for another time), what I find most awesome about this is how God transcends our humanity. I go to mass each week to receive Jesus – quite literally. It’s not about the music or the pretty decorations or how I feel about God. It’s about truly receiving Him and his love and sacrifice for me, sinner that I am. He is the source and summit of our faith and our weekly service. I don’t go to mass to hear a good sermon – yes, it’s nice when the priest talks well, but it’s not the point. I don’t go to mass to get an emotional “Jesus high” and feel good about my relationship with God – it’s great when I do, but again, not the point. I also don’t go to get answers to my faith – always great to hear good content and teachings, but not.the.point. I go to mass out of obedience to the God who created me. I go to build a relationship – just like I commit to my marriage every day, I commit to mass each week to get true nourishment from Him. And when you look at it that way, why wouldn’t I be rushing to receive Jesus every week in an amazing miracle if I believe he is truly present there?
The center and focal point of the mass is Jesus – again, not the music, not the priest, not the collection basket – it’s Jesus and Jesus alone and all the issues and problems and flaws of the humans that make up the body of the Church, myself or the priest or the readers or the ministers, cannot get in the way of God giving himself to all of us. God transcends all our flaws and failings in the mass. This gift doesn’t rely on perfect people, in fact it takes extremely sinful people to perform the mass sometimes, but this doesn’t stop God from miraculously giving himself to us each Sunday. Now that, to me, is down right awe inspiring and a reason to wake up every Sunday and get myself to Church.
The Sacraments. The seven sacraments are there to pull us closer to Him and the mass is one of those sacraments. I won’t go into detail about each or where we find these sacraments in scripture or from Tradition. From a purely superficial point of view, I love that every important event in my life goes back to a sacrament because ultimately that’s why we are here on Earth. Every moment in my life should be calling me closer to God so that I might reach Him one day. My baptism, my first communion, my first confession, my marriage, if I’m sick, and when I die, there will be a mass or a sacrament to lift up my soul. Lord help me that the mass at my death will not be lifted up in vain. Therefore, every major event in my life and the lives of my family has gone directly back to our life in Christ. It is a beautiful thing to have a faith that points me each step of the way, in the true direction of this life.
Reconciliation. My favorite sacrament – if I’m allowed one – is confession. I know a lot of people will find this weird, but when you look at it from sort of a “non religious” perspective it’s basically therapy. I mean, we all have struggles in life and telling someone else – a third party especially – is incredibly freeing. When my soul is heavy, I have a free “counselor” to go unload to and then Jesus (not the priest) takes it off my shoulders and frees me. I still get nervous every time I go, and I’ve been going several times a year or more since I was in second grade. Confession (pun intended), I still cannot make eye contact with the priest; I have cried in the confessional; I have laughed in the confessional; I have been mortified, but each time I leave, the slate is wiped clean and I feel as light as a feather. There should be a meme that reads, “Confession: cheaper than therapy.” All joking aside, the fact that Jesus instituted a way for me to be certain I am free from sin even through my imperfect contrition, gives me so much hope in a world of sin!
Universality. I love that no matter where I go to church, the mass is the same, the sacraments are the same, and Church teaching is the same. I may not speak the language, and I’ve been to many non-English masses and confessionals, but I still know what is going on and again, the real reason I am there is to receive Jesus. If I don’t understand it all, I still continue my faithfulness to Jesus and receive his grace. Just like any relationship, we show up because we have to make a decision to be faithful to do what is right and keep choosing the person with whom we are in a relationship. This again, comes down to Jesus’ true presence at mass – sure, I can switch churches because I like the priest or the music better, but it doesn’t really change the fact that the reason I’m there is to be filled by Jesus, not by other humans or our humanly comforts.
The Catechism. I love that I have a book of the Church’s teachings I can reference whenever I need it. During periods when I questioned my faith, I could always go to the Catechism and find out why the Church teaches what it does. When a friend asked me about purgatory in college – guess where I looked? The Catechism shows where our beliefs come from – the Bible, Tradition, tradition (there’s two kinds of tradition) or natural moral law. This is so refreshing to me because I know that again, it doesn’t matter where I attend church or what the priest or a friend says – the teachings of the Church are the same wherever you go despite human error or feelings. Church teaching does not change on a whim. This gives me so much peace to know that wherever I am, my faith is based on a solid foundation and not the trends of our time because God does not take his cues from humanity.
Mary and the Saints. More controversial points, I know, but if you’ve every wondered about this, here’s a snippet as to why I love these Holy men and women being part of my faith. The Church gives us examples of people we believe to be in Heaven (the process of being declared a saint is extremely rigorous, but in the end we declare this person to be in Heaven) so we can ask for their intercession. We can see their lives and their struggles as humans and sinners and look to them for help with our own. We do not worship them, we ask for their prayers to God! They do not detract from God – they point us to Him!
I appreciate that I have the best example of a mother, Mary, to look up to. I appreciate that my confirmation saint, Joan of Arc, showed me what standing up for your faith meant, in a dramatic way. I appreciate learning about how Teresa of Avila struggled with vanity or how St. Monica prayed for her son who lead a life completely against Christian teaching but later became St. Augustine. I need this example of patience and steadfast prayer for one’s children to remind me of the greatness of God and how I need to be a champion of prayer for my children. I need to know that there are others that have gone before me with the same struggles that I do, and yet have been able to turn their lives to God and most importantly, made it to Heaven.
I genuinely hope this might explain some of my beliefs even though it just scratches the surface.