The National Catholic Review

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.

 

Comments

Joanne Davids | 6/22/2011 - 4:49pm
Thanks, Valerie, for sharing your thoughtful and light-hearted reasons for remaining Catholic.  During these times of heart-breaking scandal, it is helpful to be reminded of the beauty that lies in the Catholic Tradition.  I know many Protestants who are deeply committed Christians, and I am sorry that there were those who took offense at some of your remarks.  I have the greatest respect for these individuals, while struggling with my own Catholicism.  I'm sure your remarks were meant to reach Catholics like me, rather than being an attempt to denigrate our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ.  The peace of Christ to all! 
6466379 | 6/13/2011 - 11:50am
Initially a handful of people put their trust in him, in this teacher who told them that, “He who sees me sees the Father!” Within three years he was arrested and executed and a sizeable number of people including the initial handful must have said to themselves, “What fools we were to trust him!” 
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!
Paul Hobby | 6/12/2011 - 2:06pm
Thank you for the great article and thought provoking comments. As a recent convert, the '' Top Seven'' reasons in particular are what drew me to the Church in my middle age, along with my wife of twenty-five years and three of our five ''children''. I know that it is by the Grace of God that we are here. What joy we have in the Church.
Anne Chapman | 6/12/2011 - 12:24pm
David, the good thief may provide hope for you, but the homily delivered at this funeral was actually insulting, implying that this young woman was basically evil, must have done many terrible things because she was human and so basically evil and a terrible sinner, but could be forgiven.  It was not expressed in a way that would comfort a grieving young husband and parents and siblings and friends.

Walter,

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.''
david power | 6/11/2011 - 11:02pm
Dear Walter,

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.

http://mockingbird.creighton.edu/english/micsun/IrishResources/dead.htm    
david power | 6/11/2011 - 8:41pm
@Anne,

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!  
Stefan Mangnus | 6/11/2011 - 6:42pm
What a great list: I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. In line with some of the comments, however, I would put one more item to your list:

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.
Anne Chapman | 6/11/2011 - 12:06am
Basically, I concur with Beth. Also with those who note that many Protestant denominations offer the very same positives claimed exclusively for Catholicism in this post - it betrays an almost inexcusable ignorance of the vast breadth (and yes, depth is to be found also) of the Protestant world.  And the Orthodox might have a thing or two to say about #8.

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.
Beth Cioffoletti | 6/10/2011 - 6:50pm
dunno, but these kind of self-identifying and affirming lists always slightly turn me off.

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.
NFPC NFPC | 6/10/2011 - 12:49pm
And a PS to MB Flynn:  Some Catholics do sing, do sing out, loudly and beautifully. If you are ever in the metropolitan Chicago area, please come to St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church in Evanston for the 9 AM Sunday Mass.  You don't even have to come in if you're pressed for time-just stand outside the church. Every and any week you will hear 350-400 Roman Catholics singing out.
NFPC NFPC | 6/10/2011 - 12:44pm
I find the subtle slams against Protestants in the first paragraphs as incorrect as they are unnecessary.  I doubt many Protestants think it's OK to miss church on Sunday.  And I know that that the statement that Catholics "have a different, deeper theology of God" than Protestants is false and insulting.  We share a common baptism!  How could we acknowledge the validity of Protestant baptism done with water and the saying of Trinitarian Name if we didn't share a basic understanding of God?  If you'ved read Tillich or Barh you couldn't possibly think that Catholics have a "deeper" theology of God-different emphases, nuances, starting points, maybe, but "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" nonetheless.  I plan on staying Roman Catholic my whole life, and I find no need or excuse to blast Protestant Christians for any reason whatsoever. Can we not say what is good about our Catholicism without resorting to the lazy and cheap-shot, "We're not Protestanats and are better than them"?
Ross Hoffman | 6/10/2011 - 9:55am
And do not forget the ''communion of saints'' of which we are all called to be members.  Our brothers and sisters who have gone before us are ever with us with their prayers.  We are part of the seamless community called ''Church''.
MONICA DOYLE | 6/10/2011 - 7:54am
''...it is definetly something in our blood.'' That says it all.
Bill Mazzella | 6/10/2011 - 7:23am
I think it is healthy ecumenism. Respecting our Separated Brethren while we celebrate who we are despite our shortcomings.
Crystal Watson | 6/9/2011 - 10:28pm
So much for eccumenism.  Most, if not all, of the ten things listed could also be said of Protestants.
Christine Dalessio | 6/9/2011 - 8:21pm
Beautifully stated and encouraging, as we all watch others leave and try to reason what keeps us here. I will be passing this on to so many others who need the shot in the arm, and a reminder of the mystical gift our Church really is!
david power | 6/9/2011 - 7:43pm
mb flynn, you need a dose of x-factor.To confuse anglican singing with gospel joy is naive.

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.    
Martin Gallagher | 6/9/2011 - 6:39pm
... and the best reason is because we're Christians and, as such, we want to be obiedient to Jesus

.
MB Flynn | 6/9/2011 - 5:25pm
A great list but one lack on the part of Catholics - we won't sing, I mean really sing out at Mass, and Protestants certainly do.
NORMA NUNAG | 6/9/2011 - 4:35pm
Thank you, thank you, thank you!      And we do have a sense of humor,  a lot of it too!
Eugene Pagano | 6/9/2011 - 3:00pm
I have resolved my own struggle by becoming an Episcopalian.  This list does not make me want to return.  With some nuances, the Episcopal Church has all 10 things on this list.  (We believe or Eucharist is valid and has the Real Presence, and find Leo XIII's rejection of Anglican orders completely unconvincing.)
Thomas Rooney | 6/9/2011 - 1:04pm
Bravo, Father Mac for writing this, and Brava Ms. Schultz for sharing this.  I WAS going to expound a bit...but have decided not to.  This wonderful list stands on its own, certainly without my help.

Thank you for reminding us.