When I first saw Elizabeth Scalia’s call for Catholics with a presence on the web to articulate why they are Catholic, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. For years I’ve fancied myself a writer. Pages and pages are typed at the keyboard. Most of it not to see the light of day. Some of it thrown up on this blog, grammar errors and all. So yes! I will write why I remain catholic. What could be a finer topic?
I’ve typed this essay twice now and countless iterations of it have run through my head.
But it’s time now to face the truth: I’m just not capable of it.
I’m not capable of articulating the splendor of Truth. I can’t type out the grandeur of Beauty. I don’t know the words to describe Goodness.
I found myself writing about my entrance into the Church. I was picturing myself reading a modest little book that did an okay job of describing Catholicism and coming to the end of it. I was sitting on a white and beige striped chair that was tucked into a little sunroom. I closed the book and suddenly it all made sense. Ten or so years of Protestantism and five more years of nothing faded away and I was left with a book and very clear picture of all that I had rejected most of my life.
But that moment cozied on the couch in my favorite room with the proverbial sun shining in wasn’t the why of my faith. It’s only the how.
And even then, it’s only a partial view of my journey.
So I find myself struggling to tell you why I am Catholic.
I want to tell you about that time, about eight years prior to when I read the book, I entered a Catholic Church on Christmas Eve. I was evangelical then, and scorned the way these Catholics practiced their faith. The statues. The candles. The paintings. The robes. The incense. All of it bothered me. But I searched out a Catholic mass on Christmas Eve because I knew the Catholics did Christmas right. The statues, the pictures, the flickering candles, the white and gold robes, the consuming smell of incense: the incarnation. It moved me that night and I stood up with the throngs, held my hands out to the priest, and mumbled an Amen because I heard the guy next to me doing it. And then I did the unthinkable. I took the host.
But that’s not why I am Catholic. That’s just a what along my faith journey.
Even before that propitious Christmas Eve I encountered Catholicism. My junior year in high school I traveled to France and stayed with a host family for three weeks. One lazy afternoon they drove me to a small grotto. I had no idea what it was at the time, but they were excited to show me. There was a small trickle of water and a lady dressed in blue. My host family asked if I wanted to take water home, but I declined. What did I want this water for?
In France, too, I witnessed the faith of centuries in the withering toes of stone statues in Notre Dame Cathedral. I climbed the steps of hope at Montmarte and entered into Sacre-Couer. I toured Avignon, but my eyes couldn’t see the Love that restored a broken Church.
Of course, I wasn’t really looking. And still, I am only answering where. Why I am Catholic escapes me.
I have to go back further. I have to go back to a single mother bringing her 1 year old daughter to a parish on the west side of Cleveland to be baptized. The mother falls away and eventually rejects her own Catholic baptism. But an indelible mark was left on that child’s soul.
An indelible mark was left on my soul.
And throughout my life, I see now, that mark was leading me back home.
I didn’t know at the time that I was searching for what my soul remembered. I didn’t understand that it was recognition that leapt from within me at the sound of Mozart’s concerto’s. I didn’t understand what I was pleading for when I raised my hands in that evangelical church and begged God to consume me.
I didn’t know I was looking for home.
I couldn’t understand that I had visited the eldest daughter of the Church and that she had shown me faith, hope, and love. I didn’t see that those statues represented that great cloud of witnesses. That Jesus was there! He was physically there at Sacre-Coeur. I didn’t understand that it was Mary dressed in blue at that grotto. That she was trying to remind me of my baptism.
But I can see now that my heart was living in Avignon: a beautiful palace but not home.
And then Christmas Eve and I ate Jesus.
I hope it’s not scandalous to say so, but I can still feel my heart quickening. I can still feel that peace descending. I left Protestantism shortly after. God had called me out of Avignon.
And much later. Much, much later, on a small couch in a tiny sunroom I was set on the path to Rome.
So you see, I can’t even begin to articulate the penetrating truth of Catholicism in a way a statistician at the Pew Research Center can enter into their spreadsheet. What is Jesus in a wafer to them?
And as for what it is to me, words fail me. I can’t describe it anymore than I can expound on why the ocean rages against the shore. I can merely tell you that the shores draws the ocean to it. But even that explanation is incomplete.
Why am I Catholic?
Because I cry when I read T.S. Eliot. Because my hearts explodes at Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring every time I hear it. Because I see the Eucharist and I am brought to my knees.
Why I remain Catholic?