Top Ten Reasons to Stay Catholic
With apologies to the writers of “Late Night with David Letterman”
Right now is not an easy time to be Catholic. But is it ever easy? I sometimes speculate that it might be simpler to be Protestant. Protestants are allowed to go church shopping, and they don’t even have to go to a service every week to fulfill their Protestant Duty to God. We Catholics, on the other hand, have to go to Mass every Sunday, and although we may go angry, if we know what’s good for us, we go.
Protestants seem to exert a certain power over God, as though God is only my personal Lord and Savior if I accept him as such. Catholics have a different, deeper theology of God, beginning with the fact that God is God and we are we, no matter what we say we accept on our puny terms. God is all that we humans yearn for, because we yearn for love. We Catholics know that we cannot understand the God for whom we yearn. We live within our limitations, even as we reach for the grace to see that God’s will be done in us. We partake of the Eucharist on faith, because it grounds us, connects us, and identifies us as pilgrims on the Catholic path.
Although Catholicism may not be the basis for a distinct ethnic group, it is definitely something in our blood. Its roots are more stubbornly embedded in us than those of more recent denominations are in their followers. For us, Church is much more than the place where we worship and tithe. But the trend I am noticing among friends and family is a considered, slow, painful exodus from the Church of our birth. Issues, controversies, and scandals are wearing us down, and we are withdrawing. We don’t have the stomach for defending the sometimes indefensible. We are cutting our losses, tucking away our Rosaries, surrendering our Church to the loudest extremes. We are not staying Catholic.
In my own struggle to remain a practicing Catholic, I have been fortunate to be motivated and sustained by both canonized and unacknowledged saints. I have also been strengthened in faith by a priest who has long been a spiritual guide for my extended family. Father Mac has baptized, married, humored, advised, comforted, challenged, and buried us for a couple of decades, and a recent homily he gave is the inspiration for the following list of reasons to stay Catholic.
A writer friend once told me that sometimes you have to write the thing you want to read. So with Father Mac’s blessing and input, I present the following list of Top Ten Reasons to Stay Catholic, beginning with Number 10:
Number 10:We have great holidays. The whole country celebrates Christmas and Easter, and even Halloween has Catholic origins. Even the holy days you don’t get off from work are fun: St. Patrick’s Day (green beer), St. Francis of Assisi Day (when’s the last time you got to bring your pet to church for a blessing?), St. Valentine’s Day (chocolate hearts and frilly declarations of romantic love), and Mardi Gras (last blast before the fast of Lent). We know how to party.
Number 9: We dig the arts. We can boast of centuries of fantastic art and architecture, from cathedrals to chapels, from paintings to sculpture. We understand the need for artistic expression, and the relationship of beauty to worship. We are very big on education, from grade school to university. We also write great literature. From the monks of the Middle Ages who preserved the written word for posterity, to the great Catholic theologians like St. Augustine and Karl Rahner, to modern authors like Flannery O’Connor and James Joyce, we know how to write. We also know how to create, and how to educate.
Number 8:We follow ancient and time-honored ritual better than anyone. The Mass every day is our best example, but we are known for the reverence with which we perform our rites. The sign of the cross, the Rosary, the Stations, the music of our services, the architecture of our churches: all are rich in symbolism. And because the Mass is the same the world over, a Catholic has a home no matter where he or she roams. We know how to preserve tradition.
Number 7:We practice the intimacy of confession of sins to another human being, as a way of cleansing ourselves in the holy water of God’s forgiveness. The priest may represent Christ, but we are still spilling our deepest guts to a fellow human. There’s nothing like a good confession, nothing as simultaneously humbling and ennobling, and nothing like it in any other denomination. We know how to suffer.
Number 6: We totally get the idea of marriage. In spite of current controversy and debate over civil marriage rights, we understand the spiritual aspect of marriage, of discovering the sacred within our commitment, of the organic reality of two becoming one. We get that every marriage is, within itself, a community of believers. We know how to couple.
