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Why I’m Still Catholic: Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.

peter.

There’s a challenge going around for Catholic bloggers to come up with their reasons for being Catholic in light of the Pew poll about more and more people leaving religion.  It reminds me of a homily our priest gave last year where he urged us to come up with our “elevator speech”.  If you were riding in an elevator with your boss what would you say in that brief time to impress him?  If someone asked you why you were Catholic in an elevator what would be your most concise answer?  It boggles my mind.  I can’t imagine a short answer to that.  Because being Catholic to me is everything.  And I mean everything in every sense of the word everything.  I can trace every good thing in my life back to my faith.  Catholicism has given me what I prize of my childhood and the family I grew up in.  Catholicism has given me the personal principles by which I live.  Catholicism gave me my intellectual interests and my educational and vocational choices.  Catholicism absolutely brought me to my husband, forged the love that impelled us to marry, and has kept that marriage vibrant and strong for the last 9 years.  Catholicism has given me all my children.  No seriously, I would NEVER have been brave enough to take on all these kids, or have a baby right after getting married, if I had been raised to believe that marriage, big families, or early motherhood were stifling or unworthy.  No way.  And I am so so grateful that I thought otherwise.  I cannot imagine for a moment life without each one of them.  Catholicism has made my life what it is and I love what it is; so I couldn’t ever give up the source of all that.

At the same time that that is true, my entire life has been punctuated by periods of extreme doubt.  I jokingly say that I’m either a Catholic or an atheist.  For myriad reasons I’m certain that if there is a God he is the God I know.  Yet as far back as I can remember I have been plagued with the fear that there is no God at all.  One of my very earliest memories, one of those flickering disconnected images, is of one of these times of doubt.  I am in my first home, which we left when I was five or so.  There is a high chair in the room, I seem to remember it as mine but possibly it was my younger brother’s making me about four.  I remember fearing that God didn’t exist.  It was terrifying and confusing.  In my memory this fear went on a long time.  Perhaps it was only moments, or possibly days.  What I do remember very clearly is sitting at the table and very suddenly being certain God was there.  I remember blurting out to my mother “Mum!  God’s really up there you know!”  I think she said little more than yes with a rather confused look on her face.  I doubt she remembers the moment, it didn’t seem all that momentous from her point of view.  To me it was earth shattering.  I remember sitting very confidently, a fountain of happiness and peace  bursting in my chest and nodding to myself.  He’s really up there.

I’d like to say I’ve been sure ever since, but I haven’t.  Little moments of confusion happen often with deeper periods of doubt punctuating my entire life.  I remember a bad bout near the end of high school and another a few years ago.  Both of these I worked through by laboriously working through all the reasons I believed to check if I’d made a mistake.  I believe because of history, especially the long and even sometimes sordid history of the church itself.  I believe because of philosophy.  I believe because of theology.  I believe because wise men have believed.  I believe because I look at true believers and the more fully they live out their faith the happier and more admirable they become.  I believe because when I live my faith I am the best version of myself.  These intellectual tallying ups would allay my worries for a time.  Not only that but they satisfied my vanity.  They may not be reasons that convince a nonbeliever but they sound reasonably plausible.  I like that.  I want to look smart and sensible.  So these would be the reasons I would give on that elevator ride.

Then I found out my fifth child might die before he was born.  I thought: this will be the end.  If this child dies, I will no longer be able to believe.  This was not a slight worry.  I was basically certain.  I have fought off doubt this long but this will be the end.  I was frozen.  I could not think how to pray.  I ended up saying those exact words to God.  “Lord, I am afraid I will not believe in you anymore if you do not save my baby.” I imagined what I would do when this happened.  I decided I would pretend to believe, for my children.  That brought me up short.  How strange!  Why would I do this?  The answer made no sense at all:  because I believed that when I lost my faith, I would be wrong.  I believed that I would think I was right but that I would be wrong and I didn’t want to lead my children into my error.  I believed that they would not just be better off believing a lie, but that they would be better off believing the truth while I pursued my lie alone.  I did not want to rob them of the greatest treasure I knew of.  I realized this wasn’t really the thought pattern of someone who didn’t believe in God.  I also realized that it’s a little funny to talk to a person you don’t believe is there and beg him to keep you from forgetting he is real.  Although my son did die at 22 weeks, one miracle happened.  I became again the little girl at the kitchen table.  Suddenly I simply knew.  I did not lose my faith.  In fact I felt stronger in it than I have ever felt before.  I felt otherworldly peace.  It hasn’t lasted forever, the old problems have returned, but it was beautiful while it did.  God held me in the palm of his hand and I knew it with total certainty.

This last incident didn’t “change” why I am Catholic.  It just opened my eyes to what had been behind all my striving and searching so far.  This is why, in the end, I am Catholic: because of God’s love for me and mine for him.  He has always always been with me through every moment of my life.  Underneath all those other reasons, the reason FOR all those other reasons is that I have a deep, personal relationship with the God I believe in.  I talk to him every day.  I cry out to him, I get angry with him, I am grateful to him, I trust him, I am sorry when I hurt him.  I love him.  He is so intrinsically a part of me and of the world he created that in the end I do not know how not to believe in him.  I am Catholic because my God lives and every part of life sings of him.  He may not always grant the miracles we want but he performs miracles every moment.  The existence of everything is a miracle.  Every sacrament is an astonishing miracle, giving supernatural grace for every trial, forgiving sin, knitting together families, bringing God to dwell within us.  He telescopes all of time into the very moment that he died for and saved me in the miracle of the eucharist. All for me.  And for you.  For each of us and all of us.  He is my friend, my creator, my father, my savior, and he’s really up there.

