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On being Catholic

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The catechesis(faith formation) of the last couple of generations of Catholics has been extremely disheartening. Being a product of that poor passing on of the faith, I feel I can say that without a doubt.  Although I feel a bit cheated by the lack of faith formation that I received before adulthood, I am so grateful that God’s mercy and grace kept me grounded enough to eventually own my faith and actively try to understand the Catholic Church and her teachings.

There was a time in our marriage when we both considered leaving the Church.  Why?  Mainly because we thought it was boring.  It didn’t draw us in enough.  We didn’t feel like we fit in.  We couldn’t understand why the Catholic Church seemed so old-fashioned and strict.  We saw other people(Catholic and non-Catholics) embracing their faith with a fire and zest that we just couldn’t get a grasp on.  We figured it must be the church.  Surely we’d feel more on fire if we had a better church that was more exciting and more in line with our beliefs and lifestyle.

By the grace of God, before we made a move to actually step away from the church that we both had been raised in, I personally decided that I first needed to understand why I was baptized Catholic.  I could appreciate the fact that my parents tried their best to raise us in the Church and I wanted to know why.  Like an inquisitive child, I began to constantly ask just that….why?

Why do we do what we do in mass?  Stand up, sit down, kneel, gesture, repeat prayers, etc.  Why do we even have to go to mass?  Why do we have communion every Sunday?  Not to mention every day?  Why the crucifix?  Why do we have a Pope?  What happened during the Reformation?  Why can’t priests get married?  And on and on and on….

I became hungry for knowledge.  By nature, I am not one to do something without a good reason.  I need to understand it, think it through, really get a good understanding of it before I will stick my toes in to test the water.

So I began reading and asking questions.  Then I read some more and asked some more questions.  I was truly amazed by what I learned.  Today I could not imagine not being Catholic.  It is who I am.  Not just in Mass on Sundays.  It is who I am as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a friend….every day of my life.  It’s not just my religion, it is my very being.

But that didn’t just happen because I read a lot of books and asked a lot of questions.  It came about because God was transforming me during that time.  He was challenging me and changing me.  That’s right, changing me.  

You see, very little about the Catholic Church has changed in the last couple thousand years since Jesus established it and made Peter our first pope.  It’s not that my church suddenly started playing better music or selling coffee in the northex or that we stopped standing, sitting, and kneeling so much.  None of that changed.

The only thing that changed was me.

I finally understood why we kneel when we do in mass.  I finally understood why the church does not allow priests to marry.  I understood why certain prayers are said and why we genuflect every time we approach the alter.  I finally fully understood that Christ really is present in the Eucharist, it’s not just a symbol of Him, it is Him.  If we can believe as Christians that God can become a man by sending His son Jesus to live and dwell among us and that He could die and then come back from the dead, if we can believe that, it really isn’t that hard to believe that when Jesus gave Himself to us in the form of bread and wine that it could truly be exactly as He said it.

But I also finally understood that I am a sinner.  I realized that I thought I had a whole lot more figured out than I really did.  I just didn’t want to admit to myself that I wasn’t as great as I thought I was.  When I finally got the guts to admit to myself and God that I needed some work, things got interesting.

I think it was Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said that prayer doesn’t change things, it changes us.  I have found that to be so true.  It’s a scary thing to think that we need to be changed.  But when we are willing to be changed for the better we can see more clearly that God just might have even better plans for us than we could have imagined for ourselves.

When I realized that I was only going to get out of Mass as much as I put into it, I began to listen.  I mean really listen.  I realized that I had sat in the very same pews most of my life and had never really heard what was being read, said, etc.  Sounds crazy I know, but true.  What I began to hear, I believe, was the Holy Spirit whispering right into my soul that this is exactly where I am supposed to be.  Right here in the Catholic Church, the One True Church.  And that is exactly where you will find me.

My heart breaks when I hear of people leaving the church for a more hip, modernized church experience without even taking a second look at what they have had all along.  I would like to encourage anyone reading this who may be in that situation to think again.  The grass is not always greener.  Take it upon yourself to learn about what you are considering leaving.  You owe it to yourself to know the truth, not just what you think you already know.  I truly believe that you will not regret it. There are so many completely wrong interpretations of the Catholic Church and what it truly teaches and stands for. You may be surprised at how mislead you have been too.

If it’s a music issue, or a priest issue, or an issue that is likely specific to the actual parish you are in, maybe you would benefit from visiting another parish.  There is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.  But you can’t just throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Just because one parish doesn’t feel quite right, does not mean that you would feel the same way at another.

I would also encourage you to read the testimonials of people who have converted to the Catholic faith.  There is no shortage of former protestant ministers and extremely faith-filled people who have shared their stories and experiences of finding their way home to the Catholic Church.  People like Scott Hahn, Tim Staples, Jimmy Akin, Al Kresta, and so many more have amazing stories to share that can help us to understand the beauty and truth that can only be found in the Catholic Church.  If you’re not much of a book reader, do a quick internet search for Catholic Convert stories and you will find more than you can possibly read.

I still have a long way to go.  I don’t believe that I will ever fully understand and know all that there is to know and appreciate about my faith.  But I will not stop trying until I reach the place where I will finally be made to know.

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  

Matthew 16:  18-19

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