Number 5: We put on an excellent funeral. From Irish wakes to the rich liturgy of the funeral Mass to the observance of All Souls Day/Dia de los Muertos to local bereavement groups that meet in parish classrooms, we know how to meet and greet death (even if we aren’t so good at the meeting and greeting of the living). We know how to suffer and party at the same time.
Number 4: We have the proven capacity to change and grow: remember when bishops used to be married? (Probably not – centuries ago) Remember covering our female heads with lace? Remember the Latin Mass, and the changes of Vatican II? We even change our minds about a previously condemned heresy and apologize, although it may take centuries. (Sorry, Galileo). We know how to transform.
Number 3: We do not believe we are the only ones who are “saved." In spite of the widely held myth that we think we are the only ones going to Heaven, we have enough self-awareness to know that we are not the chosen few. Contrary to popular belief, Catholic teaching holds that heaven has plenty of room for all people of good will, and for all who entrust themselves to God’s good care. We know how to share.
Number 2: We are the clearest voice of social justice around the globe, and the biggest believers and practitioners of ‘being the change we wish to see in the world’, despite charges that those who actually follow Jesus’s teaching are socialists. We respect the gift of life, and insist on the dignity of the person. We are consistently counter-cultural, and regularly politically incorrect. We know how to agitate.
And Number 1:We are fed by the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus. When all is said and done, no matter how deeply the human face of the church may disappoint us, we believe passionately in the power of the Eucharist that nourishes us each time we receive it. Steeped in incarnate mystery, we know how to sustain ourselves in faith.
An incomplete list, no doubt, but rereading it comforts me. It’s been compiled with love, thought, gratitude, and a wee bit of pride. May it be a source of hope and help to anyone else with a wavering heart.
Valerie Schultz, of Tehachapi, Calif., is an occasional contributor to America. She coauthored this post with Msgr. Robert McNamara, pastor of St. Bernardine of Siena parish in Woodland Hills, Calif.
Thank you for reminding us.
Norma, we might have a sense of humor but it's usually outside church doors.
Fr Mac, " a wee bit of pride" is understatement.Many of those attributes of catholicism especially 5,4 and 3 can be explained by our courtesan nature.We put on a great show that removes people from reality for a while.
What about those who are most in need of God's mercy?Those who reject it.....
If you don't sign up you can't get in seems to be the message.
Most of our virtues speak of whoredom.Galileo was vindicated by history not by the Church.If I said that eating glass was good for the stomach and 99% of people agreed with me the Church would issue a solemn decree to that end.
Taking in James Joyce is like Reagan quoting Stalin.Joyce lived in an Ireland which saw all of the begorrah manipulation of catholicism.His most vivid scene in Ulysses is defiantly anti-catholic. Masturbation linked to the veneration of the Body of Christ.
Number 8 and 4 contradict themselves. It seems that Catholicism is all about expediency.
Enough negativity from me .
Jesus Christ is still Lord wether catholics are or are not.
People who enter and deeply live from their own spiritual traditions always seem to me to not make such a big deal of it. And they are open to the traditions of others without needing to set one up against the other.
Finally, some of what the author sees as positives, others might see as neutral or even negative. Individual confession is rarely a positive experience - if it were, the lines would be long instead of almost non-existant. Most Catholic funerals I've been to have been cold and impersonal. The priest often did not know the deceased (with mega-parishes in the thousands, it is not a surprise) and this is very apparent. The most distressing funeral I ever attended was for a close friend - a beautiful young woman and wife who died of cancer at the age of 33. The priest compared her to the good thief, hardly a warm and comforting homily. My (Protestant) husband was truly horrified. I am very close to joining Eugene in the Episcopal Church - it offers the positives of the Catholic church, more positives in fact, and fewer negatives. What has held me back? The Catholic DNA - something I am now actively working to overcome.