It’s not a reason that makes me look good according to my usual criteria.  It’s the sort of reason a nonbeliever might scoff at, might have trouble understanding or respecting.  It can’t be proven or disproven or argued over.  It just is what it is. I am beginning to be willing to look a fool for the sake of the One I love.  My last reason is a relationship, as complex, indescribable, unexplainable, and powerful as any relationship and the best I will ever have.  It reminds me of the words in my title and of other words from Simon Peter.  These always sound to me like he delivered them almost with a shrug, with a sense of, not defeat, but surrender and humility.  “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.  And we have believed and have known that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.”

For many many more personal answers to this question, check out The Anchoress’ post where she is keeping a roll.

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Love, Goodness, and Cinderella

So what I’m about to write about might seem painfully obvious.  Like “Gee Cait I can’t believe you bothered putting this in words” obvious.  But I was inspired by a few things to write it down.  One was seeing a lot of people hurting because they couldn’t let go of hurt in their relationships.  Really legitimate hurt.  We’ve all been there and we know it’s not doing us or anybody any good but how do you move past it?  And then I saw a friend with a very very difficult relationship with a parent beautifully acknowledge the good things she’d gotten from that person along with the difficult things.  It seemed a really graceful moment.  And then I went to see Cinderella.  And I think I’m going to have to write a whole separate post about my love for Cinderella in a world full of haters who think she’s a doormat.  NO WAY.  Best Princess ever!  But that’s for another day.  Without further ado here’s my reflection on loving people it’s hard to love sometimes.

“You don’t have to like everyone but you have to love everyone”: A way of explaining the second great commandment to our children.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

“Even bad guys Mummy?”

“Yes even bad guys.  You don’t have to like what they do but you do have to love them.”

But what does that mean exactly?  Is it a throw away line? Can we say and do whatever we want in relation to a person so long as we pay lip service to some sort of wishy-washy love?  Or must we love our neighbor by supporting every single decision they make and characteristic they possess?  No, but both of these attitudes are quite common.

Love your neighbor as yourself.  In a world of relativism it is common to mistake love for blind agreement.  If there is no truth except some nebulous idea of tolerance then the only way to express love is to be a yes man.  Another common mistake is perhaps a natural reaction to this frustrating trend.  There is a tendency to excuse cruel or angry words by boasting of our honesty. (“No offense but…” or “I’m just telling it like it is.”) Yes, St. Paul teaches us to correct our brethren, but the attitude so often is not one of love but of scorn.  Strangely enough both positions hold something essential in common.  Both are focused on the flaws of our neighbor.  And this is a very wrongheaded way to kindle love.

Love is an affirmation of goodness.  God knows Himself and in knowing loves Himself for He is Good.   When God created the world and mankind through his love He “saw that it was good.”  We are all made in His image and likeness. Even when that likeness seems obscured we can be confident that it is there and that it is very good.  This is what we must seek in our neighbors.

Nowadays many of us want love to include our faults.  We wear them as badges of honor.  If you can’t love my bad temper or my cruel sense of humor then you don’t deserve me!  (You’re right.  We don’t deserve it.) Others feel that failure to support every action of every person is failure to love.  Bigotry! They cry.  Conversely, many withhold love by focusing on the bad.  Well I could love this person if only they hadn’t hurt me in x way.  If only they didn’t hold y opinion.  If only they didn’t commit z sin.

Yet our job, if we are called to love our neighbor, is to look for the loveable.  How many of our broken relationships could we fix in this way!  Do we have political enemies we cannot communicate with because we only see errors?  Look for what is loveable.  Wrong opinions are often held for understandable reasons, like a mistaken idea of charity.  Love their good intentions and then debate from there.  Do we have long standing resentment towards family whose flaws have hurt us or even shaped our lives?  Look for the gifts they possess which have probably shaped us too.  Do we have friends who let us down?  Love the things they do right.  When we love what any given relationship does provide we are more able to forgive its limitations.

I took my older daughter to see Cinderella this week and one line struck me as I was preparing this reflection.  The prince asks Cinderella if her family treats her well and she replies, “They treat me as well as they are able.”  Hopefully none of us are living with evil step mothers and sisters, but the line seemed so different from how we speak today.  Today she should have said “No, they are really horrible and treat me disgracefully.” A true statement.  Or “Well they have a really tragic backstory and they do what’s right for them.  You can’t blame them.” An accepting statement.  Instead Cinderella answers with true charity which sees flaws for what they are, but loves the intrinsically good person behind them.  In loving them she desires greater good for them and is also able to forgive wrongs; so much nobler than pretending they don’t exist.

We don’t need to excuse flaws but we do need to see beyond them.  Love is an act of will, not just a nice feeling.  Making the decision to love begins by first making the decision to seek goodness. Goodness is naturally loveable and everything and everyone God created is good if we have the eyes to see it.

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