It all started with a terrific piece on why Tod Worner was remaining in the Church, even though a recent study showed that more Catholics leave their Church than any other Christian group. Catholicism is growing, but at a slower pace than Protestant denominations. But there are plenty of reasons to be Catholic, and soon, more and more Patheos writers were chiming in. Now Elizabeth Scalia has asked for Catholics of all walks of life to chime in and share why they’re staying Catholic. So here are my reasons.
I grew up Catholic on the Jersey Shore (where everyone seemed to be Catholic), born after Vatican II. I have never been to an Extraordinary Form Mass, and I did not grow up hearing Latin (though our parish frequently used the Kyrie, which is so ancient that it predates the Latin Mass). My father was a cradle Catholic, and my mother was raised Methodist. We never missed Sunday Mass, but I didn’t know anything about Holy Days of Obligation, and I think we frequently missed anything mid-week. My CCD classes were middling — not the horror stories I’m sure you’ve heard or read, like an acquaintance of mine who left the Church after years of her children being instructed in heresies — but not filled with much in the way of the old devotions and traditions. In second grade, we learned about the Rosary and the basic prayers you ought to say, but not about meditations. I thought it was boring, and gave it up after a short time.
But at the same time, we were told about the beauty of Holy Eucharist: the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. Mind you, I never heard that phrase, but we learned that Jesus was really there. The stuff that had been bread and wine were gone because when Jesus said, “This is My Body,” He meant it, and when He gave priests the power to do the same thing, we believed it. I wept for joy on my First Holy Communion day. It was my eighth birthday, and I maintain that it was the best day of my entire life.
The year I was Confirmed (sixth grade), my mother went through RCIA and was Confirmed, as well. Her program, however, was kind of lousy. They never made sure the candidates went to Confession (she didn’t), they skipped over difficult Church teachings (she had no idea contraception was a mortal sin), and the Bible they gave them was the Good News Bible (which isn’t even complete, as it’s a Protestant version). But I was still excited because I had no idea that Catholics were much different than Protestants. I loved being Catholic, I loved going to weekly Confession, and I loved Jesus.
However, since we were taught that Confirmation was all about being an adult in the Church (it’s not), my mother saw no need for further catechesis, and I only had one more year of CCD. There were a total of 6 kids in spite of the fact that our Confirmation class was more than 100 students the year before. (Please, catechists, stop treating Confirmation like a graduation!)
During middle and high school (as well as the years during college when I lived at home), I had no choice but to go to Mass each Sunday. But as soon as I was away at school, I stopped attending for the most part. It’s not like it was too far — I attended Flagler College, which is literally across the street from the cathedral in St. Augustine. Yet, I still considered myself Catholic. I was not following Church teaching about a myriad of things, but had no clue I might be doing something wrong, anyway. And yet I never wanted to officially leave the Church. If I was going to church on Sunday, it was Catholic Mass.
When my boyfriend proposed to me, it was understood that we’d be married in a Catholic parish. There was no other place I even imagined it happening. Even though I admired the beachside weddings I saw in magazines, it never occurred to me that *I* would get married anywhere but in my parish. I had only ever been to one wedding that wasn’t in a church at that point, and I thought it kind of odd.
So at this point, remaining Catholic was a matter of comfort and tradition. I was used to it. Something kept me there, but I wasn’t sure exactly what.
After we got married, Nathan and I didn’t really take seriously the contraception thing (still hadn’t heard the words “mortal sin” in relation to that) or even the Sunday Obligation thing (again, no idea that was a mortal sin, as well). But when I managed to show up at church, it was still Mass. I was Catholic, and I couldn’t explain why.
We would go to these Amway convention weekends, where we’d hear people preach with passion at the non-denominational services, and I asked my father if I ought to go to a “Bible Church” (as the pastors called them). “What do you think the Catholic Church is?” he shot back. “Look at how much of the Bible we read every Sunday!” I never doubted being Catholic again.
But I wasn’t attending consistently for years, until I happened to go to a Mass with an interpreter for the Deaf. I had majored in Deaf Ed and had worked as an interpreter in college and just after graduation, so I volunteered my services for Mass. Our parish was generous enough (and well-off enough) to be able to pay for interpreters, but the woman who ran it insisted that only Catholics interpret at Mass. And this began my journey deep into the Catholic faith, as opposed to my previous playing in the shallows.
All those years, I’d stayed Catholic because I couldn’t imagine going elsewhere — and yet, I would be hard-pressed to explain to anyone why I was remaining Catholic. I imagine most of those Catholics who find their way to Mass for Easter and Christmas and disappear in between feel the same way. Something keeps them coming back for the occasional Mass, but they can’t quite put their finger on it.
But interpreting gave me a new perspective on the Mass and my faith. I began learning more about the Faith to keep up with the homilies. (One of our priests is now a professor at the seminary in Boyton Beach, Florida, and his homilies were amazing!) I started interpreting the Lenten missions. I had to know what the things we said at Mass meant so as to use the best signs for the words. I had to think about my faith for this new job. Then one weekend, a woman came to speak about her conversion in order to invite people to join the RCIA class. She came up at the end of Mass and talked about why she became Catholic, and she summed it up in one word:
It hit me at that moment: this was the reason I was Catholic — and the main reason I am Catholic to this day. Jesus Christ, on the altar, coming to me personally under the appearance of bread and wine. Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
I remember having a priest tell me once in Confession that Jesus was my first true love. He never knew about my First Communion story — didn’t know I’d wept for joy when I was finally able to receive Jesus at Sunday Mass. But it was a miraculous Confession that day, anyway, and when Jesus reminded me of that fact through this priest, I realized it was true.
These days, in my studies as a Lay Dominican, I learn about all kinds of beautiful things: theology, Tradition, the Church Fathers … and all of these things have helped me stay Catholic, too. Each new piece of learning draws me closer to God as I see new parts of His majesty and grace. And I’ve learned that of all the Christian faiths, Catholicism is the only one that is all true. While this is a beautiful thing, and it helps me to remain Catholic and to stand up for the faith (and even pass it on, please God, to my children), at the very core of it all is this past weekend’s great Solmenity:
The Precious Body and Blood of my Lord, Jesus Christ. Holy Communion. Panis Angelicus.
I could go on and on about Apostolic succession and all the theology I’ve learned and the consistencies of the Catholic Faith that make living as a Christian easier. I can talk about the Magisterium and the history of the Mass and the Bible passages that point to Catholic doctrines. I can talk about the Blessed Mother and her role as the Queen of Heaven. I can tell you about the fact that the Catholic Faith is true, and that it explains the world far better than any other belief system. I can even talk to you about how being Catholic is fun, and that we know how to loosen up (within reason) and have a good time without forgetting Whose we are.
But the one thing that keeps me Catholic more than anything else is the fact that when my priest says the words of Consecration, the Creator of all things appears in his hands, waiting for me to come forweard and consume Him. He lowers Himself for me. He comes for me. He seeks me out. And He does this every single day, all over the world, for every living soul.
All photography in this post is my own.