Number eleven: We live in a large tent. We know that since our God is a God who includes, rather than excludes, we can be inclusive people, too. God challenges us to make our tent even larger (Is 54,2). Therefore we don't need to place ourselves over and against others, protestants, for example, because we see Gods grace at work in them, too. We know how to make friends.
There is probably not a person on America who would not like to be the Good thief.
He is my only chance....
He stole paradise at the end.
When the chips were truly down for our Lord and the Apostles had deserted him Dismas stood up to the plate and hit a home run.He showed faith in Jesus on the cross.I fail to do it from my lovely apartment in Rome.
The Lord was nailed by every limb to that piece of wood and the crowds jeered Him.The Bad thief asked the logical question "Why don't you save yourself??".St Dismas did not reduce himself to the logic of the other and showed himself truly open to mystery."Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom".To think we venerate Peter but not Dismas!!!!!!!
Any priest who mentions Dismas at my funeral will be pulling out an ace.The Lord needed love ,and apart from the women and John He had none.His confusuion must have been immense.HE gambled on love ,Dismas doubled down with him in one of the greatest gestures in history.
The act of a deperate man?Of a sinner ?
Oscar Wilde said "The catholic church is for saints and sinners alone,everybody else can go to the Anglican church"
Hope you stay!
I have read "the Dead" till I am blue in the face.A masterpiece .My favorite short story and only equalled by "A good man is hard to find".
However, to equate James Joyce with the Church tradition in any formal way is to slight his spiritual genius.His wife told the priest who asked for a catholic funeral "Oh,I couldn't do that to him".
Strong words coming from a woman from the west of Ireland.Joyce was educated by the Jesuits and was had his heart moved by catholic emotions and his intellect seduced by catholic ideas and was as open as a catholic can be.
But, that but would have to delve into a history of suffering that only maybe Frank McCourt could unstrip.
Joyce looked on his fellow artists as truer priests than those running around dublin dressed in black and white .
In the end Joyce himself will be seen as a priest.
I offer this up as a taster to our fellow readers.
I am like the majority of Catholics in the US according to every study, including those done by the team at Catholic University over the years. Notice that this list doesn't not even mention belief in or acceptance of many issues dividing the church today - papal infallibility, sexuality, women's ordination, transubstantiation (while believing in the Real Presence, most do not accept transubstantion - many do not even know what it means, and when explained, find it questionable), mandatory celibacy, the need for one-on-one confession etc. They have little if any faith in the leadership and integrity of the hierarchy, including now, those in Rome. Yet they remain Catholic - primarily for family and cultural reasons (the rituals, the art, the music, the traditions - but few stay Catholic because of doctrine). As the author says
''Although Catholicism may not be the basis for a distinct ethnic group, it is definitely something in our blood. Its roots are more stubbornly embedded in us than those of more recent denominations are in their followers.''
Then something strange happened - a woman told the initial group that he was alive and that they had spoken! Subsequent personal experiences convinced them she was telling the truth about Jesus and shortly thereafter they were all sent and began telling everyone, everywhere, about him, to the point of great suffering and of being killed in his name. That’s why I remain Catholic! Who would suffer and die for a liar, for a bunch of lies? Nobody! That’s why I remain in the Catholic Church - it has the WHOLE story!
But there’s more - I need a reason of the heart as well, not just the head, to remain faithful - I need something maternal, something motherly.” And so I have Mary, the Mother of Jesus, that woman who said at a party, “Do whatever he tells you!” The Blessed Virgin Mary based on what we know about her is a main reason why I remain Catholic, best expressed in the first line of the well-known poem, “Mother” often used on “Mother’s Day” - “M” is for the MILLION things she gave me!” And by golly, has she! That’s why I remain Catholic.
Briefly put, while scholars wrangle, saints untangle, showing that while scholarship in trying to understand the Catholic Church is good, prayer is better! Jesuit priest James Martin who rubs shoulders with the saints might agree!